13 November 2012

mineness versus yoursness.

Let's talk about things. Not just any ol' things—but the things that we call our own. In other words, our possessions—even though I don't really care for the word 'possessions' because, in this age of politically correct namby-pambyism, it has been tainted with a negative connotation. You see, when I assert my possession of any given thing, I attempt to delimit it not only as mine, but sometimes also as not-yours. Nowadays—at least in 'enlightened' circles—this has an air of selfishness and consumerism about it—deservedly or not. It's become distasteful to like material objects too much because it reveals your shallowness and shameful incapacity in the face of a marketing juggernaut that endlessly convinces you that you need more things—when in fact you may not even really want them, let alone need them. 

Think about it: Usually when there is some sort of major natural disaster, you turn on the news and see a guy with bad teeth and no shirt standing in front of a pile of two-by-fours and detritus that used to be his double-wide. When prompted for a response of some kind by a news reporter, instead of barking, 'My home is a landfill! How the fuck do you think I feel?' like any sane person should, the victim plays nice and, as if reading from the script, says something like: 'Possessions can be replaced. I'm just glad all of my family is safe.' 

I call bullshit. And I'm not discounting the part about being glad that his family is safe. I'm willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt on that score—which is a major benefit if you've actually seen his family—but I am calling bullshit on pretending material possessions aren't important. Because they are. It's just a fact. Anything that we want to possess is important to us—to varying degrees, of course—but there's always some spiritual residue inside us that tries to deny this fact, as if we might be diminished in our selfness somehow by our materialist proclivities. Now don't get all bent out of shape and think that I'm saying that objects are as valuable or more valuable than people. This isn't a rerun of MTV Cribs, after all. I'm only saying that in addition to the value we place in ourselves and  others, there should be strong but subordinate value placed on our possessions—which, to the extent that they do provide us with pleasure without diverting our efforts for a more profound, philosophical happiness, are useful accessories of the smaller world that we build around ourselves.

In other words, objects should never define my happiness, but they should increase my pleasure—when and if my pleasure doesn't interfere with my higher personal goals and ambitions. In other, other words, stuff is good. Or it can be. There is nothing essentially wrong with it, and there is no need to demonize the materialist, consumerist impulse when it's restrained by a developed sense of priority and discipline. If you argue that most people don't have a developed sense of priority and discipline, I would be inclined to agree with you—but these personal failings contribute to countless problems, some of them far worse than consumerist appetite. As a point of comparison, blaming consumerism for the consumer's lack of discretion and control is similar to blaming alcohol for alcoholism. The argument doesn't work. The affliction inhabits the body and not the symptom.

If you were predicting that this long, windy defense of material possessions (and material possessiveness in general) was nothing more than a cheap rationalization of my own attitudes, you're sharper than I gave you credit for. You see, just this past weekend, while I was traveling on the other side of the country, my luggage was stolen. Some of you who know me are tired of hearing about it already—and will likely write this off as more dead-horse-beating—but when has that ever stopped me before? I've lost my iPad, a wedding gift, a new pair of shoes, several articles of clothing, including a favorite sweater and a new jacket, a phone charger, three prescription medications, a keyring which included my house key, my car key, and the key to my office, at least one loose ten dollar bill, a cellphone charger, and a book. I suppose if you're going to be one of those pricks who likes to compare a loss like this to—I don't know—the Holocaust or children being raped by Catholic priests in order to 'put things in perspective,' then you're probably going to think this is no big flipping deal. After all, I'm not poor. Although I don't come home every night and roll around naked in money, sweet money, I can replace most of what I lost without too much hardship. But at the risk of sounding melodramatic, there's something else at stake here: some person out there doesn't recognize the mineness of my things—or I should say that he does recognize it, but he flouts the customs and laws of his culture just because he wants to sell an iPad for crack. (That's just my go-to motivation for theft of any kind, by the way.) I'm am going to allude to Plato's theory (via Socrates) of the social contract which stipulates that since we are aware of the laws of our nation (for the most part) and since we inherently derive certain benefits from living there, we are therefore bound—in an implicit contract—to observe and respect (within limits) the prohibitions of that nation. Of course, this argument is spurious in all kinds of ways, especially today—for example, to the extent that (1) many people lack the means to leave a given nation, (2) other people are kept in the dark about the laws they may break (consider the Stalinist Soviet Union as a for-instance here), and (3) (most relevantly) most of the livable space on this planet is defined as a nation with its own laws, many of which are fundamentally the same. (A law against recreational murder is one that comes to mind.) How can any person hope to flee all of the contracts that govern this planet at the insistence of his conscience? 

But wait a minute here. Why am I discounting an argument (i.e., the implied contract that bound Socrates to Athens and to his own death sentence) that I am attempting to use rhetorically to establish my right to whine, bitch, and moan continuously about my purloined duffle bag? Maybe you wouldn't have noticed the vulnerabilities of the argument (not all of which are mentioned above) or would simply have taken my word for it without giving it much thought. I didn't want you to think my feelings about being robbed were just understandable—but rather that they were philosophically justifiable. But the more that I mull it over, the more I wonder why I even care what you think. I mean, who are you? Any person with internet access may possibly read this blog entry, including the thief.  I didn't say it was likely, you understand. Only possible. And this momentous potentiality makes a fool of me. Here I am—employing shaky logic to convince (possibly) the thief that I have a right to be angry that my things were taken even though 'polite society' nags at us to be grateful for whatever scraps from the table of fortune that we're thrown. Listen to my dad's little riff on this attitude: he would often say, 'Once I was sad because I had no shoes, but then I met a man who had no feet.' Bullshit! This can regress infinitely until we have no right to complain ever—because for every lousy situation x, there's always a lousier situation x + 1. Whoohoo! Does this kind of relativism make people feel better? I can understand using it from time to time to get oneself out of a funk, but in what way does feeling grateful that I have feet preclude me from being sad I don't have shoes? Are my feet not frostbitten because I've hit the jackpot in comparison to the guy with stumps on the ends of his legs? No way.

Since this thread of the argument seems to be going nowhere, I'll just speak directly to the thief who is probably smoking the hell out of some crack on my dime in Santa Barbara, California. Since you're potentially out there, you can potentially experience a pang of conscience because you realize you've wronged me—and in so doing, all of society, which derives its relative stability and cohesiveness from the maintenance and enforcement of its laws. If you experience said pang of conscience, please notify me and we can arrange for the return of my things—and the restoration of the mineness to them. I know. It's ridiculous that I have to appeal to your sense of decency to give me back my stuff—as if I'm asking you for a favor—but this is what our world has come to... In order to sweeten the pot a little, I'll let you keep my underwear and my favorite comb if you help to preserve all of society by giving me back my shit!


  1. Sorry to hear about your loss. Well, no, actually hearing about it was interesting. Sorry it happened though.

    I essentially agree with everything you said, which- I think- makes you a barely-closeted Libertarian, or at least a Randian materialist of some flavor.

    In other news, we watched Kwaidan on your recommendation, and enjoyed it (but can't figure out how you liked Kwaidan but not Onibaba; they are comparable in so many ways, including your objection that Onibaba is creepy. It is, but Kwaidan isn't?

    1. I didn't NOT like Onibaba. There was just something about it that made it too disturbing to watch. In a way, this means that it's too good.

      (My feelings about materialism and consumerism are subject to change without notice when I haven't just been robbed.)

    2. Okay, I can understand that, and I agree. (except I can watch it, so I guess it still isn't TOO disturbing to me... which fact should maybe disturb others.)

  2. This is an outrage! How did this happen?!?! I'm so sorry.

    1. Thanks. My bag was stolen out of my car in Santa Barbara by evil people—in George W. Bush's authoritative sense of the term of 'evil'—one that admits of no moral shading or ambiguity. Just PURE EVIL.

  3. It's unfortunate that we've come to a point where we have to justify our feelings of sadness or anger. Since when do feelings require explanation to make them valid?

    Yesterday, I removed someone from my feed for posting this:

    “So I've decided I am sick of listening to everyone's negative comments and opinions. We all have crappy stuff happen to us, it's how you deal with it that counts. It's the holiday season, so let's be thankful for what we have and work on what we don't. Ok rant over! I am thankful every day for my beautiful family and friends! Love you all...even when you complain!”

    Seriously, fuck you. How condescending is that? And your solution to hearing people complain is to complain about it?

    I vomited twice last night and almost again this morning because I have a disgusting virus. Yes, I realize there are people dying of cancer, and yes I still maintain the perspective that my life is good overall, but it doesn't I am not allowed to be fucking irritable right now. AND I WILL NOT JUSTIFY THAT IRRATIBILITY!

    Having stuff stolen from you is very personal. They might just be "things," but they're your things and they have attached to them an essence of you. You're allowed to be pissed. In fact, I am pissed on your behalf. AND I WILL NOT JUSTIFY THAT PISSINESS!

    1. People who say shit like that are just desperate to feel like they have some sort of highground. If you follow their logic, only the one single person who has things absolutely worst is allowed to complain, the rest of us just have to be glad we're not him... which is stupid, and it also denies any usefulness to airing complaints... which obviously there is.

    2. Sorry you're sick, Morais. Feel free to kvetch. (I'm afraid of puking. I'll do anything to keep vomit at bay.)

      Incidentally, you should DELETE that sanctimonious asshole, not just remove him/her from your feed. In addition to being dumb and wrong, that person has absolutely no sense of irony.


      Will you justify that spelling of 'irritability'?

    3. Morais, I got two notifications that you responded here, and I could read the posts in the email, but neither of them are here.

      Obviously there's tomfoolery and shenanigans afoot.

    4. Can you forward them to me and I'll repost because I do not feel like re-typing them all out. jasonmorais@verizon.net

    5. Your blog hates me!

    6. To Velocitor, I wrote:

      Exactly. There can be something cathartic about airing grievances now and then. It doesn't mean we think our problems are TEH WORST EVAR.

      I'm reading Bartleby right now and there's this passage where Melville talks about pity as a form of pain (because you are empathetic to the pain of others). He says that it's natural to feel pity when the person complaining only complains a little. But if he were to complain too much, then that pity turns into resentment. He says it a lot better than I just did, obviously, because Melville is awesome. But I thought it was pretty interesting. Especially considering Kowalski's incessant complaining about his missing underpants.

    7. To DK I wrote:

      That previous comment was to BB. To you, Kowalski, I say:


      When you give me an edit button to my comments, I will do better to ensure proper spelling and grammar.

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  5. it took me about four days before i stopped being angry about whoever it was at my office who stole the brownies i made out of the fridge. they were my brownies, things that i had every intention of giving away to (specific) other people and had somebody asked me for one i wouldn't have thought twice about sharing, about reapportioning the things i had created to give away.

    a month ago, two policemen banged down my door after 2 in the morning. they weren't wearing regulation uniforms and they didn't show me their badges and they traumatized the hell out of me. one pushed pass me, entered my home, and walked around my living room. i was shaking because i was afraid they weren't actually police (the police eventually confirmed (not at first but eventually) they were police, supposedly investigating an incident. they didn't take any physical thing from me. but they took my rights away, my feelings of safety and security.

    in both instances, they took away what i perceive as my right to choose.

    i guess what i'm saying is that i think it's not about material goods or politics. it's more about the social contracts you allude to. i don't own my home, and i was going to give my brownies away but people still took from me. they shattered my sense of "mineness" and that's hard to get back.

    i'm sorry yours was taken away.

    in regard to this idea of being grateful for what you to do have, i appreciate what you're all saying about everybody having something to be complain about.. and yet, i often hide posts in my feed because of this too. for example, a former colleague and friend constantly complains -- the most irritating post of all was when she won 1300 dollars by calling into a radio show and the next week somebody else won a trip for two. she wrote a blog entry she posted links to everywhere about how resentful she was about this.. she also constantly posts about how her phone battery died, or how her vacation is exhausting her, about how she picked the wrong grocery line.

    i appreciate there's no measure to define who has the right to complain -- but i also find it exhausting to endure the entitled culture i live in where everybody thinks they're owed everything including those things that belong to others: whether that be their possessions, their security or even their time.

    on the flip side, i love my things. my things are always there for me, they never complain, and they constantly reward me by giving me happiness. i'll take my things over people a lot of the time.

    1. Oh, people who complain ALL THE TIME about the most trivial things ARE annoying. There's no doubt about it. (I also think one should tailor one's complaining to audience at hand. Your close friends may be interested in and sympathetic to certain complaints that your general Facebook friends won't give a flying fuck about.) I also hide chronic bellyachers. They seem to expect a world tailored to their every whim.

      But on with the important part of this post—where I say, WTF?!?! The police broke down your door? For real? Did you hear what the incident was about? What did they do once they were inside your home? Did they enter without any warning? What were you doing when they entered? It sounds horrible, and it confirms everything bad I ever thought about Canada. (I kid. But I still hate Tim Horton's.)

      I think the brownie theft is the oddest. I don't know how big your office is, but I'm assuming everybody or almost everybody knows each other there? It's more 'understandable' (for lack of a better word) to steal from strangers but to steal from people you are around and associate with everyday is another thing altogether. If something like that happened to me at my workplace, I would probably assume everyone was guilty until proven innocent and hold a grudge.

    2. this reply is so long i had to break it into two part! apologies but it's hard to summarize.

      i should have chosen my words more carefully. they banged on the door without saying who they were. i assumed it was a drunk home from the bar who had got off on the wrong floor so i wasn't going to answer. they kept banging -- the light was on, and the tv was on too, so they rightfully assumed someone was in the apartment. the entry door to my apartment is perhaps five feet behind my couch (where i was then, where i'm typing to you now). they kept banging. then i heard them fussing with the mail slot (i live in a weird old building where there's no mail boxes but actual slots in the door) and a piece of paper slide through so thought the addled drunk was sliding a note to his girlfriend telling her he was tired and wanted in. i got up to see what it was and saw eyes peering at me from the mail slot. i'm still confused as to the details because i was half asleep but i think at that point they might have started talking to me through the door saying they were the police. i got up and looked through the peephole and saw two men in white shirts and black bullet-proof vests. i opened the door and asked them what they wanted. they said they were the police. i looked at them in confusion because police officers in my province wear blue shirts, and there was nothing on the vests or the shirts that identified them as police. they didn't offer to show me badges, as i said earlier. they said they were investigating a complaint of loud noises and a struggle. i said they had the wrong place, that it was just me and my cat. they said they still had to look around and the one pushed passed me and looked around my living room. i kept protesting that there was a mistake, that there'd be no loud noises. they finally left, saying they'd check other floors, and i kept worrying that this wasn't right that they weren't right, and maybe they fakes casing my place and realized i had nothing weren't stealing. or that i wasn't rapable or something. i went to my bedroom and blocked the door with some furniture and cowered until the morning.

    3. apparently three parts!

      i got maybe an hour or two of troubled sleep, then i called the local police division, and they said nobody had been sent to investigate a complaint in my building. they said if i recognized them around the building again, i could call and they'd send somebody over if they weren't too busy, and that i should never answer the door to anyone saying they were police without calling the station to confirm. i wondered if it was some new security company monitoring the building (the security guards do wear white shirts) and they said maybe. i had to wait until the next day to check with the management office because it was thanksgiving in canada and the office was closed. when i called the management office the next day they said any incidents over the weekend would be faxed to them, and they hadn't received any. i asked them to double-check and get back to me. they called back a few minutes later to say they had security footage from the foyer showing two police officers at the time i'd mentioned. i told them that the police said they weren't police. they said they could get me screen caps of the footage and i said i'd come in and take a look. when i saw the images i saw the two men that had been at my door, looking down at the entry door buzzer panel, seemingly waiting for somebody who wasn't me to buzz them in, only they were wearing regulation police jackets (with badges on the sleeves). they weren't wearing these when they came to my door. they must have taken them off before they got to my door and deposited them somewhere, and put them back on again when they left (they had images of them leaving the building a few minutes after they'd left my apartment). i followed up with the police again after that, saying i had access to this footage. and all of a sudden they said there had been some police here, that they were investigating an incident and that there was an event number. it got crazier and crazier as i questioned what had happened, finally with me being hung up on by somebody who said i was making a big deal out of nothing, and that the police could investigate however they wanted to. i was so freaked out and exhausted because i hadn't slept in two nights that i handled everything wrong. i didn't ask for names and badges of the police i spoke to on the phone. i ended up getting in touch with a guy i know from high school who is a civil liberties freak and he said i could make a complaint to the independent police review board and encouraged me to, but also said that it'd be likely i'd have some obscure mark on my file identifying me as a troublemaker. he also said that the division of the police in the area i live in has the worst reputation for disregarding civilian rights and i would probably never get to the truth of the matter. he thought it likely that since i live in a low-income, transition building (immigrant families move in and out, and drug dealers have been known to live here -- i'm pretty sure there was a prostitute living here at one point -- sometimes men would shout her name from the street and she talked to me a few times in the elevator) that it was probably a shakedown gone wrong. i have six months to file a report but i probably won't since i don't want to be harassed. so that's the crazy story. and the sad thing about it is even though i live in this building complex which some call sketchy, knowing what i know about the other tenants, i'd always minded my own business, i'd always felt safe here, until the people who are ostensibly paid to protect me invaded my home and scared the shit out of me.

    4. please don't judge canada too harshly because of this story. that said, i've been wanting to leave my life here for a while, but as you pointed out in your original post (bringing it all back around again) i can't just pick up and live somewhere else either, just because i want to.

      and i don't drink coffee so i'm perfectly content for you to hate tim horton's -- though i've been there a couple of times because you can get cold stone creamery there now.

      the brownies. yeah. it's horrible. they would see me every day. but as i mentioned to you on goodreads, it seems this has been going on for a long time. there is apparently a food klepto in the office. i hate it there anyway, so this just cements my feelings of rancour. :)

      if the person who stole your bag (i feel particularly terrible about the favourite sweater, and the comb) does read this, and wants you to give them something in return for the things that were already yours in the first place, you can offer them my hand in green-card marriage. i will bake them the best crack brownies they ever had -- i mean, i can do it with bacon. with pot. why not crack? i'm now also apparently familiar with the shakedown :)

    5. Holy shit, Maureen! That's quite a saga! First of all, don't police have to have some kind of warrant to look around your home? I mean, I think they can ask you if they can look around, but they can't force you to let them look around without some kind of warrant or at least an urgent and probable cause. (I don't think a noise complaint would be an urgent and probable cause, but then again I get most of my information about law enforcement and the judicial system from television and movies.) At any rate, the episode you describe is all very creepy and Big Brother-ish. And all this time I thought Canada was this place where people walk arm-in-arm through meadows with flowers in their hair, whilst paying high taxes with a smile. Is this not true? Should I dismantle that image and start from scratch? What's most problematic (from my perspective anyway) is that the police didn't show you identification and that when you called the next day the police had no records of any officers being dispatched to your building. (Are you sure you don't live in Texas?) Anyway, I'm sorry you had to go through all that—and the part where you described seeing eyes looking at you through the mail slot really gave me the creeps. That's horror movie material right there.

      This reminds me of my only domestic experience with law enforcement. I came home from a birthday dinner years ago to find that my apartment was broken into—and, worse, I think the robber(s) were in the apartment when I entered because I heard a creaking sound in another room—and later found the back fire escape exit open, as if the person left in a rush. My then-girlfriend and I scurried out of the apartment in fright and drove to a police station—there happened to be one only several blocks away. Two officers came to my apartment and entered and they did that thing where they move quickly around doors and obstacles with their guns pointed out, ready for action. Then they dusted for fingerprints—as if they were going to do something about this (relatively) minor theft. The thing I learned from this episode is that when the police dust for fingerprints, they just leave the dust all over the place. I guess I never thought about this before, but I think they should bring a Dirt Devil or something—because it is after all their dust.

  6. jeez. that's creepy about the break-in. the creak that isn't just a creak you can assure yourself was nothing like it is every other time. i actually have nightmares about intruders a lot (i can tell you all about those if you need them for the script of our new horror movie -- though i've been told the nightmare where i get shot through the eye when i look through the peep hole is from a john woo movie i've never seen.) (he had creepy pale blue eyes too.)

    it was my first real encounter with the police too. except for the one other time: it's actually a pretty hilarious story where i got mistaken for a prostitute when i was visiting a boyfriend in another town. however, i will relate that as a comment on another blog posting. maybe you need to write one about taxi driver? or prostitutes in general? bad break ups would also work. :P

    maybe leaving the dust was the police trying to protect you? (one of my (crazy) sisters thinks if you have a dirt devil in your house you are calling evil forces to your home. she also won't buy used clothing or furniture because it might be possessed. :P)

    people have given me all kinds of rationalizations for what happened (if the cops thought it might be a domestic dispute, they'd take off their coats for maneuverability in a fight and they'd want to check to see if i was protecting somebody was one) but it's never going to make sense.

    certainly i never thought anything like that would ever happen here in Canada but my faith in our social democratic freedom was essentially destroyed when i needed to carry a passport around my own city and hundred of civil rights violations were perpetrated by the police during the g20 conference in 2010. one of the things that struck me most vividly was when they invaded somebody's home during that period, and dragged people out of bed looking for anarchists -- it turning out that they'd only terrorized a young man, his wife and their baby -- and had invaded the wrong address.

    g20 or g8 or whatever number conferences always seem to underscore that our civil rights are an illusion no matter what country you live in -- but for canada, the true north strong and free, things really started to change around the time this monster became our prime minister in 2006:


    when we used to have brazen french canadian prime ministers administering choke holds or giving reporters the finger, we were a lot better off. this bastard (i loathe even saying his name) is trying to sell all of our resources to china and private corporations.