Is private property a good thing? I happen to think it is. Have you ever noticed how public beaches are always disgusting? No one takes pride of ownership. I’ve heard people say after throwing some trash around, “that’s why we pay taxes.”
Since at least Biblical times there’s been a tension in history between communitarian-ism and private ownership. People have written songs and novels about this tension. People have gotten into university debates and great wars over this tension.
We bemoan the loss of Indian hunting grounds even as we sit in our comfortable highrises or suburban ranches. We feel vaguely guilty because that’s what we’re told to do. Yet a study of the Iroquois nation quickly reveals that their dominance of a vast territory of the US and Canada came at the expense of other weaker tribes. They didn’t just sit around being peaceful. They were into conquest. It didn’t matter if some tribes were all about sharing.
We can say it’s primitive not to share, but the tragic thing about history is that, search as we may for a progressive walk towards enlightenment, it’s always just out of reach. I’m not celebrating “might makes right,” just pointing out that despite lofty ideals everywhere in the world the human tendency is towards this behavior. No matter the style of government or organization or friendship, might often makes right.
I lived with American communists for a while. They worked their “interns” (indentured servants) like dogs for the good of the community and the ecology. They had the land and the power to make our lives miserable. They made sure they had a voice on the local radio station and in the town council. They preached peace and love, but might makes right pushed their interns and neighbors.
Once we see this tendency to push each other around we then can see that it’s not them over there or us over here. We can stop expecting our governments to present us with good new schemes to cover our moral failures. The reason why private property is important is because without it we’re at the whim of people who could care less about us and use their might to do whatever they want. Private property gives us a stake in the game. (This doesn’t for a second mean there are perfect systems on Earth)
We can be charitable or not based on the knowledge that what Jesus said about the poor always being with us is true and no amount of second-rate political thought is going to change that. Some people are always going to be stronger, smarter and more evil than others no matter how well we institute Common Core or apologize for winning wars.
Private property means I get to keep my mind as well as my responsibility. With that I must answer to a higher power.
19 responses to “Last of the Mohicans”
It was Churchill who said, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” Same goes for Capitalism, private property.
Government is a necessary evil. Somewhere in the Old Testament there’s a funny story about the Israelites demanding God to give them a king like all the other tribes have. It’s written in such a way that you can imagine God shaking his head and saying, “Okay, if that’s what you really want . . .”
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Excellent as always. I do enjoy your essays. This one reminds me of two important notions: of our inalienable rights (and responsibilities), and if men were angels, then no government should be necessary.
Thanks, Mustang. How do you feel about state mandated anti-bullying campaigns in schools? Now that’s a touchy subject, but in our school the kids are being told to turn each other in to the authorities if they hear something said at a different lunch table that might offend someone. I just don’t think this will stop bullying. Personal responsibility is do different from being responsible for the next lunch table. 🙂
The anti-bullying campaign, as you described it, seems eerily similar to tactics used during the heady days of Marxist Russia and China, when the state encouraged children to “inform” on their parents. Such tactics threaten the mental health of our children. What is happening in Colorado these days seems to be the icing on the nanny state cake. God help us!
Wonderful layers. And yes, responsibility is the handmaid of privilege.
Thought-provoking essay. I’d make a poor Communist – I am very much in favor of private property. I also believe in personal responsibility – to oneself, to the community, to the future.
I recall that story you mentioned in the Old Testament (‘Give us a king, give us a king!’) – be careful what you wish for, hey? Even so, it is necessary to organize into a form of government. Without it, there is complete chaos.
I would be very interested in hearing about your time spent with Communists. I bet that’s an interesting story!
I have lots of funny stories about them. It was sad because I think it’s hard having unrealistic expectations for other people and seeing them not live up to the ideal–no matter how you try to
convince them that your communist world view will lead to heaven on Earth. Human nature makes things difficult for dreamers 🙂
Someday I’ll probably write a story about the half-naked communist who drove his tractor in the rain to kill a buck goat by slitting its throat during a farm tour. Fun times.
If what you write is true, does it not follow that strength, rather than some moral ideal, is the source of goodness?
Hmm. Good question. I guess it depends on what sort of strength and who has it. Without private property individuals are servants or slaves (in the US with property taxes etc I don’t believe we actually have private property or individual rights anymore).
I believe God is the source of goodness and that men will always fall short of the ideal. Any time we think we are strong (and maybe this is different from powerful) there is the tendency to use that strength (or power) for corruption.
Our best intentions always go astray. I think my point was that there is no goodness in the world. That means there are no perfect political systems. There are no good Indians or evil whites or horrible republicans or deceptive democrats. We’re all fallen humans.
The idea of individual rights and property has a spiritual component (the 10 commandments illustrate that) but the commandments were really a way of pointing out our weakness in keeping them and our need for God.
Moral strength, I believe comes from a humble sense of weakness and a recognition that we’re all pretty awful. That’s not to say that as individuals we can’t do some pretty wonderful things on our own, (if you believe God created us in his image it’s fun to think of us that way) but that we will in the end corrupt them. It seems this is especially true when we join into groups or movements or tribes.
Ben, I may be all wrong, but you’ve made me think. Thanks for that so early in the morning 🙂
All the best!
Glad to be of assistance. 🙂
Actually, I’m not a huge fan of morality in the sense of using it to label things good or bad, right or wrong. In my readings of history, the definitions are so variable over time and by location that trying to make a universal pretty quickly descends into farce.
People can and do make compelling moral cases for all sorts of things – I mean, tens of millions of Russians still call Josef Stalin a national hero and hundreds of millions of Chinese revere Mao. They are not “bad,” they are perfectly normal folks making up morality as they go along, which seems to be what everyone does.
As a kid I used to think the 10 commandments were boring, but they’re very interesting in how truly impossible they are to live up to. Because they are so all encompassing I’m very impressed. When I was younger I think I believed that with one more self-improvement book or one quick switch to socialism life could be perfected. (college days!)
I think I can say that I generally think that murder is wrong. Envy never leads to anything positive . . .
Once people give themselves permission to make morality up as they go or say something like, “you can have your truth and I can have mine” craziness follows. We can even label Stalin’s works as evil when we all know that we don’t want to die in a gulag.
I don’t believe in moral relativity. I believe that people rationalize bad behavior and hate things like the commandments because it forces them to see their imperfections.
After reading Solzhenitsyn I was frightened at how far humans could descend into lunacy for political ends. There’s no way that I could ever believe something wasn’t evil just because some people were under a great delusion and didn’t believe in evil. I don’t think there’s ever a compelling moral case for mass murder.
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I’ll bet I could make one.
Hmm. Just wars. I like the military (or at least some of the people in it). But there’s some other “sin” before the mass slaughters, a way of thinking usually having something to do with pride that gets the ball rolling.
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True, wars are an obvious exception, but it’s not the one I was thinking, actually.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Take full vengeance for the sons of Israel on the Midianites; afterward you will be gathered to your people.” 3 Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm men from among you for the war, that they may [a]go against Midian to execute the Lord’s vengeance on Midian. 4 A thousand from each tribe of all the tribes of Israel you shall send to the war.” 5 So there were [b]furnished from the thousands of Israel, a thousand from each tribe, twelve thousand armed for war. 6 Moses sent them, a thousand from each tribe, to the war, and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war with them, and the holy vessels and the trumpets for the alarm in his hand. 7 So they made war against Midian, just as the Lord had commanded Moses, and they killed every male. 8 They killed the kings of Midian along with the rest of their slain: Evi and Rekem and Zur and Hur and Reba, the five kings of Midian; they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword. 9 The sons of Israel captured the women of Midian and their little ones; and all their cattle and all their flocks and all their goods they plundered. 10 Then they burned all their cities where they lived and all their camps with fire. 11 They took all the spoil and all the prey, both of man and of beast. 12 They brought the captives and the prey and the spoil to Moses, and to Eleazar the priest and to the congregation of the sons of Israel, to the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by the Jordan opposite Jericho.
13 Moses and Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the congregation went out to meet them outside the camp. 14 Moses was angry with the officers of the army, the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds, who had come from service in the war. 15 And Moses said to them, “Have you [c]spared all the women? 16 Behold, these [d]caused the sons of Israel, through the [e]counsel of Balaam, to [f]trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the Lord. 17 Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man [g]intimately. 18 But all the [h]girls who have not known man [i]intimately, [j]spare for yourselves.
This is what I was thinking. ^
I kinda figured you’d go Old Testament. 🙂
I’m still not sure how I feel about these events so this is where I’m at this second:
What if there really is a spiritual realm and there really are two sides–good and evil. Now some things most cultures consider evil–like murder yet God (if you believe in him) or Mother Nature or randomness eventually takes all of our lives eventually even if we eat tons of yogurt.
So maybe it’s about an all powerful being deciding when life ends. Maybe death isn’t evil if God decides since he decided to give us life. If God exists then we’re pretty prideful if we think we can judge him for how things work as if we’d do any better. Also, if you believe that the occult is evil then the Midianites etc were all aligning themselves with the demonic side of things despite seeing the same evidence of the existence of god–let’s say in creation or the human character traits we all admire–like love.
When you know there’s a God and you decide to go rogue (as a famous soccer mom once said) against God then watch out!
I think the reason murder is evil when we do it is that we’re thinking we’re gods. If we don’t believe in a god then murder really is no big deal. If everything is random then no one’s ideas about justice, grammar or love are “true.” I could love you and take your life because I wanted to be amused when I was drunk. Who cares?
Anyone who thinks God is all love hasn’t read the Old Testament or the New. Jesus speaks a lot about judgment and it’s not pretty. Yeah, God is love for those who believe, but for those who choose not to….
So back to the battles in the OT–it bothers me that God wouldn’t just wipe out the bad guys himself–why make Moses’ people do it? But then where’s the free will? Do you align with God or choose not to?
Obviously people throughout time have declared God on their side in battle when the question is are we on God’s side (if we choose to believe).
So I admittedly don’t really know. If I say God exists and He knows more than I do (a reasonable assumption) and he’s given us free will and seeks us and wants us as his children (against the bad guys) that seems okay by me. If I say God exists and he kills people (well I see that all the time–since we all die). If I think God exists and he delights in killing bad guys I’m still hanging on but getting nervous. But if I believe God doesn’t exist and there is no truth I’m either terrified (because I KNOW in my heart that being buried alive in a Nazi death camp or being water-boarded by the US govt happens and there’s no reason to believe in justice) or I’m personally freed to go crazy myself, break every rule etc–and I’ve tried that. In the end it sucks.
Pain is a truth. I don’t care how much we meditate. It’s still there. No government has ever eradicated it. No atheist or Jew or Muslim or Christian has crushed it under their shoe, BUT there is a promise that when God, despite our shortcomings and before we got our acts together, sacrificed himself that if we believed (became foolish) that we would one day experience love and peace in it’s deepest form. I’ve tried everything under the sun, but at some point I came to believe that God exists and knows more than me 🙂
I’m not saying anyone has to share my beliefs, BTW. I enjoy all debate. Thanks for making me think–again. Always first thing in the morning with you–haha.
Have a great day, Ben.
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Glad to be of use. I’d love to claim it’s my habit of early to bed and early to rise, but I think it’s more the time zone differences that make me seem like a morning person. 😛
Thanks for the fun articles.
You’re welcome. Hope you have a great day, whatever the time zone 🙂
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