Knatz.com / Teaching / Society / Social Order / Civilization / Property /
@ K. 2008 08 23
My son says that if I don’t believe in property then I can’t reasonably accuse the society of being a kleptocracy. I say my son’s reasoning is morally insane. Each of us finds the other to be intelligent, but defectively so.
I have maintained since before bk was born that the language we speak (and write) is not precise enough for serious argument. Words are bricks that crumble after we’ve trusted them enough to build with. Still, words are what we use. I use them, I try to.
OK. Sure. I believe in property; but only on a very small scale, in a very small way. I own, or ought to be able to be thought to own, my toothbrush. If you use my toothbrush, when toothbrushes are plentiful, then you are a scoundrel. The bed I sleep in is “mine” so long as I don’t leave it unoccupied, unguarded for long. If plenty of other women are available, then my wife is “mine”: till I neglect or abandon her.
“You are mine,” sings the lover. Are lawyers involved? Lawyers are involved if the society has made the difficult-to-undo mistake of letting lawyers and other experts get involved in private business.
If I buy the Brooklyn Bridge, maybe it’s mine — in my mind — till I try to move it. Maybe the salesman gave me a receipt: a “title.” How many irate drivers will accept my receipt if I move the bridge while they’re trying to drive to Brooklyn?
Property on a small scale is obvious within a social species. Elephants are also a social species, but the elephant won’t care if the bed is mine when he’s on a rampage, or if I’m in it as he stomps and tramples. Neither does the termite: another social creature. The leopard is not social and cares nothing if it’s “my” bed among humans.
But then Stalin and Marx were humans, and they didn’t care if it was my bed if it was in the way of their programs. Actually, neither does the United States: so hypocritical about property — with all those lawyers dicing definitions all day long.
I tell you what: this English language is “mine.” I love it more than I hate it. What gives the lawyers, or the Congress, or the President … any right to change its meaning? It changes all by itself, constantly, no matter what experts do.
But getting back to where I was a moment ago, I wouldn’t buy the Brooklyn Bridge even if it were New York City, and New York State, and the United States with its name on the receipt. A friend of mine, in his eighties in the 1980s, told me how huge portions of Fort Lauderdale were offered to him for “sale,” very cheap, during the Depression of the 1930s. I was just in jail with a guy who owned huge tracts of Palm Beach County. I bet his father bought the land under just such circumstances and in that period. (It was so funny, the county had to pay him rent while it incarcerated him.) (As an accused federal felon my residence in the Palm Beach County Jail was paid for by the fed; my neighbor had to pay his own, but I bet it was a penny on the dollar of what the jailors had to pay him!) (I don’t know what he was accused of, but he sure was a prick no matter what it was.)
Thus, small scale property, within our culture, yes. It’s you I don’t want using my toothbrush without my permission, or my wife. The ant will walk right over my toothbrush, and would carry it off if he thought it was edible, and he could move it. And I’d stamp him and his co-ants out if I found them trying it. But if I left my toothbrush at home, as I was forced to do by the armed thugs from the FBI and Sheriff, and I came back a year and a quarter later and the ants, or the termites, or the ‘coons had carried my toothbrush off, or my bed, or my whole trailer, what could I do about it?
Would it now be the ants’ property? Words don’t have that kind of extension.
What if I came home and Sebring FL had been taken over by Castro? or his brother? Would I still expect my toothbrush to be mine?
My toothbrush is mine, so long as I control it, within a group affected by the same culture. Within this culture, the land my trailer is on would also be “mine” if I could buy it and get a receipt with the county’s name on it as guarantor: like Confederate money, if the Confederacy had won, their printed paper might still have bought dry goods, and wet goods. Of course paper printed by the US still buys dry goods, but at values that degenerate by the minute.
What if I did buy the land my trailer is on? and what if the US fell on its nose like the Soviet Union? And what if Florida fell a minute later? or a minute sooner? Would Highlands County still exist as an entity. Would I still own the land as Castro’s minions swarmed over it?
I already own the trailer and have ever since my beloved Catherine gave it to me. But what would my ownership have been worth if Hurricane Andrew had come this way instead of leveling Homestead? What would my property have been worth, toothbrush, trailer, or wife, whirled out over the Gulf by Andrew?
Nature makes patterns. Some patterns last longer than other patterns. A diamond endures longer than a spark. This star endures for nine billion “years,” that star collapsed, that star exploded. Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich lasted from the 1930s till 1945: that doesn’t sound like any thousand years to me.
The Jews’ God has lasted (though hardly universally) for a least a few thousand years now (he does keep changing his nature, though, doesn’t he?). I wouldn’t bet on him lasting too much longer though. I bet he’ll outlast the US, but that’s not saying much.
Me, I’ll be seventy next week and a day. Thank God I’m not going to last much longer. I had more than enough a while ago.
Or should I thank the ant? or the ants? Or just Nature?