One of the universal truths of life is that we really don’t truly own anything. I haven’t had a car in about 5 years. I’ve had a car for most of my adult life and no, I didn’t exactly enjoy the lack of convenience that came with gettig rid of it. But yesterday I heard a car alarm outside and I noticed this time I didn’t have a reaction. I thought about how in the past I would have sprung to attention without a second thought, even worry whether it was my car being broken into. But tonight I heard a car alarm, and I had no physiological reaction. Something small, I hadn’t really noticed. But sometimes we don’t know we live with an anxiety until it’s gone. Ownership is that way, I suppose. I’m sure it could be successfully argued that with more stuff, more anxiety. Or as Biggie Smalls would say: “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems”

I remember how I would worry about car payments and insurance and I would often look at that hunk of metal and glass sitting in in the driveway month after month and barely used and think. “What a waste of money, and I have to shovel that M***f**** out when it snows,”. Now, I Uber or bus it and I don’t really miss it. Granted, my social life sucks because I’m at the computer all day, but I think my logic is sound. Do we really need stuff when ownership is an illusion?

I started thinking about how this relates to technology and security. Even using banking as an example, we struggle to keep people out of things. It’s a huge challenge and time-consuming concern. We struggle to authenticate and verify identities and that’s rather hard. Web 3 promises better security through trustless systems. It also promises that we own “our data”. But can we ever really own data? Do we really truly own anything? Do you own your car, home, land? Or are we tenants, custodians, caregivers, stewards, guardians for a time. Until we croak and pass it on to some generally ungrateful soul (I have no children and people disappoint me) or give it to the government (an idea that use to repulse me, but now…I don’t care).

For me this begs the question: “How can we relate to stuff we take care of and not be stressed out about owning ‘stuff’?” Don’t get me wrong, I like stuff. But I just don’t want to be owned by it, I know people who are owned by their stuff (or worse, other people’s stuff) and none of them seem particularly happy. I’m thinking, perhaps, instead of worrying about stuff in this life, we worry about leaving it in good and capable hands when we are gone? Like a trust. Get it…trust people with our stuff. Not just any people good and capable people. (yes that creates another difficult problem…finding these people)

By focusing on service and reputation, maybe that will free us our and energies towards creating beautiful and empowering experiences and more meaningful relationships? Instead of tracking and counting stuff, judging people or ourselves for not having enough or good enough stuff. Maybe then we won’t have to worry about thieves as much, and ownership verification doesn’t become a matter of life and death.

Then another problem is born. We live in a society that is more likely to protect stuff before it protects people. (Gonzales v. City of Castle Rock, 545 U.S. 748 (2005))

We also live in a capitalistic society where stuff was stolen from some people and given to others, and then laws were constructed to assure those people held onto that stuff and that people who didn’t look like them would find it difficult to get stuff to pass that stuff on to their children. Wash and repeat for 400 years.

As a result, we now have an entire legal system built on the idea of taking stuff from poor people. And taking taxes from rich people. And somewhere in the middle, the hard working people with little in the way of wealth are giving the most of their stuff (counting their risks and sacrifices as stuff they have a right to).

But we can’t get away from the fact that we have, over centuries built a system where one hardly has a say if we don’t own stuff, unless we know how to manage stuff, or to make a living off of stuff. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a capitalist. It’s the best system going, even with all its evils. Those who say capitalism is bad have never lived in places where money stops flowing. For as bad as capitalism may be, when money flows for silly or seemingly useless things, all hell breaks loose and nobody has any stuff, when people stop buying or lose their capacity to acquire…stuff.

That said, can we rethink our relationship to dead stuff? How do we move into a better world where stuff isn’t the point? How can we be better stewards of our planet and all its good stuff? Perhaps if we start coming up with new ways to regard stuff, to think long and hard about what stuff is important and what stuff we can live just fine without, maybe then we can have cleaner water, cleaner air, better lands and just maybe find insects, people and animals more worthy of protection than the stuff that is produced by them. – Edmund J. Janas, II


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