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Deciphering Patterns, History and Discovering Possibilities
Book Review of- Earth into Property: Colonization, Decolonization, and Capitalism
by Professor Anthony J. Hall
949 pages, 2010, Published by McGill-Queen's University Press
reviewed by Carol Brouillet, October 19, 2010
Earth into Property is the second book in a series, the first being The American Empire and the Fourth World: The Bowl With One Spoon, Part I); these books together are the magnum opus of Professor Hall, coordinator of Globalization Studies at the University of Lethbridge. Both books are epic journeys, odysseys into world history, but especially the history of the Americas after Western contact and conquest. There are stories within stories, themes within themes, that weave the immense tragedies, narratives, lives, and ideas into comprehensible patterns, in the hope of sorting fact from fiction, truth from deception, wisdom from insanity, and meaningful possibility from despair.
I am awed by the research and thought that has gone into both volumes, the discoveries and treasures unearthed by Professor Hall. At the same time, these books are not just an accumulation of forgotten facts, or lost history, for students trying to understand the complexities of modern life and how we came to this moment in time. “Tony” inserts himself, his life, and his journey into his quest, uniting the past with the present. He illuminates past ordeals and the current battles and struggles for truth, justice, and survival in a world increasingly dominated by corporate forces, backed by military might. He himself is no armchair academic, but engaged in the current struggle, confronting political and media institutions that aid and abet police and military forces.
It is embarrassing to admit that it has taken me months to read Earth into Property. However, if I had been reading a paperback version that I could carry with me, rather than an unbound 8 ½” x 11” proof, I’m sure I would have finished it sooner--but life is demanding, and “free time” is a limited luxury. For many months, Earth into Property has been a part of my life, weaving itself into my own consciousness, experiences, insights, and work, and it has become a part of me. Its theme seems to touch upon all the aspects of my work and life, guiding me through the quagmire the modern world is so deeply immersed in, pointing towards a coherent path, towards solid ground where hope and possibility could be found.
By synchronicity, the first chapter of Earth into Property opens with a vivid description of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair: Columbian Exposition, celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the “New World.” At that time, American “exceptionalism” reigned, along with the notion of “Manifest Destiny.” The conquest of the continent foreshadowed the expansion of empire across the Pacific, through Central and South America, and on to Asia and Africa. Hall returns to the theme outlined in The American Empire and the Fourth World, that the United States was born out of a rebellion against King George to create a vehicle that allowed the colonists to seize native lands and eliminate the “savages.” This was a major difference between the U.S. and Canada. In Canada there were treaties recognizing aboriginal rights and acknowledging the native people as allies who were entitled to militarily defend themselves against the aggressions of the U.S. A recent example of these aggressions is the way in which the U.S. has permitted the growth and expansion of corporations into transnational entities that recognize no geographical limitations and continue to turn Earth into property at great human and environmental expense.
As I was reading Earth into Property, I had to prepare a presentation, and go to Chicago where I attended the 6th Annual American Monetary Institute (AMI) Monetary Reform Conference, where I spoke on “Strategy for the Monetary Reform Movement.” I quoted the 1892 Populist Party platform and pointed out that the best historical parallel to today’s struggle against corporate power is the Populist Movement of the 1890s. Other presenters also spoke about the Populists, and about the global struggle against parasitical financial institutions, which continually try to write rules and laws favoring themselves at the expense of morality and justice. Hall identified key people, ideas, and attempts at constructing international law that is not limited to “victor’s justice” but which recognizes and protects indigenous cultures that have been under assault by “foreign entities” seeking their land and resources.
Although it is far easier to identify problems than to offer solutions, nonetheless in the last chapter of his book Professor Hall courageously plunges forward to suggest a path we might follow, building upon the work, ideas, and vision of those he most strongly admires. If the people responsible for making decisions about the future of General Motors were to read Earth into Property, perhaps that vision could be realized. On another level, though, the ideas and solutions that Hall points towards in Canada--not in the US--hold great potential. Just two days ago I also heard about recent events in New Zealand between the Maori people and the New Zealand government, which may well be a manifestation, to some degree, of the Fourth World that Professor Hall advocates. Unfortunately, however, no matter what solutions local people create, they are usually surrounded by powerful military and political forces beyond their control, which have intruded time and again with a seemingly insatiable hunger for resources, profits, and power. Money and media together have blinded the culture to the nature of the problems we face and made it difficult to identify the predator and the prey.
Professor Hall has courageously stuck his neck out, challenged the blinders and minders in Canada, and even forayed into the U.S. to learn, defend, participate, and advocate within the growing social movements of these challenging times. For example, consider the document “Declaration of Accountability,” which was born out of a retreat inspired by Professor Hall’s efforts to develop the Calgary Principles to defend Splitting the Sky during his trial for attempting to conduct a citizen’s arrest of George W. Bush on Bush’s first trip to Canada after leaving public office. Had I read Earth into Property before that retreat, I would have more vigorously supported Professor Hall’s attempt to make that document less “nationalistic,” more international, and deeper as an embodiment of his vision to recognize, embrace, and empower indigenous people, and all people, to defend themselves against the tyranny and injustice of corporations and governments that cloak themselves in a veil of legality as they continue to plunder mental, physical, financial, geographical, and cyber-space frontiers.
Part of the challenge we face collectively is slowing down enough to think deeply about the problems we are facing, to research their roots and history, opening ourselves to the wisdom and insights of others, and figuring out how to work together cooperatively for the good of all. It is rare to find that sort of leadership in governments, corporations, or massive organizations. Sadly, the most informed and aware people are often the least open to new information, because they are inundated constantly by so much that is thrown their way. Earth into Property is not a quick read--it requires some commitment and time; it might best be viewed as a voyage, a transformational one. There are many ways to cross an ocean, and this book is one of them, helping us to enter new realms of understanding. I believe that our best hope of creating a better world lies in popular education, communicating the information and ideas of those who have come forward to share their wisdom. Whether you are the president of the United States, an auto worker, a CEO, a school teacher, a mother, a child, or among the multitude of the unemployed, you will find the experience of reading Earth into Property to be a transformative and fascinating exploration of the past, the present, and the possibilities for a future we have yet to create. The journey is worth the time it takes, every step along the way.