December 8, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Own it

By |2018-03-21T20:07:49+01:00April 16th, 2017|Area 51|
Why be aware when you can own?

ecently, a friend of mine acknowledged she talked too much. But she knew about the flaw, she explained. Not only that, she “owned” it — not “owned up” to it, mind you, but owned it, the way you might own a sofa or a lamp. Karl Marx would not be pleased with this linguistic twist on private property.

What exactly, I wondered, does it mean to “own” a flaw or a preference? I presume to acknowledge it’s yours and yours only, a matter of volition, as if to say (back to things), “That blue sofa over there, the one with the orange juice stain, that one’s mine.” Ownership is part and parcel of Western individualism. It confers currency, another purchase-oriented expression for validity.

But the rub is in the things. Ownership ties feelings and sensations to goods. Goods in turn are purchased, consumed, discarded, to then be replaced by newer versions of the same, which in theory should function better than the old but all too often do not, producing to ownership’s second most important (and paradoxical) reality, disappointment.

At the same time, ownership is a bulwark of capitalism — the bulwark — as well as the royal imprint of a world that’s increasingly determined to apply the blunt mannerisms of sales to all aspects of life, including language and feelings.

Why bother to be “aware” of a flaw or a trait — awareness is after all slower, subtler, more personal, and far less aggressive — if instead you can immediately affirm ownership? “Owning up” to something is a different. It’s the act of awareness in the form of remorseful admission, no commerce involved.

To own a flaw one-ups remorse, or ignores it. It cuts out propriety. Owning the act of talking too much is like all other ownership, in that if you don’t like the blue sofa you need to buy a new one. Ownership inevitably carries with it the half-obligation of refurbishment, commerce squaring the circle. When you find and buy that new sofa you might want to consider tossing in a garden hose (on sale), or even a new TV. Ownership’s fix-it side means being able to buy yourself out of a hole. Stretch that adjunct just a bit and you get impulse shopping, the ice cream-to-ward off melancholy gorging of the online 21st-century.

My friend who owns her chattiness is also depressed, and owns that trait as well. She admits to possessing an assortment of ups and downs and thorns of character. That doesn’t stop them from ganging up on her, making the dramatic set pieces of her tumultuous inner life seem like items collected during some misbegotten shopping spree.

Upending language creates a ripple effect: Ownership replaces awareness and knowing (” I know that about myself…”). It can also become the source of upside down pride — if you “own” your talking too much and your depression, why not also own overeating, sadness, and even despair? They’re all in the catalogue of downside human accessories friends are likely to recognize, share and even admire, as much as they might admire the sheen of a new and popular car, but in mournful reverse.

A material culture that revels in the wonder of purchases and associates ownership with even the woeful comes with a Beatles-foretold dilemma, as in: “Can’t buy me love.”

Ownership is immodest. It puts the act of personal possession first. It falls short of explaining what is felt and why. Which is all the more reason to keep the language of identity at arm’s length from that of outlet stores. “I don’t love you! Own it…” might sound very 21-century, but it also stands to put sweet nothings on notice.

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris in 1953 and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.