Most are probably aware, in a broad sense, of the events that have been unfolding recently in the Midwest because of a certain crude-oil transporting pipeline and a certain tribe of continental natives who feel as though its construction violates their property rights.
If you haven’t heard about it, just do a quick search for “DAPL” and I’m sure you’ll be bombarded with information from every perspective.
Depending on who you ask, the conversation isn’t even the same from person to person – some believe it’s about environmental protection, others about police brutality, others about the treaty rights of the tribe(s) involved, and still others about the moral ground upon which the fossil fuel industry stands. Perhaps it’s about all of these things – perhaps it’s about none.
Whatever your take, I’m not here to pick or defend a side on the issue – I don’t feel as though I know enough about what’s going on, nor do I feel like I can justify that any of it impacts me enough to be able to have a stake in any of the aforementioned conversations.
But it has me thinking about land ownership, and ownership over natural resources.
Generally, I think John Locke’s philosophy on personal property is pretty solid – you own your body and should have sole control over your life, and you also own any property which came about as the result of your labor upon unowned natural resources, so long as you don’t take all of those resource for yourself and don’t leave enough for others
(this is a radically simplified version of what Locke asserted, and I can’t claim to be a Lockean scholar. I’d encourage anyone to look up individualism and the labor theory of property for themselves).
Anyway, it makes sense. How else can we rightly determine who owns what, or how much of our natural resources each person is entitled to? In general, a person like me never even uses natural resources – I purchase my resources from others who’ve turned them into products. So I own that stuff, even though I didn’t create it.
But how did we arrive at this point in the first place? Who decided that land and resources would be commodities that we could buy and sell?
The concept pervades society on a global scale – wherever humans settled down to grow food, they inevitably divided up their land. Plenty of Native American civilizations did it for tens of thousands of years, despite the popular belief that they had no concept of ownership and that European explorers introduced them to this “novel” idea.
And then I think about the animal kingdom and wolves in particular (which are hard not to think about, they’re so cool).
Wolves are territorial hunters – a pack of wolves hunts a certain geographical area and marks its territory distinctly from that of other packs. This concept of ownership, while a human invention, seems to pervade the non-human world. Is ownership just part of nature?
I wonder if there is some advanced extraterrestrial civilization somewhere in the cosmos arguing over how to divide up our galaxy? We might just be another piece of property to them.