Monday, September 25, 2006

Hostile Takeover

Posted on Echidne of the Snakes last Saturday

Isn’t it clear that you own your body? That is if we are foolish enough to allow something so personally intimate to be regarded as having the degraded status of mere property. If someone insists on raising the question of ownership isn’t it clear that your body belongs entirely to you? And if it doesn’t belong to you at least it doesn’t belong to anyone else. The difference between you owning your body and someone else owning it is the difference between freedom and slavery. You can’t be free if some other entity can exercise a claim on your body.*

If your own body doesn’t belong only to you and if you don’t have an absolute right to it, what concept of property makes sense? What thing can be as inseparably and essentially a part of you as your physical body? Your business, stocks, money, real property, home, clothes, food, water? Maybe food and water. Our bodies are made of food and water, it needs clothes to survive, we mostly being primates outside our natural flora. And we also need housing. Maybe those things can be considered necessary extensions of our bodies. But fungible assets start getting a bit afield

For women staring down the barrel of the Bush era court, this question of ownership of their bodies is about to become a lot less of an abstract consideration. Unless the Republicans lose the Senate in November it is certain that Roe will be hollowed out just as Alito plotted during the Reagan years if not overturned entirely. Barring a miracle, Bush will get another Supreme Court Appointment, the Republicans will confirm them after a pageant of perjury called a confirmation hearing. Arlen Specter and the rest of the Senate Republicans now relieved of having to answer to the voters will do what they have done, confirm whatever other right wing zealot Bush sends them. The state will own a piece of you, and since no part of your body is unattached to the whole of it, the government will have ownership rights over you for at least as long as you are able to conceive. I’d guess that none of that is news to you.

At the same time Republicans are preparing to nationalize your bodies they are loosening restrictions on the ownership and use of just about every kind of property. The absentee owners of land, businesses, etc. could have just about an absolute right to exercise control over them as you lose your control of your body. The “property rights” movement, financed by development interests, is a major part of Republican strategy in the Western states and elsewhere. There will be no governmental regulation of the most destructive and irresponsible use of property, no matter how many people or how much wildlife is harmed. Allowing the destruction of the environment effectively makes the entire biosphere the property of corporations and their owners. You not only don’t own what you need to live, your body, the entire range of vital necessities are owned by the corporate state.

And it isn’t just within physical world that the Republicans are making corporate and private ownership rights absolute. Vaguely similar trade marks, “intellectual property”, market share, DNA sequences, etc. Nothing is beyond the reach of Republicans on the frontiers of corporate consolidation and profits. The legal profession, ever eager to prove what an ass it can be, will leave no word untwisted to aid them.

This wacky situation needs to be addressed in the most basic terms. Republicans think you can own just about everything except your own body. So far it is your body, a woman's body. That belongs to the state. After the sodomy ruling of a few years back similar laws concerning men’s bodies are less intrusive.

For one growing up in the worst of the cold war it is curious that the heirs of those who condemned Stalinism’s view of state property are those who are going past the Stalinist's theoretical limits of state ownership, but only in so far as women’s bodies are concerned.

* Children ‘own’ their bodies but are not yet competent to exercise their rights. That’s one of the fundamental assumptions of the difference between adulthood and childhood. It is the responsibility of parents or guardians to exercise necessary rights on behalf of a child in their care. That responsibility isn’t the same thing as the child’s right to the integrity of their own body and there are times when it is the responsibility of the state to step in and enforce rights and responsibilities when there is a problem.

Adults who can’t exercise their rights need people to take responsibility to make decisions in their interest. Anyone who has had a severely mentally ill family member knows that the state has given up any responsibility for their protection and treatment. Such families are now on their own with all the horrors of responsibility and no rights, no ability to do much except pay and suffer. It’s a really bad idea to mix up responsibilities and rights through sloppy language. The muddled thinking that results from it can have a devastating effect in real life.

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