Critical Thinking as Purposeful Questions

Is there some evolutionary basis for "possession's" translating so quickly into the moral claim that it would be an injustice were I not to retain whatever I have?

On what basis does the law differentiate between illegal and non-legal possession?

Yesterday Bill Moyers used a dramatic statistic to express his disgust about rising inequality: Since 1970, 60% of the wealth generated in the U.S. economy has gone to the wealthiest 1% of Americans. The moral implications of a statistic such as that one are highlighted by the existence of 16 million American children who live in households that cannot provide the food necessary for a healthy life.

While the picture of relative generosity is more complicated than often portrayed, there is substantial evidence that wealthy people are less generous than people with less wealth. Amazing exceptions such as Tudor Jones give us a window to what the world would be like were "having" not seamlessly linked to "deserving" in the minds of the comfortable.

What passes for the Left in American politics is understandably intimidated by any thought that our nation would redistribute what families have in pursuit of justice, compassion, social harmony, or even economic growth. Even though government expenditures, subsidies and taxes inescapably redistribute income and wealth in some manner, American legislatures dare not announce that the redistribution is occurring. John Harwood's account of Obama's distress that a potential appointee had once expressed a desire for redistribution of economic resources can be Exhibit A.

I am tempted to launch into a diatribe about spurious theories of responsibility that naturally lead to a large font "MY" immediately upon acquiring resources in any form. When my world is controlled by my choices guided by my circumspect assessment of optional choices, then it follows that I should keep control over whatever I obtain.  Or does it? 

Religions and ethical systems in general tend to emphasize sharing. Why are these supposed guides to proper behavior so systematically avoided? Ever watch fish feed. They grab and run, grab and run. Is sharing behavior inconsistent with our basic drives, ones that have been fashioned by necessary adaptation to a world where resources are never sufficient?

We do have laws preventing the automaticity of the link between possession and desert. We can be arrested for possessing something that is not legally ours. And we have a huge array of property laws to guard against someone else's claiming that what is mine is theirs. But how did we acquire the things that we now can protect as ours and only ours?

We say things like "We earned those things." We urge people to read Locke to the effect that what we take and improve with our labor belongs to us alone. But those defenses of the link between possession and deserving cannot withstand even the most superficial of critical analyses. Does the law not assume that, in the main, possession denotes that the person who has is the person who deserves? Are not these laws, which we may justify on the grounds that social order requires them, but one more illustration that laws will ordinarily be the preferred norms of the politically dominant economic class? I would love to hear from those who believe that the answer to that question is "not at all."

WHAT ARE THE AVENUES FOR BREAKING THE NEXUS BETWEEN HAVING AND KEEPING?

WHAT ALTERNATIVES TO THE BUDDHIST COUNSEL TO WANT LITTLE MIGHT PROPEL A PASSION FOR GREATER EQUALITY IN THE POSSESSION OF RESOURCES?

 

Posted
AuthorM Neil Browne