April 12, 1990
The most common and durable source of faction has been the various and unequal distribution of property.
When I watch the satellite image on the TV weather program, I am constantly amazed that there is a real line that marks the border of the State of California. To someone who doesn't know better, lines on a map are real. The equator is, as a child once said, "a menagerie lion that runs around the earth."
There is an imaginary line around my 20 acres. If someone starts building something inside that imaginary line, I would point out to him that he is on my property:
"See that line, over there! That's my property line!"
"What line? Where?" he says.
"This line, right here!!" says I, pointing at nothing.
It wasn't always like this. Before the Europeans came and started drawing imaginary lines all over America, boundaries didn't exist. The people, like the buffalo and bears, simply lived on the land. A few knew that if they went too far, they would be encroaching on the hunting grounds of another people who spoke a different language. If game was scarce, the other people might object rather strenuously.
"What do you mean, imaginary? I own my land and, if you don't believe me, I can show you the paper. Besides, I can put a fence around it and if you cross the line, I can have you arrested. Imaginary, hell! My property line is real! real! real!"
Yes, Virginia, like Santa Claus, fairies and elves, boundaries are real only if you believe in them. The system works only because almost everyone either believes in, or agrees to abide by, the rules.
The King of Spain made massive grants in America, of land he didn't possess. Surprisingly, those grants still have some validity in this country despite the fact that Spain doesn't now, and never did own this country. Nobody owned it.
If congress, with the consent of the Supreme Court, decided to abolish private property, no one would own anything anymore. A constitutional amendment could do the same thing, as it once abolished the sale of alcoholic beverages.
If everyone believes in a myth, the myth becomes real. If a few people don't believe it, there are problems.
"Give me your watch!"
"No! This watch is mine; I own it and you don't!"
"This gun in my hand says that I own it!"
"Here, take my watch; but don't shoot."
It isn't necessary for people to actually believe in the myth; they just have to be willing to abide by it. If everyone doesn't agree to abide by the myths of a country or culture, we have lawlessness, or anarchy.
The only thing that can induce all people to abide by the myths is if the myths works for them. If they don't work, some people will invent new myths that do work for them. That is why slavery, poverty and repression cannot continue indefinitely.
During and after the great depression, many people were willing to try for a new set of myths. The myths that the Roosevelt administration opted for were not radically different from those which already existed. In contrast, Russia, Germany and Japan opted for radically different myths. The German and Japanese myths clashed with those held by the rest of the world as did those of Russia. The German and Japanese myths were forcibly defeated. The Russian myths are now collapsing of their own weight.
What the new Russian myths will be, remains to be seen. Which capitalist myths will be adopted? Obviously, when the communists abolished private property, they still kept most of those imaginary lines. Large private land holdings were abolished, as were private fortunes. It is doubtful whether they will go back to systems which enable an individual to achieve immense wealth which could be passed on to his heirs. However, massive corporate(state) holding existed under communism and are likely to continue and increase.
Still, where myths are concerned, they can be literally changed overnight by decree; as was done in Russia and Germany.
The next 10 or 20 years are going to be very interesting. Almost anything is possible.
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