One type of thinking I just don’t understand is the rhetoric you hear so often justifying societal selfishness. One idea I’ve heard in this category is that “natural law” somehow proves that no one ever has any claims on your property (especially your money, which is a form of property). The idea of man-made rights deriving from our understanding of the immutable laws of the natural world is not a bad idea. The problem is when we misunderstand what the natural world is telling us.
Human beings are animals. Wild animals use the land; they do not own it. Animals also toil on the land and create many things from it- but they do not own the land and they do not even have ownership of their creations. Animals are territorial; but they do not own their territory. No matter how successfully territorial they are, other animals still use that land as well. Even the most territorial creature cannot drive out all the other animals in its territory. Plus, all animals are dependent on other animals for many things.
So actually, we could infer from this undeniable state of nature that- to some degree –there is a natural law to share property not own it. So looking at the natural world we can logically draw a conclusion that refutes selfishness.
This natural state is reflected in our civilized world. There is an undeniable relationship between your property and other people. Consider that no one is an island. A person’s property is derived from the circumstances and legal laws under which one practices commerce. So to some degree the rest of society is always sharing that property with you.
Also, your money is worth squat without the agreement of others that it is a valid method of exchange. It is also worthless without the backing of a government (which in theory is supposed to represent countless others) that guarantees it as a method of exchange.
Plus, why does a person have that money? For most of us it’s because other people gave it to us for services rendered or for other property we helped create (like we work in a factory or on a farm or in a bakery). So we depend on others for our property. This property, your money, is not completely your own.
Did you get your money because the system favors your line of work? Did you get it because you inherited it? Did you get it by gambling with other people’s money? Did blind luck help you out? What about education? Sometimes that is a matter of being lucky enough to have had the money and upbringing to take advantage of an education. What if you are an owner, CEO or a supervisor with several people who work for you? Then the work of many others is helping you to make the money you receive. The same is true if you’re a stock holder. You share the creation (of the items or services that were sold) with others. So you also share the money that was made from those things with others.
Everyone is benefited and/or harmed by the society in which they live. Once you pay your debt to that society for the benefits you derive from it, you can spend your money however you choose as long as you aren’t harming others. How much money you have to make that choice with is a combination of hard work and circumstances beyond your control. The first you deserve to be rewarded for; the second you do not. Conversely, another person does not deserve to be punished by other people for hard circumstances beyond their control.
From the perspective of fairness it seems that the greater benefit you get from society the greater debt you owe. If your benefit is monetary then you owe a greater monetary debt. Conversely, the more you are harmed by society the more society owes you back in the form of social welfare.
Of course, in reality, our property/money is not given to us by nature. Property/money is given to us by the consent of other people. To get all uptight about your property is arrogant. It seems to me that it’s okay for a certain fraction of your money (which you took from someone else) to be taken from you in order to benefit the society that allows you this property in the first place.
In spite of all this, just for the sake of argument, let’s accept this belief that property is an inalienable, natural right. I have not found property listed as an inalienable right yet, but the American founding fathers may have believed this. It’s certainly possible as they were mostly the wealthy elite.
Having accepted this belief you then have to ask: “Are all rights of equal importance”? What happens when they conflict? According to some people property comes first. It comes before the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I say property can be a tool to gain these rights- but they say it is a right above these others. I disagree with this belief that puts property/money before people. It’s selfish, it’s cruel and it does not make logical sense to me.