Private Property: Insecurity amidst overpopulation
by Jan Lundberg
What is a house today? In the U.S. especially, it is rarely something that fits into a natural environment that welcomes chance visitors. A comfortable house, all paid for, does not quite solve all oneís problems. We explored this partially in "Meditation and the Material World" in this issue of Culture Change. Now we look at private property and the false security it offers.
We have become so attached to material things such as our house or apartment, that we travel, for example, at the risk of upsetting our bodies, minds and emotions. People have become soft and less able, compared to tribal living practiced by our predecessors. Native Californians of this northcoast redwood bioregion did not wear shoesóyear round.
That practice went on for thousands of years, but in todayís materialist culture we brush such sustainable traditions aside and insist on multiple comforts. I suspect that materialism and satisfying such needs is a sad trade for healthy nature and its vital energy that formerly challenged our attention constantly. Hot running water is a pleasant luxury that we as a biosphere cannot afford when too many people engage in it. However, such luxuries and questionable conveniences such as cars are widely deemed "necessities." Thatís why there should be a culture change.
A rich old man lives alone in his fine old Victorian house surrounded by attractive shrubs and manicured lawn. You can see him dressing, as his silhouette puts on his nightshirt. Meanwhile, many homeless and hungry people suffer not far away. How can the rich man then be happy or feel safe? He does if he is a fool. That applies even in times of stability on the streets and in the fields.
More modest but modern and affluent houses, that house conveniences undreamed of by the present occupantsí grandparents or great-grandparents, are just more pieces of property eliciting disgust to a social-justice minded observer. They are patches of privacy protected by lawónot necessarily by justice. Most law is about property and the individualís right to it, and "justice" costs money.
Next to these houses, on the other side of a back yard and fence, is often a parking lot. The parking lot dwarfs the back yards of a whole row of box residences; this is not unusual. Poisons run off the asphalt from polluting cars and trucks. Nothing grows on these paved surfaces; they are not meant for people either. (Walking on hard surfaces harms our feet, knees and spines.) Children may not play in the parking lots, as they risk injury or police harassment.
The world of private property and the despoliation of nature, to accommodate the greed-dreams and insecurities of poorly educated and unimaginative souls, is a worthless possession and a pathetic accomplishment. That does not mean that people living in a box house should be forced out; two wrongs donít make a right.
The basis of private property is too many people
The origin of property is said to be theft and/or the subjugation of women. True, but what was the overall context? During those behaviorsí ascendancy, this civilizationís culture began urbanizing and crowding. Greed and the security motive got in gear as never before in our long history as humans living communally.
None of these boxes of toxic atmosphere, spiffy or ramshackle modern houses, containers of many a dreary life, compare to living wild or in village community. The wild, which did not vanish overnight but is being consumed in a multi-millennium process in relatively recent history, featured many a creature. Humans were few and lived easier lives than today, considering both the amount of work then and now and todayís stress over climate change, for example. Todayís box homes and fenced properties offering (very?) temporary security and little peace of mind were unthinkable in times of plenty: plenty of food was everywhere, alive, not locked up or for sale. The overpopulation of our day has a perverse feature of less sociability and of non-sharing. Indigenous peoples of the land ate hundreds of foods they collected, while today less than a dozen foods can make up oneís whole diet. The absence of plentiful wild foods, or their inaccessibility, is called "Progress." To demand and seek them is to bring on the violence of private-property fanatics and the state.
Farming is more "civilized" behavior, but the land is not available to many. Land reform is overdue, but people donít even realize it, for they are able to continue to shop and use petroleum.
To the selfish, non-sharing "successful" individual of todayís materialistic $ociety, in the police state called a "democracy," the liberated and honest observer can only feel pity or issue a warning. For the true outsider is out of the game, and would not stoop to violence by aping the corrupt. Any warning given to $ociety is unheeded, because when there are so many people, struggling while in denial, or brainwashed to be like sheep, there are few options. ("Itís all been fenced or paved," sing the Depavers.) The inhabitants of the modern well-appointed boxes include a small minority of aware and generous citizens "concerned" about other people and species. Some of the "concerned" take a bit of action once in a blue moon. But the vast majority in the modernized societies is consuming their own lives away in their four-walled prisons. What the real prison is is their own enslaved minds, as Steve Biko and Bob Marley observed (at great cost to themselves).
The rejectedóor the rejecters?
Meanwhile, the underclassóthe homeless, the anarchists in collectives or group houses, the youth about to leave suburbia, the fugitivesóhave a far better sense than "Mr. Jones" does of what a private house means. They may desire such a house, but they know they most likely will never get one. No matter what the government or church or school or corporate media say to mislead, people know there are millions of us competing and dying prematurely.
The American Dream is a myth; greedy and insecure people are simply trying to get rich(er). It is true that people underwent economic hardship and then feel they must strive to be winners in the system. They are not evil, but they may be misguided or co-opted, and perhaps nice. It does not occur to many of us that great wealth is only possible through massive poverty, and that both conditions are unnecessary and unnatural. Be that as it may, the working class and those on welfare are well aware of the illusive fantasy of having a secure (paid for) home; they often have less than comfortable housing, in poor repair, especially those outside the U.S. and other "first world" nations. Such homes are only a number of days away from repossession by a landlord or bank.
Never mind that our indigenous societies have kinder policies about homes. Maybe landlords didnít even exist, just as property of land (nature) was unknown to native Americans.
Squatters are everywhere, but society prefers to keep them invisible, so as to discourage people and to make it easy to raid and disperse the squatters. Squatters use unused and even "unusable" housing. They often grow food and participate positively in the community. (If you donít know any squatters, see the films "Suburbia" by Roger Corman, and "Fight Club" starring Edward Norton and Brad Pittóalthough these are dramas not necessarily depicting everyday life.)
It goes against everything the property society tells us, but the outcasts, the bums, the rejected, the crazy homeless, are usuallyóin my experienceónicer people and wiser to the economyís basic scam, compared to sellout drones or oppressors. Surveys are not commissioned to ascertain the difference in awareness and kindness between classes, because itís not something the owning class wants to know. It is useless information for a member of the status quo to know how corrupt and harsh the dominant system is, when such knowledge cannot be marketed. The system canít use knowledge against itselfójust as a car engine cannot use love; it wants gasoline.
Universities are a joke if they donít really look at the universe. Instead of questioning their place in society, they are increasingly mere job-preparation and job-generation facilities. They mainly serve to weed out the necessary numbers of "losers" who cannot all get degrees and posts among the ruling elite (innocently sometimes called the upper middle class). Daniel Quinn claims in My Ishmael that the purpose of lengthened amount of public education has been to handle excess young workers that would flood the job market.
Crumbling to be followed by sharing
The walls of the universities and of the houses will crumble and not be rebuilt. They are unsustainable, and are only necessary in a self-defining culture. The alternative is being created in front of everyoneís eyes, but is invisible in the mounting petroleum haze and the blindness of materialism. Embrace the future, or cling to the crumbling past. For those who say the system and the walls are not crumbling but will be maintained by alternative fuel sources, this ignores the entropic conversion of resources (by over six billion people) into an unlivable Earth.
We may not enjoy pristine nature for hundreds of thousands of years from nowóif our species survives at all. The web of life has been slashed in a frenzy that has not yet let up. But one thing is for sure: we will again be a low-population species, until we may repeat the buildup beyond carrying capacity once again, in a future age that will have no record of our raping and pillaging (called Civilization). For now we have the capacity, and perhaps we are destined, to dispense with institutions of fear and domination, in order to share and honor the Earth as a part of every one of us.
- Dec. 17, 2001 Arcata
Jan Lundberg is founder of Culture Change magazine, after a career that included petroleum industry market research and analysis.