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Today we are going to follow-up on the lesson Property Ownership And Competition - The Human Trinity. The next logical question is: how do we prevent people from getting into conflicts over previously un-owned property? If our stated goal is to foster coexistence, this question must be answered.

In order to do so, we need to go through a little historical process. We ask patient of you, dear reader.



Now that we understand the links and origins of properties, ownership and competition, we can take a step forward and raise a question: What else do we need to guarantee coexistence?

To answer that, we need to do some soul searching.


Me first

We have seen how our biological imperative pushes us to be greedy. Which means that giving the choice between me or you, I will always instinctively choose me. The only problem is, you will do the same.

For as long as stuff has no ownership and we don’t know that each other exists, who gets the stuff is irrelevant because not getting it would seem natural and neutral. We would only be able to blame ourselves. We did not work hard enough. We did not see it.

However, if we know of the existence of each other, things change remarkably. If we don’t get the stuff, we can and will blame each other. You got it first. You hid it. You used it. You took it. You. You. You.

Problem is, our greed imperative is alive and well and what we all know is that we need that stuff that you now have. We absolutely, positively, definitively have to have it. If you have it, too bad. We will take it over your dead body, if necessary.

There is nothing immoral, un-ethical or sinful about this drive. It is just a biological imperative.

All animals, with the exception of human beings, absolutely act on this impulse. This does not mean they are evil or don’t have rules. They do. But the rules are simple: he who is the “fittest’ wins. The concept of “fittest” can be defined in many ways depending of the species we are talking about, however, for mammals it usually means stronger. It’s simple. If I am strong enough to take your stuff from you, it becomes mine. From that point on, if you have stuff and I want it, you have two options: you can give it to me or I can take it. The former is usually preferred to the later since the latter usually involves some degree of physical punishment or damage.


Let’s talk

Human beings originally operated as animals do, driven by the greed imperative. However, as our brain power increased, we began to evolve a third option. We do call this evolution albeit many biologists and neurologist would not agree. We do so because our brain is the cusp of the evolutionary process and our thoughts are simply evolved ideas.

In any case, a though popped up in our brain. What if there would be a third way, a way that generates a win-win scenario for both, the weak and the strong alike?

What if we would to agree that the first person to get un-owned stuff can keep it? Furthermore, what if the fittest specimen would to agree to this simple rule?

To verify the viability of such proposal, we need to analyze what’s in it for both specimens.

For the weaker specimen, the answer is obvious. It will have the chance to obtain what requires and keep it and use it, hence improving its chances of spreading its genes.

For the fittest specimen, the answer is less obvious. The fittest specimen would avoid confrontation with weaker ones. In other words, it will decrease its expenditure of energy and its risk of being damaged hence improving its odds of spreading its genes simply because of increased vigor and a longer life span. It is sort of difficult to have sex if you are dead or dying.

This is not an entirely rational solution, but a logical one nevertheless. It is rational because we had to evolve it and seek agreement for it. We had to reason it. It is not rational because amongst other instincts, we have self-preservation, which will instinctively push us to avoid confrontations. We did not have to reason this.

This idea of first come first served does not originate in ethical, moral or religious principles. It originates from biological impulses and evolution.


We have a deal

It is this primordial idea of first come first served and a common sense agreement that makes this concept work. One half is dependent on the other hand. What would be the point of getting stuff first, if somebody takes it away? What would be the point of being able to take away whatever I want, if I end up constantly tired, looking over my shoulder and probably wounded?

This first come first serve is one of the most primordial deals that humans stroke. This deal can be expressed in a different manner: if you don’t mess around with my stuff, I won’t do it with yours. The original détente.

It works because every party in this deal has more to win than to lose by abiding by the deal than breaking it.



For the longest time, this deal worked. Of course, it was never perfect. How could it be? We are humans and humans are driven by emotions. As such, our emotions would override our common sense and we would steal. Fights began. Gang confrontations started. Skirmishes ensued. Wars were inevitable.


The tiny flaw in the details

One of the major problems with the original deal was that it did not specify what exactly was the meaning of “getting stuff first”. Was it just enough to having seen it? Did you have to touch it physically? Could you just walk around and claim it? Could you send somebody to do it for you? If you took it from defenseless people, would this make it yours?

Clever people always find clever ways around deals, and this wasn’t the exception. Eventually, some people realized that they could either cheat the deal or steal the stuff. All it was required was the right combination of skills and power.


The transference issue

It was also obvious that the principle wasn’t working very well because of the transference of advantages through aggression and conquest.

It is quite simple. Really. If I command an army and send them to conquer by force, many of them will die; however, I won’t. I will still be alive to benefit from the spoils of their death. It may not work for them, but it most certainly works for me. I have just transferred all the drawbacks and risks of breaking the deal to other people while keeping all the benefits.


The stuff of kings

This is how the monarchy expanded its possessions; through conquest and aggression. As the original deal did not specify any other rules, people with access to power (i.e. military power) decided that “Might Makes Right” and started to add their own regulations to the original deal. Amongst the jewels they developed we find:

  • The “right” of conquest (i.e. you get to keep whatever stuff you conquered by force).
  • The “right” over other people’s lives (i.e. their subjects)
  • The “right” to decide when the deal was valid and when it was invalid



Monarchs forgot that the original deal was a win-win scenario and that breaking the deal implied a mutually assured destruction. Monarchs broke the deal so frequently and to such a degree that eventually, the other party of the deal (i.e. the people) revolted and deposed them. In their place, they placed a system that restored the original deal, but added a few rules. Anywhere between a few 1000’s to more than 100.000’s per country (nobody knows for sure). Just a “few”.

Eventually, over time, clever people begun to find ways around the deal and its rules. This is how the modern civilization was born, by skirting around imperfect rules. A new-and-improved deal was required.

Not to worry! Visionary people foresaw this problem even before it took place. They developed the answer to the issue and gave us the Homestead Principle.

Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.

Continue to First come first served - Part 2


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