Saturday, November 7, 2015

Freedom & Property

Poetry Of No Compassion

(Continuing from Same Eyes, and Property Greed & The Bible)

  - You said to me prepare yourself for an account of stupidity intellectual and biographic and I have. So tell me: who are these new people in your life?
- Do I have to make them out to mean something?
- Doesn't everyone's life mean something?
- Can mean something.
- If they don't, then tell me, in a meaningful way, why they don't.
- That I can do. So here is the tale of two men, one young and one fairly old, who to my eyes displayed lives with little meaning.  The first I met, my one and only time, this morning at a conference on the subject of reform of the prisons in America. He was standing around at the conclusion and I struck up a conversation, asking him what he did: 
- I work at a halfway house.
- For released prisoners?
- Yes.
- Why do you want to do that?
- I'm a recently released prisoner myself.
- How recently?
- I've been out three weeks after twenty-six years inside.
- You don't appear to be very excited about it.
- It's funny. It hasn't so far been very different for me.
- Being in jail or out? Why not?
- In jail first I took programs, of the kind you heard about this afternoon at the conference, teaching self confidence and self knowledge, then I became a teacher. I'm teaching now at the halfway house.- Why were in jail so long?
- I was in a gang. I had to learn an entirely new life.
- New life or not, don't you want to get in a car and drive, go places, look at things, feel free?
- Not so far. Maybe I will later.
- I look forward to hearing you explain why that remarkable man's life is meaningless. And the other new man in your life is?
 - You'll be happy to hear that I was indeed engaged in trying to take your point to heart. Sitting in the audience this morning hearing how this country relishes destroying the lives of millions of its people by locking them up I wondered if I should feel ashamed of the play with ideas that was my excuse for living. Particularly glaring to my awakened conscience was the way I'd played with one of most famous stories of the bible, Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaak.
- I remember. You said the story was not about faith against reason or the extinguishing of self interest. It was about property: god wanted Abraham to be willing to do away with his own son as an example of property the possession of which he'd never ordinarily question. Property relations should, you said, not be the basis of social life, but rather we should choose our rules of property after first seeing what our social relations brought us.
- I said we should be able to see ourselves in our relations to others. We should be able to say how we came to know these people in our lives. In the Abraham and Isaac story this was expressed by the tracking down, and sacrificing of the scapegoat, where the tracking down refers to individual story of getting to know another individual, and the giving away in sacrifice refers to the forming of community around that knowledge.
- You mean the community of you and the scapegoat?
- Yes. You hunt down your mate, for example, acquire knowledge of her, but you give up "possession" of her, property rights in her, to the community of the two of you in your coming marriage.
- I didn't understand this clearly at the time.
- And now you do. So it's not all a waste. Being willing to make a sacrifice of everything important in your life you possess is the opposite to establishing a sense of ownership based on knowledge. It is rather giving up on knowledge, accepting the unreliability of property possessed in ignorance.
- And that is what you make out the recently released prisoner to be doing?
- Yes. Building communities on established, unquestioned relations to property, when the right way of going about it is watching how community is formed and choosing property relations on the basis of what is learned from that observation.
- I can quote you on the subject:
As long as people's relation to things is more important than people's relation to people, people will be treated like things. 
The recently released prisoner went from one set of rules defining human life fundamentally in relation to things to another set of rules, with the result that he didn't feel more free, being released did not offer him significant, fundamentally different, enlarged human relation. Sparing the recently released prisoner from more of your theorizing let's move on to the second of the new figures in your life. 
- Who also goes from one set of fixed property relations to another, but in this case, does feel himself to be more free, free from the obligation to care for property.
- He's in accord with then in the usual garden variety "detachment" interpretation of the Abraham Isaac story where Abraham shows himself willing to get up on everything human in obedience to god's command.
- Yes. Taking a break from his time as a student this new acquaintance has decided to spend his days as one of million in our country without a place of their own to sleep at nights. 
- One million sleep on the streets, two million in jails. One percent of the population.
- Like the others in Westwood Village he makes a sort of home in public in the cafes and endlessly walking the streets. He comes from a wealthy family, has cash in his pocket, and he even, as I learned last night, has an empty apartment rented by his family he can go to any time right in the village, but he chooses not too to go.
- Why doesn't he?
- I guess it would interfere with the spiritual purification he thinks he is undergoing.
- Is he spending his time preying or something?
- No. First he spent his time studying nutrition, then every kind of automobile.
- Weird. What's the connection?
- One study is about the body the other is about the transport of the body.  
- He's fixing his sense of self to the body and fixing the body to the world. He's constructing worlds of property relations he can build a private life on. 
- How is he studying if he's not at school? 
- The internet, accessed through his telephone.
- He still has a telephone. 
Yes. But otherwise he has, he says, freed himself. His pockets are empty; he's even removed the lint from them, he says. Doesn't he mind that everyone thinks he's crazy who sees him wandering for hours the aisles in middle of the night the twenty-four hour supermarket, holding his phone up to his face, researching as he was this week the different varieties of alcoholic beverages? He says he doesn't care. Because he isn't trying to get to know anyone he doesn't care that everyone is frightened away from him before he can begin.
- But not you. You got to know him.
- A little. As much as there is to know.
- Yes. These are people whose lives mean nothing but give people like you and me the opportunity to find meaning in discovering why they don't have meaning. And that discovered meaning, precisely, is...?
- An unquestioned fixed relation to property blocks learning about free human relations. The recently released prisoner can't presently make use of regained freedom. The lapsed student is likewise in a state of newly acquired freedom, but in this case his freedom is mental instead of physical, having supposedly achieved spiritual non-attachment to possessions. In reality he's tied himself to a life of the most extreme dependence. Having no property of his own he's only reluctantly tolerated on the property of the public and strangers he's twenty-four hours a day loitering and trespassing on. No good social relation can come of it. 
- These are extreme cases. We shouldn't, you say, be basing social relations on property relations even under the best of circumstances. 
- Giving precedence to property relations limits the freedom of our social relations, and it is in social relations our happiness is to be found.