To Steal

In Kite Runner the main character has a conversation with his father where he explains that all sins can be reduced to one; do not steal. Murder is stealing a life. Blasphemy is stealing god’s holiness. Gluttony; stealing from those in need, etc. It seems reasonable enough, but the precursory idea to stealing is ownership. So if every wrong boils down to stealing, then every relationship that is wrongable boils down to ownership.

The idea of an ownership society is a mainstay of capitalism. The resounding speech in the movie  Wall Street (the original) was about an ownership society. One of Bush’s quiet campaign speeches to his big donors was about the benefits of an ownership based society. It is reasonable to say now that we live in an ownership society. Conservative forces have succeeded in boiling all public relationships down to ownership, and hence equivalent capital value.

I have heard a lot of questions lately in the various institutions in which I partake, about how we can get out from under the large foot of capitalism, which exists only to grow. The problem being that growth is exponential and needs endlessly more resources to sustain. The questions seem to stem from the realization that the resources for growth have run out.

When I ponder the question, my mind swirls around to Native American Indian practices of ownerless societies. We all learn about the great purchases of the 1800’s from the American Indians, and many of us even learn about the truth that the American Indians didn’t have a concept of ownership. In essence, the land was stolen, but only in the frame that the land could be owned.

But land was only the relivant example of ownerlessness. In a society without ownership, all that dictated possession was use and non use. Some of us still get glimpses of what this is like. If you live in a big family who is very close, and/or maybe of African or Latin decent, then everything in the house is communally owned. I’ve felt it a little, and I have to say it is a little unnerving feeling like there is no privacy (an ownership of space and experience,) or security in keeping my things,  but in the end of the day, if all is done well, this borrow-at-will lifestyle has no impact on comfort or privacy.

The benefits of ownerlessness seem to unfold out of very deep value systems. If we all possessed items based on use, nothing would be left idle. We would need less resources. Taking/trading/possessing  things would be founded in relationships, not rules of ownership. Mobility would increase. Indebtedness would disappear. Many of our urban stresses would fade.

This is all a Utopian ideal of course, and a romantic notion of Native American Indians, particularly since we know that different Native groups were always in a state of war over resources. People are people after all. There is something to be learned though.

The big underlying ideas is the sense of relationship, both to others who might possess a thing and to the thing itself.

If possession is a negotiation then we would be forced to empathize with each other and be communocentric. If I want to use something, I would have to think about who else might have to use it, and what impact it would have on my community; something that is COMPLETELY disappearing from our shift to total capitalism.

If we only think about ourselves and none of the consequences of our use of resources and capital, then even laws become a matter of incentives. (If breaking the law is a bigger benefit that obeying, then we will break the law.) This point, as we all might know, has settled in as the founding value of American life. And if laws are negotiable, then so is ownership. And, without security of ownership, as capitalistic economic theory states, then social systems can not function and grow. Capitalism seems to fail on its own motivations.

So the questions are valid; how do we get out from under a system that is self destructing by its own tenets of self interest and ownership?  Oppressive enforcement of ownership laws? Escalating violent struggles for resources? Ownerlessness? Empathy?

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