- (a house) A: “Are you a home owner?” B: “Not totally – the bank owns most of it.”
- (a rock) A: “Hey give me my rock back!” B: “I saw it first, it’s mine!”
- (land) A: “Hey, American Indigenous tribes! Welcome to your new home – we like to call them ‘reservations’!” B: “New home? What’s wrong with our current home?”
In one very real sense, humans simply see things and claim them for their own. Whoever gets to the bit of land first ‘claims’ it – the kid who sees the rock first can say it’s ‘mine’ – etc. We snatch up bits of stuff (trees, iron, land, water, air, animals, other humans, etc.) and declare them to be ‘mine’/’ours’/etc.
Without some concept of ownership/possession, things such as ‘trading’, ‘sharing’, ‘buying/selling’, ‘stealing’ and ‘borrowing’ have no meaning at all. But still, everyone I’ve ever known lives their life as though the concept of ownership is actually meaningful. We get insurance, car alarms and watch dogs for our houses, cars and veggie gardens (or if you’re protecting ‘your’ nation, you probably get a military with bullets, explosives, tanks, ships and planes, etc.). We all take ownership seriously.
Philosophically, ownership is based on a distinction between our (subject) ‘self’ and at least one (object) ‘other’. I have a friend/acquaintance who believes that there is no real ‘other’ to reality – that all reality is ‘self’ (if we’d only just develop/cultivate our collective self-awareness, etc.). Not only is the concept of any kind of relation-ship (which is always between a ‘self’ and an ‘other’) made impossible, it also negates any meaningful notion of owner-ship.
The only sense of ownership which can even possibly/partially be retained on this view would be a sense of a collective, universal ‘self’ which ‘self-owns’ everything… or should we rather say ‘self-owns itself’?? Any division of reality into ‘this’ or ‘that’ part(s) which then comprise a whole(s) is necessarily a division into which the self/other distinction instantly leaps. As you can (hopefully) see, even if some people find it fashionable to speak/write like this, I’ve not yet met anyone who finds it possible to live like this. Actually, one can’t even go very long speaking/writing like that without contradicting themselves – probably sooner than later.
Not surprisingly, I find the Judaeo-Christian tradition/philosophy/worldview to be far more useful, reasonable and intuitive. It takes personal and corporate human ownership seriously, but places them both within the context of ultimate or divine ownership. The stuff we ‘have’, we are really only ‘looking after’. Our universe, our planet, our rocks, our trees, our skies, our seas, our beasts, our beauties, our race and races, our brains, our bodies… our entire world belongs ultimately to the Creator God, who entrusts it all to us as stewards to look after it.
The charge to the primal human pair in the Garden of Eden story reflects humanity being given its job description or vocation: “Tend and keep the garden.” We are given the task and responsibility to do everything from astronomy and economics to biology and electronics; from sociology and psychology to ecology and geology. God’s world of space and time, of matter and meaning, of black holes and bonobos, of planets and people, of sex and supernovae, of courtrooms and cancer wards, of playgrounds and prisons, of bluebirds and babies is to be cared about and cared for.