On Ownership

Occasionally I see this question, usually in a social-media forum: If you were to eliminate one thing, what would it be?

For me, there is no question: ownership. The living planet faces many predicaments. To me, most seem to be rooted in ownership.

As nearly as I can distinguish, ownership did not exist until civilization arose. Millions of years spent sharing and nurturing led to a relatively benign human existence. A few thousand years into civilization, and everybody wants more. Ownership is a fundamental concept underlying the pathology of capitalism.

More of everything. More for me, not for you. As Gordon Gekko pointed out in the 1987 film Wall Street, it’s a zero-sum game. Every bit for me means less for you. I can’t have you taking any, because you’re taking it away from me.

Contemporary neo-classical economists proclaim a contrary message. The rising tide of economic prosperity, they say, floats all boats. Blinded by the ridiculous assumptions of an experiment gone horribly awry, they continue to promote the pathological system that has led to our extinction. Driven by the love of money and its underlying monetary system, they will continue to benefit from the system until, surprisingly to them, it no longer delivers power to them.

It wasn’t always this way, even after civilizations arose. The Greek Cynics were noted for the notion of using what was available even across the boundaries of ownership. They believed humans were motivated by selfishness, but they also believed (1) virtue was the only good, (2) the essence of virtue is self-control, and (3) surrender to any external influence is beneath human dignity. Yes, they considered dignity a worthy pursuit. Perhaps more important than the acquisition of personal power.

I’m not suggesting, as many will protest, that indigenous people or the Greek Cynics were faultless. Rather, I am indicating there is more than one way to live. There are numerous examples, still, of societies filled with people who live beyond obsessions with possessions. There is more than the singular approach we take … to, well, take. But in this culture, takers vastly outnumber leavers (to use words popularized by Daniel Quinn).

Nor am I suggesting I haven’t benefited from the concept of ownership. As a heterosexual white man, I lived at the apex of ownership — i.e., patriarchy — for far too long.

Where does ownership come from? Where does it lead?

The word itself dates only to the Sixteenth Century. Obviously, the roots go much deeper. As is often the case, I turn to the ancients for perspective.

The opinions of Plato and Aristotle differed significantly with respect to ownership. Plato believed the idea created divisive inequalities. Historical and contemporary events support Plato’s view, rather than the view of his student, Aristotle. The latter believed private property enabled people to receive the full benefit of their labor (and also that of their slaves, of course). Aristotle’s ownership of slaves indicates an inherently strong personal motivation to support the idea of ownership.

Where does ownership take us? We need only investigate reality, based on recent trends, to see where we’re headed. And that place, I’m afraid, is right here, to the edge of extinction. To the notion that might makes right, and only power is needed to justify the acquisition of more power. Because more is all there is. Because more is its own reward in a culture that values power over justice and more over better. When quantity becomes the only quality worth having, more is all we have. In a culture that values accomplishments over relationships and acquisitions over emotions, more is the only attribute worth pursuing. How could it be any different?

Culturally, it cannot be different now. It’s too late for different. It’s too late for this culture to correct its errors, and there’s no motivation in this culture to make the necessary corrections. This culture will never know justice because the values were transcribed onto proverbial tablets of stone many generations ago.

As individuals, it can be different. As individuals, we can seek freedom from the straitjacket of culture. We can seek love over power, relationships over accomplishments, and better over more. A high price will be paid for such pursuits, however. There will be no reward beyond freedom from insanity, which comes with the prevailing sentiment that the sane are insane. As Krishmurti pointed out, “it is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

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I was interviewed for UK Collapse Radio on 7 January 2015. The result is embedded below.

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I was interviewed for Raw Voices Podcast Friday, 9 January 2015. The result is linked here.

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My approach represents the “bottom line” in an essay posted today at Truth-out: “Guy McPherson could be said to have one of the most reasonable approaches: Make the most, imperatively, of what we have and can do now, with an emphasis on excellence in every endeavor, all while accepting that everything is telling us that we are on our way to extinction (sooner rather than later), and prepare to take leave of the good earth without losing our humanity — graciously, with dignity.”

The comments include the usual drivel. I notice one of Scott Johnson’s fan boys showed up to smear my name (without evidence, of course).

Comments 109

  • artleads –

    when it looks like there is a contradiction on one level – for example, how, as a conscious human being living in a physical universe, could it be possible to have both free will and complete determinism (or “no-free-will”) simultaneously? – look for the resolution by moving to another level.

    this gets complex really fast, so I will choose just one example.

    Paul alluded to this example when talking about the “God of the gaps.”

    when trying to find where “free will” could possibly exist, and how it could exist, in a physical universe, apparently governed entirely by physical law, the gap where “free will” might exist gets smaller and smaller, until there is just no place left where it might be hiding.

    so the resolution comes at another level – you have hit the wall on one level, so you have to find a portal to a different level instead, and continue there.

    different people take this portal to different places. a philosopher like Dennett may stay in the physical universe, and add to it a concept of an “embodied rational agent” :

    “We are not immaterial souls but embodied rational agents…”

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/reflections-on-free-will

    my concept (and this is an ancient concept) is different entirely. there isn’t any problem with finding “free will” in the physical universe, because there is in fact no physical universe here. my portal exits the “physical universe” entirely – by denying the reality of such a thing.

    there is, instead, something called “Consciousness” which is creating all of this “apparent physical stuff” out of its own “energy.” and as the “stuff” that is really here is more akin to “mind-stuff” than “physical-stuff,” such mind-stuff has no problem making choices, wherever and whenever it wants to. that is the nature of mind, of consciousness, the kind “freedom” you are familiar with, just moving around in your own mind.

    now, for Consciousness, part of its “desire” (don’t attach the familiar meaning to that word, it is just a placeholder) is to generally leave this level alone – the level of “mind-stuff” that appears to us as a physical universe, governed by consistent physical law.

    Consciousness is interested in leaving wide open the possibility that we can experience this “place” – this level – as exactly that – physical. and only physical, and certainly not as some possibly jumbled mess that you might find in a dream or drug hallucination, but definitely as something very solid, and very reliable, and trustworthy.

    so, we have, simultaneously:

    – on one level, we can experience things here as pure determinism, or a mix of that plus pure quantum randomness when we look for it – and we do not have any real place at all for true choice and “free will.” we may just call “free will” the illusion, and keep the physical universe as the “real thing,” and stick with just this one level.

    but, if that “feeling of choice” bothers someone enough to try to resolve the “free will” question/contradiction by creating something like an “embodied rational agent” on another conceptual level, staying within the physical universe, then that is fine. such a thing is conceivable, and can have some explanatory power, and can stay entirely within the realm of a truly “physical universe.”

    – if we don’t want to resolve the question like that – and I definitely don’t, for my own reasons – then we don’t have to. we can move to another level, the “all is mind” level, if you will, and resolve it differently.

    now, please remember, this way of describing how it could be resolved – “all is mind” – is a vast simplification of what I personally take as my larger “code” – or comprehensive way of living in Total Reality.

    it is just one example of how to look at it. this example does not in any way resolve the even larger contradictions of “no-free-will” plus absolute free will that in fact exist in Total Reality. it gets much worse, and far more complex. this is resolved on different levels, again.

    but the simple, bedrock principle remains: we have to choose, and we have no choice about that.

    the thing that makes it work is the total lack of coercion about that choice, on any level of existence. it is always left to us.

    of course, that doesn’t remove the paradox, because who, exactly, is “us”? who is the chooser?

    the greater complexity I am talking about above arises when one is faced with answering that question from larger and larger “realms of knowledge” – the (much) larger experiences that are apparent to all of us when either our “spiritual amnesia” is removed, or we experience “normal physical existence” from larger than usual perspectives in various ways, or some combination of these experiences.

  • Looking for free will in the gaps seems to separate free will from its supposed opposite. Too literal and thing-centered, I say.

    “my concept (and this is an ancient concept) is different entirely. there isn’t any problem with finding “free will” in the physical universe, because there is in fact no physical universe here. my portal exits the “physical universe” entirely – by denying the reality of such a thing.”

    So the “no physical universe” is the “nothingness” I’ve heard some Buddhists talk about? My simple minded take on “the universe” is that it can’t be said to exist if there is nothing, not the universe, to contrast it with. The same with trillions of universes. And if every creature’s perception of the real is distinct, what is the real?

    “it is just one example of how to look at it. this example does not in any way resolve the even larger contradictions of “no-free-will” plus absolute free will that in fact exist in Total Reality.”

    But this is the aspect I enjoy. The larger contradictions. It suits the religious mind. Or the artist’s mind (which might be pretty much the same thing).

    And this brings me to contradict (intentionally) what I just said:

    “but the simple, bedrock principle remains: we have to choose, and we have no choice about that.”

    I, too, look at the realm of choice narrowly–often what’s in front of my nose, at the most minimal and simple of levels. And I try to suggest that minimal choices yield the most desired outcomes. Like in what Wester or Jeff implied: it’s saying no that matters. The restraint of the Greek Cynics that Guy talks about… This is consistent with being fair to those one dislikes, to treating everybody the same, to doing with less, to doing no harm…

    Then I contradict that by consistently supporting the imaginative and the aspirational over the routine. So there are definitely two things happening simultaneously.

    I started out trying to read the Dennett link, then to skimming over it, then to reading the last paragraph:

    “Everybody who plays games must recognize that games without strictly enforced rules are not worth playing, and the rules that work best do not make allowances for differences in heritage, training, or innate skill. So it is in society generally: we are all considered equal under the law, presumed to be responsible until and unless we prove to have some definite defect or infirmity that robs us of our free will, as ordinarily understood.”

    Of course I don’t understand the arguments implied. There’s too much to learn. And where does it all lead? FWIW, there are things to (not)do in order to “realize” a vision/role that has one’s number on it. There’s a tension between learning new things and the necessary detachment required to fulfill that “responsibility.”

    Thanks for such a patient response.

  • @Tim E.

    Surely you jest? Your statements have shown that you have a clear misunderstanding of what Patriarchy is, and a woman’s place within that social structure. I suggest that your misogyny is only latent to you, but overt from the receiving end. Patriarchy necessarily means there is no 50/50 deal between a woman and a man, at any level. You allow exceptions for “rape and incest” in the matter of procreation, yet “have no guilt over society being a patriarchy”. Is that because you benefit from the status, privilege, and power that you gain as man within this hierarchy, and have assimilated the entitlement to women’s bodies that is not only inherent in this system that allows for ‘rape and incest’, but protects and encourages the perpetration of such behavior by men via the treatment and portrayal of women and girls in all quarters?

    Why are there so many single moms? How about where are all the deadbeat dads who abandoned their partners because they can’t be burdened with their end of that “50/50” deal you spoke of? You may scoff at global reproductive rights for women, and sadly I think it is an ideal that will never be reached, but you may be surprised that women DO NOT WANT TO HAVE ALL THOSE BABIES. They want education. They want access to safe birth control. They want, when necessary (Like in instances of incest, rape, birth control failure, medical necessity, etc.) access to safe abortions. How to get men to understand this, I do not know, but the pressures on women to bear children are so insidious in western culture, that if you choose not to, or simply can’t, you become a pariah. And if you do, you are responsible for fucking up the entire world!

    If you are in the states, you may be aware that the gains in women’s reproductive rights have been eroded and are still under attack by elected representatives. Two more bills at the moment for defunding Planned Parenthood, a place where I and other poor women go to get BIRTH CONTROL. Well, I don’t any longer, because I’ve been ‘cut’ and am about to have the whole works out, anyway, but that’s beside the point. Funny aside, though, the only people in my town I’ve ever seen picketing the local Planned Parenthood are men. Wearing masks. If you are so concerned, stop blaming the low person on the totem pole and take it up with congress, go down to some of the African villages where it is high honor to have multiple wives and as many children as possible. Yes, third world procreation uses less resources, but it is based in the same vile Patriarchal mindset of power over women, of status through ownership of everything, including women.

    You have no idea what it is to suffer as a woman under a system of male violence. We only ‘own the womb’, as you say, in that we have to bear all of the physical burden and consequence of sexual procreation, yet are given less or no means of real control over reproductive issues. There will never be global reproductive rights for women because once a woman has power over her body she becomes a threat to men who no longer decide for her. It is easy, tired, and predictable to blame women for overpopulation and the ills of the world, but I would suggest an embarrassment to the person doing so on a forum such as this.

    I have no guilt over Society being a patriarchy – because the real problem is women – who refuse to restrain their biological imperative to reproduce – then demand that Society as a whole meet their needs – without question.

    I continue to be fascinated by the moralization of biological processes, as if men didn’t have the urge to “reproduce and accumulate possessions”! Maybe we’ll be able to rise above our biological imperatives when we skip the light fandango right on out of this mortal coil…

  • Badlands, thanks for setting things straight, at least here, conceptually, on the beach. What a boon to have lived in this short window of time and place when I could be free of imposed child-bearing-!!. Best wishes for your future health, love, lidiaseventeen.

  • mo flow: I’m enjoying your comments on consciousness a lot. Thanks for taking the time to write about this. I certainly believe that the experience of different “levels” of consciousness/reality is required to resolve all the conflict in connection with the suffering and other realities of this world.

    This world doesn’t completely make sense, or feel right, or work the way we think it should. For one, a lot of human behavior is insane. Until something else exists, much like waking from a bad dream. It was a very, very bad dream, but it was a dream and I’m awake now.

    “Enlightened” means “awakened,” as if from sleep. The dream cannot be understood from the level of the dream or of the dreamer, only from the level of the one who created the dream.

    Tim is in the wrong place. Like someone else, he doesn’t like truth, or facts, or reality. Well, that’s different! Hi, Badlands.

  • oldgrowthforest –

    I am so glad to hear you are enjoying my comments. thank you! that means a lot to me. and you are so right in how you summarize it. it is exactly that: the dream cannot be understood from the level of the dream or of the dreamer.

    either fortunately or unfortunately, depending on perspective (how much investment the dreamer wants to put into the “experience of the dream”) the dreamer can spend a lot of time within the dream, probing things, and never have the slightest clue about what is really going on.

    the unfortunate side of this has absolutely become an exercise in insanity, in multiple different ways. it is horrifying to watch, and horrifying to be caught up in, as a witness and participant.

    we can each do whatever we can, to break the cycle of insanity – and it is great to see so many here doing just that!

  • @Lidia- You’re welcome and thank you! I thought about you and your cancer ordeal a lot over the last year when I was going through something similar. Having no insurance made it a little too interesting, but I was finally able to get surgery. All pathologies were benign, but no relief from worsening symptoms, so more surgery to come. I should’ve contacted you! I hope life has been treating you well!

    @oldgrowthforest- Hi! How are things? A little WARM for winter, eh?! Not funny, I know. We have continuously gone from sub zero to above freezing all winter, and I know if it is affecting my body clock, which it is, it must be terrible for all living things. Mosquitos and spring blossoms in November, honey bees in December- we had a snowstorm on September 11! Anyway, if you ever want to chat you can get my e-mail address, and you know, I have a sister who lives in your neck of the woods if you ever need an in-person friend. She’s very kind and could probably use a friend herself. Just a thought.

    So, yeah, from my previous post, this was meant to be in quotes:
    “I have no guilt over Society being a patriarchy – because the real problem is women – who refuse to restrain their biological imperative to reproduce – then demand that Society as a whole meet their needs – without question.”

    A lovely meditation to scare anyone back to reality about what many people REALLY think! Oddly, it is reminding me of the time we went to a pow wow at Standing Rock, and my son, then 2 1/2, was not only mesmerized by the drumming and singing, but got up and started dancing during the Women’s Traditional Dance! A no-no, but he actually stayed at the side of the circle and did a fine rendition until we chased him down. Toddlers show no respect, lol! I guess they’re not alone…

    Much respect from me to everyone here.

  • @Friederich Kling

    You had sent me some milkweed seeds & I planted them early last april. I planted them at the edge of a wooded area, next to an open field which gets mowed every summer around August (to keep the weeds from
    spreading & to keep the brush down.) I tried to keep the seeds

    close to the un-mowed area, but still in a place where they would get enough sun as Milkweed is a sun-lover.

    Not all the seeds germinated. Of thse that did, most disappeared. I suspect rabbits. They will eat anything after a long, hard, winter & those little milkweed sprouts must have looked delicious.

    However, I noticed more Monarch butteries fluttering around than I had seen in years. So it might be possible that some of the seeds survived the onslaught of the rabbits.

    I would like to try agin this year, perhaps if I plant them deeper in the wooded area, the rabbits won’t find them.