The Precept Against Theft and Hoarding

Content Warning: Can be viewed as moral imperatives. Neuropsychological Infohazard.
Previous in Series: The Precept Against Murder

We suspect this will be one of the more controversial posts we make. We’ve been moving relatively quickly through the precepts, but we stumbled over this one and ended up spending almost a whole week analyzing how best to set it up in the specific details. We’re going to once again reiterate that the precepts are not moral imperatives and we’re not arguing that you must do these things or be a bad person, we’re merely laying out the personal system we intend to use for ourselves, and others who willingly chose to join us as members of the Anadoxy. This is a completely voluntary and consensual value system, and no one should feel forced to follow it. We encourage people to follow it, because we see it as the current best set of practices for making the world better, but as always the precepts are not the precepts.

So let’s start with the normative ethical framework and see where we end up. We like having things. We don’t like having our things taken, we like having security for our possessions, and knowing that the things we care about and rely upon to live our lives successfully aren’t going to be stolen. Thus we arrival at the older then feudalism meme that stealing is bad. Pretty straightforward. I won’t steal from you, you won’t steal from me, and thus, civilisation.

Of course, with the rise of civilisation and not taking things by force all the time, comes about a situation of power imbalances and hierarchies, Sun God Worship, and the acquisition of resources for their own sake, as a terminal goal. Back in the palaeolithic days when we roamed the ancestral environments, our property was only what we could carry with us, and so there was a limit to how much property we could carry around without becoming encumbered by it, and this provided a rather unavoidable upper limit to our ambitions for property.

But then along came agriculture and houses and towns and the property limits became unbound from a person’s carrying capacity, suddenly everyone could acquire as much property as they could get their hands on, and for the next several thousand years there was a global land rush.

Well, the land rush is over now, all the land is claimed, all the property is spoken for, all the forests and plains of the former ancestral environment are divided up and fenced off and divied out to whoever happened to be able to grab power in some fashion when the land was newly found by those with the power to take it at the time.

So now? You don’t get to go off into the wilderness and start a farm to support yourself and your tribe, because all that land is owned by someone and your presence is trespassing. You can’t hunt and gather to survive, because hunting is illegal without a permit, and gathering requires trespassing on private property. Camping in many areas is also considered illegal, so if you want to live in a tent in the city, instead of a tent in the woods, that’s considered illegal because all of that space is owned by someone and they object to the presence of your tent.

This is not a particularly good way to minimise harm. People are basically being constantly shook out of the bottom of the system, which is presently haemorrhaging workers to increasing automation. There will come a day when once person could conceivably own and automate the entire process they need to live a modern, western, standard of living, and operate that process independently of anyone else. And that sounds good on the surface, ultimate freedom right, we can do away with things like governance. But what if you aren’t one of the relatively few people who ends up in possession of all the robots and property?

Well, a lot of people’s answer seems to be that as long as they are in the “has property” category then they don’t really care about the “doesn’t have property” category, which is just wilfully callous and we want no part in it. We want to save everyone. We don’t want to fall victim to this ourselves. Eliezer’s post on why power corrupts, from an evolutionary psychology perspective is really helpful here, and the ‘seize power for the good of the tribe oh wait actually it’s just my good’ loop definitely seems risky.

Thus we’re going to define this precept very carefully. If you’ll recall, the Major Precept is described thusly:

8. Do not take what isn’t yours unless it is a burden to the other person and they cry out for relief.

So first off, don’t take what isn’t yours. The first part of the minor precept will define what you should say is yours, and what you shouldn’t, and we try to be as explicit as possible, before moving onto how we should handle things like property, charity, taxes, and the like.

8.1 Every human has a right to a place to sleep, enough clothes to wear a different clean outfit every day, food, water, medicine, a computer with an internet connection, tools necessary for the performance of skills or crafts, transportation equipment necessary to move about within the territory, stims, games, and items associated with pastimes and hobbies, and a dwelling place in which these things may be safely stored. We define these things as an individual’s personal property. Dimensionally this should all fit within the confines of a standard shipping container.
8.2 All other property above and beyond personal property is a burden which weighs upon a person, to prevent this, all property beyond this personal property should be held in trust by the community.
8.3 The community should work to ensure all of its members have access to a minimum standard amount of personal property.
8.4 Every person’s personal property is their own, and their rights to their personal property should not be infringed upon. Do not take someone’s personal property.
8.5 Resources and property held in trust by the community should benefit all members of the community.
8.6 The community should use excess resources not needed to care for the community members, to pursue the project virtues.
8.7 The community should decide in a collective, democratic, empirically backed manner, how to use its resources.
8.8 The standards of personal property should be kept up to date with respect to technology.

Okay so let’s break it down a bit. First off, we don’t list a monetary amount in 8.1 because we know people read this from places other than the United States, and really something that specific shouldn’t even be in the minor precepts. However because we do live in the United States it is the place we can speak of regarding monetary amounts and if we had to assign a monetary value, it would end up being something like a $30,000 yearly salary.

We specifically define the process the community should use to determine what to do with its collective resources, but we do think the resources should be held mostly by the community, rather than any individual. The ability of any one individual to redirect the community’s flow of resources towards themselves should be minimised, actions the community takes to benefit its members should be universal to prevent perverse incentive structures, and the processes should be democratic and conform to science and reason.

Members of the anadoxy should encourage others to live like this, but not enforce it beyond for instance, voting in favor of taxation in the countries they live within. The primary vector of pressure when advocating on behalf of these ideals should be by encouraging people to join the Anadoxy and also follow the precepts. But of course, the precepts are not the precepts.

Part of the Sequence: Origin
Next Post: The Precept Against Echovictimia
Previous Post: 
The Precept Against Murder

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One thought on “The Precept Against Theft and Hoarding

  1. The phrase “all other property above and beyond personal property is a burden which weighs upon a person” is just strange. I have no idea what you mean by that.

    I strongly object the the notion that the community distributes all extra resources as it will.

    First, creating an institution that has enormous power but doesn’t abuse it is a hellish unsolved problem. Democracy is only good enough for institutions that have *very restricted* power and *usually* don’t abuse it *too* much. That is, there are very good reasons why Democracies give inviolable rights to their citizens and limit the prerogatives of the government, rather than being satisfied by the government being representative.

    Second, decreeing that the community (rather than the individual) decides where the extra resources produced by the individual go, destroys the motivation of the individual to produce extra resources (or, their motivation to belong to the community). The results are disastrous.

    Third, fixing a monetary amount is impossible even in a specific country, since individual needs can vary significantly. A person with disabilities might need much more money for the same level of comfort. Different people can have different luxury-motivation curves. These are also things I wouldn’t trust any central authority to decide.

    Like

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