This is a blog about ownership – owning your feelings, your sexuality, your dignity, your experiences. And it’s a blog about freedom – the very thing that happens when you own your own life.
To owe means to be under obligation.
To own means, linguistically, to be owed – that is, to be the beneficiary of another’s obligation.
No two words could be more opposite, unless we are to believe Merriam-Webster, which claims that, at one time, the words meant the same thing. Somehow, the same word was once used to describe the crushing burden of owing as well as the luxury of being owed. Ironically, even today, the phrase “to have debt” and “to own debt” are opposite in meaning – the former refers to the vast majority of Americans who are obliged to various debt payments, while the latter refers to the investors and bourgeois to whom the debt payments are owed – even though the words “have” and “own” are superficially synonymous.
Linguistics aside, the distinction between owing and being owed – and owning and being owned – is vast. I don’t have a fucking clue who, if anyone, will read this blog, but if it consists of Generation Y-ers who are just now establishing their careers, buying their homes, and procreating, they won’t understand the word “own.” They will be saddled with mortgage debt, high-interest credit card debt, seemingly insurmountable student loan payments, pacts with Satan, etc.
As a strictly financial arrangement, debt can be useful. It can put a young couple with no real assets into a beautiful home. It can allow a bright, destitute kid to enroll in college. It can fund a great idea – an innovative restaurant, a useful invention, a head-turning art installation. My beef with debt is not in the mechanics; it’s in the psychology. Generation Y is so used to living in debt, acting in debt, and feeling in debt, their psyche has evolved from one of “I own” to “I am owned.”
They are so accustomed to owing a car payment and phone payment and rent payment and credit card payment and student loan payment and utilities payment and Target card payment and random bullshit payment and paying back Jimmy who got the round of shots last Thursday payment and oh-fuck-another-wedding-invitation-I-guess-we-can-buy-the-$90-champagne-flutes payment that they don’t know, and can’t imagine, a life without obligation.
The typical Generation Y-er only knows debt, with the theoretical promise of “solvency” – whatever the hell that means – someday. Debt is her default. She doesn’t approach the world according to the beauty and bounty it offers; she approaches it as a massive field of quicksand. The question is not how she can savor, but how she can stay on top, or even afloat. She owes. That’s her state, quasi-indefinitely. For now, all she knows is that her time is not her own. Forty-plus hours a week to the person who pays her bills, social engagements, obligations to her boyfriend, several hours a week at the gym to keep the fat off, an hour a week serving on the condo board? She goes to sleep at night with the satisfaction of a fifteen-year-old who turned in all her homework. Sure, she satisfied everyone else. She paid her dues. But what of tomorrow? Just another day of dues.
The banks rejoice; the U.S. economy flourishes. But this psychology has dangerous repercussions that are currently taking their toll on the potential and happiness of the younger generation. Their economic debt has bred a psychology of obligation from which they have no escape – because they don’t even understand that escape is possible. To them, the graduation of childhood to adulthood is one of assumption of obligation, an obligation that never ends.
This scares me. It scares the fuck out of me. Life is not about debt. It’s about ice cream and sex. Puppies and pub crawls. Beaches and sunshine. Good wine and good music.
What scares me is an entire generation that is deluded, half of which believes it owes and the other half of which believes it is owed. The mortgagee and the mortgagor. The self-loathing and the entitled. As a Libertarian, I am all for binding contracts between lender and lendee. That’s not my point. My point is that people no longer seem to be able to draw the distinction between financially obligated and socially obligated or emotionally obligated or sexually obligated. Owing money does not mean you are owned.
And that’s how I begin this blog. You may owe, but you are not owned. No one owns you, except you. Your feelings, your experiences, your opinions, your body, your time, your energy, your sense of self-worth: they all belong to you and you can’t lose them unless you voluntarily relinquish them. You can sell what you own. You can trade value for value. But don’t let anyone trick you into feeling obligated to give away what you own free and clear.