Collectivizing Collectives


 Socialism, like the old policy from which it emanates, confounds Government and society. And so, every time we object to a thing being done by Government, it concludes that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of education by the State—then we are against education altogether. We object to a State religion—then we would have no religion at all. We object to an equality which is brought about by the State then we are against equality, etc., etc. They might as well accuse us of wishing men not to eat, because we object to the cultivation of corn by the State.

How is it that the strange idea of making the law produce what it does not contain—prosperity, in a positive sense, wealth, science, religion—should ever have gained ground in the political world? The modern politicians, particularly those of the Socialist school, found their different theories upon one common hypothesis; and surely a more strange, a more presumptuous notion, could never have entered a human brain. ~Bastiat

Last week, I denounced the existence of collectives in the name of anarchy. A few commenters requested clarification on this subject for a few reasons. I figured that I ought to shoulder the inevitable burden of addressing collectivism and the philosophical issues therein.

The first order of business is to clarify my specific claim which was made last post. Some people demonstrated a desire to adapt a radical and likely unpopular claim to better jive with their own worldview or better lend itself to discussions with non-anarchists. While I am certainly sympathetic to that desire (see my posts about the Pope), this issue is foundational and, therefore, requires a certain clarity and inflexibility. My claim was not ethical, claiming that one ought to do a particular thing concerning collectives. Nor was my claim a pragmatic one, saying that things would be easier if one ignored collectives in favor of individuals.

My claim is a categorical, unequivocal ontological one. My claim is that collectives do not exist. Collectives posses the same ontology as Xenu, lizard Jews, and human-caused global warming. They are a fairy-tale. As my selected examples of fairy-tales demonstrate, though, some people do insane and violent things in the name of such fairy-tales.

I’m about to get ahead of myself. Before exploring collectives and the results of believing in them, I ought to give a definition of what exactly I mean by the term. Clearly, I’m not claiming that hippie communes, political migrations, cults, or other random gatherings of people are not a thing; these phenomena are easily observed. I am raising the question of their ontological status, though. I hope to make that distinction more clear through this post. When I say “collectives do not exist”, what I am saying is “an entity which exists distinct from and beyond the functioning of its individual components is a metaphysical impossibility”, specifically in the case of agents.

At this point, I expect scientists and pseudo-scientists to reel and accuse me of ignorance. In physics, elementary particles which exhibit certain behaviors can coalesce into a larger particle which exhibits behaviors different from the elementary ones, without an account of how the elementary particles contribute to said behavior. Quarks and protons/neutrons are a widely-known example of this phenomenon. A significant portion of my personal philosophical pursuits have revolved around philosophy of science and epistemology (probably because disillusionment with astrophysics is what drove me to philosophy), but one will notice a lack of such on this blog. This is for a variety of reasons, but if enough people express interest in my 95 Theses, that may change.

Anyway, one such reason is because scientists and science fans are trained to be openly hostile towards philosophy of science. Your reaction to this paragraph may demonstrate this. Protons and quarks are mere instruments. They are concepts which serve a function; specifically, they express regularities in mathematically mediated observations. Because this is the case, it is unnecessary to explain how quarks contribute to the behavior of protons… it may even be impossible to do so within our current paradigm. Another way of saying this would be that quarks are not “real” in the platonic sense; they are a predictor for phenomena in a similar (but more accurate) manner as Aristotle’s teloi or the medieval nature spirits.

Similarly, a biologist will discuss species or evolution in an anthropomorphized or teleological manner, “racists” will discuss statistical trends across demographics in a collectivized way, and sociologists or politicians will speak of “humanity” and “society” as if it were a tangible entity. There are nuanced distinctions between these examples and the physics example as well as distinctions betwixt each other. The primary distinction is the specific relationship between the individual and the whole. Where quarks are a tool to describe regularities when looking smaller than the atom, species, races, societies, etc. are tools to describe regularities when looking at unmanageably large numbers of individual instances.

In both paradigms, one must be very aware of one’s ontology. A long-standing basic principle in establishing ontology is simplicity; something akin to Occam’s Razor. If one can effectively describe, explain, and predict the nature of, say, a falling object using a tool such as gravity, one need not and ought not look for a coincidental explanation such as telos or “gravity spirits”. In the case of collective identifiers such as “species” or “society”, every significant behavior is explained by the behaviors of individual actors “within” the collective.

In other words, “society” or “species” are useful instruments for biologists or economists, but are ontologically superfluous. If, someday, one can determine what “real” object correlates to quarks, quarks would also become ontologically superfluous. This claim renders two significant outcomes.

The first is one of historical and scientific significance: in the same manner that believers in river spirits or flat earth theory are (appropriately) ridiculed, if science is allowed to continue progression, believers in “society” may be faced with similar reactions. Where virgin and child sacrifices used to be offered to spirits, modern-day sacrifices of comparable magnitude are offered to “society”. Such behaviors need to stop.

The second is one of philosophical and practical significance. Obviously, such a claim secures the case I made last week. That aside, one must critically assess one’s belief and rhetoric concerning “society”. For example, a materialist/scientism-ist/pragmatist is faced with a significant challenge. When faced with a choice between identifying the behaviors of material bodies behaving in deterministic ways and the emergent properties of those behaviors or believing in a metaphysical (immaterial) entity which interacts with those material bodies, determining behaviors outside the laws of physics, most often these materialists will opt for the metaphysical option. This is intellectually inconsistent and eminently damaging to the case for materialism.

Materialism aside, people at large seem to consistently believe that “society” possesses attributes contrary to the attributes of its constituent elements. I often argue against such a claim when it emerges in the context of voting and law enforcement. For example, if individuals lack the right to dictate the actions of others (forcing gays to act straight, forcing nuns to buy other people contraceptives, shooting people for driving the wrong car), how can they delegate that right (which doesn’t exist) to a representative, enforcer, or “society”?

The rhetoric concerning “society” oscillates between using “society” as a tool to accomplish personal goals (this is at the heart of electoral debates) and treating “society” as a force of nature to be mitigated and resisted (when one is on the receiving-end of “society” used as a tool). One must look no further than the “anti-war” movements on the right and left only being “anti-war” when the opposing team is in charge of the war.

This accusation goes beyond “society” and applies categorically. “Race” is a useful instrument for identifying genetic similarities amongst individuals and statistically analyzing unmanageably large populations. However, “race” possesses the same ontology as “species” or “society”; it exists as an epistemic tool, nothing more. Even when dealing with teams, gangs, or communities, (that is, associations of choice) one is merely dealing with individuals who may have common goals or proclivities. Such a community lacks ontology distinct from its constituent elements. If there are no individuals called “crips” there is not gang called “the crips”; if there are no police, there is no gang called “the police”. Additionally, with the possible exception of the Borg (TNG only, Voyager kinda’ goofed it) one cannot interact with the collective, only constituent elements of the collective. I will renounce my strong position on the non-existence of collectives if someone will allow me to speak to and shake hand with “society”.

This position, despite what you may think, does not disallow the existence of “communities”. With a very minor degree of re-definition, community can remain. If, by “community”, one means “a collection of strong and interconnected interpersonal relationships”, communities exist everywhere. One needs only be cautious to not assign metaphysical or moral properties it communities which are not appropriate.

My more religious friends may appeal to panentheism or the Body of Christ/Communion of Saints as a counter-argument. This argument doesn’t actually reject either concept; instead, it opens the door for a discussion concerning the nature of such metaphysical concepts and their relationship to the material world. To begin this discussion, I will suggest that such concepts operate primarily as eschatological phenomena and secondarily as an ethical heuristic.

One final note, as I am out of time: this is why such issues are self-defense, the tragedy of enforcement, and the state of war are so morally involved on this blog. Even though the police are such by virtue of a voluntary association centered on the pursuit of criminal activity, I do not believe asymmetric warfare against police as a whole is morally justified, but defending oneself from instances of extortion, kidnapping, coercion, and murder with lethal force is morally justified and ethically encouraged.

TL;DR: Last post, I was not claiming that one should merely behave as if collectives do not exist, but instead making the strong claim that the do not exist at all. Belief in collectives is ontologically and epistemically lazy and such laziness prevents the epistemic rectitude required for ethical action. Increased intellectual rigor with regards to “society” is required if one wishes to improve one’s quality of life or the quality of life of others.


Anarchy: A Definition


I previously posted “Towards a definition of Anarchy” in an attempt to begin a conversation. Nearly a year later, I feel sufficiently equipped to push that conversation further.

In that previous post, I argued that anarchy is the rejection of institutions predicated on the crimes of coercion, theft, or murder. I explored the cultural and etymological roots of the term “anarchy” as well as the underlying philosophy, and presented a starting place for achieving a working definition of anarchy. That definition has served me fairly well in discussions on social media, in person, and on this blog. Over time, though, I have found it necessary to modify aspects of that definition and explore the necessary conclusions of that definition.

After a year of perpetual discussion about presumed first principles and their results, I believe I must explore the term from two angles: that of its linguistic uses and that of its philosophical importance. I, unfortunately, must explore its linguistic function first, as it will help clarify the philosophical definition.

Anarchy, as a word, can be used to describe a state of affairs. Typically, it is used as a pejorative when it is used in this manner, courtesy of your local propagandists. The state of affairs it references is one in which there is an absence of “archons”: individuals who claim the right to coerce or otherwise harm non-aggressors. The free -I’m sorry- “black” market is a prime example of one such circumstance, such as open-air markets in rural parts of Empire and developing nations. In some rare cases of the pejorative use, it may be accurate; but more often it is a distinct lack of anarchy that is misidentified as such on the news and popular media.

Anarchy can also refer to the philosophy of anarchism or that of anarchists. This is nothing new, of course; I often refer to anarchy as “a philosophy of personal responsibility”. Many assert that anarchism is predicated on the non-aggression principle (the NAP) as its first and only principle. However, as I hope to explore soon, the NAP presents many challenges when taken on its own. In “New Logo” and “Is Property Theft”, I briefly explored the issue of voluntarism as a positive assertion from the NAP, primarily because the NAP is a negative moral claim and, even if the claim is true, the positive inverse statement of that claim is not necessarily true.

Most of the issues arising from using the NAP as a solitary first principle is that its conclusions are either voluntarism or some other conclusion informed by the anarchist’s other philosophical commitments, many of which result in impoverished or absurd worldviews. The fact that the NAP is a negative claim is what causes its dependance on other principles. This dependence is not an issue in itself, it is the theory-ladenness of the NAP’s terminology in every iteration. A prime example of this issue is when “libertarian” feminists start discussing male “micro-aggressions” and criminalizing the act of having a Y chromosome. As I’ve discussed before, if the NAP is to obtain, one’s response to aggression must allow for self-defense, up to and including the execution of lethal force. So, if “libertarian” feminists are to be consistent, they must embrace the perennial feminist slogan of “kill all men”. Somehow, this does not sound like a philosophy predicated on the non-instantiation of force (another way to say NAP).

If anarchy is to be predicated on negative claims, it must either be predicated on claims that are less-susceptible to mixing with bad philosophies than the NAP, or be predicated on a mixture of negative and positive claims such so as to form a complete worldview on its own. Let’s begin with the negative first principles which may be more reliable than the NAP, possibly even axiomatically grounding the NAP itself.

I previously argued that anarchy is the rejection of institutions predicated on crime. That particular claim would be an ethical one. While anarchism may be a moral philosophy, I have found that all moral philosophies must be predicated on some other basis for moral or ethical claims. In “An Economics of Ethics”, I implied that ethical claims are best rooted in ontology and physics while morality must be rooted in ontological claims.

Anarchism is best served, then, in basing itself not in the rejection of particular institutions but, instead, some ontological claim which results in such an ethical proscription. One such commitment would be disallowing collectives from one’s ontology. There is a series of fairly compelling arguments for the non-existence of collectives, but such cases will have to be made elsewhere, as this post is concerned with defining anarchy. For now, I will assert that anarchism is a philosophy which denies the existence of collectives, instead focusing on individuals and individual actions.

This focus on individual action can be informed by one of two suppositions: the existence of objective moral facts or nihilism. In the case of nihilism I must inquire as to why one who finds no meaning or purpose in anything would be motivated to embrace anything more than nihilism; I do not expect a satisfying answer. Even so, the case of a nihilist anarchism does not preclude ethics (as defined in “Morality and Ethics”), as most nihilists that don’t just kill themselves tend more towards epicurean hedonism out of an interest in maximizing one’s own pleasure. In which case, anarchism’s minimum ethical framework may even seem a bit narrow to a nihilist. “Don’t shit where you eat”, the nihilist ethical maxim, requires a degree of virtue and future-mindedness, whereas the NAP is merely a prohibition against a narrow list of actions which could be reasonably be considered crimes.

More reasonably, one could allow for the existence of objective moral facts. In another post, or perhaps, in a book I hope to self publish at the end of this year, I will make an introductory argument for the the existence of objective moral facts. Today, though, If we allow moral facts ontology, we can quickly come to see that objective moral facts can only be proscriptive: categorically disallowing certain behaviors for rationally self-interested individuals while not prescribing any particular actions. I’ve explored this discussion before in “The Dark Side”. As time goes on, I will expand that discussion into an argument in its own right.

I still refer to the NAP as shorthand for my own proscription against crime (coercion, theft, and murder) which could, technically, be considered an ethical proscription which obtains universally. This is due to an anarchist definition of “rights”: namely, a right rooted in the rejection of collectives’ existence and a focus on individual action. Such a definition could be “a delineation of behaviors which one could justifiably defend oneself with any necessary degree of force.” It would, then, be reasonable to assert that provoking one’s right to self defense is inadvisable under all circumstances.

What I am trying to express here is that the NAP (in whatever form) is a result of anarchist first principles, not a first principle in itself. It is certainly a useful rhetorical tool to appeal to the NAP straightaway, as “I think people shouldn’t murder each other” is usually common ground for people. However, if that is the extent of one’s education in anarchism, one will be prone to the mistakes explored earlier. Much like a man that becomes a Christian because “Jesus forgives you,” and leaves it at that, one will be prone to doing stupid things and giving the philosophy to which one claims to adhere a bad name.

Ultimately, anarchism is a moral philosophy. Predicated on certain ontological claims and on an informed understanding of the way the world operates. Anarchism is the conclusion that individuals ought to behave in a manner consistent with personal responsibility and not attempt to place that responsibility on the shoulders of others without their permission. This is primarily a practical consideration, but it is fully complimented by some forms of deontological frameworks, so long as they do not violate the ontological or ethical claims of anarchism. This consideration, I think secures anarchism from mixing with bad philosophies without requiring positive ontological claims.

I propose that a sufficient definition of anarchism (or anarchy, for simplicity) would be as follows: a philosophy predicated on the claim that collectives do not exist, only individuals; the claim that one is responsible for one’s actions, and will face the inevitable consequences of those actions, which results in the claim that one cannot justifiably commit crimes (coercion, theft, or murder) under any circumstances; and the claim that one can and should defend themselves from crimes as well. At first glance, this definition may not seem too similar to the popular conceptions of anarchy, but one can quickly conclude from these claims that governments do not exist, only people do, and those that engage in government activities, such as taxation (theft), enforcement (coercion), and war (murder), are criminals and ought to be dealt with as such. In other words, anarchy dictates that one interact with ISIS, Ted Bundy, and one’s local government bureaucrats and enforcers in a consistent manner.

TL;DR: My original suggested definition of anarchy was a good start, but it certainly needs work. The 2015 model of “Mad Philosopher’s flavor of anarchism” is ultimately little more than an ontological commitment which, if consistently and logically applied, can (and frequently does) result in the rest of the assertions and arguments I have made on this blog over the course of the last year or so. Anarchy is a philosophy predicated on the claim that collectives do not exist, only individuals; the claim that one is responsible for one’s actions, and will face the inevitable consequences of those actions, which results in the claim that one cannot justifiably commit crimes (coercion, theft, or murder) under any circumstances; and the claim that one can and should defend themselves from crimes as well. In other words, one can do whatever they want, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea.


Instead of Reading and Writing

This week, I wrote up an extensive outline for a post concerning a more complete definition of anarchism than the one from about a year ago.  As I was preparing to record the audio portion, though, my brother arrived to help me with a project I started yesterday.  I didn’t have time to record and write a transcript, so I will share the fruits of my labor with you.

Today, I took this:
And turned it into a bookshelf:
The bed had broken to the point of being unsafe and unusable.  It was my parents’ waterbed since I was an infant, which they had later converted to use with a conventional mattress.  A couple years ago, they finally replaced it with a new bed frame and donated it to my wife and I, as we were sleeping on a mattress on the floor.
After nearly 25 years of abuse, it finally met its end.  As I dismantled it and began hauling the pieces out to our apartment’s dumpster, I was lamenting the fact that I had no space to take the parts and turn them into a bookshelf, and that the tools required to do so would cost as much as going to target and getting a new shelf (which we desperately needed).
Then, it dawned on me that my brother had a truck and some tools and my dad had a garage that I used all the time to work on my car.  My family has been trying to maintain a community of mutual support, as would be required if we were to move somewhere a little further to the fringes of the grid and grow our own food and such (which has been my dad’s idea since before I came around to the idea).  Today was an excellent exercise in that sort of free market anarchy.
My brother and I took the parts to my parents’ house and we spent an afternoon cutting, drilling, being creative and conversational.  My wife and kids came along and played with my younger siblings and some of their friends.
Rather than spending far too much money on a cheap shelf from Target and simply throwing away a ton of usable wood and hardware, We managed to turn it into something useful, save some cash, and invest in familial relationships.
In exchange for using my dad’s garage, I gave him a lot of the unused material, as he had a project of his own for which he would need OSB and such.
My brother, in exchange for his time spent working on my shelf, requested I help him with his college homework.  Given that his teachers at CU Denver are both illiterate and unable to express simple instructions, it’s no wonder that he wanted help deciphering what they wanted.
(I promise the Shelves are level, this is just a bad photo angle.)
Afterwards, we had a brief catching-up period with my parents and siblings, planned some upcoming family dinners with friends of the family and conversed concerning guns, ammo, hunting, crazy homeshool families, fat people at wal-mart, and my ailing grandparents.
We also picked some monster zucchini and cucumbers from our microfarm in my dad’s back yard and hazed one of my younger brothers about not picking the lettuce when he was told, letting it all bolt.
And, not letting anything go to waste, my wife is selling the headboard to a gentleman much more crafty and craft-ready than I on facebook.

Oh, and last week, another friend of mine came over and we made #EndTheFed, Bernie Marx, and Bitcoin t-shirts.  Now that we know what we’re doing, we’re hoping to make (and maybe sell/give away) a great many of these shirts.
My wife was kind enough to model a couple of the shirts for me.
I seem to have caught some sort of craft bug.  I blame my friend, who came up with the idea for the original Karl Sanders t-shirt and my other friend who helped me make it (and these awesome bleached-out shirts).  You can set up a bleached-out shirt purchase via email.  We do custom designs, within reason.


Intellectual Property?

It should be no surprise that the issue of property should become so central on an anarchist philosopher’s blog; nearly every opposing argument to anarchy I have encountered hinges on property rights or one’s fear that their property should become insecure.

It also should be no surprise that intellectual property should come up so quickly; copyright law has been a cultural mainstay sine the Church and publishing companies had decided to try and control society’s intellectual pursuits several centuries ago. IP is a subject almost as involved and arguably more convoluted than property at large, so I’m going to focus on one specific point concerning IP today and add to it more later on. I would have to, as property rights and IP intersect frequently with issues such as innovation and privacy. Some more definitions, some metaphysics, and one not-so-world-shaking claim are all I can manage this week.

What is intellectual property? Despite being a centuries-old cultural mainstay, IP law is very nebulous and unhelpful to rational inquiry. Only slightly more useful is the cultural and academic narrative concerning “stealing ideas” and channels by which one gives credit, which are somewhat informed by IP laws. Instead of teasing ideas out of these frustratingly ad-hoc narratives, we should look at the term and the high-altitude basics with fresh eyes.

So, “intellectual”. I tend to avoid metaphysics on my blog, instead reserving such exercises for in-person discussions and my still-unpublished book. I am essentially a substance pluralist, which means I am not beholden to the materialist doctrine. Today, I am going to be using terms such as “ideas”, “mental/intellectual substance”, “mind” and the like. While these terms sound like some sort of Cartesian dualism (to which I do not ascribe), I am aware that, in some form or another, there are materialist parallels to each of these concepts. For the sake of our discussion, we will have to assume that people possess minds and that the discussion of intellectual matters are concerned primarily with the operation of minds. I don’t think this is too far a stretch for my readers.

Ideas are immaterial. Where apples or rocks exist independent from observers and act on their own (producing gravity, growing, decaying, interacting with their environment), ideas are contingent upon minds (or, rather a medium which can contain the idea, such as a mind). If there is an idea in my mind, it exists solely within my mind. Even as I write these words, the idea I am attempting to express resides solely within my mind. It is possible, though infinitely unlikely, that someone, at some point in time, may have an idea that is identical to the one I am expressing now, but it would not be the same idea, nor would we ever have a method by which to determine that it is identical.

This is due to the phenomenological barrier between our rational minds and the world around them. I am currently experiencing having an idea and attempting to express that idea in precise linguistic terms. I am expressing it in this way, hoping that by reading these words you, the reader, will be able to use this expression to construct a similar enough idea such that we will have a common language for expression of ideas. You can never see or experience the idea in my head, but you can attempt to construct a facsimile idea that is close enough.

In short, I cannot “give” or “take” and idea from you, I can only strive to provide you with the necessary components of an idea I wish to share. If I, for whatever reason, wish to prevent you from constructing a particular idea, I can attempt to avoid expressing hints at that idea. This is the basis of a secret. If I have an idea in my mind and wish no-one else to be aware of it, I can refrain from expressing it and even engage in behaviors that may prevent others from becoming aware of such an idea. For instance, Bruce Wayne can pretend to be a playboy billionaire too busy hanging out with loose women to be beating criminals in the dead of night, thus keeping his secret of being Batman.

Bruce Wayne is an excellent example, as he effectively demonstrates the nature of secrets. For example, the common inhabitants of Gotham have no idea that Bruce Wayne is Batman, primarily because they are ignorant of the requisite evidence to form such an idea. However, every iteration of Bruce Wayne is eventually exposed as Batman to someone else (Alfred, Dick Clark, Catwoman, Bane, etc.). The moment that a copy of the idea that Bruce Wayne is Batman is created, the secret is out. Such a secret inevitably spreads at a geometric rate, sparking the creation of duplicate ideas in fresh minds from the initial host, spreading like a virus and taking on a new form with each duplication.

If Alfred discovers Bruce Wayne is Batman, can Bruce justifiably kill or coerce Alfred in order to prevent such a spread of information? One may make a convoluted case that Alfred, by knowing something that could put Bruce in danger, is aggressing against him… but I don’t have time to waste on such absurdities. All Alfred has done is construct an idea which serves to inform his understanding of the world. The material equivalent would be Bruce creating a tool, say an ax, in order to make woodcutting easier, and Alfred, seeing the utility of such a tool, fashions an ax himself to cut his own wood. It is possible that Alfred’s ax may put Bruce at risk,(Alfred may snap, and murder Bruce in his sleep or a criminal may acquire the ax and use it in the same manner), but the mere fact that Alfred possesses a tool does not threaten Bruce. The same applies to Catwoman, Talia and Ra’s AL Ghul, Bane, etc; regardless of who knows the alleged secret, the only thing that matters (morally speaking) is what they do with that knowledge.

Now that we’ve taken most of our time exploring the term “intellectual”, let’s briefly turn our attention to “property”. My last two posts (here and here) explored the basics of property already. We don’t have to go much further than we already have. I got the least amount of feedback to-date concerning these posts, so I have had very little opportunity to change my mind.

Two key requirements I have laid out for something to be considered property are thus: the alleged “property must be a discrete and identifiable object, and it must be transmissible. Given what we have already covered concerning intellectual matters, it becomes readily apparent that an idea is not really discrete and identifiable. Whether it be an immaterial entity within one’s mind, a specific arrangement of cells and chemicals in a brain, or a series of magnetic charges on a metal plate, an idea is difficult (to the degree of being an impossibility) to identify as a discrete object. Additionally, an idea, in any of the forms I have just listed, cannot really be moved from one medium to another; they are actually merely duplicated with varying degrees of fidelity. Because “intellectual” things cannot meet the necessary conditions for property, “intellectual property” is an oxymoron.

“But what about books? You can own, trade, identify, and move books.” Books are obviously property; they meet each of the necessary and sufficient conditions we have already covered. However, there is a delineation between the material book itself and whatever ideas the book “contains”. The paper, ink, glue, etc. are discrete and identifiable, but the ideas that can be constructed by way of the material object only exist insofar as the mind is able to assemble ideas from its interaction with the material object. When one buys a book, one isn’t buying ideas. One, ostensibly, purchases a book with the intent of receiving fresh inspiration for one’s mind, but all they purchase is ink-stained paper.

“What about ebooks or software?” Legal fictions aside, we can look at identifiable, concrete actions and determine what is taking place. When one creates an ebook or piece of software, they are devising a particular series of on/off signals which are comparable to the phonetic and tonal sounds one makes when one performs a speech or holds a conversation. One can duplicate that series of signals with comparative ease, courtesy of modern computers. However, in order to create a duplicate, one must first have access to an existing instance of that arrangement of signals.

Ultimately, the (ostensibly) easiest method of gaining access to that series of signals is to pay the creator or host for such access. Things like DRM are typically implemented with the intent of making alternative methods of access cost-prohibitive. In the case of software, limiting functionality to people and charging for a password to increase functionality is still a common practice today, even if it is somewhat hidden behind the user interface. A material comparison would be a factory producing fully functional and free cars with locked doors. The easiest way (in this case) to gain access to the car and drive it away would be to pay the factory owner for the key to unlock the door.

Based on these behaviors, I would say that electronic media or, rather, the data stored on those media, are not property. They are certainly intellectual, which disqualifies them from being property. Instead, when one “purchases” an ebook, software, or whatever, one is paying for the service of allowing access to an extant copy in order to duplicate it, for the service of providing a password which grants access to functionality, or some comparable service. If this seems contrary to one’s intuition, I suggest one investigate how exactly services like Netflix operate.

The most informative part of this discussion, though, is a matter of the metaphysical and physical impossibility of theft. When something is stolen from its owner, the owner looses access to and control over the stolen item; that is the definitive quality of theft. Ideas (and data, a subset of ideas)can be copied, modified, and even destroyed, but they cannot be stolen. If it can’t be stolen, it isn’t property.

TL;DR: Metaphysics and science alike will admit that the phenomena of ideas are immaterial (or, at least, have not yet found the specific material components and nature of ideas). Both will also bolster the claim that ideas are not moved about in the same manner as material objects, but are mind-specific and merely copied from medium to medium. Based on our current definition of property and these attributes of intellectual things, ideas cannot be property. Therefore, intellectual property is an oxymoron and ideas cannot be stolen. Nor, despite laws to the contrary, can one justifiably initiate aggression against anyone else over an idea they have, not even Batman