I happen to be friends with a cohort of girls who are sweet darlings but also sometimes a bit of a rascally menace. Often I wonder when I am around them if it would be helpful to dress up like I was ready to play football with full pads, a helmet with a facemask and faceguard, and a jockstrap when they rushed headlong, special teams style to attempt a tackle of me, attempted to poke at my nose or eyes or freckles, or threw elbows or head butts in awkward locations. Such behavior is less irritating in the small, who are expected to be a bit silly and have trouble respecting the space of other people, but it is obviously the sort of issue that requires patient but firm parenting and growth, as it is entirely unacceptable behavior once one leaves childhood behind. I generally find it amusing when people think of me as a particularly patient person, because I do not feel that my patience has been even remotely helpful in the achievement of my goals, which include having some adorable rascals of my own to raise in as godly a manner as possible with a loving wife.
Another one of the more frustrating but still adorable habits of these same little ones is the way that they are particularly possessive. Again, possessiveness as a quality is one that is cute when it is small children who are arguing over which one of them I loved, not realizing that the sort of avuncular affection I have for them is not of the exclusive or possessive variety, but rather a general part of my friendly and protective nature for friendly children, but would not be cute at all for a larger person. Yet despite the fact that I have not been in a romantic relationship since 2006, I have to struggle with the possessiveness of others towards me, as shown by a certain jealousy towards other friends large and small. I find this distressing, in large part because I would greatly enjoy being in a loving and committed relationship with a lovely lady, but am terribly incompetent at the art of courtship, and lacking appropriate and interested partners who are able and desiring to be in a relationship with me. I make due the best that I can, but it is an area of life that causes a great deal of personal stress.
I suppose it is ironic that I would have to deal with possessiveness on the part of others, as I do not consider myself to be a particularly possessive person by nature. Unlike Nick Jonas, I’m not one to put the cheating music on and puff my chest (even if I might get a little red in the face occasionally) when dealing with the attention that others draw. I certainly get hurt when I feel like others are leading me on, and leading other people on too, and this has been known to happen from time to time in my life in moments of particularly unhappy romantic drama, but I’m not one prone to fight about it. After all, I don’t feel as I have any claim on someone’s affection without giving them the security of a stable and openly acknowledged relationship either. I suppose I would give full vent to my own possessiveness and jealousy, such as it is, if and when that took place with someone. I would also hope, though, that I would neither give a partner any just reason for jealousy of her own, nor that she would give me reason to be jealous either. That is, of course, what I would want to be the case and hope to be the case, even if it may not necessarily end up being the case.
Possessiveness is not merely a matter of one’s personal life, though. I have found that possessiveness plays a major role in political difficulties. To give the most obvious example, a consistent problem in dealing with governments is making sure that governments do not take too much from what belongs to business (and individuals) as a result of their labors. Given that public expenditures provide for the building and maintenance and protection of people (assuming the government is behaving in a decent and not predatory fashion), it is altogether appropriate that these services should be paid for by the general public, as long as they serve for the use and benefit of the general public. Likewise, those public goods that are diverted to benefit private individuals or firms ought to be paid for by those private individuals and firms. Yet it is clear that governments often desire a far greater share of resources than is a just price to pay for the services that they provide (or the lack thereof). This is true in large part because governments often lack the competence to do what they set out to do, and desire to be paid for work that is either not done or not done well enough to merit payment, and because corruption tends to increase the cost of public goods and services that are provided.
That said, on the part of many businesses there is a sense of possessiveness that is particularly unjust. When we consider that corporations are but fictitious personages that claim civil rights while often infringing on the civil rights of their employees, this possessiveness takes on all kinds of hypocritical dimensions. To claim possession of public goods for the private benefit of the people who run the companies, and then to turn around and seek to avoid paying for such goods and services is one level of hypocrisy. Yet at the same time while business seek to invoke free enterprise to protect their own property, they deny the property rights of their own employees, often by seeking to claim ownership of the thoughts and ideas of those employees. Companies rent the time of employees, and ought to pay a fair wage in doing so; they do not own the creative capabilities of those employees, whose creations remain their own to sell and distribute as they wish for their own benefit. It is unjust, after all, to seek to protect one’s own property rights while simultaneously desiring to deny the right of people to their own rights over their own intellectual and personal property.
This hypocrisy is of particular interest when one considers that it was the cause of the American Civil War, the most destructive war our nation has ever fought. At the heart of the conflict, for all of its complexities, was the desire of a group of people to own others and to have those property rights respected as ordinary property rights like one would claim ownership of a farm or an industrial tool. Southern slave owners called factory labor practices wage slavery, but they themselves sought to own the hearts and minds and bodies of an entire class of individuals and to deny them standing as a human being, with the rights and responsibilities that follow. Worse, they wanted to force everyone to acquiesce to them claiming this right wherever and however they chose. It is no wonder that this caused a war, it is only a wonder that the North was so restrained, and so conflicted with its own balance between personal and property rights, and between its own conflicted views about equality, that it was unable to respond sooner to an obvious hypocrisy that those who steal the property rights of others as thieves and kidnappers cannot justly demand that others respect their own claims for property. Let us understand, though, that this is a problem that did not die in 1865, but remains in lesser form with us today, unacknowledged and of troubling contemporary importance. Our possessiveness and immense (and hypocritical) selfishness may yet lead us into trouble again, if we do not examine ourselves closely.