A few days ago while I pulled weeds in my backyard, a rather strange paradox came to mind. Since the sun was warm but not ungodly hot, I stripped off my t-shirt, balled it up, and tossed it over some rocks, thinking I might get a little tan. Besides, the sun felt terrific on my back.
As I continued working, I glanced over at the t-shirt, and for some bizarre reason, the idea of ownership popped into my brain. I knew the shirt was mine, but could not think of any physical reason why. There was no connection between me and the shirt laying several feet away.
Since I was alone, I wondered how I would feel if a stranger walked through the yard, picked up the shirt and claimed it. That intruder holding the shirt had physical contact with it. I did not. If I called out, "Hey, that belongs to me," and he dropped it saying, "Sorry," all would be okay.
But what if he said, "Prove it." That would be difficult. Long gone and forgotten was the t-shirt's sales slip. I knew for a fact I had no memory of the shirts brand name, nor did I recall holes in the shirt or identifiable stains on it. Perhaps it was a "large," more probably an "extra large" to cover my paunch.
But I let the intruder thought dissolve wondering what I meant when I tell myself, "That shirt is mine." Since there are no strings between it and me something invisible, but real, exists called a relationship. And what exactly is that? It has to be a reality, not just make-believe, or I could not claim ownership.
But wait, I thought, maybe there is a physical connection because I can see the shirt with my eyes. But when I go back to pulling weeds, the shirt is out of sight, and it's still mine. In addition, if visual connection were the case, a blind person could never claim ownership at all. So I'm left with an invisible link that tells my brain, "I own the shirt."
When I went back inside the house, I tried researching exactly what ownership meant. To my surprise, I found that Harvey Reeves Calkins (1915) researched this topic and presented his findings in a book titled, A Man and His Money. In it he claims that ancient Roman Law is the foundational philosophy on which ownership rests.
But that invisible bond between a person and what s/he owns seems somewhat selfish. Calkins claimed that "Ownership signifies the nearness, or possible nearness, of other people who can be hindered from possessing or enjoying the thing that is mine. In a word, ownership means hindrance;" meaning: keep others from taking what I own.
I hunted for more up-to-date meanings of ownership to find that Encarta Encyclopedia (2005) claims that "Ownership involves, first and foremost, possession," but since I was not grasping or wearing the t-shirt, accordingly, ownership would seem questionable.
Encarta goes on to say that with any property: "ownership in modern societies implies the right to use, prevent others from using . . . ." In my mind, this prevention means brute force. To me, there are two points clearly evident from my weed pulling experience:
1) There is a world of invisible "thingies" for want of a better term, and ownership is one of them.
2) The best way to prove the t-shirt is mine is to keep it on or to use brute force. If an intruder lifted it and refused to give it back, only if I was larger and more muscular than the thief could I clobber the robber into returning it.
Is a sweaty, smelly t-shirt, attached to me with no strings, worth a black eye?