Possession

Dear Ernest,

It has been famously written that ‘man is born free and is everywhere in chains’.  The moment someone first invented the concept of possession, humanity immediately became possessed.  Indeed, the pursuit of wealth is perhaps among the most peculiar habits of mankind.  The whole concept of becoming rich is usually understood in a the most disillusioned light possible.  Claim a piece of land, and it will claim a place in your concerns.  Buy yourself a nice car, and you will also sell a part of yourself to the cares and liabilities that come with.  All and all, the more you have, the more you are had, and it is for this reason that we must be extremely mindful of what we choose to possess and what to let go.

Of course, possession isn’t all bad, and a certain amount of it may even be necessary.  If I call you my friend, then I am implying that there exists a unique level of mutual belonging between us.  After all, I wouldn’t go around granting that title to just anyone.  It would be strange to regard some one-time passerby as a dear friend.  Friendship requires some amount of time, investment, and familiarity.  In other words, it requires that one allow a part of his concerns to be possessed by someone else, and this in exchange for the same degree of solicitude.  But I mustn’t describe this paradigm in only negative terms.  Obviously, by nature of being invested in each other, friends share also in their well-being.

In your last letter: “Was it not stealing to take from me by coming up with your ideas?”

When speaking of ‘possessing wisdom’, I think it is best not to regard beauty as existing in the eye of the beholder.  As most philosophers since antiquity have held, the truth is something valuable in itself.  We needn’t be able to market an idea for it to acquire worth.  This is because, unlike in the world of finance, in the world of philosophy, popularity has no bearing on the value of wisdom.  Instead, philosophising is like digging for dinosaur bones.  There are a predetermined number of bones in existence, so the value we assign to each one is really artificial, and indeed, even the notion that we possess one is a provision made only for the sake of practicality.  A paleontologist needs to eat, and to that end, he may need to claim some kind of possession over his discoveries, but when it comes down to it, God created bones, not men.  Indeed, the only justification for the paleonologist is a rather infantile maxim: finders keepers, losers weepers.

It is the same with philosophers.  The truth is simply the truth.  The fact that I have uncovered some small sector of it doesn’t seem sufficient cause to make me an owner.  However, I might feel a sense of attachment to my discovery much like the attachment felt between friends.  If tomorrow, you should make friends with some other fellow by the name of Thaddeus, then I assure you I would by no means regard myself as someone poorer in your friendship.  If anything, I’d be richer.  As your friend, I would share in your well-being.  Likewise, if someone else should come up with a really clever idea tomorrow, I wouldn’t feel as though my own ideas had depreciated; instead, the whole puzzle of human understanding would grow more interesting and more beautiful, making ideas themselves all together more valuable.  Each of us has our own membership in the body of Christ, and that means we will each understand a different part of who God is.  But if we should ever wonder whether the addition of a new member will cause our own function to become less valuable, then we must remember another bit of infantile wisdom: make new friends, and keep the old.

Your servant,

TWM

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