Commons

Protecting what belongs to everyone

Earth is a sacred and magical place. There’s enough natural abundance here for all of us to be fed, clothed and housed many times over. And yet billions of people still go to bed hungry, live in devastating conditions, and are forced to eke out an existence in the most dangerous and toxic of realities. All life, yours, mine, ours, comes from the planet’s freely given elements. But when it comes time to return the favour, to care for the earth as it cares for us, a handful of elite’s have persuaded us that what we ought to do is treat the earth like an endless storehouse, and put the very life systems that we all depend upon up for sale to the highest bidder. If we’re going to have a future, we’ve got to reverse the equation and start to manage those things that all life depends on in a way that respects life above all else, including profit.

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Bring Back the Commons

The concept that humans have used for millennia, before it was crushed under the foot of private power in some parts of the world, was of The Commons. It says, there are some things upon which we all depend all of the time, and that therefore should be governed primarily (and that’s the key word) in the public interest. At the heart of this concept is the acknowledgement of human frailties. Some things are far too central to life to be left to anything but the most reliable of decision-making we know of, which is democracy. And not the illusory democracy of electoral process with elections every two to four years, but the more messy, imperfect, cumbersome governance of the people for the people. Not because it’s perfect but because, as Churchill famously quipped, it’s the worst system in the world except for all the others. And it is so because it harnesses the tempered wisdom of the hive mind, which, as any systems and complexity analyst will tell you, is more reliable than a single or small group of minds because of its inherent complexity. Of course, we then get into questions of which sort of democracy, and how we must balance the needs of minorities against some of the unintended side effects of majority rule, but they cannot be covered here. Here we must stop at the principle of democratic control of the Commons.

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Trump: Join us in connecting the dots

The election of Donald Trump has left millions, maybe even billions of us in shock. Although we may be looking with bewilderment at the US today, we should remember that he is not an isolated phenomenon. He is a symptom of a sickness that is raging all around the world. People are hurting, disillusioned with mainstream politics and increasingly angry at a neoliberal economic system that is destroying lives and the planet with increasing ferocity. And in their desperation they are willing to consider extreme measures to make themselves heard.

Demagogues thrive amid fear and insecurity, which is why they paint the world in such dark terms. It’s a strategy that has put right-wing populist leaders in power in an Axis of Egos: from Brazil to Turkey, the Philippines to Russia, authoritarian strongmen like Trump are on the rise. Meanwhile, many centrist liberals, like the Democratic Party in the US, have been so intent on rejecting left-wing populist solutions, and so sure of their ability to beat anyone running on a white supremacy platform with its misogyny and homophobia, that they opened the door for Mr. Trump to walk straight through. Their preference is always to maintain the status quo that has served them so well.

As dangerous as the election of Trump is for the world, we can also see in this moment the truth that we simply cannot rely on the electoral political system to save us, because it is designed to prevent the fundamental change we need. Its own survival is at stake and it will marshal all its champions and resources to defend itself and stop the emergence of a new system. But when we work, or continue working for change from the ground up; when we build or keep on building new ways of living and being with each other where we live; when we construct or keep constructing the future we know is possible with our own hands, rather than hoping distant leaders will build it for us, we find our true power. Finally, when we combine that with the unbending hope that has powered change through the ages, we know our power has meaning.

A 400-year-old economic system is dying and another is struggling to be born. Change on this scale is not going to be smooth or easy. We should not be surprised, then, that moments like this — where the establishment is dealt a body blow — become more and more common. We can despair when that blow comes in the form of right-wing extremists, or we can step-up. We are the ones we are looking for, who can and must grasp the opportunities in these crises that are undoubtedly there.

So it’s time to come together, taking time to remember the earth. Remember all the successful struggles for justice that came before us, and imagine all those to come. Remember that social movements are growing all over the world and realising the common struggle. Remember life. Then, organise. Find each other and help midwife the inevitable transition that brings forth from the ashes of neoliberal capitalism a system that works for the good of all life on Mother Earth. This is not just activism; this is our responsibility as human beings alive as this all unfolds.

This is why we are here.