A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Economic Growth Must End

You don’t have to be a biologist or medical doctor to know what happens if you run out of food or a Mercedes factory trained mechanic to know what happens when your car runs out of gas.  And you don’t need to be an MIT or Chicago trained economist to grasp the personal implications of a slowing and reversal of economic growth – it means just what it sounds like: there will be less; less electricity, less gasoline, less natural gas, less food, less heat in winter, less cooling in summer, less water and less certainty that the water is safe to drink.  And there will be less money, so everything that there is less of will cost more.

None of this means that there will be less need to do work.  Less of everything means that greater effort will be required to obtain what is needed; this would be especially true in the period of adaptation.  More effort to sustain ourselves with essentially less of almost everything is a frightening prospect, but there is no alternative; growth cannot continue forever in a finite space with finite resources.

Here are comments from several of the people who have been most invested in discovering the truth of our situation.  Be clear, none of them are happy about what they have to say; these words are forced from them by the undeniable truths of their studies:
 * * *  
“In the absence of enormous and ever-increasing NNR (Nonrenewable Natural Resources) supplies, the 1.2 billion people who currently enjoy an industrialized way of life will cease to do so; and the billions of people aspiring to an industrialized way of life will fail to realize their goal.” (Christopher Clugston)

“Over the course of your lifetime society will need to solve some basic problems: How to reorganize our financial system so that it can continue to perform its essential functions—reinvesting savings into socially beneficial projects—in the context of an economy that is stable or maybe even shrinking due to declining energy supplies, rather than continually growing.” (Richard Heinberg)

“Many who have looked at the combined challenge of energy and climate change have concluded that our civilization, having completed its exuberant, flamboyant phase, is headed toward a dramatic simplification and re-localization of life and the end of economic growth as we have known it.” (James Gustave Speth)

“If we cannot move at wartime speed to stabilize the climate, we may not be able to avoid runaway food prices. If we cannot accelerate the shift to smaller families and stabilize the world population sooner rather than later, the ranks of the hungry will almost certainly continue to expand.” (Lester R Brown)

“The global challenges in the offing, (…), are further complicated by our failure to communicate effectively about the potentially pernicious results that could be derived from having recklessly grown a soon to become patently unsustainable, colossal global economy, the one which we have artificially designed, conveniently constructed, and relentlessly expanded without enough conscious, intelligent regard for the biophysical requirements of practical reality.” (Steve Salmony)

‘Can the economy grow fast enough in real terms to redeem the massive increase in debt? In a word, no. As Frederick Soddy (1926 Nobel Laureate chemist and underground economist) pointed out long ago, “you cannot permanently pit an absurd human convention, such as the spontaneous increment of debt [compound interest] against the natural law of the spontaneous decrement of wealth [entropy]”.’ (Herman Daly)

“Any value for carbon in the atmosphere greater than 350 parts per million is not compatible with the planet on which civilization developed, into which life on Earth is adapted. Getting back to 350 parts per million will be very, very tough -- the toughest thing human beings have ever done -- but there is no use complaining about it. It's just physics and chemistry. That's what we have to do.” (Bill McKibben)
 * * * 
Not only is continued growth not possible, it is not beneficial even if it were possible.  The incentive structure of a growth economy moves relentlessly toward pressures for end users to use as much as possible, even as there are moderating influences on production processes for efficiency.  Only in the using up, replacing and adding new to “consumables” does the economy grow in size.  The simplest image of this is the correct one, that is, raw material being turned more and more rapidly into trash as it passes through the possession, use and spoilage of the user.  Either the amount used must increase per capita or the numbers of users must increase or both.

Economies that last are not based on this principle, but rather by being incentivised to use as little as possible – to get as much utility from raw material as possible and to replenish raw stocks as a condition of using them.  Such an economy does not grow in the sense that present human economies demand increasing amounts of raw stock in every iteration.

All of evolution has taken place on this second model, yet there has been growth in complexity to the point that a creature evolved the capacity of realization.  At the physiological level a sponge or a jellyfish is essential equivalent to the mammals.  At the broader biological level chimps and humans are almost indistinguishable.  But, at the functional level in the environment each level of complexity has vastly greater powers.  These differences were all come to in a no-growth natural economy.

This means that a human no-growth economy is possible, structured on incentives more like those of natural economies.  Artistic achievement, scientific understanding, personal spiritual relationship with the universe and more could continue.  The pace would be slower, more inline with the replenishment rates of natural systems.  There would be less ‘stuff’, much less stuff.  Dwellings would be constructed for utility.  Life would be much more physically localized even as communication could be, if we don’t so completely trash our present world that little is left, global and remarkably interactive.

There are more and more complex arguments that can be and must be made, but it is a fairly simple thing that must actually happen.  We must begin to use less energy and material, dramatically less.  We must understand that economic growth, even if it continues, is no longer growth at all but the final and fatal parasitism of the living space by our species.  The uncertainties and failures of our economic system are the direct consequence of overgrowth and will not be repaired with “new and innovative financial instruments”, we should have seen that clearly by now.

The militarism of one nation against another and, soon enough, against a hungry and demanding Great Many is the direct consequence of overgrowth; as is environmental destruction and bio-devastation.  Yet, with these realities immediately in front of us, the madness that we can “grow our way” out of a growth created result is still the official “wisdom” or better ‘wise doom.’ 

The State and corporate powers will not lead us out of this dilemma; there is no profit and less power in it.  A critical mass of people must begin to understand and act. There is no other way.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Business of Business

The forces that move us, that guide us through our daily lives are seldom fully appreciated: the wishes of a parent absorbed into what we consider our own personality, the rules posted on street signs, the shadowy motives that percolate out of our cells and many more.  Not being a total idiot, I was aware of social pressure and had experienced the displeasure of 'superiors' in the academic work place, but I had, before the following incident, never confronted the displeasure of the business world when someone with power really wanted to get you.  After the several months over which this incident played out I had gained a new respect for the power of ‘superiors’ when there was no restraint of human concern or feeling for the pain and suffering delivered, when all that mattered to them was the result.

Many years ago I was teaching in a small private school. About midyear I walked in on the Head Master and two parents changing the grades and making up courses for the transcripts of two students.  That afternoon the Head Master and one of the parents asked my opinion of what I had seen.  I replied to the effect that it troubled me and was a serious violation of academic values (I didn't say so, but realized that it was also illegal).

Within days the rumors began that I was an alcoholic and a child abuser, certain parents began to complain about me.  Up to that point I had been a star; a former university teacher, good with students, hard working. I taught every class hour with no prep period; the other teachers had covered certain required activities so that I could prepare science labs, etc. The help suddenly ended and I was overwhelmed with work. 

Two of the other teachers took me on as a special project.  They had not liked me much before, but now were openly critical and hostile in meetings and at other times. I was called to the Head Master's office almost every day to answer some charge.  Sometimes a parent was there.  I began to see a pattern, 4 families were doing this.  One of the students whose transcripts were changed (even classes from a previous school) was taken from my class.  I was instructed that I was to sign off on any grade that was requested. 

I had become a pariah in a matter of only a few days.  Parents not connected with the 4 families began looking at me with suspicion.  Students knew something was wrong.  I never knew what accusation would be made next, only that there would be another and another and that there was no answering them.

I gained weight.  I had been running 3 to 6 miles almost every day, but stopped.  I couldn't sleep.  At one point I drove home; stopping the car, I actually could not find the energy to get out.  I had to mentally think through the process.

I am ashamed to say that all thoughts of going to the State Department of Education were washed away in the minute by minute need for personal survival.  In the following year (I had quit teaching and was developing my own business) I was told by one of the marginal actors, what I already knew, that it was a put up job to frighten and silence me.  One of the major players, who had been ‘a friend,’ told me that it wasn't personal, I was just not a “team player.”  At a deep level I am still afraid of those people.

If these wealthy powerful people (one sat of major boards of directors and was on the board of regents of a major university) were willing to try to drive me to ruin, what would they be willing to do for even greater issues than school transcripts?  This has been, for me, a guiding benchmark in political evaluations.

My story is not interesting in itself, but for the fact that the vast majority of the people in this country don’t think this way.  What initially amazed and confused me was that these people knew exactly what to do, just who to tell what, just how to “get” me, or anyone.  There was the rumor de jour and never a source, never leaving a trace; but that is what a “attack machine” is about. They were so accomplished; that must have been how they ran their businesses; Crushing “problems” like bugs was just the way things were done.

I have often wondered how widespread these kinds of assaults are.  I’ve seen them with some frequency on small scale, and for personal gain, in education and on the huge scale of national political dueling.  But how much malfeasance is hidden, how much crime, by such cost effective efforts as personal destruction; just how far do these things go in real life?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Your Money Or Your Life

What is important to you? Your money? Your life? The quality of your life?  And what are the elements of a ‘life of quality?’  What is to be done for a culture in which these have become trivial matters with easy answers, but answers that are finally given to the wrong questions?

I grew up watching a man, a brilliant man, living in the darkness of his answers – such a darkness that he could never reach outside of it, and it was not to be entered; it was a canceling space.  I vowed a vow accumulated from a thousand moments of disappointment never to let that space take me over.

Teacher after teacher pointed to its openings, seemingly everywhere; portals at every corner.  I always slipped away; quicker and more elusive than the darkness.  The loves of my life offering from the dark margins, seemingly, the brightest light, only asking the acceptance of living in darkness.  And I eventually tried.  And could not.

It has been my impression that the doors to that darkness are everywhere; always accepting entrants. It captured my father when he was a young man, and my mother until her old age, most of my teachers and many of my friends.  Accepting life “as it is,” accepting the realities of our time, has become the saddest and most egregious acquiescence; a world of questions without answers or answers without questions.

As a child I wondered at the wastefulness of life: a tiny bird, dead from flying into a window (I had not yet wondered at windows); the multitudes of ants washed away in floods, coating the water in places like a thin red carpet; rotting dolphin still undulating, now only from the surf, stinking far beyond stinking…  I learned that life is more than these deaths, really has nothing (or very little) to do with them.  A dolphin still in the waves off shore leaping and watching me with a great still-seeing eye; the ants that raged up my foolish leg; the bird that flitted around a palm tree on an unseen puff of breeze: these could instantly replace the deaths in my feelings just as they did in the world.

Back to my question: what are the elements of a life of quality? I know now that the answer is to be found where the question is not asked.  It is like your car keys; there is no reason to look for them if they are clipped to your belt. 

But then again it is possible to give up looking once all apparent options have been exhausted.  That could be our situation today.  It is hard to ask the question, to go on looking, when there seems to be no possibility of a satisfactory solution:  “Your money or your life.”….  “Give me a moment!”

It is an old joke – Jack Benny I think – and a sad one; sad that it causes sufficient tension to power a laugh.  I am reminded of the first time that I taught school – a section on psychology in a life science course – seventh grade.  To develop the proper context for the lesson I said, “Now imagine that your father has been hit by a truck.”  To my modest surprise the room was filled with various forms of laughter…except for one little girl who began to cry (no, her father had not been hit by a truck; and yes, it was a terrible question to ask).

What do we as a culture see as contributing to quality of life?  There are the standard answers: health, good friends, being loved and loving others, spiritual clarity and depth.  And others: a job one likes, useful work, safety from deprivation and want, a sufficiency of wealth to meet both needs and most reasonable wants.  Still others: more wealth than most other people, a job that pays a lot, a job with a lot of power, domination of others.  But there are a growing number in the society who would answer with a list of minimums: to not be afraid, to not be hungry or thirsty, to not be sick, to have enough shelter and clothing that danger and discomfort are minimal.

We have been trained to seek the answer in objects or actions.  Those in the know have been telling us for 3000 years that those are exactly the wrong places to look – in fact, to look at all is defeat.  Every thoughtful person who has lived with some depth of experience understands this at some level even as we continue relying on having and doing.

What makes this important, so important, is that the Great Many are entering a new age.  The earth cannot continue to supply humans with the life to which we (about a third of us) have become accustom; the transition will be demanding and dangerous.  The economic and power elite will attempt to dominate us for their own ends, and we will attempt to mimic them and dominate each other.  How to live in such a time, how to live with some grace, dignity and satisfaction is my concern; not for me, an old man who will only see the beginning, but for those who are now young and who will grow into the fullness of the changes and difficulties.

We are not starting out well, just as we must.  Having lost, deeply seriously lost, our connections to what being a living thing is, the rediscovery will not be easy, just necessary.  The way is there for us to find. 10 million other species can help show the way… if we give them a chance.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

What Does Our Standing Army Stand For?

Come on people, let’s use our intelligence, courage, reason and observational capacities, all those things that we would often rather not use, and try to answer some simple and obvious questions.  You know cognitive dissonance, right, when the elements of a story don’t comport with other elements of the same story; like when your son arrives home in 45 minutes from 60 miles away and claims to have never gone over 65 miles per hour; and you really want to believe him.

What about needing to spend 1.2 trillion dollars a year on a standing army and national security (sic) apparatus (wars extra – obviously a moving army would cost more, you old silly!)?   Armies are for protecting – something – from an enemy; so there must be an enemy.  That would be, at the moment, Muslim terrorists (with the Ruskies and the Chinese hiding in the bushes).  So, 1.2 trillion dollars US (wars extra) for unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles (with missiles extra), urban use weapon systems, guided missile ships, smart shoulder arms, supersonic stealth aircraft, sub-lethal crowd control technologies (adaptable as lethal force multipliers), no fly lists, intelligence/spy agencies, plus a whole bunch more stuff all controlled by a professional army/police force and bureaucracies [1]– the world’s most highly trained professional soldiers!  This force of millions of GI soldiers and contractors, indomitable weapons and surveillance systems are for fighting a few thousand organized “terrorists” whose weapons are short range shoulder arms, improvised low yield bombs and stealthy methods…. Now just how fast were you going son?

Let us assume for a moment that the people driving this military/security bus are not completely insane, that there are real reasons for these expenditures and methods – just not the ones we are being told.  Three questions: (1) Who is being directly benefited by the present design of the security apparatus? (2) Who is the military/security apparatus protecting? (3) Who are the present and future targets of military action?

Who is being directly benefited: the most direct economic benefit goes to the suppliers of military/security needs and services, consumables and capital equipment (which in the case of war becomes consumable).  Politicians benefit by delivering economic development based on military supplying industries to their constituents. The officer/bureaucracy corps benefit more diffusely by employment, status and power, while the soldier/worker benefits much of the time by high levels of basic material and social support, employment and a paternal environment – I say, ‘much of the time’, since the soldiers may be required to take considerable risk for these benefits.

Who is the military/security apparatus protecting: Major General Smedley Butler (1881-1940), US Marines, gave his answer in the 1930s: the economic elite.  He claimed that he was an enforcer for American business.  That was, of course, at a simpler time when there was American business; today the situation is more complex and the US Military seems to be the international enforcer for multinational corporations [2].  This is not to say that the US military/security apparatus will not protect ‘the people’, but only to the extent useful to and desired by the economic elite. 

We are told that the military/security apparatus is protecting our way of life, but just whose way of life would that be? Is my personal way of life being protected by the actions currently being taken in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Pakistan [3]?  Perhaps I am being selfish, asking that the paltry sums of money that I pay in taxes be applied in ways that protect my way of life; then are these actions protecting the hundreds of millions of other inhabitants of this nation?  To answer that we would have to imagine what would happen if our military were to leave those places.

The unrest would continue without our military and security presence, so that part would not change.  People would still be mistreated and killed until new structures of equilibrium were formed; but such structures can’t begin to be created until outside influences either leave or become an accepted permanent part of the place, the latter an unlikely eventuality anywhere in the Middle East. 

So leaving or not would have little effect on the general form of the immediate situation in those countries since the conflicts are based mostly in civil strife, much exacerbated by the presence of an outside force – except that adaptation to a new stable structure could begin.  The economic elites supported by our military, however, would either lose power in the situation or would have to find new military powers to support them.  Oil and associated companies, construction contractors, military support contractors, private military and security companies: all of these and more could/would experience huge losses if the US left the middle east militarily and only engaged diplomatically.

Of course, many companies could continue to engage economically, but without the billions being put into the countries as a result of the military action and without the protection and persuasive power of the military, economic opportunity would not be as available or appealing.

To put it as simply as possible: claims of direct benefits of safety for the American people from these military actions are lies, damned lies; flagrant, horrific, disgusting, obscene lies. These actions steal our present, steal our future, enrage the world against us with the same kind of bigotry that we are expected to show towards “our enemies.”  That takes care of that question.

Who are the present and future targets of military action:  The US has a huge military/security apparatus requiring more than a thousand billion dollars a year to support it.  Millions of people are a part of it.  Even if it tried, it couldn’t be a benign presence waiting for the bad behavior of some foreign leader or the organized rejection of some value that the US thinks vitally important.  It has become its own ‘animal’; nominally, as in General Butler’s day, the tool of the economic elite, but only so long as it is fed and exercised well.  It has only one clear and constant enemy, those who would diminish its size, power and influence, and that enemy is an educated, politically powerful electorate supporting the Constitution of the USA and the needs of the people.

Since the US spends, on its military/security apparatus, as much as or more than the rest of the 190 or so nations staking out territory on this little globe combined, there is at least the possibility that we could, say, cut that amount in half, using the money for the direct benefit of the citizens of the country.  That would be 600 billion dollars worth of the people’s labor returned to their needs rather than collected into great big piles by defense contractors, ‘friendly’ dictators, security specialists and mercenary armies.  And remember wars are extra; that would be another couple of hundred billion plus change if we just stopped the demonstrably illegal wars – we could leave in place legal occupations and actions at least for a time.

Of course, the military/security apparatus would not take this lying down; they are a standing army!  What would you do to your fellowman for 800 billion dollars and all the power in the world...?  Well, so would they! And since the military’s work has been and is the protection of elite interest, just what do you think the response would be to serious challenges to those elite interests; like environmentalists acting against extractive industries or like union organizing.  We know the answers.  Men and women devoted to the preservation of natural ecologies are now called terrorists.  Women and men devoted to honesty and equity in work are called terrorists.

The answer to the question is: should the people demand the kinds of changes that would allow the vast numbers of the human species to live with personal dignity, that would allow the recovery of the earth’s vast, varied and essential ecologies, then the people would become the expressed enemy of the military/security apparatus, the apparatus that we have built and presently pay for with our labor (converted into taxes) and our blood.  There is nothing else on the earth, other than the Great Many, of sufficient number and power that would require the size, power and lethal capacity of that apparatus to control.

Social unrest will be the “enemy” of the future, the consequence of the increasing disclosure and effect of both wealth inequity and the processes in place that will result in a new fascist feudalism.  The language is in place: we now fear and fight terrorists; and all who reject the elite social and economic model can be, and are more and more often, called terrorists.  And the force structures are increasingly in place: professional armies, security systems and militarized police forces are devoting equipment and training to crowd control and the depersonalizing of lethality so that ‘collateral damage’ can seamlessly become the real goal.

The fear of a standing army expressed by the framers of the USA’s founding documents was fully warranted; history told of standing armies always becoming a danger to the people as they became the tools of a political, religious or economic elite. 

First comes understanding, then planning, then opportunity and then action.  It is essential that a critical mass of people come to this understanding and lose the Santa Claus myth of military benignancy.  Returning the military to a size and power appropriate to our real security needs and to civilian control, meaning democratic control by the people, is our greatest immediate need and most dangerous enterprise.

[1] Police forces are becoming militarized; the military is performing mixed military and policing functions in international situations.  The distinctions between criminal behavior  and misuses of national and international power are blurring; and therefore so are the distinctions between the forces intended to meet those threats to social stability.  Lost in these changes is the structure of incentives that have placed and continue placing all of these forces in the common control of the economic elite.

[2] “There isn't a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its "finger men" to point out enemies, its "muscle men" to destroy enemies, its "brain men" to plan war preparations, and a "Big Boss": Super-Nationalistic Capitalism. It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.” (Smedley Butler, 1933)

[3] If you believe the propaganda that the Muslim hordes are chomping at the bit to “kill Americans” and “destroy our way of life”, then you have not been paying attention to either the history or the present situation.

Friday, June 3, 2011

More on Property and Ownership

The question is: How do I begin to discuss a subject, with the intention that other people will read it, when that subject is absolutely clear to them and when I am absolutely convinced that they are completely and utterly wrong about it?  How do I discuss it when the only language available almost completely assumes the ubiquitous common view in the very structure of the grammar and the meanings of the words?  The very language and its structure conspire against understanding.

The issue is property and ownership.  “This is mine, that is yours and this other thing is ours!  What else is there?”  You see, right there in the subject-verb-object structure, and ‘mine’, ‘yours’; the possessive form.  That one thing is possessed by, the property of or owned by some other thing is as obvious as heat on a warm day.

But it is not, not at all, obvious once one begins to look for the roots of the thing.  You search down from the oh-so-clear fruit and leaves, the upper branches, and as you seek to find the well rooted trunk suckling on the solid ground of natural history, biology, the evolution of the species and the relationships of creatures long living on the living earth, it disappears into mists and wisps of possibilities and is gone as solid substance.

Funhouse mirrors catch the reflection of economic certainty, political necessity or a confused grimace of almost angry incredulity, but the essential and founding principles of property and ownership disappear when looked at closely and directly, like a perceptual illusion.

This is not to say that we, humans, do not use these principles; it is not to say that more than a few of us are even uncomfortable with them: but that is just it; these are ideas that are like so many other ideas that we use that have no reality beyond our believing and using them.  Catholics believe in the Eucharist.  Devout Muslims must pray to Mecca 5 times a day.  Most people get excited by piles of rectangular paper printed with pictures of kings or dead presidents.   Astrologers believe that the position of a collection of stars, light-years distant, in a random arrangement has a meaning that influences a human’s future (there is that possessive again, as if there could be such an influence and that one’s future was somehow one’s property).

It is in the human adaptation of the Consciousness Order to both create and respond to these illusions; this is an incredible power: to think and to make thoughts reality.  When guided by Reality, the subordinate ‘instrumental realities’ focus attention, direct activities over time and distance, enhance individual capacities and generally make the human species invincible in the natural world.

But when the instrumental realities free themselves from Reality, when the veridicality of process is lost and old instrumental realities become the basis for the new realities without the intervening guidance of biophysical Reality, then “reality” is ad hoc; these instrumental realities are destined to run hard up against Reality the way a child’s game of Superman must give way to the cape’s return to a towel on laundry day.

The time line is, of course, very different – comparing the child’s game to the ‘game’ that human societies play with physical and living system laws.  Humanity has been playing and building the complexity of its present game for 8,000 to 10,000 years.  Legal thinkers might argue that we can have a reasonable expectation that our game is now Reality, but the other systems of order just don’t work that way – there is just a long time, in human terms, between laundry days.

Property and ownership have gone through a number of iterations in, and before, that time.  The most influential and insidious change, however, has gone largely unnoticed and unnoted: the shift of ownership from being a relationship of mutual responsibilities to an isolated domination of one party over another.  “It is mine,” once meant that ‘I’ created or found ‘it’ and am taking responsibility for ‘it.’  The understanding of the community was that if ‘I’ couldn’t or wouldn’t serve in proper relation with ‘it’, then ‘it’ could and should revert to another who would take up the proper responsibility.  Ownership conferred responsibility in direct proportion to benefits; not only to the object owned, but the whole functioning of the object and the ownership relationship in the community.  ‘Ownership’ was about the husbanding of functional relationships, not about domination.

“It is mine,” has come to mean: Property is that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe.”  John Locke’s view interpreted by William Blackstone in Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765 – 1769).  It is this view that has become the foundation for the aberrant human behavior that we call economics and especially capitalist economics.  And it is this view that is running up hard against Reality.

Mother Nature doesn’t recognize unique claims on property.  A fence is just a long bush to be hopped over.  Talus doesn’t agree to boundaries, neither does flood water or wind;  industrial pollutants don’t either.   When our behaviors interfere with the functioning of the biophysical world, it fights back at first with warnings by violating expectations and then with the ultimate argument; it fails to function in the ways that support complex life forms.  It is our distorting of property and ownership ideas that underlies and underwrites our most grave violations of relationship with the living and physical world. 

Blackstone’s definition of property creates an incentive system that isolates the continuous, that commodifies the commonly attainable, that rewards destruction and that rejects the deep ecological behavior and understanding so long a part of the species’ existence.  These 33 words and their rendering into economic behavior are an important source for our difficulties and their intransigence.

This doesn’t mean,  as is often the response of the unimaginative and the narrowly self-interested,  that all property ideas are rejected and thus, dread upon dread,  “communism” will destroy our world.  It does mean that a number of ways of organizing our relationships with each other and the objects of our world would follow aspects of the socialist model; but hey, that’s a good thing isn’t it, to be more engaged in social concerns, habits and expectations?

The good of the community has almost always been held up as more important than the good of individuals – it is certainly used as an argument for sending young men off to war.  Even Kings have claimed that they act in the interest of the common good.  Even princely CEOs claim that they are “compensated” (as opposed to extorting) for the common good.  We all like the argument – except for actually doing for the common good; and that is largely because of the deep ingraining of the Blackstone type definition of property and ownership: “It’s only mine if no one else can touch my stuff.  I am a measure of what I make mine.” So, eventually we become the stuff we have and to hell with the other guy (and since we are the other guy to someone, we are really saying to hell with ourselves).

How different it is to see what we ‘possess’ as benefiting our community, what we have as being in our custody and our responsibility.  How we relate to others and to the maintenance of the property infrastructure of society is our measure.  Humans have lived with this incentive system for thousands of years in thousands of places. 

It is true that the process of change and “development” is slower in this design, but it by no means stops.  Our relationships to such dominant ideas as entrepreneurship would change dramatically.  Status systems would be upset.  However, if these understandings, not new to us only latent in this time, could be reinvigorated we might survive and minimize the extinction event that our present values have created.