All societies both suffer and benefit from levels of what is perceived as disorder, and the guiding principles of the society may be contradictory, or paradoxical, in that their ordering systems create disorder. Our aim in this text is explore the disorders and vagaries of property that seem essential to its continuance, construction, and destruction, and then demonstrate how these paradoxes play out in the information economy in particular within the domain of peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing. We do not wish to reduce these paradoxes and contradictions to a temporary error or to a future ordered synthesis, but to take them as they are in all their splintered fury. Much contemporary social action stems from these incoherencies, and the disputes, displays of power, and innovations which circle around them. In the P2P field the disorder generated by the order of property provides opportunities for new productive and adaptive social and technical forms of life to emerge.
By contrasting order and disorder we are not implying the necessary existence of a binary distinction between the two, or that those definitions of order and disorder will not change depending on the social position of the definers. Disorder is not always and everywhere the same. It resists definition, which adds to its effects.
The Incoherence of Property: Property and Imagination
Eighteenth-century British philosopher David Hume argued that private property is both essential for social order, and imaginary: “[D]isputes may not only arise concerning the real existence of property and possession, but also concerning their extent; and these disputes are often susceptible of no decision, or can be decided by no other faculty than the imagination” (1888, 507).
Hume argues that property and its boundaries are constructed via metaphors which do not so much reflect “reality” as they express the properties of the mind and social habit, and this causes problems with drawing ownership boundaries around property. He illustrates this by a story of two Grecian colonies who heard of an abandoned city. Arriving at the same time, their official messengers began a race and, as one was slower than the other, he “launch’d his spear at the gates of the city, and was so fortunate as to fix it there before the arrival of his companion.