by Salih Hall
As we search for answers to the question of the great inequities in our world, it becomes clear that the fundamental problem is not simply a balance sheet, but the moral condition of our society. One of the greatest indicators of society’s disease is the concept of private property in land, a legal concept for which there can be no moral basis — and which stands as the greatest cause of the inequitable distribution of wealth, resulting in class discrimination, poverty, and cycles of recession and depression. Our quest toward true equality and a just society must begin in the most fundamental dimension of the shaping factors of our culture. What is the true nature of our existence? Is man an independent being, or is he interdependent and connected to all other life in our world? The answer to this question is really the bottom line to our social ills. It is thought that man is an individual with free will, an independent agent, free to do what he will. But is he, in a world of warming resulting from reckless pollution of our planet’s air and water in pursuit of profits? Does that not show that man is truly an interdependent agent operating in the ecological balance of the planet we call Earth?
Whether we realize it or not, many of us believe that we have a greater right to life, beyond that of others. This illusion is at the heart of almost all social problems. Each people who conquer another have had to convince themselves that somehow the act of oppression and repression is for the good of those who are obviously less intelligent, gallant, cultured or civilized.
Somehow the project must be sold to the soldiers, and to the people of the conquering nation. It’s necessary to becloud people’s thought on all levels of society. We saw the flawed reasoning used to invade Iraq recently! Every policy of slavery and exploitation has exhibited similarly weird, flawed reasoning. However, there is a silent, underlying emotion at work in all these acts of aggression and oppression: the fear of want, in its many faces. Our fear is used to inflame our instinct for self-preservation. Over and over, very small groups of wealthy, power-seeking people have raised the alarms and herded the sheepish masses into a toxic inferno of blind hatred, based on fear.
Fear-based emotions grossly distort and compromise the ability to perceive reality. Both sides of a conflict become blinded by the pain of past perceptions, making peace seem impossible. The Palestinian and Israeli conflict is one such example. Each side is trapped in the past. Other examples include the history of the slave trade here in America, and the annihilation of Native American cultures. The collective consciousness of such a people can become dominated by an overwhelming fear. Numerous studies have indicated that Blacks are preoccupied with fear of government conspiracies against then. Whites fear a Black unity that may demand — and achieve — retribution. The mere mention of these examples will most likely make the reader uncomfortable; the power of prejudice and its underlying fear is real.
The root of the English word “fear” comes from “fare,” or to travel. To travel connotes a moving away from one’s usual place. Thus, the meaning of fear implies an underlying action of being moved emotionally, from a familiar place to a strange one. Fear is defined as a painful emotion caused by an expectation of evil or of impending danger; anxiety; solicitude, or awe and reverence for something; dread. There can be fear in a negative sense, based on danger, or as attraction, based on awe (as in “the fear of God”).
People pursue and worship wealth ultimately for fear of want, which drives our society through the motivators of conflict and competition, based on the belief that each person can only prosper at the expense of the others. The higher human qualities give way to selfish materialism and greed. The pain of past encounters intensifies our self-preservation instincts. All of these anti-social emotions reinforce a self-concept of independence and me-ism, and suppresses the sense of life as interdependent. This is the reason why those who have been handed (or have gained) the unfair advantage of land monopoly will never willingly give it up.
Henry George began a discussion about the moral basis of private property in land. That discussion must now be expanded to include a proper understanding of the interdependence of life. An informed review of history will reflect that nomadic civilizations, that did not believe in private property in land, had a better grasp on a way of life that protected the environment.
Our movement must begin teaching the true nature of life, and its interdependence, creating social shaping factors for society, to fulfill the vision of a moral and just social order. To achieve this, our curriculum needs to confront the fear factor that has high-jacked the natural human instinct for self-preservation.
A sustainable, progressive society can only be created by establishing social institutions predicated on balance and based in justice; otherwise, we are simply well dressed beasts with gadgets and trinkets. The first thing such a society must do is to resolve the land question, bringing equity in the distribution of wealth. Land must be common property. No human being can produce it. Because we all rely upon the Land, the manner in which we distribute the benefits from its use is the most critical determining factor of our society’s future.
Salih Hall teaches Georgist political economy inside the Delaware State Prison in Smyrna, Delaware.