Saturday, August 28, 2010

Locke and Load

I've got two more posts in this brief miniseries. If you haven't read Part 1 and Part 2, this one might make more sense if you did.

For Locke and other classical liberal philosophers, the act that confers ownership is when we take something from its natural state or further refine something that someone else took from its natural state to improve upon it or to make better use of it. In this post I want to explore this notion in terms of substantive or tangible things. In the next post, I will again return to the realm of ideas (i.e., intellectual property).

Regardless of how one views the ultimate mystery of life -- be it via a supernatural designer who continues to play a role in the design, a supreme designer who no longer plays a role, science or no real opinion at all -- I think most of us will agree that the world unto itself is perfect (for lack of a better word). Each being or entity has its own internal nature and it lives according to the way a designer or whatever else made it to live.

If you accept this notion, then it does lead to a most important question: How can any person improve perfection? How do we make something that is perfect MORE perfect?

In terms of the discussion of property, let's use Bob as our example.

Bob sees a forest. In terms of Bob's desires, the forest in and of itself is not very productive. So, Bob claims the forest as his own. He develops an idea to chop down all the trees and to turn the raw material into baseball bats. After investing his own industry in this enterprise, he reaps a profit for his efforts.

The forest has now become a barren field with various types of plants and the decaying stumps of the bygone trees. Bob goes off to follow other pursuits. In time, he returns to what he perceives as a barren field. He develops a new idea -- one that will improve upon the land again. He will dig up the stumps and till the soil. He plants corn and, in time, he sells the corn to feed a hungry community.

The way our civilization is set up, most people will look at this situation to say that Bob improved upon this parcel of land twofold. He took the raw material of trees to create baseball bats for the local little league and then he grew corn to feed his neighbors.

But did Bob improve the life of the trees? No, he cut them down. Did Bob improve on the life of all the plants, fauna, insects and other organisms that were sustained by the forest and then the "barren" field? Again, in most cases, the answer would be no. From the standpoint of the other beings EXCEPT humans, Bob may be viewed as a maniacal terrorist!

My point here is that what we humans consider to be an improvement of perfection represents a very narrow and misguided view of the interconnected nature of the cosmos. For us, improvement is defined by how it affects our species, front and center. If it meets our needs and desires alone, we deem it an improvement over what it was. If it does not meet our needs and desires, then we say that no improvement was achieved.

In truth, humankind cannot improve on that which is already everything that it needs to be. All we really are doing is altering or modifying perfection to serve our specific needs. In fact, that is what life is all about anyway. Billions upon billions of entities altering perfection in every moment.

I am NOT here to suggest that the process of alteration is inherently evil. Every breath we take alters something. Every time one organism feeds on another an alteration takes place. Alteration -- change -- is the constant of the cosmos.

All this brief discussion seeks to point out is that the manner in which we approach life leads to our own alienation of the depth of a better understanding of life itself. When we delude ourselves with the notion that we have the power to improve upon perfection, this creates the specter of separation. We create the very island of which we spend the rest of our lives trying to escape from.

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