On Ownership


“Occasionally, I see this question, usually in a social-media forum: If you were to eliminate one thing, what would it be? For me, there is no question: ownership. The living planet faces many predicaments. To me, most seem to be rooted in ownership.”—Guy McPherson

Going Dark

By Dr. Guy McPherson

L’Inferno, The Fourth Circle of Hell, by Gustave Doré.
L’Inferno, The Fourth Circle of Hell, by Gustave Doré.

Guy McPherson

SAN ANTONIO Belize—(Weekly Hubris)—June 2018—Occasionally, I see this question, usually in a social-media forum: If you were to eliminate one thing, what would it be?

For me, there is no question: ownership. The living planet faces many predicaments. To me, most seem to be rooted in ownership.

As nearly as I can distinguish, ownership did not exist until civilization arose. Millions of years spent sharing and nurturing led to a relatively benign human existence. A few thousand years into civilization, and everybody wants more. Ownership is a fundamental concept underlying the pathology of capitalism.

We want more of everything. More for me; not for you. As Gordon Gekko pointed out in the 1987 film “Wall Street,” it’s a zero-sum game. Every bit for me means less for you. I can’t have you taking for any, because you’re taking it away from me.

Contemporary neoclassical economists proclaim a contrary message. The rising tide of economic prosperity, they say, floats all boats. Blinded by the ridiculous assumptions of an experiment gone horribly awry, they continue to promote the pathological system that has led to our extinction. Driven by the love of money and its underlying monetary system, they will continue to benefit from the system until, surprisingly to them, it no longer delivers power to them.

It wasn’t always this way, even after civilizations arose. The Greek Cynics were noted for the notion of using what was available even across the boundaries of ownership. They believed humans were motivated by selfishness, but they also believed: 1) virtue was the only good; 2) the essence of virtue is self-control; and 3) surrender to any external influence is beneath human dignity. Yes, they considered dignity a worthy pursuit, perhaps more important than the acquisition of personal power.

Diogenes The Cynic.
Diogenes The Cynic.

I’m not suggesting that indigenous people or the Greek Cynics were faultless. Rather, I am indicating that there is more than one way to live. There are numerous examples, still, of societies filled with people who live beyond obsession with possessions. There is more than the singular approach we take . . . to, well, take. But, in this culture, takers vastly outnumber leavers (to use words popularized by Daniel Quinn).

Nor am I suggesting I haven’t benefited from the concept of ownership. As a heterosexual Caucasian man, I lived at the apex of ownership—i.e., patriarchy—for far too long.

Where does ownership come from? Where does it lead?

The word itself dates only to the 16th Century. Obviously, the roots go much deeper. As is often the case, I turn to the ancients for perspective.

The opinions of Plato and Aristotle differed significantly with respect to ownership. Plato believed the idea created divisive inequalities. Historical and contemporary events support Plato’s view, rather than the view of his student, Aristotle. The latter believed private property enabled people to receive the full benefit of their labor (and also that of their slaves, of course). Aristotle’s ownership of slaves indicates an inherently strong personal motivation to supporting the idea of ownership.

Where does ownership take us? We need only investigate reality, based on recent trends, to see where we’re headed. And that place, I’m afraid, is right here, to the edge of extinction. To the notion that might makes right, and only power is needed to justify the acquisition of more power. Because more is all there is. Because more is its own reward in a culture that values power over justice and more over better. When quantity becomes the only quality worth having, more is all we have. In a culture that values accomplishments over relationships and acquisitions over emotions, more is the only attribute worth pursuing. How could it be any different?

Culturally, it cannot be different now. It’s too late for different. It’s too late for this culture to correct its errors, and there’s no motivation in this culture to make the necessary corrections. This culture will never know justice because the values were transcribed onto proverbial tablets of stone many generations ago.

As individuals, it can be different. As individuals, we can seek freedom from the straitjacket of culture. We can seek love over power, relationships over accomplishments, and better over more. A high price will be paid for such pursuits, however. There will be no reward beyond freedom from insanity, which comes with the prevailing sentiment that the sane are insane. As Jiddu Krishnamurti pointed out, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

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Dr. Guy McPherson is an internationally recognized speaker, award-winning scientist, and one of the world’s leading authorities on abrupt climate change leading to near-term human extinction. He is professor emeritus at the University of Arizona, where he taught and conducted research for 20 years. His published works include 16 books and hundreds of scholarly articles. Dr. McPherson has been featured on television and radio and in several documentary films. He is a blogger and social critic who co-hosts his own radio show, “Nature Bats Last.” Dr. McPherson speaks to general audiences across the globe, and to scientists, students, educators, and not-for-profit and business leaders who seek their best available options when confronting Earth’s cataclysmic changes. Visit McPherson’s Author Page at (Author Head Shot Augment: René Laanen.)


  • Tom Ferry

    Thanks for the insight Guy. The mainstream media is beginning to get the inkling that something is monumentally, fundamentally wrong. Besides the natural disaster of the Hawaiian volcano, the planet is undergoing massive changes in weather patterns, prodigious heat anomalies, and a significant marine, pollinator and insect die-off. Food shortages are already effecting many. This will get their attention.

    All the best to you!

  • Dave Thompson

    Guy, I can see why there are a lot of people in our culture that would despise you personally. The view of ownership in our world is the be all and end all. Owning a better house or car, the newest phone gadget with fine new clothes in our culture shows just what you are made of. That is if you are so brain dead to believe in the dominant cultures consumer built narrative. It is so much easier in our must go faster better cheaper world to not think intellectually about our lives. But to be fed a steady diet of superfluous dreck. I for one am listening for whatever it’s worth. Thanks for all you do, D. Thompson

  • Citizen 69

    Life persists in a secret void, hidden from the cold entropic homogeneity of universal darkness – For a brief moment, a spontaneous dance of energy and elements has created a spectacular array of sensual and imaginative delights – Dance in the void

  • Jef

    Well said Prof – I tend to err on the side of belief in humanity, without any sound reason I might add. I just find it difficult to condemn mankind for this behavior as I see that on a certain level it is appropriate. Pre civilization humans did whatever it took to survive, to not die. In truth that is exactly what humans are doing now as we have structured ourselves in such a way that survival is about not running out…running out of money and or the stuff that money can buy. This structure is perfectly designed to bring out the worst behavior mankind is capable of and insures his own destruction.

    If only we could see this about ourselves.


  • Guy McPherson

    Thank you every one, Tom, Dave, Citizen 69, and Jef. Your enlightenment is showing. I appreciate it.

  • Bob

    I believe ownership is a symptom of survival, as Jef writes. Humans do whatever it takes to survive, and to seek comfort. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we are motivated by our life circumstances, from obtaining enough food and water to keep us alive, to self-actualization. It seems to me that most people never move past the first two stages, categorized as physiological and safety needs. I don’t see how ownership gets us beyond these initial stages.

    In fact, ownership was a horribly inefficient way to get us to where we are. Over 1 billion motor vehicles in the world today and growing, because of private ownership. A planet being stripped bare so that a multitude of personal possessions can accumulate in driveways, garages, closets and landfills. For a species evolved to deal with scarcity, who believed that nature held infinite abundance, none of this was deemed important.

  • Guy McPherson

    “In fact, ownership was a horribly inefficient way to get us to where we are.”

    Bingo, Bob. I couldn’t agree more.

  • glen osborne

    Well said Guy. I have been looking deeply at this obsession, in the form of our value system. Also that we ourselves can be owned, not through slavery, but through our uncontrolled desires and our perception. The feelings that come from ownership are strong and also reinforce other malignant human traits, such as greed, jealousy and anger, to name just a few. National Pride, it is my nation; No you have been duped into becoming a possession of the Nation. Well at least we can thank ourselves for the multitude of problems and predicaments as those issues have been turning the minds eye inward to promote self reflection and deeper conversations among more people. I do appreciate your articles as they promote discovery and knowledge. Cheers Mate

  • Jean

    Yes. I agree with much of what you say here. I was brought up to believe it was the duty of each of us to do what we can when we can – to spread sunshine, as my parents said, using a Depression era phrase for giving a bum your leftover sandwich or the extra quarter in your pocket. We are meant to work in concert, though we rarely seem to achieve that laudable end. I also see I must research the Greek Cynics, who sound very Buddhist. Thanks.

  • Guy McPherson

    Thank you, Jean, for your recent comments in this space. I’m spreading my own “sunshine,” the kind few appreciate.

  • Diane Watt

    This. My heart hurts at the sight of “Private Property” signs. Everything belongs to God – we’re simply stewards.

    Although I somewhat understand how we arrived at this point, it’s still difficult to watch the downward spiral we’ve created.

  • Emmett Peels

    G’day again Guy – I have been following you for about 18 months now keeping a weather eye on a variety of internet sites for your contemporary commentary. I have been impressed by your willingness to essentially “go where angels fear to tread” and present information that only very few have any interest in hearing and even less numbers willing to consider. The most recent of these information presentations was a radio show (Audio with Margot) wherein you mention a Russian scientist who is suggesting that the situation that we humans have created for ourselves: i.e. the continual degradation of our home planet to the point of creating an extinction event – will not only result in the ruination of our own planet but (somehow) bring about the end of life to the entire universe. This ‘theory’ of course is unsubstantiated but you chose to include it into your rhetoric during the radio programme. Part of your reasoning is no doubt as you mention that it is good to have some input from one considered even crazier than yourself saying things that the general population would never accept. My question – as part of this correspondence – is again in regards to the topic of Solar Radiation Management and the use of chemicals to produce cloud cover. You say that there is not a shred of evidence to support the claims being tabled by the ‘Flat-earthers of the Geoengineering ranks’ but I have done a lot of looking/research that would seem to suggest otherwise. Amid some of the Geoengineering presentations information is delivered identical to your own regarding high ranking privileged officials with the resources to extend their own individual comforts at the expense of the rest of us. I have always found that there is grave danger in being so absolutely dismissive of something/anything (in this case SRM) in with such an air of certainty, it has always seemed to be a diversionary tactic – pointing the finger to relive the (unwanted) attention to one ’s self? I have continued to follow you keeping an open mind to the information you like to present because as you know there are very few commentators suggesting the dire situation as you are and who also have credible credentials. People like myself have become somewhat dependent upon brave souls like yourself to try to keep up with what is happening. I like the fact that you were once again daring enough to include the Russian scientist proposal of end to life in the universe because it has a leaning towards an entirely new facet of the human condition and what we are potentially involved in and with. I don’t see that finger pointing – in the way that others do to you – is needed by you in your presentations regarding what some others may be trying to add. Granted there are some ‘nonsense offerings’ out there but some would include yours amongst these. I hope you can receive this in the spirit in which it is written. Once again I would like to thank you for your diligence, commitment and bravery and I look forward to following your work till the very end whenever this happens to be. Regards Emmett

  • Guy McPherson

    Thank you, Diane. Enlightenment is painful.

    Emmett, you’re citing opinions, including mine. Please dig a little deeper by actually looking at the evidence. Without studying evidence, you’ll remain lost and dependent upon the information presented by others. Some of these others do not have your best interests in mind.

  • David York

    Hello Guy. I’m actually responding to your statement about pulling back from some of your activities that I just read. I ignore “social media”. I have spent a lot of time over the past couple of years battling the trolls in the Yahoo comments section. And a couple of weeks ago, I came to the same conclusion that you have – it’s an annoying waste of time. Most of them are likely Russian trolls or paid oil company shills anyway. And I watch too much MSNBC and CNN, but I slow down for car wrecks too. Watching the human race tear itself apart does have a certain fascination. With the US leading the way down the path of self-destruction. We’re Number 1!!!

  • Guy McPherson

    Number one in the race to the bottom, David. It’s hardly an enviable position. Brace for impact!

  • Norm Roberts

    I have come to the conclusion that ownership, as a concept, does not necessarily derive from capitalism in that there are other avenues as well. Perhaps capitalism is the source if we look at ownership as an individual concept. Apparently we can also have “ownership” at a group level, such that no one individual is minding the store. Communism (at a national level) also has issues with “ownership.” I think the source has more to do with mass production itself. Industrialism may be the deeper source of ownership. Although this may just be a semantic problem, I think the large-scale structure associated with industrialism is closer to the real problem.

  • Guy McPherson

    I concur, Norm. Ownership lies at the root of our predicaments, not any particular -ism.