Knatz.com / Teaching / Society / Social Order / Civilization / Property /
@ K. 1998 06 07
Once upon a time the biosphere was a commons. There was no such thing as property.
|People called commons that part of the environment which lay beyond their own thresholds and outside of their own possessions, to which, however, they had recognized claims of usage, not to produce commodities but to provide for the subsistence of their households. The customary law which humanized the environment by establishing the commons was usually unwritten. It was unwritten law not only because people did not care to write it down, but because what it protected was a reality much too complex to fit into paragraphs. The law of the commons regulates the right of way, the right to fish and to hunt, to graze, and to collect wood or medicinal plants in the forest.
Territory, yes; property, no. A creature not a hive member was at (mutual) risk if that creature invaded a bee hive. Ditto the creature entering the cave of a bear, whether as a raid or by blundering.
The silver back mountain gorilla gathers a fruit. He lounges in the shade to eat it. I dare you to try taking it from his hand. If you’re an ant, maybe you’ll get away. (Once it’s in his guts, myriad creatures, among whom a tape worm would be a giant, may also have at it.) I dare any communist to try liberating my toothbrush. Or my Macintosh.
Of course a zebra’s hide belongs to the zebra. Unless we can skin it. (The stuff in my pocket belongs to me. Unless you can mug me.)
Property amounts more or less to what the neighbors will allow.
Water was a commons. But the baboons approached the water hole with caution. A thirsty youngster approaches and finds himself hauled head first into the drink by a crocodile. If the baboon survived, the water was his. If not, he belonged to the crocodile. Or, a minute later, the lion. (Of course before, during, and after, both belong to the insects.)
Yet none of these belongings are property. Property began when man (in his female form, almost certainly) discovered agriculture. The cultivated areas spread. The population grew. The farmers protected that land from other creatures including other men. As the increased population stressed the already waxed cultivated land, that land become exhausted. New land had to be drafted. Society became specialized. Hierarchical organization became enthroned. Civilization was invented. And with it, wars, plagues, etc. Storage, excess wealth, etc. A new kind of parasitic leisure, privilege, etc. Money, writing, etc.
Nature, which had simply been the invisible medium in which we all lived, competed, cooperated, and died, became the enemy.
thanx Wealth of the Commons
Once upon a time the storm was something you endured, scared out of your wits or not, till you could go try to find more food. It became something we cursed as endangering the crop. Our crop.
What makes it ours? Hey! We planted it. We bloodied those filthy nomads who tried to walk across it.
Once upon a time we said, Oh, man, look! Here’s more of that tall grass with those exceptionally large, edible seeds at the top. We ate it. So did the bird. We could throw a rock at the bird’s head. The bird could try shitting on ours. So what? It was commons. With agriculture, we had to keep boys in the fields with slingshots. Why? So we could have more boys to keep in the fields with slingshots? Apparently so.
By the time the industrial revolution burgeoned in England, the word “commons” didn’t mean a naturally organized free-for-all. The land was not common to the bird, the man, and the nematode. Commons was where anyone in the community could put his sheep. It didn’t belong to the sheep. The sheep belonged to the peasants. The peasants belonged to the king. The King supposedly belonged to God, but in fact he had long belonged to his fellow barons. Pretty soon the barons would lose ground and the king would belong to the industrialists. And, by the way, woe betide any Frenchman who tried to put his sheep on the English Commons.
Ownership is not only a right, it is a duty. Ownership obligates.
Use your property as if it had been entrusted to you by the people.
See? The people outrank God.
Just as God outranked nature.
Culture — art, myths, and manners — were not invented by civilization. They’ve been with us all along, coevolving with man-the-social-animal, from our beginning. Why then will any school boy or any gremper grandma recoil from a criticism of civilization as though it were an attack on culture? Because civilization has co-opted it: along with everything it can get its hands, its machines, and its laws on. Kleptocracy.
Of course it is all rightfully ours. We certainly have religions and laws that say that it is. And if we didn’t, we’d make them.
I borrowed their pic, I’d never heard of them: but, take a look. Very Illich, very pk.
How come they’re not linking you here? Credit ought to be given where credit is due: but don’t hold your breath.
2015 01 21 Jan and I watched a history DVD last week, Cromwell, with Richard Harris, Alex Guiness … A theft of commons is depicted:
peasants are interacting with cattle on fenced land: the fence declares it common. Soldiers come, destroy the fences, drive off the cattle, drive them to the private land of some noblemen, friends of the king. The king is not the friend of the peasants, the peasants have no friends.
The movie Wall Street, 1987, showed an airline company being sold to Michael Douglas’s capitalist. With the company comes a retirement fund, $60,000,000 in it: Douglas takes the $60,000,000, puts it in his pocket. Now there’s still an airline company, still employees, but there’s no a retirement fund!
Imagine that we elect Bozo to be governor of NY. NY has roads, all sorts of roads, has had them since before there was a US. Imagine that Bozo now gives the highways to his supporter, BigFan. BigFan puts up a toll booth. You can use the road: pay $10 each time.
But you know, commons is a phony concept anyway: once upon a time there were squirrels who used the animal path that became a road, then a paved road: now the squirrel has to come up with $10? each use? !