The Eighth Commandment of Nihilism: What's Yours is Mine
As we know, one of satan's greatest achievements was in convincing people that he does not exist. But a close second might be the belief that there is something illegitimate about private property and wealth. Most leftist policies can only even be discussed in an intellectual shitegeist in which the concept of ownership has been undermined. I can't tell you how long I walked around with this sinister meme rattling around the youthful Gagdad dome. For example, as one of the Powerline guys has said about himself, I learned my politics at the feet of knaves such as John Lennon. Therefore, when I heard the song "Imagine" as a fourteen year old, I simply nodded in silent agreement at the transparent wisdom of the lyrics:
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
Today If I heard such sinister piffle, I would do an immediate spit-take. But trust me, never once in my entire education, from kindergarten through graduate school, did I ever receive any explicit explanation about the centrality of private property to a free people. If anything, I heard the opposite -- that private property was the cause of greed and envy, not their solution. Obviously, we still hear it today with talk of "income gaps" and the like. This abstract concept of "income gaps" only has resonance in a person who already doubts the legitimacy of private property.
Furthermore, no one ever told me that the second amendment is even more fundamental than the right to private property, since property won't remain private for long without the legitimate threat of violence to bring home the lesson to your fellow citizen that he has no right to help himself to what belongs to you -- including your most precious possessions, your life, the lives of your loved ones, and Dupree's irreplaceable collection of vintage old-school soul.
You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one
I have seen what this dream looks like up close. Every few weeks it's our turn for the other squaws to have their little pow-wow at Gagdad Manor. Naturally, I try to hide out back in the Coon den, away from the din of half a dozen two year-olds. For the two year-olds do indeed have the kind of culture envisioned by John Lennon. They don't know about the concept of "possessions," and therefore, a leftist baby over here will inevitably leap to the conclusion that the capitalist baby over there won't mind if he grabs his toy. Big mistake. It is usually then that I go for my bike ride, because the crying that ensues reminds me too much of dailykos, except that, unlike dailykos, the crying does eventually stop.
But like dailykos, all of the crying revolves around the infantile assumption that there are two Americas: one that is envious of what others have, and another that has what they envy. The leftist solution to the pain of envy is to feed it, while the classical liberal solution is to suck it up and stop indulging in this most destructive of emotions. For as the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein demonstrated, envy is both innate and insatiable. Furthermore, envy is really not so much interested in having what it wants, but rather in destroying the painful tension involved in not having it. Envy is irrational, and will not go about obtaining the desired end in a sober and rational way, but will instead take the shortcut of attacking the person who has what they want.
A classic example of this is confiscatory tax policies which represent nothing more than the political indulgence of envy toward no productive purpose whatsoever. Ironically, when President Reagan cut the marginal tax rates from 70% to 28% in the 1980s, there were predictable howls from the left that this represented nothing but greed on Reagan's part. But as usual, the left had it entirely backwards and upside down, for the only way you can end up with a 70% tax rate is if envy is completely out of control (and bear in mind that before the classical liberal JFK took office, it was 91%).
Such confiscatory tax rates certainly don't help the economy, as they reduce wealth and prosperity for all. But in so doing, these high tax rates do achieve the psychological effect of feeding the envy of the left. But in the case of envy, "too much is never enough." Unlike other emotions, the satisfaction of envy never leads to satisfaction but to more envy.
The economic statistics are there for all to see. Reagan's tax cuts have been central to the most sustained economic expansion in human history. The boom of the Clinton years was simply part two of the Reagan revolution, just as the current boom is part three. Much of the incredible prosperity that has been unleashed would have been impossible with the old 70% tax rate, for it would have seriously cut into the capital required for innovation and expansion that benefits us all.
Another critical discovery of Melane Klein was that envy and gratitude had an unconscious inverse dialectical relationship, which is to say, the more envy, the less gratitude, and the more gratitude, the less envy. This has many fascinating permutations that work themselves out in different ways.
For example, one way to personally cure the spiritual pathology of leftism is to consciously cultivate a spirit of gratitude. In order to do this, you will have to stop comparing yourself to others, but for the envious person this is difficult to do, since their envy is a sort of addiction. At the very least, it is a central organizing principle in the leftist psyche, so that abandoning it will lead to feelings of guilt and self-reproach. For example, a leftist who attempts to overcome his envious mind parasite might hear the voice if an internal propagandist telling him that he is bad and greedy, just like those evil capitalists!
Similarly, the indulgence of envy actually destroys the gratitute that is central to human happiness. One of the reasons all studies demonstrate that conservatives are so much happier and fulfilled than leftists is because they are less envious. Where I live, I am surrounded by wealthy people, but I really don't give it a thought. We happen to live in the most modest area of a very upscale area, so I can stare out my window and see mansions on a hill that probably cost four times my house, and drive around and see places that cost ten or fifteen times as much. For the most part, it doesn't cross my mind. I sometimes ride my bike up in hills, where I can get a better look at these sprawling estates, and have occasionally thought to myself, "gee, it sure would be nice if that could be the World Coon Compound." Yes, there's a kind of "pain" involved, if you want to call it that -- the pain that dwells in the space between "wanting" and "having." But I shake it off and keep peddling. I seriously doubt that I would want to exchange my life for any of theirs, nor would I want to live the kind of lifestyle it would require to earn the kind of income to live in a place like that.
As Augustine teaches, "Whether he will or no, a man is necessarily a slave to the things by means of which he seeks to be happy." As such, our love is the vector of our lives: "My weight is my love. Wherever I am carried, my love is carrying me." Thus, Augustine's pithy definition of virtue, which he called "rightly ordered love." In short, everyone loves, but the question is, what do they love? For if you love wrongly or unwisely, your soul will be pulled right into wrongness, right along with your wrong love.
One of the reasons leftists are so unhappy is that they love wrongly. They love envy instead of gratitude, self-expression instead of self-mastery, egalitarianism instead of liberty, the U.N. instead of the U.S., peace instead of the threat of violence that makes it possible. And the burden of this illicit love will act like a millstone around their neck, simply pulling them further into their self-created abyss. For both heaven and hell will involve receiving what you have loved -- good and hard, right in the kisser. So be very careful about falling in love with envy, unless you like the idea of spending eternity with an appetite like Michael Moore but a pinhole for a mouth.
Here is some of what I wrote on the seventh commandment last summer:
“Thou shalt not steal.” Why not? As always, the left has found a way out of this one by questioning its premise, i.e., the existence of private property. For one way to eliminate theft is to eliminate or at least question the legitimacy of private property, which naturally ends with one big thief called “the government.”
Property, according to Richard Pipes, is “the key to the emergence of political and legal institutions that guarantee liberty.” Look at most anyplace in the world where there is an absence of liberty, and you will find weak property rights.
Liberals -- classical liberals, anyway, not the misnamed leftist kind -- have always understood that property is much more than property. Rather, it is the cornerstone of freedom, its very enabler and protector. And underneath property is the use of legitimate violence to protect said property. For if ever there were “sacred violence,” it is the violence that ensures the protection of property, for without property, humans cannot become fully human.
For one thing, property is simply a free and spontaneous expression of “what people want,” and to a large extent, what you want is wo you are, for better or worse. Therefore, property is an extension of the person. I once read a description of this by the outstanding psychoanalyst and writer, Christopher Bollas, who notes that the self can never be perceived directly, only indirectly, largely through its use of objects:
“Perhaps we need a new point of view in clinical psychoanalysis, close to a form of person anthropology. We would pay acute attention to all the objects selected by a patient and note the use made of each object. The literature, films, and music a person selects would be as valued a part of the fieldwork as the dream.” In so doing, we may “track the footsteps of the true self.”
For me, if I go to someone’s home, there are two things I am most curious about: the books and music it contains. And the medicine cabinet. Likewise, I should think that after I am gone, a psychoanalytic fieldworker would be able to construct a fairly accurate representation of me by merely rifling through my library, and perhaps my priceless collection of Barbie Dolls.
Just consider the odd assortment of books in my sidebar. I am quite sure that no one else on the planet has a matching list. There may not be another person in history who has read and assimilated those particular books. I am not saying that to boast, only to emphasize the amazingly unique alchemy of choices we all embody when given the opportunity to freely exercise those choices. As Petey once said, “freedom is eccentricity lived,” and he has a point. At the very least, freedom is individuality lived, and it is very difficult to live out your individuality without a range of choices before you.
I realize it’s politically incorrect to say this, but in the course of my work I have had the opportunity to evaluate a fair number of people from second and third world cultures, and what always impresses me about them is their essential sameness. Their life stories are all remarkably similar, almost as if they were the same person. And in a way they are, for they were not brought up in a cultural space in which they could nurture and live out their own metaphysical dream. Instead, their life is dreamt by others, either vertically by a ruling class or horizontally by the collective. What Bollas calls the person’s “destiny drive” has been almost entirely squelched. They do not live in a space of possibilities, only a sort of invariant and unchanging now.
Pipes notes that “while property in some form is possible without liberty, the contrary is inconceivable.” And this is one thing that frightens us about the illiberal left, for as we have said many times, if you scratch a leftist, he will probably sue you. But underneath the scratch, you will discover a conviction that your property doesn’t really belong to you, but to the collective. It is simply a variation of the bald-faced assertion that “private property is public theft.” itself the absolute inversion of the seventh commandment.
Our most precious property is, of course, our own body. However, it is amazing how late in history this idea emerged. For example, the Islamic beasts we are fighting have no such notion. In their cultures, your body belongs to the religious authorities, and only they can dictate what you can and cannot do with it. For example, a woman’s body is certainly not her own. She has no choices (or only a narrow range of choices established by others) of how to express it, how to adorn it, and whom to share it with. (Memo to trolls -- please don’t even bother. The moral issue behind the abortion debate is not whether a woman has a right to do whatever she pleases with her own body, but whether she has that right over another’s body. That’s the whole point.)
Slavery was still legal in parts of the Arab world as late as the 1960’s, and widespread virtual slavery still exists today. This is the ultimate theft, the theft of a human soul. But that is hardly the only sort of soul-theft that goes on in the Islamic world. Again, the idea that children are autonomous beings with their own inherent rights and dignity is a very late historical development that has yet to appear in most human cultures. Rather, children are “owned” by their parents, which is a great barrier to psychohistorical evolution. As a parent, your job is to create a space for your child’s true self to emerge, not to enforce your version of who your child is and what he should be. Naturally this does not exclude boundaries, discipline and values, but the point of these is to facilitate true freedom, not to suppress it.
Most religions conceive of a mythical Golden Age, an edenic past in which there was no private property. Likewise, they may speculate about a hereafter in which there is no need for private property because there is no lack of anything. But in between, in our embodied state, there is a me and therefore a mine, a you and a yours. And just as the development of individualism is facilitated by property, property benefits from the arrangement as well. That is, most people do not take proper care of things that do not belong to them. As they say, no one ever took it upon himself to wash a rental car. Likewise, “Primitive people are prone mindlessly to exterminate animals and destroy forests, to the extent that they are physically able, without any thought of the future” (Pipes). There is an obvious reason why the most affluent countries with the strongest property rights also have the best environmental records.
Likewise, only when one owns oneself will one feel compelled to improve oneself. Here again, we see the left undermining this fundamental assumption, with disastrous consequences. For the entire basis of leftist victimology is that you are not sovereign over yourself and are not responsible for your destiny. Rather, the doctrine of victimology maintains that your life is directed by others. If you are a woman, you are controlled by men. If you are black, you are controlled by racist whites. If you are gay, you are controlled by “homophobes.” In each case, personal agency is undermined and replaced with a collective that, in the long run, will further erode the liberty it claims to advance. Racial quotas simply displace the ceiling further down the road. For example, a recent study proved that easing the standards for admitting blacks to law school simply results in black lawyers with dead-end careers in which they never make partner.
There are many “social justice” or “liberation theology” Christians who maintain that Jesus was a sort of proto-communist, what with his counsel to give to the poor. But there is a big difference between voluntary renunciation of one’s wealth and government seizure and redistribution of one’s wealth. Just as one must first be a man before becoming a gentleman, one must first have sovereignty over one’s property before giving it away. And as a matter of fact, statistics demonstrate that there is an inverse relationship between high taxes and charitable giving. Those states with the lowest taxes give the most, while those with the highest taxes-- "liberal" places such as Massachusetts -- give the least.
There is a reason why, say, China, has no qualms whatsoever about stealing billions of dollars per year in American intellectual property, for they now want the benefits of private property without the sacred duty to protect it. For a Marxist, private property is public theft, so when they steal American music, DVDs, and computer programs, they’re just doing what comes naturally to them. Clearly, this is a perversion of private property that perhaps even Marx didn't envision: “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine as well.”
Well, I can see that I’ve run out of time before I could come up with any snappy ending. Let’s just say this: in order to create a properly functioning society and a spiritually balanced person, “thou shalt not steal” (i.e., private property is sacrosanct) must be reconciled with “thou shalt not covet” (property isn't everything). We'll get to that one in a couple days, assuming I can steal the time that I so enviously covet.