Thursday, February 01, 2007

Self-ownership and submission

A video on self-ownership.

As I understand it, an argument from self-ownership is a completely political stance. Viewed with this in mind, the video above is tragically funny. ‘The Philosophy of Liberty’, as it styles itself, is a particularly overworked exercise in middle-management morality, and, considered intellectually, would make even the most obstinate child blush. However, the sudden appearance of boxes containing ticks and crosses over the heads of the figures is bordering on comedic mastery; The Very Naughty Swivelling Hands of Oppression explode my morality, right through the jocular tissues in my face.

This said, there are serious points to be made about self-ownership: specifically, concerning the ideas that 1) there are coherent ‘selves’, and 2) that it is of the nature of these selves to have property (and, further, primarily of themselves). Yet these points would be best discussed in the situations in which they are forced upon us, and not analysed in a propositional fashion – so, when do we encounter them?

There is an expression of self-ownership in the use of drugs, cigarettes etc, in which arguments from health meet with a particularly aggressive rebuttal. The Very Naughty Swivelling Hands of Oppression (TVNSHO), as always, get bounced back by the Forcefield of Self-Love and Anti-Genocidal-Justice (FSLAGJ), and we as interlocutors are left defending a very peculiar straw man – that it violates us as political subjects to see someone do something damaging to themselves.

Surely this, on the part of the self-damaging person, is an attempt to demonstrate that it is politically coherent to be self-damaging given a principle of self-ownership? What kind of an argument is this? Who would accept it?

On the other hand, it appears that self-ownership arguments are a way of legitimating a virtual person that is able to conform to the demands of our rights-centered, legalistic society. Not to mention, of course, that the assertion of absolute personal sovereignty grounds unlimited, polymorphous consumption. It may be the case that self-ownership can, in negative cases, support and reinforce damaging behaviour, but it also has the 'positive' effect of reinforcing values of consumption and alienation. The question I would like to ask is how these resolve into each other – is not damaging behaviour a specific instance of becoming politicised as a consumer?

Specifically, can we not say that the act of demanding property rights over the self is the same as giving up those rights, in an act of submission: that this submission is effected precisely by forcing its status as a legitimate, consistent political subject position upon the interrogator?


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