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Excerpt from Endgame

Access To Land (p. 133)

From chapter "Predator and Prey"

I’ve long understood that civilization requires land ownership to be concentrated in the hands of the rulers, by force when necessary and tradition when possible. More basically, it requires that people be inculcated to believe land can be bought and sold. Ultimately, of course, it requires that people be inculcated to believe everything can be bought and sold, and requires also that ownership of everything be concentrated as completely as possible in the hands of the rulers.

Those in charge have always understood—and have often been explicit about it—that it’s difficult to control people who have access to land. Depriving them of this access puts them at your mercy. Without access to land there can be no self-sufficiency: land provides food, shelter, clothing. Without access to land people obviously have no place to stay. If you can force people to pay just so they can be alive on this earth—nowadays these payments are usually called rent or mortgage—you’ve forced them into the wage economy. The same holds true for forcing them to pay for materials the earth gives freely: the salmon, bison, huckleberries, willows, and so on that are central to the lives, cultures, and communities not only of indigenous peoples but to all of us, even if we make believe this isn’t the case. To force people to pay for things they need to survive is an atrocity: a community- and nature-destroying atrocity. To convince us to pay willingly is a scam. It also, as we see around us—or would see had we not been so thoroughly convinced—causes us to forget that communities are even possible.

Those in power have rarely hidden their intentions. Indeed, as I’ve written elsewhere, the need to separate the majority of people from their food supplies—thus separating them also from their freedom—was central to the design of civilization’s early cities.I’ve written, too, how slave owners described the land-ownership conditions under which chattel slavery was the optimal means to control a workforce, and described also the conditions under which not chattel but wage slavery was the owners’/capitalists’ best option. If there’s a lot of land and not many people, you’ll need to use force in order to convert free human beings into laborers. If, on the other hand, there’s a lot of people and not much land, or if those in power otherwise control access to land, those who do not own the land have no choice but to work for those in power. Under these conditions there’s no reason for owners to go to the expense of buying or enslaving people, then paying for their slaves’ food, clothing, and shelter: it’s much cheaper to simply hire them.As one pro-slavery philosopher put it: “In all countries where the denseness of the population has reduced it to a matter of perfect certainty, that labor can be obtained, whenever wanted, and that the laborer can be forced, by sheer necessity, to hire for the smallest pittance that will keep soul and body together, and rags upon his back while in actual employment—dependent at all other times on alms or poor rates—in all such countries it is found cheaper to pay this pittance, than to clothe, feed, nurse, support through childhood, and pension in old age, a race of slaves.”

Today, of course, we have so internalized the ideology of centralized control, of civilization, that most of us do not consider it absurd that people have to pay someone simply so they may exist on the planet, except perhaps to grumble that without rent or mortgage (or second mortgage) payments we wouldn’t have to work so hard at jobs we don’t like, and could spend more time with people we love, doing things we enjoy.

Although I have understood all of the above for a long time, it was only last week that I realized—and my indigenous friends are wondering where I’ve been these last six thousand years—that just as those in power must control access to land, the same logic dictates they must destroy all stocks of wild foodstuffs. Wild salmon, for example, cannot be allowed to live. Why would I go to Safeway if I could catch coho in the stream outside my door? I wouldn’t. So how do those in power make certain I lack food self-sufficiency? Simple. Eliminate free food sources. Eliminate wild nature. For the same is true, obviously, for everything that is wild and free, for everything else that can meet our needs without us having to pay those in power. The push to privatize the world’s water helps make sense of official apathy surrounding the pollution of (free) water sources. You just watch: air will soon be privatized: I don’t know how they’ll do it, but they’ll certainly find a way.

This destruction of wild foodstuffs has sometimes been accomplished explicitly to enslave a people, as when great herds of buffalo were destroyed to bring the Lakota and other Plains Indians to terms, or as when one stated reason for building dams on the Columbia River was that dams kill salmon. The hope was that this extirpation would break the cultural backs of the region’s Indians. But the destruction of wild foodstocks doesn’t require some fiendishly clever plot on the part of those in power. Far worse, it merely requires the reward and logic systems of civilization to remain in place. Eliminating wild foodstocks is just one of many ways those in power increase control. And so long as the rest of us continue to buy into the system that values the centralization of control over life, that values the production of things over life, that values cities and all they represent over life, that values civilization over life, so long will the world that is our real and only home continue to be destroyed, and so long will the noose that is civilization continue to tighten around our throats.