Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Myth of the “Ownership Society”

Spiritual Communism: God Owns Everything - You Own Nothing

“Everything animate and inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept Only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.” - Sri Isopanisad, Mantra 1.

In 2004 before the great recession caused by the housing market crash and Wall Street fraud, George W. Bush coined a new catch phrase, which he used to promote the idea of home ownership.
We're creating... an ownership society in this country, where more Americans than ever will be able to open up their door where they live and say, welcome to my house, welcome to my piece of property. - President George W. Bush, October 2004.

This idea was promoted by the Cato Institute, a libertarian organization founded by the sociopath atheist Ayn Rand.

“Individuals are empowered by freeing them from dependence on government handouts and making them owners instead, in control of their own lives and destinies. In the ownership society, patients control their own health care, parents control their own children's education, and workers control their retirement savings.” - Cato Institute

Ownership and control

As formulated by the Cato Institute. The goals are that
patients have control of [decisions on] their personal health care,
parents control [i.e. have power over] their children's education, and
workers control [i.e. have some responsibility for the investment of, or explicit property rights in] their retirement savings.

Here the comments in brackets are an interpretation or paraphrase, consistent with a generalized idea of ownership. The conceptual link here is by means of the idea that private property, the most familiar and everyday form of ownership, is being extended. Control is closely associated with ownership in that sense.
This Cato Institute formulation is not, however, in terms of positive policies. It is more accurately a definition of ownership by taking the state out of the loop. So, for example, in health care ownership is not being defined just on the basis of informed consent.

There is no real originality, politically speaking, in the connection made between individual ownership of property and political stake-holding. This was an idea discussed in Europe and America in the eighteenth century. (For example that the franchise should only be for property holders.)

The novelty of the Cato Institute formulation would lie in the extrapolation. In the case of savings, for example, the extension would be an assertion of property rights in money held in savings or collected tax revenues.

The first desiderata was part of John McCain's campaign platform as the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. McCain's website says, "John McCain believes [that] the key to health care reform is to restore control to the patients themselves."

Of course, this was just a ruse to destroy all social safety net programs, like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, pension programs, etc., and hand them over to Wall Street. Republicans have wanted to do away with these programs since their inception. George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security, but he failed, because it is extremely popular. But now Republicans are trying again. On the ruse of deficit reduction and economic crisis, they have proposed to privatize Medicare and turn it into a voucher program which will enrich the insurance companies and bankrupt older Americans. Under the pressure of these deficit hawks, even the Democrats are proposing cuts to these vital government programs which millions of Americans depend upon.

George Bush called this the ownership society, but what he really meant was 'you're-on-your-own' society. - Barack Obama, 2008

These ideas are supposedly based on “self reliance.” Michelle Bachmann said, “Our nation needs to stop doing for people what they can and should do for themselves,” she said. “Self reliance means, if anyone will not work, neither should he eat.”

Republicans have also cheered executions, someone dying due to lack of health care, waterboarding, blaming unemployment on the unemployed, and have booed an active soldier because he’s gay. They call any kind of government program that helps people “entitlements” and “socialism.”

These days the word socialism has become a very controversial buzzword. Fox “News” and right wing pundits have demonized Barack Obama as a socialist in their propaganda so successfully that 55% of Americans now believe that our president is a socialist.

Obama is far from a socialist. In fact, he is a bit to the right of the Republican president Dwight Eisenhower. That shows how far the Republican party has tilted to the right, if they think Obama is a socialist. Obama has given a huge gift to the insurance and pharmaceutical companies with his health care legislation, propped up the “too big to fail” banks with his weak financial reform, cow-towed to the energy corporations with the weak energy bill now stalled in the senate, and by sending more troops to Afghanistan, he continues to feed the military industrial complex, which is exactly what Eisenhower warned about. This is not socialism. It is crony capitalism that is cheating the poor and the middle class, and is a symptom of a disease that is in it's cancer stage right now in America.

They say “We’re broke. We can’t afford all these entitlement programs.” The fact is, Social Security has a 2.4 trillion dollar surplus, and can pay out 100% of it’s benefits for the next 27 years. But whenever there is a large chunk of cash laying around, Wall Street starts licking it’s chops, hoping to use that as gambling money to cash in by using their extraction schemes. The people have worked their whole lives that money, and the Wall Street vultures want to take it from them through fraudulent market manipulation, just as they did in the housing market.

Now there is a backlash against Wall Street. The 99% are rising up against the 1%, who have cheated them out of the American Dream.

The plutocrats in our government are in bed with the 1%, and both of them are working for their own sense gratification. They are not working for the betterment of society. This naturally causes a popular revolt among the citizens, and the result is that those plutocrats or dictators are removed from power. In ancient times, kings were saintly, and did not hold office in order to maintain their own sense gratification. Here is verse about one such king from the Srimad Bhagavatam, 8th Canto, Chapter 1, Verse 7

Svayambhuva Manu, the husband of Satarupa, was by nature not at all attached to enjoyment of the senses. Thus he gave up his kingdom of sense enjoyment and entered the forest with his wife to practice austerities.

As stated in Bhagavad-gita (4.2), evam parampara-praptam imam rajarsayo viduh: “The supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way.” All the Manus were perfect kings. They were rajarsis. In other words, although they held posts as kings of the world, they were as good as great saints. Svayambhuva Manu, for example, was the emperor of the world, yet he had no desire for sense gratification. This is the meaning of monarchy. The king of the country or the emperor of the empire must be so trained that by nature he renounces sense gratification. It is not that because one becomes king he should unnecessarily spend money for sense gratification. As soon as kings became degraded, spending money for sense gratification, they were lost. Similarly, at the present moment, monarchy having been lost, the people have created democracy, which is also failing. Now, by the laws of nature, the time is coming when dictatorship will put the citizens into more and more difficulty. If the king or dictator individually, or the members of the government collectively, cannot maintain the state or kingdom according to the rules of Manu-samhita, certainly their government will not endure.

Thomas Merton described the phenomenon of the selfish 1%, and how they try to define themselves as being apart from the 99%

“People who know nothing of God and whose lives are centered on themselves, imagine that they can only find themselves by asserting their own desires and ambitions and appetites in a struggle with the rest of the world. They try to become real by imposing themselves on other people, by appropriating for themselves some share of the limited supply of created goods and thus emphasizing the difference between themselves and the other men who have less than they, or nothing at all.

They can only conceive one way of becoming real: cutting themselves off from other people and building a barrier of contrast and distinction between themselves and other men. They do not know that reality is to be sought not in division but in unity, for we are ‘members one of another.’” - Thomas Merton, from New Seeds of Contemplation

Srila Prabhupada explains this phenomenon in the purport to the verse from the Sri Isopanisad that opens this book. This is a bit dated due to the reference to communism, but it still applies in relation to the quarrel between the “haves” and the “have nots.”

“In modern society there is always a great quarrel between the laborers and the capitalists. This quarrel has taken an international shape, and the world is endangered. Men face one another in enmity and snarl just like cats and dogs. Sri Isopanisad cannot give advice to the cats and dogs, but it can deliver the message of Godhead to man through the bona fide acaryas (holy teachers). The human race should take the Vedic wisdom of Isopanisad and not quarrel over material possessions. One must be satisfied by whatever privileges are given to him by the mercy of the Lord. There can be no peace if the communists or capitalists or any other party claims proprietorship over the resources of nature, which are entirely the property of the Lord. The capitalists cannot curb the communists simply by political maneuvering, nor can the communists defeat the capitalists simply by fighting for stolen bread. If they do not recognize the proprietorship of the Supreme personality of Godhead, all the property which they claim to be their own is stolen. Consequently they will be liable to punishment by the laws of nature. Nuclear bombs are in the hands of both communists and capitalists, and if both do not recognize the proprietorship of the Supreme Lord, it is certain that these bombs will ultimately ruin both parties. Thus in order to save themselves and bring peace to the world, both parties must follow the instructions of Sri Isopanisad.

…One should therefore be intelligent enough to know that but for the Lord no one is a proprietor of anything. One should accept only those things which are set aside by the Lord as his quota. The cow, for instance, gives milk, but she does not drink that milk; she eats grass and grain, and her milk is designated as food for human beings. Such is the arrangement of the Lord, and we should be satisfied with those things which He has kindly set aside for us, and we should always consider to whom those things we possess actually belong.

A house, for instance, is made of earth, wood, stone, iron, cement and so many other material things, and if we think in terms of Sri Isopanisad, we must know that we cannot produce any of these materials ourselves. We can simply bring them together and transform them into different shapes by our labor. A laborer cannot claim to be a proprietor of a thing just because he has worked hard to manufacture it…

…The root of sin is deliberate disobedience to the laws of nature through disregarding the proprietorship of the Lord. Disobedience to the laws of nature or the order of the Lord brings ruin to a human being. If one is sober, knows the laws of nature and is not influenced by unnecessary attachment or aversion, he is sure to be recognized by the Lord, and he is sure to become eligible to go back to Godhead, back to the eternal home.”

It is so easy to forget that we are not the owner of anything - not even our bodies. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, there is the story of Bali Maharaja, who was deprived of all his opulence by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vamanadeva by promising Him three steps of land.
In two steps Vamana covered the entire universe. Where was the other step to be taken? Bali was arrested for not fulfilling his promise, but here was the faulty thinking:

Srimati Vindhyavali (Bali Maharaja’s wife) said: O my Lord, You have created the entire universe for the enjoyment of Your personal pastimes, but foolish, unintelligent men have claimed proprietorship for material enjoyment. Certainly they are shameless agnostics. Falsely claiming proprietorship, they think they can give charity and enjoy. In such a condition, what good can they do for You, who are the independent creator, maintainer and annihilator of this universe?

Bali Maharaja’s wife, who was most intelligent, supported the arrest of her husband and accused him of having no intelligence because he had claimed proprietorship of the property of the Lord. Such a claim is a sign of demoniac life. Although the demigods, who are officials appointed by the Lord for management, are attached to materialistic enjoyment, they never claim to be proprietors of the universe, for they know that the actual proprietor of everything is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is the qualification of the demigods. But the demons, instead of accepting the exclusive proprietorship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, claim the property of the universe for themselves through demarcations of nationalism. “This part is mine, and that part is yours,” they say. “This part I can give in charity, and this part I can keep for my enjoyment.” These are all demoniac conceptions.

This is described in Bhagavad-gita (16.13): idam adya maya labdham imam prapsye manoratham. “Thus far I have acquired so much money and land. Now I have to add more and more. In this way I shall be the greatest proprietor of everything. Who can compete with me?” These are all demoniac conceptions. Bali Maharaja’s wife accused Bali Maharaja by saying that although the Supreme Personality of Godhead had arrested him, showing him extraordinary mercy, and although Bali Maharaja was offering his body to the Supreme Lord for the Lord’s third step, he was still in the darkness of ignorance. Actually the body did not belong to him, but because of his long-standing demoniac mentality he could not understand this. He thought that since he had been defamed for his inability to fulfill his promise of charity, and since the body belonged to him, he would free himself from defamation by offering his body. Actually, however, the body does not belong to anyone but the Supreme Personality of Godhead, by whom the body is given. As stated in Bhagavad-gita (18.61):

isvarah sarva-bhutanam
hrd-dese ‘rjuna tisthati
bhramayan sarva-bhutani
yantrarudhani mayaya

The Lord is situated in the core of everyone’s heart, and, according to the material desires of the living entity, the Lord offers a particular type of machine—the body—through the agency of the material energy. The body actually does not belong to the living entity; it belongs to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Under the circumstances, how could Bali Maharaja claim that the body belonged to him?
Thus Vindhyavali, Bali Maharaja’s intelligent wife, prayed that her husband be released, by the Lord’s causeless mercy. Otherwise, Bali Maharaja was nothing but a shameless demon, specifically described as tyakta-hriyas tvad-avaropita-kartr-vadah, a foolish person claiming proprietorship over the property of the Supreme Person. In the present age, Kali-yuga, the number of such shameless men, who are agnostics disbelieving in the existence of God, has increased. Trying to defy the authority of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, so-called scientists, philosophers and politicians manufacture plans and schemes for the destruction of the world. They cannot do anything good for the world, and unfortunately, because of Kali-yuga, they have plunged the affairs of the world into mismanagement. Thus there is a great need for the Krsna consciousness movement for the benefit of innocent people who are being carried away by propaganda of such demons. If the present status quo is allowed to continue, people will certainly suffer more and more under the leadership of these demoniac agnostics.

Another example of this idea was given in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 10, Chapter 8, verse 42 describing a childhood pastime of Lord Krishna. When he was accused of eating dirt by his playmates, his mother looked within his mouth and she saw the entire universe. This is what she thought.

It is by the influence of the Supreme Lord’s maya that I am wrongly thinking that Nanda Maharaja is my husband, that Krsna is my son, and that because I am the queen of Nanda Maharaja, all the wealth of cows and calves are my possessions and all the cowherd men and their wives are my subjects. Actually, I also am eternally subordinate to the Supreme Lord. He is my ultimate shelter.

Following in the footsteps of mother Yasoda, everyone should follow this mentality of renunciation. Whatever wealth, opulence or whatever else we may possess belongs not to us but to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the ultimate shelter of everyone and the ultimate owner of everything. As stated by the Lord Himself in Bhagavad-gita (5.29):

bhoktaram yajna-tapasam
suhrdam sarva-bhutanam
jnatva mam santim rcchati

“The sages, knowing Me as the ultimate purpose of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods and the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities, attain peace from the pangs of material miseries.” We should not be proud of our possessions. As expressed by mother Yasoda herein, “I am not the owner of possessions, the opulent wife of Nanda Maharaja. The estate, the possessions, the cows and calves and the subjects like the gopis and cowherd men are all given to me.” One should give up thinking of “my possessions, my son and my husband” (janasya moho’yam aham mameti). Nothing belongs to anyone but the Supreme Lord. Only because of illusion do we wrongly think, “I am existing” or “Everything belongs to me.” Thus mother Yasoda completely surrendered unto the Supreme Lord. For the moment, she was rather disappointed, thinking, “My endeavors to protect my son by charity and other auspicious activities are useless. The Supreme Lord has given me many things, but unless He takes charge of everything, there is no assurance of protection. I must therefore ultimately seek shelter of the Supreme personality of Godhead.” As stated by Prahlada Maharaja (Bhag. 7.9.19), balasya neha saranam pitarau nrsimha: a father and mother cannot ultimately take care of their children. Ato grha-ksetra-sutapta-vittair janasya moho ‘yam aham mameti (Bhag. 5.5.8). One’s land, home, wealth and all of one’s possessions belong to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, although we wrongly think, “I am this” and “These things are mine.”

The above mentioned verse (Bg. 5.29) has been called “The Peace Formula.” Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, amid the antiwar protests of late 1966, expanded on this idea, and put out a mimeographed leaflet (among the very first of his publications in America) from his small storefront temple on New York’s Second Avenue. His followers and sympathizers handed this leaflet out by the thousands on the streets of New York in front of the United Nations building, and later in San Francisco, Montreal, and other cities. His “Peace Formula” was an entirely new approach to the antiwar question, and for thousands of Americans, it provided the perfect solution.

“The great mistake of modern civilization is to encroach upon other’s property as though it were one’s own and to thereby create an unnecessary disturbance of the laws of nature. These laws are very strong. No living entity can violate them. Only one who is God conscious can easily overcome the stringency of the laws of nature and thus become happy and peaceful in the world. As a state is protected by the department of law and order, so is the state of the Universe, of which this earth is only an insignificant fragment, is protected by the laws of nature. This material nature is one of the different potencies of God, who is the ultimate protector of everything that be. This earth is, therefore, the property of God, but we, the living entities, especially the so-called civilized human beings, are claiming God’s property as our own, under both and individual and collective false conception. If you want peace, you have to remove this false conception from your mind and from the world. This false claim of proprietorship by the human race on earth is partly or wholly the cause of all disturbances of foolish and so-called civilized men who are claiming proprietary rights on the property of God because they have now become godless. You cannot be happy and peaceful in a godless civilization. Although there are many civilizations, there is only one God, although He may be called many names in different countries. In the Bhagavad-gita, the holy book of India, Lord Krishna delineates the peace formula. He says that He is the factual enjoyer of all activities of the living entities, that He is the Supreme Lord of all universes, and that He is the well-wishing friend of all beings. When the people of the world know this as the formula for peace, it is then and there that peace will prevail.”

One of Prabupada’s disciples once asked him, “Should I renounce everything?” Prabhupada laughed and said, “What do YOU have to renounce?”

This principle is not only in Vedic philosophy, but in all religions. Here are some examples from Christianity:

1. God owns all the money. "'The silver is mine and the gold is mine,' declares the LORD Almighty" (Haggai 2:8).
At the time this verse was written, silver and gold were used as a means of exchange (i.e., like money), so I believe a modern-day interpretation of this verse would be that God owns all the money.

2. God owns all the livestock.
"Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you: I am God, your God. I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills." (Psalm 50:7-10, emphasis added) At the time this verse was written, many people retained material wealth in their livestock, and this was frequently a measure of one's material resources.

3. God created everything and therefore owns everything:
"The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters." (Psalm 24:1, 2)
Everything in the heavens and earth is yours O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as being in control of everything. Riches and honor come from you alone, and you are the Ruler of all mankind; your hand controls power and might, and it is at your discretion that men are made great and given strength. (1 Chronicles 29: 11, 12 tlb)

For Christians, I think the most important thing is to acknowledge, in heart and in mind, that God owns everything.

In order to do this practically, is important to learn and implement God's principles as outlined in his Word and utilize the material resources that God has given us according to God's will and not our own will.

The principle of “spiritual communism” - that nothing belongs to us and that everything belongs to God was expanded on in Srila Prabhupada’s book “Journey of Spiritual Discovery”

“Our God conscious philosophy is also a kind of spiritual communism, because we regard Krsna as the supreme father and all living entities as sons of Krsna. And Krsna says, sarva-loka-mahesvaram: He is the proprietor of all planets. Therefore whatever there is, either in the sky or in the water or on the land, it is all Krsna’s property. And because we are all sons of Krsna, every one of us has the right to use our father’s property. But we should not encroach upon others. This is the formula for peace. Everything belongs to God, and since you are sons of God, you have the right to use your father’s property. But do not take more than you need. This is punishable. If anyone takes more than he needs, then he’s a thief.

When we forget this philosophy—that Krsna is the supreme father, Krsna is the supreme proprietor, Krsna is the supreme enjoyer, and Krsna is the supreme friend of everyone—when we forget this, then we come into this material world and struggle for existence, fight with one another. This is material life.

Nor can we get any relief through our politicians, diplomats, philosophers. They have tried so much, but actually nothing they have tried has become fruitful. Take the United Nations. It was organized after the second great war, and they wanted, “We shall now settle everything peacefully.” But there is no such thing. The fighting is going on, between Pakistan and India or between Vietnam and America or this and that. Mundane politics and diplomacy and philosophy—this is not the process. The process is Krsna consciousness. Everyone has to understand this point, that we are not proprietors. The actual proprietor is Krsna. That’s a fact. Take America, for example. Say two hundred years ago, the European immigrants were not the proprietors. Somebody else was the proprietor, and before that somebody else was the proprietor, or it was vacant land. But the actual proprietor is Krsna. Artificially we are claiming, “It is my property.” This is called maya, illusion.”

Actually, the whole idea of proprietorship was completely foreign to Native Americans, because they knew that mother earth belonged to Wonka Tonka - God.

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