I'm not asking about communism. The society I am thinking has no sense of value or wealth at all. To them there is no sense of ownership either. It's not that everyone shares, it's that ownership is a completely foreign concept to them. How could such a society develop and could it exist as a modern country with technological advancements?
Such a society could exist if one did not have a concept of self. For example, societies of rocks have no sense of value or wealth. However, once you have a concept of "self," the idea of "I own myself" is pretty hard to suppress, and once you can own yourself, you can consider the idea of owning other things. A related concept that can cause issues is the sense of agency. If you have the ability to act with freewill, it becomes difficult to not have a concept of "ownership" of the objects upon which you may act with agency.
You may be able to get a close approximation of the society you describe by having a society which has a concept of a greater being which has complete ownership of everything. You could also get such a society as a subset of a greater society which oppresses those who have no sense of value and convinces them that they do not need to feel oppressed.
In general, such societies would be so completely unlike anything we can think of that it is highly unlikely you would choose to call it a "modern country with technological advancements."
We do see some examples in fiction. Such societies are typically associated with "ascension" from this realm. A great example would be the ancients from Stargate SG-1
The difficulty I see here is the need to develop intelligence in an environment in which ownership and value are unimportant.
Value is a thing because items have value.
Your spear has value, it allows you to stay alive when the lions come. It also allows you to hunt. To take away the value of the spear you need to either remove the sense that life has value or the feeding/survival requirement. They don't need to hunt because there's plenty of food. They don't need to fear lions because they're too big, already have defenses (horns/claws or otherwise) or move in large groups able to defend themselves otherwise.
Your clothes have value, they keep you warm when it's cold and stop you dying when it's very cold. Either the planet must be a balmy temperature or your species has a layer of hair or fur all over to keep it warm.
Your home has value, it gives warmth, comfort and protection, somewhere to eat and sleep. Again, hair/fur and herd mentality can take this value.
Your food store has value, it keeps you alive when times are hard. Only a natural fat store or food that is plentiful regardless of season can take away that value.
Without the challenge of needing to find food, without problems to solve, why would they be intelligent? The tools they develop have no value, because they have no purpose, so they don't develop them. Even chimps have favourite tools for certain tasks.
Your society, such as it could be, more closely resembles a herd of cows than a tribe of sapients.
Plenty of food, no need for weapons, no need to make tools so no requirement to value anything. Then along comes some jumped up monkey with a spear...
The concept of ownership probably has competitive advantages in environments with scarcity of resources. Practically speaking, you will want to own land because there's only a finite amount of it and it's a useful thing to have. ie.
- to live on,
- grow things in, or
- dig things out of.
Wealth is a good thing to keep possession of because it allows you to do things. In the case of monetary wealth - you trade in for scarce goods and services.
I imagine you don't have strong feelings towards owning air because it's a super common resource (also because you can't see it). Scarce resources are valuable. Common ones are less so.
My point here is, people from a post-scarcity society are much less likely to have a strong sense of ownership. The wrinkle here is that experiences are still going to be a scarce resource. People will still harbour sentimental feelings towards objects that elicit feelings and memories - a childhood journal will have a lot of value to its author, even though journals themselves may be commonplace.
It can't, even in post-scarcity world there are things that are finite such as land and time. Species that do not at least instinctively understand ownership can't exist.
If you don't have sense of ownership of your head what stops somebody from cutting it and using it as football.
I think the concept of ownership is too simple for there to be intelligent individuals in this universe which don't have it as a concept. If you can use some kind of tool - even if you are post scarcity and there are millions of these tools available, there will be one tool in your hand. If you climb on a tower and want to use the tool there, you will carry it there. If someone takes the tool away from you you cannot use it any more. This will be a problem for you, because you cannot do what you wanted to do.
So if a being can use tools and can have an agenda (an idea and the motivation/will to act on the idea) you will have the concept of "I need this tool at this place and time" - and if someone else wants to use the same tool, there will be a conflict of interests, as both cannot follow their agenda. And thus will naturally occur the notion of "I need this tool now, so no one else can use it now" - and if I need the tool multiple times you are already at ownership "I will need this tool today, so no one else can have it for this day".
I think the only possible options are:
The individuals of you society don't use any tools/objects at all. Maybe they are in "spirit form" and don't interact with solid individual things at all. If you interact only with ideas, there is no sense of individual objects - and without things to own, there is no ownership.
Your society are digital programs living in a cyberspace with virtually unlimited virtual space. And each resource can be copied and accessed by everybody. So an insert-only file system, where you can never block or change any resource, only create new variations and save them under a new name.
The individuals of your society don't have an individual agenda. There is some kind of hive-mind or universal telepathic link. So everything belongs to the swarm. This is of course a kind of ownership, but if they recognize only the swarm as the single entity in the universe which by definition owns everything (including all other species) - there is no concept of someone owning something, because everything that exists belongs to the swarm, so it is the same as existence.
Firstly, I agree with the comment/answer regarding a post-scarcity society. In a context where no resources were scarce and all goods were essentially fungible, I could imagine people operating without concepts of value or ownership. If you need something, grab it from the nearest replicator; when you don't need it anymore, throw it in the nearest universal recycler. Likewise, when you need a place to sleep, just find the nearest empty bed/apartment.
Another context where I could see this way of thinking maybe proliferating would be in an extremely "primitive" culture, especially a nomadic one as mentioned in another answer. If you're living off the land, and everything you need can be made from things found readily in the environment, with skills possessed by every member of the society, then there may be no need for concepts of value or ownership. Need a spear? Grab a stick and a sharp/abrasive stone to carve a point. Don't need it anymore? Throw it away, it's just a stick. Time to sleep? Build a lean-to or humpy out of whatever is nearby, but don't bother hauling it with you when you leave. I feel I have read accounts that suggest Indigenous Australians lived much like this — they mainly worked with wood and grass. They did however also have art/craft, and so I assume some objects would have had more significance than others (e.g a well made and decorated didgeridoo would likely have been valued and owned, but a piece of bark used as a plate would not be)
First, let's examine WHY we have concept of ownership in the first place, since I see in the comments that you are wanting an answer in which the people NEVER developed the concept of ownership and can't even understand it.
The roots of a sense of ownership aren't merely societal--they are evolutionary in nature.
In the wild, the concept of "this is mine" can be seen in ANIMALS. Not people. Animals. It starts, of course, with food and resources.
Who survives? The animals with the best/most resources. Therefore, the animals who defend those resources from others have a higher likelihood of survival, and thus, a higher likelihood of passing on genetics. Staking a claim on territory--guess what, that's ownership, that's "this is my turf, and not yours." Big cats do that. Eating food and not allowing another to take it because it's yours? Ownership.
Animals who exhibit what looks a heck of a lot like ownership are winners in the Darwinian lottery.
There are very few animals who do not guard a piece of food by instinct.
The only way a sense of ownership doesn't happen is if there is NEVER any lack of resources.
In this case, all resources would be easy to get, and nothing needed would be rare. Since everything needed is provided for and easy, there really would be no need to develop things like tools, language, or being smarter than other animals.
Animals develop a bigger brain, flight, a taller neck and other things, in response to scarcity. There's really no need to ever go beyond what you are currently, if food is always there and you have everything you need all the time.
So, in short, I think that a people can eventually develop a society that doesn't have ownership, but that for it to NEVER have had a concept of ownership is not possible, if you want them to be intelligent.
Now, if there are two groups of your proto humans, and one group does have a sense of ownership, and the other doesn't--there would have to be some advantage to the group that doesn't. Why does the Non-ownership tribe survive? Especially since, without a sense of ownership, they'd be happy to give all their food and stuff to the Ownership tribe.
I will say that any hardship whatsoever would likely "switch on" the sense of ownership.
A hive mind, as others have suggested, is actually the best way around this.
How come nobody has mentioned the Kender race from the Dragonlance series yet? They are popular in LARP, and there's a lot of material available for them.
This fantasy race has no concept of personal property or ownership. If they need something, they take it. If they don't need it anymore, they leave it for the next person. They have no concept of money or value and will gladly exchange valuable but boring things for worthless but interesting (read: colourful) things. In LARP, well-played Kenders are incredible fun to play with, and a proof that such a society just might work.
The core to the concept is that "use" or "usefulness" replaces "ownership" in Kender thinking. A Kender will make gifts, trade or borrow (even without asking), but he will never steal something. Stealing, to them, means taking something away that you need. As long as you are using something, it is yours. When you are not using it, the Kender will "borrow" it for himself if he needs it, but put it back before he thinks that you will need it again. The idea is that everyone should always have what they need. If I need it more than you, I have a right to take it. As soon as I don't need it anymore, you have a right to have it back. This view requires a highly social thinking.
There is no reason why such a culture could not advance technologically. There would certainly be no equivalent of corporations or stock markets, and at the same time there could not possibly be a communist or central planning organisation, either (Kender are notoriously freedom loving people).
There may be less incentive to make inventions for personal gain, but then again if you look at the history of inventions, few of them were made for that reason. From the printing press to the first computers, "I want to be rich" does not seem to be a driving force of the history of inventions.
I strongly suggest doing some research into both fantasy and real cultures that have no or different concepts of ownership or money.
The alternative to a post-scarcity society is one where resources are so scarce that the overhead of an individualized economy is too great.
If you have private ownership, then individuals need to continually negotiate for resources.
With plenty to go around, this can be streamlined somewhat, by setting up market places, but there will still be individuals who spend significant effort on facilitating trades, and do not produce goods in that time, so you need a certain production surplus for that.
If everyone is just barely scraping by, then trading will happen mostly between people that already know each other (to minimize risk) and know that they have complementary interests (so the trade will be mutually beneficial).
This is a major impediment for societal progress, and a group that successfully organizes collectively can outperform a group of individuals competing with each other. Let this run for a few centuries, and you get a group that knows that they have always fared well with collective ownership, and any attempt at privatizing certain resources will be seen as detrimental to the group.
I really like this question as it goes completely against what our society is based on really. Concepts like 'effort->reward', 'privacy' and 'justice' become hard to imagine.
I feel like this exists to some extent, but it's a non-human example:
I recently saw part of a documentary on ants. They act as one big hivemind really, they are very facinating. Ants do not have individual property, while there is still hierarchy (but I don't know if you can really talk about a society).
If I had to translate this to humans, there would probably be a need for very good communication (you could go as far as having implants that are connected to the brain that form a giant neural network of sorts, if you like to go sci-fi). I'd also argue that it would be ok for people to be unable to function as individuals.
If any object/space is non-personal, everything is 'owned' by the society rather than individuals. You sort of adress this in your question by mentioning this society living in a 'country', implying they 'own' the land. If this country would somehow have an overabundence of rescources there would be a strong need for military forces since neighbouring countries would be very interested.
I will probably keep thinking on this
EDIT: as you can see from the comments below, there is a lot to learn about ants (and other hive species). I am not an ant-expert or whatever so take my information with a grain of salt. I mainly wanted to provide a different view on where to get inspiration, where to look. (I leave most of the actual research up to you so this is by no means a great answer)
It's an animal behaviour question. Ants and bees and to some extent cows do this.
Can humans have no territorial, sexual, racial, criminal, adventurous instincts, and no fear of death in service of it's community?
Primates typically don't. It's the same as news reports about racist and sexist issues, they bypass the human rational system because they act on primate self defence instincts that act in the periphery of your concious vision and make you react emotinally faster than you have actually visually identified the subject, through a primitive fast neural pathway.
It means that you have to re-program the brain significantly to make the individuals less carnivorous and tribal and more like ungulates like cows.
Cows don't have tribal wars and they are settle their ownership disputes once a year and are relatively peaceful, the female cows are not very agressive.
Indian Sadhus are supposed to live selflessly, but they have to defend themselves because most of the population still acts with ownership.
Legal structures to turn primate instincts into a benign society are very complex in our own society.
You have an idealist argument of a utopic nature which sidelines the human behavioural aspect. Everything in the human sphere today is about crowd control and primate emotions, personal thirst for blood, racism, sex, socialising, playing, thrills, and territory.
The communist doctrine was written at a time with very low workers rights and worker pay in factories and was relatively good, except that it didn't give a mechanism of action, Ghandi did, and if communism and Ghandhism had some kind of combination of fervor and method, perhaps communism could have survived a bit long in spite of it's flaws.
Many people have discussed examples from science fiction or hypotheticals, but I'd like to attempt to ground this in history. I don't think you could have a society completely without a sense of self, but that doesn't mean you can't attempt to guide it along those principles. I would point to examples of human cultures driven by the attempt to value selflessness. For example, Protestant Christianity, and Buddhism.
... I've used "I" a lot in a discussion of lacking a sense of self.
Anyway, Protestantism, as it originated, was a rejection of the culture of the Catholic church, which had become, to say the least, ostentatious and materialist. The church attempted to expand its power by demonstrating its wealth, and dealt with a mass of illiterate peasants by hiring artists to create works which would visualise key aspects of Christianity.
But this backfired with the arrival of the printing press, and protestants rejected all of this in favour of plain literacy. They took offence to the Church's straying from Jesus' anti-materialist teachings, and their becoming too much of a political institution, rather than a spiritual one. It's worth noting that this seems to be where the separation of church and state, as an idea unique to western civilisation, originated.
The scale of iconoclasm was profound, with stained glass windows, statutes, and painting, all destroyed in favour of empty churches which allowed them to focus only on the word of God. Protestantism also developed a fierce egalitarianism, and often religious collectives were established as much to share resources as to divorce the individual from their need and desire for material things.
This culture persisted for centuries, and remains something of a historical exception. Protestants, even though they accumulated wealth, felt that showing off and indulging was a sin. They were proud of their plainness, which opposes how things go in almost every other human culture, where the wealthy and powerful feel the need to evidence status by showing it off.
Buddhism however may be a closer fit, since the aim is to abolish the sense of self. Attachment to the material world is considered a flaw which spawns cycles of suffering, and one must attempt to cleanse themselves of this, ending the cycle, by ending their belief that they exist. Foundational to Buddhism is the belief that you, the individual, do not exist. And this realisation is required for achieving enlightenment. It's not so much anti-materialist, as anti-individualist.
Maybe thus early protestant and especially Buddhist cultures are worth researching to give an idea of how these beliefs may manifest socially.
I realise that this is a bit out there as an answer, but it's the only scenario where I could envisage the human race adopting a different value system.
At present the human population of the planet is estimated to be 7.5 Billion. The crude death rate is estimated at 7.89 per 1000, the average life expectancy at birth is 71.0 years and the median age for the population is 29.9 years.
Consider a situation where the human race was rendered sterile tomorrow. Life as we know it would be fundamentally changed - within 40 years (2056), the human population will have halved and in the 40 years after that (2096) the human race will be on the brink of extinction.
In this scenario the concept of ownership and wealth become obsolete - it would dawn on people that you can't take anything with you when you die and any would be heirs will be joining you relatively soon.
Assuming that we don't collectively go for the Armageddon option and start blowing the place to pieces, it would be in the best interests of the human race to focus on solving two problems:
- Increase the life expectancy of the existing population.
- Make the human population fertile.
There's no doubt that some people would opt out of society, while others would dedicate themselves to trying to fix the problems.
It could potentially take decades but supposing #1 proved to be impossible and it took 50 years to restore fertility to humans. In that time, the human population would be devastated. By 2066, the human population is approximately 3.25 Billion people, of which 1.95 Billion are aged 50-65. There would be a limited handover period (15-35 years) between the survivors and the new generation.
It's unlikely that the new generation would have much of a childhood, the passing on of knowledge would be the utmost importance. Would the concepts of ownership/wealth fit into the new society? It's not likely that they would given that there wouldn't be time for luxuries.
A new value system is likely to be forged with a new vision of the human being and recognising that we are part of a whole bigger thing.
It seems like you are talking about a Group mind. Star Trek's Borg drones have no sense of individualism, so nobody owns anything (not even their own live). However, the Bork hive pursue others biological and technological distinctiveness to add that to their own.
To answer your question: This society could develop if there is a (fictional) greater goal, which benefits the individuals more than if they would pursue their own goals.
I agree that in an uncivilized environment the ownership seeking individual will more likely reproduce, but a civilized culture is more efficient than an uncivilized culture.
The concept of a world without ownership was handled very well by Ursula K. LeGuin in her novel The Dispossessed. It won the Nebula award in 1974 and both the Hugo and the Locus in 1975. And it's a great novel well worth reading.
Such community will exist and prosper without a doubt even if the abundance of resources isn't certain. We can classify the species which exist based on the level of ego . For example the predators higher in the food chain have an ego which gives them a sense of ownership which dominates any other activity which benefits their specie as a whole. They are very hostile towards anyone who crosses their territory even if the individual belongs to their own specie. They refrain from sharing their resources (Food mostly) . In a broader sense they have a high sense of individualism and thriving.
On the other hand the ants have been successfully able to eliminate ego or individualism , thus most of their actions are directed towards benefiting the species as a whole. Communicating with the colony when one senses the availability of any resource can help such a community to thrive. The profits in such a society cannot be materialistic . Prosperity of the species the objective which the species should realize to build such a world.
Natural selection makes it impossible for the behaviors you seek to arise naturally and if induced artificially, they would not be stable and would not persist.
Material abundance will not help because a 3rd of humanity already lives will such material abundance it's choking us to death with cream. For a person from the medieval ages, 1792 or for that matter many of 3rd world poor still, we have no unfulfilled wants or needs. If you can't be happy being a 1st world middle-class, you never will be.
The major driver of destructive acquisition and unhappiness today, is that natural selection has primed us to value social status over all things and to use materialistic objects to broadcast our status. Freeing one's self from the atavistic urge to "keep up the Jones" is the greatest key to happiness.
The society you postulate would prove almost instantly self-destructing. A society with no since of value for anything, even if they shared all things in common, could not prioritize work. How could they tell whether they should plant food, build a house or stop someone from bleeding to death?
Although self-rightous, moral elitist have denigrated ownership since the dawn of civilization, it is undeniable that the stronger the property rights are in civilization, the greater ALL the positive social factors. About the only drawback is that the surplus wealth produced cause a parasitic class of self-rightous, moral elitist to evolve and propagate.
What the pseudo-intellectuals, priest class etc ignore in condemning ownership if that the flip side of ownership is responsibility for whatever is owned. If no body owns anything, no one is responsible for anything either. If something breaks or becomes dangerous, who takes care of it?
I could see some utopia using genetic engineering or brain implants to produce an inability to assign value. Injury to forebrain will often cause this by severing the predictive cognition in the forebrain from the emotional centers that assign value to people and things. Such individuals can often give highly detailed breakdowns of the pro and cons of any action (and thus the value of whatever state or object the action produces) but even with all the right facts logically arraigned have no ability to prefer on outcome over another. They are utterly paralyzed when making predictions and they do act as if all things and people are of equal value to the extent that some simply wander away from their families and loved ones.
And even if you could erase somehow the concept of ownership, but such a group of altered people who likely simply stand around passively as they starved and the environment killed them.
They could take productive action because they would have no sense of which action would produce the most value. Without ownership, they would have no means of assigning responsibility for any productive or protective work even if they just chose their actions at random.
Of course, such a population would make near perfect slaves, albeit ones requiring constant supervision.
Note: I debated making this an answer or making it a comment - but I wasn't sure which answer to make it a comment on...
Several answers here talk about a post-scarcity society; I think this is the right path to go down. Rather than take a species that starts off with no concept of ownership and try to figure out how to evolve a society, start with a species that no longer needs a concept of ownership, and see how their society would evolve. @KarstenGutjahr talks about hive minds like the Borg; @slobodan.blazeski talks about post-scarcity societies still needing land.
... but what if we take someone so technologically advanced (or magically advanced) that there is literally no need at all? Someone like the Q Continuum from Star Trek: The Next Generation? The Q have such power that they can transcend space and time, create things out of whole cloth, etc.
Note that you don't need to go to the extreme. I'm hungry and need food, I simply create it out of magic/replicator tech. I see a beautiful painting you have and want one of my own, I simply duplicate it magically or technologically. I want some land with a view, I simply create a small pocket dimension with the right aesthetics and pop right in.
Once anyone can simply snap their fingers (or close enough to) and obtain any needed/desired item, ownership ceases to be "necessary."
Technically such a society is possible, but it would not develop very much. First, because a person feels a sense of ownership of one's body, they feel a sense of ownership about that which is acquired with one's body and mind. What makes such a society still possible is that a society can be created in which transfer of ownership is not allowed. That is all trade is forbidden. Because even the most basic specialization requires exchange of useless for useful objects, that would not allow for any kind of specialization of skills. Which would not allow for any development.
Firstly, I disagree with the seeming consensus that it's not possible, or not possible for an advanced civilization.
One way to make a world like this would be to have everything wiped out at very fast intervals. I'll invent one semi-contrived example: all the things in the world are made from a material that constantly rains from the clouds but disappears after a few minutes. Once it lands on the ground, you only have a few minutes to mold it and shape it and do whatever with it until it disappears. In that world, since ownership wouldn't matter, nobody would have a sense of ownership. Or, imagine a group of sentient clouds in deep space. These types of civilizations could still be advanced, and have histories ("in the year that the moon turned blue, there was a great eclipse...") and have rich knowledge of mathematics, literature, art, poetry, music, etc. passed down by oral tradition.
"people in general thought of as living together in organized communities with shared laws, traditions, and values"
Guessed yet what this is? Yup. The definition of "society" from Meriam-Webster.
So, how can a thing exist without the attributes that make it the thing? It's like a thin but very long square. It just cannot be. By definition.
Maybe try another word instead of "society". Somehow "cattle" comes to mind.
You can't have time without the concept of having or not having.
How do you differentiate the past from the present, or the present from the future?
You had things in the past. You have things in the present. You will have things in the future.
Or, you did not have things in the past. You do not have things in the present. You will not have things in the future.
Think about it, very very carefully. There is no difference between yesterday and today other than differences in what you have and have not.
You could have a society without the concept of deeds or titles for ownership. But that's not what you're asking.
These ideas are not original to me.
The closest society that I'm aware of that actually exists isn't herd mentality as other have mentioned, but swarm mentality. The concept that individuals aren't as important as the survival of the swarm, as is the case with wasps and bees.
In this situation you have very clear collective ability to develop tools as life isn't easy and food may be scarce, there may be predators or threats to the society, but the recognition that the society itself is more important than the individual.
In the case of swarms (I believe) this is achieved due to genetic similarities between all the individuals - there is no difference on an evolutionary scale which individuals reproduce (or some individuals can't reproduce).
In this case there would be a clear sense of Value and Ownership, but only to the collective rather than the individual.
But in general the definition of a society is a collective that has the same set of values - therefore the existence of society and value are indivisible. And should a collective exist that had no concept of the value of anything then they would almost certainty be doomed to self destruct as they would destroy the things that survival depended upon. eg Easter Island - the environment itself had no value (or not enough anyway) and was destroyed until the island became uninhabitable. (I may be wrong about this)
Why you don't create a hive-like species?
Individuals beings won't value possessions for themselves, nor themselves - something is only useful, only has value if it can help the colony or the "queen".
If you think about it, bees, ants and termites are already pretty societies without the concept of ownership - at least inside their huge families. Heck, even their lives aren't something they own - their lives are tools for the colony.
You may check out the borg from the Star Trek Universe. They are already pretty much what you want!