Fifth Magisterium of the Commons

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"A global superorganism-type coordinating system for bottom-up actors is desperately needed, something that can provide the efficacy of a circulatory, nervous, digestive system to millions of separately metabolizing local actors and create the cohesiveness required at this time." - James Gien Wong (email, November 2021)

= for more context, see also the entry on the Four Magisteria

Contextual Quote

"The Fifth Great Magisteria should be both a revolution in global information commons as well as global environmental commons, and that the two sides of this revolution should, in many ways, provide stewardship of all the world’s basic resources. Furthermore, this new way of combining the inputs of all global citizens will help to stabilize the world without killing the engine of creative destruction that has driven us this far. The prior Four Magisteria will continue to operate with healthy types of competition in mind, to provide requisite motivation, variety, progress, and complexity to human experience; however, the Fifth Magisteria’s concern will be to provide true limits to competition,without the authoritarian force of corrupt actors. By working in an orchestrated effort, the global citizen will provide an oversight that restores balance to the relationship between humanity and environment. Certainly, some degree of expertise and job hierarchy will be required to administer the system, and it won’t be a pure paradise all the time. Feelings get hurt, tempers flare, and differences of opinions will continue - however, we will enter a new era where we can manage complexity on an order of magnitude never before, while also reducing the risks by a similar order of magnitude. The Fifth Great Magisteria can, and will, carry us forward into a Post-Industrial Era. I think it will take only 50 years to begin this hopeful global structure, and perhaps 80 full years to tame the runaway growth mentality of the 19th and 20th centuries. By roughly 2100, we’ll have built a world that our parents could only imagine."

- Robert Conan Ryan (Nov 2020)


Robert Conan Ryan:


"Neither science nor technology can provide the answers to the correct human limits and environmental limits One of my conclusions, in my historical analysis, is that we need a fifth Magisterium: the environmental magisterium, a set of institutions with special powers to balance the others.

We therefore need international organizations that can actually block environmental exploitation and manage resources with more independence from the other magistetia powers.

The other conclusion: strengthening the powers of the cultural commons to develop better ways of living for their own sake , rather than for the sake of business .

By strengthening the cultural commons and adding a true environmental Magisteria to our world system, we could solve many institutional problems that otherwise seem unsolvable." (


What is our world system today, and how can we make deep changes to it>?

Habermas proposed there were three major "spheres" in contemporary society: state, private, and public. In his formulation, these were all institutional spheres, none of them were true voids of power. The private sphere uses the rhetoric of autonomy, but private institutions quickly rose to extreme power in such a void. Public institutions claimed to be free and open, but major media and cultural institutions quickly seized that power as well. In other words, all three of Habermas' spheres are, today, controlled by massive organizations that organize humans for purposes other than the interest of the people.

I have several addendums to this perspective.

First, that he passed over science. Science is a "sphere" of its own, with its own institutions and authority. A system of global institutions exists to promote science independently of these others. For this reason I add Pierre Bourdieu's conception of the academic sphere or academic capital, but I call it simply "science".

Second, that he should call these "Spheres" as this is scientifically vague. I use the term Magisteria instead, because of the work of Stephen Jay Gould, one of the great modern interpreters of evolutionary theory and leading anthropological theorists. Because the concept is so well expressed in the original text,

I will reproduce a long quote here:

"Humani Generis [is a Papal Edict of Pope Piux XII that] focuses on the magisterium (or teaching authority) of the Church — a word derived not from any concept of majesty or awe but from the different notion of teaching, for magister is Latin for “teacher”. We may, I think, adopt this word and concept to express the central point of this essay and the principled resolution of supposed “conflict” or “warfare” between science and religion. No such conflict should exist because each subject has a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority — and these magisteria do not overlap (the principle that I would like to designate as NOMA, or “nonoverlapping magisteria”).

  • The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory).
  • The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value.

These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty). To cite the arch cliches, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven. This resolution might remain all neat and clean if the nonoverlapping magisteria (NOMA) of science and religion were separated by an extensive no man’s land. But, in fact, the two magisteria bump right up against each other, interdigitating in wondrously complex ways along their joint border. Many of our deepest questions call upon aspects of both for different parts of a full answer — and the sorting of legitimate domains can become quite complex and difficult. To cite just two broad questions involving both evolutionary facts and moral arguments: Since evolution made us the only earthly creatures with advanced consciousness, what responsibilities are so entailed for our relations with other species? What do our genealogical ties with other organisms imply about the meaning of human life?"

In short, the Great Magisteria that I propose are global institutional fields that manage separable kinds of facts. It is their ability to validate and promote facts of a unique kind that is their strength. These Magisteria have some influence on each other - Science informs the boundaries of what I call "culture" (its components include such things of the "public sphere" as religion/media/art/local history) and vice versa. However, science has a virtual monopoly on creating and teaching scientific facts, whereas culture has a virtual monopoly on creating and teaching cultural facts (art, religion, and local history are several subtypes of cultural fact-making institutions, each with their own minor jursidictional powers, but heavily overlapping and this one Cultural Magisteria).

In the modern world system, there exists a cosmopolitan society that dominates local (civilization or lower) societies, and that cosmopolitan society manages the de facto norms for interpreting four separate canons of facts: science (empirical production), culture (public discourses), politics(state discourses), and industry (private/pragmatic production). I provide these various parenthetical notes because there are many different theories in social science that use different terminology, and these things should be synthesized into a single framework, eventually.

Third, i argue that the future of the global system lies in the formation of a Fifth Great Magisteria that I now refer to as the Commons Magisteria. This Magisteria has two components: the informational commons (immaterial) and the environmental commons (material). Neither of these commons components should be designed so as to be captured by mega-sized organizations with their own interests separable form the global citizen. They should have their own "institutional logics" rather than work strictly in the service of others. This is why I have argued so vehemently agsint the "p2p left" flatlanders who want to subjugate all Magisteria to the state (of authoritarian design, especially); and also why I argue so vehemently against the right, who want to subjugate all Magisteria to either the industry(economic) or cultural (religious) institutions, and why I am deeply concerned about the singularists who want to subjugate all Magisteria to an ultimate science (the a.i. singularity).

I believe that with partnership from people like Michel Bauwens, I can help formulate a new vision of a 5-Magisteria world in the 21st century that is exactly OPPOSITE of singularism or perpetual toxic forms of Magisterial expansion and imperial growth. My purpose is to restore balance to society that has rarely been seen in the age of civilization since large organizations first appeared, taking special note that a 5 point system, with one of the points being strictly in the interests of the global citizen, would be far more stable and sustainable than anything yet formulated by humanity.

My goal is to achieve this formulation by working within the mainstream of all traditions, rather than proposing some radical logic or viewpoint that immediately offends any other major tradition. I think this approach is exactly what is wrong with radicals: they don't know how to win the argument and accept true pluralism. Yet, all the sociological footwork form great scholars exists to achieve this, we just need to turn a corner and complete the argument." (