This is part III of a series about the values necessary for civilization. Part I was about life, and Part II was about truth. The values of honoring God, life, family, truth, and property are a brief summary of the Ten Commandments, but also followed by any other culture that could be called civilization. Respecting property ownership comes up in “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not covet.”
Much of the material in this series comes from the Spherical Model website, written mostly between 2008 and 2010, in the Civilized vs. Savage section. In the earlier posts I’ve also added a few current comments, before, after, or within.
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For today, I’ll just point out that there’s a strong connection between valuing property rights and civilization. A type of government that takes away property rights, or devalues them, deciding how or whether a worker will be allowed to spend her earnings, taking away her property if the rulers decide they know better who deserves that money—such a government is not a path to civilization. Socialism, then, is de-civilizing. It leads southward on the sphere, toward tyranny, poverty, and savagery, rather than toward the goals of freedom, prosperity, and civilization.
Here’s what I wrote about respecting property ownership back in 2010.
Value Property Rights
“Thou shalt not steal” is another necessity of civilization. An economy can’t thrive without respect for individual property ownership. In a lecture I once heard by University of Houston economist Bart Smith, the surprising thing he said was, “the economy is successful where the people are good.” He showed a number of examples. It’s one of those commonsense ideas that aren’t really so common.
The culture in Mexico, for example, periodically goes through a retrenchment where they say they are going to root out corruption. But the same people live in the culture; often the same people who took graft before hold similar positions of authority, so the same corruption quickly reappears.
People actually have to believe in being good, in choosing not to be corrupt because it is a matter of personal honor. And those who cannot acquiesce to the desire for honesty need to be removed from the civilized portion of society (the more widespread, the more difficult to isolate). Religion, caring about God’s will more than selfish will, gives a rationale for honesty that allows society to prosper, and is a basis for making the change that imposing written laws cannot do.
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A few years ago my husband had a computer stolen from his car. He had a lunch meeting in a restaurant and didn’t want to deal with the computer backpack at his table, so he left it on the floor, under the back seat, unfortunately only partially hidden, and locked the door. Someone with a crowbar bashed the window, grabbed the computer, and took off. It was never recovered. That computer was the only place we had photos from the previous month, not yet printed out, including our first meeting with our future daughter-in-law and also a two-day teen camp for our homeschooling group. The pictures more than anything were a painful loss. We lost some business files, but fortunately our financial files weren’t on that computer, and many other things were either not a great loss or were replaceable. The window and the computer were insured, but not until after a $1000 deductible, at a time when we were attempting a small business and had very little income. It was financially very painful, and it was hurtful to feel that, even in a locked car, in a public parking lot, someone was savage enough to consider he had more right to our possessions than we did. When you’re going through life trying to think of society as civilized, it shocks the senses. You feel betrayed.
I’m sure our experience is so common that everyone reading this has either experienced similar theft or knows someone personally who has.
When our kids were younger, we lived in a semi-rural neighborhood near a relatively small metropolitan area (about 160,000). The kids came and went throughout the day. We locked the door when we left home, because we had grown up in bigger cities. But seldom would it have been necessary to lock the door to prevent theft. In the neighborhood where we live now, in a city of several million, we keep the front door locked, usually with a deadbolt and another key lock, even when we’re home. We have an alarm system, connected to a service that has more than once sent police officers to check out whether we were safe when the alarm went off accidentally. We carry the house key if we so much as leave for the park or the mailbox.
I should add that this is a relatively safe suburban family neighborhood. But the freedom we enjoyed in the safer rural place doesn’t exist here. We spend resources and effort on our safety that we wouldn’t have to spend if the place were so civilized that no one would dishonor themselves by taking what didn’t belong to them.
[Aside: It may be worth noting that, the more urban the area, the more crime you can expect. Urban settings in today’s world are nearly always less civilized than non-urban settings. Coincidentally, if you look at the political beliefs of the basic urban dweller, you can see that they prefer socialism and governmental control to freedom, possibly out of fear caused by the constant threat of chaos.]
It takes a truly uncivilized (savage) mind to assume you have a right to the belongings of someone else when you have neither worked for nor earned the belongings. That’s why “Thou shalt not covet” is also important. Wanting what your neighbor has is a big step downward from wanting something like your neighbor has, while rejoicing that he can enjoy it, and then setting as a goal earning something similar for yourself.
[Another aside: The lottery, and other forms of gambling, reinforce the idea that it’s a good thing to get something for nothing. The most likely to fall for this lie are the poor, who can least afford to lose the money they do get from their labors. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that gambling costs society about $2 in social programs (welfare, crime) for every dollar it brings in as supposed income for the state. The solution shouldn’t be “let’s have our own gambling so those dollars don’t leave the state”; it should be “let’s educate the people about gambling so their hard-earned dollars are put to good use in our society instead of draining out in wasted gambling elsewhere.”]
Coveting is placing your wants above the rights of your neighbor. Stealing doesn’t happen if you don’t covet first. Coveting is the thought, convincing yourself you are deserving and the neighbor isn’t; stealing is the act of taking because you have rationalized that you deserved it. In a civilized society, the urge to covet and steal are corrected at around age 2-3, and continue to be monitored by parents until a person reaches adulthood; only the uncivilized keep coveting and stealing into adulthood. If these relative few are held accountable—are removed from civilized society until and if their behavior is corrected—then society is safe from the decay. But if they’re not held accountable, if they are accepted and even sometimes considered clever, then the happy sense of living in civilization declines.