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The Issue of Self-Ownership

'Self-ownership' is a fundamental concept in discussions involving human rights and personal freedom. In contemporary American culture, the concept of self-ownership has fallen out of favor in moral and political circles, probably because the most popular concept of self-ownership is viewed as one of "property" instead of one of "boundaries". While these terms are interconnected, they tend to be used quite differently both morally and politically.

"The road unwinds towards me, what was there is gone. The road unwinds before me and I go riding on."

"Property" is usually be defined as something owned or belonging to someone, like land or personal possessions. Properties tend to have strictly defined legal limitations regarding their control and use. On the other hand, "boundaries" are most often defined as a real or imagined line that marks the edge or limit of something. Boundaries are often vaguely defined and are perceived as more malleable regarding their control and use.

"Driven in, driven to the edge. Driven out on the thin end of the wedge. Driven off by things I've never seen. Driven on by the road to somewhere I've never been."

Let's take a look at what each political party has to say about self-ownership.


Republicans on Self-Ownership

"We only want to give freedom to those who think and believe like we do."

Republicans advocate for laws that uphold "traditional family values," especially those rooted in Christianity. This harkens back to an imagined 1950’s TV-style Christian morality when people didn’t cheat on spouses, when no one was gay, and when certain people knew their place — and knew better than to challenge canonical hierarchies. Such laws include opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, transgender rights, comprehensive sex education, and recreational drug use. Most modern Republicans seek to restore America’s revolutionary spirit: the idea that if you oppose freedom (i.e., their version of freedom), you support tyranny. There is no wiggle room for nuance or differing opinions.

"Driven up and down in circles, skidding down a road of black ice. Staring in and out storm windows, driven to a fool's paradise."


Democrats on Self-Ownership

"… so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom." - Alexis de Toqueville

Democrats advocate for laws that prioritize the promotion of social programs, labor unions, consumer protection, workplace safety regulation, equal opportunity, disability rights, racial equity, regulations against environmental pollution, and criminal justice reform. Since they also tend to support abortion rights and the LGBT community, and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, freedom only seems to apply to individuals as long as they identify with recognized social groups.

"Driven day and night in circles, spinning like a whirlwind of leaves. Stealing in and out back alleys, driven to another den of thieves."


Libertarians on Self-Ownership

"You have exclusive control over my mind and body. No one can live your life better than you."

Libertarians essentially look at the topic of self-ownership as one of "personal boundaries" implying that I have exclusive control over my body, my mind, and my soul (if you believe in that sort of thing), and meaning that I choose my personal boundaries for myself; no one and nothing has the right or ability to make those decisions for me.

Essentially, the Libertarian view of self-ownership is one of 'personal boundaries' implying that you have the right (and responsibility) to make decisions about your own body and life without external interference; that you am the ultimate authority over yourself, your labor, your talents, and even your own "moral space". In practical terms, self-ownership means that I have the right to determine how I use my body as long as my actions do not harm anyone else (thus taking away their right to live their life as they see fit).

"It's my turn to drive, but it's my turn to drive."

But personal freedom implies personal responsibility. So because I own myself, I am ultimately responsible for my own well-being. As a legal individual, no one (including the government) is obligated to feed me, clothe me, or provide me with health care. Most of us choose to help each other either voluntarily or in exchange for something of innate value - which is as it should be - but "forced compassion" is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.

"Driven to the margin of error, driven to the edge of control, driven to the margin of terror, driven to the edge of a deep, dark hole."

When directed toward people, 'self-ownership as property' is most often viewed negatively due to an association with slavery, a practice that is considered both vile and repugnant to many 21st century societies. But 'self-ownership as boundaries' is most often viewed positively as one of setting our own limits on what we allow to do (and have done) to or for ourselves.

Committee to Elect Darren Hamilton
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