Friday, August 27, 2010

Locke, Stock and Barrel

In the last post, I wrote a wee bit about John Locke and the concept of private property, mainly tangible, substantive property. But what about intellectual property? Might that be different?

Whenever one of us comes up with a grand idea, new theory or a wondrous innovation, did we simply pull it out of thin air? Of course not! Any sort of mental or intellectual thought is built upon the insights, knowledge and imagination of the collective consciousness. In other words, just like with tangible things, the seed and all of its constituent parts were already out there in the ether. All we have done is alter them ever so slightly to create this "new" formulation.

Consequently, in my mind's eye, intellectual property is no different than tangible private property. All those things (e.g., land, businesses, stocks, toasters, tampons, books, cars, ideas, dreams, etc.) belong to the commons -- the cosmos -- and those things that we call mine are the result of a minuscule amount of individual input on our part. Yet, our society tells us that we control these things absolutely.

Let's say you are the majority shareholder in a large corporation. Two of your managers come to you with divergent ideas of how to propel the company forward. After hearing their presentations, you begin the process of mulling over which direction to head. As you are about to come to a decision, you learn the decision has already been made and it's not the one you planned to choose.

"Who made this decision?", you thunder. "I'm the majority stockholder. I own 95% of the stock." You're told that a little old lady from Pasadena who owns only one share is the person with the final say so. "How is that fair?" you boom. Everybody tells you that this is just the way it is!

In the above example, the majority shareholder is the cosmos, Tao, God or whatever you want to call it. The person who holds one measly share is each of us. Every time you or I make a decision about something that we claim as our own, we are attempting to usurp the majority owner. We are granting ourselves exclusive authority that we don't possess.


  1. Hmmm ... I'm not saying that i disagree with you, but how do you propose we deal with intellectual property? For example, how much control should a person have over a book they write?

  2. I'm simply discussing theory. Questions such as this are next too impossible to answer because our society is not run this way.

  3. Oh i don't think it's an impossible question to answer. It comes down to how much value is added by a writer in relation to the existing base of knowledge, and then allowing suitable compensation for a limited time.

  4. when it comes to money making, intellectual property should be respected. property laws are designed to avoid exploitation by non-related parties, which is important in business because often a person's living depends on his or her property, intellectual or physical.


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