Jan 042013

Ownership. It came up in the comments to yesterday’s post, and somehow a lot of my thought lately has circled around that concept of ownership, how we as a society have approached it in the past and how we do now, what it means and what it should mean in a perfect world.

What does it mean to own something? What can we own anyway? Are there things that cannot be owned, and if so, why?

If there is an intuitive answer to what we “can” or “cannot” own, who or what determines this ability or inability? Is this a matter of moral doctrine or is there some intrinsic law, and if so, is that law immutable?

Things have changed radically in the last 20-50 years. It has gone out of fashion to ask questions, to challenge the pillars of our political and economical system. On our way to a hyper-connected, hyper-monitored society we have lost the Brechts and the Sartres along the way. Here we are in the middle of the biggest machine mankind ever constructed, the Internet, and we leave it to the corporations and competing secret services, happy with cheap porn and mindless chatter. Meanwhile corporations and their owners begin to let us feel what they mean by owning ideas and concepts.

For me this means realizing that I know nothing. I have to go back, have to at least get a feeling for what at the beginning of another age, the Industrial Age, was discussed, what changes were predicted, were seen as historic necessities.

Immediately that means to read Karl Marx and his “Kapital”. Of course that is not enough. One would need to read John Stuart Mill, as Marx criticizes him, would need to read Hegel, as Marx sometimes builds upon him, of course all that must remain completely arcane without a profound knowledge of Kant and …

I’ve been there. Once I’ve tried to prepare for a role-playing game that would take place in ancient Mesopotamia, and in my desire to research some of the historic background, I read about all ancient history in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, Egypt led to Greece and Rome, from there I ventured into Byzantium and the crusades, and that’s where I stayed for a long time. I read every history of the crusades and of Byzantium available on the market. The original purpose, the game, was long forgotten, and while it was interesting, I probably can’t do that with all of philosophy 🙂

The second time I immersed myself so totally into a subject, was when I bought Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”. I had the desire to go back in time, find the roots of late Baroque music, and I went back via Purcell, Monteverdi, all through Renaissance, to the very specific topic of “L’Homme Armeé” masses, back to the Ars Subtilior of Ciconia, the Ars Nova of Guillaume de Machaut and my beloved Philippe de Vitry, back to the Cantigas de Santa Maria, the Trovères and the troubadours of long gone Occitania.

There I stopped. Music stopped as well. The Gregorian Chorale would have been left, but that did not interest me any more. Instead I went back to Baroque, to Haendel, Bach, and via Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi, Wagner (where I spent a long time) all up to Berg, Webern and my equally beloved Schönberg.

This unexpected journey, going there and back again, left roughly 1000 CDs on my shelves and took about ten years.

Again, I can’t do that with philosophy. My life is limited and we are well past a time when a learned person could read everything that matters. This may indeed be one of our central problems, namely the loss of our history, the loss of what has already been thought. It’s still there, you can download it from Amazon, look it up in the Wikipedia, but it is largely inaccessible to the masses, if for no other reason then for its volume.

I don’t expect Marx to give answers to the problems of our time. I expect him to give answers to the problems of his time, and I expect me to be able to see where exactly things went wrong. Maybe we can build from there.

The Song of the Day is “If the Stars Were Mine“, one of the few songs in my possession concerned with ownership, although in a decidedly non-Marxian way. The Image of the Day is an old image chosen because it fits the title 😀

Hear Melody Gardot’s song from her 2009 album “My One And Only Thrill” on YouTube.

  5 Responses to “2270 – If the Stars Were Mine”

  1. Ahhh. So much to learn and not enough time. Our world has become so specialized and complex. Everyone is a specialist in something and almost no one is (or can be) a generalist.

    And as we age, time becomes so much more valuable. We have to choose how to spend it very carefully.

    I’m enjoying your recent ramblings!


  2. I must say I feel much the same way. Where you researched music I researched art. And you are right, asking question is out of fashion and so is critical thinking. Today it is easy to feel small and insignificant, to feel like we know nothing and that the world is passing us by. The Internet’s power might be seen as bringing information to the people but it is more likely that it is bringing mob-mentality to information. All that knowledge at our finger tips and yet no way of knowing its validity but that doesn’t matter does it, it’s all about hits and views. With a great headline who cares about the content?
    My son’s math class in his last year at school was what I learned in my second year at University. My daughter, 4 years younger, was given an assignment which my son did only last year. Where does it end?
    I do not know where the answers to our woes lie. I have not found them in art or philosophy beyond the personal level but then again, maybe that’s all the answers we can ever expect to find. I don’t know.

    • No, I strongly feel that the Internet is vast progress over what we (not) had. I can’t check the validity of everything that I read in Wikipedia, but there are a few things that I know, and when I look them up, I can find what I know, plus an immensity of what seems plausible in the context of what I know.

      Sure, much of Wikipedia’s content must be biased, but so were the big encyclopedias of the past. Only that I didn’t have them for financial reasons, and if I had had them, I couldn’t have used them to look up the publishing year of my Song of the Day 🙂

      Some disciplines must really suffer today though. Look at physics: You can easily understand apples and stones, it took a genius and enormous doubt of the scientific community to come to grips with relativity, but quantum physics? Particles? Strings? Yes, we pump money into those disciplines, but at one point it will be hard to get people interested at all. I suppose it takes a long time today until you understand enough of it to even judge whether you are interested in a career in physics or not. It’s maybe not a problem of today, but once you need years of education until you get even in sight of where the bleeding edge is, the productivity of science must slow down terribly. Or its quality and credibility must suffer. Or likely both 🙂

      • Good points for sure. I didn’t mean to imply that we were worse off with the Internet. Quite the contrary. There will always be bias in knowledge but it is better to have access to the information than not. However when access comes so easily there is always a risk that it is simply believed without question, without analysis. When things become easy, people become lazy (and yes I am generalising 🙂 ).

        As for the sustainability of learn more and more knowledge, I do not know. I can say though that it surprises me how easily my 17yro son learned what I had once been taught in a Pure Mathematics class in second year University. Perhaps our brains are evolving in ways that will help us cope or perhaps some of the new research happening with DNA which seems to indicate that ancestral memories may be stored in DNA strands might help us find ways of accessing that information. I’m guessing and fantasising. Maybe as you suggest, we will simply lose interest in those topics that take simply too long to learn. I really have no idea.

        You’ve certainly raised some interesting thoughts.

        • I think we still make progress in didactic methods, and some knowledge that once had seemed indispensable as foundation of a particular scientific field is just skipped today. You come surprisingly far using shortcuts, especially in a world where you have to make cuts anyway.

          No, I don’t think kids today are substantially more intelligent. Due to an early exposure to computers they may learn some things faster, and in general they learn different things than we did 🙂

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