Saturday, November 2, 2013

Berry-picking a basic human right?

I've been reading Dmitry Orlov's latest book, The Five Stages of Collapse, and following his Club Orlov blog. Highly recommended. Today I just want to pass on some brief excerpts from his latest blog post, available at:

It's a guest post by Eerik Wissenz, about how Finland as a society addresses "the public good." Highly un-American, to say the least. If you are at all intrigued, go read the whole post.

Communities that abide: Finland

By every standard measure of success, Finland is a success. In international rankings of countries across many categories it is consistently near the top, which is quite a feat for a small country near the Arctic Circle with a long history of foreign occupation and domination, with little fossil fuels.

Finnish culture continuously debates the public good and the conclusions of this discussion are translated into political platforms, laws and administrative programs. . . . Some of these good decisions were made possibly millennia ago and are enshrined in the structure of the Finnish language itself, which is the bedrock of Finnish culture. One of them was the evolution of a gender-neutral language: in Finnish, there is no way to distinguish “he” from “she”; the word hän refers generically to everyone. This has helped Finland to build one of the most gender-equal societies in the world, and one of the best in terms of outcomes for women. It turns out that gender equality allows fewer artificial privileges and offers fewer opportunities for creating “old boy networks” that maintain artificial privileges while undermining the public good.

The most direct and also the most highly symbolic implementation of the logic of the public good is something that Finns call jokamiehenoikeus or “every person's rights.” . . . Very simply, the law of the land allows anyone to travel across, camp and pick berries on anyone else's land. That is, all Finnish territory is Finnish society's land. Finnish society has defended it all these years from both foreign and domestic encroachment, and has also organized and enforced an intricate system of private stewardship that attempts to safeguard it in perpetuity. In most other countries, intrinsic to the concept of private land ownership is the right to exclude others from its use and enjoyment, so strictly speaking Finland can be said to lack private land ownership. A better word to describe a tender to a piece of Finnish land that by law must remain accessible to the general public is stewardship. Quite reasonably, this law only governs open land; Finland does have private property, and actual dwellings are not covered by this law. Home owners can exclude others from their home, personal spaces adjacent to homes, but not their forests or fields they look after.

Under this law, some prerogatives are delegated to private individuals, who then act as stewards of a piece of land, generally exploiting some aspect of it for commercial gain. But such private title to a piece of land is not without society's conditions. There is a host of environmental regulations designed to keep the land intact. The level of sustainability these regulations achieve is, as ever, debatable. But the point is that society has made it clear that new regulations can be made at any time, based on the advancement of scientific understanding and social values, for it is society that still owns the land, and any member of society can venture onto it, enjoy it and use it in non-competitive ways. These explicitly include hiking, camping and picking berries (I single out picking berries because it's explicitly written into the law as a basic human right). There have been some legal cases to resolve various grey areas in the law, and these have consistently been settled in favor of the public, not the private land steward.

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