Friday, February 13, 2015

Property



1.

- You think things are bad? Yesterday Los Angeles' District Attorney explained that the police are arresting and jailing sixty mentally unstable people a day, fifteen thousand a year, on the basis of a suspicion they might possibly become violent and break a law. If they complain, as they do, that they didn't do anything, and resist arrest, that is a crime and their stay in jail will then be even longer than the not unusual six months for those jailed for the possibility they will commit a crime. The District Attorney said this obviously was a bad situation.
- Did she say what should be done?
- Present politics made action difficult, as she said we all were aware, but she was in the process of setting up a commission of law enforcement and mental health professionals and community representatives to study the problem and work towards a solution.
- Talk and do nothing, then fall silent and do nothing when attention is distracted by new problems. The old trick. What do you think should be done?
- As the D.A. said, politics does not work any more, at least doesn't work for good.
- What does it work for?
- Property. The more property, the more influence.
- Then we have to change that, but like everyone else I talk to I don't see how. How did we get into this position?
- Our way of thinking about property has painted ourselves into a corner of speechlessness. We can't say politicians are bad to work against the interest of the public they are supposed to serve. Property does not have good or bad, except in the basic sense of it being bad to take away someone's property by force. We can't explain why inequality of wealth is bad. All we can do is express is our wonder that it is the fact, that people with the political power of democratic institutions to prevent such a situation from arising or continuing are unable to exercise that power.
- But why are they unable?
- Because they are unable to tell each other that other things in life are more important than property. We cooperate only to maintain the institutions of police that protect against any fundamental change in property relations. We justify our cooperation at work and in private life in the same way, as means to the end of acquiring and holding onto more property. Our institutions function to serve property and only property. We can't complain about politicians not working for us. They are protecting their property. We can't say that is wrong. We feel certain more property ought to come our way, but can't say why. We feel certain we ought to have the power to get more property, but don't understand why apparently we don't.
- We can't say more property coming our way is better, only that it is better for us, and there are more of us. We can threaten violent rebellion.
- As people are doing, or at least beginning to hint at. If you can't explain the problem there is no alternative to violence.
- So how do we explain the problem?
- Cooperation can serve property, or property serve cooperation. We have a choice.
- How would property serve cooperation?
- By providing basic independence of a kind that allows creative cooperation. Property allows for the physical and mental independence necessary in turn for political cooperation. Individual property, become the basis of our cooperation where now it is an unacknowledged product of cooperation, could be even more fundamental than at present. As human beings we are shocked to hear our institutions in a single city are jailing fifteen thousand of the most vulnerable of us because they might one day become violent, but so long as we cooperate only to protect property we must accept this outcome. We see each other as means to the end of acquiring property. We don't listen to each other, except on the subject of how we can cooperate better to get more property. In a sense, we only listen to property. We say our property "expresses" our relation to other people, our power among them. At least we do in societies where cooperation is directed exclusively in support of our property. When property is made the support of cooperation, however, what do we call that?
- What?
- Tell me what you think: When something we have is made to be seen and mean something to others, don't we give it name art? Don't we call it art when we tell a story, make a picture, build a temple, express a model of cooperation? Can't we then talk with each other about different political arrangements, different arts of politics that could determine the outcome, the art as it were, we individually create out of our property?
- Each contributing their own vision and art? You ask too much of everyday men and women.
- We're looking for the open door, the way out of the political impasse. When we cooperate only to protect property we can't challenge the failed institutions that are the result. When we understand that the institutions are the result of one way of involving property in our lives, and that there is another, we might be able to make a change.


2.

- Old stories, old books, hide buried treasure, treasure buried under layers of substituting stories. I think if we look we can easily find a story to illustrate what we've been talking about.
- Which story is that?
- In the Hebrew bible, Genesis: the so-called "Binding Of Isaac".
- God tells Abraham to get his son Isaac ready for sacrifice. With knife in his hand Abraham is stopped by god's angel, who tells him in god's name he was being tested; seeing a goat pass by, Abraham then sacrifices the goat in place of his son. One of the most famous stories in the world. Usually thought to mean that we should have faith in god no matter what happens and all will turn out for the best. You have another idea, of course. Tell me.
- We said cooperation between people in our present lives is limited to protecting property, in the present distribution, and that the alternative was property used creatively to establish new forms of cooperation. New forms of cooperation always change existing property distributions. If we don't want slavery, people treated as property, or don't want property to be hoarded unused, we are a threat to present property distribution, we are a threat to supporters of community for the sake of property. With me?
- Yes. If we think community is something more than protection of property we are a threat to those who think that's all community is.
- In the Hebrew bible, the Jews are chosen by god as a people who are going to be given the new rules. The old rules were cooperation for the sake of protecting property, the new rules are property for the sake of cooperation. Practicing the new rules among people used to practicing the old rules is dangerous.
- People will try to stop you.
- You might have to risk what is most important to you, a father might have to sacrifice his son.
- Abraham gets himself ready to sacrifice Isaac.
- Yes. And then what happens? He is let off at the last minute, and he goes ahead and makes a sacrifice of a passing goat, a trivial sacrifice.
- Which is individual's sacrifice of property for the sake of cooperation.
- The individual has to risk everything to make the attempt, but if he gets away with it, gives up only what is unimportant, a passing goat, to make what is important, a good community.