We’re living in a time of fake news, alternative facts, and partisan warfare. Culture battles all around, with propaganda touting various doctrines assaulting us from all sides. It’s never been more difficult for those seeking an objective truth to tease it out, wrap their fingers around its neck, and wring out some useful information. Everything has an agenda, and, while some are more palatable than others, a perfect world would provide us with cold hard facts and allow us to find our own conclusions.
If only life were so simple. If only “right” and “wrong” were constants. Things to be cherished, relied upon, referred to in times of doubt.
But life ain’t simple. Often, too often, we encounter situations where the facts are not in dispute, but opposing views offer vastly different interpretations. Mark Zuckerberg’s purchase of a palatial private playground on the island of Kauai is a case in point. Depending on where you stand the issue can be read in vastly different manners.
Mark Zuckerberg is employing a legal instrument commonly used in Hawaii to ensure his property is not encumbered by rival claims.
Mark Zuckerberg is continuing the long tradition of employing Western legal doctrine as a means to divest native Hawaiians of a stake in their ancestral lands.
Both of these statements are true, in their own way. Quiet title claims are common, mundane, legal tools that may seem odd to people outside Hawaii, but in no way suggest nefarious intent on the part of Mr. Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg is not twirling his mustache and cackling maniacally while plotting the displacement of the less fortunate. He just wants to own a massive tropical estate.
However, from the perspective of the local community, his quiet title claim represents something that chafes an old, and poorly healed, wound raw. Whether he compensates the owners fairly is beside the point. Whether they are aware of their asset is beside the point. Zuckerberg is another wealthy person from the mainland using money and legal maneuvering to acquire, then privatize, a resource that rightly belongs to Hawaiian people. It isn’t about money, it’s about ownership of their homelands.
Assuming both sides are acting in good faith, and I believe they are, it’s tough to argue against either opinion.
“A person can acquire property so long as they act within the confines of the law,” says one view.
“It may be legal, but that does not make it right,” replies the other.
The latter is very true. I am a thirty-six-year-old married man. The age of consent in Hawaii is sixteen years old. I can, legally, hang around outside a local high school and attempt to bed students. Whether they’d be receptive to my back hair and paunch is beside the point. Maybe one or two poor kids would be naive enough to buy my lies.
Totally legal. Yet still an act of depravity that would be quick to earn me local condemnation.
The aforementioned is obviously a hyperbolic and inflammatory way of making my point. Zuckerberg’s actions in no way approach the heights of degeneracy that attempting to foist my middle-aged body on an unsuspecting child would reach. But they’re similar in that no one can stop you, but people are entitled to hate you.
Which is something that Zuckerberg seems to realize. He said, in a statement released yesterday:
Based on feedback from the local community, we are reconsidering the quiet title process and discussing how to move forward. We want to make sure we are following a process that protects the interests of property owners, respects the traditions of native Hawaiians, and preserves the environment.
We love Kauai. We want to be good members of the community and preserve the land for generations to come.
Kauai is an amazing island. It’s a place where kindness is repaid a million times over. It possesses a strong sense of community, an awareness that we’re all in this together. The locals are welcoming and friendly and willing to bend over backward to help another in need.
But, like any small community, violations of social norms are met with harsh consequences. The same individual who will happily assist a stranded motorist will often respond to insults with a swift punch in the teeth.
Many people move to Kauai with an idealistic notion of tropical paradise, then retreat to more familiar climes when they are unable to assimilate. Bad actions are not forgotten, selfish behavior is not tolerated, and it’s near impossible to find a happy existence on a tiny rock in the middle of the ocean when all your neighbors hate you.
I assume it’s easier to get by if you have a mansion to retreat to, but by all indications, Zuckerberg is not seeking hermitage.
It heartens me to hear that Mr. Zuckerberg is taking the local community seriously and is willing to reach an accord.
Aloha is not a one-way street. When you’re able, as Zuckerberg most certainly is, it’s important to give more than you receive.
He needs to meet with community leaders, demonstrate that he sees this place as a home, rather than a playground. Show that he plans on contributing to the community, rather than just taking from it. Realize that building massive walls not only provides privacy, it communicates a desire for separation.
Create a public access path to Pila’a beach, prove that he is not seeking to privatize a shared resource by snatching up the land surrounding it.
The situation is easily salvaged, because it is not truly his actions that are being called into question. He merely represents a history of malfeasance from wealthy property owners within the Hawaiian archipelago.
By demonstrating a willingness to work with the local community and address matters of concern, he can earn himself a warm welcome. By accepting that some people are not willing to sell he can establish that he understands the land has a value that transcends issues of compensation. By protecting a precious resource, and guaranteeing public access to it, he can earn the love of his neighbors.
No one can stop him from doing otherwise, because, in the end, if you have enough money you can do almost anything you want. So long as you’re okay with everyone hating you.