Regardless of how we believe Earth came to be, either through the Big Bang explosion or through the creation of God, one thing is for sure and it is that humans have clearly made Earthly land their own doing whatever they please with it. We all know that living organisms who have inhabited the Earth mark their territory in a way or another, even humans do this because we all want to focus on self-preservation and surviving, but what I find to be very interesting is that humans more than animals have a savage way of making it clear which land belongs to them.
Earth has always been here for us and has provided us with land, water, spaces to grow food on, etc. and has certainly given us many other resources to make survival on earth plausible. I am not fully sure about when the idea of us humans owning property came about, but I know for a fact know that it has changed a lot of events in history and has been a “thing” for a really long time. Even taking into consideration that Romans set out to claim vast areas of territory for their empire, marking them as their own property and taking full possession of these lands without the conquered peoples consent.
There are several key ideas that I would like to consider in order to be able to grasp this universal concept; one which includes that of the relationship humans have in a state of nature with the land they live on and that of how us civilized people have marked our territories specifically in terms of Rousseau and what he argues in his discourses.
Rousseau believes that people have been corrupted from their natural state since living in society and “progressive” thinking occurred. According to him, being in our most purest form equals to that of focusing on self-preserving and helping one another survive through possessing some form of pity and compassion, but once we become consumed by these non-savage ways of thinking we focus on gaining more and more and having the best of the best or simply being the best. Our motives for living are completely tarnished by these ways of thinking that we humans developed from immoral and selfish desires. We become so greedy, which is true and evident in the many examples from all over history that we can look back at, mainly through the territorial conquests of the Romans and that of the Anglo-Americans during Manifest Destiny.
At some point during our grade school education we were taught about American history and the groups of Indigenous people called Native Americans who inhabited these lands we currently call home. These groups of people are very significant in also understanding our relation with the land and how this idea of property came to be. Native Americans settled in nature and had mutual relations with it. They used it, they harvested it, they took care of it, but what they mainly did was acknowledge that it was not their own. Yes, they lived in and depended on what it provided for them but they never thought about land and property like we do today; like the way society and empires have made it out to be.
Manifest Destiny was one of the most important events that led up to the creation of this nation and even today is always referred back to to understand this idea of land and immigration. It is a key event in American history that is still relevant because so many things and debates have arisen from it. To begin with, Manifest destiny is defined as the idea that “God had given the White Anglo-Saxon American the mission to ‘civilize’ all of the ‘lesser peoples’ of North America” (Encyclopedia of Race and Racism). Native Americans were already living in these lands, they formed their lives out of living on them but “civilized” people savagely took possession of them and claimed them to be their own without anyone’s authority and consent other than their own and their Christian God.
It seems so crazy that humans can just do this and have been doing it for a long time now, especially American ourselves. Through Manifest Destiny we made sure to grab territories from all kinds of people and went great lengths to be able to say that this land belonged to them and that only they had a right to it. I find it really interesting that this idea of property, borders, and original inhabitants is completely disregarded and not thought about as much as it should.
We forget that we really aren’t the owners of this land, all we have are political borders that divide us, but that’s it. We forget that it’s only in our heads that we own and have a right to this land we currently live on. We forget sometimes that the real immigrants were in fact the Anglo-Saxons because before America was even America it was also called home to Native Americans and Mexicans; almost half of the U.S. once was part of the Mexican territory which is actually pretty insane. Land was technically taken away from them without them wanting to, but why? Because humans, especially Americans have this very unique superior way of thinking about land possession and pushing those inferior to them out of the land that was never originally theirs or anyone’s in that case because this land’s owner is the universe itself, not humans.
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Image: Interaction between Anglo-Americans and Native Americans during Manifest Destiny