(First written 1/6/07)
I read recently that ten or twenty years ago if you asked a child what she or he wanted to be when they grew up, you’d get a response like: a doctor; a truck driver; a fireman; a farmer; etc. But nowadays the response is more likely to be: get rich; make lots of money; live in a big house; have an airplane, etc. The consumer culture has indeed targeted and polluted the minds of the young with its mindless materialism.
Then I thought about the notion of property. What an absurd idea. We thought the indigenous people just didn’t “get” it, when we took over their land. They had no word to express the concept of property. Yet we instill it into our little ones from the moment we can communicate with them. This one is yours, and that one is mine. We humans unthinkingly say that we own the land, or at least our little bit of it. But do we really? Can we? The land is there to be used, for sure. By us, by the birds, the wildlife, the ants and worms, the soil bacteria, the plants and trees. But don’t we all have an equal claim on it? And if we own the land, wouldn’t that mean we owned the plants and animals, the other life that happened to be on it? Do we think we own worms, bacteria, and cockroaches?
So what does “ownership” entail? Surely it simply means we have custody (ie responsibility) of something for the time being. And doesn’t custody mean the obligation wisely and carefully to tend to the needs of that which we have in our custody? We serve it, not it serves us. So isn’t custody simply an obligation rather than a right? It just happens that we humans are usually the most powerful inhabitant of a place at any given time. We are the alpha species. Too often, unfortunately, we fail to recognize the responsibility that accompanies our status.