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Private Property, Personality, and Humanity

This article by Maureen Martin, published recently at Tech Central Station, gives an example of the dangerous naivete that allegedly intelligent people often are guilty of.  Some elementary-school "teachers" in Seattle are attempting to instruct their students on the selfishness and injustice of private property.  Here’s an excerpt:

[T]he students had been building an elaborate "Legotown," but it
was accidentally demolished. The teachers decided its destruction was
an opportunity to explore "the inequities of private ownership."
According to the teachers, "Our intention was to promote a contrasting
set of values: collectivity, collaboration, resource-sharing, and full democratic participation."

The children were allegedly incorporating into Legotown "their
assumptions about ownership and the social power it conveys." These
assumptions "mirrored those of a class-based, capitalist society — a
society that we teachers believe to be unjust and oppressive."

They claimed as their role shaping the children’s "social and
political understandings of ownership and economic equity … from a
perspective of social justice."

[HT: Candace Smith]

Reading about these "teachers" called to mind this passage from Richard Pipes’s marvelous 1999 book Property and Freedom:

Bruno Bettelheim learned to his surprise that while it was possible, over time, to inculcate in kibbutz children indifference to private belongings, this exacted a heavy price.  Israelis brought up in such a Spartan environment showed exceptional group loyalty and grew up to become excellent soldiers, but they experienced great difficulty making an emotional commitment to any one individual, whether by forming a friendship or falling in love:

Emotion shared with only one other person is a sign of selfishness no less than other private possessions.  Nowhere more than in the kibbutz did I realize the degree to which private property, in the deep layers of the mind, relates to private emotion.  If one is absent, the other tends to be absent as well.

Kibbutz youths admitted to being inhibited about writing poetry or painting, because such activities were considered "selfish" and brought the opprobrium of the group.

[From page 75 of Pipes’s book; the Bettelheim quotation is from Bruno Bettelheim’s The Children of the Dream (1969), page 261.]

So what’s the take-away?  Brainwashing people into feeling shame about their private possessions risks causing them also to feel shame about personal achievement and personal relationships.  Such persons become, in a very real way, inhuman.  They become fine soldiers but lousy individuals.


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