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B . A Commentary On Property

Will Durant was among those who believe that the invention of a concept of property rights is one of the fundamental stepping-stones on the road to Civilization. Surely, a very large percentage of our efforts during our lives are related to the acquisition, exchange, and distribution of the various property rights which our society allows us to possess. In point of fact, as science creates new knowledge, that new knowledge sometimes leads to the creation of new property rights.1
There are some concepts about property which are important for us to understand. First, we can't take it with us. Once we die, whatever property we have will be distributed in some way, in accordance with the laws and customs of our society. While it is possible for us during life to designate some portion of our property to be used to create some sort of monument to this one particular existence of ours on this planet,2 after our death, we must depend on others to carry out our wishes (i.e., to ensure that we are entombed according to our wishes) and to ensure that our chosen monument survives our demise for some significant length of time.
Second, we must never forget that "property" is just a tool for us to use to achieve the objectives of our lives. Someone who accumulates property beyond their capability to use for the achievement of reasonable objectives during their lives is a person who is essentially mentally ill. Another aspect of "property" as a "tool" is that there is no morality to property; it may be used for moral or immoral purposes, just as can any "tool" be used for good or ill.


1 Prior to the availability of cryogenic freezing of human sperm, we would have never been faced with the various considerations which arise when the girlfriend of a now deceased man, who has been willed the rights to sperm which the man deliberately set aside for her to use upon the contingency of his own death, seeks to impregnate herself with that sperm against the wishes of the other children of the dead man. However, that particular situation has been the subject of a fairly long-running court battle here in California. The essence of the battle is not so much the rights to the sperm itself, but the rights which the potential child of that pregnancy would have to the substantial property in the estate of the dead man. Obviously, the children who were living at the time the man died stand to be impoverished to some degree or another if a new child is born and the courts order child support and/or a share of the inheritance for that child. Technology increases the complexity of our various concepts of property rights with each significant advance which might disturb long-held views underlying our system of dealing with those rights. One of those views was that a man could not get a woman pregnant after his death. Thus, there was no need to make provisions for the birth of another child (or children) if there was no pregnancy at the time of the man's death. With our new technology, that view is no longer correct! Whether mankind is better or worse off for that advance is another matter entirely.

2 This sentence is carefully phrased to allow for the possibility of reincarnation.

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