Mine! Mine! Mine!…. Ours! Ours! Ours!

This past Sunday a former Utah resident, Josh Powell, turned his Washington state residence into an inferno, killing himself and his two young sons, aged five and seven. While the exact reasons for his actions may never be fully known, what is known is that his wife, now presumed dead, vanished slightly more than two years ago under mysterious circumstances, leaving everything, including ID, car keys, and wallet, at home and that the now-deceased husband was a definite “person of interest.”  What is also known is that the courts awarded custody of the boys to the missing woman’s parents, and the husband had fought this tooth and nail, declaring that the courts had no right to take away his children.  Unhappily, this is certainly not the first time events such as this have occurred, but, to me, it’s symptomatic of a certain mindset, usually more prevalent in males, but certainly not limited to them, which regards far too many aspects of life as theirs exclusively.

Although English common law of two hundred years ago did in fact make women and children – and all they possessed – possessions of the husband, the law in both the United Kingdom and the United States has changed considerably, to the point that, at least legally, women are not the possessions of their husbands, and courts regard parents as guardians and custodians of children – and not owners.  And the U.S. Civil War resulted in the abolition of slavery, a practice that was a legally accepted way of allowing a slaveholder to declare that intelligent human beings were “Mine! Mine! Mine!”

In some countries, of course, men can still insist that women and children are their personal possessions, as witness the news story about the Afghan man who killed his wife because she had the effrontery to bear him a daughter rather than the son he had demanded.

Unfortunately, the “Mine! Mine! Mine!” mindset doesn’t limit itself to just spouses and children, but seems to be making a resurgence in other areas as well even in the United States. This is why we have, at least in Utah, state legislators breaking the law by riding ATVs across roadless areas and declaring that those federal lands don’t apply to them – because “it’s my right” to have access any way I want. It’s also “my right” to own and employ assault weapons and fifty caliber machine guns.  And “my right” to insist that the government force women to have children forced on them by rape or incest.

There is, of course, the other extreme – those who claim that essentially everything is “ours” and that government exists merely to decide how much of “our” stuff each of us gets to keep and use. Over forty years ago, in “The Tragedy of the Commons,” the ecologist Garrett Hardin pointed out how, when everything is held in common, almost never is it cared for, at least not without a great deal of social control and regulation.  In short, true “communism” or “communalism” has never proved to be workable.

The upshot of all this is that no rights can be absolute in any civilized society, especially the rights to insist that other people are “Mine!  Mine! Mine!”  or that everything belongs to everyone. And the first tragedy of the Powell case is that an ultra-possessive father and husband could not bring himself to understand that.  The second tragedy is that most politicians, especially those on the exteme fringes, don’t understand either… or choose not to in order to court political favor.


5 thoughts on “Mine! Mine! Mine!…. Ours! Ours! Ours!”

  1. rehcra says:

    I disagree with your interpretation of the event. I just think its the actions of a mentally deranged individual and therefor bares no mind towards any logical assumptions. You make good points but I feel these kinds of tragedies shouldn’t be used in these ways; to make points. Or maybe it should but only in terms of preventing it from happening again.


  2. Maybe so… but the killer’s sister happens to agree publicly with my interpretation… as do a few psychologists who study these matters.

  3. Daze says:

    Deranged, maybe, but not alone. Sadly, there is a pattern to this, of men who think their children would be better off dead than living with their mothers. Mostly they are white men in their 30s with guns – see “Men Who Murder Their Families: What the Research Tells Us”, National Institute of Justice http://www.nij.gov/journals/266/murderfamilies.htm. Although that article says that most of the men wouldn’t have done it if a gun wasn’t handy, fires, and throwing your children off of high bridges are also known: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/this-little-girl-lost-20110328-1cdih.html

  4. Reminds me of the first volume of Cartoon History of the Universe – where Larry Gonick talks about the results of men realizing that they sire children – the cry of “mine!” fills the air, and the status of women drops drastically…. Sorry I can’t provide the page number – my copy is at school. (I teach college btw.) Sadly, some men have never gotten beyond this. And yes, I do know that women kill their children too – but not as often.

  5. Steve says:

    Another consequence of this selfishness that I have personal and professional interest in is the decision to keep and raise unwanted children rather than give them up for adoption, and the desire of government agencies to push for reunification no matter how unfit the home.

    I am an adoptee that owes much of my success to a stable, loving home provided by my parents. The decision made by my birthmother, unmarried, without resources, is one that fewer and fewer are making today. I have seen as a physician (thanks Mom and Dad) that fewer and fewer of my unwed, teen, gang member, welfare, drug abusing mothers will consider adoption. The choice is between abortion and keeping the child. There is too much selfishness to allow someone to ‘raise my child’. This is a sentiment echoed by the Grandparents who often are the root cause of the problem. Why they think they will do any better with the grandkids is beyond me.

    I also have opportunity to care for patients in DCFS custody or in the foster system. I see stable loving homes that have cared for children for months or years not allowed to adopt because the State is holding out for reunification when the parent cleans up.

    It’s sad. It’s selfish.

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