Capitalist Ideas of Land

Whether we realize it or not, we as a people have a specific way that we think about and view nature.  This way is not the right or wrong way, but is different from the way other peoples might see it.  We seem to have a fascination or an innate desire to separate and own land.  The notion of ‘property’ is crucial to the foundations of democracy and thus the foundation of this country.  John Locke, the founder of modern democracy, first established the right to life liberty and property.  While we switched the words around to include “the pursuit of happiness,” the idea of property never left the minds of our founding fathers.  As a people we have a desire to mark territory that we alone own.  The idea of ‘fencing off’ what we posses is very prominent in our society.

This is never more transparent that in the Yellowstone Park Act of 1872.  The wording for this act provided a legislative model for subsequent efforts for all types of conservation.  The act stated that the land in the park was retained in “its natural conditions” and “set apart” for people to enjoy.  Any person who operated against “the conditions of nature” was not allowed to touch the land.  While this legislation was motivated by a positive good, its wording reflects our views about the environment.  It reflects our obsession with fencing off and owning property and it reflects our abuse of the word ‘natural.’  This legislation suggests that our country knows what is truly natural.  Yet how can we truly claim that anyone is acting against the conditions of nature?  The way we define the conditions of nature may be different than the way a Native American would or anyone else would.  Who are we to deem something against the laws of nature?  Some people might even argue that fencing off any nature at all is inherently unnatural.

Karl Jacoby’s most captivating argument in the book for me was her argument that we often try to legitimize particular conceptions of nature and criminalize others.   While I agree that this process goes on all the time, I don’t believe that it is just limited to the urban elite and kept separate from rural citizens.  I believe that it stems from a fundamental capitalist and democratic understanding of land that was established by our forefathers.  Jacoby talks about the elite because they are the easiest targets and they were the most successful at using our conceptions of nature for their benefit.  I would love to see a study of this type of rhetoric among farmers and other rural Americans.  I believe that it would be just as prominent.  I think Justin makes an intelligent point in his post about the importance of binaries in this work.  I think Jacoby seeks to set up this binary opposite between these two groups of people.  While it effective for the argument I would love to see more.

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