Monday, November 07, 2005

Semantics, Property ...

In a natural language like English words with identical pronunciation can have different, even contradictory meanings. Raise and raze mean incompatible things, but they sound the same. In the case of this pair, the spelling is by convention distinguished, but in many another group distinction resides, if at all, only in the mind of the speakers. You: is it singular? or plural? Semantics, grammar ... the phenomenon is the same.

Well, we've all known that since we learned to speak, and then write, and maybe pay a little attention to spelling. But there remains many a word with multiple and incompatible meanings that even the literate don't distinguish properly. Spreading these borders a bit I invite you to think of the concept property.

Is there any mutualist anarchist (such as myself) who doesn't want his own toothbrush? My toothbrush is mine. Don't use it without permission. My car is mine, I have the key. The key is supposed to be unique: or at least rare. Don't steal my key, don't steal my car, don't borrow it and go racing in the muck. But I certainly don't mean that I "own" my car eternally. I don't pretend that God gave it to me. I bought it, I could sell it.

Consider other things that we think of as "ours." No lover, no bridegroom, wants the rest of his pack jumping into the bridal bed to share his bride's cherry. Does the groom think he owns the bride? In some cultures he's been encouraged to. How about real estate? Lots of people own their house. Do they also own the land it sits on? They may have a paper that says so, but the paper comes from a kleptocracy. Does God ratify the paper?

And if he does, where the hell does he come from? And where does he get the right?

If we own the land, how come the state can take it away when it wants to build a road? to house troops? to test a bomb? If we own the land, how come the hurricane can blow it away, wash it away, dump a hectare of mud on it?

I understand that the tornado can suck my toothbrush from my mouth and whirl it off to Kansas. I understand that the tsunami can sweep my bride from the bed, and me along with her: though we may then have very different destinations. I wind up broken in a tree upland; she washes out to sea. Maybe she lives with mermaids and becomes queen. Maybe she's plunked on an island whose people then worship her, or violate her corpse.

Property is a difficult, complex concept. Should we have thirty different spellings? Ten or fifteen (or fifty} different pronunciations? Not likely. Not unless we were tuned to the differences.

Try thinking of differences within other complex words. Is peace the same in a kleptocracy frequently at war as it is among picnicking Cro-Magnon who've never heard of a state? Of course maybe their picnic comes in the wake of bashing a few Neanderthal heads.
How about war? Is there a difference between driving wolves from your farm and driving Cossacks from your hovel? Is there a difference between knifing the Apache trying to take your scalp and drafting immigrants in New York to fight Confederates in Virginia? or suckering young people in Charleston to ship off to Cuba? to Midway? to Istanbul?

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