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Ownership and other troublesome fictions
by Jan Sand
2006-10-19 10:14:51
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Mackerel, monkeys, mallards and mosquitoes enjoy privileges in human society accorded to no humans. They do not have to record their ancestry, their nationality, their adult status nor their professional qualifications. They can move freely across national borders without passports and partake of Earth’s bounty without getting involved in human financial systems.

On the other hand, they lack other possibilities. None, as far as I know, possess a driver’s license and they are denied the privilege of ownership. No mosquito can register me as its exclusive source of blood denying that to fellow mosquitoes, passing vampires or the Red Cross.

Of course, many animals establish territorial domains. Ask any dog walker. And bears claw trees, etc. I don’t know how tigers do their thing, but any patch of land can provide only a limited sustenance for a large creature, so whoever claims it has to see to it that nobody else is munching there. The explorers in the New World were well up on the matter and exchanged a few bucketfuls of Hong Kong trinkets for Manhattan Island without being cognizant that the ancestors to the Brooklyn Bridge salesmen were just a gang of Indians passing through.

This type of domination is now supreme amongst humans. A skilled biologist can examine the DNA of another human and determine some of its unique and useful properties and, through the current patent system, obtain exclusive property rights for that DNA. Inferences from that seem to indicate that people’s assumption is that their physical reality is personal property is no longer valid.

This may seem an affront to very basic personal ownership but it really is not substantially different from the accepted practices in the banking system. Banks, after all, are not institutions that pay you an insignificant sum for protecting your money. There is no question that it is your money with which they are doodling and they take charge of that money where they believe other people will pay them a good deal more for that privilege than they are paying you. If they are careful, well informed and, in many instances, lucky, they do very well indeed.

Basically, they are gambling, which is something the strict religious right, the ones that forbid internet gambling in the USA because it is sinful, should think about. All life is a gamble but many people refuse to see it that way. History bears witness to the many bank failures to indicate that gamblers do not always win.

With one notable exception, the entire surface of the Earth is designated as the property of one nation or another, neglecting local disputes. The notable exception is the open sea where, beyond internationally agreed limitations, ownership is not claimed and travel and commercial operations, aside from special cases, are relatively unregulated. So the general custom is to use this assumedly infinite capacity to receive all the horrid offal of the human world. It is only lately that the huge thinking capacity of humanity is catching the drift that this offensive poisonous stuff is falling into one of the richest sources of food that Earth can provide. We are frequently consuming our own garbage transmuted into what seems to be innocent fish, if there are any surviving our casual war on life in the sea.

Great subdivisions of each country are in public hands and others are in private hands. But private property is not totally free of social regulation, ideally in the name of the general good but frequently individual owners chafe under the restrictions under the delusion that property rights are more fundamental than the social agreements that constitute a community even to the extent of the delusion that it was permanently donated by a mythical being.

In the past in England there had been communal property called commons which were owned by the community but not by any individual. They were used for grazing animals and other mutual social activities. It became obvious that, since no individual had claim on the property, no one felt responsible for its care and in general became treated very badly. This became the basis for the general feeling that public property is less well cared for than private property, so by putting the Earth’s divisions under the supervision of someone who personally cared for it would see to it that it was treated well.

But, sad to say, owners are not necessarily good caretakers. Mining companies, especially, are adept at raping the Earth and destroying its potential for centuries for immediate personal gain. And possessions that should belong to the whole world like animal and plant diversity are daily sacrificed to stupidity and greed.

Somehow, I feel I have a personal stake in the survival of magnificent creatures with still unknown capabilities like the whales and the 1500 tigers and the rhinoceros that are still hanging on despite humanity. There should be something like being a citizen of the world and these very special creatures are our property, precious and delightful and of extraordinary value to the world as a whole and not to be touched.

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