Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Jesus Saves, Moses Invests, Mohammed Plunders

“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 expression of “what people want,” and to a large extent, what you want is what 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. A person whose name I cannot recall referred to reading as “the mystery school of individuation.”

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 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 develop 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. For as we have also had occasion to mention before, Karl Marx was the great anti-Moses with the reverse Sinai revelation, and all forms of contemporary leftism may trace their intellectual genealogy to him; whereas the modern conservative intellectual movement is the current expression of an entirely different stream of thought, classical liberalism.

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 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 you 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 America is the most generous nation the world has ever known, both in terms of blood and treasure. For me, if I were ever to somehow become wealthy, one of the great privileges would be to give it away. It wouldn't be an obligation, but a joy.

And 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.” (Which reminds me--why are these so-called "shame cultures" always so shameless?)

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.


Anonymous said...

>> ". . .property is simply a free expression of “what people want,”<<

And what they have creatively *earned*. The attempt to jump-start, to speed up evolution, is,I think, essentially a grabbing at what one has not earned. Much of the New Age mvt. - and to be sure, some forms of modern Christianity - promise spiritual thrills, gifts, and blessings, eg., spiritual evolution. without too much emphasis on the fact that such things need to be earned the hard way. In truth, desiring spiritual gifts without really having earned them is, aside from being a desire for unholy theft, quite dangerous.

I'm certainly no Luddite but I have to think that much of modern science, with its insistent desire to unlock the secrets of nature - gene manipulation, cloning, even the splitting of the atom, etc. - indicates a desire to possess that which we have not really earned as yet. Were we to really set about earning in the spiritual sense, I have the feeling we would, for example, find easy ways of navigating space that didn't involve riding an unstable, kerosene-filled missile into the sky. What's frightening is that we might find that way without earning it, thereby unleashing some serious forces of nature that we couldn't control.

>>they may speculate about a hereafter in which there is no need for private property because there is no lack of anything<<

Hey, I thought we could look forward to many mansions. A while back, I thought I was going to be meeting with one of their real estate agents.

Anonymous said...

"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 develop their own metaphysical dream."

This reminds me of two things. First, there is a certain ethnic group in our society, and if one spends time with the young of that group, one will find that almost without exception, they listen to the very exact same music. Never mind that this ethnicity has one of the richest musical traditions known to man. Today, it's as narrow as possible.

Also, I've noticed that spoiled pets tend to have much more eccentric personalities than animals that are barely taken care of. Perhaps even with animals, once one is able to divert one's mind from mere survival that one can also engage in a "metaphysical dream."

Anonymous said...

Although in the horizontal transactional system, there is payment contracted and earned, I am nervous about declaring I have earned anything in any vertical fashion. It all seems a gift, perhaps one that takes some time, training, and participation to be ready to receive. A frame of desiring and receiving resolves the conundrum around theft and covetousness.

Here is where a Biblical intelligent creationist worldview helps a lot. Generalized Ludditism can be refined by concluding that we have rightful dominion over matter, share redemption with Nature, and are not to touch humanity except in awe and brotherhood and compassion-with-humility. And I suppose the reluctant defense of same.

Messing around with the basic human form, genome, or natural germ lines, thus is the rankest risk and transgression, if it contemplates plundering some on the basis-of-life levels to enhance others.

"if I were ever to somehow become wealthy, one of the great privileges would be to give it away. It wouldn't be an obligation, but a joy."

Why wait? Many people report that routine tithing to the needy or to beneficial activity is nicely proportionate, builds up large amounts over time, and leads to the recognition that as soon -- now -- as I have enough to give, I am rich. Some of the prosperous people I admire trace their wholehearted experience of giving far back to a pencil, a button, a dime, or a drink of water.

Wonderful post.

Anonymous said...

Warning – I’m about to write something politically incorrect. Anyone who might be offended, please skip to the next comment…

About leftist victimology: I recently heard on the news that whites have become a minority in California, with hispanics becoming the majority. Excellent. Now I can get free stuff from the government and complain about how those rich hispanics are keeping me down… my, how the tables have turned. Mmmwwwaaa-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Exceptionally nice post today, Bob. While I don’t always agree with you, I find your posts fascinating.

Anonymous said...

>>Therefore, property is an extension of the person.<<

I understand how and why the dysfunctional leftist worldview devalues and renounces the legitimacy of personal property rights.

But what I don't understand is why a similar pathology seems to infiltrate many of the great religious traditions. Personal property is often viewed as distraction in the East, or worse yet, as evil, unjust or unclean in the West.

But this view of property seems to emerge from a different disease than that which currently ails the radical left. It's like a metaphysical case of covergent evolution.

Maybe this more traditional pessimistic view of personal property is a manifestion of the following dilemma: Is the relative merely a distraction from the Absolute, or can the Absolute be known through the relative? Can both be true? And if so, where do they meet?

On a side note, I'm having one of those days when whatever it is that lies above our symbolic reality feels infinitely close to being perceptible. When something just feels a bit off and the Truth feels so close but stubbornly won't reveal itself. When the parallels between my spiritual journey and my daily life are comedically synchronistic. And the frustration...Argggh. Can anyone empathize?

Anonymous said...

Dilys - You're right, grace is a gift, always, but obviously effort is required to clear a space for grace to fill. In this sense, I think, effort = earning. We earn the privilege to be in such a position as to be gifted. But - our efforts alone are not enough, obviously. Work as we may, the gift comes when the Spirit wills, not us. But without the work, no grace, period.

BTW, I think Bob's daily posts (they're FREE) is as much a giving as any. Wealth comes in all shapes and sizes.

Van Harvey said...

"...underneath the scratch, you will discover a conviction that your property doesn't really belong to you, but to the collective"

Yes, this is what I've found to be central to the Troll battle I began here with Nagarjuna and spun into my last few posts.

From Chomsky back to Rousseau, private property is their main target, and the idea of Earning a living "wage slavery" is key to all they hate and fear. They to have an instinctual hatred for it and a burning desire for its opposite, something for nothing.

In a free society you have to convince others you have something to offer worthy of their time and money. It encompasses Evaluation, Good vs Bad, Right vs Wrong, Free Will, Freedom and that biggest boogey man of all for them - Reality.

Bro. Bartleby said...

In the animal world, two lions bring down a zebra, then the stronger gets the more steaks, while the hyenas wait their turn, then again, the stronger hyena gets the most, and around wait the jackals, and so it goes, to the vultures and on down to the tiniest of critters and worms. And humans, 'in the wild' it is too strength that determines who gets what, but the advanced brain now plays its role, for cunning can trump physical strength, clever words become the teeth and claws that claim property. The unclever, the meek, the ignorant, the illiterate, the untaught, all fall prey to the cunning and immoral, were it not for the decent, the honorable, the holy. All that is absent in the animal kingdom.

Van Harvey said...

Well, it is when the decent, the honorable, the holy do stand up for the Rule of Law that the cunning and immoral will be made to respect Property Rights with the boundaries of Right and Wrong, and then the unclever, the meek, the ignorant, the illiterate and the untaught will be able to secure the property they do have, and through honest hard work, improve their situation in a Human realm, rather than the animal kingdom.

Kerry said...

Bob,your mention of liberation theology (gag!) reminds me of this quip. The speaker was Russian so imagine a Russian accent: "And church...with no Jee-zus. Jee-zus Christ would roll over in grave if was in grave."

CatoRenasci said...

Excellent post, Bob!

Property is fundamental, even in systems that expressly disavow property rights as we think of them, e.g. Marxism: the differences are in two areas (1) the principles of justice in acquisition, transfer, and rectification, and (2) what constitutes "property".

To the latter question first, for the Marxist, the legitimate "property" rights the theory recognizes are only what we would call "use" rights, and expressly excludes rights we would consider basic such as rights of transfer to others or successors.

The notion of justice in acquistion also differs fundamentally:

for the Marxist one can aquire such "use" rights as it allows legitimately only by one's "need" as determined by the party.

for the Moslem, the principals of justice are equivocally predicated depending on whether one is a Moslem or not, and do not recognize any nonabrobagle rights in non-Moslems: for under Islam, the princple of justice in acquisition explicitly approves the taking by force of the property of non-Moslems for the use of Moslems.

I think too little work has been done in the West on the fundamental incompatiblity of the Islamic principles of justice with the range of principles of justice that are admissible in the West.

Anonymous said...

>> Is the relative merely a distraction from the Absolute, or can the Absolute be known through the relative? Can both be true? <<

A young man wants to win a girls love. He shows up at her door with a lovely gift and offers it to her. She can:

1) accept it and plot how to keep him around so that she gets more of this good stuff. Probably dump him later. (Materialism, Prosperity gospel).

2) Throw the gift away and try to continue the relationship on a purely "spiritual" basis, or simply reject him. (Asceticism)

3) "Wow this is really nice. What a great guy he is, how thoughtful and insightful to give me this. You know I think I am falling in love with him and will treasure this forever."

In short, the "good things" of this world are to draw us into love of God. At times they may have to be denied to prove that love (do I *really* love the gifts or the giver?) (Gen 22:12, "Now I know that you fear God.")

Both the the Ways of Affirmation and Rejection, can lead to God. (Look for that phrase here: http://pweb.jps.net/~sangreal/cw.htm for more.)

gumshoe said...

"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."

Pikre Aboth had a great little story to tell regarding this:

accroding to the little story,
there are three types of men:

The Saint,
The Average Man,
The Rascal

The Saint says:
"What's thine is thine
and what's mine is thine."

The Average Man says:
"What's thine is thine
and what's mine is mine."


The Rascal says:
"What's mine is mine
and what's thine is mine."