Illusion of Ownership

PC to Tharawat

Yuval Noah Harari, in an interview on a podcast, mentioned that “Man moves forward due to ability to believe in myths.” And we are the only creature which has such an ability.

Fiction. Entertainment. Myths. Fundamental rights. Meaning of life.

The construct of capitalism. Money, as gold or as printed paper. Ground principles of land and property ownership.

But honing in one just one foundational notion that is taken for granted, ownership. — What do we actually own? What does “ownership” actually mean?

From the ownership of basic land, property, to the ownership of stocks, or shares in businesses and their future earnings — the deep-rooted notion of ownership propels our markets and economies. Adam Smith declared that fundamentally we are only owners of our labor. It is by barter and efficient trade thus we start to own other produces of other people’s labor. And thus begins the wheel of hard work, capital accumulation, and passing on of wealth — a uncanny storage of power and influence over labor. Without property rights spelled out and protected, it is doubtful that we are where we at today. It is an ingenuous myth, which invented, have catapulted our human existence.

But a myth, is ultimately a myth. The myth of money bursts and leaves the economy in shambles. The myth of ownership is more personal. We come to the world naked, and leave the world — where the world may be better or worse off — yet we take nothing that we have “owned”. Now this may be nihilist. But ultimately what do we own? Our thoughts? Our emotions? Logic and reason? Our understanding of the world? Our values?

All these possessions we claim to “own” — we need to carry, to take care of, leave spaces for them in our minds and constantly demand our attention. If capitalism is founded on this idea of ownership, then it is a founding idea that burdens and twists our interests. Our goal as human selfs may ultimately not to “own” many items, trinkets or a 10 carat ring — it is perhaps more of the status symbol, the recognition, the comfort of material life that we are after by choosing to “own”. Or other pursuits. Such as philanthropy, spirituality or social good.

And when the personal myth goes bad, we feel like a mess. Literally. Our rooms, offices and desks piled with 99% items that we use 1% of the time. Not to speak of excesses, how they burden our lives down by diluting our attention, responsibility and cloud our minds. Sometimes I tend to believe one’s mind is occupied by the immediate space in front of you— thus I would rather brainstorm by the window instead of in front of my clustered desk.

Marie Kondo prescribes an artful process of elimination to clean up our lives. Notice, that by ridding of excesses and desire for ownership, we tidy up our lives, and tidy up our causes and pursuits.

With a layman’s eye on world’s changes in modern design and taste, I (may be biased) sense a torrent that rushes away from this world full of institutions and consumption and materialism, to somewhere clean, natural and wholesome. Whether it is through expression in Japanese or Scandinavian tastes. Life should be simple — life should not be driven by a myth. No burdens, no ownership. Nature. Spirituality. Delight not in possessions, but in simply being.

Societies are driven forward by myths. That is fine. But as individuals, we start living once we step outside the hamster wheel.