"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion." ~ Thomas Jefferson
Column by tzo.
Exclusive to STR
So a group of 20 people find themselves stranded on a previously uninhabited, lush, and rather large island that could support perhaps ten times as many people.
There is an abundance of fish, birds, fruit and other edible vegetation, rainwater, and plenty of trees and other raw materials for building shelter and making tools.
The 20 go about building their individual homes, agreeing that these separate and limited areas are each individual’s private property, and that the rest of the island is common land for all to extract the resources necessary for human survival.
After some time passes, they quite naturally begin to think of the island as being "theirs." They decide to call it Ruritania.
A shipwreck then brings another three people to the beach of the island. They are met by the larger group of island inhabitants (some wielding spears and bows and arrows) and are informed that the island cannot accommodate any new inhabitants, as the collective owns all the "public land" of the sovereign island nation of Ruritania, and trespassing will not be tolerated. The Ruritanians point the newcomers to a smaller, rockier, somewhat less bountiful island a few hundred yards off to the east that can sustain them if they work hard enough at it.
Is the “public land” claim by the 20 inhabitants ethical*? Are the private land claims where each individual’s home sits ethical? Would the situation be any different if the 20 inhabitants had instead divided the island up into 20 large tracts of "private property" with no "public property"?
Would the ethics under consideration in the previous questions change if the original shipwrecked group had found the island occupied, killed the inhabitants, and then took possession of the island?
What might be the attitude of the citizens of Ruritania if a shipwrecked group of 50 armed sailors wash up on shore?
You are the uninvolved third-party arbiter who is to decide the just solutions to the above questions. What say you?
Consider how this thought experiment applies to the real world that you currently inhabit. Discuss.
* “Ethical” would entail any human action that does not violate another’s person or property. What is tricky here is that we are considering what may be the ethical way to originate property claims from nature. If ethics depends upon the concept of property, can it be used to decide original claims to property as opposed to actions involving pre-existing and agreed-upon personal property? Since all property ownership stems from someone’s original claim from nature, how should these original claims be properly made? Do ethics even apply?