Thursday, May 28, 2009


With this post I am moving from looking at immediate, life or death, physiological needs into what Maslow refers to as 'Safety and Security' needs and what Manfred Max-Neef refers to as 'Protection' needs.

I am starting with looking at land,which while technically is necessary for survival (we need it to stand on--if left in the middle of the ocean we'd drown if we didn't touch land and if dropped in middle of the sky we'd fall to our deaths), seems to me more of a security need. In order to grow food or build shelter, we need land. Access to land makes us more secure.

Mark Twain was supposed to have advised someone to "Buy land, they're not making it anymore." In fact, buying land may be the problem. A woman I know went to one of those early American history sites where there are replicas of a colonial village and a native encampment and remarked on how the village was divided up into fenced off plots with houses and yards connected by streets and how the Indian encampment was a circle of tipis and seemed more interconnected.

While there has been a long, slow historical development process between the nomadic (and common) existence of the hunter gatherers and suburban (and urban) yards of today, a key piece was the 'enclosure' movement. While this happened all over Europe, England between 15th and 19th centuries typified the process. Medieval life, while harsh and authoritarian guaranteed peasants and serfs access to land. In the fifteenth century, England discovered a market for wool--more of a market than for foodstuff. Sheep owners realized that if they could fence off their land, they could keep sheep more efficiently and their profits would be more secure. Peasants were evicted from their land, laws were passed, and the idea of private property grew as capitalism grew.

In the nineteenth century, Henry George argued that "We must make land common property." (See my post of 2/14/09.) Georgists (also known as 'geoists') believe that "everyone owns what they create, but that everything found in nature, most importantly land, belongs equally to all of humanity." These ideas predate George--Thomas Paine pointed out that "Men did not make the earth. It is the value of the improvements only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property. Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds." While I am hardly a 'geoliberarian', I think it's clear that none of us really owns the land. What we need is to find a way to share it.

Thus, I think that community stewardship is essential. One model of that is the Community Land Trust movement, developed in the United States based on the Gramdan movement in India. A land trust holds land for the benefit of the community and keeps it in the community: "The land is held permanently by the land trust so that it will always benefit the community." Among other features, homeowners lease their land and the lease requires them to sell their homes (if and when they want to sell) either back to the Community Land Trust or "to another lower income household, and for an affordable price." It moves directly away from the model of acquiring land to make money.

Another move against private property is squatting. I have some reservations about this practice, especially when the squatters then act as if they own the land, but it is often essential in underdeveloped countries when the poor would have no access to land otherwise. One group with a much more radical view of squatting is the Landless Workers Movement (aka MST) in Brazil. I have already written about MST in two previous posts (see my posts of 8/17/08 and 9/6/08). They have a list of Ten Agreements which go from "To love and preserve the earth and all natural things" to "Never sell the land."

Land is something everyone needs access to. Community ownership can make that possible.

The Ecologist, Whose Common Future?--A book on 'Reclaiming the Commons' with a good history of the enclosure movement
Institute for Community Economics--The group that developed the Community Land Trust model
Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé, Hope's Edge--Has a chapter devoted to the MST and another to the 'Green Belt Movement' in Africa which has planted 30 million trees to reclaim the land from desert
National Community Land Trust Network--A group devoted to supporting Community Land Trusts in the US
Starhawk, Dreaming the Dark--While this book is really about witchcraft and social change, there is a small section in the appendix on "Expropriation of Land" that summarizes the Enclosure movement.
Starhawk, Webs of Power--Has a chapter on "Our Place in Nature" that talks about the MST as well as how we can connect with the land

Quote of the day: "Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above, Don't fence me in... I want to ride to the ridge where the West commences, And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses, Can't look at hobbles and I can't stand fences, Don't fence me in." - Cole Porter and Robert Fletcher


SoapBoxTech said...

I'd be all for no privately owned land if the world weren't so filled with people that just don't care about it at all, other than how to exploit it. The only way I know how to really protect it is to keep it mine...although I do know how contrary that is to many of my other beliefs.

tough topic!

MoonRaven said...

I appreciate how much you are trying to care for the land and, unfortunately, at this time, there are lots of people who just want to exploit the land. I guess we need stewards like you until more people can appreciate how important the earth is and how better to take care of it.

Still, utopian that I am, I hope for a day when we can share the land because people will understand how connected they are to it.

Thanks for the comment.