The genesis of private property has been a recurring theme in political philosophy since ancient times. In his essays on the five senses the French philosopher Michel Serres proposes a “smelly theory of private property”:
Accordingly, disgusting smells deter us from approaching the property of others:
The privatization of the common and the appropriation of space do not occur only by yelling or spitting; sometimes excrement is enough. (…) Those who see only public space have no sense of smell. (…) The first one who, having shit on a terrain, then decided to say, this is mine, immediately found people who were disgusted enough to believe him. They distanced them selves from his territory, without war or treaty.
Taking this intellectual game a step further one can envision an arm race with repulsive smells. Is this the reason why we sometimes seem to move through clouds of repellent smells?
Image source: Quast, Pieter Jansz: De Reuk, 1618 – 1645. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Serres, M. (2009). The five senses: a philosophy of mingled bodies. (M. Sankey & P. Cowley, Übers.). London; New York: Continuum.