Perhaps this is a little much for some people to swallow, but I’m just going to lay it out.
We have a property disorder here on this planet. Yeah, property. Like land, trees, the air, the minerals, the means of production. You know, shit like that! Just step back for a minute. Let go of your culture, your preconceived notions on how things should work, and above all else retire that neutral zone around your head for a minute, and just consider how utterly insane it is that after 14+ BILLION YEARS of existence (as far as anybody can tell), along comes some asshole that claims a small bit of this universe is his!? It’s a guy, of course. Patriarchal, dominating shit and all. I’ll say that a different way: A 14 billion year old assortment of atoms, composing a human being, decrees to the universe that another assortment of atoms, composing of the land, sea, air, and so on, is now under it’s control.
This view of property ownership does not take into account the finite nature of, well… nature. There’s only so much land on Earth. There’s only so much fresh water, oil, timber, coal, biomass, and capacity to accept our pollution. I view many of our problems today, as a property perception issue. If we could all just take a step back from our collective cancerous growth for a minute, and just have a breather.
That’s better. Now where was I? Oh yes! Property. Mark Twain said, “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.” We laugh, then shake our heads in agreement. But what of the next reaction? The one of disgust and worry? What happens when all the land is bought up and every tract of land is owned by one family / corporation or another for all the rest of time? What the hell is that? Who do we think we are, to claim dominion over the Earth, just because it suits our needs right now?
From a “Gaia Earth” perspective, I’ll just say that such property ownership attitudes are irresponsible and frankly, unethical. Hijacking the Earth and the ecosystems humanity coevolved with, puts us in the precarious position of perpetrating another mass extinction due to our carelessness and plague like growth. But, all that stuff gets a little heady, and since property ownership is a strictly anthropocentric topic, I’ll bring it right back to human concerns.
For some time now, there has been this subset of our population that doesn’t contribute much of anything to society; they just take. Each of us must work a little more so they can survive. Since these folks don’t contribute in any perceptible way, some of our labor is appropriated towards their needs. This class of dead beats is part of the property owners. Now, notice I said “part of”. Not all property owners are causing problems, but many of them.
It’s time to specify some things. I am not personally opposed to owning certain kinds of property such as personal property, or just about anything that someone made or built. This could be a house, a car, a pair of shoes, or whatever. I do have issue with claim ownership over things like:
Land, water, mineral resources, living creatures, intellectual property, and the labor contribution of others.
Say I owned a piece of land with a house. I let you stay in the house on the condition you pay me a certain monthly fee we agree is called rent. A portion of the rent may go to taxes, maintenance, and maybe some utilities. Since rental rates follow closely to the speculative real estate market, these rents can be surprisingly high. Portlanders know about high rent. I, the landlord can direct some of the collected rental fees towards buying other properties to rent, and with time, collect enough make an income. As a landlord I have not really contributed anything towards society, in my opinion. Sure, I’m a nice guy, and I keep up on the maintenance of the properties, but with enough rental money flowing in, I can just hire a property manager while I kick back and do nothing. Perhaps I’ll buy some commercial land?
I could make some big bucks leasing commercial space! The initial costs are much higher, but the rent will be high too. In that commercial space, will most likely be a company which exhibits the most deleterious effects of our human property disorder…
In order to tie this together with the concept of rent, I would like to describe a slightly altered view of a capitalist enterprise, different than the neoliberal view as well as Marx’s criticisms. First, it should be said that labor is a commodity like all other forms of property in our society. It has a value that rises and falls with market conditions. We always rent our labor to a company and are paid a portion of the value added to the company’s product in the time we are there. Since human capital can not be owned, like slavery, we now rent ourselves to companies. They tell us what to do, when to do it, and where to go when they don’t need us anymore because they found cheaper human rentals in China. Of course, the company can’t pay you what you contributed, for if they did, there would not be anything to pay the owners, managers, and other classes of people that do not directly add value to any products.
The worst part of this arrangement, is not that our rental is less than our contribution, it is that we have no control over where those resources go, and what they are used for. Once the rental agreement has been made, all labor for the company is outside our control and the property of the company.
A portion of those resources go to pay the rent on the commercial space I own, and that is great for me. All of those workers eek out a little more output so that I don’t have to do anything. All this because I own property. And, with that income I can grow my empire yet larger still, acquiring more land that can be rented, or speculated on in the real estate market as the price of land grows in response to it’s finite availability. Diversifying my investments, I purchase companies where rented workers toil away while I appropriate their surplus efforts toward stock market speculation, (stock shares being another form of property), leaving me to acquire patent rights so that I may collect royalties on technologies for which I had no part in the creation of, such as machines, software, genetically modified organisms, cinematic movies, music, and trademarked catch phrases like, “Let’s get ready to rumble!”, -trademark –Michael Buffer.
Where does this insanity end, I ask? Shall everything in the cosmos be owned by some creature such as man? Can this continue? Is it the least bit sustainable? We have already witnessed the accumulations of the minority grow to epic proportions in the last 150 years, granting a few hundred thousand individuals the power to bend public will towards their goals through media and entertainment, manipulate public officials and so called “representatives” by plainly purchasing government with their vast wealth to direct the organizational structure of our society, in order to hasten the acquisition of property and calcify power and control of the masses.
What we have here in the “age of progress”, is a culture of slaves and serfs. Forget notions of evil and natural greed. Until we dismantle a system which breeds, encourages, and celebrates the bondage of property, such notions can only then be investigated for their possible existence. The Earth itself has been enslaved; the host organism shackled with fences and walls, roads and canals; her flesh torn up, turned over, and reconstituted into our collective toxic bi-products which we expect her to receive with good will. The domesticated animals of this planet, our close cousins in the history of life, with their comparable emotional and sensation responses to pain and depression, are today enslaved by the tens of billions. They are considered to be owned by man, and slaughtered by man’s hand or efficient machines. This leaves the surfs: working men and women. Slavery of humans is by large part illegal around the world, but I believe serfdom is alive and well. Like the serfs of days past, we toil away for a portion of the week which provides our wages and therefore our living, while the remainder of our work is owned and appropriated by our boss, owner, or “worklord”.
What is this planet going to look like with another 150 years of this culture? I struggle to imagine. I’m trying to move past the concept of property. I hope you join me.