Thirty-three

So here’s an idea–the Jewish year of jubilee in which all debt was forgiven, all slaves were released, and all property reverted back to its original owners.

Can you imagine that? What would happen, if worldwide, all debts were cancelled, today? Every debt. As of today, nobody owes anybody anything. 

Yikes. Not that I really think the global economy can get much worse than it already is.

Slavery–abolished. Man answers only to himself.  Enslaved only by his habits. And property! It begs the question, doesn’t it–how do you determine original ownership?  

Thomas Jefferson had this idea that the land belonged to whoever was willing to work it and maybe that view is what allowed freedom-loving colonists to declare the New World as their possession and not the natives'. And hey! Were the natives truly and inherently native?

I'm sure many wise men have spent many hours on this question, but I haven't been privy to the conversation and so I ask the question anew:

What gives man the moral right to own property?

If I buy stolen property would the law return it to the owner? What if I buy property from someone who bought it from someone who stole it?

What if I buy land that was stolen five hundred years ago?

Jefferson thought every generation should be free of the consequences of their progenitor's ambitions, faults, greed, ideas, everything. He saw how wealth inevitably shifts to the wealthy few and so envisioned a utopian society in which every nineteen years all laws, debts, everything is abolished and the new generation starts from scratch–equal chances, all across the board.

His contemporaries kindly pointed out that among other problems, generations aren't born in neat, 19 year shifts. I would point out that there aren't many men alive today I'd trust to write the Constitution anew. But I think he was talking about this sovereignty thing. How much we are bound to what our fathers have done or not done, owned or not owned, legislated or left to the free market.  

The truth is there isn't a single person or entity that can prove ownership of any physical thing. You can't do that. You cannot irrefutably prove ownership unless you can prove that whoever made or imagined or sold that thing can trace his right to do so all the way back to God himself.

Oh-ho! So you don't believe in God! You don't buy into the Jewish/Christian idea that the earth was created by a supreme being and belongs to him and we are all just stewards. No matter.

In the absence of one omniscient being here on earth doling out perfect stewardships, we are left alone—creationist or evolutionist—man in a fallen Eden, to work it out for ourselves. We set up the best governments we can to oversee the working of the land and the distribution of wealth because if we have learned nothing else, we have learned that ownership cannot be determined by finders-keepers or might-makes-right. We’ve had enough generations grow up and reproduce and interact with two year olds to know the folly of that approach.

I understand the need to pay taxes. I get that the founding fathers understood the need for a reasonably strong central government, Jeffersonian objections aside, because we live in an imperfect world inhabited by a fair amount of unscrupulous people.

But it bothers me that I don’t feel invested in that governing body. That I, and my fellow Americans, talk about “The Government” like it is some creature with a life and a will of its own that is to blame for all our problems and responsible to fix them.

Maybe it is a dereliction of duty on my part or maybe the creature is too big. Too far away. My tax dollars—what are those? I acknowledge my need to contribute, but I resent the idea that there is no way of knowing what I am contributing to. Foreign abortion clinics? Torture? Embryonic stem-cell research—I don’t even know what that is! I don’t understand much of anything outside my own four walls. I think I should probably find out.

But so what if I do? What if I find out it’s horrifying, or I find out it’s commendable? Is there really anything I can do to route my tax dollars differently?

Through payment of taxes or through innocent actions like having my child vaccinated by a company with ethically questionable research methods, I contribute every day to the actions of men and women I have no comprehension of existing even, let alone understanding of their motives.

I am thirty-three years old and I can no longer claim ignorance. I am culpable for every ripple effect, no matter how small, of my actions on this earth.

What’s an average citizen to do?

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