A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two
Section Two: What is Property?
The Meaning of Property
“Owning property provides an incentive for innovation. Society benefits from inventions. People can get rich, but society gets richer. It’s innovation that raises the standard of living in a society. That’s the story of the rise of the west. Then there’s a contrasting story. When you don’t get to keep what you create, the incentive to create is lost.” Austin J. Jaffe, Ph.D.
There will come a time in the not too distant future when these words or words like these will be read with the same disbelief and horror that we feel when perusing an account of Aztec attitudes toward the ‘obvious necessity’ of human sacrifice: ‘for the rain to fall, for the kingdom to sustain and thrive, living hearts must be cut from living bodies.’
That Prof. Jaffe’s and similar views are taken as unquestionable wisdom and self-evident good is the underlying basis of our present, and long developing, difficulties. No biological system can function with unregulated growth; in fact, biological systems seldom actually grow, they repair and replace; innovation is slow, invention is far more often harmful than beneficial.
Humans are animals, biological entities living in ecosystem relationships with the rest of life on the earth – even as we do violence to the relationships, we are still in them. We have an adaptation that, because of its newness and power, distorts both our relationships with the rest of life and our understandings of those relationships.
And we have reached the end of the line for those distorted relationships. The thin biospheric space, sufficiently stable to support life, is about ready to ratchet back a notch or two to a somewhat simpler order – this is what it does when severely stressed. And our maniacal obsession with our independence from the rest of life will be shown to be the dangerous illusion that it is. Even a small loss of environmental ‘free’ services will cut through human civilization like a reaper’s scythe.
Our biology is the basis of our life and all the stuff, all the power, all the wealth of knowledge and wealth of material is nothing without biological life. The conditions for sustaining life are well known and yet in the face of such clear understanding we poison our air and water, offer toxic materials as beauty aids, damage our food supply, live with stresses that damage our hormonal systems and digestive systems, eat poorly, treat our bodies like an enemy, believe in the most outrageous palliatives and generally devote our actions to “raising our standard of living in society” while having no comprehension of what it even means to live fully as a member of our biological species.
The source of our dilemmas is deep in the design and structure of our social/economic/political/religious world. So deep, in fact, that these sources seem like the natural and necessary bases of our existence – just as Aztec culture seemed the natural and necessary bases of their world.
The human species exists in numbers and with powers of manipulation orders of magnitude beyond our ability to comprehend, much less measure with accuracy. We are quite literally bursting the seams of this world. A tiny few have seen this coming for hundreds of years, but now that it is upon us, that number is exponentially increasing – increasing in recognition, but not increasing in comprehension, more a suspicion of danger driving doubt and fear.
An unfocused sense of danger is itself extremely dangerous. We see this, like the displaying rashes and buboes of a systemic disease breaking out (and cynically used), in the fear of a ‘black’ president, the manic oscillation of acceptance and rejection of social and economic palliatives, and a pathological entrenchment in our oldest palliative, religion. That, of course, is when the temple steps become a cascading river of blood!
I began with a quote about property; this was not without intention. Much of our present difficulty has been driven by way humans have come to relate to the space, objects and the consistent imaginings we have about the world: we have come to think of these things as property.
There is no natural reason for this. Property is purely a construct of the imagination and has no basis in the physical or living order. If I hold a object in my hand and am using it, the living world has every expectation that I will protect the object and my use of it with symbols of force and, eventually, real force if necessary. That I should put that object down and leave it alone at a distance from me and maintain the notion that it is still mine and therefore not available for use by anyone or anything else is new to our part of the universe; and as Prof. Jaffe points out, filled with consequences.
Since the idea of property is just that, an idea, it has no more than a history in thought and human function. There is a religious component to the argument that I will talk about in another number in this group of essays, but for the moment oblige me the conceit that property is an imaginary relationship unsupported by substance beyond the fact that this is how we have been acting for some time.
But even that last statement needs correction. Property is not treated the same everywhere by everyone; in fact, as one would expect for an imaginary relationship, the idea of property in highly variable from place to place, culture to culture and person to person. There is no one notion of what property is or should be.
But it is popularly held notions of property that decide whether a priest can cut your heart out, whether poisonous chemicals can be poured into a stream, whether I will strive for knowledge/spiritual wealth or material wealth, whether a dangerous innovation will become the newest form of human sacrifice.
Western conceptions of property have not changed much since John Locke articulated the local European wisdom of the middle and late 1600s. Karl Marx had a run at these conceptions, but had the bad luck of his ideas being taken up by revolutionaries in the most improbable country in Eurasia. The great power of present property notions and resulting laws, to create change and to concentrate material wealth, have driven us to both deify present property ideas – and to the brink of the abyss. It is not a conception that we should or can leave alone.
Private property and Wealth
That objects, living things, regions of physical space, ideas, and even human beings can be owned, i.e., held in the protected control of a person or representatives of a person, is an article of faith even more pervasive than faith in religious values. But there is no basis for this belief and assertion other than the power to enforce it. This can be seen with great clarity with the territories of animals. A bit of ground sufficient to live on is marked off in some way appropriate to the species and supported by a willingness to engage in fisticuffs. The property holder most often “wins” since it is on ‘home ground.’ From this simple model we humans have ramped up designs taking the property holder to the exalted and purely mythical state of property owner. And in the typical fashion of most things carried too far, solved a big problem by creating a number of even larger ones.
One way of looking at economics and its servant, the law, is as the processes involved in protecting and unprotecting wealth. Every organism protects its wealth; first and foremost, its DNA and then, in some descending order, the designs and devices that protect that primary protection. Bees sting. Squirrels hide food. Ungulates run fast or get big. A katydid hides its own body as a leaf. “Half” of the behaviors of the biological world can be seen as protections of body, sustenance and place. The other “half” can be seen as behaviors that undo the protections of others.
Unprotecting the wealth of others is also called ‘making a living’ whether it is a spider capturing a fly or a businessman enticing a customer into opening a wallet. Though in the case of the spider and the fly, it is necessary to look to the species level to see the mutual advantage; certainly the individual fly has all of its wealth unprotected by the spider. Before humans began to apply their own consciousness processes to protecting and unprotecting wealth, the rules were (and are) those that we call evolution.
Ownership is a form of “protecting” wealth. Humans have carried the ritual fighting for place – the placeholder almost always has a home-field advantage – into the idea of ownership. Add to ‘holder-ship,’ a biological construct, the idea of agreed on and enforceable rules that define the conditions of ‘ownership,’ and the process of protecting wealth changes from living process to consciousness process. However, the situation has not become ‘antiseptic,’ the force that drives the action has been moved to the human community and is not immediately contained in the individual, that is, the individual must perform protecting and unprotecting behaviors through the community’s social and legal rules.
Immediately, as such social and legal rules are in place, clever humans go to work trying to unprotect the wealth that is protected by those rules. This can be as simple as picking a good spot for a robbery and as complex as finding a way to get a percentage of every person’s production. The human world is replete with cons and Ponzi schemes, abuses of force and skimming, misappropriations of value-added and political redistribution by taxation (most of redistribution is from the poor to the rich, which is often how it is that concentrated wealth happens in the first place! The rare “Redistribution” from the rich to the poor is almost always a small correction for the theft of value-added from the poor’s labor).
The key device is property. In the first instance, holder-ship, there was no property beyond what an organism, person or a community could protect by direct action: being physically present or threat of force associated with a marking of object or boundary. In the second, concepts of ownership began with the property of a priestly or kingly class. The easiest conceptual shift was from all the world “belonging” to no one, to all the world belonging to the world’s maker, to all the world belonging to the community’s most powerful figure. From this model it was considered a great step forward to the enforceable concept of “private property”; not meaning that ‘the thing was mine’ so much as ‘the thing was not the king’s.’ This idea has been gradually changed to a rather strident rejection of all things communal, but the origin of private property was not the rejection of communal holdings. In fact, the present concept of private property is a return to “kingly” forms of ownership and is the opposite of the founding meaning of the term and concept.
Property, especially real estate, can only be owned in the imagination, though the imagination can work its designs into actual sheriffs and armies for enforcement. The “right” to property considered so important in the early growth of liberal thought arose less from the assumption of a natural right of humans to the earth and more from the power of private property to secure a foot hold in the struggle with hereditary sovereignty.
The assumption that private property is both an absolute right and essential to “correct” human economic and cultural existence is an artifact of history as well as a very useful device in unprotecting the wealth of others (if a plot of land is held communally, the first step to taking it is to get it broken up and held individually). It is also destructive of the whole living enterprise. A wolf pack may hold a territory, but it doesn’t presume to evict the earthworms or the moths, but humans assume such an absolute right. Part of the Madness of our present thinking is that the earth is ours to do with as we wish – an extension of the ‘holder’ to ‘owner’ model into complete societal insanity.
On the one hand, we imagine our preeminence and believe our own imaginings. On the other hand, the rules of property, as they have been formed in the process of making tools to unprotect wealth, allow greater and greater amounts of wealth to be consolidated into fewer and fewer hands. Both are powerful forces in maintaining this essentially arbitrary and destructive economic and social design. Those who accumulate wealth have more control over the process of designing the social and legal protections of wealth and so give to themselves the tools to unprotect the wealth of the less powerful.
The idea that the world cannot be owned is countered today with the idea that everything, absolutely everything, should be owned so that all of the earth that humans can touch would be invited into the human economic process. Part of the thinking (sic) is that the Market will (is the only real tool to) correctly value the biophysical space. This is like letting a herd of babies loose in a razorblade factory – an utter mismatch of capacities and needs.
Exactly the opposite is essential; we must find a way to structure in social value and law, i.e., make agreed and enforceable, a new concept of the commons and protect it as well as possible from the forces that will immediately go to work to unprotect it.
We are so deep in the madness and perversion of private property and the primacy of material wealth values that there are no clear options forward. We need to keep our wits about us, a vision before us and be ready. The present Madness is driving us, willing joy-riders and captives alike, rapidly toward a cliff. By all appearances we will not stop. But we can prepare: ourselves with knowledge, our children with adaptability and courage and others by sharing a reality based vision.
On Property, A Prologue
The true dilemma facing all of the various constituencies of humans, the unsafe poor, the safe poor, the just rich, the rich, the very rich, the super rich and all the many other ways that humans have divided themselves into interest groups, is that every one of the necessary changes to the way humanity approaches life on the earth requires a reduction in the use of materials and environmental services. This is a most terrible dilemma because every present human economic, political and social behavior is based out of both the belief in and practical consequences of using more space, materials and environmental services.
The different wealth constituencies are not purely random selections of humanity, but can be sufficiently selected from the normal distribution of human traits that these differences must be considered in speculating about their potential behaviors. In general the poorer groups, because of their vast numbers, represent a normal distribution of human qualities while the very and super rich, judged by the degree of difference from the modal wealth of the region or nation, are a select group with a number of qualities in higher proportion than a random selection of people.
I would speculate that the primary qualities of those who create concentrated wealth are highly focused motivation for wealth and power, intelligence and psychopathology expressing as narcissism and egoism merging into sociopathic worldviews . A cogent argument can be made that the economic and political systems, adapted through our historical process, have come to select a reasonably reliable sort of non-sane person to manage our affairs. The biologically based deference that we have for leaders – alpha members of our primate order – has covered over this dangerous reality. It has even become a ‘common wisdom’ that well-adjusted thoughtful people don’t go into politics because of how much ‘craziness’ is required; and the very wealthy have long been looked at with the suspicion that they are driven by antisocial motives. But this is not the point of this essay, rather a contributing condition.
Only the uninformed or the willfully ignorant would argue that humans can keep on increasing in population and consumption of the earth’s productive capacity. If we take it as fact that using more, faster, than the earth’s systems can replenish and absorb has a limited time frame, then there must be a slowing of such use and an eventual adjustment to an ecologically stable consistent rate of use. As with a car speeding down the road, it makes more sense to begin the application of the brakes well before an impending stop than to slam them down in a panic at the very last moment, or worse to not slow at all and crash headlong into cross traffic.
I read and hear about the issues facing the different constituencies of us – the problems recognized, or allowed to be recognized, by political actors and the “media.” They are real, but are like a patient with heart disease giving primary attention to a sprained wrist; certainly we should attend to crime, immigration, inequity in minority treatment and a host of other issues. The elephant, however, is that our most common beliefs and comprehensions of reality are the wrong ones for the coming events of our lives and, if we are to have any chance at all to mitigate or moderate the crash into the cross traffic, we must begin to change those beliefs and understandings as the first step in slowing down. All constituencies must begin to adjust to new understandings; those that will not will have to be forced.
People will not be able to make the necessary changes without new understandings. There are two most basic belief systems that must, over a relatively short time, be completely or radically changed: Christianity (institutional religions in general) and Capitalism; it is time to begin to put the brakes on both.
It is simply impossible for people who believe that they own and have a right to use the earth’s land, materials, objects and processes in any way that they wish to act with ecological responsibility. It is simply impossible for people who believe that their wealth determines their value to treat other living things with respect. It is impossible for people who believe that God will take care of them to realize the guiding scientific principles that move reality.
The kinds of changes that are needed have historically taken many generations – wholesale shifts in underlying belief systems – but there is not the time. The Desert Religions and Capitalism are the primary forces driving the destructive processes, rapidly accelerating destructive processes, associated with “our way of life.” There is no way that adjustments of detail (new forms of energy, ‘democratizing’ a few countries or securing the borders) will have any effect on the trajectory of our biospheric deterioration. Only making major changes in underlying beliefs have a chance.
Real alternatives to monotheistic religions and Capitalism must be presented boldly and loudly. Snide rejections and high schoolish slanders will not serve us well. The terrible difficulties of such choices for most people need to be realized, but the pressure to make the choices must be increased dramatically. To put it as plainly as possible: the Desert Religions and Capitalism, as the religiously based economic design, have to be replaced with a more adaptive design for the survival of the biospheric living space.
Key elements are the magical thinking of religions and the understanding and use of the idea of property in Capitalism. The following several essays will look at the biological, historical and religious bases of property ideas and ecologically sound alternatives to present ways of thinking about property.
 A legitimate question is by what right or credential do I label, even demean, these people. First, I have been careful to preface this speculation with a statistical basis; I am speaking about comparisons of averages, not categorical definitions. But, please recognize that the poor, a fully diverse and normally distributed group is routinely described as shiftless, weak-minded, weak-willed and unworthy of respect as living things. These assumptions are propaganda largely generated by the very and super rich, there is no other reasonable source, as a device to deflect evaluation of their social relations and responsibilities. I suggest that this is clear evidence for their sociopathology, that they would demonize the largest group of humanity (and the ultimate source of wealth) as a means to maintain their excesses.
On Property, The Language
Before the ideas of private property and ownership can be profitably discussed a nomenclatural issue must be addressed: ‘property’ is a word like the word ‘slave’. One cannot discuss slavery with clarity using only the word slave for those in bondage; the word assumes a subservient position or worse, the inherent denial of fully human status. If the argument is not allowed to ask: “Is it right to hold human beings against their desire in conditions defined only by the other human beings doing the holding? Is it right that those humans held in bondage be required to do whatever they are told with physical abuse and death as consequences?” if these questions cannot be asked, then how is the argument to be made? To say that a slave is held in bondage is a tautology; to use the word slave in the above questions is an inherent acceptance of the condition. Calling a human object a slave is very different than calling him or her an independent person held in the condition of slavery.
Consider for a moment how the status of ‘human being’ is changed by using the word and idea of slave. The US Constitution defined slaves as 3/5ths of a person – a remarkable assertion on its face. In the American south slaves were tallied along with the livestock and often thought of and treated similarly; it was the general assumption that slaves were inferior to full humans in most ways. Male slaves were ‘boys’ or ‘bucks’ and never called or considered as men. It has been generally true that slaves could have their lives taken from them at the whim of those who claimed to hold them in bondage. Try substituting ‘human being’ for slave in those statements. The word slave did not cause these relationships, but supported them .
Property is a similar word. We seldom consider its implications or even to what it might refer. It is not difficult today to see that a human being held in bondage may have options in behaviors and desires other than those of the master; most, today, realize that to deny those options and desires in another, purely for one’s own desires and benefit, is wrong. But we don’t see that a piece of land may exist in ecological relationship with adjoining land, that the functional relationships of ecological cycles, nutrient movement, water purification, living relationships of hundreds, thousands, even millions of organisms are part and parcel of that land. Much of what we call ‘property’ is its own thing, has its own existence and relationships with a functioning biosphere.
It is not that these are obscure relationships. They are easy to see and understand, but we have allowed language to cover them, and in our desires for ease and excess we rationalize them; just as slaveholders rationalized holding other fully human individuals in bondage to support their own desires for economic and social achievement.
That slaves might be fully human and deserving of all human rights of self-determination was incomprehensible to all but a few white Americans in 1860. That much of what we call and treat as property today should and must be left to its own functioning ecological relationships is just as incomprehensible to most of us. And again the language makes seeing reality more difficult; we will never get to an appropriate understanding using present language and attendant comprehensions.
Furthermore, once ‘property’ is established as an unquestioned concept, its ‘privatizing’ is an adaptive outcome, that is, if it is property, then it can be assigned to individual humans and be used in their exclusive interests. Accepting and using these terms makes arguments opposing such views – and thus real understanding – impossible.
Again as with slavery, an economic system has become seemingly utterly dependent on a conceptual framework that must be challenged; the language of property gives the continuation of the present framework great momentum and persuasive force. I apologize in advance (and retrospectively) for some of the seemingly tortured reasonings as I try to construct an appropriate approach to language and conceptual frame out of the even more twisted but wholly internalized arbitrary conceptions that we take today for the natural order.
First and foremost it needs to be realized that the way humans, as a species and as individuals, relate to the objects, processes and spaces of the world around us are adaptations, not finalities that we are in the process of perfecting. All actions are related to the consequences that follow from them. That we have come to see the objects and spaces around us as only extensions of our needs has dangerously narrowed and dimmed our vision of the world.
If our powers to control and dominate the world were as limited as they are for other species, then the fullest demonstration of our power would be, as it is for all other species, completely overshadowed by the vastness, depth and completeness of ecological action . But we are like 4 year-olds with fully automatic machine guns in a glass factory – it has been right to say that we require inhibitions on our behaviors; we need our superstitions, mores, rules, commandments, regulations, laws. However, the way that we have come to these controls on our incredible powers has been haphazard, and hazard has been the result.
We have not done such a bad job of designing ways of living that work for some groups and individuals – not such a good job either, considering the poverty and suffering in the world – but for larger concentrations of power in institutions like religions, governments and corporations, the limitations and restrictions are almost nonexistent. To a very large extent this fact has driven and been driven by the very narrow and simplistic view that humans have come to take of the objects, processes and spaces of this world.
We have created the conception that we can do anything that we think of to any object or place, that only other humans and their wishes need to be considered, and that this is often primarily a power relation; opportunity and action goes to who can bully or fight with the greatest effectiveness. Objects and spaces that are within our region of power are said to be controlled by us, that we can do with them as we will. The relationships of objects and spaces to other functioning systems have typically been ignored as irrelevant since the responses of those systems to our actions have been so slow compared to our almost instantaneous speeds; that these systems respond glacially, in both meanings, slowly and overwhelmingly, is only beginning to influence the public mind, too long accustom to religious interpretations of the consequences of our actions on the environment.
The relationship that we call property is really a very narrow interpretation of the objects and spaces so claimed, the idea that an ‘owner’, in the Blackstone sense (see On Property, The Religion, footnote ), can have more than a vanishingly small understanding of the full expression of the object or space is absurd. Yet, without any real understanding of a thing that is called property, the owner claims the right of total domination and the exclusion of all other influences; picks out some characteristics important to the present human condition and uses that characteristic without regard to the consequences to the object or place as a whole.
Humans, as do all other organisms, need things. They can, with various behaviors and devices, control certain limited aspects of some things. They can make many things happen with, and to, much of the world. What they cannot do is know enough or be powerful enough to be, for more than a short time (evolutionary or ecological time) and with unsteady hand, in control of the world. Our control up to now has been the control of a home invader, the illusion of control based on an apparent asymmetry of power. Property is both a consequence of and contributor to that illusion.
Of course, we must use the world, its objects and places, there are some who use that simple reality to justify our present language and action , but there is no inherent reason that we cannot use the world as does the rest of life, the billions of species over billions of years. Since it is our use of objects and spaces that is ultimately the issue, then it is a use-based understanding that we require.
While other species also use environmental offerings in selective and narrow ways, their adaptive response systems, based on the genetic consequences of their reproductive success, are responsive to an infinitely broad range of environmental changes. Biophysical processes in their finest detail – including things about which, even today, we know nothing – mold and adjust the physiology and behavior of all living things, from bacteria to blue whales. Such is the nature and function of Living Order evolutionary processes. Our Consciousness Order adaptive processes are orders of magnitude faster than the evolutionary/geological time frame, allowing us the illusion that we can, and even have, overcome nature. This illusion is a central source of our difficulties.
The kind of order that the human species needs and wishes to live in should be the driving motive for how we relate to the world around us rather than having how we live decided by habits of language that force us into narrow conceptions and options of understanding . We need to stop talking about ‘property’; replace that easy and illusory concept with use-based language: not ‘the field is my property’ – that tells us nothing – but rather, ‘I am planting the field with vegetables and some clover.’
The politics and economics of exclusive property rights need to adjust to the reality of use. But first, less illusory language and ways of thinking about the use and assignments of space and objects need to begin to invade the public mind. Without such changes the cycle of ‘concentration of exclusive privilege, then revolutions resetting the egalitarian clock and back to concentration again’ will continue until the world’s ecosystems so tire of our antics that evolutionary process prevails in our serious humbling.
I have great concern for the suffering that humans would have to endure in such a humbling, but am even more deeply concerned that the damage we are capable of doing to the earth’s living surface as our systems of support fail can only be vaguely imagined, that our most dire projections will fall short of the true devastation of the living order.
 Huck Finn could not accept Jim as a human being until he began to see him as having his own existence and not colored only with the concept of property. In the same way we must see the full functioning and independent existence of objects, organisms and lands.
 Ecological action is fully embedded in and informed by the Physical and the Living Systems of Order. If a change in neutrino flux were to shift an environmental stability, that shift would resonate through ecosystems. If a gene mutation modifies a protein that changes the metabolic efficiency of an organism by 1%, the whole system adjusts to accommodate.
 Butler Shaffer argues that territoriality and resource protection is the biological basis for private property rights. While I agree with him that there are emotional and behavioral connections to spaces and objects, the leap from needing and creating a region of use to total domination of property is a leap into illusion and madness.
 This falls into the ‘easier said than done’ category. Learning how to live effectively in the world is not even a present goal. But there are forces gathered and gathering against the eventuality of such a goal since it would involve an honest appraisal of taboo subjects like social justice, inequities of wealth, power and opportunity, nation based murder and many others.
On Property, The Biology
The ideas of property and ownership seem so completely obvious that at first blush there seems to be nothing much to consider: ‘This is mine, that is yours and that is pretty much the end of it. Sure, there might be a dispute about a particular thing, but it is still a dispute about who the thing belongs to, not the nature of ownership itself.’
Much of, especially, the western world has come to believe that all manner of things can be and should be owned by individuals; many people, often those who own very little, become genuinely frightened by the idea that private ownership may not be absolute. And there are those who are benefited by periodically tickling that fear.
The idea of property and ownership is a fundamental way of relating to the world around us forming the most basic designs of our worldview. From a purely intellectual position it can be realized that such views have histories, are only the present state of our ideas and will be replaced in the future with other ideas. Such a recognition can be uncomfortable, but is necessary.
First, what are the origins of our present notions? What is the idea of property and ownership anyway? Human behavior is an incredibly complex amalgam of the Primate Pattern of instincts and behavioral propensities and the products of the Consciousness Order processes – often in conflict . This is where we must begin.
Every organism must protect the space in which it lives and which provides its essential needs. The many designs of such protections are fascinating in their own right; from secretions put into the soil by plants that inhibit the growth of other plants, to the evolution of the male lion as the very essence of territorial and community domination. These designs also establish the basic functional conception of property: the organism has the use of the space and resources that it can protect, either passively like a tall tree collecting sunlight before it can get to the shorter plants below or actively like chimps guarding their frontier from the intrusions of a neighboring clan.
Humans bring with them the Primate Pattern of behaviors and the instinctual designs, now acting as behavioral propensities, evolved over the millions of years of our history. We are no tabula rasa. While many of us have come to prefer thinking that humans are independent of the rest of life, we are really just another phenotypic expression of 30,000 or so genes evolved for certain ecosystem relations. The failure to consider these basics will result in wrong conclusions every time; like trying to tune a piano while ignoring (or denying) the harmonic relationships of the strings.
What humans bring to the equation is an outsized capacity to protect space and resources. In addition, humans have adapted their communities to many environments, changing not only the relationships between individuals, but the size of communities, the ways of acquiring essential needs and the adaptive designs of belief systems that record and pass successful behaviors on from generation to generation.
A result has been that the idea of property has been through many iterations, many different adaptive forms, that function to relate community behavior to the ecosystems in which we have lived. Of course, each community culture has held its view to be natural and correct, and even sometimes seeing other conceptions of which they become aware as incomprehensible, silly, subversive, even evil.
When communities were the primary source of order and power, property was primarily communal. As technology gave individuals greater capacities, and objects and spaces could be protected by individuals, more things could be called property and could be privately held. But this simplifies too much.
I have read a number of economists touting the private property behavior of “primitive peoples” as though this proved the correctness of their post-Lockean conception of property while not understanding another dimension of property as relationship. Just to mention it here with further consider later: private property can be thought of as a relationship and as such we should realize that relationships can be of varying qualities; some are abusive, some are fructifying, some are distant, some are expansive and inclusive, some are narrow and rejecting. That a piece of property (real or personal) can be identified with an individual tells almost nothing about the social habit with which it is held.
As humans expanded their capacity to protect space and resource sites, both as communities and as individuals, they produced behaviors that organized how these community properties were to be used. In today’s conceptual structure we call these behaviors religion or primitive religions or pantheistic religions.
The original role of what we (confusedly) call religion today was to serve as a device mediated by the Consciousness System of Order to adapt community behavior to the environment, to select, store and pass on effective community actions. Obviously a very important part of these belief systems were the community, family and individual relationships to the land space and resources of the land space.
Since there were many different environments lived in and many different relationships adaptively designed, the concept of property has, over time, taken many different forms – all “correct” for their occasion. However, when humans discovered agriculture, and population and power exploded, new forces began to drive concepts of property; faster and always in ways that expanded human capacity, but not always in ways that maintained sustaining human adaptations to the ecosystem. The consequence has been that humans took on the concept of overcoming what were now seen as restraints of the environment rather than as information about how to sustain and use its natural beneficence.
In this new world, property took on a decidedly different form eventually becoming in the West: “Property is that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and
exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of
any other individual in the universe.” John Locke’s view interpreted by William Blackstone in Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765 – 1769)
How this happened and what it means for us today is vital for us to understand to take on challenges to our very survival. Understanding how we think about property is pivotal.
On Property, The Religion
In the beginning, the river was for getting water, for washing, for fishing. The land was for living on, walking on, for hunting on, to contain the workings of life. The plants were for all the various things that plants and their products were used for; for food, for materials, for shade, for hiding behind, for the simple pleasure in their presence. Animals like-wise: definers of place and habit, food, materials, partners in the living experience. Each thing had its own existence: the stars, sun and moon; the sky, the earth and all the rest. It had always been this way.
Today we know that it had been this way forever; that is, forever beginning with the earth’s assembly from space dust 4.6 billion years ago and the geologically ‘immediate’ formation of ‘living’ chemistry as the nearly unique liquid water physical stability of the earth’s surface began to manifest out of the freeze of space and the nuclear fire of stars.
The living manifestation evolved its billions of slightly different forms of expression. And eventually one of them was capable of perceiving and storing in an evolved biological structure, a brain, vast amounts of detail from its environment and its own experience.
Then something happened. The human capacity to adapt, using the mechanisms of the newly evolved Consciousness System of Order, generated a new design to both carry the information of experience across space and time. Included were new behavioral devices to fit and moderate human action in the environments in which the communities lived, superseding the Living System of Order processes. This new design, that I call Story  became formalized, and like the DNA of the living order, stored the community’s information, incorporated changes and supplied new generations with the information for orderly relationship and action.
For the stories to have power, they needed to contain a source of power and so was created imaginings of the ‘special story people’ who could be seen as ‘giving’ the information. Those entities were said to possess special wisdom and other special capacities, omnipotence and omniscience, powers of creation; all in the service of Story, to make Story more influential and more protected from the vicissitudes of daily randomness.
One of the consequences (among many) was the magnification and modification of the idea of obligation into a new form of the idea of ownership. In the form of syllogism: the storied creators of our world have special control of what they have created. They created not only the world, but us as well, and have therefore control of us. We have an obligation to the creators for our existence. The world, and all that is in it, is therefore the product and property of the creators and we owe them obedience as an obligation for living in this world.
In this construction people’s actions in the world around them are not greatly changed, they still use the needed space and resources, but a new idea is forming: that more than the simple production of one “man’s hand” can be his or hers and exclusive to him or her. The world and all that is in it is the product of the creating entity’s hand and all of it is exclusive to that entity. Once such a idea forms it is no great distance to selected humans acting as the agents for the creating entity and claiming “power of attorney” for the Storied Creator. It is from such humble beginnings that we have molded the complexities of religions… and our ideas of property.
Religion has been an important part of both the idea of property and ownership and the processes of change of that idea. The next essay will look more closely at the functional form that the idea of property has taken in recent times; in this one I am primarily concerned with setting the stage from which Enlightenment notions of property arose.
Recorded history is to a large extent a working out of the details of how the supernatural “owners” of the world pass aspects of that control to humans – it is the story of the intermediaries: Pharaohs, temple priests, God-kings, oracles, all manner of royalty and their relationship to the sovereignty of the personal body and space. More cynically, it is the story of how segments societies and individuals have used (and some would add here, misused) the beliefs that both motivate and adhere to the adaptive behaviors of a changing humanity.
Two traditions have, since the origin of religion as a supernaturally driven rather than an environmentally driven institution, been in conflict: (1) everything is owed absolutely by a creator that can parcel out rights and privileges or (2) nothing is owned in an absolute sense, all uses are mutual obligations for the maintenance of the system integrity.
For a hundred thousand years these two ways of relating to the world were one and the same in a simple balance of both action and idea: the world is one creation, we are of it and must give as good as we get. But as some human communities grew in size, material wealth and complexity, property relations became more difficult. Religious views and God’s spokespeople were a ready solution. And we have largely been under the influence of the institutional religious model ever since: God is the absolute owner of the universe and has given the surface of the earth to humans to do with as they will. Therefore humans have absolute dominion. And, by the way, God takes care of all the gears and motors so we need only deal with what we want to deal with – those things that make some of us more powerful in relation to others, for example.
Property, and our conceptions of it, is both a driver and consequence – chicken and egg – in this process. John Locke (1632 – 1704) was one of God’s (unofficial) spokespeople, with a difference. Locke was embedded in the Royal tradition of ownership and so spoke of privatizing property, not from the public commons, but from the universal dominion of the King and Church. The commons for a European in the mid seventeenth century were royal lands held by religious authority. This was tradition for almost all of recorded history.
King John and the Barons worked out, in 1215, a deal that the Barons too should have some authority of dominion and in an enlightened gesture included English citizens in the bargain. Though, in large measure, property continued to be thought of in the same way. Blackstone’s statement of the meaning of property in 1760s clearly shows that .
Ultimately, in the religious model, there is no authority for the holding and use of property other than force. I will argue later on in this series for another model, but for now it is the notion of absolute dominion broken into smaller tradable pieces that is the basis for how we view and act with property.
Locke sought after the ways that property might be assigned its portion of God given dominion with such devices as priority, use and need. And the business of law has followed the pattern ever since. Capitalism is based on this notion of absolute dominion.
In a typical adaptive twist, today Locke’s argument for private property and its needful separation from the (Kingly) commons has been turned into a rejection of the public commons. This is, no more or less, than the attempt to restore the Kingly commons under the title of private property. This is a natural consequence of maintaining the notion of absolute dominion.
The other model, that nothing can be absolutely owned, that there are only forms of relationship with mutual obligations, has had a continuing presence in minor philosophies, small human communities and as a Zombie in capitalist horror movies. But for now it is still the old absolutist model fueling our rush toward the ecological crossroads.
 Richard Dawkins and Susan Blackmore call them ‘meme’, but I am wary of the attempt to follow the analogy of gene so closely and fearful of the directions that such thought might be led. So I, for my own thinking, have chosen an ambiguous term that I must reconsider every time I think or write it.
 “Property is that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and
exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of
any other individual in the universe.” John Locke’s view interpreted by William Blackstone in Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765 – 1769)
On Property, Its True Nature
There is the general presumption that places, objects, processes and even ideas can and should be “owned.” Two important errors of reasoning occur in this presumption: one is that we know what ownership means when we do not and, two, that the very nature of the thing owned and its relationships are changed when ownership is defined.
Ownership implies that something is held in a protected condition, i.e., the thing is “protected” from association with or use by some, or even ‘all’, others. Another implication is that the “owner” requires no permission to use the thing owned. Private ownership, private property, is an extreme form of this in which it is presumed that there is the right of forceful protection and absolute control of the thing owned; that no permission is required for ANY use by the owner. Private ownership presumes isolation of the thing owned from the system of influences within which both the owner and the thing “owned” reside.
The polar opposite of private property or private ownership is not public ownership, but is non-ownership. Ownership, in this view, is complete artifice. It seems to come first in the form of territory ‘claimed’ and protected chemically by simple living things, moves through various stages in which all organisms evolve a variety of devices to protect physical space and resources from highly selected others, while at the same time evolving various devices to defeat the protective devices of others.
In this process no organism can act as though it, or that which it protects, exists in isolation from surrounding influences; quite the opposite, all of its adaptations are in response to those influences. In a very real sense the adaptive protection and use of space and resources by living things is not ownership of territory and resource by the organism as much as it is a form of permission being obtained, by adaptive response, from Biophysical Reality.
The arrival of living things on the earth established a new relationship with physical space and ‘resources’, actually created the category of resource, but ultimately created only a quasi-form of ownership as relationship; living things have the ‘property’ of life as a product of the living system rather than the other way round.
The Consciousness System of Order (CSO), when structured by biophysical Reality, adapted to the Living System, comprehended it and functioned within its influences with ease and great efficiency. When the information organizing capacity of the Consciousness Order initiated the ‘escape’ of the CSO from the immediate influences of Biophysical Reality, the CSO became self-referencing, was only marginally limited by Reality and so created many ‘realities’ that it was no longer able to distinguish among. Groups and individuals clung to various forms of these ‘realities’ as one would cling to bits of floating debris from a shipwreck – and they fight to hold to them with the tenacity of a drowning man.
One of these ‘realities’ was a perversion of ownership and property. In the long forming and present iteration of private property, property is not supposed to have a place in the flows and patterns of influence. “Mine is mine and has nothing to do with yours.” Since this has come to be so deeply believed, it makes the actual functioning of much of the world around us appear incomprehensible. And it makes the most insane arguments appear rational.
“Since mine is mine and yours is yours, then I can do anything I want with mine and it should not matter to you – if it does, then something is wrong with you.” This is, of course, crazy. My use of space and material, my waste, my wealth, my actions, even my simple existence influences you, and you influence me. Rejecting or denying the vast ecology of influences sets the stage for misunderstanding and inappropriate action on a grand scale; we call it modern life.
So, what is the best way to organize the use and distribution of space, objects, processes and ideas? It is important to understand, no matter what the answer to this question, that we cannot get there from here. We are so deeply committed to ‘realities’ in diametric opposition to Biophysical Reality that there is no way to release those ‘realities’ and move to another without terrible consequences to some important and powerful constituency in modern life. And furthermore, we have no reliable way to decide among the ‘realities’ being offered and are drawn therefore to selecting action on the basis of perceived immediate benefit within the limited system of our present beliefs. Quite a mess we’re in! Be that as it may, it is still a worthy exercise to plot an escape from the dilemma. Like in a cartoon, perhaps drawing a doorway will work to find a way out.
“All property is theft.” (Pierre-Joseph Proudhon) “Everything should be assigned, by capitalist and private property processes, to ownership relations.” These two extremes represent how it is possible to believe the absurd when we have either not discovered or have rejected a biophysical basis to guide our comprehension.
Living organisms require a certain amount of space and ecological productive capacity to sustain. This means that they require that all other organisms be successful at sustaining ecological productive capacity; a necessary function of stable ecosystems. A clear implication of these facts is that there are “property” relations in the living order that humans might use to give some understanding and limit to our own imaginings about property and ownership.
For a transitional time we could keep much of our ways of thinking – with modest changes – if we changed our most basic illusion: As a general belief, humans, especially the technologically powerful, think of the earth, its spaces and resources, as “belonging” to humans. Reversing this to the more reality based understanding that humans, just like all else, “belong” to the earth would be an important, even necessary, beginning.
We are certainly the product of the earth in every sense: the stuff that makes us, the evolutionary process and history that formed us as possibility and actuality, the biophysical stability of the biosphere that allows and sustains us and the ecological systems that can, even if we deny them at this moment, give order and genuine purpose to our lives.
The more we learn about our origins, our historical process and our biology, the more it is obvious that notions of our superiority and difference are relics of early attempts to make sense of our incredible adaptive powers. Physically we are incomprehensibly integrated into the biological. The human cells of our bodies, while making up the majority of the mass, are outnumbered by bacteria and other organisms that are essential for our functioning. Our bodies are a scaffolding upon which hundreds of species, represented by trillions of their cells, live and work. The oxygen we breathe comes from plants. The water we drink is distributed, cleaned and stored by living and earth processes. The soil from which plants grow is made by complex biophysical processes and in amounts that we could never replicate. All the earth’s cycles and systems conspire to maintain temperature, atmospheric and water chemistry, energy flux, protective envelope from harmful solar radiation and a dozen other conditions.
As long as people think of the earth, its space, products and processes, as things to be owned, i.e., to be held exclusively or limited to selected individuals and groups, or even whole societies, the incentives for domination and acquisition will prevail to drive people toward ways of living that ignore and deny the Biophysical Reality within which we ultimately must live.
It is at least a beginning to realize that the concepts and functions of property and ownership, as we currently use them, are dangerous and artificial structures. Even without clear alternatives such an understanding can make possible the recognition of options as they appear in our thinking, can support those who recognize intuitively the present madness and give courage for the experimentation needed to find the right spot on the wall to draw our door.
More on Property and Ownership
The question is: How do I begin to discuss a subject, with the intention that other people will read it, when that subject is absolutely clear to them and when I am absolutely convinced that they are completely and utterly wrong about it? How do I discuss it when the only language available almost completely assumes the ubiquitous common view in the very structure of the grammar and the meanings of the words? The very language and its structure conspire against understanding.
The issue is property and ownership. “This is mine, that is yours and this other thing is ours! What else is there?” You see, right there in the subject-verb-object structure, and ‘mine’, ‘yours’; the possessive form. That one thing is possessed by, the property of or owned by, some other thing is as obvious as heat on a warm day.
But it is not, not at all, obvious once one begins to look for the roots of the thing. You search down from the oh-so-clear fruit and leaves, the upper branches, and as you seek to find the well rooted trunk suckling on the solid ground of natural history, biology, the evolution of the species and the relationships of creatures long living on the living earth, it disappears into mists and wisps of possibilities and is gone as solid substance.
Funhouse mirrors catch the reflection of economic certainty, political necessity or a confused grimace of almost angry incredulity, but the essential and founding principles of property and ownership disappear when looked at closely and directly, like a perceptual illusion.
This is not to say that we, humans, do not use these principles; it is not to say that more than a few of us are even uncomfortable with them: but that is just it; these are ideas that are like so many other ideas that we use that have no reality beyond our believing and using them. Catholics believe in the Eucharist. Devout Muslims must pray to Mecca 5 times a day. Most people get excited by piles of rectangular paper printed with pictures of kings or dead presidents. Astrologers believe that the position of a collection of stars, light-years distant, in a random arrangement have meanings that influence a human’s future (there is that possessive again, as if there could be such an influence and that one’s future was somehow one’s property).
It is in the human adaptation of the Consciousness Order to both create and respond to these illusions; this is an incredible power: to think and to make thoughts reality. When guided by Reality, the subordinate ‘instrumental realities’ focus attention, direct activities over time and distance, enhance individual capacities and generally make the human species invincible in the natural world.
But when the instrumental realities free themselves from Reality, when the veridicality of process is lost and old instrumental realities become the basis for the new realities without the intervening guidance of Biophysical Reality, then “reality” is ad hoc; these instrumental realities are destined to run hard up against Reality the way a child’s game of Superman must give way to the cape’s return to a towel on laundry day.
The time line is, of course, very different – comparing the child’s game to the ‘game’ that human societies play with physical and living system laws. Humanity has been playing and building the complexity of its present game for 8,000 to 10,000 years. Legal thinkers might argue that we can have a reasonable expectation of that our game is now “Reality,” but the other systems of order just don’t work that way – there is just a long time, in human terms, between laundry days.
Property and ownership have gone through a number of iterations in, and before, that time. The most influential and insidious change, however, has gone largely unnoticed and unnoted: the shift of ownership from being a relationship of mutual responsibilities to an isolated domination of one party over another. “It is mine,” once meant that ‘I’ created or found ‘it’ and am taking responsibility for ‘it.’ The understanding of the community was that if ‘I’ couldn’t or wouldn’t serve in proper relation with ‘it’, then ‘it’ could and should revert to another who would take up the proper responsibility. Ownership conferred responsibility in direct proportion to benefits; not only to the object owned, but the whole functioning of the object and the ownership relationship in the community. ‘Ownership’ was about the husbanding of functional relationships, not about domination.
“It is mine,” has come to mean: “Property is that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe.” John Locke’s view interpreted by William Blackstone in Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765 – 1769). It is this view that has become the foundation for the aberrant human behavior that we call economics and especially capitalist economics. And it is this view that is running up hard against Reality.
Mother Nature doesn’t recognize unique claims on property. A fence is just a long bush to be hopped over. Talus doesn’t agree to boundaries, neither does flood water or wind; industrial pollutants don’t either. When our behaviors interfere with the functioning of the biophysical world, it fights back at first with warnings by violating expectations and then with the ultimate argument; it fails to function in the ways that support complex life forms. It is our distorting of property and ownership ideas that underlies and underwrites our most grave violations of relationship with the living and physical world.
Blackstone’s definition of property creates an incentive system that isolates the continuous, that commodifies the commonly attainable, that rewards destruction and that rejects the deep ecological behavior and understanding so long a part of the species’ existence. These 33 words and their rendering into economic behavior are an important source for our difficulties and their intransigence.
This doesn’t mean, as is often the response of the unimaginative and the narrowly self-interested, that all property ideas are rejected and thus, dread upon dread, “communism” will destroy our world. It does mean that a number of ways of organizing our relationships with each other and the objects of our world would follow aspects of the socialist model, but hey, that’s a good thing isn’t it, to be more engaged in social concerns, habits and expectations.
The good of the community has almost always been held up as more important than the good of individuals – it is certainly used as an argument for sending young men off to war. Even Kings have claimed that they act in the interest of the common good. Even princely CEOs claim that they are “compensated” (as opposed to extorting) for the common good. We all like the argument – except for actually doing for the common good; and that is largely because of the deep ingraining of the Blackstone type definition of property and ownership: “It’s only mine if no one else can touch my stuff. I am a measure of what I make mine.” So, eventually we become the stuff we have and to hell with the other guy (and since we are the other guy to someone, we are really saying to hell with ourselves).
How different it is to see what we ‘possess’ as benefiting our community, what we have as being in our custody and our responsibility. How we relate to others and to the maintenance of the property infrastructure of society is our measure. Humans have lived with this incentive system for thousands of years in thousands of places.
It is true that the process of change and “development” is slower in this design, but change by no means stops. Our relationships to such dominant ideas as entrepreneurship would change dramatically. Status systems would be upset. However, if these understandings, not new to us, only latent in this time, could be reinvigorated we might survive and minimize the extinction event that our present values have created.
The Idea of Property, Further Studies
Processes and relationships that are real, that have basis in reality, and can accrue to one person must, to be real, also accrue to others. In a similar way relationships that accrue to one species must accrue to other species and to other forms of existence. This has been part of the general learning process throughout the human history of discovery: Who we were in our groups were what humans were – our name for ourselves was, very often, the name for humans. The land that we lived on was the center of the world. The earth was the center of the universe. Our beliefs were the central true and correct beliefs; so on and so forth.
But we have discovered that relationships and ‘properties’ we thought (believed) unique to our group, our country, our species, living things or our planet are not unique at all. We are fully part of and continuous with the cosmos.
The certainty with which humans once held the notion that they were specially designed to reside in the center of creation is the same sort of confidence with which our present time-ghost holds the belief that we can own the living and physical world.
Property is an idea. It is a special form of idea of the magical thinking sort. This does not mean that the magical idea of property is complete illusion: there are consequences of this idea that are quite concrete. We have come to it in reasonable and understandable steps, but this does not make it any less a fallacy that has taken on more and more dangerous proportions and consequences. First the nature of the idea :
All relationships are established between things by some exchange of energies. This is a basic physical principle. It is becoming more and more important that we humans recognize the preeminence of these principles and stop giving ourselves magical powers, but, of course, we continue on in the old ways. The rules and laws of the Physical System of Order (PSO) underlie and underwrite the special principles of the Living System of Order (LSO) and the Consciousness System of Order (CSO) – we need always to look to the physical laws and biophysical principles for guidance and metaphor.
Claims of property attempt to relate some object  to a person, a group of persons or, today, a ‘legally’ defined entity through the wholly magical device of “ownership.” This happens when a group of humans agrees to abide by the common belief that the relationship exists – there is no other basis in Reality. For such a belief to take on importance, it must be attributed magical powers vested in other illusions. Humanity has created religions, economies, political structures, all in part formed out of the magical thinking around “property.”
This idea has been deeply and powerfully embedded in our language, habits and beliefs. Its development has been gradual and insidious; many, even most, of the habits and rules by which we organize our daily actions and our societies have been formed directly from or in relationship to property concepts, concepts that on clear analysis exist only in our ideas, but more importantly lead us into conflicts with the biophysical principles that are essential for life to exist on the earth.
To put it simply, we do not “own” the earth or any of its products, yet we believe that we do and act on that belief by dominating the earth with our numbers, with our capacity to adapt far more quickly than evolutionary process and the willingness, fueled by our belief, to change the earth in any way that we wish. The disconnect is beyond comprehension and seemingly beyond repair.
As with all organisms, each person and each group of persons must gather to itself sufficient physical space and material to maintain life and the enjoyment of life. This is one of the essential meanings of “property” that we must rediscover.
The functional implementing of “property” behavior creates an organizing principle which allows an organism to navigate the complexities of using objects and spaces. As an organizing principle, it must exist in the information form and structure of the system of order in which it is functioning: in the Living Order “property” has evolved as the highly structured systems of use of space and material encoded in DNA as instinct and, in the more complex creatures, supplemented by learning, both classical and instrumental.
In the LSO, the use of land-space and material is a cost and therefore is kept to the minimum required to meet the organism’s needs. No predator has a territory of 2 sq. miles when 1 sq. mile will do. Animals of the same species in the same region vie for the smallest possible home range, not the largest: a large territory results from the space only marginally meeting needs. Such a range is more difficult to learn, harder to defend and less likely to sustain life in hard times.
The CSO, with its great powers of information selection, storage and transmission across space and time in the form of story, has reworked the use relation of property into a hugely expanded and modified form. If one square mile is good, then 2 square miles is better. Our capacity to dominate with our tools and social designs has grown progressively for many tens of thousands of years, at first slowly and then with exponential ferocity. And along with that domination has grown the magical notion that that which we could, for the most part, keep to ourselves and away from others was actually attached to our being in some way.
There are many more parts to this story: status, intertwining of social relationships and “property” relations, empowering of the sociopathic, misappropriation of religious process, response to “property” concentrations and more. Since I can’t find a source that has spelled it all out for me, I will have to keep trying it for myself. If any reader knows of some source or sources that will save me the trouble, I’d be grateful (other than being directed to Karl Marx – important, but not the final word).
A summary position so far: The idea of property (especially ‘private property’) is used as a magical justification to collect excess under one human’s (or group’s) control rather than as a basic organizing principle for the materials and spaces that are used to meet human needs. It must come to be adjudged unacceptable in human society to reject the needs of all of the rest of the biophysical world. This will require, not the removing of the property concept, but its major reworking. Unfortunately, this thought is almost an infinity away from the way today’s economic and political elites are thinking and acting.
 The word “property” is also used to describe qualities appended to an object, process or form of energy. There is something to be learned from this useage. Mass is a property of matter. Gravity is a property of mass. These are indissoluble relationships; not even relationships, but really different measures of what are in reality the same thing. Gravity is an extension of the presence of a center of mass. This way of using the word and concept ties together mental constructions of apparent differences that in biophysical fact are not differences at all, but different ‘faces’ of the same process or event. A property of the hemoglobin super-molecule is the reflection of light with wavelengths around 650 nanometers (nm = one billionth of a meter = one millionth of a millimeter). Many different materials might reflect light in that same range – hemoglobin does not ‘own’ 650 nm light! And, of course, 650 nm light doesn’t ‘own’ hemoglobin. Humans (if they have the appropriate words) call 650 nm the color red (or an equivalent translation of the experience). A property of that wavelength, in the human experience, is the color red. But this is a purely manufactured property; ‘red’ has no substantial existence. Blood, certain minerals, concentrations of carotene and a variety of other materials or structures all reflect or transmit light that is called red in human experience.
It is the property of a prism to separate light into its array of wavelengths rather than have them all mixed together as an indistinguishable mishmash. This is a unique property of prisms and prism-like structures. But even in this unique relationship, the prism and the light are related only by a process, not in anyway by the way “property” as used in human concepts of attachment through the concept of ‘ownership.’ The actual human relationships to property are more like those of the physical world than the human magical idea.
 ‘Object’ is used here to refer to physical space, items natural and created, certain behaviors and definable ideas that can take some actionable form.