Welcome to the blog of Miroslav Georgiev - classical pianist and conductor. Here you can read and discuss interesting stuff from the world of music, life, politics and more.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

About ownership and luxury

Our civilization is obsessed with consumerism. But more than that, it is obsessed with ownership, something so unnatural, that if you really think about it, you'll start laughing at the whole concept. We are born owning nothing but our body, and after we die, it is only our body that disappears physically from the universe, nothing else. The only material things we really need personally from the world surrounding us, are food and clothes. All the rest of the stuff around us we USE. But go tell this to an average, well-indoctrinated into capitalist concepts person... they'll immediately call you 'socialist', 'anarchist', and a couple of other '-ists', or they'll simply dismiss you as crazy.

Let's reflect what does ownership really mean in our current cultural paradigm: The exclusive rights of use of objects, land/real estate, and intellectual production.
That means that a single person (the owner) has the right to determine the use of everything he owns. Or the misuse, or non-use of it. We've all seen, for example, vast patches of land, or abandoned buildings, that are not in use in any way, simply because their owner doesn't know what to do with them. We've seen objects lying around houses, on the street, or stuck in attics, for the same reason. Most shockingly, we know of the products of the so-called intellectual 'property', for example the works of composers or writers, whose production didn't require material resources, apart of the author's intellectual labor, and whose 'use' won't require absolutely nothing of the author, but which are protected' by copyrights, and thus unavailable for use because of the metaphysical and completely unrealistic concepts of ownership. 
And we've also seen objects, lands and ideas which are being misused despite all the great precautions instituted by our civilization. What use are all the century-old laws protecting private property, when you're faced with a masked bandit with a gun? When the latest song you've composed and uploaded on YouTube for promotion is taken by some anonymous jerk and altered in a hideous way for his own purposes?
We see that the concept of ownership is valid only as long as everyone agrees to it. Which tells us something about how much we really need to OWN anything we use.  

Let's imagine the impossible for a moment: that you don't OWN anything around you, but the clothes you dress, but on the other hand, you have the right to USE everything you need:
- You use a home for you and your family that needs or wants to live with you. At home you use cutlery, furniture, home appliances and all that, but they are all a part of your dwelling - accessories, if you will. If every dwelling comes already with the furniture you want, the TVs and appliances you ordered and you'll never take out of home.... Or you insist on taking the TV with you outside ?
Of course, you might decide you don't want to live in this home anymore, in which case you are free to go and choose another currently available home in a place of your choosing.  
- Cars. Whatever we discuss, whatever the topic, it always comes to this, doesn't it? But wait, what is a car but an overrated means of transportation? Oh yeah, our culture tells us that the car is an expression of yourself, it reflects your status in society, etc. But if you leave all that crap aside, the car is just a means of transport. If a car, or a similarly comfortable and effective means of transportation, was available at all times to take you wherever you want to go, wouldn't this be enough? Why do you need to 'own' it?
- Cell phone, watch, iPod, and all that you carry with you - isn't it enough to have one of all these, if they work well and are of a style you like? Why do you need to 'purchase' the latest new models of each of the above, which come with shiny new exterior, but otherwise little else which is new?
We are coming to the point when there are public computers almost everywhere we go. There are TV's, music appliances, etc. Why would we need to 'own' everything, if everything we need is readily available for us to use wherever we go? For example:
- You go to have some fun with your family. You take a suitable transport, and you go to the nearest place where the desired fun is available. You can check in advance on your home system if there are too many people on the specific place - in the ideal situation you'll always be able to find a place for fun with not too many people.
At the place, everything you use is for free, including drinks, food. Because the place is specifically designed for that purpose, and outfitted with all the necessary appliances. Would you want to own a restaurant, bar, a theme park, only to be able to use it exclusively?
- You're at home and you're bored, but you don't want to leave home to have fun. But your home already came with a TV, computer with Internet... you want to read? There are e-books for downloading from the PC, Kindle or similar device. You want to watch a movie? On-demand movies from the TV network. You want to play a game? The same. Nowadays is possible to use literally everything which is made available on the network. Why do you need to own a disk with a movie, or a game, when you can watch/play it everywhere and anytime you wish?

Another basic problem with ownership, I think, is the concept of luxury. Something that is branded 'luxurious' leads to a great desire to own it, because this way you 'stand out' in society, and have a higher self-esteem, or whatever. You own a Rolex - so you must be a well-off man. But what really is 'a luxury item' ? Let's elaborate:
- A luxury item is one that is either made of very precious materials, or made in limited quantity. Nowadays, even well-made items are not considered luxurious anymore, they're just the result of using better materials and good design. And of course, not cutting back intentionally on production costs. A real luxury item, for  example, is a watch made of gold, platinum or similar precious metals, or an item of which model there exist only a limited amount (for example, 100). But does the fact that a watch is golden change its function? No. It doesn't affect its effectiveness either. You could just as well use a steel watch. And you could always make more of the limited items, if there wasn't the artificial attempt at raising the price by limiting the amount available.
So, if ALL watches were produced of good-looking, high quality materials, there wouldn't be any real difference between a Rolex and a normal watch, would there? Also, if nobody restricted the production of anything, there wouldn't be artificially-induced scarcity. The solution is obvious:
- On-demand production. A person will get something only if he ORDERS it from a catalogue. This thing will also be made of the sturdiest materials, will use the best available technology and, if possible, even be upgradeable. This way we save resources, because there is no low-quality mass production that stays unused on the shelves, and we don't discard appliances all the time to replace them within an year or two. We get the exact model that we like, because we ordered it. Since everything is gonna be produced by machines according to a general database specifications, this shouldn't be a problem. 
- It is also considered 'luxurious' to live in a special building, near the beach in Malibu, on the French Riviera, or whatever. But wait! Not everybody 'loves' to live near the beach, it's just that the current fashion dictates that you have to live near the beach! So, if people are free of this cultural 'stamps', not everybody will want to live on the beach - some will live in the mountains, some in forests, some in cities. As long as there's transportation handy, and all services readily available in the near distance, it shouldn't be a problem to distribute people dwellings around the globe. We won't have the imperative to live in city X because there's where we work, and we have to go to a particular place to work every single day!
As long as 'luxurious' dwelling is concerned, what the hell does this mean? A house with 50 rooms? Built in Colonial style? Furnished with nice furniture? Everybody could get this if the dwellings and furniture were constructed on-demand.
- Finally, it is a 'luxurious' life to go to fancy places, drink insanely expensive drinks, eat insanely expensive foot, etc. No one I've met can rationally justify why all these places are so insanely expensive, apart of them featuring very nice design, atmosphere, and good quality food and drink. But a designer could help create any sort of place, with any sort of atmosphere, without any charge, if he wanted. Any food and drink could be very good quality, if the raw materials are good, and mixed right. You could make a great quality drink right at home. The truth of it is, just as the rest of the 'luxury' concepts, these stand out only because of the mediocrity of the general places that surround us (McDonald's, WalMart, etc), and because of the cultural paradigm which not only glorifies and celebrates them, but actually creates them in the first place.

We come inevitably to the conclusion that both the concepts of ownership and luxury are products of our culturally-induced delusions. So, if the culturally-induced desire to own 'nice and 'expensive' stuff were gone, there won't actually be anything considered luxurious! We would have the stuff we need and use, without owning it. And let me just hint at the amount of criminal distortions which would be made void if the whole concept of ownership were discarded.... I think you are able to come up on your own with some examples.

Of course, I realize very well these ideas are still Utopian -  our whole society is based on ownership, and the whole production chain, too. We would need an entirely new production and distribution system to institute a property-free society, but my point with this post is to prove to you, reading this post, that such society is not only possible, but viable. And more: I think the current path of technological development actually leads to exactly such society. We need to embrace the idea, not fight it, because it will improve vastly our lives, not to mention saving us and the planet. 

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