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SCIENCE SALON # 81

Michael Shermer with Bruce Hood — Possessed: Why We Want More Than We Need

Possessed: Why We Want More Than We Need (book cover)

You may not believe it, but there is a link between our current political instability and your childhood attachment to teddy bears. There’s also a reason why children in Asia are more likely to share than their western counterparts and why the poor spend more of their income on luxury goods than the rich. Or why your mother is more likely to leave her money to you than your father. What connects these things?

The answer is our need for ownership. Award-winning University of Bristol psychologist Bruce Hood draws on research from his own lab and others around the world to explain why this uniquely human preoccupation governs our behavior from the cradle to the grave, even when it is often irrational, and destructive. What motivates us to buy more than we need? Is it innate, or cultural? How does our urge to acquire control our behaviour, even the way we vote? And what can we do about it? Possessed is the first book to explore how ownership has us enthralled in relentless pursuit of a false happiness, with damaging consequences for society and the planet — and how we can stop buying into it.

Dr. Hood and Dr. Shermer also discuss:

  • who owns your body and mind
  • how the military draft, conscription, is a way of the state taking possession of your body
  • suicide and bodily ownership: why states prohibit you from killing yourself
  • organs and bodily ownership: why states prohibit you from selling your organs
  • prostitution: why states prohibit people from selling their bodies for sex
  • slavery: why historically states have legalized owning other people
  • marriage & children: why historically states have sanctioned men owning women and children
  • children’s sense of ownership
  • income inequality
  • objects vs. money vs. social capital as possessions
  • money is not a possession so much as a means of getting possessions.
  • jealousy as a form of possession
  • xenophobia as a fear of loss of ownership
  • who owns the land, air, water, minerals, etc.?
  • intellectual property: who owns your ideas?
  • what wills and trusts tell us about the psychology of the transfer of ownership
  • the tragedy of the commons and environmental protection through private ownership: Ducks Unlimited, game reserves, licenses for killing big game in Africa
  • why original art is more valuable than fakes or duplicates, and
  • the Arab-Israel conflict and what happens when God ordains ownership of a piece of land to two different peoples.

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