Friday, December 02, 2016

Locke on Property

268 days from today . . . I will be nervously awaiting the start of my first class.

I am putting some effort into establishing contacts in the department – so it will likely be just another day. But, still, a milestone day.

My current projects are:

(1) I have finished a draft of A Motive Consequentialist Theory of Condemnation and Punishment.

I have posted it on the Desirism facebook group to see if I could solicit a volunteer to edit it. Every time I go through something I have written I end up rewriting it - and I simply want that to stop. So, I have asked for somebody besides me to go through it.

Then, once I do those edits, I will distribute it more widely for comments. I am thinking I will not distribute it among the philosophy department - as I do not want to be known as a presumptuous bother. Besides, I may use it for my Master's Thesis and there are restrictions as to who may read and comment on a Master's Thesis.

(2) I have started the Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government - which is the famous one. I have gotten through Chapter 5 - on Property - which I will reread again tomorrow owing to its significance. I do say, I have a somewhat different perspective after having read the Fist Treatise - the one that people almost always skip. In that treatise, Locke effectively established the equality among men (and women) which he uses as a premise in this Treatise.

However, I was bothered as I read through the chapter on property because I kept thinking of the harm and suffering that those words have brought into the world. The argument presented there would sound great in a world that was sparsely populated, and he makes reference to the vast wilderness of the United States. However, in the world we face today, continuing to use Locke's principles leads to a state where the whole of the earth - indeed, the whole solar system - becomes the property of a few people for whom the rest of humanity - in need of food, shelter, and medical care and having no more of nature that they can claim as their own - are reduced to servitude.

The invention of money, according to Locke, justifies the enlargement of estates and, if a person should hoard some resources, he does no harm to others so long as they do not spoil or waste in his possession, and he can trade them with others who have a use for them.

He that gathered a hundred bushels of acorns or apples, had thereby a property in them, they were his goods as soon as gathered. He was only to look, that he used them before they spoiled, else he took more than his share, and robbed others. And indeed it was a foolish thing, as well as dishonest, to hoard up more than he could make use of. If he gave away a part to any body else, so that it perished not uselesly in his possession, these he also made use of. And if he also bartered away plums, that would have rotted in a week, for nuts that would last good for his eating a whole year, he did no injury; he wasted not the common stock; destroyed no part of the portion of goods that belonged to others, so long as nothing perished uselesly in his hands. Again, if he would give his nuts for a piece of metal, pleased with its colour; or exchange his sheep for shells, or wool for a sparkling pebble or a diamond, and keep those by him all his life he invaded not the right of others, he might heap up as much of these durable things as he pleased; the exceeding of the bounds of his just property not lying in the largeness of his possession, but the perishing of any thing uselesly in it.

However, his whole argument makes the assumption that others have something that they can use to trade for what this individual is hoarding. His right to barter away plums requires that the person who needs the plums has something to offer in exchange. Against this objection, too, he answers that the world is not yet so densely populated that there is no place where a person can go to fence off a bit of unused nature (specifically, in the middle of America) and acquire what he needs that way.

We are long past the day when a person, who otherwise had nothing, need to simply reach out a hand into unclaimed nature and pluck what he needs to survive. We are at a point where the necessities of survival come from those who have already claimed everything - if not in name, at least as a matter of fact - for themselves. The requirement that there be "as much and as good left for others" is no longer met.

Nor was Locke writing in a time where "mixing one's labor" involves the use of a massive steam shovel, or massive fishing nets, or other pieces of equipment that allow people to harvest at a single moment huge amounts of nature's bounty.

Or was he concerned with a situation where the vast majority of future resources are available only to the very wealthy, who are the only ones who can reach them and mix their labor with them. I am referring here to the resources of space. Only the very wealthy can reach these objects and mix their labor with it. So, by the rules established in Locke's second treatise, for all practical effect, the wealthy have claimed the whole of the solar system as their own, which they may take possession of - and then use this to demand service from the rest of us for any benefit they may be able to provide. Again, the wealthy become wealthier, and reduce the rest of humanity to be their servant in exchange for the benefits of what, at one time, was held in common with no rightful owner.

In this, the wealthy maintain their "right" to the ownership of the whole earth and the "duty" of the rest of humanity to serve them in exchange for the necessities and comforts of life by promoting those philosophies that grant them this "right" as the one, true and correct way of being. There is no mystery as to why these philosophers and their philosophies are the ones that those with money take such great pains to tells us provide the true and correct rules governing the relationships among people. These are the rules that state that they have a right to the ownership of the whole solar system, and the rest of us a duty to be their servants. What other philosophy would they be expected to promote?

Not that this is some type of secret conspiracy. Rather, when one reads that the philosophy gives them the right to the ownership of the whole solar system and others a duty be their servants, this "feels right" to them and, from this, they conclude that it "is right" and, thus, they put their efforts into promoting that which they sincerely believe to be true and good. Yet, as a matter of fact, there is no sound reason behind it - only a desire to own the whole of the solar system and to have the rest of humanity be one's servants.

In fact, there is no wrong in the rest of humanity saying that, insofar as all of this wealth existed in common for all of humanity, we should decide upon whatever rules for usage that gives its benefit to all of humanity. And when the very wealthy say, "By the power and right vested in me by the words of John Locke, this is mine, and you shall be entitled to no benefit from it except what I should choose to give you - depending on the degree that I am pleased with your service to me," there is no wrong in denying that claim.

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