Brain Dropping #64

     An uncommon word.  USUFRUCT –  Pronunciation:  User-frucked -( No kidding.)  Definition:  An economic system where you take only what you need and leave the rest for others. Or, the legal right of using and enjoying the fruits or profits of something belonging to another.  We could add that it is diametrically opposed to  capitalism and its ethos of the sanctity of ownership and accumulation.
     I came across the word in William Greider’s “The Soul of Capitalism – Opening Paths to a moral Economy”
Talking about the tensions between the early English settlers in the New World and the indigenous people Greider writes:
                      “To Native Americans ownership was a much more limited idea, conditioned by practical 
                      needs and uses.  When they “sold” a tract of land to English settlers, they did not assume
                      they were forfeiting all future access to its streams and wildlife or that the transfer was
                      necessarily permanent.  Land “belonged” to the village that occupied it or the people who 
                      cleared a field for crops, but others might continue to use it too, depending on the seasonal
                      abundance and common understanding of reciprocal privileges.  Their system, formally
                      known as “usufruct”, premises ownership on one’s current use, but without necessarily
                      conveying exclusive or permanent claims.”
     The contrast with the capitalist “virtue” of the hoarding and accumulation of stuff  is extreme.  According to the comic sage, George Carlin in his classic take on stuff:  ” We lock our doors and install alarms to protect our stuff from people who want to steal our stuff while we’re out getting some more stuff!  We even have a whole industry based on providing storage space for stuff we have no room for because our houses are full of stuff.”
     Usufruct as a way of life is underscored by a famous 1854 speech by Chief Seattle of the Duwamish tribe of the Pacific Northwest:
                     “How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land?  The idea is strange to us.  If we
                      do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water how can you buy them. We
                      are part of the earth and it is part of us.  The perfumed flowers are our sisters.  The deer,
                      the horse and the eagle, these are our brothers.  The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows,
                      the body heat of the pony and the man, all belong to the same family.”
     But the indigenous peoples around the globe were not alone in decrying the excesses of capitalist  exploitation of the planet.  William Wordsworth, who lived through the brutal beginnings of the industrial revolution in the first half of the nineteenth century, in his “Ode: Intimations of Immortality” ponders:
                    “The world is too much with us now and then. /  Getting and spending we lay waste our powers. /
                      Little we see in nature that is ours. / We have given our hearts away / a sordid boon. /  The sea 
                      that bares its bosom to the moon /  The wind that will be howling at all hours / but is upgathered
                      now like sleeping flowers. /  For this for everything we are out of tune. / It grieves us not….”
     And now, right now, as we watch the poisoning of our sparkling water by “fracking”, the injection of poisons into our aquifers, and wait with growing alarm for President Obama to make his decision about the XL, tar sands pipeline, once the mid-term elections are over – the words of Chief Seattle and William Wordsworth have even greater urgency.

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