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Moral Debts

Muriel Strand
On Debt (July 2021)

Dear Friends:

Debts can be accounted by money as well as by more qualitative goods. We usually think of debts as arising from mutually agreed transactions, but the moral debts to various indigenous peoples incurred by European adventurers, speculators, and colonizers clearly don’t qualify as agreements. Yet local populations worldwide have always been interested in the qualities of the goods and tools of other populations newly encountered. Reports describe naïve populations typically quite astute and capable of quickly and accurately assessing the desirability and utility of novel items.

Sadly, due to fossil fuels and consequent machines, human speculation, colonization and exploitation of the planet, we have incurred a much deeper debt. We all owe our lives to the Earth, the natural world. As the bumper-sticker says: “Pay Your Rent – Work for the Earth.”

Are we natural? Is anything homo sapiens does natural by definition? No. We are ignoring natural constraints and cycles, and mostly living very differently than we were evolved to live. In particular, our individual monetized and legalized relationship with land that’s called real estate should be replaced by a common and sacred relationship. Species living awkwardly in an unhealthy niche are in more danger of extinction than those living in their proper ecological niche.

My best hope for paying my debt is to explore and embody rewilding, which means envisioning our species’ optimum niche, and tracing a path between here and there. For example, one might assess how “natural” different taxes are: It’s unnatural for the most local level of government to get the least revenue and taxing authority. Conversely, it is natural for the most distant level of government to tax us in order to provide specialized information and small high-value items to all localities.

So to discharge our debt not just to the Earth but to other tribes, many of us can in various ways extract exploitation and fossil fuels from our lives so as to make various amends to other individuals and groups, and to the flora and fauna.

– Muriel Strand, Sacramento Friends Meeting (PacYM)

Climate action right livlihood Stewardship

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