Sunday, May 10, 2009

The inherent slavery of "ownership"

After dreaming of grasshoppers being parasitized by pink ticks I woke up pondering why it is once we buy something we never actually stop paying for it. I refer specifically to all the fees and costs of owning a car but this can also be applied to homes, computers, and the myriad things we buy and throw away. At least clothes don't require on-going payment of insurance and/or taxation outside the usual cost of maintenance.

This brought me to consider the nature of what we mean by "ownership." The usual meaning is to have exclusive possession. It is mine and no one else's whether this be a comb, a piece of land, or another living being such as a plant, pet, or human.

Once we adopt this notion of ownership, as opposed to the American Indian view that the living world is itself sovereign and is owed our honor and with it proper stewardship, we enter into a relationship that ceases to be healthy or whole. The Western notion of ownership means that one takes on far more power and responsibility than is warranted by the true nature of existence. Living things are quite capable of tending to themselves. The natural world existed long before humans came along and will continue to exist long after we are gone. During the time we are here we have a choice: whether to coexist with the natural order of birth, death, and renewal, or to pretend that we alone are exempt from this order resulting in the delusion that this world is ours to possess and dominate as if our will alone were enough to change what is immutable.

To go back a moment, what I mean by responsibility is that once we take "ownership" of something this means we are now responsible for it. We must tend to it, maintain its condition, and see to its health and well-being. Unfortunately, too often it has come to mean that we can simply do as we wish with it, use it up, and then dispose of it when it breaks or we tire of it. This is true not only of the stuff in our lives but of our relationships with people at the individual level, and worst of all, of a ruling elite who wish to acquire the whole world to themselves while the rest of us live and die according to their whims.

As Mencius was very keen to point out, if we fail to understand and cultivate the virtues of benevolence and righteousness and put these first instead of last, then we have enslaved ourselves to a way of thinking and living that is unholy, unwholesome, and will inevitably lead to violence, destruction, and ultimately, demise.

So rather than speak of "taking ownership" as a way of instilling a sense of responsibility and honest pride we must begin thinking of honoring not only what the earth provides for our bodily sustenance but of the work and creativity of others that spiritually and emotionally sustains us as well.

To sum up this little essay, there are two thoughts. One, our economic system keeps us in perpetual debt and bondage because once we purchase a home, car, or computer we are now enslaved to continually paying for it through taxes, insurance, and upgrades in addition to the usual cost of maintenance and energy consumption. Two, this system is based on a false notion of our place in the universe and the chain of being on this planet.

It is time to turn our attention away from private profit and toward benevolence and righteousness if we wish to change our current path of self-extinction to one of sustainability.