The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Is this a tough question?

This is a question (well, series of questions) I like to ask those who would create laws that govern us, and of those who analyze, comment on, report on and otherwise defend or criticize laws and their creators.

Who owns me? Do I own me? Does the state own me? Is there a public/private "partnership" of ownership? And what does "ownership" of me entail?

Most people claim not to understand the question, if I am face to face with them. Others, like Sen. Howie in the comment string on the post about him below, simply pretend it was not asked.

It could be that I am so stupid that I don't understand my own questions, but they have fascinated me for a long time. Are these issues not central to the concept of a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal? Don't they go to the heart of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?


Bill Fleming said...

Bob, Troy Jones and I are discussing something similar in his post below. Good topic!

Bill Fleming said...

I'm going to go out on a limb here, Bob and answer your question as briefly and succinctly as I know how.

But beware, it's kind of poetically paradoxical and parable-ish.

"Who owns you?"

Nobody does, not even "you" And yet, in another way, we all do. Because we are in God as a fish is in water.

Troy Jones said...

I own me. It is a gift given to me by my Creator. When I entered into the social contract (by birth as an American) I agreed to some subjugation claims by others on me and gained some claims on others. In other words, I must accept the inalienable rights of others as I am entitled to expect the same treatment from others.

Bill Fleming said...

So, what do you mean when you say "I" and "me" and "others", Troy?

Michael Sanborn said...

I own me. I'm free to do as I please, where I please and when I please.

Other people (society) – who own themselves – have established rules by which they have mutually agreed (conspired) to coexist.

I may choose to not follow those rules, but understand that I'm outnumbered by those who seek to impose rules upon me, even if I find them distasteful – even obscene.

I understand that if I break those rules, those who outnumber me (society), may choose to impose their will upon me.

Ownership of one's self comes with an understanding that others own themselves. If I find myself becoming the property of others, it may be because I sold (or pawned) my property rights to me to society through my behavior, which may have inspired those who outnumber me to take possession of me by force.

How's that?

Bill Fleming said...

So, are you free to stop breathing for any significant length of time, Michael? And if you do, will you still be you?

Are you free to stop your heart if you want to, and then start it back up again in a day or so? Are you free to keep your hair from growing out?

I submit we're not who we think we are.

Not even close.

Bill Fleming said...

...and yes, Bob, as per your headline, it's a tough question.

Perhaps the ULTIMATE tough question.

Michael Sanborn said...

I may own a car, but that doesn't make it an airplane. The me I own is like a machine, designed (in my opinion) by a higher power.

The fact that I own it does not mean I'm capable of changing its design. And I wasn't designed to stop my own heart and start it up again.

I am what I am. I'm not what I'm not.

Michael Sanborn said...


Maybe the question isn't as tough as you think.

I know (okay suspect) what you're thinking...

If the higher power (let's call it God) designed me and made me, doesn't God own me?

Does General Motors still own my Buick? I'm with Troy. I am a gift from God. Obviously, people who know me may disagree.

But I think my being is a gift to me, to do with what I choose. I think the blue sky is a gift, as is rain, fireflies, and the purple sage that grows by the stream where I fly fish. Stimulating conversation, my wife, kids and grandkids, my parents and siblings, my friends, Pepsi-Cola and Cuban Cohiba cigars, and 15-year-old Dimple Pinch Scotch. All gifts.

Because I own myself, I'm free to do with those gifts what I choose. Sometimes the result is good. Sometimes, not so much.

Bill Fleming said...

So, are you saying you are your thoughts, Michael?

Or rather are you what you conclude upon reflecting on your thoughts?

Or are you perhaps what remains of your mind when all your thoughts have been though through and you've stopped thinking for a minute and are just sitting there breathing?

Oh, and are your ready to kick me the hell off your blog yet, dood?

Braden said...

I'm confused... my girlfriend tells me she owns me.

Bill Fleming said...

Braden, she could be right.

If your current owner (your mom) says she is,
you in a heap a trouble, boy.

Michael Sanborn said...

To go back to the car analogy...I do not control my thoughts (all that well) any more than the tires on my Buick control the spark plug firing sequence.

Am I my thoughts? Is the Buick it's engine?

We are all a product of our thoughts, I suppose. But what has that to do with ownership? If the Buick is only firing on 5 cylinders, does that mean I don't own it?

Am I ready to kick you off the blog? No. This is fun.

Troy Jones said...

Bill, to add to what Michael said, while I own me, I'm subject to the laws of nature. If I fall from my roof, I will fall no matter what I desire. These are the descriptive laws of nature.

However, I'm able to violate the prescriptive laws of nature. I can kill myself or I can kill you. And, like violating the descriptive laws of nature, there are consequences for violating the prescriptive laws of nature. Even if I'm never caught for killing you, I will suffer by virtue of my conscience.

In both the case of descriptive and prescriptive laws, there is consequences for violating them. But it never changes the reality that I own my mind, body, and soul. What I do with this gift from God is of my own choosing.

Bill Fleming said...

Guys. you're avoiding my question.

Or maybe I'm not asking it clearly enough.

Who is this "I" that your talking about? Your mind? Your thoughts? Your ego? Your super ego? Your soul? Your consciousness? God? What?

Neal said...

It's all of it, Bill. You are your entire identity, which is comprised of your body, mind, soul, thoughts, feelings, and everything else.

Taunia Adams said...

Does realizing or admitting your ownership, be it yourself or by another entity, make you want to do anything different?

Bill Fleming said...

"... and everything else." Yeah, I like that, Neal. Everything else. Exactly.

Neal said...

Ha! I'm not exactly sure if that's what I was trying to say, but if the shoe fits...

Listen, I think you need to make a distinction between theory and practice here. In theory, and in my subjective experience, I share a lot of your thoughts about monism, Bill.

But in practice, it's not very fun to start every conversation with "everything is the same," because that also tends to end every conversation as well. Strict monism renders conversation not only impossible on most topics, but worse, meaningless.

It's more than that, though. Experientially, everything is NOT the same. We are different. Everyone is different. Everything is different. On a certain level of reality, monism is demonstrably and obviously not true -- at least not comprehensively true.

You seem to believe there is some mystical truth to monism. I'll agree with that, there is. But I'd suggest that there is a mystical truth to dualism as well. The more sophisticated (and more accurate) way to look at it is, monism is true and not true, just as dualism is true and not true. It depends on the perspective and identity of the observer.

Reality, and truth, on this most fundamental level is, to use your word, ineffable.

The Bard, in Hamlet, said all this a lot better than I ever could:

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Bill Fleming said...

Neal, huh?

I'm not sure what you're talking about, but I'm talking about reality, Neal. Nature. Science. Evidence. Fractals. Order in chaos.

Because, as Stephen Hawking has noted, pertaining to dualism, (and I'm paraphrasing) so far, we're not really finding any job for God to do.

I'm thinking you might enjoy this little YouTube clip right about now, Neal:

Oh, by the way, if you like math, and want to see how something can be the same as everything else only different and unique at the same time, take your calculator and divide (one plus the square root of five) by two. That will yield nature's perfect harmonious ratio, the Golden Section, an infinity of diversity in unity.

Pythagoras went nuts over it.

And as it turns out, so has Nature.

...and then there's "zero."

But let's save that for later, ok?

Bill Fleming said...

Troy, "Subtle is the Lord. Malicious he is not." — Albert Einstein

Bill Fleming said...

But then again:
"I have second thoughts. Maybe God is malicious."

Quoted in Jamie Sayen, Einstein in America (1985). Said to Vladimir Bargmann, with the meaning that God leads people to believe they understand things that they actually are far from understanding. [The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, 2006]

Bill Fleming said...

Neal, you may be on to something... just because you haven't as yet found meaning in the truth about what IT is, doesn't mean it's not there, does it? Or does it?

Well, as Werner Ehrhardt put it (several ways):

"The Truth, believed, is a lie."

"The Truth doesn't mean anything, it just is."

"Obviously, the truth is what's so. Not so obviously, it's also so what?"

And my favorite "Wernerism":
"You don't have to go looking for love. It is where you came from."

Oh, and finally... especially for Bob,
from Gloria Steinem:
"“The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.”

Namaste all.