How To End An Argument

(A Short Play)

Parts: The Professor, Noises (kindly supplied by a guy working a laptop and a sound system offstage), MAN IN A GORILLA SUIT

(A podium with microphone stands on stage. The Professor walks onto the stage, and begins reading from his lecture notes.)

PROF: John Locke once wrote to a relative "property I have nowhere found more clearly explained, than in a book entitled 'Two Treatises of Government'." Locke was undoubtedly very familiar with the work, having written it a few years earlier.

(Random giggles from the audience, supplied by noises.)

PROF: While this quote does give us some idea of Locke’s humble nature, it also has the virtue of being largely true. We remember Locke not so much because his ideas were groundbreaking, they weren’t. But because he both wrote well, and had the good fortune to be supported by financial interests that ultimately prevailed in the contemporary English political struggle. Locke was ultimately an explainer, an individual whose talent was synthesizing the arguments around him into a persuasive bombshell -- the intellectual equivalent to precision bombing.

(Bombing sounds, supplied by Noises.)

PROF: Because of this, we find him embraced as the foremost pre-democratic philosopher by the philosophers of democracy for his writings against a hereditary monarchy. He is embraced by the psychologists for Tabula Rasa. But of most interest to us is his embrace by the economists and capitalists for Property.

(Cashbox sounds, supplied by Noises.)

PROF: By property we mean wealth. We mean owning things. We mean capital. And we mean capitalism. Locke was one of many arguing for the rights of property over the rights of privilege. By the time his writings held any currency, so to speak, the principle was already widely accepted by his audience. What Locke did was write a justification for the belief so that his audience -- the bourgeoisie elite, could convincingly argue their position to others.

Those who find a contradiction in his writings, for example, his support for hereditary slavery versus his opposition to a hereditary absolute monarchy, and his writings about the rights of parents are missing the point. Or rather, willfully ignoring the obvious flaws of our ancestors in favor of insulting them. It isn’t clever to point out the contradiction, because Locke was aware of it. He didn’t care, because his agenda was not a consistent philosophy, but a philosophical worldview that aided his interests, and the interests of those who supported him. I need not point out that Locke is not the first and not the last to adopt such tactics. Nor need I point out that such tactics are prevalent in our own political and philosophical discourse.

(Overlaid sounds of various TV Pundits blathering about some damn thing or another, supplied by Noises.

PROF: Viewed in this manner, Locke’s views of private property are not only an explanation of property, as he would blithely suggest, but also an argument for it -- in order to advance the interests of the nascent land enclosure movement. And in addition, it is an argument that the individual ought to devote his life to avarice, the accumulation of wealth.

But let us not forget -- before people devoted themselves to avarice, they devoted themselves to things like whether or not their neighbor was sinning, and whether or not we ought to burn him at the stake. So be not so quick to dismiss our society’s acceptance of avarice as a major motivating principle. You are still flammable.

(Sounds of a roaring fire, supplied by Noises.)

PROF: And even though Locke is regarded as an ardent capitalist, there is plenty within his own argument for Property that provides ammunition for the anti-capitalist. And as we have learned from Habermas -- the best attack on any system is from within, using its own internal logic. A capitalist may dismiss Marx or Bakunin, but he or she can hardly dismiss Locke.

Normally those intent on altering the capitalist system simply attack Locke, if they pay him any mind at all, insisting that his formulation of value is fundamentally flawed. Many have attacked the spoiler proviso, pointing out that extreme wealth is likely unused wealth, and therefore spoiled wealth, regardless of whether or not it is actually rotting fruit. It still stinks. But for a number of reasons, including the active properties of publicly traded wealth and the effect of savings on economic markets, this is not our objection.

Another possible objection to private property, through Locke, is his notice that capitalist accumulation from the common state of nature is easily permissible, because there was " still enough, and as good left" for others to appropriate. Now this was not true in Locke’s time, nor is it true in ours. And nobody cares. What this really means is that the accumulation is fair, since others can play the game just as well. And in the strictest sense, this is true. While there may not be plenty of land for you to appropriate, there are new business opportunities. This passage can actually be read as a condemnation of trusts and monopolies -- real capitalists have always hated these. But this is not our objection.

Our objection accepts Locke’s premise, that is -- private property is justified by the labor of the owner. Locke made this argument against privilege -- the privilege of the king, or the nobility. What we find now is that the large accumulation of wealth creates its own privilege. Those who have amassed great fortunes no longer need to labor for their property; instead they live off of the labor of others, as the kings of old did. And while moderate amounts of property do increase an individual’s freedom, large amounts begin to encroach upon the freedom of others. I have a proof of the unjustness of this, written in the margin here…

(MAN IN A GORILLA SUIT ENTERS. He points a pistol at the professor, and shoots him in the head. The Professor stumbles and falls to the ground, dead. The gorilla hoots and does a gesture with his arms, a la the Tusken Raiders in Star Wars.)

(Noises supplies us with the sounds of crickets from the audience.)

(Lights out.)

This isn't meant to be a factual node by any stretch of the imagination. Still, some parties may be interested in knowing that I use Peter Laslett's translation of "Two Treatises of Government", copyright 1960. It's pretty nifty, and part of the Cambridge Texts of Political Thought series.

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