Initial Appropriation: A Dialogue

Jason Kuznicki has a way-too-long fictional dialogue where he tries to show you that, if you operate under historically-bound ideological assumptions, things that deviate from the historically-bound ideological assumptions seem weird. He did a great job. I have been wanting to do initial appropriation in dialogue for a long time now, and so I am using his amusing piece as an excuse to go ahead.

Let’s first set the scene. Imagine a time long ago when nobody owned anything. This time necessarily existed. In the scene, we have two people, Jane and Bob. Bob, apparently high on drugs, has decided that he can take things that nobody owns and violently exclude everyone else from them for the rest of history. So he “homesteads” (his strange word) some piece of land and then this amusing dialogue unfolds.

Bob: Hey Jane, you see this line I am drawing on the ground. Yeah it makes a box. You can’t come across it or I will beat the shit out of you and maybe even put you in a cage.

Jane: Whoa Bob. What the fuck? You been drinking?

B: No I am dead serious.

J: Alright. I think you are drunk. But maybe you can explain to me why this is legit. Yesterday I could walk across this line. Today you are saying you will beat the shit out of me if I do. You didn’t ask me if I was OK with this. So what’s up?

B: I get to exclude you from it because I mixed my labor with it, obviously.

J: What on earth? How do you mix labor? Labor is a thing you do, not a thing you mix. It is bodily exertions. How can you mix it? Is this some kind of metaphor? Are you writing a poem?

B: By mix my labor, I mean, you know, that I did work. And in so doing I mixed what I own (my labor) with something that is not owned (the ground). And when you mix something you own with something you don’t, the product of the two becomes owned by you.

J: Once again, you say you are mixing things, but I have no idea if this is symbolic language or what. Labor cannot be mixed. Substances are mixed. What molecules are labor made out of? This is totally incoherent. Besides, even if you could mix labor (you can’t, you drunk fool), why would joining something you own with something that is unowned entitle you to the product of the two? If I mix a can of soup I own into the unowned ocean and the molecules spread evenly throughout, would I own the ocean? Come on now.

B: But liberty!

J: Liberty? What the hell are you talking about liberty? You are going to physically restrict me from doing stuff I used to do. Your justification, no matter what it ends up being, always takes the form of: 1) I took some unilateral action that nobody asked me to take, and so 2) I get to violently attack people to restrict them from things they used to not be restricted from. How you describe the “unilateral action” might change, but the basic process of arguments here is always the same. This isn’t liberty. It’s the exact opposite. Every little thing you grab up reduces my liberty, my ability to move about as I’d like. I don’t agree to it. You just have decided, like a statist asshole, that these economic regulations regarding resource use are good and you are going to violently impose them on me, like a statist asshole, without my consent.

Action: Jane ignores Bob’s threats of violence and comes into the square of land to play frisbee with her friend. Bob then violently attacks her, all while screaming “my name is Ron Paul and I am the candidate of liberty.”

  • GeorgeDance

    Rather silly, that. Where did the frisbee come from? And why does Bob have to attack Jane? Why can’t he just take the frisbee? It’s just a “piece of the earth,” too.

  • GeorgeDance

    Why can’t a moral rule be both a “construct of society” and a “Real Moral Thing”? The rule that slavery is wrong looks like both.

  • Eric

    LOL You’ve got to be kidding me right? There’s no substance, no meat, no real philosophy in this. I can easily flip it just as lazily:

    Jane: Hey WTF I was playing frisbee here.

    Bob: Why what’s wrong with over there. Look over there is prettier, and I’m trying to till this land for agriculture.

    Jane: Nah, I think I’m going to just trample over your plantation as I see fit.

    Bob: Ok, I guess I’ll have to just hunt and gather then :(

    Jane: No, those berries are commonly owned, what gives you the right to eat them? That will forcibly exclude them from everybody who doesn’t get to eat them.

    Bob: Uh, there’s enough berries to go around, what gives me the right is that I have a right to live, and if picking these berries feeds me, then I’m right to do it.

    Jane: No it’s commonly owned! It’s nobodies property, therefore nobody eats!

    Action: Bob and Jane sit down and starve to death with nature’s bounty surrounding them.