Practicing the Encounter: Appropriation (and Ecology)

Contr’un Revisited: [commentary coming soon]

Let’s get a little practice with all the tools we’ve been assembling. And, to do so, let’s stick, for the moment, with the question of property. It’s been one of my more or less explicit beliefs for a long time now that property theory may be transformed from a tool of capitalism into a tool useful to anarchists, simply by reexamining it very closely with a set of presuppositions informed by the insights of anarchism and ecological science. I’ve also been fairly emphatic that one of the reasons that this has not happened to any great extent, despite the emergence and/or reemergence of anarchistic schools with a fairly significant interest in questions of property, is that we have tended to focus on questions of abandonment, rather than on the question of initial appropriation. It’s probably also the case that in at least some of the “libertarian” capitalist circles where anarchists were once likely to be challenged most seriously on questions of principle, there has been a recent tendency to retreat from well-developed, principled arguments, in favor of vague position such as voluntaryism, uncertain predictions about most “efficient” practices, and bald assertions about natural “liberties.” I think, however, that a different, and potentially more interesting, set of challenges have emerged as a result of the examination of genuinely anarchist theory, and there is no particular need in this instance to bounce ideas off those of our adversaries in order to refine our understanding.

For the moment, I am just going to take it as a still-controversial given that some sort of theory of “property,” in the general sense I have been giving it, is not just useful, but probably unavoidable for anarchists. While we want to avoid the (mis)conceptions by which property becomes capitalist from the outset, and we are, as anarchists, committed to opposing the sorts of hierarchical, “propertarian” structures that we see all around us, we probably still have a need to distinguish between the mine and thine, to make specific judgments about the just distribution of both “natural resources” and the fruits of labor, and to make judgments about responsibility in various senses that never stray very far from the question of “one’s own.” There are a lot of reasons why it would be nice if anarchist theory could bypass the question of “property,” but my experience is that failing to confront the problem doesn’t make it go away, while acknowledging that it is indeed a problem, and settling down into problem-solving mode, has in many way caused the problem to diminish in importance. And now, with the model of the encounter established as a key element of our anarchistic toolkit, it seems possible to position the problem of property as one part of the larger problem of the encounter, the problem we can expect to be solving, and re-solving, as long as we seek to practice anarchistic social relations.

There is a very thorny analysis of property in the context of this encounter of equal uniques, with more or less incommensurable values, which still has to be on our agenda, and which will involve a more head-on encounter with some of the varieties of egoism, but I suspect it may be easier to work towards that question through a somewhat less abstract, speculative look at appropriation. In the past, engaging in a sort of variant reading of Locke, I’ve identified the elements that would probably be necessary for a complete, coherent theory of just appropriation:

  1. An understanding of the subject of appropriation (“individual,” “collective,” irreducibly individual-collective, etc.;
  2. A theory of the nature of that subject’s relation to itself as “self-ownership,” “self-enjoyment,” etc.;
  3. A theory of nature (active or passive? productive? capable of “projects” worthy of acknowledgment?) and of the relation between nature and the subject of appropriation;
  4. Some answer to the question “is there a right of appropriation”?—and some reasonable account for any such right, grounded in the previous elements;
  5. A theory of justice in the exercise of appropriation (provisos, etc.);
  6. A mechanism for appropriation;

That still looks like a fairly useful list, but a number of the elements look rather different to me than they did in early 2011.

Some of the questions look considerably simpler than they once did, and others look enormously more complicated. Having rather thoroughly embraced Proudhon’s sociology in this examination, the answer to the first question seems to be “irreducibly individual-collective,” at least in the sense that we have been looking at all potential subjects as at once individualities and collectivities.

Let’s take a moment and define those two terms a bit more precisely. They both refer to the range of individuals recognized within Proudhon’s sociology, but designate different aspects of those individuals. Since every individual is also a group, since the unity of the individual is itself a matter of the organization of elements according to a specific, developing law of organization, there are occasions where the different designations will be useful, and since we are not just talking about individual humans, let’s let these other terms designate the full range of possibilities.

Now, despite my recourse to borrowing from Stirner’s vocabulary, we’re starting from a place rather different than at least some egoists would probably choose. Someone like John Beverley Robinson, for example, suggested that egoism involved the realization by the individual “that, as far as they are concerned, they are the only individual.” We are isolated by what we might call the opacity of the other:

For each one of us stands alone in the midst of a universe. We are surrounded by sights and sounds which we interpret as exterior to ourselves, although all we know of them are the impressions on our retina and ear drums and other organs of sense. The universe for the individual is measured by these sensations; they are, for him/her, the universe. Some of them they interpret as denoting other individuals, whom they conceive as more or less like themselves. But none of these is his/herself. He/she stands apart. His/her consciousness, and the desires and gratifications that enter into it, is a thing unique; no other can enter into it.

However near and dear to you may be your spouse, children, friends, they are not you; they are outside of you. You are forever alone. Your thoughts and emotions are yours alone. There is no other who experiences your thoughts or your feelings.

This is probably not the only way to interpret Stirner’s position, and Robinson is not terribly consistent, if this understanding of the unique as “the only one” is supposed to be taken at all literally. In any event, it seems to involve an almost entirely opposite response to this problem of opacity from that made by Proudhon, for whom the world seems to be filled with an unknown, but unquestionably large number of at least potential others, which must, by his sole criterion of justice, be encountered as equals.

Does it make sense to extend our range of possible subjects of appropriation to include everything that fits Proudhon’s criterion for an individuality? He talked about approaching rocks as equals in some contexts. Must we stretch our theory of appropriation to accommodate sedimentation?

We can probably dodge some of the worst elements of this particular dilemma, since there are theoretical conundrums that are unlikely to come up in any practical context. So let’s turn to those which are indeed likely to come up. They are probably bad enough, when it comes to shaking up our view of what property theory is all about. We’re familiar with a range of arguments which claim that non-human animals may have as good a “right” to resources as human beings, despite their inability to, say, claim those “rights” in the conventional institutions. It isn’t clear that the counterarguments have much behind them that isn’t ultimately derived from some version of divine command or simply anthropocentric assertion. We may reject the panpsychist intuition that seems to lurk behind Proudhon’s hesitation at drawing a firm line between animal, vegetable and mineral (or we may not), but that still leaves a lot of candidates for some sort of reasonable claim to be subjects of appropriation, even if we’re just now thinking of individuals of species within the animal kingdom. And we have no reason to believe that we can stop there. After all, we have introduced the notion of individualities that are also collectivities precisely because we know that the claimants who must be accounted for in the balance of justice come in a variety of scales.

Some of the collectivities for which we probably have to account are easy enough to recognize. In a given workshop, for example, whether or not we decide that individual laborers have separate claims to some portion of the fruits of the collective labor equal to their individual input, Proudhon’s theory of collective force leads us to believe that some portion of the products is the result of the association itself, and so we might say that the association was among the subjects of appropriation. Most of the practical disagreements among anarchists probably come down to differences of opinion about at what scale we should identify the subject of the property relation, with individualists looking towards the human individual and communists looking towards some relevant collectivity. Where the Proudhonian approach differs from these is in not choosing a particular scale, because there doesn’t seem to be a clear criterion for doing so, and attempting to produce a relation of justice among individualities of various scales. We might, then, find instances where a family, or a city, or a federation, or perhaps in some case, even humanity, seemed to be the appropriate subject of property relations (weeding out, of course, all the instances where those terms refer to spooks, usurpations, etc.) And if we accept the theory of collective force it becomes fairly hard to find a reason to exclude these collectivities from our account, since they are expressions, at least in large part, of the associated actions of agents that we would be hard put to exclude from the realm of equal uniques.

What we have accepted on the basis of social science has its equivalents in the realm of ecological science. When Proudhon moved from the critique of property to that of the State, he simply shifted his attention from one form of exploitation of human beings by human beings to another. With a greater appreciation of our material interconnectedness within ecosystems, and the interconnectedness of ecosystems, perhaps there is another, analogous critique that needs to be made. There are probably a variety of ways in which the collective force and the fact of association involved in our de facto ecological associations are harnessed and turned against us, both by denying them and by affirming them in fundamentally political ways. The “debates” about anthropogenic climate change seem full of political arguments posing as ecological ones. But the thing that we can no longer entirely deny, despite all of our political ducking and weaving, is that we are connected, and connected with nonhuman nature, in ways which are not reducible to the best of our sociological or economic models. What we are understandably slow to conclude from that is that those models, which tend to treat “nature” simply as a store of “resources,” “unowned” prior to human appropriation, may not really be up to the tasks to which we attempt to apply them.

Alongside a range of social collectivities, ranging from individual couples to whole societies, we have to consider the possibility that our potential subjects of appropriation may include a range of natural communities, perhaps culminating in that universal circulus that Pierre Leroux, Joseph Déjacque and others spoke about. As in the case of social collectivities, we find ourselves confronted with associations in which some of the associated force with which we are confronted is our own, but, in contrast with them, much of it comes from individualities that we are much less likely to include in our present discussions of property. I don’t think the Proudhonian philosophy or sociology leaves us any easy way to leave out these previously excluded elements, but even if we were just to focus on the traditional concern for the protection of the property of individual human beings from invasion or destruction there seem to be enough potential “downstream effects” to call for at least some reconsideration.

So, assuming we accept that something like the full range of potential subjects of appropriation have to figure in our account, what implications does that have?

It looks like the consequences are fairly significant, beginning with the fact that there is likely to be very little that looks like unowned resources, which we could simply homestead, with or without the consideration of provisos.

It appears that every act of appropriation will involve an encounter.

II.

The search for an anarchist theory of appropriation has led us into an interesting position. It is common to ask the proponents of property: What happens when all the resources have been appropriated? But we’re faced with a more challenging question: What if, in some very important senses, they always already are? We have to be clear, because we are not yet really talking about property rights, or rightful appropriation, but describing circumstances under which little or nothing of what we might consider available for anything like “homesteading” is not already mixed up with individualities and collectivities that our Proudhonian sociology suggests we should treat as having at least some weight in the scales of justice. So far, we haven’t found much ground on which to treat the weights of the various claims of the various individualities as other than equal, but we also haven’t begun to wrestle with some fairly obvious questions which arise from our expanded roster of potential subjects of appropriation.

We know that there are important differences between free absolutes, which are capable of reflection, responsibility, self-conscious action, etc., and the other absolutes which inform and/or are informed by their actions. Back in 2010, when I began to explore these aspects of Proudhon’s thinking in the context of the Deepwater Horizon spill, the conversation took the predictable turn of focusing on the fact that non-human animals and ecosystems can’t vote, represent themselves in court, purchase their freedom, etc. Proponents of “market environmentalism” rightly suggested that it was necessary for human actors to be convinced of the values represented by those non-human actors’ stakes, but the question of whether those values could actually be represented in a market which considered those other actors as, or as composed of, “resources” which are legitimately appropriable, apart from humans setting limits on themselves, doesn’t seem to have really registered. Our thinking on matters of economics and governments is, on the one hand, mostly anthropocentric and is, on the other, married to a notion of the human person which confines the subject of appropriation largely “between hat and boots.” Capitalist property then arguably splits that person against itself, but that’s not a sort of complexification that is likely to lead in any of the directions Proudhon indicated. Instead, the body becomes just another sort of resource.

Some of the differences between the “common sense” we have inherited and Proudhon’s approach are ideological, and some are no doubt matters of dominant philosophical or scientific trends. I suspect we see warring 19th century tendencies in Proudhon, who often seems ready to reduce his sociology to a sort of social physics, reminiscent of Comte’s positivism, but also seems to flirt with some kind of panpsychism. As Proudhonian antinomies go, that would be neither particularly surprising nor particularly extreme, but I suspect that both aspects are at least a bit alien to most of us. We don’t, I think, necessarily need to go the places that Proudhon’s specific interests and influences took him, but we are undoubtedly better off attempting to be clear about what they might have been.

A more challenging question is just how literally we have to take all this business of individualities and collectivities. And once we’ve settled that, we finally do need to figure out how these other claims to property are to be dealt with in practical terms. For Proudhon, the first important question is whether or not there is something there in the places that we gesture towards with words like society, family, association, market, etc., or whether we have misidentified collections of elements with no real organization for organize wholes. Such an error is always possible, and we should cultivate the egoist’s disdain for spooks when we encounter them. But it has been an important aspect of radical thought to recognize that sometimes our misidentifications are of a different sort than that, as when we have mistaken our own social self-organization for the work of a State, or our collective force for divine power. Almost all anarchist factions seem to acknowledge, and even depend on the fact that there are emergent, agent-like structures in society with at least something very like interests of their own. So the broad question of collectivities doesn’t seem to me to pose particular problems, however much particular structures of association may be denied by the individual factions. I think that Proudhon’s treatment of the State as something which persists suggests one of the criteria we might look at for identifying potential subjects of appropriation, and the fact that what seems to persist in this particular sort of collectivity is human projects is another. When it is a question of acknowledging that our associations might deserve a place in our considerations of what it means to live together in just relations, I don’t think there is a much of a stretch, theoretically speaking, though I think most of us are ideologically predisposed to resist acknowledging certain collectivities. The notion that these collectivities might have interests which are in some ways at odds with the interests of those implicated in them is also probably not a great stretch for most of us, although, again, we may have ideological reasons to resist the notion in particular cases. Communists may be loathe to acknowledge the market, and slow to acknowledge the potential space between the interests of the commune as such and the individuals who are a part of it. Capitalists can be expected to embrace and resist in a roughly opposite manner. But for those who are resistant, the escape route is probably a familiar one. We are dealing here, after all, with just another version of the “synthesis (or irreducible dialectic) of community and property.” While Proudhon leads us to tackle the resulting tensions pretty much head-on, I think most of us are familiar with the ways in which individualist or collectivist theories adapt to accommodate the key questions posed by the opposing theories, without erasing either human individuals or all persistent forms of association.

In previous posts, I’ve tried to lay out the reasons that Proudhon felt he had no anarchistic grounds on which to exclude these social collectivities from consideration, but those who are unconvinced still have to deal with the fact of these human projects and the individual human interests which presumably lie behind them. Existing positions being somewhat flexible, as I’ve suggested, regarding their individual and collective aspects, perhaps there are other means to deal with the problems raised by Proudhon’s analysis, although the question of the specific, possibly antagonistic interests and reasons of the collectivities strikes me as something that it at least not easily incorporated into most existing theories.

Incorporating ecological science, however, seems to pose a much greater challenge, even before its incorporation poses its own challenge to the conventional homesteading model of appropriation. With persistent social collectivities, we are presumably always dealing with human will, even if it is sometimes the effects of wills belonging to humans that are dead. Sometimes we are able to extend our concern to future generations, but generally without leaving the resource-management paradigm, within which most of nature remains fair game, except insofar as we impose anthropocentric consumption limits on ourselves. What ecological science teaches us is that we are dependent for the conditions of our existence on complex systems which, within limits that are not precisely known to us, do much  of the heavy lifting in the process of purifying air and water, transforming waste into the ground for new life, etc. While the political conversation about “the environment” focuses on fairly simple, abstract notions, like average global temperature, debates over the specific health effects of genetically modified species, or individual endangered species, the science ought to lead us into the much more complex study of all the various ways in which anthropogenic changes in the nature and complexity of various natural systems are really undeniable, while the effect remain unpredictable.

In relation to property theory, ecological science teaches us that our interventions in natural systems, our appropriations of resources, involve a “mixing” that goes beyond anything we usually account for in our Robinson Crusoe scenarios. Since very little of our appropriation now involves anything even remotely like the desert island or wilderness homesteading scenarios, and since contemporary appropriation is almost always technologically amplified far beyond the sort of human scale of the classical theories, we can’t ignore the possibility that virtually all of our appropriation will have significant downstream effects. Most of our talk about non-invasive appropriation is probably rooted in science that is a couple of centuries out of date, even if we don’t take into account any claim but those of human beings. We need to confront the fact that the rights generally granted to first-comers now clearly amount to something like a right to determine, in significant but often indeterminable ways, the sort of world in which later arrivals will live. There may be visions of liberty within which that sort of right appears justifiable, but I’m not sure we should call them anarchism, and I’m fairly certain that they do not fall within the scope of the anarchic justice advanced by Proudhon.

So we have a series of reasons to think that we may have trouble identifying “resources” which can be appropriated in a way that only influences the property of a single individual—the very sort of exclusive, individual property that we tend to think of when we used the word—and then we have Proudhon’s individualities, multiplied by our advances in scientific knowledge. We not only have to account for social labor, collective force attributable to specific association, but we have the amplifying force of social labor, in the form of technology, being exerted as a part of what we still call individual appropriation. And we have collectivities that result in part from our actions and exertions, but not entirely or in any way which necessarily corresponds with our own interests and wills. How, given all this, do we define the limits of what is “our own”? An awful lot of traditional individualisms seem to fall short, leaving us, not unexpectedly, with a range of approaches which attempt to maintain individualism and some form of socialism or collectivism in some sort of interconnection or antinomic balance, such as those found in Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” or Pierre Leroux’s work. (Whitman constantly connected oneself, “from top to toe,” with the “en masse,” which is not contained between hat and boots.For Leroux, see in particular the section on Humanity in the Aphorisms.) The visions of self, and of the self’s relations to its others, quickly become rather dizzyingly complex. There is the self, already a group, and then the collectivites in which the self has some interest, as well as those which perhaps have an interest of their own in the self. All of these are potential subjects of appropriation, though their various appropriations in some sense all come down to either individual human appropriations or the sort of things we tend to treat as simply “nature.” And only the individual humans seem to be the sort of free absolute which can shoulder any responsibility in any of this.

What remains to us is to attempt a practical solution of the problem of defining just appropriation in a situation where nothing seems to be free to appropriate, and where the various agents of appropriation come with significantly different capacities for achieving anything like justice. It probably won’t come as any surprise to say at this point that I still see some of our most promising indications in the system of Locke, and particular in the various provisos. But the exposition will have to wait for another day.

III.

“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

The difficulties facing our theory of just appropriation seem enormous. Hopefully, they also seem familiar. We’re still just trying to find a property that would not be theft, while still remaining property in some fairly strong sense. Theories of possession, to the extent that they remain concerned with matters of fact, don’t get us where we need to go. In order to provide a principle for action they require some additional element, such as respect. But those additional elements always seem to throw us back into the realm of property. There does not seem to be any possibility of talking about just relations in a material sense without some material distinction between selves and others, which inevitably involves a distinction—though not always an exclusive distinction—between mine and thine.

This is not an equivocation or compromise. Nor does it even need to be an attack. The capitalists have had their say about what is proper to human being for long enough, but it’s a rotten story, which has become worse over time, and a good, Stirnerian shrug of the shoulders is about all it takes to move us along. Whether or not capitalism itself is moving towards some final crisis, capitalist philosophy seems to be an increasingly slapdash affair, and we don’t have to look much farther than its own philosophical touchstones to demonstrate the fact. Proudhon’s critiques of the contradictions and impossibilities of capitalist property theories still stand up pretty well today.

So let’s shrug those shoulders and move along. We’re working with a model of anarchist relations that depends on equality (in the absence of any clear means of applying any specific hierarchy or authority) and a recognition of the otherness of the other, the incommensurability or opacity of individuals with regard to one another (which is ultimately just part of the same argument for equality.) We will move towards harmony and accord, but have to start without any a priori criteria for exactly how we’ll get there. What we have is what is imposed on us by the conditions we recognize at the start: there will always be a first step, into the encounter, which we will have to make in a sort of principled isolation, and what I’ve been suggesting is that the principle is property itself, manifested in three “gifts.” There are plenty of ways of looking at the world which might lead us to think of it as fundamentally undivided, and might then lead us to associate that undivided world with our selves—with our own. We see versions of this in Stirner and in Whitman, and we might derive something similar from Déjacque or Pierre Leroux, or simply from the natural sciences. But, despite the truths captured by those various visions of the world, they couldn’t function for us as principles in any social setting, since the first appearance of a really other being would force us to at least supplement them with some theory of property (in the broad sense we have been using.) Similarly, we might, as some individualisms do, break down the larger collectivities into their component parts and simply refuse to deal with the social as such, but that leaves us without the means to account for any sort of collective force. And, in practice, though some individualisms attempt to dispense with the notion of society, the defenders of capitalism and capitalist property seem prone to positing some other, emergent collectivity in its place, whether explicitly identified as the market or simply gestured at as a realm of emergent good consequences. Among the hierarchies for which we seem to have no sanction is the hierarchy of scales of analysis.

Still, while we have no principled grounds on which to privilege any particular class of interests, we have the practical problem posed by the fact that, despite the wide range of possible subjects of appropriation, those free absolutes who can be expected to act according to principle and who can be held responsible for their actions seem to cluster pretty much entirely among individual human actors. Some collectivities can provide feedback in the form of consequences, but generally after the fact. What the complexities of our involvements and the opacity of the others demands is a principle of individual action which allows us to enter into various encounters well-prepared to do justice, in the sense of balancing all of the various interests involved at every stage of the struggle towards accord and harmony.

In that sense, then, the anarchism we are exploring is, as I have put it elsewhere, an individualism, but an individualism at a variety of scales. And the mechanism by which we enter the encounter with an anarchistic posture is the practice of the three gifts of property: the acknowledgment of the other as other, and the gift of those parts of ourselves most integral to that other; the gift of a space within which to explore, and err, in the practice of being a material self, without the inevitable errors fatally disrupting our gift economy of property; and the gift of anarchy, the relinquishing of all existing hierarchies and the advantages they might afford us, whether directly in the material realm or on more ideological terrain, which is the step by which we move beyond mere voluntaryism. It is an individualism always already married to an aspiration that is social, that movement towards accord, harmony and justice, but we can’t skip the individualizing step, nor the principle that attaches to it, without simply scrapping the whole analysis we’ve made here and starting anew.

We’re circling an inevitable conclusion: if we want just appropriation, no matter the range of subjects we suppose, it’s up to us—up to individual human actors, working through the tangled layers of our varied and potentially conflicting interests—to make it happen. We have to enter the encounter in all of our Whitmanesque largeness, representing not just our own interests—including, presumably, the interest in anarchism—but also that of the multitudes which we contain, by which we are contained, and with which we are inextricably involved. And those are big shoes to fill.

There’s not really that much more to say, at least at the level of principles. It has been clear since I entered the discussions of mutualism a decade or so ago that for Proudhon property is a problem. What has been dawning over time is the extent of the problem, and the extent to which it is possibly the problem, which must be solved if we hope to make headway with a range of others. The choices, it seems to me, are to find some means to avoid this particular problem, to tackle the questions of appropriation and ecology in some other terms, or to take on the problem, and to take on in process all of that Whitmanesque largeness, those multitudes, and, of course, those contradictions that Proudhon also considered so integral to our existence. The second approach seems to have a variety of advantages, not the least of which is that it is indeed direct. and as we have posed the question it is not just an approach to the question of property, but at the same time it is a direct approach to the question of ecology—and of anarchy as well.

So, if we move forward and begin to spell out a theory of anarchistic property, how do we proceed? With our explorations of the possible subjects of appropriation, we have the beginnings of a descriptive account of possession, an account of what has been appropriated by individuals in a strictly de facto sense. We have no account of property rights—and to the extent that rights are understood as realization or justification external to our very basic encounter, we know that we won’t be going there. We know that the droit d’aubaine or right of increase is almost certainly off the table. In Proudhon’s terms, we can expect the fruits of social labor to become social property; whether they are ultimately managed and consumed in common, or dispersed to individuals, the role generally assigned to the capitalist—essentially that of external realization of the association—is unlikely to be rewarded as it is at present. We know that exclusive, individual property is unlikely to be the default form, given all the ways in which even apparently solitary production is amplified by accumulated technological power, and, of course, given all of the overlaps in our descriptive account of present appropriation. We know that the liberty to appropriate unowned resources will be fundamentally meaningless, as we will be hard put to find resources which are not already involved in collectivities which are themselves already involved with us human individuals. Given all of that, however, I’m still not certain we will find any more elegant place to begin looking for our principle of just appropriation than in the “enough and as good” proviso of Locke.

It was over three years ago that I spent quite a bit of time talking about that proviso and its consequences, culminating in a series of posts examining under what circumstances the individual might feel themselves free to take “a good draught” of water from a river. My argument was that Locke’s appropriation proviso demanded that unilaterally just appropriation was limited to circumstances where the resource was essentially non-rivalrous, a condition very different from most modern interpretations of the very conditions for appropriation. Our good draught has to still leave a “whole river,” which seems like a problem since, as I put it at the time, “a quantity of water, X, minus some non-zero “good draught,” G, is unlikely to = X.” But we know that our appropriation of resources is not really, or at least not necessarily, any sort of simple subtraction from quantity X, but an intervention in systems—and ultimately in something like the universal circulus of Leroux and Déjacque—with some capacity for replenishing some of their elements. We really can pull the trick with the good draught and the whole river. We just have to wait, assuming that we have not also crippled the ability of the hydrosystem to do its ordinary work. So if we want to leave enough and as good just for humans, we have to manage our resource use in such a way that we do not diminish the virtually non-rivalrous character of the resource for ourselves and those others. If we are consuming resources in a way which diminishes the resilience of ecosystems, then we need to make sure that we are doing our level best to repair the damage we are doing. And because the mechanics of this stuff is enormously complex, there are going to be lots of instances where we simply can’t know the consequences of our actions, and if we want to claim anything approaching just appropriation, then we’re damn well going to have to walk softly.

Of course, if we were to incorporate ecological norms into our common sense about just appropriation, I suspect that we would pretty quickly learn quite a bit more about ecological science, and would find that at least some of the conceptual work necessary to at least begin to represent the interests of various non-human actors in our schemes of just property was perhaps not so difficult as it seems at the moment, when our common sense about such things is of an almost entirely opposing character. It terms of the mechanisms of representing those interests, I think there are any number of ways of approaching the problem of appointing surrogates or caretakers, once the work of analysis is well under way. I think if we were honest with ourselves, we might feel that we had a good deal of restorative work to do, before we could really feel that any further appropriation was justified. I suspect a lot of folks don’t want to confront that sort of dilemma, but it may be precisely what is needed to break down barriers to more efficient resource use, reduction and reuse of waste materials, etc.

Let’s stop there, with the understanding that there is a great deal that can and eventually should be said about anarchistic property, but also that the models and mechanisms so briefly sketched out here should at least suggest ways in which a number of other social problems might be addressed with our simply system of the encounter. Rather than belabor this particular line of thought any longer at the moment, I would like to turn my attention to other concerns, with the understanding that we will come back to the threads that remain hanging here.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2056 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.