Friday, November 11, 2011

Different Meanings of Possession

Blue and white convertible car at beach

There are many things we can possess, ranging from the tangible, such as property, cars, shoes, and jewelry to the intangible, such as status, reputation, success, and ideas. There are other things that are a little bit of both, for example, a bank account with money in the form of numerical statements, credit card bills or electronic money and credits. But we are led to believe that we can possess all of these things and much more.

Regardless of whether it is tangible or intangible, to possess is an active verb. It denotes ownership, that something is mine and that this is, at least conceptually, in opposition to ideas of any notion of "shared" ownership. One may possess "part" of something, say a shared business venture or you may even “share” your possessions with your wife and family, but at its core most of us prefer sole ownership and we may even extend this idea to people, such as possessing a family inclusive of wife and kids.

But we refrain from using the verb possess here, which may appear too aggressive and uncompromising. So instead we use the verb to have. We then have a family, a car, a business, a job. It can even be extended to include rather abstract ideas, such as time. To claim that you “have no time” implies that time is something that can be possessed and not be possessed at different times. 

Similarly, it may be commonplace but equally bizarre to state that your body is yours. Is your body your possession? Is your mind, for that matter? Can you lose ownership, let's say in terms of “losing” your mind, which once used to be yours but now is up for grabs? Or what about selling, renting or sharing your body with others?

This leads us to another matter, that although we may possess objects and people, we can also be possessed by them. The verb to be possessed has now become passive and we turn into victims because it is the thing itself that is driving us. In such terms, to be possessed is similar to be haunted or obsessed in the sense that you are about to lose or have already lost control. For instance, you can be possessed by certain ideas so that it becomes more difficult to think clearly. The idea that you "possess" can come to haunt you and you will "be possessed" by it.

In other words, you need to be careful. The things you claim to possess can, in fact, take over and possess you. Think about money, for instance. Most of us may work hard to get our hands on a little bit of this sought-after and -- more often than not -- elusive item. At first, we may be aware that money is nothing but paper which, nonetheless, gives us the means to have financial transactions. We can buy this and that, and it will become ours then.

However, once you start collecting money as paper or as growing numerical figures on electronic screens, some people lose control. Instead of possessing it, they become possessed by it, or at least the idea of money. We then forget that money is symbolic and that it is a means not an end in itself; in our confusion, we cannot think clearly (obsessed as we are) and may spend years, even a lifetime, seeking it. 

In the same way, we may be possessed by fixed ideas, which can include religion for that matter. People can become so possessed with this subject that they lose sight of what it really was that attracted them to religion in the first place.

And it is only a small step from possession to obsession. If you are aware that whatever you have, tangible or intangible, is nothing but a loan, including the most precious of them all, your own life, then you may be able to see the fallacy of any type of so-called ownership. Yes, we may own cars and computers, but they are impermanent things and will break down sooner or later. And then we are left with nothing.

PS: Dear Readers! Sorry I have been rather absent here lately. I have been possessed by work and have possessed very little time for writing. On the bright side, I have possessed ideas so soon there should be a more steady flow of writing again.


Vincent said...

It's an interesting post, Arash, some parts more so (to me) than others. I wasn't so much interested in the language-games (as Wittgenstein called them) as in the possibility of fresh thought on these matters.

So I would like to focus on what you say about our own body and mind, and get your response to my questions. The whole idea of possession implies a subject (who possesses) and an object (which is possessed).

So if I possess my body, what is the 'I' that possesses? If I possess my mind, what is the 'I', when mind is the object?

We must be careful, though. Legally, it may be that I possess my body, in the sense that it is not illegal for me to tattoo it or even amputate parts of it. But if I were to do the same to someone else, or my dog, I might be convicted of assault, or cruelty to animals. In the same way it is not illegal for me to destroy my mind, through drugs or other means. And there we are aware that destroying the mind is not completely separable from damaging the brain.

Perhaps I can say that I am my body. But it doesn't seem right because things can happen to my body which don't alter my sense of self as much as one might suppose. My consciousness (easier to define than my mind) has a quasi-separate existence from my body.

Your conclusion doesn't seem to follow from your previous discussion. You assert "the fallacy of any type of so-called ownership" - because we die, or the possession crumbles. That doesn't make ownership a fallacy. Everyone knows that "you can't take it with you when you die". They might think that "diamonds are forever" - but Jesus dealt with that and mentioned the possibility of the thief. I think we all know it anyway.

Jesus is reported as saying, in Matthew 6:20 "But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal."

How do we know this is not a fallacy?

A Hindu or Buddhist will have no problem with it because it seems to reflect the "Law of Karma". A Christian or Muslim may think it means good deeds will open the pearly gates to Paradise.

But is there any guarantee?

Arash Farzaneh said...

Thank you, Vincent for your observations and sorry it has taken me weeks to respond! Yes, I find the body / mind dilemma most interesting and even disconcerting, which is why I have not gone into detail about it here, as the main focus of the post was the Wittgensteinean "language games." But I will comment more fully on it in a future post, I promise.

As a language teacher, I do believe that language reflects our way of thinking and colors our attitude and our philosophy. Just the fact that in English "I" am capital but "you" and the other personal pronouns are not (with the exception of the divine "He"). This often subconsciously inflates the human ego more so than in other languages. In Spanish, for example, you can easily do without personal pronouns.

As to your final question I can only answer with yes. Is it possible that it is all a fallacy? Another yes.