Photo: Rebekah Azen

by Rebekah Zablud Azen

Luckily for me, I was rudely and unceremoniously thrown out of my long-term rental of twelve years for a minor infraction for which my dear puppy-dog was responsible. He had the good sense to bark at the new neighbor, a policeman, who, having the authority of law and finding no obstruction to bullying, threatened to shoot my dog. The landlord, being a true capitalist, scrambled to placate the policeman, and wasted no time in securing his rental property and possessions. I was told to “get rid of the dog” or vacate within a month. Having no rights as a renter, the decision was simple. Leave.

That was a year and a half ago. The departure forced me to examine my “homelessness,” a fact common amongst almost all people today; street people, renters, and so-called “homeowners,” the ones who owe a death-pledge, a mortgage. Homelessness is in reality a widespread phenomenon affecting not just street people, but anyone who doesn’t own a home and is vulnerable to losing their domicile. A renter is vulnerable to the vagaries of the landlord and can be given notice at any time. If a renter can’t pay the rent due to unemployment or illness, then he or she is evicted. As to most so-called “homeowners,” the real owner is typically the bank, or more likely, Wall Street, to whom the “homeowner” owes a lifetime debt. Should the “homeowner” fail to pay the mortgage due to the same causes of unemployment or illness, she or he will suffer the same consequences as the renter. The domicile is lost.

If the “homeowner” can suffer a lost domicile, in addition to the requisite servitude of a good 30 years, what security, what freedom from serfdom, what contentment, health, and peace, or more accurately, what sanity is there in traditional “homeownership?”

I had probably arrived, after many years of workplace struggle and career advancement where I could join my brethren in the all-American, race-to-indebtedness “homeowner” pursuit, but like so many things I’ve avoided, like pharmaceuticals, investments in corporate America, pesticides in my food, and cell phones, I decided it wasn’t a good deal. I just didn’t have the time at half a century, or money, but less so the inclination.

What I wanted and needed was a truly affordable home that I could quickly own outright so that I could obtain what I consider the necessities of life; freedom, security, and self-sufficiency – freedom from a lifetime of enforced workplace drudgery so that I might pursue loftier goals; freedom from enforced participation in an economic system I find reprehensible in its exploitation and destruction of the earth and its people; security against loss of a domicile; a secure place to retire when I am elderly; and the ability to obtain considerable sovereignty over my physical needs so as not to be completely dependent on corporate culture.

Far from being extravagant, these wants and needs are fundamental to life, and though they are my concerns, they are also the concerns of all people. All people should have time to pursue the things that matter to them in life and time to develop their abilities and higher nature. Everyone should have the freedom to pursue their livelihood in ways that are non-exploitative and non-destructive to the earth and her inhabitants. Everyone deserves a safe and secure home that no one can take away, whether in youth, middle age or old age. And everyone should have access to the natural resources of the earth to guarantee a basic level of self-sufficiency so as not to be dependent on, and controlled by others, such as the industrial food, financial, and energy industries.

These things: freedom, security, and self-sufficiency, are important and legitimate in any epoch but our generation is dealing with something more, much more. We are arriving at a time in history where the unnatural, antiquated, exploitative framework of private property and its sick progeny, capitalism, which has been generating the conditions of its own demise for centuries, has now reached its limits – the earth’s limits. Further expansion can only lead to collapse. We have overshot the earth’s limits with peak everything, resource depletion, and environmental degradation, of which climate change is just one calamitous, presently-unfolding manifestation.

To any observant individual, it is evident that Western civilization is tottering on the brink of collapse. An economic meltdown from any number of problems manifesting in the physical environment or elsewhere, all originating from the same unregulated “free market” system, will ensure widespread unemployment. Anyone without a job will certainly be without a home in no time flat. Our true state of homelessness, with all its accompanying ills, will soon become painfully apparent.

“Employment,” our modern notion of redemption and all things positive, is but a cover-up for what truly is…bankruptcy of the people who hold little but baubles, bells and trinkets. You can’t eat a DVD player, an automobile or a wardrobe, or stay warm from a T.V., a washer/dryer, or jewelry. These things don’t grow food or keep you sheltered from the cold, snow and rain. Most Americans today don’t even hold assets. What we hold and own are “negative assets;” debt. The great wealth we supposedly own is nothing more than a chimera, an illusion. It is not in our hands– it is in the hands of the wealthy few. Government assistance for the American people will be as rapid, life-saving, restorative and assuring as what we witnessed with Katrina and the Gulf Oil Spill, or looking back, the Depression years. We should know by now that the government has other priorities and it is not us.

There’s good reason as to why the term “employment” has so much prominence in the Western vocabulary. Wealth is generated through labor (otherwise known as employment), and requires land and capital of which the laborer has none. All the extractive industries – from landlords to employers, corporations, loan companies, mortgage companies, banks, insurance agencies, the financial industry, Wall Street, and Government – depend on your continual, uninterrupted employment. It is through labor that wealth is generated but it cannot accrue to the laborer because those who own the land and resources of production siphon the wealth off for themselves. If we stopped working, the rich couldn’t get any richer. Unemployment is considered extremely undesirable because the unemployed require support from the public coffers; money which could be “better” spent supporting capitalist development and more jobs to enrich the wealthy.

Economists talk about employment as if it is, and has forever been, the only avenue to obtaining the necessities of life but this is fallacious and misleading. Employment is a Johnny-Come-Lately. Its spouse (the two are inseparable), unemployment, or arbeitslosigkeit in German (union activity and socialism had deep roots in Germany), was a term rarely heard before the 1890’s. Employment/unemployment is a modern phenomenon that accompanies landlessness and the rise of industrial capitalism. The fact is that access to land and the resources of the earth, not employment, is what got humanity through the millennia.

To understand landlessness is to understand how the system works. It’s very simple. If people are deprived of land, they cannot obtain the necessities of existence from the earth that they have a natural right and inheritance to. Others control their existence by owning the land; therefore the landless have nothing but their labor to sell in order to survive. When employment ceases for whatever reason, the laborer is still landless and homeless. But as long as the system operates the laborer can conceivably find other employment.

When the system collapses however, there will be no employment to be had. And then it will be clearly seen that the people at large are destitute – they own and control absolutely nothing of value; neither land, nor the resources of production, which flow from land and labor. When the system collapses, it won’t be for the reason Karl Marx anticipated, that the proletariat rise up in resistance, but from its own weight, through centuries of conceited, rapacious, arrogant and ignorant conflict with the ways of the natural world, enthroned in land-grabbing economic institutions from Roman times to the present. Regardless of what triggers the collapse, we will all need shelter, warmth and sustenance.

So these were my personal motivations and reasons for finding an alternative to traditional “homeownership.” I wanted to find a way out for myself as well as a way “in” to something new, but what I discovered was far more than I ever expected. As I began to research, I put the pieces back together, beginning with the story of land, to explain why housing is so unaffordable today and why everyone is trapped in this no-win game. What I discovered for myself was obviously of concern and use to all people. The explanation and answers to our predicament are spelled out in this series of articles, and the methods are sound. Freedom, security, self-sufficiency and sovereignty can all be re-gained and re-claimed through the Community Land Trust model, use of the Sustainable Development Testing Site Act, and small, earthship-type homes.

We are heading down the proverbial rabbit hole and for all who sense the danger, it’s time, way beyond time to act. We are late for a very important date. My only regret is that I came to these realizations so late in life; not the fact of systemic collapse, but understanding the causes that are rooted in inequitable land tenure and the logical, unequivocal solutions, which proceed from that. The implications are immense and I can hardly do this matter justice in these few short pages. But I would like to touch on some important points.

The longer this economic system survives, the more serious are the consequences for the planet and all life. We should be cheering for its demise as soon as possible if we had any sense about us. The consequences of climate change are compounding by the minute and at some point, not far in the future, we are guaranteed catastrophic results capable of eliminating life on the planet.

Climate change is not, as some would like us to believe, an isolated environmental problem that exists independent of everything, not the least of which the economic system that causes it. It is an economic problem. It is a problem of capitalism. It cannot be resolved with politics and legislation. Governments exist to support capitalists and capitalism. That is their function. This is why no significant headway will ever be made by petitioning governments. True to their capitalist agenda, federal and state government has abdicated all responsibility for climate change. The gubernatorial candidates couldn’t even support a state greenhouse gas cap-and-trade rule, which is little more than a symbolic act meant to appease.

Politics is nothing more than a smokescreen and a diversion for the gullible masses. Power is derived not from politics but from economics and economic relations. Politics is its handmaiden. Republican or Democrat does not alter the fundamental dynamic. As long as those in power (economic power) can deceive us, they surely will, using the political system as bait, always leading us on a wild goose chase away from our own best interests.

The issue of climate change may seem obscure and irrelevant to some but it’s actually incredibly symbolic of our situation and extremely instructive. The privatization and commodification of land, better known as imperialism or colonialism, which creates the conditions for economic exploitation, culminating in the autarchic reaches of modern corporate capitalism, has been going on for centuries, but the affects were always localized, until the present. The displacement of people from their homelands and the resultant poverty, war, slave labor, and suffering, happened elsewhere, to other people, in South America, Asia or Africa, or we think that it happened “a long time ago” when the indigenous inhabitants were removed for the advancement of “civilization.” We don’t see the connection; that the sufferings that other people have endured through time are now our sufferings, from the same causes. Climate change didn’t spring out of nowhere. It is the end result of land grabbing, and the concomitant rise and ascendancy of capitalist economics. The chickens have all come home to roost.

There is no stopping climate change until capitalism stops. It’s a runaway train on a global scale and it’s pointless to talk about political action, the greening of the economy, emissions trading, cap and trade, regulating polluters, geo-engineering, taxing polluters, or other airy fairy ideas about how to stop it that don’t deal with the root of the problem, capitalism. As long as people are employed, which they have to be because everyone is now homeless and landless, and completely dependent on a job, we are rapidly creating the conditions of our own demise. No one, not even the best intentioned climate change activist, can step out of this imprisonment which keeps us enslaved to creating the conditions for our own massive suffering and probable extinction until she/he has an option to employment, to not be employed. Think of it. If the world’s people were not forced into factories and industrial economies on a daily basis, the conditions for climate change making would cease immediately. But that is not possible and will never be possible until the one thing that matters most changes, the ability of people to leave the industrial economy by way of securing land which provides the provisions of life….for housing, food, and warmth.

Capitalism is simply unsustainable and there is no way around this inconvenient truth. Capitalism is predicated on landlessness. No one works who doesn’t have to but the millions of landless around the world must to secure their daily bread. This is how profits are generated and how the whole cycle works. The system cannot stop or even slow down without manufacturing dire consequences, unemployment and rampant poverty. Production and consumption are intimately bound causing resource depletion, environmental degradation and pollution. Growth is unstoppable. It’s a cancer that no amount of tinkering can fix because the fundaments (unequal distribution of land) are wrong. They’re out of sync with natural law which has inviolable boundaries. The natural world does not create inequity. Man does.

We are caught in a vise. If the capitalist economy continues as it is for some time, we will suffer more severe consequences from climate change, until the results of that cause the system to collapse. If the economy collapses before the worst of climate change kicks in, it will be better for the long term survival of the planet at large, but we will have massive unemployment and homelessness, unprecedented suffering, and grave social chaos.

What to do? Forget about a movement. The masses are asleep and have long since forgotten about the history of enclosures in medieval Europe, the rise of socialism as a repudiation of the growing capitalist order, or the celebrated writings of Henry George. Forget about political action for forging some broad social mandate which can’t make a dent in this gargantuan life-destroying system.

The end product of capitalism is not material goods but material man, having consumed so much rubbish over the centuries, he is degraded, lost, unaware, and unconscious of his collective humanity and his place on earth. He is controllable and unable to know or serve his own best interests. Economic powers have him sold on “sustainability” to solve the problem of climate change; he can obsess over “personal” responsibility, hanging his clothes out to dry, putting a solar collector on his rooftop, and bicycling to work rather than start a revolution. The natural impulse of collective resistance to exploitation, dehumanization, and life threatening forces has been abducted.

Take charge of this situation yourself. No one is going to resolve this crisis for us. We are the ones we have been waiting for.

Get ready. Step outside of capitalism. Step way outside of capitalism. Don’t just wade in “local living economies” and antiquated traditional market forces, the green economy, “natural” or “sustainable” capitalism, protest against hegemonic corporate and government rule, petitioning for regulatory “fixes,” fighting pervasive government in-action, orthodoxy and apathy, or any other “solutions” that don’t leave capitalism in the dust or its compadre, socialism (owning the means of production to pollute and exploit just as thoroughly will not help us out of this crisis).

Start a Community Land Trust to create self-sufficiency and survival in these tumultuous, radically changing times. Show others the way out and forward. Change the fundamental equation of economics for good…an economics in sync and not opposed to natural law and the natural order….an economics starting from the ground up with the equitable distribution and communal control of land taken out of the market forever. There is no other way. Take the land back. Give the land back. Bring us back to who we are. One with the land. One with life. Equality and well-being for all.

* If anyone has land to donate for an emerging rural, self-sufficient, sustainable CLT, please contact Rebekah (contact info below).

This article is also available online at The Santa Fe New Mexican website http://www.santafegreenline.com/

Rebekah Zablud Azen is a long-time student of traditional indigenous lifeways, non-revisionist history, economics, and land tenure issues – passports to understanding humanity’s present predicament and enabling us to identify practical solutions for survival and restored balance in a new era. Rebekah can be reached at 505.424.9475 or rebekah@cybermesa.com