"Self-Ownership" is nothing more than linguistical twisting

Can the concept of “self-ownership” be justified via the way we speak about ourselves?

Rosetta Stone detail at the British Museum
Image by Chris Devers via Flickr

Francois Tremblay opines once more on the flawed concept of “Self-Ownership” and accurately describes the underlying flaws within this idea. This only further drives the nail in the coffin of an  idea which you will see utilized by almost every pro-capitalist (“Anarcho” or not) in order to justify private property. This is in fact why all the arguments against it are ignored even by those claiming that rationality is on their side.

I have not weighted in on this issue as I feel that others have made enough decisive arguments already, but Kinsella’s first argument reminded me of a recent lengthy discussion I had on this issue in reddit, and since Francois decided to counter only the second one while briefly touching thr first, I think I might point out why the whole thing is flawed. But first, here’s Kinsella’s argumen:

Why do we say “this is my body”? For this a twofold requirement exists. On the one hand it must be the case that the body called “mine” must indeed (in an intersubjectively ascertainable way) express or “objectify” my will. Proof of this, as far as my body is concerned, is easy enough to demonstrate: When I announce that I will now lift my arm, turn my head, relax in my chair (or whatever else) and these announcements then become true (are fulfilled), then this shows that the body which does this has been indeed appropriated by my will. If, to the contrary, my announcements showed no systematic relation to my body’s actual behavior, then the proposition “this is my body” would have to be considered as an empty, objectively unfounded assertion… On the other hand, apart from demonstrating that my will has been “objectified” in the body called “mine,” it must be demonstrated that my appropriation has priority as compared to the possible appropriation of the same body by another person.

I’ve highlighted the relevant parts which show how much of Kinsella’s argument rests on the use of words themselves. Francois mentions in passing:

In plain language, it is clear what Hoppe means, because our language evolved within the context of a belief in the soul as a separate entity which controls the body[…]

And that is indeed the larger point of how this whole argument from linguistics starts. In my reddit discussion, my opponent, Sage_Advice was claiming that I was already conceding the argument against “Self-Ownership” by trying to explain the reasoning by saying “I am my body”, where the “my” in this case means an ownership claim. This is very similar to what Kinsella is doing where he starts from the linguistical reasoning of how we speak about ourselves and our actions and then trying to see if he can justify this use via logic.

But there’s two flaws in this. One is that “my” does not always constitute a direct ownership claim as can be seen by phrases such as “my family” or “my doctor” or even “my dreams”. We understand intuitively in those uses that my has a simple meaning of relationship and not of ownership and we don’t use this way of language to try and claim such. The propertarians though find it very handy to ignore that there are different ways by which “my” or “mine” can by used because it can then be used to justify the rest of their ideological construct.

However there’s also the point that we may simply use different ways to speak about the same concepts without invoking the use of words that might imply property. For example, I don’t have to speak about “my body”, I can speak about “me” and I would mean the same thing. I can speak about me doing this or that instead of my hand doing this or that. As such. there’s no need to imply and accept a claim of ownership before I can take any action if I don’t use a particular phrasing to express this.

Unfortunately, the misleading way the language is formed is grasped and expanded in order to assert otherwise meaningless concepts. But fortunately it’s not language which defines reality but rather the other way around. And if the use of language fails to accurately descibe reality, then our only option is to modify the former, not redefine reality.

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Oh hey look! More "Anarcho"-Capitalists defending the facilitation of sexual harassment on the grounds of liberty.

Prominent “Anarcho”-Capitalist Stephen Kinsella weights in on Blocks faux-pas on sexual harassment and exemplifies all that’s wrong with this ideology.

I posted a while back explaining why the AnCap dismissals of Block’s support for sexual harassment where misguided and inconsistent with their own principles and why the question was not really about the act of aggression but how a capitalist system makes the act itself possible. Now, someone else is basically making the same argument as me only…he comes from the opposite side. I’ve just noticed that Stephen Kinsella left a comment on Brad Spangler’s blog making a similar case in support of such facilitiation…on the grounds of liberty of course.

In sum: no one is entitled to a job; employment is at-will: you can quit any time, or be fired any time. So you are not entitled to a job offer, so a conditional one does not violate your rights: I offer you a job IF you will consent to my lechery, fondling, whatever. The candidate can accept or turn it down. Note that this is true even AFTER they start work for you, usually–since employment is at-will. So you can just fire her one second, and re-offer the job, with strings, the next second. Etc.

So basically Kinsella is claiming that Block was absolutely in the right in his original case against sexual harassment laws. Maybe he considers that Block should have phrased it a bit differently to avoid drawing attention to the conclusions.

Really, this whole mindframe is the disease of right-libetarianism and the reason why I find it so difficult to take them seriously. If one can find nothing wrong with their espoused principles even when they theoretically lead to situations of people doing what they cleary do not wish to do or situations clearly appaling, then they’re well and gone in their fetishism of “voluntarism” and contracts.

The willfull ignorance of the social context in which such consent might be given is also stunning. “Nobody deserves work” says Kinsella. No, some people apparently just deserve to starve if they won’t accept sexual harassment or 16-hour workdays. It’s their fault for being born unprivileged and if they don’t like it they should just hole up in a corner and die. Compare that with Emma Goldman’s legendary quote to see the vast ideological difference between anarchism and “Anarcho”-Capitalism. The bankrupcty of putting rights to private property over rights to life.

“Ask for work. If they do not give you work, ask for bread. If they do not give you work or bread, then take bread.” — Emma Goldman (Anarchism and Other Essays)

But of course, this is nothing new. “Volunteering” to sexual harassment is exactly possible for the reason why people would “volunteer” to wage-slavery or “volunteer” to child labour. This is all a normal continuation of the same principles that see the hierarchical control of boss over worker and landlord over rentor as an expression of “freedom”. Consenting to be pinched is just that extra thing women might have to accept after they have consented to put aside their liberty during working hours. But hey, it’s all worth it for that cuchy office job isn’t it?

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