McMurtry vs Locke


Inside the “Invisible Prison”


Brandy Anderson

John McMurtry agrees with John Locke’s initial ideas regarding labourer’s private property, however McMurtry’s approval drastically declines with Locke’s contradictory treatment of money and money’s subsequent infliction of what McMurtry calls “invisible prisons”. Locke’s assertion that money is necessary since it has “value by agreement” (Second Treatise) is contrary to his previous suggestion that property should be claimed through labour. McMurtry asserts that the introduction of money is the beginning of the fall of capitalist societies. McMurtry says “while Locke’s rhetoric of freedom and democratic accountability was recited almost word for word in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, his life-grounding conditions of exclusionary property were ignored from then on including by Locke himself” (“Rights of the “Human” over  the “Non-Human”).

McMurtry points out the lucidity of Locke’s initial suggestions for definitions of private property and how property and ownership would work. In Locke’s Second Treatise of Government Locke lays out a way for people to claim ownership of land and property. The key is labour. Since a person owns his or her own body, according to Locke, a natural extension of ownership would be  the inclusion of what the person’s labour appropriates them. McMurtry agrees with Locke’s assertion that “every individual man has a property in his own person; this is something that nobody else has any right to. The labour of his body and the work of his hands, we may say, are strictly his. So when he takes something from the state that nature has provided and left it in, he mixes his labour with it, thus joining to it something that is his own; and in that way he makes it his property” (Treatise 11).  People own themselves and they own the fruits of their labour. Land can be owned but only the proportion of land that can be used without waste. This doctrine of land entitlement through labour does not coincide with land obtained through money. Money negates the necessity of the need for labour. The poor are subjugated to work labour intensive jobs whilst those with money are left to live a life of leisure and they own more property through their inactive lifestyles than those living a laborious life.  McMurtry attacks this blatant hypocrisy of Locke’s property theory, a theory that becomes mutated with the introduction of money, thus allowing the labouring poor to be exploited by the money wielding upper classes.

Though Locke concedes that money interferes with his labour property plan, he quickly dismisses this from being a detrimental problem. Locke admits that “the ‘one thing’ that blocks this [labour property theory] is the invention of money, and men’s tacit agreement to put a value on it; this made it possible, with men’s consent, to have larger possessions and to have a right to them” (Treatise 15) and he goes on to say that before money “each man could appropriate by his labour as much of the things of nature as he could use, without detriment to others, because an equal abundance was still left to those who would work as hard on it” (Treatise 15). McMurtry attacks Locke’s assertion that property gained through money is not a problem as long as the owner of the money-gained property is not wasting what he or she buys. If the property bought through money is excessive and the excess is then given to others, thereby eliminating spoilage and waste, it works with the same principles as property gained through labour, so says Locke (Treatise). This is a problem, according to McMurtry, since the means of gaining the property through money or gaining the property through labour differentiates the owner in such a fashion that makes those with money, those who can gain more property easier, at a higher level than those who must work and toil for ownership.

This manner of placing property owners into different categories results in one group ranking above the other. McMurtry laments Locke’s ignorant claim that the money holding owners will be equal to the labouring owners. When Locke introduces money into his property through labourequation he completely discounts his theory that working for property puts limits on what a person can own thereby keeping property and ownership equal between all people. This inequality leads to power inequities, it shifts the majority of power to the few with money and it gives them the means to control the people who must obtain their property and goods through labour; labour often sought for and paid by those with money.

This “easy ownership” is what McMurtry specifically attacks. The checks and balances required by those who gain property through labour are dismissed and disregarded when one has money to use instead. Regarding Locke’s economy doctrine, McMurtry claims “having made the case at length for private property as a “natural right” by these… justifications, Locke erased all of them with ‘the introduction of money’ in a stroke of the pen, and the erasure was never acknowledged” (“Rights of the “Human…”). Locke’s idea of  “I am my property” becomes transfigured by the rich who can instantly become greater through more property than those without monetary advantages. This money power grows when those who are financially secure merge together to form companies, maximizing the property and labour that can be bought. The poor laboring masses are now controlled by the minority. They are forced to unwittingly live in their “invisible prisons”.

McMurtry tackles this issue directly by stating that the majority are trained to be blind to their suppression by savvy words and distracting politics. An example used by McMurtry to illustrate this intentional fleecing of the laboring society is as follows: “In a subterranean shift underneath notice, natural psychoactive drugs competing against the patented drugs of pharmaceutical corporations are criminalized…while the legal drugs affecting the central nervous system and sense organs have correspondingly multiplied at the same time” (Value Wars 74). Society is trained to believe in a particular way and, as McMurtry points out in his example, people are trained to think one thing is good while another similar thing is bad. Prescription drugs are okay whilst “street drugs” are bad. There is no logical explanation for this reasoning. Alcohol is legal but marijuana is not legal in manyareas of North America, yet alcohol alters the mind to a much greater extent than marijuana. Many people claim that marijuana should remain illegal, but those proponents of said claim rarely support their assertions with reasonable facts. This is an example of society so trained to adopt a mode of thinking that the people do not see how controlled they are.

McMurtry is concerned that the corporations who hold the power and money are dehumanizing society. Using Locke’s idea of “I am my property” corporations make themselves “more human than the human” (phrase from Blade Runner). McMurtry says “The rights of corporate “persons” wholly invented by law… can deprive people of their livelihoods and vocations in the thousands without cause, loot and destroy environments around the world in every form of pollution and degradation, sue governments for hundreds of millions for democratic legislation that diminishes their profits, and finance governments in and out of office with no effective rights of living human beings to stop them” (“Rights of the “Human…”). The non-human property holders grow fiercer with each property and equity gain, each growth gives them more power over the labouring masses. The human labourer’s livelihoods are controlled by the non-humans. The corporate powers become terror-inducing organized criminals (Value Wars 78) who prey on those “lower beings” dependent on their power.

These massive money makers become the new governments, they are the new rule makers. McMurtry notes that “private corporations today control more revenues than most governments and a few hundred of their stockholders own more wealth than the total income of most of the world’s population, a disproportion that grows more extreme in the aggregate of every business cycle” (Value Wars 72). This would not be the case if Locke’s initial property and ownership through labour ideology was followed. Henry Thoreau’s lament seems appropriate to attach to McMurtry’s world view of the “invisible prisons”: “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country”(Walden 4) with the addition of being forever confined within the desperate “invisible prisons”. However, McMurtry believes that this desperation, this deep desperation suffered by the too easily quieted masses can be stopped if society can only be made aware of its corporate and capitalistic  brainwashing. The invisible must be made clear. McMurtry tells us to “recall how Locke annulled in the blink of an eye all rights to property by labour, non-scarcity and non-waste by the rights of money to override all of them – the shell-game switch now over three centuries old” (“Rights of the Human…”). Clarity and honesty will help people to break out of their invisible prisons and make them aware of the injustices dished out by the minority power money hoarders.

Works Cited:

Blade Runner. Dir. Ridley Scott. Perf. Harrison Ford. Based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Warner Bros. 1982. Film.

Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government. Early Modern Texts.pdf. 2005. Ed. Jonathan Bennett.

McMurtry, John. “The Rights of the “Human” over the “Non-Human”: The Undeclared World War of Human Rights versus Corporate Rights (Part 1)”. Global Research, 31 December 2011. 11 December 2012. Web.

McMurtry, John. Value Wars. London: Pluto Press, 2002. Print.

Thoreau, Henry. Walden. New York: Dover, 1995. Print.

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