The Fallacy of “Cultural Appropriation”

Last week, Leftists in Portland, Oregon found a new cause: “cultural appropriation.” Apparently, while vacationing in Mexico, two women decided to open a taco truck upon returning to Portland. While in Mexico, they spent some time picking the brains of the locals, who were hesitant to share all of their secrets. But the women learned enough to proceed with their venture. When the new business was featured in a local paper, Leftists cried foul.

These two white women went to Mexico, ate tacos, and then decided they would just take what the locals clearly didn’t want to give them. If that wasn’t bad enough, they decided to pack up all their stolen intellectual property and repackage it

The concept of property implies ownership, that is, the right of use and disposal. So the question is: who owns tacos?

According to the “cultural appropriation” crowd, Mexicans own tacos. Therefore, only Mexicans can make and sell tacos. Only Japanese can sell sushi. Only Italians can sell pizza. Any individual who sells a product deriving from a race or ethnicity other than his own is guilty of “cultural appropriation.”

This claim is so preposterous that it should be dismissed without comment. But it illustrates the intellectual bankruptcy of the Left, and that is worthy of comment.

The concept of property rights was identified by an Englishman–John Locke. If the cultural appropriation crowd is correct, then the English own the concept and only they can use it. If any non-Englishman uses the concept, he is guilty of “cultural appropriation.” Clearly, this is absurd.

“Cultural appropriation” is a variation of what Ayn Rand called the fallacy of the “stolen concept”–using a concept while denying the intellectual roots upon which it depends. The Left is using the concept of property rights while denying the source of property.

Property is created when the materials of nature are transformed into a human value. The individual(s) responsible for that transformation are the rightful owners of their creation by virtue of their thought and labor. The concept of property does not and cannot apply to a culture.

A culture is the sum of ideas and achievements of individuals, which others have accepted and which influence the way of life of a given group of people. To claim that a race or ethnicity owns a culture is a collectivist notion. It is a claim that the group owns the ideas and achievements of individuals, and only the members of that group can rightfully use those intellectual products.

The “cultural appropriation” movement wants to have their tortillas and eat them too. They want to make use of the ideas and achievements of individuals from other cultures, but they do not want others doing the same.

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