Building the Commons Forum Questions

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Questions prepared for the Making Worlds, Building the Commons in NYC

List of Questions

* “How do communities identify with and participate in the process of commoning?”.

We live in a time when competitive individualism is emphasized, the shared and mutual aid obscured. And yet we live every day in webs of dependence and collectivity, sharing space, words, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the cities where we dwell, the cultural resources we enjoy. The commons is a matter of taking collective responsibility for shared (and especially local) resources, and the self-governance of what everyone in a specific community collectively needs and depends upon. Communities, in identifying themselves as communities, can raise and share awareness of those things that everyone in the community needs in order to live, participate, and flourish. Communities must ask themselves: what do we all need? what in our community do we all have a stake in? how can we best collectively manage these resources so we can flourish, and so we can sustain these shared resources which in turn sustain us? ([1])

* “How do we envision the future of the commons? What would people like to see?”.

The future is a commons, and is what we must common if there is to be a future at all. We all share in the “to come,” the potential, the open days ahead of us. Current economic and social practices enclose what we all will one day need, despoiling the future before it arrives. Our efforts now must be towards a commoning, a sharing, of the future—a keeping of its potentialities open for those who will one day depend upon a shared world. Key in this regard is putting the right economic practices and mechanisms in place—practices and mechanisms based upon the careful stewardship of shared natural and human resources, so that they may be sustained into the future.

Perhaps nothing is more urgent now than the imagining, envisioning, and planning of future commons. This project goes hand in hand with imagining economic and social alternatives to the capitalist system—as commons indeed form the bedrock of these alternatives. (link to Quilligan’s Emergence of a Common Based Economy seminars, SoC?)

* “How can commoning be a form of resistance to neoliberal privatization?”.

By definition the commons is the opposite of, and a resistance to, neoliberalism. Neoliberalism, as a radical agenda of privatization and deregulation—a market fundamentalism—depends upon renewed efforts to enclose the commons—even on identifying new commons which can be enclosed and monetized (the world’s water supply, genetic code, social life itself). To build the commons is to resist neoliberalism’s agenda. We do, however, need to be wary of proposals which present the commons as a “fix” to the market’s needs and better maintenance. The commons is not compatible with the market: it is an alternative to the market. Hardin’s “tragedy of the commons” is really a tragedy of the market, which will always enclose and monetize, and thus destroy, the common. ([2] ; Massimo De Angeles from Wealth of the Commons?)

* “How can commoning efforts support and strengthen each other?”.

Commons, if they are to function and flourish, must be conceived of as local formations of shared responsibility for collective resources. But clearly, there are commons upon which all localities, all life in fact, depends: the atmosphere, water, intellectual and creative innovations. And isolated commons require the support of a network of other local commons. Efforts to resist the enclosure of commons build upon the local, but necessarily depend upon the solidarity and support of commoners everywhere. The efforts to build global commons networks, such as The Commons Strategies Group, The Global Commons Trust, and the School of Commoning, are crucial and every effort should be made to support their growth and activities. We need to know what commoners are doing elsewhere in the world, as we come to understand and better work in and through our own commons. ([3] ; Federici from Wealth of the Commons?)

For further reading see The Wealth of the Commons: A World Beyond Market & State. Ed. David Bollier & Silke Helfrich. Amherst: Levellers Press, 2012.