Threadable-adjacent reading discussion on land ownership
Due to various distractions and conflicting obligations, I am just now responding to this very well-written and helpful post. And I know you need to move on, but if I come up with additional questions or insights related to this thread will you still respond? By way of interlibrary loan, I’ve been able to get my hands on Professor Wood’s book and will most likely read more than the recommended pages. Also, the Bill Moyers page you cited is excellent. My interest has been whetted.
Speaking of the Bill Moyers Archives, did you happen to see the article on that same site: “We Need to Relearn That We’re a Part of Nature, Not Separate From It?” As I see it, the thesis of the article is primary to all other considerations when discussing land use or environmental degradation. No significant and lasting changes are possible without first reforming our core relationship to nature (I’m on that). You will love it: https://billmoyers.com/2015/03/02/bigger-science-bigger-religion/
As for how to move forward, I simply don’t know. While trying not to be overly obnoxious, I talk about this issue every chance I get to family and friends. I guess that’s something. But as you’ve pointed out, the ultimate solution is a systemic realignment of our fundamental orientation to the natural world. Changing laws, though necessary, is akin to moving the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Land ownership, and the “God-given” right to exploit that land for all the gain one can squeeze out of it, is so deeply engrained in the American psyche that it seems that only a cataclysmic event of unthinkable proportions would shake us up enough to be willing to change how we exist in the world. And I’m not even sure that would do the trick. So far, and not unlike the all-American burger and fries, greed and hubris have proven to be an unbeatable combo.
While the philosophical roots of this predatory and murderous approach to our own Mother Earth certainly predate the early colonial period, one can find it in the writings of Captain John Smith as he describes the natural abundance and the riches to be found in the “new world.” In an address to the first Federal Congress on June 8, 1789, James Madison proposed adding to the existing Preamble of the newly ratified Constitution: “That Government is instituted and ought to be exercised for the benefit of the people; which consists in the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right of acquiring and using property, and generally of pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” We have become path-dependent upon such notions. Our identity depends upon it. And throughout history millions of people have killed and died for the cause of defending their sacred identities.
Consider this quotation from the book, Black Elk Speaks:
"I could see that the Wasichus (white people) did not care for each other the way our people did before the nation's hoop was broken. They would take everything from each other if they could, and so there were some who had more of everything than they could use, while crowds of people had nothing at all and maybe were starving. They had forgotten that the earth was their mother. "
My point is that our attachment to absolute ownership of property, and the right (by God or otherwise) to profit from that property above all other considerations, is an inextricable part of the American origin story. This does not bode well for our continued existence on Planet Earth.
And I believe that we need more than a few new laws or even a change in attitude. We need nothing less than a new language with which to frame the world—not the language of technology, or of economics, or even the language of law, with its artificial boundaries—we need a language that privileges love, gratefulness, contentment, connectedness, cooperation, and reciprocity. We need a language that allows us to quiet our eros and our egos and simply be still. A language that allows us to simply be.
I’ve got an entire marketing team working on this. The plan is to roll it out at halftime during the next Superbowl. Lord willing and the river don’t rise, everyone in attendance will receive a free plastic water bottle emblazoned with the key words I’ve mentioned above, along with a certificate good for ten percent off their next purchase on Amazon. It’s gonna be awesome!
Thank you for this ongoing journey, Nia!
Yes, thank you for this writing, reading, researching and thinking. You’ve pulled threads of ideas that I’ve thought about but never understood before. I’ve donated to APR, used to work with the people who developed the concept, been there, and also still have mixed feelings about it. My former work was dedicated to prairie wilderness and wildlife - much of which has been destroyed by land ownership, the plow, and the decimation of native plants and wildlife.
There was an op-ed in NYT this week about zoning and the unintended consequences of zoning being used for segregation and purposes other than its intended first use. Driving by Helena and the Flathead Valley I used to think zoning was the issue. Why had people gone mad and developed every inch in a patchwork of businesses and trailers and mansions? I don’t know how to see it anymore. All I think is that we aren’t as a society asking the right questions. Fortunately you are helping ask them.
Thanks for all your effort in putting this together. You have directed my attention to sources and ideas that I am happy to incorporate into my own ponderings.