Why dwell on the history of Western domination? It will be argued that domination is natural. Native American tribes fought each other and conquered lands. Africans enslaved each other. The poor and exploited want to become rich and exploitive. Other species of organisms invade, overrun, and destroy ecosystems. We are no worse, just more successful.
But since when are we satisfied by what is natural? To be human is to dream, to imagine a different world, to create anew. There is no morality or reason in the arbitrary arrangement of the world into which we are born, only brutal accident. We invented the standards by which we judge the way of the world, and we must reinvent them in each new context, with each new dream.
Today let us dream up a world of collaboration — and then judge yesterday’s world of domination mercilessly against this standard. Let us excavate the layers upon layers of exploitation upon which our world was built, from the practices of market economics and nation-state politics to the concepts of property, freedom, and individuality. Through this archaeology we can understand how decayed and rotten are the foundations of the future, how unsound will be any structures we build, the more unstable the higher we aspire to go. Then we may identify the weaknesses in our outdated, crumbling substructures and rebuild them where possible, replace them where necessary, and from this stronger groundwork erect a society aspiring toward harmony. Those who glorify our history are ignoring it, like a builder who does not see the crack in the foundation before adding a new story.
Consider for example the concepts upon which the dream of America was built: the rights to liberty and property. The way we think about these rights is limited by historical understandings that they protect individuals from the interference of a central government. But such protection is only valuable to those who already enjoy liberty and property, and so this conception of rights has served to maintain and further entrench the status quo of disproportionate power relations.
We could instead conceive these rights as guaranteeing the prerequisites to liberty and property for all. As such, the concept of a right to liberty might imply equal access to nutrition and shelter, health care and education — not just at the minimal level of sub-subsistence food stamps and homeless shelters, underfunded Medicaid and public schools, but at a level of quality that serves to empower each person to overcome the circumstances that otherwise predetermine our fates. The concept of a right to property might guarantee access to vital resources such as clean air and water, sunlight and quiet, time and space in which to move and mix, play and explore, rest and think.