OWNERSHIP: possession of rights and obligations with respect to an entity which are sanctioned by a social seal of approval

Ownership is a devised relationship of possession by one entity over another whereby the ruling group authority will usually permit the exchange of the possessed entity for something else... usually money. Legal ownership involves the exercise of a set rights and the adherence to a set of obligations associated with the entity owned. The set of rights determine how the owned entity may be treated and used to create income and disposed of, and the set of obligations specify how such matters as rates, licences, maintainance and the provision of social benefits are to be satisfied. Thus vehicles can be cleaned or not, used for transport to create income and can be exchanged for money, but require to be licenced, be in a satisfactory mechanical condition and must not break the public driving regulations. Shares can be framed or not and used to gamble one's assets, but may not be able to be sold to whoever one fancies, nor be bought or sold in the context of 'insider trading'. Slaves may be abused in a range of ways, exploited for their labour and skills, and sold or exchanged on the open market for whatever someone is prepard to pay for them. Assuming that any form of absolute communism... where anything belongs to anyone whenever they want it... is not a viable pragmatic social behaviour, all socio-political authorities promulgate rules which govern who or what may own all the diverse entities and assets that the regulated society chooses to concern itself with.

Societies continually struggle with what they are prepared to sanction as being capable of being owned. One authority may deny certain classes of citizenry from being able to own land. Another authority may deem it inadvisable for any private individual or group to be able to own public assets like water, power and conservation estates. Some will allow and administer the ownership of patents and copyrights whilst others entirely ignore the issue. And who should own rediscovered sunken treasure? What can or cannot be owned depends upon the administering authority. If an authority changes because of political events or if an imperialist society chooses to invade and exploit the first, claims of ownership and possession rights are likely to be quite precarious. From what has been noted so far, one can appreciate that any authority conferring ownership rights is never going to allow those rights to be absolute. An emperor may allow slave owners to have unlimited rights of authorized abuse over their slaves, but he not going to permit the right to use the slave as a means of having himself assassinated. Any supposition that ownership confers a quasi-deistic sovereignty over something is simply unrealistic. Any concept of ownership... in the sense of complete control and an exercise of supreme and unrestricted power... has never been any more than a psychotic delusion.

Whilst ownership of an entity is normally considered to be an asset, it is nevertheless the case that it can mutate irrevocably into a burdensom liability. Many of the physical things collected and owned are relatively ephemeral. Nature ensures that ships mature into rusting hulks and dwellings will rot and decay or be washed away by slips and floods. Shares bought in a phase of economic certainty become valueless when the next downturn comes round. A productive vineyard... purchased in good faith... may become unsaleable when toxic contamination is discovered inside its boundaries. Patents and copyright eventually expire and are worth nothing.

Although the words 'ownership' and 'possession' are frequently used as if they were equivalent, it may be useful to tease out a distinction to take account of different situations. Whilst 'ownership' is an association with something wherein both rights and obligations are recognised, 'possession' is an association where rights are claimed and obligations denied. Within a particular state both rights and obligations may be accepted with respect to certain entities like natural resources and social assets, so they can be considerd as 'owned' by the state. If that state then behaves in an imperialistic manner and over-runs neighboring regions, it is quite likely to regard them as 'possessions' because it will assume the rights of conquest over all the assets and deny any obligations. Generally, 'possession' would probably be retained by some sort of force, whereas 'ownership' is an internal administered form of association which is permitted within an authority as it sees fit. States can retain their 'possessions' and refuse to acknowledge any obligations as long as they can defend it against other external invasions and control internal dissent. Individuals attempting to claim 'possession' of something, will probably very quickly run foul of the social rules on the matter, and be obliged to conform to its regulations on 'ownership'.