Tuesday, 14 August 2012

John Locke on Blackberries

As a fruit farmer, selling his apples for cider, I am horrified by the idea of having to buy any fruit (except, of course, bananas). So the conspiracy of the seasons to ruin my plum crop might have caused me distress, if the hedges had not been full of blackberries this year. They supply our staple desert, in place of plums, for August.

After she arrived from Slovakia, Anna seemed confused by the fact that I furiously cut and chopped back brambles (or 'brambories', the Slovak term for potatoes, as she called them), but ate their fruit at every opportunity. Eventually she has become an inveterate brambory-hacker, and an assiduous blackberry-gatherer on her strolls in the company of Jean. Brambles are not found in Northern or Eastern Slovakia, but gathering traditions are strong in the culture; so Anna reported in amusement that Jean had chided her for greed at having picked every last berry from the hedges, and left none for anyone else.

But of course Jean's philosophical position perfectly reflected her membership of the English school of thought on the issue. Staying at the home of a friend at Talaton , just up the road from here, in the 1670s, John Locke considered the different logics attached to the production and consumption of blackberries and butter, and used his conclusions later to justify  both the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and the ownership of private property.

God gave Nature's Bounty, he argued, to all men in common; yet the invention of money, and its use by all the population, meant that farmers could enclose land and graze cattle, still leaving those lacking land or money enough and as good for themselves. So private property and markets passed for morally OK, and so should the revolution against King James II be if he resisted these things in the name of the Divine Rights of monarchs.

Locke failed to notice that butter is more nutritious than blackberries, or that butter producers could buy up so much land that blackberry gatherers had no access to God's free gifts. But by then Locke paid court to a replacement king from Holland, and didn't visit Talaton too often.

To my mind, Jean got it about right, and Anna's enthusiasm for the Full Monty on blackberries must be put down to her Slovak experience of unenclosed mountain environments, in addition to her pity for me over the failure of my crops.

The apples are fine.

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