Thoughts on land ownership
This page deals with questions relating to whether we can or should be considered to own land - from a philosophical and ethical point of view.
I own a computer. I can do whatever I like with the computer, within some limits: for example, I should not burn it because it will pollute the atmosphere. But if I wanted to take a hammer to my computer and destroy it there would be no wrong in that. If I decide to ruin 'my' land by over-cropping it year after year, and allowing the soil to wash or blow away, I have committed a crime, at least against our shared environment. If many land owners did that then how would future generations survive?
Surely I have a responsibility to look after 'my' land; to leave it in no worse a condition than when I took responsibility for it? Wouldn't it be better to speak of tenancy of land, or tenure over land, rather than ownership?
It seems that we do not own land in the same sense as we owns computers, cars, chairs and tables. The 'land owner' should more properly think of himself as the steward of 'his' land. He is holding it in trust for the future benefit of the biosphere.
My understanding is that primitive peoples generally believed that they belonged to the land, rather than the other way around. Better, don't you think?
A bit of 'my land', in the Clare Valley of South Australia
Very similar arguments apply to the entire planet. We should not think of the Earth as 'our planet'; rather we should accept the Earth as a responsibility; something to pass on to the next generation in at least as good condition as it was when we were born.
climate change being one of the greatest of these.
Perhaps if instead of thinking that the world is 'ours' to do with as we choose, we were to accept that we are just a small part of the world and it is our responsibility to look after it, for our own sake, but also for the sake of all other life, we would treat the planet with the respect it deserves and needs?
I would hold that the idea that we own the world, or that we as individuals or groups own parts of world, amounts to an ethically unsupportable belief, or if you like, a delusion, and an enormously harmful delusion. We should think and act in ways that consider the needs of all other sentient beings and of life as a whole. We should be compassionate to all other life and the environment that we share with all other life. To do otherwise is selfish and unethical.
Perhaps the human concept of land ownership came from this sort of behaviour?
I have come to feel some sort of ownership for 'my' lines of trees and shrubs on roadsides; I would be upset if someone removed any of them without first consulting me, I feel personally hurt when a vandal damages one of 'my' trees or shrubs. Yet, if someone kills native trees growing wild along a roadside I feel annoyed, but not nearly to the same degree as if they were 'mine'.
Why the feeling of ownership?
Perhaps my own feeling of ownership for 'my' plants on public roads is connected to a feeling of personal responsibility for the biosphere that I have developed over the past several decades? Is the lack of such a feeling in the apathetic majority a large part of the source of their apathy? Then should we be trying to instil a feeling of ownership for the Earth in our children? (I think it's too late for most of our politicians.)
I worry about the trend toward higher density of living in cities...
Some thoughts along this line...
An example: when I was on our family's dairy farm I recall that my brother and I thought that someone coming onto the farm to have a picnic, without asking permission first, was a 'bit of cheek'. I remember comparing it to us going onto their front lawn for our own picnic. But, of course, the two situations are not properly comparable. Our going onto their 1000 square metre block would have been very different, and much more intrusive, than their going only our 150 hectare farm.
Surely it would follow from this line of reasoning that 'traditional owners' should have little right to keep people off land in national parks of hundreds of square kilometres.
Should 'land-owners' have the right to stop people from walking on 'their' land? Should people who love walking avoid private land unless they have the express permission of the 'land-owner'?
There is no crime where there is no victim. What justice would there be in the 'owner' of the land in the photo above stopping people from walking on that land and seeing that view? Do I have any right to stop people walking on my land and seeing the view below?
Of course there are always some people who will abuse a privilege and leave a gate open or do some other harm; but is limiting the rights of all because of the misdeeds of few justified? The distinction between selfishness and altruism is also relevant here.
If the world belongs to anyone it belongs to all.
Related external pages...ritimo: Land ownership: A fundamental critique of its key concepts is necessary
Related pages on this site...Animal rights
Crystal Brook Central Park
Immigration / Refugees
Self or all? Selfishness or altruism?
St Mary Peak: and should one have a right to climb it?
Sections of pages on this site...Why are we reluctant to look after shared land?
Whatever happened to civic pride?
Ethics: freedom to climb