BY RAYMOND FIELDING
With political correctness growing, the Protestant Ethic declining and the greed police close upon our heels, it’s time for contrarians to argue that possessiveness plays a more positive role in our lives than is usually acknowledged.
Even narcissism, the evil step-daughter of self-confidence, is being re-evaluated. Psychologist Craig Malkin, in his book Rethinking Narcissism (Harper Collins, 2015), reports that “…numerous studies have found that people who see themselves as better than average are happier, more sociable, and often more physically healthy than their humbler peers. The swagger in their step is associated with a host of positive qualities, including creativity, leadership, and high self-esteem, which can propel success at work.”
Dietitians tell us that we are what we eat, while others say we become whom we pretend to be. An even closer look suggests that we are defined in part by what we possess, whether earned with our labor or given to us by default, and that this is a very human and useful characteristic.If this is so, then our common trait of possessiveness has not yet had its day in court. Let’s fire up this argument and see where it takes us.
Consider the manner in which law and custom protect our possessions. Remember, too, that possession is nine tenths of that law. Potlatch aberrations aside, the 4th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution reminds us that our home is our castle and safe within it are our belongings—the carpets on our floors, the telly on its stand, the knickknacks on the sideboard and the pictures on the walls. Whether Klimt or kitsch, they articulate our identity. It may not be Broadway, but it’s what we got.
Our emotions moderate our thinking. Consider the pleasure with which one’s wife will try on a new dress or pair of shoes, and the expectation that these things will shine in their singularity at the next party or dinner.
Consider the glow with which men display a garage full of tools and gadgets. Consider the pleasure with which they restore old rusting automobiles to function and utility.
Consider the half-hidden greed with which contestants submit their household uglies to experts for intellectual appraisal and financial appreciation on the popular television show, Antiques Roadshow. On other channels, the media reinforce our acquisitive hunger with contests whose rewards rival those of mythic kings and sultans. “Please sir, I want more!” we cry along with Oliver Twist, and make a go for the jackpot.
Some people collect rocks, and if that’s the way they get their jollies, then bless them in their joy. The point of all such acquisition is that these things are theirs alone, cataloged, protected, unshared and uncorrupted by others.
To be sure, such things may perish with time or financial disaster. A flame may incinerate them, while each of us, in turn, will pass and leave them behind, but while we’re here and hold them in our hands they are ours with which to obsess and treasure. Whatever our education, the color of our skin, the successes and failures that we have borne—our identity is shared with what we’ve gathered round us.
Some possessions are intangible. These include our foolish belief in political virtue, our enthusiasm for losing sports teams and recycled sitcoms, and the certainty with which we peruse astrological charts. Such things feel unique to each of us. Possessing them, we amplify our resilience and forget our vulnerabilities. We are as empowered driving our turbo-charged, six-cylinder Seiugis down the highway as is a child dragging its doll across the floor. Even in our anthropological origins we are remembered by the artifacts with which our family buried us. We are homo usurpo.
Any trait so widely demonstrated by human beings, cannot be wrong. Of course, it is a trait which can be carried to excess, magnified beyond reason, destructive to ourselves and to our neighbors. But like our need for the air we breath and the food we consume it cannot be wrong.
So let us enjoy what belongs to each of us. As for myself, having salved my conscience and memorialized my acquisitive instincts, I share with you the advice of my colleagues, the philosophers and psychologists. Make a noise and go for it.