(Meandering partial points of philosophy)

I got to thinking on this topic, never really far from my mind, following a comment I read related to the recent little scrum about cattle.  The comment that got my back up was a statement that easterners can’t possibly know anything about owning land since they haven’t lived on it for generations unlike the ranchers in question.  There were so many things wrong with that statement that I couldn’t come up with anything that wasn’t rude in response.  One more polite strand was the theory of ownership as a legalized expression of the territoriality of mankind.

Now most people living in urban areas, and the urban metropolis of the east coast dominates the concept of the east coast*, don’t (or more accurately can’t) know the land in the naturalistic sense that we usually think of when we talk about knowing and owning the land.  But the instinctive desire for ownership is nevertheless present, evident in such seemingly disconnected locations as the rent control apartments of Harlem.  Who ‘owns’ those apartments?  That isn’t land, at least not in the way a rancher or farmer or forester thinks of it.  But it is the territory of that person even though it is the legal property of someone else.  Try kicking that person out of their little walk-up, I daresay their reaction will be just as unprintable as booting someone off their ranch.  Whether it is or is not justified, legal or illegal, doesn’t matter, that little (or big) area is Theirs.

For the most part, the majority of people in the US like to ignore that urge, because for many of us it is quiescent.  We move from one house to another without really thinking about it…except, of course, for that little voice that is always planning our dream home.  We don’t have territory that we call Ours, but is this because we don’t think that way or is it because we have never been challenged with forced eviction while living in our ‘temporary’ territory? Or is it because a mobile, modern, finance driven lifestyle has fundamentally changed us after three generations?

The questions aren’t easy.  If they were the Middle East would be solved, as would Ukraine.  How many years, how many generations? Why do some people set down roots easily but also move easily?  Or some never set down roots anywhere? Or some who have only one place that is home and no other?

The questions are made more complicated by the role of our government and law in the question. In our legal system, if we own the land, it implies we bought it from someone and that someone else can buy it back.  That, however, flies in the face of our instincts: this is mine, there is no price.  But if the other person isn’t operating on that instinct in regards to that specific piece of land such a reaction is baffling.  There are plenty of people who truly don’t ‘get’ that instinctive reaction or don’t recognize it for what it is.  Importantly, it also flies against the often overlooked bit of philosophy which is unusual to American political thought: man’s right to his property, and by extension his property, is not a right created by the government; rather it is an inalienable right.  Property taxes, income taxes, estate taxes, and a host of regulations have chipped away at this idea; but we still have some concept of it.

We make it even more complicated of course: trying to balance the theory of inalienable Private, individual ownership of some land with inalienable Public, communal ownership of other pieces.  That balancing act, in Connecticut, is essentially theoretical.  The Federal government owns only .4% of Connecticut land, tied with Rhode Island for dead last.  Not even 1 percent.  (compared to 84.5% of Nevada).  That, of course, gets into a whole other strand outside the scope of this post.

In any case, things get quite uncomfortable.  To return to the Middle East, I sometimes think that Israel and the Arab World are closer in their fundamental philosophy than either are to the dominant trend in Western thought.  They both understand that part of human nature is: ‘This is Mine’.  Meanwhile our arguments are turning on whether human nature should have that part of not. And generally proving that said part is alive and kicking. Awkward, that.

What do I know? This land, for this time, is my responsibility.

Is responsibility ownership?

*If easterners purportedly believe that all westerners are the idiot townspeople of ‘Blazing Saddles’, I’m sometimes of the mind that all westerners think all easterners just stepped vacantly off the set of ‘Friends’.  Neither is correct.