Who owns your body?

Bodies
Image by Stig Andersen

Who owns your body? I’m guessing your immediate answer is that you do, of course. It’s even kind of built in to the question: your body. But do you really own your body?

What does it mean to own something? Let’s define ownership in the original and pure sense: to own something is to have the right and the power to enjoy and dispose of that thing, that which is owned. A negative definition of ownership is also useful in many cases: if you own something, no one else my decide what happens to it or how it is used.

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For example: if I own a knife, then – unless I have agreed to grant specific permission to another – only I may use it, sell it or destroy it. Of course, there may be consequences resulting from my use of the knife. If I stab a random person with it for example I would be a criminal and suffer serious consequences of my action, at least in a just society.

Note the crucial distinction: if you own it, you and only you exclusively decide on it’s use. Even if your use of a particular thing affects others and there may be all kinds of repercussions and consequences of that use, only you have the right and power to decide on that use.

The same applies to your body. If you own it, you are free to use and dispose of it exactly as you like and no one else may interfere with your dispositions. If that is not the case, then you do not own your body.

For most human beings it seems one of the most basic, natural and self evident truths that you own your own body in this sense. But the fact is you do not own your body in this sense.

For example, you are not allowed to ingest, inhale or inject certain substances into “your body” – I would like to say “your own body”, but that’s just the point: it would be incoherent. To be exact, let’s take the example of  smoking pot. Sticking to the above definition of what “your” means, I should then say: you are not allowed to smoke pot with the body that you think of as “your body”, but which is not actually your body.

Therefore it is clear that you do not own your body. The true owner of your body is the state – by definition, as it is the state, and only the state, that decides how you may use your body. If you really owned your body, the state would not be allowed to control it.

The state owns your body and has graciously granted you a limited lease on certain uses of it, having the power to change the terms of this lease at any point in time without consulting you and without warning.

smoking
Image by https://www.flickr.com/photos/thevlue/

What about your mind, by the way – that other central part of your identity? Do you own that?

Again the answer is no, you do not. For example, most states force all children in the territory that it controls to undergo “public education” during which certain beliefs are force-fed into their minds, including the belief that it is good that the state has ownership over our bodies and minds.

Since the state claims ownership of your physical body and your mind, it should come as no surprise that it also takes for itself ownership of the labor that you produce with your body and mind. This ownership it dispenses mainly through what it calls “taxation”, which is the state’s fancy word for “stealing”.

Thus in actuality, “your” body can only be used in the same way that a man would refer to “his” wife: it just identifies a specific person with perhaps a specific relationship, such as marriage, but no ownership is indicated. “Your body” is just “a body” that may be identified by “your” social security number for example. For practical reasons, you have been granted certain rights over that body – such as mostly being allowed to move around in certain spaces – but ultimate ownership of any specific body is vested in the state.

Are you going to reclaim ownership of your body and mind, or are you fine with the state – which actually means people you have never met – owning your body and mind and controlling what you may or may not do with them?

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