All Property is Intellectual

Think about this:

All property is intellectual, is intellectual property. How do you “own” something? You merely have the right to it, and the rights are granted by the government, rights as abstract concepts. For example, say you “own” a house? How do you know? How do you prove it? It isn’t merely by your presence or possession: what happens when you leave the house, if someone breaks in and enters it, do they now “own” the house? Ownership isn’t created by some Lockean notion of labor–do the contractors that built the house own it, does a repairman that repairs it or a landscaper that trims some bushes now own part of your house?

What happens when a stranger with a gun on enters your property and a cop shows up? How would you prove you owned it? You could say, “Um, I can prove it by showing you a piece of paper, the house’s title, which is stored in a government office, the title office.” The cop can support your “ownership” by arresting the stranger with the gun–or perhaps the stranger’s power can overcome both you and the cop’s power, is faster with his gun and more powerful in a physical sense, does the stranger now “own” your house by force?

Your “ownership” is merely an intellectual construct represented by a piece of paper in a government office. You are ALLOWED to own something only laws have been socially mediated, socially created, that allow you to “own” something, under certain conditions, under certain circumstances, with certain restrictions, etc. Ownership and property are pretty abstract concepts which may be abrogated perhaps more easily than most would think. For example, what if you live in the US, and somehow you owe money to some person or business. Imagine that the business for example then gets a lien on your house for the money you owe them. Well, without ever having viewed or set foot on your property, and perhaps without your consent (I’m not well versed in the details of property liens), the business could gain virtual ownership of your house through the lien. There is also the concept of eminent domain; yes, you may “own” a house, but that doesn’t prevent the government from forcing you to sell it.

“Rights” like life and liberty are also government granted abstract concepts that are very easily abrogated. Think you have the right to life? Well, if you do x y or z you may face the death penalty. The right to liberty? Do x y or z and the government can lock you up.

So ultimately, all property is intellectual, as are all rights.

This is interesting to me because there are always ongoing debates about patents, software patents, copyright, etc. Some people are for, some are against. However, my point is that where some people are aghast at the notion of “intellectual property,” in essence ALL property is intellectual. Yes, there is a difference between ideas and a physical object at a certain level, but at a higher level the right to use or own anything is purely intellectual and socially constructed by the people together as the government.

So at some level, it’s fruitless to take the extreme position that “intellectual property” is bad or is abused or doesn’t exist, because ALL property is intellectual. Furthermore, how is the “real property” system any fairer or just or more efficient than the intellectual property system? Just because some peoples’ ancestors got to a country before other peoples’ and took the land by force, such as with the Spanish and the British and others coming to North America and killing all the Native Americans–should they benefit still from killing Native Americans and stealing lush and fertile agricultural land, seaside properties, and oil properties? First kill, first benefit? How is that any fairer or more efficient than the first to patent gets a limited monopoly? The most powerful corporations get nice contracts for extracting resources at great prices for developing third world nations? Etc.

At another level, any enjoyment of “physical” property is intellectual, any physical phenomena is interpreted by individuals, facts are experienced and perceived differently by different people, as can be seen in jury trials in lawsuits, but that’s best left for later…

So the best tact might be to focus on the details of property schemes, or software patents and copyrights etc, and focus on making the details more efficient; but railing against the concept of intellectual property is necessarily railing against the concept of property as a whole, as any concepts of “property” “rights” or “ownership” are necessarily abstract, socially mediated, intangible, imaginary, and intellectual.

In a sense, everything is up for grabs and socially mediated.


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