Sweat Equity

I’d like to draw attention to something we saw in This Old House on Friday. The show’s host used a phrase that immediately set off a ‘course themes’ alert in my brain: he told one of the participants they were about to earn some ‘sweat equity.’ According to Investopedia, sweat equity is a “contribution to a project or enterprise in the form of effort and toil. Sweat equity, in the context of real estate, refers to value-enhancing improvements made by homeowners to their properties.” When I Googled the phrase, I also found that Habitat for Humanity buys into the concept: “Habitat affiliates require only a small down payment because few low-income families can afford more than that. Instead, partner families are required to contribute sweat equity.”

I found this concept to be fascinating from several perspectives. The first thing I thought of was Locke—in the Second Treatise on Government he writes that in the state of nature, one can claim property by putting effort into it. He was writing in the context of European overaccumulation, the discovery of the New World, and the beginnings of forays into Africa, and his ideas were used to justify several centuries of imperialism and enslavement. If one goes to a new place and begins working the land, after all, one has begun to accumulate sweat equity. To Europeans, that was the beginnings of ownership, regardless of those who were already housed there.

The second place this phrase took me was Dominion. Sweat equity seems a massive understatement compared to the novel’s description of Jasper Merian’s efforts, but the idea is the same. Dominion consciously drew on the founding myth of America of the pioneer conquering the wilderness and forging a home out of it, and in this context sweat equity is portrayed heroically.

Lastly, the phrase brought me back to the first principle of Take Back the Land and the question Beth drew from it: is housing a human right? It seems to me that following the principle of sweat equity would imply that it isn’t—how can something be a right if you have to work to acquire it? Sweat equity might also exclude those who are differently abled, although an inclusive definition might ameliorate that problem. One thing is clear—sweat equity is fundamental to how we in Western cultures think about property, and seeing it erupt from a reality TV show is proof of the salience of the things we’re discussing this semester.

Multiple Origins of Earthseed

In response to Jes’s post inquiring into the possible role of Heraclitus in the origins of Earthseed, I would like to do a hard loop back. In the Spring 2015 section of the Octavia Butler class, I wrote a post noting the similarities between Earthseed and Daoism—the author of which, in a striking coincidence, seems to have been roughly contemporary with Heraclitus. This seems to suggest another kind of looping—Butler’s own, a looping back from the problems of the present and the future to the solutions of the ancient past. It also begs the question of whether Roach’s idea of circum-Mediterranean circulation was really as sealed off during this period as he believed. There is evidence, in fact, that the Greek philosophers were influenced by Indian philosophy—Pyrrho, the founder of skepticism was exposed to it when he traveled to India with Alexander the Great. It wasn’t too long after Heraclitus and Lao Tzu that the Silk Road began its own intercultural circulation. In my 2015 blog post I couldn’t find any evidence that she drew from any particular tradition in creating Earthseed, but the cultural currents that prefigured her writing were not as autochthonous as we sometimes imagine, and in an environment of circulation such as this there is room for multiple origins.

The Problem With Homeless People

Because I think it hits the nail on the head, I want to respond to Madison’s post on the criminalization of homeless people in Sarasota, FL. Many themes we have discussed this semester appear in her post, as well as many themes that are important to Parable of the Sower. Furthermore, the way people treat each other when housing is genuinely or is constructed to be scarce is a fascinating and powerful window into human nature, which is a primary concern for us as students of the humanities.

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Clean water makes houses makes safe communities

If I might take this opportunity to double post, I thought I should leave a citation for something I brought up in class yesterday. It was in response to Beth’s question for the day, “what is necessary for a house?” and she specifically brought up clean water and freedom from lead paint (negative freedom for you there, Jes) as possibilities.

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Risky Business

I’ve been chewing on this post for some time, but it comes as an especially salient answer to Alpha’s question in class today, “what does any of this have to do with the Housing Crisis?”

I’ll begin by circling back to Lear. When we read that play, one scene that really stuck out to me was the moment it became clear that Goneril was angling to end up married to Edmund. This desire seemed so illogical; she was already comfortably married to the Duke of Albany, and pursuing Edmund put her in direct competition with her sister Regan, who up to this point had been her close ally. More than illogical—this undertaking seemed downright… reckless.

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Pressure to Spread

Before I dive into the meat of this blog post, I want to quickly introduce myself and offer myself as a resource to the class. Like Jenna, the material I’ve studied in my other major has provided me with a knowledge base that some of you might find useful once we delve into some of the more technical causes of the 2008 housing crisis. I’m an English and Economics double major, so if anyone feels that they would like to better understand the economic aspects of the crisis, feel free to ask me during or after class and I’ll explain if I know the answer to your question.

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