January 24, 1998
We had hoped to write a commentary about the thoughtful essay by Joe Kresse, The Need for a New Economic Paradigm, that Swans published last week. We wanted to explore further than he did the subject of property rights, private property rights to be precise, one of the strongest pillars of our capitalistic system. We've long been convinced by the Marxist argument that private property rights are the source of the most damaging social inequities and environmental pilferage that have been afflicting the world for centuries. Power, wars, consumerism, even crime, all derive from these well-established rights. It is like a cancer spreading all over the planet, ravaging our communities, our inner-cities, the earth itself. And estate laws perpetuate and amplify the disease with a crescendo.
We felt Joe's essay, timeless in nature, had been timely written to coincide with the visit of Pope John Paul II to Cuba, the last bastion of a human experiment which for fifty years attempted to uproot this memetic tumor from people's minds at a horrific cost in personal freedoms. The Pope's message directly addressed the fundamental needs for personal freedoms, obviously emphasizing religious rights. More interestingly he reiterated his long standing position against the ruthless embargo that the United States has tightly kept around Cuba's neck for three decades and his contention that Marxism, even in the countries that had botched this experiment, had had benefits in the social sphere -- free education and healthcare among others -- which are obliterated by our furry of capitalistic greed.
We saw in Joe's essay an effort to grapple with these fundamental issues. How do we move from the private to the common, from the self to the whole, yet keep personal freedoms intact? How can we accentuate the notion of sameness, of commonness and concomitantly underscore the need for diversity? In this "age of economism" how can we re-define human progress away from an input-output dualism? When will the "owner" of an 800 year old redwood grove comprehend that the deed, a simple piece of paper, does not entitle to cut the trees, that he or she is nothing less than the custodian of a common heritage?
Then, this week also saw the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision to recognize the constitutional right to abortion; a personal freedom unremittingly attacked by vociferous voices which otherwise claim to be the most ardent defenders of freedom and write lengthy treatises on the God-given private rights to cut 800 year old trees or bring to market the oil that sits in their backyards.
Then again, suddenly, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather flew back to Washington or New York in a hurry, leaving the elegantly black suited Castro and white robed Pope to their contrasting symbols; Netanyahu and Falwell, Arafat and Kaczynski, Gates and Oprah, and even Saddam Hussein took the back seat. Zippergate had struck.
And we were left numb in the brain.