e Essay (6 pages)    f


From the Book: That Little Hardback


What We Must Own to Exist


If we divide the Earth into even parts for all of us,

each of the six billion of us will have approximately

one trillion tons of it. At just one dollar per ton, it

would take 1000 billionaires to buy just your

portion or just mine.


The Earth is only a small part of what we must own

to continue our existence. We know we need the

Sun. Its mass is about 5 million trillion trillion tons.

If we were to divide the Sun among the human

inhabitants of Earth, what would your portion be?

About a billion trillion tons. Offering a penny for a

thousand tons, with all the money on this planet,

just your portion could not be bought.


The Sun and the Earth are only a small portion of

our needs. The Sun needs its galaxy for it to exist.

Perhaps the galaxy needs other galaxies for it to

exist. There is, for all practical purposes, no end to

what is needed for you and I to exist. What we

consider to be our possessions here on Earth are

such a small portion of what we "own" that itís like

a joke. This is not to say that we donít need our



food and other necessities, but all the wealth we

accumulate beyond our actual needs Ė and that we

use to compare our wealth to the wealth of others Ė

is a paltry sum compared with all we already own

and must own even to continue living.


Consider some different styles of ownership. We

own the house. If weíve paid to the bank whatís

owed, then we possess a clear deed that says we

own the house. This ownership has the strength of

whatever state supports it. Anyone more powerful

than that state can take it, and then it would be

his. This deed has only the strength we and the

state may use to hold it. This "ownership" is much

limited by the very state which supports it. I "own"

my house, but the state says I cannot build a

grocery store there. Someone in the energy

business owns the mineral rights; I can't dig for oil.

I can't burn trash on it. My "ownership" is simply a

list of rights, and the state and deed tell me what

those rights are. I may live in it and sleep in it. I

may restrict others from entering. I may sell the

list of rights to another. I cannot really sell the

dirt to anyone. If I owned that, I could dig to the

center of the Earth, but surely as I dig, I will be

stopped by the state less than a hundred feet

down. All we can own is a list of rights, and





they can only be kept if the state is strong enough

to keep them for us.


Thereís an old story about a man in the south who

camps out on someoneís estate. The estate holder

comes out to the manís tent and asks the man what

he thinks heís doing there. The man then says, "Oh,

this is your land? Where did you get it?" "From my

daddy, thatís where!" "Oh, and where did your

daddy get it?" "From my grandpappy, thatís where!"

"Oh, and where did your grandpappy get it?" "He

fought Injuns fer it!" "Ok," says the camper,

retrieving his rifle from the tent, "Iíll fight you

fer it!"


Those have always been the rules of ownership. The

deeds and things came to organize and enforce,

with the state behind us, our holding on our

possessions. The truth is, the rules are still the

same, but it takes more than one rifle to take

anotherís land.


Another style of ownership is the condominium. This

is a style that usually includes independent

ownership of some small portion of a property and

social ownership of the whole property. There may

be a hundred dwellings (like apartments), each of

which are occupied by an "owner," but then that




same owner also owns the whole complex together

with the 99 other owners. Even in oneís own unit,

the two-by-fours within the walls are not his alone,

but belong to the group.


The universe is like a condominium. We own it

together. We must own it to exist. If someone

somewhere were able to take it from us, we would

be gone forever. We do not own any particular piece

of it exclusively. Instead, we own all of it along

with all the other owners. The redwood tree owns

it also, and could not exist without it. Any living

thing on any other planet must also own it all.


If, by some magic, most of the universe were to

perish into nothing, what was left would still exist

as matter in some form, but no life would survive.

Living things must own it the way it is, tolerating

only slow and small change. We need no state to

enforce our ownership of all this. Indeed, it would

take an extremely powerful force to take it from

us, and we are not aware of any force at all with a

purpose to do so. We don't try to protect it and

have no idea how we could. This ownership is the

most complete we may imagine, not just a list of

rights, but actual ownership in need of no

enforcement. Think of it. We own the Sun. We

don't lock it up or try to protect it in any way, and




we know we are with no need to do so. We are

wealthy beyond the ability of any of us to begin to

imagine. When we try to separate out some

infinitesimal portion of this universe to call our

very own and no one elseís, we play a silly game.

Each of us must own a trillion trillion trillion trillion

times what the whole Earth is, just to stay alive.

The lizard, who cocks his head a little looking at us

in the garden, may not be able to develop a notion

of the infinite. That lizard must own the whole

universe to exist, the same as we do.


The concept of infinity is not well understood even

by us, and much less still by the little lizard. Our

ownership equality with the lizard may be hard to



We may come to think that we own more or less

than our neighbor, but in truth, we own an infinite

and indefinable amount, essentially the same as

every neighbor and the same as that lizard, for

otherwise, none of us could ever have come to



Our concept of value is amazing. That lizard would

not, by choice, trade places with any of us, and one

of us, as a mate, would appear terribly ugly to the

little fellow. The wealthiest person on Earth has

not so much as a tiny speck more than that lizard.

So far as we know, only we humans have developed

covetousness, wherein we might wish to be another,

often because it is our perception that the other

person owns more. Not so. Itís simply not true.