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Laboring For A Drink

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The Abnormal Concept Of Ownership

By James Donahue

The great wall of division among humanity has always been wealth. And wealth can be interpreted as ownership. Those with wealth possess land, the society’s monetary supply, and consequently power.

Imagine living in a society where ownership of "things" does not exist. Believe it or not, such social groups really exist on Earth, but usually in primitive tribal settings. But their very existence strongly suggests that property ownership has been an invention resulting from the rise in social structure into collective behavior among larger numbers of people.

It has been said that when Europeans first stepped on American soil, the natives were puzzled at the idea of "owning land." Some of the languages lacked words to even describe personal ownership of anything.

When my wife and I lived among the Navajo people of the Southwest, we discovered that the natives were attempting to change the tribal name to Dine (pronounced Di-nay), which in the Navajo language means "people of the Earth." They complained that the Spanish give them the name Navajo, which meant "thief." This was obviously because the Navajo had no concept of personal ownership and used whatever they found to meet their personal needs.

An example of this behavior among the Navajo was often demonstrated during our time with them. While our Navajo hosts generously shared their home, food and resources during our time with them, we discovered that many of the personal items we brought with us, carefully stored in boxes in an out-building went missing by the time we left the reservation. We could not be angry because we understood the mindset of the people. Even the house we were sharing was provided by the United States government. There were no property boundaries in Navajo territory, which spaned four adjoining states.

The great revolutionary socialist Karl Marx, whose books The Communist Manifesto and Capital helped spark the socialist movement, saw the disparity created by capitalism and property ownership. He defined the conflict between an ownership class that controls production and the proletariat, or laborers that slave to produce for the ownership class. He called capitalism the "dictatorship of the bourgeoisie" and said it was run by the wealthy classes for their own benefit.

The concepts of communism and some forms of socialism that have evolved since Marx’s day go so far as to uphold the idea that private ownership of capital is inherently illegitimate. This is because it always benefits the wealthy over the poor, thus creating domination over the working class.

One unidentified commentator on an Internet website, in examining this subject, wrote: "We’re used to thinking of ownership as a given mechanism in life because it’s ingrained in the culture and language that forms our mindset."

Indeed, in industrialized nations, workers slave for the monetary rewards that provide food, clothing and shelter for themselves and their families. The dream of every household is to own a small piece of land with a house on it, perhaps a car in the yard, and a collection of domestic comforts within the home. Thus the concept of "ownership" is truly engrained in our psyche.

But the world concept of private ownership is drastically changing as our numbers increase, the gluttony of having things spreads around the planet, we carelessly pollute and destroy our land, water and air, and the world’s natural resources begin to run out.

There was a time when even those of us living in a capitalistic society believed that the air and water and sunlight were free for the taking. Had we lived at an earlier time, we might also have included ownership and use of the land. But even this is disappearing.

The State of Oregon, for example, now has a law on the books that claims all of the water in the state to be government owned. If citizens wish to use the water to farm, divert its natural flow in a stream, or store it in a private pond, they must acquire permission to do so. In Oregon it is against the law to even collect rainwater from the roof of your home unless it is collected in a barrel or tub. Once it hits the ground, the water is state-owned.

As the demand for fresh water has been increasing, its availability has been on the decrease. Natural underground aquifers are drying up. Cities and rural homeowners are drilling deeper and deeper to find well water. Southern California draws water from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Colorado River. New York City gets its fresh water from the Catskill Mountains located over 100 miles away.

The appearance of drinking water in plastic gallon bottles now can be found in stores across the land and more and more private corporations are acquiring private access to fresh water sources. As big corporations like Monsanto, Nestle Corp., True Alaska, and T. Bone Pickens buy up water rights around the world, the concept of having to buy the water we drink, and paying whatever the market will bear, is starting to sink in.

If that drink of water is no longer free, what is next? Will wealthy corporations soon find a way to sell us clean air to breathe? If we don’t stop allowing industry to carelessly spew carbons and other toxins into the atmosphere, expect to soon be walking around with air tanks strapped to our backs and breathing masks on our faces.