Friday, July 27, 2012

Letter to Professor Chomsky: "The Charter of the Forest"

Dear Professor Chomsky:

Apropos your excellent reminders at The Guardian, UK, regarding the history of the Magna Carta, I'd like to offer an observation on the privatization of the commons:
The oligarchy believes, with a religious conviction, that the existence of any commons is an offense against Right Order (whether divinely decreed or ordained by Herbert Spencer). If these sociopaths could figure out a way -- technologically and legally -- to privatize the air, they would do it.

As it it, they treat the commons that is the air as a place for private pseudo-persons to dump their waste in -- equivalent to your or my sending our sewage into the creek whence our downstream neighbors draw their families' drinking water.
And in fact this kind of cost-externalization does open one road to the privatization of the air (proceeding from one of the ways we now see the private marketing of water): make the air unbreathable, and you can sell people breathable air -- as we hear is done via automats on Tokyo streets. (That may be an urban legend, but it does indicate a "way forward" for corporate agreement: let's join together to lobby for deregulation, and we can then offer to supply the for-profit remedy.)But we should never forget that the principle by which these privateers-of-the-commons operate entails that if they couldfind a way, they would enlist the state to compel a person to pay his air-utility bill: they would be willing, ultimately, to send the police compel us to bring our children in for detention and suffocation for trespass on their state-enshrined private ownership of this essential element to life.
Talking about the atmosphere in this way is one of the few ways I've found to prompt students to think about what the history of depredation on the traditional commons -- access to the necessities of existence -- has been all about: they've been acculturated to accept the privatization of land as a "natural fact," and are uncritical consumers of (for instance) bottled water as a way of life. The idea of privatizing the air nudges them to step back and reflect a bit on these social customs, and puts a useful framework on issues about rights to subsistence and health maintenance, and about patenting genes and pharmaceuticals.

A final note: a good number of people in Manhattan, Kansas (you'll recall the Manhattan Alliance for Central America, later Manhattan Alliance of Peace and Justice) and numerous graduates of Kansas State University, remember with gratitude your two campus talks, and the conversations that took place at our house there some years ago.

-- L.
Instructor Emeritus of English | Kansas State University |Manhattan, KS
writing from Stuttgart

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