Monday, September 18, 2006


Then the wanderer Vacchagotta went to the Blessed One
and, after an exchange of friendly greetings and courtesies, he sat down to one side.
As he was sitting there he asked the Blessed One:
"Now then, Venerable Gotama, is there a self?" (i.e. Realism)
When this was said, the Blessed One was silent.
"Then is there no self?" (i.e. Idealism or Nihilism) said Vacchagotta.
A second time, the Blessed One was silent...

Eventually the Blessed One said this:
"If I were to answer that there is a self, that would be conforming with those priests and contemplatives who are exponents of Eternalism, the view that there is an eternal, unchanging soul.
If I were to answer that there is no self, that would be conforming with those priests and contemplatives who are exponents of Annihilationism, the view that death is the annihilation of consciousness.
If I were to answer that there is a self (Realism), would that be in keeping with the doctrine that all phenomena are not-self?"
"No, lord", answered Vachagotta.
"And if I were to answer that there is no self (Idealism or Nihilism), the bewildered Vacchagotta would become even more bewildered: 'Does the self I used to have now not exist?'"

Only if you think you had it. Only if you have a sense of ownership of self.

-After Nagarjuna

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Psychiatric View of Self-ownership

The everyday language of internal cohabitation

The experience of an ‘other mind’ speaking with its own ‘inner voice’ seems to be so universal and troublesome that it is not surprising that it has many representatives in aphorisms and saying in common speech. These sayings are worthy of study since they incorporate a wealth of common knowledge about these phenomena. For example the phrase "single minded dedication" includes both a recognition that the state of being single minded is unusual and that it can be useful if you want to get a single job done. On the other hand there is also a recognition that the state of being single minded includes a narrowing of the field of attention so that important phenomena or alternative approaches will not be seen and it is therefore a potential risk to have entered into the state of being "single minded". However, emancipation from the restricted state of being single minded is not straightforward since the phrase "being in two minds" indicates a state of irresolvable paralysis where two minds are opposing each other rather than siding with each other. These phrases indicate a clear recognition that one body does not mean one mind and that ownership of mind is a much more elusive and problematic matter than having a body. These phrases represent the daily grammar with which we try and keep track of which mind we are in and represents an acknowledgement that the body is cohabited by more than one mind, whatever it says on the birth certificate. There are further phrases illustrating that there can be problems associated with which mind adequately represents the named owner of the body. In connection with a future plan a person can say that they "have a mind" to implement it or that they have "half a mind" to implement it which in fact means that they are in trouble about it. Another example comes when something is said or done which is abusive or damaging and out of character with the persons usual approach to life and this is often acknowledged by saying that they were "not in their right mind" when they behaved that way. As an extension of this, if there has been some profoundly damaging violent action this is commonly referred to as "mindless violence" because I think that there is recognition that even if the person perpetrating the violence claims that it was their choice to do it, it is nevertheless known that this is a false claim and it is in fact a delusion of choice in an out of control mind.

The Capitalist Libertarian View of Self-ownership

9/17/99: The US Supreme Court finds that laws against voluntary euthanasia are unconstitutional since they violate the right of self-ownership. The Court’s decision asks "If the individual does not own his or her own life, what can they own?"

from a US Libertarian political website:
Property - specifically ownership of the self

Of all the rights afforded man, both those we possess by virtue of our humanity and those superfluous rights granted us by governmental authority (the second type being very few and inessential indeed, such as licensing, when compared with our natural rights), there is none of greater import than property. It is from this singular right which all other rights of humanity sprout, for one has seen that, in its absence, the human condition degenerates rapidly into the most base and servile forms of existence.Let us first reference the Communist experiment of Soviet Russia, in which the effort was made to totally and completely eradicate the concept of private, personal property. For reasons which will be brought to light momentarily, this is in reality an impossible effort, but one worth consideration nonetheless. From the Communist experiment it has been shown that, without the incentive of private, personal property, there is little incentive to produce. Indeed, short of government coercion, there is little impetus to perform any act which will not directly ensure your own survival. Subsistence through illicit means becomes the way of life, otherwise one experiences the full brunt of shortage and deprivation which is the common result of a society in which there is no incentive to produce in the form of personal belongings.There are those that would suggest that the incentive to produce is a love for one’s fellow man, that goodwill and an altruistic spirit will urge an individual to action as a replacement for personal property and private ownership. While a concept worth lauding, this argument is ultimately a utopian ideal, which, real world example has verified, is not sufficient to carry production and progress into the future.The destruction of private property is additionally a utopian ideal in that it is in reality an impossible act. The reason for this is simple: short of murder, it is impossible to remove from a person every semblance of personal property, even if they have been deprived ownership of every physical thing around them. Our first and most precious piece of property is ourselves: our bodies and our minds. This is a piece of property which can only be denied us in death, perhaps not even then if one subscribes to the concept of an afterlife in which we continue as individual beings.This ultimate piece of property is the conduit from which all rights flow. As one example, take the concept of free speech: this is a natural right, born innately from the fact that we own our bodies and minds. It is the mind that produces the thought, and our vocal chords that put that thought into audible speech. Even if free speech is infringed upon by a government-aggressor, there remains the spark from which it is born. To be censored and forced into silence is not the destruction of free speech, but the suppression of it. You remain capable of free thought and your vocal chords capable of putting those thoughts into audible form, by virtue of the ownership of your ultimate property, your mind and body.Additionally, it is from this initial, ultimate property that all other properties flow. Inherent in the concept of ownership is the idea that YOU own the item in question. How would it be possible, then, for one to speak in terms of ownership of other things if you are not first the owner of yourself? The mind and body are your own unique properties, without which the concept of external property would be nonexistent. Individualism is the conceptual manifestation of this most intimate form of property: you are your own being, owned by no one else and forced into action by no motive but your own, even if your motive is the avoidance of a pain by performing an act which would otherwise be against your will.Without the concept of the individual, and the self’s ownership of mind and body, it would be impossible to say, "I own this device." Without first an innate conception of the individual, "I" would be a term foreign to humanity. This concept is indeed so innate that it seems obvious, which indeed it is by our very nature. There exists no communal mind, no communal body, and therefore no communal ownership of body and mind. Hence personal ownership of your mind and body is a natural right, as innately existent as the ability of the heart to beat and the lungs to draw and expel air.

"I" am online

"Our new intimacies with our machines create a world where it makes sense to speak of a new state of the self. When someone says, "I am on my cell, "online","on instant messaging" or "on the web", these phrases suggest a new placement of the subject, a subject wired into a social existence through technology, a tethered self. I think of tethering as the way we connect to always-on communication devices and to the people and things we reach through them."

-Sherry Turkle, sociologist.

Online Social Networking Sites

Thoughts from an Ownerless Mind
What strikes you most about these sites [online social networking sites]
"They are all about real estate. You set out your stall, stake your territory. The whole World Wide Web is about a sense of ownership, starting from those company web addresses. But what I envisioned and built is about sharing media and acknowledging sources, without walls or boundaries."
-Ted Nelson, who in the 1960s invented hypertext.

Non-ownership of mind

'The word "I" is just a convenient term for something that has no actual existence'.
- After Virginia Woolf

Max More is an apologist for individualism and egoism. He has read Ann Rand’s "The Virtue of Selfishness"
and abhors totalitarian states, fundamentalist churches and cults which take psychological control of members. He correctly identifies these as major problems but does not seem to understand that the individualistic egotists he champions are to be found at the helm of these organisations, and that they are just as big a problem.
The ideal is to be owned by neither ego nor superego (the tendency to absorption in, domination by, controlling collective ego).
The capitalist system has it's merits but, on the downside, moves ever towards increasing commodification. Utimately there is even the commodification of self.
The problem with the kind of individualism promoted by More is that many so-called individuals have multiple personalities.
People who are not diagnosed, or in denial about a diagnosis of mental pathology, can convince themselves and others that they are acting from a position of self-ownership when they are really acting out their pathological impulses.