Politics and Justice Without Borders
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Volume 15 Issue 1 September 2016

Theme for this month

The theme of September 2016 Newsletter is:

The most important principle governing Global Civilization for Peace in the world is the Scale of Global Rights. The most important principle governing Global Civilization for Peace in the world is the Scale of Global Rights.

Hillary Clinton for President of the United States.
Hillary for President of the United States

Hillary Clinton, the best leader to command the free world. Hillary Clinton the best leader to command the free world.

Table of Contents of September Newsletter

  • Chapter I.  To attain Peace in the world we need to take into account many aspects of life in society.To attain Peace in the world we need to take into account many aspects of life in society.
    Animation of Chapter I To attain Peace in the world we need to take into account many aspects of life in society.
    Text in the animation of Chapter I Text in the animation of Chapter I.
    Images in the animation of Chapter I Images in the animation of Chapter I.
  • Chapter II.  The most important principle governing Global Civilization is the Scale of Global Rights.The most important principle governing Global Civilization is the Scale of Global Rights.
    Animation of Chapter II The most important principle governing Global Civilization is the Scale of Global Rights.
    Text in the animation of Chapter II Text in the animation of Chapter II.
    Images in the animation of Chapter II Images in the animation of Chapter II.
  • Chapter III.  Global Civilization very first accomplishment: creating the Ministry of Peace in government. Global Civilization very first accomplishment: creating the Ministry of Peace in government.
    Animation of Chapter III Global Civilization very first accomplishment: creating the Ministry of Peace in government.
    Text in the animation of Chapter III Text in the animation of Chapter III.
    Images in the animation of Chapter III Images in the animation of Chapter III.
  • Chapter IV.  Register your Ministry of Global Peace in government with Global Civilization. Register your Ministry of Global Peace in government with Global Civilization.
    Animation of Chapter IV Register your Ministry of Global Peace.
    Text in the animation of Chapter IV Text in the animation of Chapter IV.
    Images in the animation of Chapter IV Images in the animation of Chapter IV.

Global Dialogue 2016 Proceedings (September 1st 2015 to August 31st 2016). Global Dialogue 2016 Proceedings (September 1st 2015 to August 31st 2016).

Global Peace Earth. Global Peace Earth.

Global Community days of celebration or remembering throughout the year. Global Community days of celebration or remembering throughout the year.

Authors of research papers and articles on global issues for this month. Authors of research papers and articles on global issues for this month.

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Authors of research papers and articles on global issues for this month

David Anderson, Alan AtKisson, Michael Bauwens, Martin Beckenkamp, Françoise Marie BERNARD, David Bollier, Robert J. Burrowes (2), Dorn Cox, Finian Cunningham, Silvia Federici, Victor Galaz, Chelsea Green, Chris Hedges, Silke Helfrich, Michael Heller, Axel Klimek, Nika Knight, Brigitte Kratzwald, Dr. Charles Mercieca, Stefan Meretz, Dmitry Orlov, Justin Raimondo, Paul Craig Roberts, Matthias Schmelzer, Chris Sunderland, Stacco Troncoso, Hilary Wainwright, Andreas Weber

David Anderson, Existential Threats And Our Belief Systems Existential Threats And Our Belief Systems
Axel Klimek, Alan AtKisson, Chelsea Green, Our Sustainability Challenge: What Does It Take for Us to Thrive Within Earth's Finite Resources? Our Sustainability Challenge: What Does It Take for Us to Thrive Within Earth's Finite Resources?
Michael Bauwens, The Commons As The Response To The Structural Crises Of The Global System The Commons As The Response To The Structural Crises Of The Global System
Martin Beckenkamp, Institutions And Trust In Commons: Dealing With Social Dilemmas Institutions And Trust In Commons: Dealing With Social Dilemmas
Françoise Marie BERNARD, J’AIME LA PAIX ET POUR QUOI ? I LOVE PEACE AND FOR WHAT? Eu amo a paz e para quê? J’AIME LA PAIX ET POUR QUOI ? I LOVE PEACE AND FOR WHAT? Eu amo a paz e para quê?
David Bollier, Beyond Development: The Commons As A New/Old Paradigm Of Human Flourishing Beyond Development: The Commons As A New/Old Paradigm Of Human Flourishing
Robert J Burrowes, A Nonviolent Strategy To End War A Nonviolent Strategy To End War
Robert J. Burrowes, The Psychology of Ideology and Religion The Psychology of Ideology and Religion
Dorn Cox, Farm Hack: A Commons For Agricultural Innovation Farm Hack: A Commons For Agricultural Innovation
Finian Cunningham, Losing to Russia in Syria, Washington Bombs Libya Losing to Russia in Syria, Washington Bombs Libya
Silvia Federici, Feminism And The Politics Of The Commons Feminism And The Politics Of The Commons
Victor Galaz, Planetary Boundaries—Governing Emerging Risks And Opportunities Planetary Boundaries—Governing Emerging Risks And Opportunities
Axel Klimek, Alan AtKisson, Chelsea Green, Our Sustainability Challenge: What Does It Take for Us to Thrive Within Earth's Finite Resources? Our Sustainability Challenge: What Does It Take for Us to Thrive Within Earth's Finite Resources?
Chris Hedges, The New European Fascists The New European Fascists
Silke Helfrich, Common Goods Don’t Simply Exist – They Are Created Common Goods Don’t Simply Exist – They Are Created
Michael Heller, The Tragedy Of The Anticommons The Tragedy Of The Anticommons
Axel Klimek, Alan AtKisson, Chelsea Green, Our Sustainability Challenge: What Does It Take for Us to Thrive Within Earth's Finite Resources? Our Sustainability Challenge: What Does It Take for Us to Thrive Within Earth's Finite Resources?
Nika Knight, Humans Are Poisoning The Ocean—And It’s Poisoning Us Back Humans Are Poisoning The Ocean—And It’s Poisoning Us Back
Brigitte Kratzwald, Rethinking The Social Welfare State In Light Of The Commons Rethinking The Social Welfare State In Light Of The Commons
Dr. Charles Mercieca, Making America Great Again Making America Great Again
Stefan Meretz, The Structural Communality Of The Commons The Structural Communality Of The Commons
Dmitry Orlov, The Power of “Nyet” The Power of Nyet
Justin Raimondo, Ukraine’s ‘October Surprise’ Ukraine s October Surprise
Paul Craig Roberts, Armageddon Approaches Armageddon Approaches
Matthias Schmelzer, Undoing The Ideology Of Growth Undoing The Ideology Of Growth
Chris Sunderland, The ‘Rooted’ People The Rooted People
Stacco Troncoso, Efficiency And The Commons Efficiency And The Commons
Hilary Wainwright, Feminist Socialism And The Commons Feminist Socialism And The Commons
Andreas Weber, The Economy Of Wastefulness: The Biology Of The Commons The Economy Of Wastefulness: The Biology Of The Commons

Articles and papers from authors


Day data received Theme or issue Read article or paper
  July 23, 2016
Armageddon Approaches

by Paul Craig Roberts, Information Clearing House

" - The Western pubic doesn’t know it, but Washington and its European vassals are convincing Russia that they are preparing to attack. Eric Zuesse reports on a German newspaper leak of a Bundeswehr decision to declare Russia to be an enemy nation of Germany.

This is the interpretation that some Russian politicians themselves have put on the NATO military bases that Washington is establishing on Russia’s borders.

Washington might intend the military buildup as pressure on President Putin to reduce Russian opposition to Washington’s unilateralism. However, it reminds some outspoken Russians such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky of Hitler’s troops on Russia’s border in 1941.

Zhirinovsky is the founder and leader of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party and a vice chairman of the Russian parliament. In a confrontation with the editor of a German newspaper, Zhirinovsky tells him that German troops again on Russia’s border will provoke a preventive strike after which nothing will remain of German and NATO troops. “The more NATO soldiers in your territory, the faster you are going to die. To the last man. Remove NATO from your territory!”



Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has expressed his frustration with Washington’s reliance on force and coercion instead of diplomacy. It is reckless for Washington to convince Russia that diplomacy is a dead end without promise. When the Russians reach that conclusion, force will confront force.

Indeed Zhirinovsky has already reached that point and perhaps Vladimir Putin also. As I reported, Putin recently dressed down Western presstitutes for their role in fomenting nuclear war. See also:

Putin has made it clear that Russia will not accept US missile bases in Poland and Romania. He has informed Washington and the imbecilic Polish and Romanian governments. However, as Putin observed, “they don’t hear.”

The inability to hear means that Washington’s arrogance has made Washington too stupid to take seriously Putin’s warning. If Washington persists, it will provoke the preventive strike that Zhirinovsky told the German editor the Merkel regime was inviting.

Americans need to wake up to the dangerous situation that Washington has created, but I doubt they will. Most wars happen without the public’s knowledge until they happen. The main function of the American left-wing is to serve as a bogyman with which to scare conservatives about the country’s loss of morals, and the main function of conservatives is to create fear and hysteria about immigrants, Muslims, and Russians. There is no sign that Congress is aware of approaching Armageddon, and the media consists of propaganda.

I and a few others try to alert people to the real threats that they face, but our voices are not loud enough. Not even Vladimir Putin’s voice is loud enough. It looks like the West won’t hear until “there remains nothing at all of the German and NATO troops,” and of Poland and Romania and the rest of us.

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. His internet columns have attracted a worldwide following. Roberts' latest books are The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West, How America Was Lost, and The Neoconservative Threat to World Order.

  Read Armageddon Approaches
  July 25, 2016
The New European Fascists

by Chris Hedges, Information Clearing House

WARSAW, Poland—Jaroslaw Kurski and Piotr Stasinski embody the hope that once was Poland. They struggled against the Communist regime for years in the underground press and as Solidarity members. They built Gazeta Wyborcza, now one of the most influential newspapers in the country, after the 1989 fall of communism. They helped usher in a period of democracy and open debate, one that included cultural space for historians such as Jan Gross, a Polish-born American who courageously confronted the taboo topic of Polish complicity in the Nazi extermination of nearly all of Poland’s 3 million Jews. 

And then neoliberalism, imposed by global capitalism and international banks, began to spread its poison. Legions of unemployed or underemployed were cast adrift. Two million Poles, many of them young people desperate for jobs, have left to work abroad. Governmental austerity programs devastated cultural institutions, including public schools, the arts and public broadcasting. And finally, following a familiar death spiral, the October 2015 elections brought to power the nationalists and demagogues of the right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS). There is no left-wing party represented in the parliament.

Not much of Poland’s promise remains. PiS is rapidly rolling back constitutional rights. It blocks state media coverage of the fading political opposition, especially the Committee for the Defense of Democracy (KOD), which has held a series of protest demonstrations. PiS shamelessly uses the airwaves and the schools for rabid nationalist propaganda. The public broadcasting system—in which the party purged more than 100 staff members—twisted President Barack Obama’s recent criticism of the Polish government’s assault on the judiciary into praise for Polish democracy. And the ruling party has forced state institutions to cancel subscriptions to Gazeta Wyborcza and pressured distributors throughout the country not to display or sell copies of the newspaper.

“There is no longer genuine parliamentary debate,” Stasinski said when I met with him and Kurski at the Gazeta Wyborcza offices in Warsaw. “There are no longer checks and balances of power. The parliamentary system is dysfunctional. The Constitutional Court and judiciary are paralyzed. New laws passed by the parliament cannot be challenged or changed. The government is supposed to publish sentences of the Constitutional Court in The Journal of Laws [Dziennik Ustaw] for them to become legally effective. This is required by the Constitution. But the government, by not printing them, paralyzes the Constitutional Court, which has been reduced to announcing its sentences on the internet without any legal effect. It is a very dangerous time.”

“We operate under two systems of law,” said Kurski. “One is constitutional and legal. The other is unconstitutional and illegal. The problem is that the illegal and unconstitutional system runs the country.”

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the founder and head of the ruling party, governs Poland like a private fiefdom. Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and President Andrzej Duda are political puppets. Kaczynski, reclusive and morbid, is referred to with fear or reverence as “the Chairman.” His words, and his obsessions, are law.

And it is not only Poland that is in trouble. Europe, especially EU countries on the fringes of the union, is devolving into proto-fascism. The Hungarian strongman Prime Minister Viktor Orban has destroyed his country’s democracy. Neofascist groups are gaining strength in France, the United Kingdom, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Greece.

These movements are rabidly xenophobic, racist, Islamophobic and homophobic, and they demonize immigrants and brand internal dissent as treason. When they take control they rely on ruthless internal security and surveillance systems—Poland has established 11 intelligence agencies—to crush dissent. They seek their identity in a terrifying new nationalism, often, as in Poland, coupled with a right-wing Catholicism. They preach hatred of the outsider and glorification of obedient and “true” patriots. This lurch to the right will be augmented in Poland later this year with the establishment of an armed militia of more than 30,000 whose loyalty, it seems certain, will be to the ruling party. 

“If you are a Pole, you should be Catholic,” said Stasinski. “I’m not. So for some, I’m not a Pole.”

Poland, like Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, has rejected the European Union’s call for its nations to accept refugees fleeing the chaos in the Middle East. The ruling party in Poland employs rhetoric to describe Muslim immigrants that echoes prewar Polish anti-Semitism. Immigrants are condemned as diseased, painted as rapists and excoriated for supposedly having barbaric religious practices. When Gross, who teaches at Princeton University, decried the hate campaign against immigrants and made the links with anti-Semitism, reminding Poles that they killed more Jews than they killed Germans during the war, PiS began legal proceedings to challenge Gross’ assertions and called for his Polish Order of Merit to be revoked.

“It’s the same right-wing populist melody as in the United States,” said Stasinski. “Isolationism becomes appealing. Maybe there is something rotten in human nature. Maybe we are selfish people who don’t care about the other. Maybe this story about how we are Christian and altruistic is rubbish.

“There is a fear that grows from ignorance,” he said. “These parties manufacture and strengthen this resentment against those they allege are privileged and the powerful, as well as the European Union. They say these forces can’t tell us what to do. They say the nation-state should organize societal living, not global institutions. They say things are out of control. They say there is no real democracy. This leads to the mental and physical militarization of the society. The demagogues promise security. You are safe with us. We care about you. We care about your family. Chauvinism defines public discourse. We are a proud people. We are a proud nation. We don’t accept that other nations can humiliate us. The government devoted a hundred million zlotys to create a special foundation to defend Poland’s good name.”

Populist ideologies sweeping across Europe call for the redistribution of “power, prosperity and dignity,” all of which have been taken from the working class by neoliberalism, Kurski said. “And we saw what such ideologies did to Europe in the 1930s. They led to war.”

The Warsaw Rising Museum, dedicated to the failed 1944 armed uprising by the Home Army (AK) against the Nazis that left 200,000 Poles dead and saw the center of Warsaw razed, is the cornerstone of the rewriting of history and the state hagiography of the nation’s martyrdom. It was opened in 2005 as part of what is called the “repolonization” of the country. Schoolchildren and youth groups are bused from across the country for tours. The museum does not acknowledge Polish anti-Semitic crimes.

The museum was in part a reaction to Gross’ book “Neighbors,” published in 2000 in Poland. It told the story of Catholic Poles in the town of Jedwabne who on July 10, 1941, murdered their Jewish neighbors. The number of dead, including women and children, slaughtered with clubs, knives and axes or burned alive, was in the hundreds. And there were dozens of similar massacres of Jews by their Polish neighbors. The houses of the murdered Jews were plundered immediately. For decades, the killings were officially blamed on the German occupiers. Now, the public airing of these crimes has shattered the myth in Poland that Poles were solely heroic victims of the war. The nationalists have attacked the veracity of the accounts and called their publication an unforgiveable humiliation.

In the museum I walked past display cases of weapons and uniforms spread out over three dimly lit floors. I listened to the recorded sound of gunfire and watched the video interviews with former soldiers and other participants. The symbols of Catholicism and the Polish state were fused in display after display. There was a room dedicated to child martyrs wearing oversized helmets and clutching weapons. There were replicas of graves of the fallen. And there was a video of Pope John Paul II, who was Polish, likening the failed Warsaw uprising to the crucifixion of Jesus.

Only on the third floor, tucked away from the main exhibits, was there an oblique reference to Poland’s sinister past. It was a video interview with Marek Edelman, the deputy commander of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising, who also fought in the 1944 uprising of Warsaw. He said he and other Jewish survivors from the ghetto were forced to fight alongside fringe elements of the Communist armed resistance during the 1944 uprising because the AK, now sanctified in the museum, did not accept Jews and refused to give them weapons. He mentioned a Jewish fighter who approached the AK and was shot dead. He said he went into hiding after the AK’s surrender to the Germans because the Polish commanders refused to guarantee that he and the other Jews would not be turned over to the Nazis. This, he said with stunning understatement, was “unfortunate.”

“Jewish citizens were treated by Catholic Poles as foreign elements, if not outright enemies,” said Elzbieta Janicka, a cultural anthropologist and author at the Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences. “Polish majority stances and behaviors proved to be an important factor within the German machinery of extermination. Sealing it, they made the extermination complete and irrevocable.”

But this truth about Polish history has been reburied with the rise of Polish right-wing populism. And the binary view of the world, split between the noble Poles and the evil Nazis, is being revived today. 

“There is no such thing as human nature,” Janicka said to me. “Human nature is culture. It is a product of education. When you construct an educational system and a public discourse where there is an almost total lack of critical, analytical thinking, where you refuse to strengthen individual human beings capable of autonomous judgment, human beings aware of their experiences and feelings, responsible for their deeds and relationship to the other, you destroy what is fundamental to an open society. It becomes exclusively about collective image, meaning collective narcissism. Liberal pluralism from this perspective is viewed as moral relativism or nihilism. There is a clash in Poland between the formal and legal frame of liberal democracy and the majority dominant culture.

“This began before the current government. Catholicism—with its structural fixation on the Jews—is ingrained into the dominant model of the Polish national identity which did not undergo a laicization and citizen redefinition. Lech Walesa in the 1991 presidential campaign suggested his opponent [Tadeucz] Mazowiecki could be a Jew. Mazowiecki’s electoral staff made public baptismal certificates of his family lineage going back to the 16th century. People began to ask: ‘What about before the 16th century?’ In the final debate of the 2015 presidential campaign the first question the future winner asked his opponent concerned the official state acknowledgment of the Polish perpetration of the Jedwabne massacre.”

The nationalist myth is appealing to most Poles, not only those humiliated and marginalized by neoliberalism. It is used and manipulated by Polish proto-fascists in an attempt to compensate for the loss of social cohesion.

“There are almost no young people in KOD [the opposition Committee for the Defense of Democracy],” Janicka said. “The young people are mostly on the other side. They are nationalists. It is a direct consequence of the ethnic-religious perspective characteristic of the education they received in the independent Poland.”

Right-wing populism, with its heavy doses of self-adulation, requires an assault on historical memory. All that does not fit with the heroic narrative is purged. The minister of justice in 2000 halted exhumation at the site where Poles massacred Jews in Jedwabne. Anna Zalewska, the minister of education, who is overhauling school curricula, recently questioned whether Poles were involved in the Jedwabne massacre. She and the Polish defense minister, Antoni Macierewicz, have also questioned whether Poles were involved in the July 1946 Kielce pogrom, in which more than 40 Jews were accused of ritual murder and killed by Catholic residents of the city.

Overt anti-Semitism is publicly unacceptable in Poland, much as overt racism is unacceptable in the United States. But, as in the U.S., there are ways to speak in code.

“There is always a test of submission,” Janicka said. “Everyone who feels that he or she is a subtenant in this culture, that he or she does not have all of the rights to belonging, has to pass this test of submission. The test of submission means you have to say, ‘I’m normal. I’m a Polish patriot. I respect John Paul II and the Catholic Church. I’m against communism. I apologize for my parents who were Communists,’ and so forth. It doesn’t pay respect to a pluralist culture and society. It delegitimizes cultural critique as well as alternative social, economic projects.”

Over two days, I walked with Janicka through the streets of Warsaw to look at the handful of remnants of the Warsaw ghetto. Monuments to non-Jews, including one to the Polish soldiers who fought with the British army at Monte Cassino in Italy in World War II, are at many of the most important Jewish sites within the ghetto. The Monte Cassino monument, put up in 1999, is a headless Nike adorned with images that include Christian crosses and the Virgin Mary.

A crucifix is directly in front of the old tenement house at 20 Chlodna St., once the home of Adam Czerniakow. Czerniakow, head of the Warsaw ghetto Judenrat, killed himself on July 23, 1942, after the Germans demanded that he be involved in the mass extermination of the Jews of the ghetto.

“This [crucifix] is not an exception,” Janicka said as we stood under it. “The fields of Jewish ashes in Birkenau are dominated by the cross of the church set in one of the former camp buildings. There is a crucifix in the Plenary Hall of the Polish parliament. It is an illegitimate appropriation and a reminder about who is the host, ‘who is the guest and who is the enemy,’ as the serving Polish president has said in one of his recent speeches. As if the country does not have real problems it should face.”

Chris Hedges, spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

  Read The New European Fascists
 July 27, 2016
The Psychology of Ideology and Religion

by Robert J. Burrowes, Information Clearing House

Information Clearing House" -Two of the drivers of world affairs that manifest in the daily decisions that affect our lives are ideology and religion.

Ideology is the term widely used to describe the underlying set of values, myths, ideas, attitudes, beliefs and doctrine that shape the behavioral approach to political, economic, social, cultural and/or ecological activities of an individual or organization. This organization might be a political party, government, multinational corporation, terrorist group, non-government organization, community or activist group.

Religion usually describes the belief in a superhuman controlling power involving a God or gods; it entails a system of faith and worship as well as, like ideology, an underlying set of values, myths, ideas, attitudes, beliefs and doctrine that shape the behavioral approach to political, economic, social, cultural and/or ecological activities of an individual or organization.

At the macro level, there are worldwide or regional ideologies such as capitalism, fascism, conservatism, communism, socialism, feminism, pacifism and environmentalism as well as religions including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. There are also variations of these major ideologies and religions. But even at the micro level, the local service club, neighborhood charity and sporting club operates in accordance with an ideology or religion that is shared by its members too.

Frequently, a shared ideology or religion is a functional way for like-minded people to find each other and to work together to achieve a shared aim. When this helps to achieve a desirable social outcome, the shared ideology or religion has a valuable purpose.

Unfortunately, however, often enough the shared ideology or religion has a dysfunctional basis and the outcome is detrimental both individually and socially with the (violent) consequences sometimes reverberating throughout a national or even global society. This is why it is useful to understand the psychology of ideology and religion.

When a child is very young, they start to learn from the people around them. Predominantly, they learn by being participants, one way or another, in the events in which they are involved. That is, when their parents, other significant adults (such as relatives, school teachers and religious figures) or an older sibling involve the child in an activity, the child is taught and copies the mental responses and behaviours of those around them. This is what is called ‘socialization’.

However, it is important to identify the ideological/religious elements in this process too. First, there are ideological and religious imperatives around raising children. These imperatives are sometimes deliberately shaped by an ideology or a religion but, often enough, they are simply copied on the advice of, or by observing the behavior of, other nearby adults.

Second, and more importantly however, the child unconsciously acquires a set of values, myths, ideas, attitudes, beliefs and doctrine (in relation to social, cultural, political, economic, religious, sporting and ecological issues) that are approved by the adults in the child’s life.

There is much that is functional about this process and, historically, it can explain a great deal about human behavior, including in particular cultural contexts.

But I would like to discuss the dysfunctional aspects of this process which arise from the way in which the child’s fear is deliberately played upon so that, consciously or unconsciously, they copy the ideology or religion of the adults around them. And the reason that the child does this is so that the ideology or religion that they acquire, together with the behavioral outcomes that arise from this, does not scare these same adults.

In an ideal world, a child would be socialized in an environment devoid of fear and in which they are loved, there is no ‘visible’, ‘invisible’ or ‘utterly invisible’ violence – see ‘Why Violence?‘  – damaging them in any way, they have their needs met and they are utterly free to choose (and later change if they wish) the values, myths, ideas, attitudes, beliefs and doctrine by which they will live their life, preferably with the benefit of substantial aware listening from adults while they work this out for themselves. Needless to say, this never happens.

In fact, the typical child is endlessly terrorized into adopting some version of the individual ideologies and religions, which are sometimes bizarrely conflicting, of the people around them.

This means that a fixed set of values, myths, ideas, attitudes, beliefs and doctrine – including those in relation to violence – become fearfully and unconsciously embedded in the child’s mind and they cease to be values, myths, ideas, attitudes, beliefs and doctrine that are easily and consciously accessible for review and reconsideration in light of new information or evidence. Let me briefly illustrate this point.

For some people, it is easy to laugh at or be outraged by the absurd statements they hear uttered by a very conservative politician, especially if they display a pronounced bias against a particular racial or religious group or a class of people. But to a conservative, their ideology is imperative and it reflects a childhood of being terrorized into believing certain things. There is no conscious awareness of this unconscious terror and even if asked, they would readily proclaim that they are not terrified (because they have been terrorized into suppressing their awareness of this terror, which is why it is now unconscious to them).

Similarly, most socialists are very attached to the ideology that puts class (based on the production relations of capitalism) predominantly at the centre of their analysis, feminists usually believe that gender relations under patriarchy are the primary problem in society, many people who combat racism view white domination as the core issue in social oppression, and religious fundamentalists believe that they know the one truth to the exclusion of people of other faiths. Irrespective of the proclaimed original basis of the ideology or religion, often enough, at least some of its adherents also learn to believe that violence is the appropriate behavior for achieving some or all of their aims.

The issue in this context, however, is not whether any of these people is right or wrong but why they hold so tenaciously to a worldview that they do not willingly and fearlessly subject to ongoing scrutiny. And that is why the psychology of ideology and religion is so important.

If any person is willing to fearlessly and open-mindedly consider other worldviews and analyses of society’s social relationships and problems, as well as how to tackle these problems, then it is likely that their ideology or religion is one that has been genuinely and intelligently acquired of their own free will and their mind will be capable of analysis and reconsideration if compelling evidence of the merits of an alternative worldview or explanation is made available. They are also likely to be highly tolerant of other worldviews as some religions, for example, specifically teach.

But if someone, whatever their ideology or religion, is dogmatically insistent on their own worldview, then their fear of further analysis and reconsideration will be readily apparent and it is a straightforward conclusion that they were terrorized out of the capacity to think fearlessly for themselves when they were a child. They are also more likely to behave violently.

If you would like to read a detailed explanation of how a child is terrorized, to a greater or lesser extent, into unconsciously absorbing a version of the ideologies and/or religions of the adults around them, you can do so in ‘Why Violence?’ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice.’  These documents explain the visible, invisible and utterly invisible violence to which children are subjected throughout childhood and which few survive. Moreover, it is this adult violence against children that leads to all other manifestations of violence.

Now, you might well ask: Is this simply my ideology? Well perhaps it is. But five decades of research, which included substantial reading and thoughtful consideration of many ideologies and religions, led me to this conclusion. Nevertheless, I remain happy to review my beliefs in this matter if someone offers me compelling evidence in support of another explanation.

Even better, when I witness Christian parents raising children who have chosen to be Muslims and conservative parents raising children who have chosen to be anarchists and… I will have all of the evidence I need to know that I am wrong.

If you would like to work towards creating a world in which fear does not shape every single outcome of human endeavor, you might like to sign the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World‘.

In essence, most children are terrorized into believing what the adults around them want them to think. This is because most adults are far too (unconsciously) frightened to let children think for themselves and to then let them believe and behave as they choose.

Consequently, therefore, it is fear, often mediated through ideology and religion, that drives most human behavior.

Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?’ His email address is flametree@riseup.net  


  Read The Psychology of Ideology and Religion
  Jyly 27, 2016
The Power of “Nyet”

by Dmitry Orlov, Information Clearing House

" - The way things are supposed to work on this planet is like this: in the United States, the power structures (public and private) decide what they want the rest of the world to do. They communicate their wishes through official and unofficial channels, expecting automatic cooperation. If cooperation is not immediately forthcoming, they apply political, financial and economic pressure. If that still doesn’t produce the intended effect, they attempt regime change through a color revolution or a military coup, or organize and finance an insurgency leading to terrorist attacks and civil war in the recalcitrant nation. If that still doesn’t work, they bomb the country back to the stone age. This is the way it worked in the 1990s and the 2000s, but as of late a new dynamic has emerged.

In the beginning it was centered on Russia, but the phenomenon has since spread around the world and is about to engulf the United States itself. It works like this: the United States decides what it wants Russia to do and communicates its wishes, expecting automatic cooperation. Russia says “Nyet.” The United States then runs through all of the above steps up to but not including the bombing campaign, from which it is deterred by Russia’s nuclear deterrent. The answer remains “Nyet.” One could perhaps imagine that some smart person within the US power structure would pipe up and say: “Based on the evidence before us, dictating our terms to Russia doesn’t work; let’s try negotiating with Russia in good faith as equals.” And then everybody else would slap their heads and say, "Wow! That's brilliant! Why didn't we think of that?" But instead that person would be fired that very same day because, you see, American global hegemony is nonnegotiable. And so what happens instead is that the Americans act baffled, regroup and try again, making for quite an amusing spectacle.

The whole Edward Snowden imbroglio was particularly fun to watch. The US demanded his extradition. The Russians said: “Nyet, our constitution forbids it.” And then, hilariously, some voices in the West demanded in response that Russia change its constitution! The response, requiring no translation, was “Xa-xa-xa-xa-xa!” Less funny is the impasse over Syria: the Americans have been continuously demanding that Russia go along with their plan to overthrow Bashar Assad. The unchanging Russian response has been: “Nyet, the Syrians get to decide on their leadership, not Russia, and not the US.” Each time they hear it, the Americans scratch their heads and… try again. John Kerry was just recently in Moscow, holding a marathon “negotiating session” with Putin and Lavrov. Above is a photo of Kerry talking to Putin and Lavrov in Moscow a week or so ago and their facial expressions are hard to misread. There’s Kerry, with his back to the camera, babbling away as per usual. Lavrov’s face says: “I can’t believe I have to sit here and listen to this nonsense again.” Putin’s face says: “Oh the poor idiot, he can’t bring himself to understand that we’re just going to say ‘nyet’ again.” Kerry flew home with yet another “nyet.”

What’s worse, other countries are now getting into the act. The Americans told the Brits exactly how to vote, and yet the Brits said “nyet” and voted for Brexit. The Americans told the Europeans to accept the horrendous corporate power grab that is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the French said “nyet, it shall not pass.” The US organized yet another military coup in Turkey to replace Erdoǧan with somebody who won’t try to play nice with Russia, and the Turks said “nyet” to that too. And now, horror of horrors, there is Donald Trump saying “nyet” to all sorts of things—NATO, offshoring American jobs, letting in a flood of migrants, globalization, weapons for Ukrainian Nazis, free trade…

The corrosive psychological effect of “nyet” on the American hegemonic psyche cannot be underestimated. If you are supposed to think and act like a hegemon, but only the thinking part still works, then the result is cognitive dissonance. If your job is to bully nations around, and the nations can no longer be bullied, then your job becomes a joke, and you turn into a mental patient. The resulting madness has recently produced quite an interesting symptom: some number of US State Department staffers signed a letter, which was promptly leaked, calling for a bombing campaign against Syria in order to overthrow Bashar Assad. These are diplomats. Diplomacy is the art of avoiding war by talking. Diplomats who call for war are not being exactly… diplomatic. You could say that they are incompetent diplomats, but that wouldn’t go far enough (most of the competent diplomats left the service during the second Bush administration, many of them in disgust over having to lie about the rationale for the Iraq war). The truth is, they are sick, deranged non-diplomatic warmongers. Such is the power of this one simple Russian word that they have quite literally lost their minds.

But it would be unfair to single out the State Department. It is as if the entire American body politic has been infected by a putrid miasma. It permeates all things and makes life miserable. In spite of the mounting problems, most other things in the US are still somewhat manageable, but this one thing—the draining away of the ability to bully the whole world—ruins everything. It’s mid-summer, the nation is at the beach. The beach blanket is moth-eaten and threadbare, the beach umbrella has holes in it, the soft drinks in the cooler are laced with nasty chemicals and the summer reading is boring… and then there is a dead whale decomposing nearby, whose name is “Nyet.” It just ruins the whole ambiance!

The media chattering heads and the establishment politicos are at this point painfully aware of this problem, and their predictable reaction is to blame it on what they perceive as its ultimate source: Russia, conveniently personified by Putin. “If you aren’t voting for Clinton, you are voting for Putin” is one recently minted political trope. Another is that Trump is Putin’s agent. Any public figure that declines to take a pro-establishment stance is automatically labeled “Putin’s useful idiot.” Taken at face value, such claims are preposterous. But there is a deeper explanation for them: what ties them all together is the power of “nyet.” A vote for Sanders is a “nyet” vote: the Democratic establishment produced a candidate and told people to vote for her, and most of the young people said “nyet.” Same thing with Trump: the Republican establishment trotted out its Seven Dwarfs and told people to vote for any one of them, and yet most of the disenfranchised working-class white people said “nyet” and voted for Snow White the outsider.

It is a hopeful sign that people throughout the Washington-dominated world are discovering the power of “nyet.” The establishment may still look spiffy on the outside, but under the shiny new paint there hides a rotten hull, with water coming in though every open seam. A sufficiently resounding “nyet” will probably be enough to cause it to founder, suddenly making room for some very necessary changes. When that happens, please remember to thank Russia… or, if you insist, Putin.

Dmitry Orlov was born in Leningrad and immigrated to the United States in the 1970’s. He is the author of Reinventing Collapse, Hold Your Applause! and Absolutely Positive, and publishes weekly at the phenomenally popular blog

  Read The Power of “Nyet”
  August 7, 2016
Losing to Russia in Syria, Washington Bombs Libya

by Finian Cunningham, Information Clearing House

The US air strikes on Libya this week mark a major escalation of American overseas military operations. A Pentagon spokesman said, the air campaign would continue indefinitely in support of the UN-backed unity government in Tripoli against Islamic State (IS) jihadists.

It was the first “sustained” aerial intervention in Libya since 2011 when US and other NATO warplanes conducted a seven-month bombing campaign in order to oust the government of Muammar Gaddafi.

The timing of the latest US air strikes on the Libyan port city of Sirte seems significant. For nearly two months, the Tripoli-based government has been making inroads against the IS brigades in Sirte. So why should US air strikes be called in at this precise juncture?

The deployment of US air power in Libya followed within days of the decisive offensive launched by the Syrian Arab Army and its Russian allies on the strategic city of Aleppo in northern Syria. As the Syrian and Russian allies move towards defeating anti-government militias holed up in Syria’s biggest city that victory portends the end of the five-year Syrian war.

Frustration in Washington over Russia’s successful prosecution of its war against foreign-backed terror groups in Syria has been palpable since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered in his forces to the Arab country – a longtime ally of Moscow – nearly ten months ago.

American frustration reached boiling point when Russia unilaterally announced last week that it was proceeding, along with Syrian forces, to take back the city of Aleppo. Syria’s second city after the capital Damascus has been besieged by illegally armed groups for nearly four years. With its proximity to the border with Turkey, Aleppo has been a crucial conduit for foreign fighters and weapons fueling the entire war – a war that Washington and its NATO allies and regional partners have covertly sponsored for their political objective of regime change against President Bashar al-Assad.

When Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that humanitarian corridors were being opened around Aleppo for fleeing civilians and surrendering fighters, the plan was mocked as a “ruse” by US Secretary of State John Kerry. The US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power described the Syrian-Russian offensive on Aleppo as “chilling”.

However, the sovereign, elected government of Syria has every right to take back control of Aleppo – formerly the country’s commercial hub – which had been commandeered by an assortment of illegally armed groups, some of whom are designated as internationally proscribed terror organizations.

What the pejorative words of Kerry and Power indicate is Washington’s perplexity at Moscow’s success in Syria. Russia’s military intervention has thwarted the US-led foreign conspiracy for regime change. Washington may have got away partially with regime-change schemes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Ukraine. But Russia’s intervention has put paid to a similar maneuver in Syria.

Not only that, but as Russia and its Syrian ally close in for a final defeat of the anti-government mercenary networks in Aleppo, it is becoming excruciatingly obvious that Washington’s charade of “moderate rebels” mingling among terrorists is also exposed. For months now, Washington has procrastinated on Moscow’s demands that it provide clear demarcation between so-called moderates and extremists. Washington has studiously balked at providing any distinction or physical separation. As Russian and Syrian forces corner the militants in Aleppo, it becomes evident that Washington and the Western media are caught on a damnable lie, which has been used for the past five years to justify the war in Syria. Furthermore, Russia emerges vindicated in the way it has prosecuted its military campaign in support of the Syrian government.

In other words, Russia is seen as genuinely fighting a war against terrorism, whereas Washington and its allies are evinced as having a mercurial, if not criminal, relationship with terror groups that they claim to be combating.

On Friday, Washington’s top diplomat John Kerry was anxiously waiting for clarification from Moscow on what the Aleppo offensive was about. By Monday, it was clear that Moscow was not going to pander to Washington’s apprehensions about the offensive plan.

“Once again, the Obama administration appears to have been blindsided by Mr Putin, just as it was when Russia dispatched its forces to Syria in September,” declared an editorial in the Washington Post on Tuesday.

It was on Monday-Tuesday night that US air strikes were ordered on Libya.

Washington’s chagrin over Syria is compounded because only a few weeks ago, Kerry flew to Moscow to offer a “deal” on joint military cooperation between the US and Russia, allegedly to fight terrorist brigades in Syria. It transpired that what the American deal was really all about was to inveigle Russia’s concession for Assad to stand down. That is, for Russia to acquiesce to the American goal of regime change.

Russia was having none of it. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated the position that the future of Syria’s presidency was a matter for the Syrian people to determine alone, without any external interference.

Then the military offensive embarked on Aleppo by Syrian and Russian forces – without regard to Washington’s concerns for its “moderate rebels”/terror assets – was a further sign that Moscow was following its own strategic assessment and objectives. To Washington that was a stinging snub.

The Washington Post editorial cited above carried the peeved headline: “Stop trusting Putin on Syria”. It was but the latest in a series of tetchy editorials admonishing the Obama administration for “caving in” to Moscow over Syria. One such earlier headline ran: “Obama retreats from Putin in Syria – again”.

Within the Obama administration there appears to be sharp dissent over its perceived failing policy on Syria. The Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and National Intelligence Director James Clapper were opposed to Obama and Kerry’s now-redundant gambit to enlist Russia’s military cooperation.

Earlier, a list of 51 US diplomats signed a joint letter calling on the Obama administration to step up its military operations in Syria against the Assad government. It is also clear that Obama’s would-be Democrat successor in the White House, Hillary Clinton, is surrounded by Pentagon aides pushing for greater American intervention in Syria – even though that poses a grave risk of confrontation with Russian forces.

Facing mounting criticism for failure in Syria, it seems that the US air strikes on Libya were ordered as some kind of compensation. President Obama reportedly ordered the strikes on the advice of Pentagon chief Ashton Carter. It looks like the Obama administration is trying to fend off accusations of being soft.

Secondly, by ordering air strikes against Islamic State jihadists in Libya’s Sirte, that allows Washington to regain the narrative which it has lost to Russia in Syria.

Russia’s success in Syria has seriously undermined Washington’s claims of waging a war on terror. The last stand of the terror groups in Aleppo – including militia supported by Washington and its allies – represents an incriminating moment of truth.

Hence, as the net tightens on Syria’s Aleppo, Washington’s hand was forced to lash out in Libya, in an attempt to burnish its tarnished claim that it is fighting against Islamist terrorism.

In truth, however, the bigger net seems to be tightening on Washington. World public opinion increasingly understands that terrorism is closely correlated with everywhere Washington engages. The terrorism spawned in Afghanistan and Iraq under US occupation, was grafted onto Libya during NATO’s regime-change bombing operation in 2011, which in turn contaminated Syria as part of another regime-change campaign under Obama and his then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

For Obama to now revisit Libya with further air strikes due to failure of a criminal policy in Syria – a failure resulting from Russia’s principled intervention – is simply plumbing the depths of American degeneracy. And the rest of the world can see it.

  Read Losing to Russia in Syria, Washington Bombs Libya
 August 12, 2016
Ukraine’s ‘October Surprise’

by Justin Raimondo, Information Clearing House

When a Russian FSB agent and a Russian soldier were killed by a team of Ukrainian saboteurs, and one of the captured Ukrainians was shown on Russian media in handcuffs, US ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt tweeted

“US government has seen nothing so far that corroborates Russians allegations of a ‘Crimea incursion’ & Ukraine has strongly refuted them.”

Apparently two dead Russians don’t count for much in Pyatt’s book: perhaps Putin personally killed them, and the whole thing is a set up.

And how has Ukraine “strongly refuted” this accusation? According to the Ukrainian authorities, the captured would-be saboteur, one Yevgeny Panov, was “kidnapped” from his home town in Zaporizhia – a distance of some 200 miles – by the Russians and transported to Crimea. The Ukrainian police have solemnly announced that "We are taking all necessary measures to promptly, fully and impartially investigate all circumstances of this crime.” One has to admire the ability of the Ukrainian authorities to utter the most portentous absurdities with the perfect aplomb of a used car dealer, but of course their skills don’t even begin to approach Pyatt’s. The ambassador followed up his tweet with another that stated:

“Russia has a record of frequently levying false accusations at Ukraine to deflect attention from its own illegal actions.”

Speaking of deflection, the lobbying group for NATO, the Atlantic Council, has a long account of the incident here, notable for its obscurantism. However, after going on about various confusing “narratives” – including speculation that the saboteurs may be Russian deserters, or even that they “may not exist at all” – the pretense of objectivity forces the Atlanticists to admit, after several paragraphs of blowing smoke, that, yes,

“Because of the arrest of Panov, it has become clear that the Armyansk incident was not invented by the FSB, as many have claimed online, though details provided are difficult to verify.”

Well, that’s progress, at any rate: acknowledging reality. And of course the details are difficult to verify, since Western “news” accounts are heavily colored, like this NPR piece which doesn’t mention that the Russians captured several of the saboteurs, and doesn’t mention Panov, but wonders why the Russians “waited three days” to report the incident. This Bloomberg account has not one detail about the incident: instead, we are treated to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s denials that anything at all took place, “analysis” by an “expert” that “no one trusts” anybody else, calculations on the sinking of the Ukrainian currency, and warnings about how Putin supposedly has a habit of launching military operations in the midst of the Olympic games. This Associated Press dispatch, published in the New York Times, is similarly bereft of details, and gets the number of Russian casualties wrong: they claim only one Russian died. The rest is “analysis” by various “experts,” claiming that the whole thing is a diversion – oddly, the same line peddled by Ambassador Pyatt – to which are added the author’s own description of Putin’s reaction as “menacing.” The BBC helpfully adds that, while Panov may have been a “volunteer” fighter, he was “more recently” associated with “a charitable organization.”

Since when do members of “charitable” organizations wear camouflage while sneaking over heavily-guarded borders in the dead of night?

So there’s an effective embargo on reliable news from this dark corner of the battlefield between East and West. Yet it’s possible, if we glean facts from disparate sources, to outline how the incident unfolded. CNN, after shilly-shallying for four or five paragraphs – reporting Poroshenko’s denials and Ukrainian military measures to counteract a long-touted and entirely mythical Russian “invasion” – finally coughs up some facts, citing Tass:

“The report said Russian forces spotted the ‘saboteurs’ and while attempting to detain them, found ‘20 improvised explosive devices containing more than 40 kilograms of TNT equivalent, ammunition, fuses, antipersonnel and magnetic bombs, grenades and the Ukrainian armed forces’ standard special weapons.’ It said two Russian servicemen were killed in ensuing clashes.”

According to the Russian daily Kommersant, the Ukrainian incursion occurred on August 7, when Russian intelligence detected the entry of a group of seven armed men in an inflatable boat who passed through the Gulf of Perekop from Ukraine, entering Crimean territory near the town of Armyansk. The men were wearing “Soviet-style” camouflage uniforms, apparently trying to give the impression that they were Russian troops. They were intercepted and a shootout followed, in which several on both sides were wounded and one Russian FSB agent was killed. A second confrontation occurred when, the next day, Russian forces identified one of the saboteurs and followed him into an ambush: Ukrainian military positioned on the border opened fire and a second group crossed the border as the FSB personnel pursued their quarry. One Russian soldier was killed in the ensuing exchange.

At least two of the infiltrators were killed, and of those in the first group five were captured: a total of ten people have been detained, including Panov. Some had Russian passports and the majority are residents of Crimea. Kommersant also said those captured admitted they were engaged in sabotage, acting under orders from Ukrainian intelligence; their objective was to plant bombs at tourist sites and incite panic, effectively destroying Crimea’s lucrative tourist industry, although they denied wanting to kill anyone.

Oh, of course not!

Tass is reporting that Panov has not only confessed that the operation was carried out under the direction of the Ukrainian secret service, but he has identified some of them by name. His taped statement was broadcast over the Rossiya’24 news channel.

Now we have Newsweekreporting” the preposterous Ukrainian “spin” on this botched incursion: it was really a “shootout involving Russian federal security agents (FSB) and Russian armed forces on the Crimean regional border”! Yes, the Russians were shooting at themselves. Ukrainian propaganda usually borders on the fantastic, but this marks a new level of crudity even for them.

So why should we care about this showdown at the Ukrainian corral, anyway?

It’s important because the Ukrainians – like the rest of the world – have been watching the US presidential campaign, and they don’t like what they see. Donald Trump, while disdaining to get involved in Ukraine’s feud with the Kremlin, is asking “Wouldn’t it be good if we could get along with Russia?” This has provoked the Ukrainians into paroxysms of spittle-flecked hysteria. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is openly accusing Donald Trump of being a Russian agent: former CIA chief Mike Morrell, in the process of endorsing her, said Trump is an “unwitting agent” of the FSB. And the “mainstream” media, which is brazenly campaigning on Clinton’s behalf, has been playing the Trump-is-a-Russian-stooge card for all it’s worth.

In short, the leaders of Ukraine hate Trump, have continually denounced him, and are openly rooting for a Clinton victory in November: by launching a terrorist attack on Crimea, and before that trying to assassinate the President of the rebellious Luhansk Republic in eastern Ukraine – they put a bomb under his car, seriously injuring him – they hope to provoke Putin into taking military action. And voila!, we have an “October surprise” – with Hillary taking a hard-line anti-Russian stance, and Trump put in the position of seeming to defend Russian “aggression.”

It’s a perfect set up, for both the Ukrainians – who have been chafing at President Obama’s refusal to provide them with deadly arms – and for Hillary, whose McCarthyite campaign against Trump has taken on all the trappings of a cold war fear-fest of the sort we haven’t seen since the 1950s.

This is the price we pay as a global empire, with our noses stuck in the internal affairs of practically every nation on earth: our clients continually plot and scheme to insert themselves into our internal affairs, including our elections. Intervention is a two-way street.

Russia has lost two servicemen: Putin isn’t going to let this go. And neither are the Ukrainian coup leaders, who came to power by overthrowing the elected President and have a very tenuous hold on power. They need perpetual war scares to keep the populace diverted from their pathetic economic plight and the growing repression exercised by the regime. And certainly Hillary Clinton is ready, willing, and able to use a looming Ukrainian “crisis” to claw her way to the White House – even if she has to risk a nuclear showdown with the Russians. After all, what’s the mere prospect of World War III compared to the supreme importance of installing the First Woman President in the Oval Office?

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].

  Read Ukraine s October Surprise
 August 8, 2014  
Making America Great Again

Dr. Charles Mercieca

by Dr. Charles Mercieca
President, International Association of Educators for World Peace
Dedicated to United Nations Goals of Peace Education
Environmental Protection, Human Rights & Disarmament
Professor Emeritus, Alabama A&M University

When the time arrives for national elections in the United States, most of the candidates campaign on the slogan: making America great again. However, not one political figure brings into the open the real source of the nation’s great problem. Many of those running for an office tend to defend the way things have been going.

US Constitution Needs Revision

Up to now, the United States Constitution was never revised, far less updated, since it was composed some 300 years ago when things were entirely different from those of our times. There is one thing for sure, if the US Constitution had to be written today, such a document the way have it, would never have been produced. We may pick up some example for purpose of crystal clarity.

When the US Constitution was drafted, there were no cars, busses, telephones, and airplanes. Hence, when people travelled out of town, they had to assume the responsibility of being their own policemen, their very own protectors from any abuse they may encounter. Hence, it seemed very appropriate to jot down in this US document the phrase, “the right to bear arms.”

Today we have fast communication through a variety of transportations, including trains and airplanes. Besides, every segment of the nation is well taken care of and anyone could get in touch with enforcement officers quite fast. The idea of having a gun for self-protection evolved into having a gun for business purposes.

Needless to say, several of those who are determined to get what they want through violent means, do not encounter any difficulty in securing not only guns but also all kinds of devastating arms. When some good member of Congress shows that times have changed and that this “right” to bear arms need to be dealt with, those with special interest in weapons as business try to raise a pandemonium.

Violence Breeds Violence

One of the leading agencies in this regard is the NRA – National Rifle Association, which tries to create fear among people in general. Since the United States is perhaps the only nation in the world that advocates the “right” for all people to bear arms, it explains why every year there are more people in the USA that are killed by the gun than any other nation, including China and Russia.

We all know that violence breeds violence and more violence breeds more violence. The NRA slogan - National Rifle Association -may be stated as follows: Guns do not kill, only people kill. I think this slogan needs to be perfected in the following way: Guns do not kill, but guns in the hands of people kill. In this regard, people have no business in carrying guns, far less military ammunitions.

At present, the United States seems to be going through open discussions. The real aim of this type of communication is to hopefully respect the feelings of those who disagree with you. This approach eventually leads to nowhere unless steps are taken to eliminate guns and lethal weapons from the hands of people from every walk of life. This may take us a long time to have this problem settled.

Theoretically, all the American nation needs is to get rid of guns and all sorts of lethal ammunitions. This would be feasible if we were to have a strong government. The real problem lies here. Many of those in the government have been financed by big industries, including the weapons industry, which views the manufacture and sales of guns and weapons as their real and primary source of good income.

Once they get the money they want, they literally care less about the lives and welfare of the people even if they were to be massacred innocently in tens of thousands. From studies made over the past decades, the best solution to this abusive gun problem lies in getting straight to its source. The US Constitution is literally outdated and it needs to be fully revised and re-written.

Importance of National Security

As stated by many writers, the “right to bear arms” needs to be abolished. If we were in an auditorium of 3,000 people watching a performance, would all of us be safer if no one would be carrying a gun or if each one of us would be carrying a loaded gun? This is merely common sense. However, as some philosophers stated in the past, “common sense is very uncommon and it is rare to find.”

During the process of human development, we need to develop a deep sense of adaptability. Things that are felt to be required at a certain stage of life, may not be needed at another segment of our life process. One of the leading mistakes we notice in those who are especially in a position of influence may be termed as “abuse of power” which is essentially criminal.

It is criminal because it is, at the same time, very deceitful. In theory it tries to demonstrate a list of possible benefits. But in practice it always evolves in creating surmountable problems, thus making each one of us less and less safe. The United States is perhaps the only nation in the world that allows to have all people carry guns and deadly ammunitions under the aspect of “freedom.”

At the same time, the United States has more people dying of guns and violence every year than any other country on earth, including China with six times of the population in size. It is now fully obvious that those in power who want to see all people having guns and weapons without limit are those who view these deadly elements as a good means of making more and more money.
  Read  Making America Great Again
 July 24, 2016
Our Sustainability Challenge: What Does It Take for Us to Thrive Within Earth's Finite Resources?

by Axel Klimek, Alan AtKisson, Chelsea Green, AlterNet News


The following is an excerpt from Parachuting Cats Into Borneo and Other Lessons From the Change Café by Axel Klimek and Alan Atkisson (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2016): 

Practicing sustainability involves expanding our focus to consider the long term and the whole system. But our current culture, in most organizations, in most of the world, pushes us to do just the opposite. We tend to focus almost exclusively on the success of individual people, departments, companies, and so forth when we also need to think about the success of the whole context on which these things depend: nature and its resources; people and their well-being; the social and economic systems we have built up around us over generations.

Practicing sustainability means learning to think outside the box of our immediate concerns. Making a profit or meeting a target in the next quarter year is fine. But how do we make sure that we can keep doing that, over years and decades? How do we make sure that success today, for us, is not actually leading us to serious problems tomorrow, for us and for many other people?

Obviously, once you start asking questions like this, many issues come up, and many of these issues have to do with environmental and social concerns. These are the classic issues that sustainability change agents are usually working with. This list of issues includes things like global warming and the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions that cause it. It includes other environmental problems, caused by organizations (and people) that believe they have to take resources out of nature, or dump wastes back into nature, or even destroy nature, just to survive. And it includes a broad range of social concerns, including issues that seem very far away from us in both space and time, such as how people on the other side of the planet are doing, and whether their children are growing up with a chance for a better quality of life.

In a business or organization that is focused on short-term, immediate success—and that is also embedded in systems that keep pushing it to think this way, supported by the well-established habits of millions of people—facilitating change for sustainability is certainly not easy. And successfully bringing about real transformation can look almost impossible.

And yet there are many stories we could tell that are similar to the one about Paul Polman and Unilever. Sustainability transformation happens.

But how does it happen?

The answer is deceptively simple, and it builds on everything we have been talking about so far. It’s all about having a clear vision, a good idea (or set of ideas) to promote, a solid strategy for implementing them, a lot of courage and flexibility . . . and the willingness to look inward, listen deeply, and spend time listening to others. It’s about getting to know yourself as a change agent and getting to know the people you are working with as well as you possibly can, then working together. Sustainability is a team sport.

This is neither the time nor the place to get into the science of sustainability. Nor do we want to tell a lot of stories now about companies, cities, governments, NGOs, and other organizations that have successfully implemented a sustainability change or larger-scale transformation. There are many other books and websites full of such stories, and one of us (Alan) has written a few books about these topics.

Instead, we would like to use this part of our conversation to dig a little further into the idea of sustainability transformation and to think with you about what’s required of us as change agents when we are trying to make transformation happen.

Transformation = Changing System Structure

When an organizational system is unsustainable, it means that if it keeps doing what it normally does, it will eventually have big problems.

Consider a company that is very dependent on fossil fuel energy (there are many of these, including car companies, airlines, and the financial companies that serve them). The company might look quite healthy and strong today. But if you adopt a long-term perspective, and a broader field of concern than the company’s own boundaries, the picture changes a lot. The world as a whole has woken up to the inescapable reality of climate change. Governments are slowly changing their policies and incentives to steer more and more toward renewable energy. Investors and big banking institutions are starting to worry that most of the oil and other fossil fuel will have to be left in the ground, placing doubt around the future value of those economic assets.

From a sustainability perspective, a company that is very dependent on fossil fuel energy will not be able to keep doing what it’s doing in the longer term. Small changes will not be enough, either: just getting a little more efficient, or creating a greener profile, or becoming a little more engaged with community issues will not help. They are nice things to do, and they might even be important to do. But they are still just tinkering in relationship to the real issues.

Let’s look at another energy example. Earlier in the book we mentioned the Energiewende, which began to be implemented in Germany (where Axel lives) as a reaction to the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima. To some extent this Energiewende seemed very sudden, and it was even initiated by a conservative government that was not known for promoting green ideas. But actually, there was a movement toward renewable energy and green thinking in German society that had been going on for many, many years already—to such a degree that the Green Party had sometimes been leading the country in a coalition with the Social Democratic Party.

Even though the issues of energy and climate were already on the table in Germany, the decision to implement Energiewende—the nationwide transition to energy efficiency and renewables—hit the biggest energy companies totally by surprise. Nuclear power stations were their cash cows, and they didn’t have a plan B in their desks for this sudden turn of events. These companies were among the biggest in Germany, and suddenly they were in very big financial difficulty—because their cash cow was unexpectedly slaughtered.

There is another layer of public catastrophe connected to this: a likelihood that these companies have not put aside enough funds for rebuilding the existing nuclear power stations or handling the nuclear waste—and definitely not enough for the tens of thousands of years that this extremely dangerous, radioactive, toxic waste will be around, demanding very special attention and high levels of technical skill and investment.

Milking the old cash cow seemed to be fine, but taking care of the side effects and long-term impacts was not part of the plan. This is just one example of a deeply unsustainable pattern, but it is not untypical of our times and our current economic mind-set.

To be sustainable, energy companies will have to start reconsidering the whole system structure: what kinds of products and services they sell, how they sell them, all the economics around that, and all the communications to people about what the company is doing or intends to do—not to mention the mind-sets (mental habits) and skill sets of its employees.

Here’s a small example.

Alan: One client we’ve worked with is a large company that sells, among other things, cars. (I talked about them previously.) But they were slow to adopt the new technologies that are making cars greener, such as hybrid engines that combine battery power with traditional petroleum-based combustion engines.

Of course, hybrids are well established in many parts of the world. What was the obstacle in this particular case? It turned out to be a mind-set. Most of the people working at the company believed the hybrid cars were somehow inferior to “normal” cars when it came to performance. As this was also the prevailing mind-set in their market, it was hard to start changing customer buying habits if the people selling the cars had this kind of mind-set, too.

As it happened, the new hybrids were actually better (faster in acceleration, for instance) than the “normal” cars, but nobody believed that yet. Then the sustainability director came up with a great idea: he used his own budget to upgrade the cars that all the senior managers drove to work. They already had pretty nice “normal” cars, but he made sure they all got nicer luxury models—which were also hybrids.

This changed the mind-set: suddenly hybrids were an “upgrade” that everyone in the company used and appreciated. This made them easier to sell as well.

Remember the process we described around coaching, in the last two chapters? Maybe it’s easier now to see why we think there’s such a strong connection here. The idea in the above story emerged out of a coaching relationship with that client that involved many sessions of thinking together about all the many aspects that were standing in the way of progress and looking for creative new options.

Sustainability transformation usually involves changing many aspects of a system, in terms of physical processes, social routines, and mental habits. It brings up many challenges that can only be solved if we adopt a very reflective, open, learning attitude—individually, but also in our work groups, change teams, leadership roles, and other professional relationships.

The first thing that sustainability transformation requires of us is the recognition of the scale of the change: big; comprehensive; containing within it many smaller changes, opportunities, and problems to solve. Facilitating a sustainability transformation means facilitating many moments of change—and supporting others to do the same.

Axel Klimek is the cofounder and managing director of the Center for Sustainability Transformation. He has worked in more than twenty-five countries on four continents, and within a wide spectrum of contexts―helping leaders, organizations, and developmental programs manage complex change processes and improve their performance. His clients have included the African Union Commission, Canon Europe, EY, PWC, Allianz, GIZ, Lufthansa, Unilever, and T-Systems. He lives in Germany.

Alan AtKisson, CEO of AtKisson Group and cofounder of the Center for Sustainability Transformation, was inducted into the International Sustainability Hall of Fame in 2013. He has advised governments, cities, and organizations around the world, including Nike, Levi Strauss, Toyota, WWF, and the United Nations Secretariat. His six previous books include the Amazon bestseller Believing Cassandra. He is a dual citizen of the USA and Sweden, and lives in Stockholm.

  Read Our Sustainability Challenge: What Does It Take for Us to Thrive Within Earth's Finite Resources?
 July 22, 2016
The Commons As The Response To The Structural Crises Of The Global System

by Michael Bauwens, Counter Solutions

The Connecting the Dots series has convincingly shown a number of interconnected reasons why the global system is in crisis, and why there is no way out without a structural transformation of the dominant neoliberal system. In our contribution, we want to stress the key importance of what we call a “value regime,” or simply put, the rules that determine what society and the economy consider to be of value. We must first look at the underlying modes of production — i.e. how value is created and distributed — and then construct solutions must that help create these changes in societal values. The emerging answer for a new mode of value creation is the re-emergence of the Commons.

With the growing awareness of the vulnerability of the planet and its people in the face of the systemic crises created by late-stage capitalism, we need to ready the alternatives and begin creating the next system now. To do so, we need a full understanding of the current context and its characteristics. In our view, the dominant political economy has three fatal flaws.



The first is the characteristic need for the capitalist system to engage in continuous capital accumulation and growth. We could call this pseudo-abundance, i.e. the fundamental article of faith, or unconscious assumption, that the natural world’s resources are infinite. Capitalism creates a systemic ecological crisis marked by the overuse and depletion of natural resources, endangering the balance of the environment (biodiversity extinction, climate change, etc).

Scarcity Engineering

The second characteristic of capitalism is that it requires scarce commodities that are subject to a tension between supply and demand. Scarcity engineering is what we call this continuous attempt to undo natural abundance where it occurs. Capitalism creates markets by the systemic re-engineering of potentially or naturally abundant resources into scarce resources. We see this happening with natural resources in the development of “terminator seeds” that undo the seeds’ natural regeneration process. Crucially, we also see this in the creation of artificial scarcity mechanisms for human culture and knowledge. “Intellectual property” is imposed in more and more areas, privatizing common knowledge in order to create artificial commodities and rents that create profits for a privileged “creator class.”

These first two characteristics are related and reinforce each other, as the problems created by pseudo-abundance are made quite difficult to solve due to the privatization of the very knowledge required to solve them. This makes solving major ecological problems dependent on the ability of this privatized knowledge to create profits. It has been shown that the patenting of technologies results in a systemic slowdown of technical and scientific innovation, while un-patenting technologies accelerates innovation. A good recent example of this “patent lag” effect is the extraordinary growth of 3D printing, once the technology lost its patents.

Perpetually Increasing Social Injustice

The third major characteristic is the increased inequality in the distribution of value, i.e. perpetually increasing social injustice.

As Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century shows us, the logic of capital is to concentrate more and more wealth into fewer hands through compound interest, rent seeking, purchasing legislation, etc. Our current set of rules are hardwired to increase inequality and injustice.


Enter the Commons

To what degree does the Commons and peer-to-peer production function as a potential solution for these three interrelated structural crises of capitalism?

Commons are resources that are owned and managed neither by private corporations nor by the state. Instead, they are governed by their user communities. As the late Elinor Ostrom has shown, Commons have managed and maintained a healthy resource base for extremely long periods. Both private capitalism and state-centric development have been detrimental for the environment and the maintenance and regeneration of natural resources.

Digital networks (such as the internet) have recently enabled a new type of Commons where the knowledge required for human action and value creation has been mutualized. This has led to global open design communities, which jointly create open knowledge pools (e.g. Wikipedia), free software (e.g. the Linux Operating System) or open designs to enable physical production (e.g. Arduino motherboards, WikiSpeed cars, WikiHouse housing projects, etc.).

Commons-based peer production emerges when technology enables the creation of open, contributory systems that create Commons. Unlike physical resources (which need to be managed tightly), these digital Commons can be open for use by all of humanity (on the condition of having network access of course).

In what way do the Commons and peer-to-peer dynamics represent a potential response to the three systemic crises we’ve described?

As a first approach, we offer the following theses:

1. Under capitalism, the design of products and services is led by the desire to retain market scarcity, and therefore, to create commodities. In this context, corporate-driven innovation is always characterized by planned obsolescence. The global open design communities engaging in peer production and mutualization of productive knowledge have no such perverse incentives. These communities design to ensure participation and are “naturally” inclined to design sustainable products and services. Of course, this is not to say that relying on peer production is entirely sufficient to obtain full sustainability. The point is that peer production does not structurally create the need for unsustainable production.

2. Innovation under our current system actually depends on artificial scarcity and the intellectual property regime. The privatization and patenting of knowledge and technical solutions hampers the widespread distribution of necessary innovations. No such impediments exist in the open contributory systems of peer production communities, where innovation anywhere in the network is instantly available to the whole.

3. Peer production, independent of the profit motive, invites and facilitates the creation of solidarity-based forms of economic entities. Being generative towards human communities, these entities are more likely based on socially just forms of value sharing. This condition, though, requires that the value generated by peer production communities is not captured by extractive economic entities. In fact, this is the central locus of political and social struggle when peer production emerges in the context of the dominance of an economic system based on value extraction from human communities and the environment. The self-organizing characteristics of peer production, however, also enables the creation of new economic forms that are generative, and which can therefore produce more justice in the economic system.

Shadow play

The Revolution Is Already Happening

All over the planet, citizens are organizing to solve these three systemic crises. Their responses take three forms:

1. The sustainability and ecological/environmental movements, attempting to find solutions for the planet’s survival;

2. The “Open,” “Commons” and “Sharing” movements, stressing the need for shareable knowledge and mutualized physical resources;

3. The cooperative and solidarity economy, focusing on fairness.

All three of these movements are vital, yet alone they are not sufficient for a global, systemic response to these crises.To be effective, they must combine elements from the “free” (open/shareable), “fair”(socially just) and “sustainable” movements.

The good news is that Commons-based peer production is the best way to bring these three necessary aspects together into one coherent system. However, for this to happen, the various movements need enabling tools and capacities. An example is the open source circular economy (encompassing open and sustainable approaches). Here, open and participatory logistical and accounting systems allow citizens, entrepreneurs and public officials to scale up their circular economy cooperation in otherwise impossible ways.

Similarly, open and platform cooperativism — the convergence of socially just forms of production with shareable knowledge — allows all contributing citizens to create fair, generative livelihoods around the shared resources they need and co-create.

The task may seem daunting, but history shows that value regimes do change; in fact, they’ve changed at least twice in the last thousand years in the European sphere.

Richard Moore, in his wonderful book The First European Revolution, describes how Europe moved from the post-Roman plunder economy to a feudal regime based on land ownership. Rapid development of a new economy came in the 15th century (after the crisis of feudalism), based on making and selling commodities. This would eventually become capitalism.

We’ve seen post-capitalist practices emerging since the late 20th century — for example, the 1983 invention of the universally available browser. Citizens have been empowered to create value through open contributory systems; these create universally available knowledge, which in turn can be used for material production. This new value regime is now emerging globally, and can be paired with an ethical, generative economy to create sustainable livelihoods for those who contribute to the common good. These are the dots that we must connect in order to help usher in the post-capitalist world.

Michael Bauwens (Belgium/Thailand) is the founder of the P2P Foundation, a global research collaborative network on peer production as well as Co-Founder of the Commons Strategies Group. He lives in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. Michel is currently Primavera Research Fellow at the University of Amsterdam and is an external expert at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (2008, 2012).

  Read The Commons As The Response To The Structural Crises Of The Global System
 August 4, 2016
Efficiency And The Commons

by Stacco Troncoso, Counter Solutions


Efficiency is the spiritual practice of the religion of scientific management. Under its spell, we have not only privatized once abundant shared natural resources, but we have also privatized our intellectual and cultural commons

Chris Corrigan questions the mantra of market efficiency, offsetting it against commoning:

This morning, I’m reading this article. It’s a review of two books charting the changes in fishing practices in the north eastern Pacific over the last century. I’ve been witness to some of these changes, directly involved as I’ve watch abundant fish stocks in British Columbia become concentrated in the hands of a few corporate owners, with most of the economic activity associated with those fish moving off shore.  Fishing communities in British Columbia are a mere shadow of their former selves, our coastal waterways (and wild salmon migration routes) are dotted with farms that grow invasive Atlantic salmon using a bevy of damaging industrial farming practices. Aboriginal rights are constantly challenged and whittled away even as individual non-indigenous owners grow rich and the fish that are critical to healthy indigenous diets are rendered scarce.

Largely this is due to a practice of creating Individual Transferable Quotas, which is basically an amount of fish that you can transfer to someone else through a lease.  You can read a detailed piece on this here.  Bottom line is that the nature of the system has shifted the wealth generation in fisheries from food production to ownership. You get rich by leasing your quota to someone who barely makes a living catching your fish.

This is much like the way the financial system works too. The fastest way to get rich these days is to trade in financial instruments, whose value is propped up by management practices that make companies so efficient that they return a healthy profit on their capital investment. This means that to create a profitable financial instrument like a share or a bond, you need to suppress or eliminate your company’s costs. Obvious candidates for this include limiting wages, cutting corners on safety and environmental protection and either doing the bare minimum to comply with regulations, or investing in a lobby effort to reduce the burden of regulation that protects the public interest from your efficiency mandate. Managers and leaders in the private sector are told to return value on the investment before everything else.

The mantra of efficiency is so widely accepted now, that it appears increasingly in the public sector as well:

[British Columbia] Premier Christy Clark riled school trustees Wednesday by referring to the $54 million in administrative cuts facing districts as “low-hanging fruit.”

“…there is no reason that in the back office — the part that has nothing to do with delivering educational programs on a local level — there’s no reason we can’t find savings there.”

B.C. School Trustees’ Association president Teresa Rezansoff said Clark’s comments ignore the fact that school districts have been making cuts for years.

“It’s inaccurate to say that we haven’t already been doing this stuff and it doesn’t reflect the reality in school districts,” she said. “It also is not a fair recognition of the really tough decisions and hard choices that have already been made in school districts across the province.”

Rezansoff said districts will continue to look for efficiencies, but she questioned their ability to find $29 million this year and a further $25 million in 2016-17 as stated in the provincial budget.

“I don’t believe, and I don’t think anybody in our sector really believes, that the $29 million is going to be found in shared services,” she said.

NDP Leader John Horgan said Clark’s comments reflect her fuzzy thinking on the issue.

“Low-hanging fruit usually gets picked in year one or two or three of a mandate,” he said.

“We’re in year 14 and I think school boards appropriately are responding by saying, ‘How many times are you going to come to us saying we’re the bottom of the tree?’ ”

Management practices these days manage for efficiency which on the surface is widely accepted as a good thing. But there are things in human experience for which efficiency is devastating. Love, care, community, and attention are all made much worse by being efficient. Where those things intersect with the “efficiency” agenda is where you will find the thin edge of the wedge for social breakdown, erosion of community and poor physical and mental health. An efficient education system does not produce learners. An efficient health care system does not create wellness.  And efficient economic structures don’t produce vibrant local economies.

In this sense the thing that drags upon efficiency is the commons: that which we share in common, which is owned in common and governed in common.  Resources like fish and trees and pastures and water and air and minerals and energy all used to be commons, and some are still commons.  Other intangible commons include human knowledge, culture and community. In order to keep these commons, you must make their exploitation inefficient. Inefficient economies are costly, and the reason is that there are many many hands through which money passes. In economic terms (and in other living systems) this is actually a good thing. The more people you have involved in something, the more the benefits are spread across a community. Efficient use of the commons enables enclosing and privatizing the commons to streamline its exploitation. An efficient pipeline of wealth is established between ownership and benefit with very little wealth going to those that add value. In other words, the those who can own things get richer and everyone else loses their common inheritance.

Efficiency is the spiritual practice of the religion of scientific management. Under its spell, we have not only privatized once abundant shared natural resources, but we have also privatized our intellectual and cultural commons. Even as we beat the drums for more and more efficiency, we lament the loss of community and local economies, the loss of personal attention and care in education, health, social work and public services. We despair at the high cost of post-secondary education (where we have privatized the costs and made banks profitable from funding the system with student loans from which students can never escape, even if they go bankrupt). We complain that the fish are gone, that our natural assets are depleted. We call for individual rights to usurp public interest, because a fallow public interest is seen as economically wasteful.

Technology has enabled a massive level of efficiency to serve the rapacious appetite of profiteers and neo-liberal policy practitioners. It has also enabled us to begin to re assert the commons, enabling networking, participation and gifting to re emerge as tools by which people can make a living. It is only a failure of imagination and will that requires us to continue down the path where everything is owned. Participatory technologies, including social technologies like dialogue and collaborative learning and leadership, enable us to reintroduce inefficiency into our world to invite participation in the commons. Slow down, participate and benefit. We don’t have to end private ownership, but we do need to get much better at imagining community, economy and stewardship.

Stacco Troncoso (Spain) is the strategic direction steward of the P2P Foundation as well as the project lead for Commons Transition, the P2PF’s main communication and advocacy hub. He is also co-founder of the P2P translation collective Guerrilla Translation and designer/content editor for CommonsTransition.org, the P2P Foundation blog and the new Commons Strategies Group website. His work in communicating commons culture extends to public speaking and relationship-building with prefigurative communities, policymakers and potential commoners worldwide.

  Read Efficiency And The Commons
  July 12, 2016
Undoing The Ideology Of Growth

by Matthias Schmelzer, Counter Solutions


Degrowth aims at undoing growth. Undoing growth both at the level of social structures and social imaginaries. Although the focus is very often on the latter, i.e. the “decolonization of imaginaries” as put by Serge Latouche, the degrowth perspective still seems to lack a comprehensive understanding of the role of ideology, the path dependencies and the power that shape these imaginations. Degrowth and related transition ideas sometimes appear as a rather naïvely idealistic perspectives, in which “we” simply have to understand, reflect and overcome our “mental infrastructures” and our personal addictions to consumerism and material expansion. This, the powerful narrative goes, will enable us to change our ways of seeing the world, to change our personal behaviour, and thus to overcome societies´ dependence on fossil capitalism and economic expansion.

My recently published book The Hegemony of Growth. The OECD and the Making of the Growth Paradigm is an attempt to give more historical and social depth to our understanding of what the undoing of growth would actually entail. Without falling in the opposite trap of entirely disregarding the role of knowledge and collective imaginaries in favor of economic and social structures, I propose to understand the growth paradigm as a historically constructed and powerfully hegemonic ideology. What do I mean by this and what are the key arguments of the book?

Economic growth has become and largely remains what scholars from various fields, including renowned historians, have described as a “fetish” (John R. McNeill) or “obsession” (Barry Eichengreen, Elmar Altvater), an “ideology” (Alan Milward, Charles S. Maier), a “social imaginary” (Cornelius Castoriadis, Serge Latouche), or an “axiomatic necessity” (Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen). However, while growth is at the center of both public and academic debates, the question of how economic growth actually attained its status as an overarching priority in the first place has not received much attention by historians, nor by researchers in other disciplines. Even more striking is the absence of any historical perspective in the various current efforts to overcome the focus on growth. Both the search for new statistical measures “Beyond GDP” and the lively debates about political alternatives to the growth fetish – postgrowth or degrowth – are fundamentally a-historical in that they largely ignore and underestimate the long-term historical roots, path dependencies, and power relations of statistical standards and the growth paradigm more generally.

Why focus on history and the OECD?

I took up this challenge by asking the simple question: How did economic growth come to be almost universally seen as a self-evident goal of economic policy-making and how was this constantly reproduced in changing circumstances? In order to answer this question in a transnational context and grounded in historical and institutional developments, I focused on the emergence and evolution of knowledge about economic growth within the OECD and its predecessor, the Organization for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), one of the least researched international organizations. I researched the archives of this organization and of some of its key member countries, read texts by key protagonists on growth theory, growth debates and the critique of economic growth, and discussed my arguments with colleagues and fellow activists. Digging deep into history and analyzing growth-thinking at the transnational level and the interface of academia, national bureaucracies, and international organizations reveals the complex and contested history and politics behind the emergence, functioning, and evolution of what I describe as the “economic growth paradigm.”

The resulting book is both profoundly historical – retelling in detail the making and remaking of the growth paradigm in the second half of the twentieth century – and topical for current discussions around inequality, climate change and the end of growth. It argues that the pursuit of economic growth is not a self-evident goal of industrialized countries’ policies, but rather the result of a very specific ensemble of discourses, economic theory, and statistical standards that came to dominate policy-making in industrialized countries under certain social and historical conditions in the second half of the twentieth century. Thus, I aim at analyzing the idea of economic growth in its historical genesis in a similar way as this has been done with regard to the idea of “development” by cultural anthropologists of the so-calledPost-Development school, focusing on the close nexus of power and knowledge. It rests on the thesis that the exceptional position of economic growth as a core policy goal is based on the hegemony of the growth paradigm and cannot be adequately understood without taking into account the complex structure and historical evolution of this paradigm.

The growth paradigm in the history of capitalism

The making of this core feature of the religion of capitalism has to be situated within longer-term developments that reach back to the onset of intensified capitalist industrialization in the early eighteenth century or even further, to colonial expansions. At that time, a secularized conception of economic progress and a first generation of classical growth theories emerged which, however, fell into oblivion with the rise of econometrics and neoclassical economics in the later nineteenth century. Building on statistical developments in the early twentieth century, it was only in the context of the Great Depression that a renewed interest in macroeconomic questions gave rise to the modern conception of “the economy” and to interventionist economic policies geared toward stability and employment. Yet it was not before the late 1940s and early 1950s that in the context of World War II, European reconstruction and Cold War competition, economic expansion became a key policy goal throughout the world.

The growth paradigm emerged as part of what has been called “high modernism,” a system of beliefs and practices aimed at increasing the power of the state in line with what was believed to be scientific ideas in order to reshape societies by maximizing production to improve the human lot. Four unquestioned allegations were specifically relevant in reinforcing the hegemony of growth and collectively rationalized, universalized, and naturalized the growth paradigm. These assumed that GDP, with all its inscribed reductions, assumptions, and exclusions, adequately measures economic activity; that growth is a panacea for a multitude of (often changing) socioeconomic challenges; that growth is essentially unlimited, provided the correct governmental and inter-governmental policies were pursued; and that GDP-growth is practically the same as or a necessary means to achieve essential societal goals such as progress, well-being, or national power.

Growth as ideology – an “imaginary resolution of real contradictions”

The growth paradigm became hegemonic in the sense of justifying and sustaining a particular perspective – the allegations mentioned above – and the underlying social and power relations as natural, inevitable, and timeless. Growth came to be presented as the common good, thus justifying the particular interests of those who benefited most from the expansion of market transactions as beneficial for all. The hegemony of growth depoliticized key societal debates about what societies value, how they interpret their current position historically and within the globalized economy, and how they conceptualize the good life and future developments. Growth turned difficult political conflicts over distribution and the goals of policy-making into technical, non-political management questions of how to collectively increase the economic output of the nation state. By transforming class and other social antagonisms into apparent win-win situations, it provided what could be called an “imaginary resolution of real contradictions” (Terry Eeagleton).

Economic growth and the superiority of economists

Moreover, by transforming contested and changing societal goals into technical economic problems, growth discourses have deeply colonized our imaginaries: they not only reinforced the dominance of economic thinking and arguments by turning political or social questions into economic problems (what could be called “economism”), but they also strengthened the privileged positions of economic technocrats within modern societies and underpinned the primacy of the economy over politics. Growthmanship was mutually reinforced along with the increasing importance of economic knowledge production as a key justificatory basis for policy-making within the modern state. The economists’ ability to measure, model, and steer growth made them increasingly indispensable for managing modern societies based on growth and thus reinforced the “superiority of economists” just as the expansion of economic approaches also strengthened the growth paradigm. Even though the mid-twentieth century saw the proliferation of growing armies of experts, ranging from international relations theorists to demographers, anthropologists, sociologists to agronomists, economists were the only ones who managed to claim the mastery over what had become a fetish throughout the world: economic growth.

These arguments – and others – are weaved into the various case studies discussed in the chapters of the book. These focus on issues such as the international standardization of national income accounting, the transnational harmonization of growth policies, the development of  growth into a universal yardstick, the replication of growth policies in the context of decolonization and the ‘development of others,’ the OECD-Club of Rome nexus, the birth of environmental politics and social indicators, as well as the more recent turn to neoliberal growthmanship.

To conclude, overcoming the ideology of growth – or what’s recently been called the “growthocene” – demands a thorough understanding of what we are up against. The degrowth movement set out to dismantle a paradigm that has deep historical roots and is embedded in and thus supported by powerful institutions and structures such as the nation state, capitalism, established understandings of “the economy”, or the power of economists in societies. Most importantly, however, growth has arguably become one of the key justificatory ideologies of capitalism. Not only large scale inequalities – as recently publicized by Thomas Piketty – and the divergence of uneven development between rich and poor nations are justified as of a temporary nature, to be overcome by more growth in the future, but similarly societal cleavages along the lines of class, race and gender. With climate change, resource limits, and secular stagnation, this make-believe “resolution of real contradictions” reveals itself as clearly “imaginary.” Consequently, in order to dismantle the hegemony of growth, degrowth has to develop a profound and critical understanding of the real societal contradictions, hierarchies and power dynamics shaping capitalism and transform them in new ways.

Matthias Schmelzer lives in Berlin, works as an economic historian at Zurich University and as a free-lancer for Konzeptwerk Neue Ökonomie and is active in the degrowth and climate justice movement. He wrote a thesis on the hegemony of the growth paradigm. He did research on the degrowth movement as a fellow at DFG-Kolleg “Degrowth Societies” in Jena.

  Read Undoing The Ideology Of Growth
  July 30, 2016
Beyond Development: The Commons As A New/Old Paradigm Of Human Flourishing

by David Bollier, Counter Solutions


On June 21, I gave a presentation to a number of staffers and others at the Agence Française de Développement in Paris outlining my vision of the commons as an alternative vision of “development.”  The talk was entitled “Beyond Development:  The Commons as a New/Old Paradigm of Human Flourishing.”  Here are my prepared remarks:

I am grateful to be back in your lovely city, and I am grateful for your invitation to speak today about the commons as a new vision of “development.”  As the planet reels from the slow-motion catastrophe of climate change, we are seeing the distinct limits of the prevailing paradigms of economic thought, governance, law and politics.  While collapse and catastrophe have their own lurid attraction to many, the human species – and our governments – have a duty to seriously entertain the questions:  What new structures and logics will serve us better?  How can we better meet basic human needs – not just materially, but socially and spiritually?  And can we move beyond rhetoric and general abstractions to practical, concrete actions?

After studying the commons for nearly twenty years as an independent scholar and activist, I have come to the conclusion that the commons hold great promise in answering these questions. But it is not a ready-made “solution” so much as a general paradigm and organizing perspective – embodied, fortunately, in thousands of instructive examples.  The commons is a lens that helps us understand what it means to be a human being in meaningful relation to other people and to the Earth.  This then becomes the standard by which we try to design our social institutions.

Talking about the commons forces us to grapple with the checkered history of “development” policy and what it reveals about global capitalism and poorer, marginalized countries.  We have long known that development objectives tend to reflect the political priorities of rich, industrialized western nations, particularly their interests in economic growth and private capital accumulation.

Strangely, the once-heated political conflicts over the proper focus of development are starting to implode as new realities engulf them.  The brute facts of climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals are calling into question the idealized models of economic development, transforming the very terms of debate. If we are to take the Paris climate accords seriously, the global North must now revisit its own historic mythologies of development and growth, and quickly imagine credible alternative paths forward. Suddenly, the social economies of indigenous peoples, traditional communities and localized systems seem highly relevant to the challenges ahead.

We are now witnessing the limits of the standard development vision and its faith in capital-driven innovation, fiscal austerity, deregulation, global free trade, and consumerism. That schema, which requires the administrative and coercive power of the state, and sometimes violence, is under siege. We are seeing that it is structurally impossible to sustain constant economic growth, expand debt and promote relentless consumer demand while also avoiding great inequalities of wealth and income, shrinking government budgets and services, and cascading environmental crises. It just won’t work any more. Planetary ecosystems are registering their own vote of no-confidence in this vision of “development.”

The structural crisis of the global system, according to my colleague Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation, is its fundamental faith that the world’s natural resources are infinite. At the same time, the global economic system believes that knowledge and culture – which in the digital age are plentiful and virtually free to share – should be made artificially scarce. That is the point of copyright and patents, after all – to create artificial monopolies over knowledge, seeds, software code and much else, on the assumption that only artificial scarcity and profit will produce the goods that we need.

Not only is this logic empirically incorrect – patents and copyrights are often impeding genuine innovation and progress – this scheme invariably concentrates more and more wealth into fewer and fewer hands, thanks to compound interest, rent-seeking, and corporate dominance of the state and law. The system isstructured to yield greater inequality, social injustice, and unmet needs, as Thomas Piketty explained in his Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Douglas Rushkoff put it well: “I’ve given up on fixing the economy. The economy is not broken. It’s simply unjust.”

History has shown that development discourse is a shape-shifting trickster, constantly adapting its linguistic face to accommodate shifting political winds. We’ve seen the rise and disappearance of participatory developmentintegrated development….endogenous development…. redevelopment….and now, sustainable development. (I’m sure I’ve missed some!) How much longer can this go on? As our climate and social crises intensify, we cannot merely look for another re-branding strategy for “development” to disguise hyper-marketization strategies such as REDD [Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation], patents for genes and lifeforms, and financial instruments to securitize flows of nature.

I submit that we need to take a longer view and abandon the whole mindset of “development” itself. I have no illusions that this shift will occur easily or happily; too many generations have been invested in these ideas. But without a very different conceptualization and lexicon for improving the human condition, we will continue to flail at our problems and sink deeper into dysfunction.

I. The Commons and Human Flourishing

To start, I propose that we start talking about human flourishing, not “development,” so that the social relationships ordained by markets are not the default or exclusive norms. Let’s also stipulate that our foremost priorities should be meeting ecological and human needs, not propping up an unsustainable economy based on extraction, growth, expansive private property rights, and capital accumulation for the few. Markets remain vital, of course, but markets should be in the service of regions and communities, not absentee finance and investment.

To achieve this, we must begin to give due recognition to the vital importance ofnonmarket forces that exist outside of “the economy” – that is, to the intrinsic value generated by natural ecosystems, place-based communities, care work, digital collaborators and other self-organized commoners. These are realms of aliveness and value-creation that standard economics ignores or misconstrues. But if we can bring them into a constructive realignment with the behaviors and institutions that we call “the economy” – crafting markets that respect the commons – we could unleash enormous human energies while building a better world.

In my remarks today, I’d like to explain how the commons can serve as a powerful shared imaginary that can take us beyond “development.” It provides a realistic framework to invent different means of provisioning and governance, with a more humane, socially equitable and ecologically responsible logic.

It’s important to understand that the commons is not a PR gambit or “messaging strategy” for giving a fresh face to leftist politics or development policy. Nor is it a political ideology or policy agenda as such; it’s an evolving, open-ended discourse and creative social action. The commons is an invitation to a collaborative process, not a declaration of universal answers. It is something that must be socially enacted from the bottom up. It is not something that benevolent nations and technical experts can impose; it can only be encouraged.

Thomas Berry, the historian of cultures, once wrote, “The universe is the communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” That is the sensibility that informs the commons. It’s all about honoring agency and aliveness of human beings, not objectifying them to serve as pawns in someone else’s design plan administered from afar or coerced through global finance. I see the commons as a quasi-autonomous realm for managing common wealth, especially at the local level, through a multitude of approaches. I believe the commons paradigm offers many promising, practical approaches for dealing with archaic economic ideas, inequality, precarious work, migration, climate change, the failures of representative democracy, bureaucracy. Personally, I am inspired by visionaries like Ivan Illich, E.F. Schumacher, Wendell Berry, Karl Polanyi, Lewis Hyde, Jane Jacobs and Aldo Leopold.

Even though commons are often criticized as “wastelands” or “tragedies,” the truth is that they are generative. Commons quietly meet important household needs – the original goal of economics. They also disproportionately benefit women, who rely so much on commons to provide household food, care work and community. Natural systems, too, are more likely to be happily integrated with a culture of commoning than with the culture of global capitalism. For all these reasons, the commons can help us move beyond the problematic history of conventional development because it proffers different theories of value and human aspiration than those of the price system and the state.

Let me present a few examples as references points:

Seed-sharing is one way that local communities can assert greater control over their lives by controlling the knowledge that their lives depend on.  I visited the village of Erakulapally, two hours outside of Hyderabad, India several years ago.  I was deeply moved when I encountered Indian women who had revived the use of traditional agriculture with very old seeds that they found in their mother’s attics and storage chests.  “Our seeds, our knowledge,” is how they spoke about the seeds, which cannot be sold.  They can only be shared, borrowed or traded.  Seeds have deep meaning in a woman’s life, and are a source of dignity.  By recovering these seeds, which were more ecologically appropriate to their semi-arid region than the monoculture crops sold by multinational seed companies, they were able to improve their yields and provide two meals a day for their family instead of one.  They also reduced their dependency on global markets and their volatile prices.

Community lands in Africa – forests, rangelands, farmlands – have long been governed by custom as traditional commons.  But many lands in Africa are under grave threat these days by an international land grab by foreign investors, especially sovereign states and hedge funds.  Following the classical development paths to wealth creation, African states have colluded with investors to give sellers legal title to common lands, converting them into market assets.  Land is being made a mere machine to produce food, a commodity to be managed by the “free market,” without regard for the famines, urban migrations and cultural desolation that will surely result.  For hunter-gatherers, pastoralists and indigenous peoples, land is not a mere asset.  It is “the foundation for shared culture, practical social security, and an ultimate bulwark against bad decisions and involuntary losses,” in the words of Liz Alden Wily, an African land specialist.

The System for Rice Intensification is a global community of rice farmers who use the Internet to trade advice on agronomy practices for raising traditional rice – without GMOs, pesticides or herbicides.  It amounts to a kind of open-source agriculture that engages farmers from Sri Lanka and Cuba to Indonesia and West Africa.  I call it an “eco-digital commons” to emphasize how Internet collaborations and natural resources are integrated.  The SRI methodology has increased yields by 20 to 50 percent, and often more, and made farmers more knowledgeable, active stewards of their land.  The system has developed entirely outside of government ministries and markets, with helpful coordination by academics at Cornell University.

The Potato Park in Peru is a “living library” of genetic knowledge about potatoes.  This region near Cusco grows about 2,300 of the world’s 4,000 potato varieties, making it one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet.  What’s remarkable is that the Quechua natives in the Sacred Valley of the Incas have secured legal recognition for their right to act as stewards of this biodiversity.  They can manage their potatoes as sacred gifts without worrying about ag-biotech corporations trying to steal the genetic knowledge to patent it.  The Potato Park model flourishes because it integrates agroecological practices with people’s spiritual traditions and cultural values, making it a holistic, regenerative system rather than an extractive market system.

The city as a commons.  While traditional “development” has focused on rural regions of the world, I think that we need to regard cities themselves as commons.  A growing number of proven legal, administrative, social and digital innovations are empowering ordinary citydwellers to design the spaces and programs in their cities.  One pioneering example is the Bologna Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of Urban Commons – a public/commons partnership by which the city government invites self-organized citizen groups and neighborhoods to take charge of parks, kindergartens, abandoned buildings, and more, with the active support of city government.

Other urban commons include participatory budgeting; community charters for managing collective assets; multistakeholder cooperatives for social services; and urban land trusts to make housing more affordable.  San Francisco has developed “urban prototyping,” a kind of open-source citizen participation for urban planning.  There are also many experiments that are reinventing production value-chains so that the benefits can be mutualized for collective benefit, not privatized for investors – for example, global open design and manufacturing networks that use FabLabs and makerspaces as infrastructures for local production.

These are just a few commons that I could cite.  I could just as easily have mentioned agroecology and permaculture….water committees that manage public water supplies in Bolivia….community forests in India…..coastal fisheries managed as commons….the acequias for managing irrigation water in New Mexico…and many others.

The International Land Association estimates that two billion people around the world depend upon forests, fisheries, farmland, water, wild game, and more, managed as commons, for their everyday subsistence.  Amazingly, if you consult any introductory economics textbooks, you won’t find any mention of the commons as a social system.  While some textbooks are daring enough to mention “common resources,” the authors are quick to reference the “tragedy of the commons” parable.  Economists usually ignore the commons despite its enormous role in meeting basic needs because commons do not participate in the magic of the marketplace.  There is usually no transfer of money, and no production of (monetized) wealth.  So commons can be safely ignored as trivial and uninteresting.

To be sure, not all subsistence commons are sustainable or well-functioning.  Many are plagued by patriarchal norms and power abuses.  Governance systems in commons can fail.  The state may interfere on behalf of corrupt politicians or investors.  Bureaucrats may resent local commons as competing regimes of authority.  Still, even with their problems, commons enable hundreds of millions of people to meet their everyday needs in ways that are fairly stable, resilient, ecologically respectful and culturally rooted.

A recurring theme in so many commons is their ability to manage shared resources responsibly and at an appropriate scale.  They can be effective, trusted and legitimate in ways that governments and markets often are not.  The focal point in a commons is not the transaction, but ongoing relationships.  Commons cultivate lasting social affections and obligations among people.  Duties and entitlements are linked.  Commoners care about earlier generations and future ones.

II.  The Commons as a Verb – Commoning

Let me pause and quickly take note of the rampant confusion that seems to attend conversations about the commons.  As you may know, Garrett Hardin in his famous essay on the “tragedy of the commons” was not really describing a commons, but an open access regime or free-for-all in which everything is free for the taking.  Commons scholar Lewis Hyde has puckishly called Hardin’s “tragedy” thesis “The Tragedy of Unmanaged, Laissez-Faire, Commons-Pool Resources with Easy Access for Non-Communicating, Self-Interested Individuals.”

Hardin was focused on the resource, and had little interest in exploring the empirical social realities of people or commons.  The late Professor Elinor Ostrom helped rebut Hardin by documenting the many ways in which hundreds of communities, mostly in rural settings in poorer nations, do in fact manage natural resources sustainably.  Sadly, economists, politicians and the public persist in seeing the commons simply as unowned resources.  NATO routinely refers to the oceans, space and the Internet as commons, when in fact these are common-pool resources – resources that are threatened precisely because they are not yet governed as commons.

So these are two familiar ways of talking about commons — the commons as an unmanaged resource (Hardin), and the commons as a social institution (Ostrom).  But I would argue that these discourses are inadequate because they tend to treat the commons as a noun when it is really a verb.  As the historian Peter Linebaugh has put it, “There is no commons without commoning.”

Commoning consists of a distinct, active community that sets boundaries around the resource, negotiates rules of access and use, assigns responsibilities and entitlements, monitors for and punishes free riders and shirkers, and so on.  So what many regard as a resource or as a social institution is more fruitfully understood as a dynamic, evolving social activity.  Commoning is carried out by people who love and care about their resources, community and culture – sometimes because their very survival depends on it.

It helps to understand the commons as a living social system of creative, mutually committed agents.  This third level of discourse is unsettling to conventional academics because it moves the entire discussion out of the familiar economistic framework based on Homo economicus.  Instead of relying on a cardboard caricature about what a human being is – selfish, rational, utility-maximizing, and so on – we brashly welcome a more complex, open-ended idea of human capacities and character.  Most economists are wary of entering the precincts of anthropology, psychology, sociology, geography, and other “soft,” humanistic sciences because they can’t build tidy quantitative, mechanical models that predict the future.  When there are so many idiosyncratic local, historical, cultural, and intersubjective factors at play, as there are in a commons, it is virtually impossible to set forth a standard, universal typology of commons.

Of course, this is precisely the point – to honor the natural, robust, unpredictable diversity and creativity of life itself, as it is actually lived on the ground.  A commons does not attempt to subordinate the vagaries of history, social practices, geography, and culture to a universal market logic – to make everything a fungible commodity on a global grid.  The commons paradigm seeks to leverage these attributes.  Properly aligned, they are what make a commons work well.

This third level of understanding commons is often disregarded because it frankly creates problems for certain sectors of society.  Commoning requires that we begin to rethink the ontological framework of standard economics and go beyond the rational-actor premises of Homo economicus.  It invites us to make a larger macro-political analysis of the structural deficiencies of markets and the state, and by favorable contrast, the generative power of commons.  Needless to say, a lot of people just don’t want to go there.

III.  Standard Economics and the Commons:  A Clash of Worldviews

Once you start to take the commons seriously, a clash of worldviews is nearly inevitable.  In a world of high modernity and global capitalism, where “everything solid melts into air,” as Marx put it, the commons is often seen as hopelessly premodern and even tribal.  The commons insists that many things must remaininalienable – not for sale or commoditization.  This enables commoners to preserve their humanity and the beloved landscapes and cultures that define their lives.  Unfortunately, the state, bureaucratic systems and economics usually want to impose their own regularities on the messy local realities of human existence and social organization – a theme nicely explained by James Scott in his book Seeing Like a State.

Commoning remains nearly invisible first because it is assumed that the state and market are the only governance structures worth talking about.  Second, taxonomies that attempt to classify commons and make them more visible fail because the commons paradigm is not a regularity; each is distinctive.  I have been astonished to discover, for example, that there are commons out there that revolve around community theater, the design of open-source microscopes, and neighborhood currencies in Kenya.  There are commons based on open-source mapping to aid humanitarian rescue, and self-organized commons in Greece to provide hospitality for migrants.

Once we acknowledge that the ontological premises of a commons matter, and that those premises may vary immensely, we enter a new cosmology of social phenomena.  The inner subjective and spiritual lives of people must be taken seriously.  Social practices, norms, ritual and tradition are the fabric of successful commons.  Each commons becomes a unique exercise in “world-making.”

Once we recognize this fact, we start to move from abstract systems-thinking to a realm of experiential meaning.  We must behold the mysteries of organic, living systems!  Understanding living systems as living systems requires a more holistic perspective and humanistic values.  It requires new heuristic methods.  None of these are easily apprehended through the universal, mechanistic categories of western modernity.

It becomes hard to see the commons when even language and law have been warped to banish the commons down a memory hole.  I learned from Professor Benjamin Coriat of Université Paris 13 that the French Napoleonic civil code negated any form of common property when it went into effect in 1804.  The French people had long managed forests, fisheries, farmland and lakes as commons, but the new civil law denied any form of common property.  The juridical privileging of property rights, defined in terms of individuals, also served to override collective human rights because individual property rights in practice can be used to negate human rights.

And so the commons begins to disappear from world consciousness, at least in the West.  Let me illustrate this loss of a different way of being by showing you a map of the Great Sandy Desert in Australia.  To the western mind, no surprises here.  But now look at this same land mass, known to the Aborigines as Ngarrara.  A very different landscape!  The first map is gray and schematic.  The second is a colorful, breathtaking work of art.  Each embodies different ways of seeing, different relationships to the land, and different conceptions of human society.  This is entirely normal in commons, where people’s relationships to each other and to their resources constitute the commons.

The ontological variability of commons is supremely maddening and incomprehensible to economists and others living within the modernist worldview.  No wonder most of them persist in regarding the commons simply as a resource!  It’s as if they cannot abide the idea that everything cannot be classified into standard, operational categories, the sine qua non of neoliberal market culture.

IV.  Commoning as Relationality

I do think there is a middle ground between the universalism of high modernity and the chaotic diversity of countless unique commons.  There is a practical heuristic for making sense of commons, and it’s called patterns.  This idea was developed by Christopher Alexander in the early 1970s through his brilliant analysis of pattern languages.  Alexander wanted to know why certain architectural designs in buildings and public spaces have been so persistent and powerful over thousands of years.

His conclusion, after studying an eclectic range of designs across cultures and centuries, was that certain patterns of design are used again and again because they are so elementally pleasing to humans and supportive of life.  Certain patterns are not merely fashionable or profitable; they speak to something deeper and mysterious in human beings while meeting functional needs.  Using this methodology, Alexander identified a coherent pattern language for architectural design.

My colleague Silke Helfrich and I drew upon the idea of pattern languages in our recently published anthology, Patterns of Commoning, which features more than fifty examples of commons from around the world and in different resource domains.  A pattern analysis allows us to identify recurrent types of design and governance within commons.  The heuristic of patterns allows us to honor the particular social relations of each commons while letting us also draw general conclusions about a class of commons.  There is no need to impose a false regularity on the crazy jumble of human life.  I also think that fractal motifs help us understand the character of commons – differences are nested within self-same patterns.

This approach helps us to see relationality as an organizing principle.  We don’t focus on resources as objects or crude Newtonian schemes of direct cause-and-effect; we focus instead on how everything interrelates and evolves over time.  The more appropriate framework for studying the commons is complexity science, which studies the dynamics of living systems.  The German physicist Hans Peter Dürr puts it nicely: “Basically, there is no such thing as matter.  At least not in the common sense.  There is only a fabric of relationships, constant change, vitality.  We have trouble imagining this.  What is primary is only the interrelationships that exist – that which connects.”

I realize that this is a bracing idea that is not easily absorbed by politics, policy, donors and agencies involved in development.  But I think we need to entertain these realities.  My colleague Silke Helfrich recently told a conference of commons scholars:  “A coherent theory of the commons [that addresses relationality] could mean to social sciences what quantum physics meant to the natural sciences.”  The power of relationality in commons may throw many deeply entrenched ideas into disarray, but it may also open up some breathtaking new vistas for deeper understanding and practical action.

Leading evolutionary theorists such as David Sloan Wilson, E.O. Wilson and Martin Nowak and complexity theorist Samuel Bowles are confirming that reciprocal social exchange lies at the heart of any society.  It is the basis for human identity, community and culture.

Reciprocal exchange is a vital brain function that helps the human species survive and evolve.  Theorists of natural selection are now spending a lot of time focusing on the dynamics of group selection over individual natural selection.  As E.O. Wilson and David Sloan Wilson put it, “Selfishness beats altruism within groups.  Altruistic groups beat selfish groups.  Everything else is commentary.”  David Sloan Wilson, who worked briefly with Elinor Ostrom before her death, has even founded a new organization, PROSOCIAL, to use the findings of evolutionary science to improve the functioning of organizations and communities.

Other scientists such as German theoretical biologist Andreas Weber go even further, challenging the credibility of scientific method that has no place for subjectivity, consciousness, meaning and spirituality in the grand march of evolution.  Modern science declines to study the aliveness inherent in all living creatures, complains Weber.  It sees living organisms as sophisticated machines that can be more or less explained through cause-and-effect processes.  The world is seen as governed by large, abstract forces, and human agency and consciousness are cast as trivial, ephemeral bubbles in an empty universe.  These are the tacit metaphysical premises of the neoDarwinian grand narrative and of free-market ideology.

But many scientists are starting to see the standard neoDarwinian storyline as profoundly incomplete and misleading.  It does not take into account how the rational and the non-rational, the subjective and the objective, the personal and the collective all blur into each other…..just as in a commons.  The are seeing life as a system of cooperative agents.  Competition still exists, of course, but it is interwoven with deep, stabilizing forms of cooperation, which itself is shaped by feelings, culture and social meaning.  These insights are not merely of arcane, academic interest; they are strategically important in helping us reorient ourselves to a new vision of “development.”

VI.  Practical Steps to Support Commoning

I’ve given a lot of conceptual and philosophical framing here.  Now let me suggest some practical steps that could help support commoning as a way to improve human flourishing.  I don’t offer these as “magic bullets” that will solve challenges, but rather as important vectors for further research, debate and creative implementation.

1.  Stop the enclosures.  One lesson of the history of economic development is that the neoliberal idea of development and progress is the commoners’ experience of enclosure, dispossession and cultural loss.  The process of privatization and marketization creates only certain forms of value while redistributing wealth and power and creating a lot of “illth,” in John Ruskin’s phrase – the opposite of wealth.  We can see this with so many neoliberal trade treaties, the African land grabs, and neoextractivist politics and practices in Latin America.  We see it in the facile conflation of Gross Domestic Product and human well-being.

So the first step toward protecting commons is to stop the market enclosures of farmland, fisheries, forests, rangelands, water and other natural resources.  These are destabilizing forces.  They quite often serve the interests of global finance more than the long-term interests of local communities.

2.  Recognize commoning as a regenerative paradigm that opens up new solution-sets.  Instead of regarding the state and the market as the only consequential forces for improving human life, development policy needs to recognize commoning as generative and regenerative.  It is a holistic framework that re-invests in a commons, helping to maintain it.  It is not extractive of either resources or people.  Its benefits belong to all commoners and can be mutualized among them.

This is the very point of the commons – to introduce a new vocabulary to start to name things and social activities that the dominant financial paradigm has little interest in (primarily because nonmarket aspects of nature and care work have no price and therefore are treated as if they have no value).  The social ethics of Buen vivir and Pachamama are attempts to bring a very different worldview into the foreground.  The language of “affective labor,” as geographer Neera Singh puts it, is the kind of language that helps validate the importance of commoning.

We need to start building new types of policy mechanisms, legal innovations, financial instruments and organizational forms that can move us in this direction.  Here are some promising organizational forms:

  • Stakeholder trusts for common assets such as the Alaska Permanent Fund can help everyone share in whatever financial benefits flow from a shared resource;
  • Stewardship charters such as the Potato Park can give a customary community enduring legal and administrative control over its land and culture.
  • State/commons partnerships as we see in Italy can help move beyond the structural limits of bureaucracy, empowering people to become commoners while retaining state oversight;
  • New organizational forms such as “omni-commons” need state recognition and support so that they can incubate and host commoning.  An omni-commons is a administrative and financial organization such as the Omni-Commons of Oakland, California, or Cecosesola of Venezuela, which provides the overhead systems and infrastructures for small-scale commons to start up and function more readily.

3.  Reinvent law for the commons. This is a long-term challenge that I recently addressed in a strategy memo called “Reinventing Law for the Commons.”  Historically, commons have either been dispossessed through enclosures – or they have had to create their own creative hacks of the law, because law tends to protect the sanctity of individual rights, private property, markets and state authority.  Remarkably, there are many successful adaptations of laws dealing with contracts, trusts, co-operatives, municipal government, copyrights, patents, among other bodies of law.  I like to see these expedient hacks against an indifferent or hostile state as a not-yet-recognized body of socio-legal-political innovation, “Law for the Commons.”

Law for the commons is needed first to decriminalize commoning in certain instances, such as seed-sharing or customary land use.  Law for the commons is also needed to affirmative support acts of commoning, by giving the “vernacular law” of social practices formal state recognition.  Law needs to recognize the “unofficial” social norms, procedures and customary institutions that peer communities devise to manage their resources.  The various land commons in Africa need to have their customary rights recognized in law, for example.

Creating Law for the Commons can also help bridge the alarming gap between lawand legitimacy – an idea that I learned from legal scholar Étienne Le Roy.  One of the big problems today is the gap between the formal strictures of state law and bureaucratic rules adopted by political and corporate elites – “legality” – and the experiences, norms and practices that ordinary people regard as legitimate.  We will never make progress against climate change or many other problems if people do not feel that state law is legitimate or that they are excluded from playing a meaningful role in the laws that govern them.

4.  Reinvent finance for the commons.  This, too, is a huge topic, but one that deserves much greater attention.  To support commoning, we need new sorts of finance that can share equity among people as an alternative to conventional debt-driven investment.  The Commons Strategies Group recently held a three-day workshop on “Democratic Money and Capital for the Commons” to explore the range of options, from public banks and social and ethical banking, to new forms of co-operative finance, digital currencies that use blockchain software from Bitcoin, and even “quantitative easing for people,” and not just banks.

There are some interesting experiments going on to raise money for commons-based guilds using redeemable stock shares with caps on the return on investment.  This would allow equity to be raised for commons-based ventures without forcing them to surrender control to venture capitalists; they could remain co-operatively run.  We need new sorts of macro-finance to accelerate transition strategies to a new economy.  One great idea is for “transvestments” – a term coined by Dmitri Kleiner to describe investments in technologies and projects that help us move toward the commons paradigm.

5.  Leverage sharing on open networks to support commoning (not Uber-ification).  There are huge opportunities to reinvent the idea of development through digital technologies and open networks.  But a key question that should be addressed is whether the design and benefits of the innovation will be monetized and siphoned away to Silicon Valley investors – or shared by participants themselves?  The tech world often talks about the virtues of “disruption” – but much less about how social needs and the public interest will be fulfilled.  State policy and development policy could play a critical role here by providing infrastructures, technical protocols and standards designed to support commoning.

We’ve seen, for example, how people in Austin, Texas, built their own smartphone app that will enable co-operative benefits and better public protections than the app that Uber was insisting on using.  There is a burgeoning new movement called “platform co-operativism” seeking to spread this ethic as a feasible alternative to winner-take-all, highly extractive business models such as Uber, Airbnb and Task Rabbit – business models that lead a “race to the bottom” to extract value from the workforce rather than pay living wages.

The big-picture economic story here is the growing structural reliance on social sharing and collaboration, as documented by commentators like Jeremy Rifkin, Yochai Benkler, Donald Tapscott and Michel Bauwens.  This trend could result in a kind of neo-feudalism led by corporate giants – or to a democratization of governance and production.  We could have large telecom monopolies creating artificial scarcity and high prices – or commons such as Guifinet, the self-organized wifi service in Catalonia, perhaps the largest community network in the world with its plentiful bandwidth for everyone.

State leadership could help us navigate a transition to this sort of world, where commons using network platforms could manage all sorts of knowledge-sharing, open-book accounting and commons-based peer production.  Preliminary estimates by the P2P Foundation suggest that the mutualization of knowledge and production infrastructures could produce an “80-80” improvement – 80% less physical matter and energy would be needed to produce 80% of what we produce right now.  Citizen-science could improve reporting about all sorts of environmental problems in tandem with state bureaucracies.  Open design/local production communities like Farm Hack is already producing cheap, modular, locally sourced agricultural equipment for rural regions around the world.

6.  Rethink state power to decriminalize and support commoning.  It is an open question how the state may need to change in order to accommodate, if not support, commoning.  Given the state’s close alliance with capital, there is certainly little appetite for exploring post-capitalist, post-growth forms of provisioning.  Moreover, as my reference to the Napoleonic civil code suggests, the state and commons do not have a formal or natural juridical relationship.  This means that the claims of individual property rights generally override the concerns of the commons and collective human rights.

That said, the relationship between state power and commoning is very complicated.  It is possible to imagine the state developing new structures to support commoning, just as it is in Bologna, Barcelona and Seoul.  (Interesting that cities appear to be in the vanguard of redfining state power and commoning.)  Clearly one important tension between the state and commoners is the shrinking capacities of centralized bureaucracies in the face of open networks and social collaboration.  David Graeber brilliantly critiques the limits of bureaucracy in his book The Utopia of Rules – and astutely that the left has no substitute, humane system to propose for bureaucracy.

I think there is a compelling alternative to bureaucracy in the form of commoning, however.  But first we must devise ways for state law and bureaucracy to authorize commoning and oversee it from a distance, just as the state delegates its powers to corporations through corporate charters.  We must also go beyond policy discussions of “private goods” and “public goods” to talk about how the state and commons can co-operate to manage common assets and relational goods.  The term “common assets” introduce the idea that the state cannot privatize a resource or service.  This is a new conceptual category, not just another word for “re-municipalization” of assets and services. As for “relational goods,” this is a term coined by Stefano Zamagni to describe public goods that by their very nature are social in character and whose value increases through sharing.  For example, watching a film or sporting event as a collective experience, or intimate, authentic experiences such as friendship and caring are “relational goods.”

There are many unresolved questions, however.  How should boundaries around commons be drawn, and what new tensions might these boundaries engender?  The German environmental scholar Wolfgang Sachs pointed out to me that “a commons perspective has to struggle with the neoliberal economy on the one hand and nationalist movements on the other.”  Commoners may celebrate diversity, localism and participation, he said, but that does not resolve the age-old tensions between natives and strangers, traditionalists and cosmopolitans, and authoritarianism and social justice.

My provisional response to this is that the commons has transideological appeal and does not fit neatly into the left/right political spectrum.  As my colleague Silke Helfrich points out, conservatives like the tendency of commons to promote responsibility; liberals and social democrats are pleased with the focus on equality and basic social entitlement; libertarians like the emphasis on individual initiative; and leftists like the idea of limiting the scope of the market.  In this sense, champions of the commons cannot be neatly labeled.  I think that Pope Francis was aware of this, too, in his manifesto about the environment and poverty, Laudato si’,in which he stresses the value of our common wealth beyond market and state and offers a vision of human diversity grounded in unity.

7.  Learn to live with ambiguity, paradox, and experimentalism (because we are living in a transitional period).  We must learn to live within two very different socio-economic logics and construct practical transitions that strives to sharpen its vision and commitment to commoning – while acknowledging unavoidable constraints and paradoxes.

8. Commoning is not just for “developing” countries.  As should be obvious by now, commoning holds many important lessons and possibilities for those of us living in “advanced” industrial societies.  In fact, there is an enormous amount of activity related to the commons in Europe these days – from the European Parliament’s task force on the commons to festivals in Greece, Italy and France, to books, workshops, and grassroots projects that policymakers have not yet discovered.  All of these offer some promising new opportunities for North/South cooperation if not solidarity.

* * *

So what does all of this add up to?  I’m not prepared to make grand predictions that the commons can usher in a political revolution at the global scale, as Dardot and Laval argue in their book Commun.  I wouldn’t rule that out, but for now I prefer to think more modestly of the commons as an indispensable complement to market and state with enormous potential for catalyzing transformations at both macro- and micro-scale levels.  This will require that we imagine and invent new sorts of governance institutions that go beyond the nation-state and international treaty organizations:  a rather ambitious vision indeed.

Still, we need to start exploring such ideas.  I lay out some of my speculations on this topic in a recent essay published by Friends of the Earth U.K. called “Transnational Republics of Commoning:  Reinventing Governance Through Emergent Networking.”  In the next few days, just north of Paris, I am co-hosting a workshop with international law scholars and activists to try to imagine what commons-based systems of governance might look like for managing large-scale ecological resources such as regional ecosystems, oceans or the atmosphere, which are comprised of so many smaller-scale systems.

Let me close with two quotes – the first a warning, the second, an inspiration.  A proverb of the indigenous people of southwestern Colombia warns:  “The word without action is empty, action without the word is blind, and action and the word outside the spirit of the community is death.”  Of course, many of us are on the quest to figure out precisely the opposite — how to integrate word, action and community, and thereby create flourishing commons that can unleash cascades of creativity, aliveness and innovation.  That is precisely what we need right now.

The inspiration comes from the anonymous Invisible Committee in France, which wrote:  “Revolutionary moments do not spread by contamination but by resonance….It takes the shape of music, whose focal points, though dispersed in time and space, succeed in imposing the rhythms of their own vibrations.”  Listen closely and you will hear the music of the commons!

David Bollier is an author, activist and independent scholar of the commons. He is Co-Founder of the Commons Strategies Group, a consulting project that works to promote the commons internationally. He was Founding Editor of Onthecommons.org and a Fellow of On the Commons from 2004 to 2010. His books include Viral Spiral, Brand Name Bullies, Silent Theft, Wealth of the Commons (co-edited with Silke Helfrich), andThink Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons (New Society Publishers) 2014. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts. http://Bollier.org

Originally published by David Bollier blog

  Read Beyond Development: The Commons As A New/Old Paradigm Of Human Flourishing
 July 7, 2016
Feminist Socialism And The Commons

by Hilary Wainwright, Counter Solutions


Hilary Wainwright, of the Transnational Institute and co-editor of Red Pepper magazine, made a lasting impression on the Commons Transition/P2P Foundation team with her panel presentation at the recent Commons Collaborative Economies event in Barcelona. During her presentation, Wainwright shared her insights on the hidden commons of care. “Women have been creating a Commons for a long time: the domestic labor and economy is, de facto, an invisible economy”. She argues that to integrate feminism we need to overcome the gender-based division of labor in the domestic economy, and to make that Commons visible. “It’s a bit strange that the Commons and P2P movements are male dominated. I think it is because this gendered commons, the economy of domestic labor, is completely hidden in the Commons and P2P movements, as in society in general”. She offers that there’s something else to learn from the women’s movement; that the sharing of knowledge or information is not just the sharing of data. “It’s the sharing of understanding, of knowledge that’s embedded in emotion, or even gossip; all those things that are not treated as relevant to knowledge”.

With this in mind, when we read following article, (originally published in Jacobin Magazine under the title “Why I Became a Feminist Socialist”), we were struck at how many of the observations and criticisms she derived from her experience during the late sixties — and beyond — are relevant to the P2P Commons movement. We consulted with Hilary Wainwright and have agreed on republishing the article here (albeit with a different title) to nourish this much-needed debate on the invisible economy, affective labor, and the Commons.

Women protest for abortion rights outside the British House of Commons in 1980

Women protest for abortion rights outside the British House of Commons in 1980

I want to talk about feminist socialism, rather than socialist feminism. As a student in Oxford, I directly witnessed and participated in the first conference of the Women’s Liberation Movement, held in Ruskin College in 1970. My whole world was shaken. My vision of the world up to that point was very hierarchical. For women it meant climbing up the hierarchy: being in there, getting up there, and so on.

The way feminism emerged at that point completely turned that over. It challenged those hierarchies, fundamentally.

There was a cartoon saying, “Equality? We’ve got something better in mind.” And that was the idea: that we weren’t actually about “equal opportunities,” or equality within the existing system — we were about something entirely different, and we were experimenting in the process of creating this radical alternative through our daily lives.

At the same time, feminism was very personal. To change the world, we started from our own experience, so we had this immense personal confidence and a sense of power as a result of the quite intimate forms of solidarity created, especially but not only by what we called consciousness-raising groups. It gave us the sense that change would begin with ourselves.

This prefiguration — expressing and working toward in our own daily lives the change we wanted to see — took the form of consciously changing ourselves.

As a kid, I’d been quite tomboyish and loud, but somehow in these meetings of the Left, like the Oxford Revolutionary Socialist Students, I was really quiet, and I couldn’t understand it. It was partly to do with the blokes in the room, maybe one or two I fancied. Somehow it made me into this rather quiet, hesitant person, which seemed strange.

Feminism, and sharing the predicament with other women, allowed me to understand the roots of this and how to change the relations and culture that produced it through organizing with other women. Politically, that time (and the spirit of ’68 was still powerfully in the air, so it was a good time) has given me confidence to keep fighting, keep the optimism that comes from glimpsing a possibility of being part of movements for very radical change.

I’d been brought up as a liberal, but by ’68 I had rejected liberalism; I came to realize that liberalism, though it claimed to be about social and economic equality as well as individual freedom, wasn’t going to achieve it. It became clear to me that the policies required to take steps toward equality, like wealth taxes and higher taxes on corporate profit, were going to challenge capitalism, and liberals were generally not prepared to do that.

I became a socialist, but I knew I rejected both the Soviet model and the Harold Wilson, Fabian model. I was experimenting with a knowledge that the ending of capitalism was necessary, but without knowing what socialism was.

So, for me, feminism, the making of feminism and the making of socialism, converged and fused in my mind. Looking back, feminism provided me with the tools to work toward a new kind of socialism.

I’ll mention three “tools” that I learned through my feminism, and why I talk about a feminist socialism. I think feminist socialism hasn’t been realized, and yet I also think that it’s so obvious.

I’m repeatedly shocked by the fact that the relevance of feminism for the rethinking of socialism hasn’t been taken on board, and that the Left has trudged on as usual, making its usual mistakes, pretty much as if feminism had never really done more than put women on the agenda. The Left adopted policies toward women, but has not carried out a fundamental rethink of socialism, which is what I felt feminism was enabling us to do.

The first tool is about power, the second about knowledge, and the third about the relationship between the individual and the social. What I learned about the transformative nature of power was that we had power in a daily sense. We were implicitly — Betty Friedan talks about this — reproducing our oppression as sexual partners, as mothers, and as workers — in all sorts of ways: in our passivity, in our representations of ourselves. We faced a choice between reproducing or refusing; and refusing is only a small step from seeking to transform.

So there was that sense of a power that lay within ourselves and in our own capacity to transform social relations through our own action, in daily life. This helped me become clear about why I rejected the so-called Leninist relations of state power and party power, and the Fabian understandings of power whereby the state delivered concessions and policies, rather than power coming from within ourselves.

That led me to draw on the work people have done distinguishing different forms of power — for example, in very different ways, John Holloway, Steven Lukes, and Roy Bhaskar. There’s power as domination, which could effectively be what we think about when we think about government: taking power to then use the levers of government to deliver policies. Sometimes that’s referred to as “power over.”

Then there’s power as transformative capacity: the power to change things, to do things. Sometimes referred to “power to.” That was the kind of power the women’s movement was illustrating, transformative power and capacity, and I think that’s a very useful concept now. Much of what Occupy and the indignados were about was power as transformative capacity. They were in the squares, they were creating a different kind of society, illustrating a different kind of society in their daily practice.

Caption reads: "We give birth. We decide".

Caption reads: “We give birth. We decide”.

I was also influenced by the shop steward/trade union movement at its most radical and alternative — when they weren’t simply refusing redundancies and closures by occupying factories, but saying, “We have skills, practical skills that can be the basis of different kinds of production.” Socially useful products rather than missiles, for example, or working toward the conversion of industry to a low-carbon economy.

This recognition of a transformative capacity that lies among the mass of people completely changes the nature of socialism, which has most often been based exclusively on the idea of power over — when you capture the means of power over production, over resources, and deliver it in this paternalistic way, without any recognition of the kind of power people actually have in their own capacity to refuse, and to change. Without any recognition of the dependence of existing power structures on actual people as knowledgeable and creative human beings.

Secondly, knowledge. What I learned from consciousness-raising groups and from shop stewards — who were mainly men, but interesting anyway — was the importance of different forms of knowledge. Most traditional socialist parties, be they Leninist or Fabian, believe in intellectual leadership. (Beatrice Webb made the classic Fabian statement that “whilst the average man could describe the problem, he couldn’t provide the solution; for that professional experts were needed.”)

Knowledge was traditionally understood in a very narrowly scientific way, involving laws understood as the correlation of cause and effect, that could be codified, centralized, and then, through a central apparatus, provide the basis of a scientific form of planning.

But the women’s movement, with its consciousness-raising groups, often began with gossip — with forms of knowledge that were not acknowledged, knowledge carried in emotion and daily experience, but which ended up producing policies: well-women clinics, a large range of educational projects, rape crisis centers — all kinds of women’s centers.

These were policies that were developed through women actually defining their experiences and their problems in a way that was rooted in their practical knowledge. Similarly, radical shop stewards were not writing long papers based on scientific laws, but actually designing alternative products; they recognized their knowledge was tacit, was practical, but nevertheless could be shared and made explicit through practice, and hence socialized.

I once read Hayek, for my sins, and that was quite a shock, because he was writingabout tacit knowledge, things we know but cannot tell; and he said that, while knowledge was constituted by the individual, it could only be coordinated through the spontaneous movement of the market. He used a notion of practical knowledge as the foundation stone of his theory of neoliberalism.

I argue that what we learned in the social movements is that it isn’t a question of a choice between scientific knowledge and practical knowledge; nor, most important, is practical essentially individual, as Hayek insisted it was. Social movements, and particularly the women’s movement, have discovered and generated tacit knowledge as shareable and socializable. This is what we were doing. Relationships were key.

What are the relationships which are necessary for doing this? Practical knowledge needed to be socialized, to become the basis of a new kind of planning, in the sense of seeing ahead while being constantly experimental and responsive to what’s been discovered. Understanding power as both capacity and as domination, and knowledge as practical and tacit as well as scientific, laid the basis for a completely different understanding of socialism.

The third tool has to do with the relationship between the individual and the social. The women’s movement was about individual realization. We were there as individuals, because of our own personal pain, oppression, and feelings; but we understood very quickly that in no way could we realize our potential as women without a social movement, without a power — often in alliance with other social movements — without changing the structures that underlay those oppressive social relations.

Berlin Posters

Today, the new forms of organization emerging in the new politics, particularly in direct action, with their emphasis on horizontality and consensus, are very exciting. But sometimes they’re expressed — particularly by young men — as if they’re completely new. Now, we weren’t using exactly the same language about networks, but our first women’s groups were themselves networks, and they in turn were networked. We were exploring, in a practical, rooted way these networked forms of organization.

I don’t want to be the person saying, “We knew that first!” but: does it make a difference that some of these thoughts and innovations have their roots in a movement of liberation, a movement that was shaped by the experience of struggling for emancipation against a particularly intimate and socially embedded form of hierarchy?

How can we actually pay attention to the conditions that can realize such insights that people have as they struggle?

Another question is how to combine power-as-transformative-capacity with power-as-domination. In the women’s movement, we tried to gain public resources for child care centers, rape crisis centers, women’s centers. All of this came out of exercising power-as-transformative-capacity, but we also needed public resources, which we felt we had a right to.

In the words of a very influential book we had to work in and against the state, to defend and extend its redistributive, socially protective, and space-creating powers, but at the same time radically transform how and with and through whom these public resources were implemented and administered.

At the Greater London Council, where I worked under Ken Livingstone’s leadership, we made that a key principle. The state would not deliver all these facilities; nor would we hand them over to the market, because it doesn’t have values of care or non-monetary measures of public benefit: everything in the capitalist market is about maximizing profit. But we did delegate resources to “transformative groups”: to women’s groups of different kinds, for example. And we did work both in and against the market through the Greater London Enterprise Board and in our engagement with cooperatives.

Similarly, now, when parties that are rooted in social movements like Podemos and Syriza (however ambivalently and precariously) are seeking power or have taken office, what can we draw from the experience of feminist socialism working in and against the state?

Was it actually a dead end? Were we emasculated and incorporated? Or was there a potential for a different kind of state — transcending the usual choice of more or less state — that wasn’t realized, because feminist socialism hadn’t been thoroughgoing enough, or was defeated and halted by Margaret Thatcher and the neoliberal onslaught?

  Read Feminist Socialism And The Commons
  August 4, 2016
The Economy Of Wastefulness: The Biology Of The Commons

by Andreas Weber, Counter Solutions

There is an all-enclosing commons-economy which has been successful for billions of years: the biosphere. Its ecology is the terrestrial household of energy, matter, beings, relationships and meanings which contains any manmade economy and only allows for it to exist. Sunlight, oxygen, drinking water, climate, soil and energy – the products and processes of this household – also nourish the Homo economicus of our time who, despite all his technological and economical progress, still feeds on products of the biosphere.

I wish to argue that nature embodies the commons paradigm par excellence. With that definition I do not only mean that man and other beings have been living together according to commons principles for an overwhelming majority of time. My argument is more complex: I am convinced that ecological relations within nature follow the rules of the commons. Therefore, nature can provide us with a powerful methodology of the commons as a natural and social ecology. The goal of this chapter is to give a brief outline of this “existential commons ecology.”


But which nature are we talking of? To analyze nature’s household without the bias added by the liberalist metaphors of nature as capitalist marketplace we will have to reconsider the underlying ecology and economy of natural housekeeping step by step. Particularly, we will have to question the mainstream view of ecological interactions as competition and optimization processes between mechanical actors (or “genes”) due to the pressure of external laws, e.g., selection. We will rather discover in nature a deep history of evolution towards more freedom, where the players are autonomous subjects bound together in mutual dependence. This idea, however, is in opposition to the current view of matter and information exchange in biological and economic theory.

In the last 200 years few models of reality have been influencing each other so strongly as the theory of natural evolution and the theory of man’s household of goods and services. Both disciplines received their current shape in Victorian England, and both reciprocally borrowed and reapplied each other’s key metaphors. Consequentially, social findings have been projected on to the natural cosmos and scientific knowledge, and in turn reapplied to socioeconomical theories. Today both paradigms together form a bioeconomic metaphysics which does not so much deliver an objective description of the world as an assessment of civilization itself.

In this context it is important to notice that a political economist, Thomas Robert Malthus, delivered the crucial cornerstone for the modern concept of biology as evolution. Malthus was obsessed by the idea of scarcity as explanation for social change – there would never be enough resources to feed a population which steadily multiplies. Charles Darwin, the biologist, adapted that piece of theory which had clearly derived from the observation of Victorian industrial society and applied it to a comprehensive theory of natural change and development. In its wake such concepts as “struggle for existence,” “competition,” “growth” and “optimization” tacitly became centerpieces of our self-understanding: biological, technological, and social progress is brought forth by the sum of individual egoisms. In perennial competition, fit species (powerful corporations) exploit niches (markets) and multiply their survival rate (return margins), whereas weaker (less efficient) ones go extinct (bankrupt). The resulting metaphysics of economy and nature, however, are less an objective picture of the world than society’s opinion about its own premises.

By this exchange of metaphors, economics came to see itself more and more as a “hard” natural science. It derived its models from biology and physics – leading all the way up to the mathematical concept of Homo economicus1. This chimera – a machine-like egoist always seeking to maximize his utility – has become the hidden, but all-influencing model of humanity. Its shadow is still cast over newer psychological and game-theoretical approaches. Reciprocally, evolutionary biology also gained inspiration from economical models. The “selfish gene,” e.g., is not much more but a Homo economicus mirrored back to biochemistry.2

We can call this alliance between biology and economics an “economic ideology of nature.” Today it reigns supreme over our understanding of man and world. It defines our embodied dimension (Homo sapiens as gene-governed survival machine) as well as our social aspect (Homo economicus as egoistic maximizer of utility). The idea of universal competition unifying the natural and the social sphere is always rival and exclusive:3 You have to eliminate as many competitors as possible and take the biggest piece of cake for yourself – a license to steal life from others.

Historically therefore, the reinvention of nature as an economical process of competition and optimization has been an organizing template for the enclosure of the commons. It has served as a mental fencing-off which preceded the real dispossessions and displacements and invented a context of justification.

The first transformations of common into private property took place in early modern times (1500–1800). This was the same epoch when our self-understanding increasingly was dominated by the dualist view of the French thinker René Descartes. Mind was no longer intimately entangled with body but rather a rational principle that stood above matter. Organisms, the whole diversity of nature, but also man’s own body, were conceived of as automata made of subjectless and deterministic matter. This conviction is the refusal of any form of connectedness. The British philosopher Thomas Hobbes expanded on that idea and claimed an absolute separation of society and politics from nature. Nature is seen as the dominion of blind causes and effects and hence is no longer available as a point of reference for human self-understanding – in much the same way as the forest that the nobility had once shared with the peasants became exclusive property and was no longer accessible. The idea that the inhuman forces of opimization and selection dominate the realm of “pure things,” and hence also ourselves, closely parallels that historical exclusion. Both follow a basic model of estrangement and fencing off of living abundance. It is most noteworthy that the human sphere, which in this manner has been purified from nature, does not gain more freedom. Rather, society is also understood as a battle of brute and cruel forces – forces which have lost any connection with creative and lawful powers of existing-within-nature and embodied subjectivity. Hobbes’ model of society, which remains influential in our time, shuns all connection with natural objects yet nonetheless becomes the embodiment of a world driven by brute force. It is built upon the idea of the “Leviathan,” the war of all against all as a “natural” state.

The enclosure of nature that had once been accessible by all reaches deeply into our mind and emotions. The inner wilderness of man increasingly has come under control. It has become difficult to understand oneself as an embodied part of a developing whole. Man-as-a-body did not belong any longer to the realm of beings, nor were his feelings about being alive to be taken seriously anymore. Rather, man’s experiences and emotions became isolated from the rest of reality. This view culminates in an idea that today is quite common, that “nature” is not real at all but only exists as a mental concept, leaving no room to care for that which does not exist. The economic ideology of nature excluded any wilderness from our soul; unenclosed nature which accomplishes itself by itself and which is possessed by no being, made no sense to the liberal mind. No understanding of ourselves and of the world which reaches beyond the principles of competition and optimization can now claim any general validity. It is “nothing but” a nice illusion which “in reality” is only proof of the underlying forces in the struggle for existence. Love reduces itself to choice of the fittest mate; cooperation basically is a ruse in the competition for resources; and artistic expression shows the economy of discourses.

The enclosure of nature hence finally touches the Homo sacer,4 the innermost core of our embodied and feeling self, which contains the vulnerable existence in flesh and blood, the nude, emotional, animate existence. If we prefer to think of ourselves as apart from animate life, we have divorced ourselves from the realm of the living. As a final consequence, the enclosure of the commons manifests itself as biopolitics – the bid to own and monetize life.


A new economy can become a realistic alternative if we can challenge the mainstream biological view that sees life as an endless process of optimization. A new picture of life indeed is overdue – particularly in biology itself. Here, in fact, the Hobbsean paradigm of “war of all against all” is being overcome. The biological view of the organic world – and the picture of man within it – is changing from the idea of a battlefield between antagonistic survival-machines to that of an interplay of agents with goals and meanings. The organism starts to be seen as a subject who interprets external stimuli and genetic influences rather than being causally governed by them, and who negotiates his existence with others under conditions of limited competition and “weak causality.”

This shift in the axioms of “biological liberalism” leads to an emerging picture of the organic world as one in which freedom evolves. This is particularly evident in the following issues:

  1. Efficiency: The biosphere is not efficient. Warm-blooded animals consume over 97 percent of their energy only to maintain their metabolism. Photosynthesis achieves a ridiculous efficiency rate of 7 percent. Fish, amphibians and insects have to lay millions of eggs only to allow for the survival of very few offspring. Instead of being efficient, nature is highly redundant. It compensates for possible loss through incredible wastefulness. Natural processes are not parsimonious but rather based on generosity and waste. The biosphere indeed is based on donation, but it is not reciprocal: the foundation of all biological work – solar energy – falls as a gift from heaven.
  2. Growth: The biosphere does not grow. The quantity of biomass does not increase. The throughput does not expand – nature is running a steady-state- economy – that is, an economy where all relevant factors remain constant toward one another. Also, the number of species does not necessarily increase. It rises in some epochs and falls in others. The only dimension that really grows is the diversity of experiences: ways of feeling, modes of expression, variations of appearance, novelties of patterns and forms. Therefore, nature does not gain weight, but rather depth.
  3. Competition: It has never been possible to prove that a new species arose from competition for a resource alone. Species are rather born by chance: they develop through unexpected mutations and the isolation of a group from the remainder of the population through new symbioses and cooperations (as our body cells have done, for example). Competition alone, e.g., for a limited nutrient, causes biological monotony: the dominance of relatively few species over an ecosystem.
  4. Scarcity: The basic energetic resource of nature, sunlight, exists in abundance. A second crucial resource – the number of ecological relationships and new niches – has no upper limit. A high number of species and a variety of relations among them do not lead to sharper competition and dominance of a “fitter” species, but rather to a proliferation of relationships among species and thus to an increase in freedom, which is at the same time also an increase of mutual dependencies. The more that is wasted, the bigger the common wealth becomes. In ecosystems where only a few nutrients are freely available, as in the tropical rainforest, this limitation brings forth more niches and thus a higher overall diversity. This is the result of an increase of symbioses and reduced competition. Scarcity on a biological level does not lead to displacement, but to diversification.
  5. Property: There is no notion of property in the biosphere. An individual does not even possess his own body. Its matter changes permanently and continuously as it is replaced by oxygen, CO2, and other inputs of energy and matter. But it is not only the physical dimension of self that is made possible through communion with other elements, it is the symbolic as well: language is brought forth by the community of speakers who are using it. Habits in a species are acquired by sharing them. In any of these dimensions the wilderness of the natural world – which has become, and not been made, and which cannot be exclusively possessed by anybody – is necessary for the individual to develop its innermost identity. Individuality – physical and social/symbolic – thus can onlyemerge through a biological and symbol-based commons.


In a temperate forest there are different rules for flourishing than in a dry desert. Each ecosystem is the sum of many rules, interactions, and streams of matter, which share common principles but are locally unique. This strict locality follows the fact that living beings do not only use the commons provided by nature, but are physically and relationally a part of them. The individual’s existence is inextricably linked to the existence of the overarching system. The quality of this system, its health (and beauty) is based on a precarious balance that has to be negotiated from moment to moment. It is a balance between too much autonomy of the individual and too much pressure for necessity exerted by the system. Flourishing ecosystems historically have developed a host of patterns of balance that lead to extraordinary refinement and high levels of aesthetic beauty. Hence, the forms and beings of nature can be experienced as solutions that maintain a delicate balance in a complex society. The embodied solutions of individual-existence-in- connection are that special beauty of the living which fills most humans with the feeling of sense and belonging.

Nature as such is the paradigm of the commons. Nothing in it is subject to monopoly; everything is open source. The quintessence of the organic realm is not the selfish gene but the source code of genetic information lying open to all. Even the genes being patented today by biocorporations in truth are nonrival and nonexclusive in a biological sense. Only in being so are they able to provide biological and experiential novelty. DNA was only able to branch into so many species because everybody could use its code, tinker with it and derive the most meaningful combinations from it. This is the way Homo sapiens himself came about: by nature playing around with open source code. Some 20 percent of our genome alone is once viral genes that have been creatively recycled. As there is no property in nature – there is no waste. All waste byproducts are food. Every individual at death offers itself as a gift to be feasted upon by others, in the same way it received its existence by the gift of sunlight. There is a still largely unexplored connection between giving and taking in which loss is the precondition for productivity.

In the ecological commons a multitude of different individuals and diverse species stand in various relationship to one another – competition and cooperation, partnership and predatorship, productivity and destruction. All those relations, however, follow one higher law: over the long run only behavior that allows for productivity of the whole ecosystem and that does not interrupt its self-production is amplified. The individual is able to realize itself only if the whole can realize itself. Ecological freedom obeys this form of necessity. The deeper the connections in the system become, the more creative niches it will afford for its individual members.


A thorough analysis of the economy of ecology can yield a powerful methodology of the commons. Natural processes are able to define a blueprint to transform our treatment of the embodied, material aspect of our existence into a culture of being alive. The term “commons” provides the binding element between the natural and the social or cultural worlds. To understand nature in its genuine quality as a commons opens the way to a novel understanding of ourselves – in our biological as well as in our social life.

If nature actually is a commons, it follows that the only possible way to achieve a productive relationship with it will be an economy of the commons. The self-realization of Homo sapienscan be best achieved in a system of common goods because such a culture – and thus any household or market system – is the species- specific realization of our own particular embodiment of being alive within a common system of other living subjects.

Although the deliberations that have led us to this point stem from a thorough analysis of biology, their results are not biologistic – but rather the opposite. The thorough analysis here has revealed that the organic realm is the paradigm for the evolution of freedom. Therefore, even if we determine that the commons is the basic law of nature, the necessities resulting from that basic law are non- deterministic – contrary to the prevailing ideas of optimization and growth. The basic idea of the commons is rather grounded on an intricate understanding of embodied freedom and its relationship to the whole: the individual receives her options of self-realization through the prospering of the life/social systems she belongs to. To organize a community between humans and/or nonhuman agents according to the principles of the commons always means to increase individual freedom by enlarging the community’s freedom. (See Table 1).


Neoliberalism Darwinism Commons (ecological & social together)
concentration displacement diversity
dependency resource dependency freedom-in-relatedness
fragmentation sequential optimization integration
customers survivors subject-in-community
local vs. global local local and global (holistically integrated)
sustainability = victory sustainability = victory sustainability = relationship & commitment
patents mechanisms of predation and defense open source
winners monopolize most resources winners transmit most genes winners are interwoven most deeply with the community
efficiency efficiency diversity of expressions
monopoly dominance self-expression as culture
egos in hostile environment species under selection pressure constant recreation of community
separation participation

Contrary to what our dualistic culture supposes, reality is not divided into substances of matter (biophysics, deterministic approach) and culture/society (non-matter, indeterministic or mental/semiotic approach). Living reality rather depends on a precarious balance between autonomy and relatedness on all its levels. It is a creative process that produces rules for an increase of the whole through the self-realization of each of its members. These rules are different for each time and each place, but we find them everywhere life is. They are valid not only for autopoiesis – the auto-creation of the organic forms – but also for a well- achieved human relationship, for a prospering ecosystem as well as for an economy in harmony with the biospheric household. These rules are the laws of the commons.

The idea of the commons thus delivers a unifying principle that dissolves the supposed opposition between nature and society/culture. It cancels the separation of the ecological and the social. In any existence that commits itself to the commons, the task we must face is to realize the well-being of the individual while not risking an increase of the surrounding and encompassing whole. Here, too, the idea of the commons conflates the realms of theory and of application. Reflections on theory are not isolated in some separate realm, but inexorably return to practice, to the rituals and idiosyncrasies of mediating, cooperating, sanctioning, negotiating and agreeing, to the burdens and the joy of experienced reality. It is here where the practice of the commons reveals itself as nothing less than the practice of life.

  • 1.Concerning the concept of Homo economicus, see Friederike Habermann’s essay on pp. 13–18.
  • 2.See Dawkins, Richard. 1990. The Selfish Gene. Oxford. Oxford University Press.
  • 3.For an explanation of these terms see Silke Helfrich’s essay on pp. 61–67.
  • 4.See Agamben, Giorgio. 1998. Homo sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford. Stanford University Press.

Andreas Weber (Germany) is a biologist, philosopher, magazine writer, and book author. His focus of thinking and writing is the relationship between human self-understanding and nature. He lives in Berlin and Varese Ligure, Italy. His activities can be followed at http://autor-andreas-weber.de.

Republished from Wealthofthecommons.org

This article licd undeenser a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

  Read The Economy Of Wastefulness: The Biology Of The Commons
 August 6, 2016
Farm Hack: A Commons For Agricultural Innovation

by Dorn Cox, Counter Solutions


In 2011, a community of farmers, designers, developers, engineers, architects, roboticists and open source thinkers came together in Boston, Massachusetts, to explore a simple yet radical idea – that great improvements in agriculture could be achieved by reducing barriers to knowledge exchange. They were convinced that transforming agricultural technology into a commons would result in a more adaptive, open and resilient food system, one that would reflect the values not just of the grower but of the larger community as well. The path toward a more distributed and just agricultural and economic system, this gathering of people concluded, would come into being through the collective development of new working prototypes and universal access to a constantly improving repository of best ideas and practices.

Thus began Farm Hack, an ambitious volunteer project that brought together the seemingly disparate cultures of technologists and agrarians. The start of Farm Hack came with an offer from M.I.T. to host a teaching event that could connect engineers with farmers’ needs. The National Young Farmers Coalition had just started a blog called “Farm Hack” and launched the first program, followed closely by more events held in partnership with GreenStart and Greenhorns agrarian networks and maker/hacker networks.

The Farm Hack community quickly expanded through online and in-person social networks across the east and west coasts of North America. Within three years, it became a user-driven, collaborative community of ideas and tools with many thousands of active participants. Hundreds of thousands of visitors from every continent were soon contributing tens of thousands of hours to the platform. Farm Hack has become a rapidly growing repository of agricultural knowledge, containing scores of open source designs and documentation for farming technologies and practices. In effect, Farm Hack is an emergent, networked culture of collaborative problem-solving.

Hacking has been defined as the art of coming up with clever solutions to tricky problems by modifying something in extraordinary ways to make it more useful. Hacking also means rejecting the norms of consumer culture, and imagining ways to modify, improvise, and create new, accessible, custom solutions for particular problems. Not surprisingly, both hacker and maker culture are a natural fit for the sustainable agricultural movement. Both cultures formed in response to ongoing, hegemonic attempts to control users’ access to basic technologies and other resources. Both arose from a realization that open access to knowledge is the best strategy to counter dominant industry interests. This has long been an inherent part of agriculture in general, and a critical part of sustainable agriculture in particular. On most farms, identifying a problem, thinking of a solution, testing that solution and assessing its efficacy while thinking of the next iteration is a daily practice.

Within its first year, the Farm Hack website featured documentation for over 100 innovative agricultural tools. They ranged from manufacturing instructions for newly created farm-built hardware such as garlic planters, to the remanufacturing of an “extinct” farm-scale oat huller. The community contributed designs for greenhouse automation and sensor networks and business models for organic egg enterprises.

The power of open source exchange is illustrated by the quick pace and diversity of modifications and improvements made to tools on Farm Hack. One of the first greenhouse monitoring projects was turned into an electric-fence alert system, which quickly evolved into an automation and data logging system, which then spun into businesses selling kits. An organic no-till roller made open source by the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania was quickly modified in New Hampshire, then Quebec, and then France and Germany; the latest versions being built in New York are based on German and French improvements made six months earlier. In this production model, inventors increasingly may not be able to predict the ultimate use of their tools, as the ultimate use will be collaborative and emergent.

Despite being an all-volunteer organization, operating without a budget until 2014, Farm Hack partnered with dozens of organizations, universities, open source and maker communities in the US and Europe to expand the network. In addition to providing an online forum and repository for the community’s knowledge and tools, Farm Hack has hosted in-person and online events to document and improve tools, foster sharing and build skills. In these events, the group carries on the agrarian club tradition of mixing participatory education with lots of good eating, drinking and socializing.

With growth of the community came greater financial burdens of hosting and guiding the conversations and idea exchanges. The community also needed to evolve in its role from organizing and planning, to facilitating, guiding and recruiting new contributors. Initial funding to support these needs came indirectly through the founding partner organization budgets supplemented by contributions from community volunteers. It was three years before the first general grant support was secured. A university extension program wrote a grant on behalf of Farm Hack to document, measure and extend the reach of USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) funded projects.

To manage the challenges of growth and expansion in its third year, the Farm Hack network adopted a set of ten principles; participants wanted to maintain the representative open agrarian values of the network as they interacted with established power structures. The collaborative and flexible structure of the organization, and rapidly evolving tools for remote collaboration, became important ways for the organization to evolve while remaining representative and emergent. For example, a collaborative tool currently in development, by the community and for the community, is a best practices template for open source project contracting to help navigate the tension of having paid and volunteer efforts working side by side. The template is exploring the awarding of bounties and other rewards for commercial contracts, special recognition to volunteer efforts, and pooled payments or retainers on a project-by-project basis for participants.

Open Source Software Converges with Agrarianism

Farm Hack has blended a rich set of old and new traditions – the Enlightenment salon ideals of the eighteenth century and those of the open source software movement. Both believe that the natural state of knowledge is to be free. Farm Hack also looks to the Physiocratic worldview of nature-governance articulated by Quesnay, Jefferson, Locke and Franklin, who regarded the productivity of the soil, and the education of the populace to provide for their own livelihood, as necessary for liberty and the health of a culture. From this perspective, agricultural production is the root of sustainable civilization. It is not just an occupation, but a foundation for the shared cultural values of a healthy society.

Well before the Internet, Enlightenment thinkers pioneered the idea of crowdsourcing with their community-created Encyclopedie: A Systematic Dictionary of Sciences, Arts and Crafts, first published in 1751 and written with over 2,250 contributors. More than 250 years later, the contemporary open source software community is pioneering the development of networked tools, such as wikis, forums and collaborative documents, all of which facilitate social cooperation and trust. Building on these models of voluntary reciprocity, Farm Hack implicitly challenges the prevailing norms of conventional agricultural economics and research. It challenges not only what types of questions are asked in agricultural research and development, but also who asks the questions, the types of tools that are produced, and how they are financed.

The Farm Hack community believes that the tools, seeds, and techniques used in agriculture should both reflect and benefit those who intend to use them, not just those intent on selling them. Through an ongoing amateur inquiry that connects farmers with other farmers, designers, engineers, and thinkers, Farm Hack has embraced, woven together, and expanded upon preindustrial and modern hacker/maker ideals. Its open, social collaboration creates the potential for every farm to become a research farm, and every neighbor to be a manufacturer, drawing upon a global library of skills and designs.

An Alternative Template for Agriculture

Image-Cox, Farm Hack

From Encyclopedia of Practical Farm Knowledge, published by Sears and Roebuck, 1918. Available at archive.org.

By documenting, sharing, and improving farm tools and associated know­ledge, Farm Hack is not just framing agriculture as a shared foundational economic activity. It illustrates an alternative template for local manufacturing and provides greater citizen choice, control and local self-determination. The primary limiting factor in agriculture shifts from the (negative) extraction of scarce natural resources to the (positive) expansion of skills and systems understanding of all participants. Farmers are able to learn better ways of harnessing the complex biogeochemical flows of atmospheric carbon, water, and nitrogen into productive and resilient agroecosystems. The emphasis shifts from efficient extraction of resources to skilled regeneration of resources using all available knowledge.1Seeessay by Eryka Styger on the System for Rice Intensification (SRI). The focus becomes improving rather than diminishing the natural resource base.

Another contribution to the rapid expansion of Farm Hack’s community has been its reliance on the network structures and administrative tools pioneered by other open source communities, including Drupal (blogging software), Wikipedia (wiki collaboration), Open Layers (Java script software), and Apache (server software). It has been able to build trust, grow, and adapt while making its own unique contributions back to the commons. Another important tool used by Farm Hack is the Collective Impact Framework, a structured approach that allows organizations to use collaborative tools to form common agendas and adopt shared measurement tools, mutually reinforcing activities and continuous communication among diverse sorts of participants.2John Kania and Mark Kramer, Collective Impact, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Issue 73 (Winter 2011), available athttp://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/collective_impact. This Framework has been adopted in order to enable the community to identify and reduce overlapping, duplicative efforts, and to build upon the cumulative achievements of the broader open source community.

Farm Hack’s online platform is a prototype for implementing this framework in the context of open source agriculture practices. Just as symbiosis is as powerful an influence as competition in nature, Farm Hack believes that it can help turn the conventional agricultural research and development system on its head. By creating tools and social norms that reward, refine, test and evaluate collaborative production, it is possible to stimulate rapid, reliable community knowledge and innovation.

In 1726, Jonathan Swift famously wrote, “Whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind and do more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together.” The quote embodies Farm Hack’s partial but expanding achievement: By creating open source repositories of knowledge and technologies, it is bypassing the dominant political and economic power structures behind industrial agriculture. Farm Hack is shifting the balance from those who derive their power through the control of scarce resources and knowledge to those who mix their creative skills with nature in order to create abundance.

Dorn Cox is a farmer in Lee, New Hampshire (US), where he continues to develop and refine open source agricultural research and development systems to improve farm productivity and resilience. He is a founding member of Farm Hack, the New England Farmers’ Union, GreenStart, the Great Bay Grain Cooperative, and the Oyster River Biofuel Initiative. He has a B.S. from Cornell University and a PhD from the University of New Hampshire.

First Published http://patternsofcommoning.org/farm-hack-a-commons-for-agricultural-innovation/

  Read Farm Hack: A Commons For Agricultural Innovation
  August 12, 2016
Common Goods Don’t Simply Exist – They Are Created

by Silke Helfrich, Counter Solutions


Neoclassical economics tends to classify goods in four groups: private and public goods, club goods and common goods. Anyone attempting to apply this classification in order to organize real-world objects will achieve one thing above all: their own confusion.

Drinking water, for example, is usually considered a common good. According to the neoclassical theory, common goods are defined among other things by the fact that we compete for their use. If I drink a glass of water, nobody else can enjoy the same water a second time. Economists call this characteristic “rivalry.” Apples, land and water are rival – more or less, of course, as rivalry hardly exists at all in its pure form. The question is rather about differing degrees of competition for consumption. Use by one person limits the opportunities of other people to use the good, but not in terms of “all or nothing,” but rather “more or less.” In commons research and elsewhere, the more apt term coined by Elinor Ostrom is used: subtractability. It illustrates the gradual nature of the phenomenon. Other individuals’ opportunities for use are not necessarily lost due to one’s own use, but something is “subtracted” from them. The situation is different when it comes to knowledge or information. Both of them increase as we use them simultaneously and frequently. Economists call this characteristic “non-rivalry.” The difference between rival and non-rival resources is a qualitative one, and it must be respected. We all deal with it as a matter of course in our daily lives. When we listen to the same broadcast independently of one another, we are using a non-rival good, as nobody is competing with anybody else for the right to listen to the broadcast by listening to it. Yet we would hardly bite into the same apple at the same time as someone else. If several people each wanted to have part of an apple, they would have to share it. For this reason, rivalry is also called “divisibility.”

So, in the classification of goods mentioned above, common goods are considered rival. They are joined by another category: excludability. According to the theory, common goods are characterized by being non-excludable. Much of commons research concurs with this position. For instance, we all indeed have the right to access sufficient quantities of clean drinking water. This right is derived from human rights. From a normative viewpoint, it is therefore difficult to exclude people from using drinking water. But technically speaking, in contrast, it is fairly easy to exclude them. All it takes is refraining from investing in water supply and sewerage, and sealing or privatizing springs or wells, and then bottling the water in containers and selling it at prohibitive prices or making people depend on tank trucks. In fact, roughly three billion people do not have access to clean drinking water!

This example shows that depending on the degree of excludability, drinking water can become any kind of good: common to all of us, private, public or reserved for an exlusive club. We determine the form of use and thereby also the classification of drinking water as a particular type of good – yet we have apparently lost sight of this fact in a gradual process of ontologization.

The term ontology stems from the Greek participle “on” (being) and “logos” (science or study) – in other words, it denotes the study of being and refers to the fundamental constitution of things. According to landscape architect Frank Lorberg, “the human history of things disappears” in a process of ontologization, for it describes the shifting of man-made circumstances into the sphere external to us. Circumstances that invariably emerge in concrete social situations are separated from their historical contexts,1 and in the end seem inscribed in that which we encounter. In short: they become reified. Philosopher Annette Schlemm considers ontologizations to be “reductions of circumstances that are in flux or of things that exist in relationships merely to reified substances” (Schlemm 2011). Everything appears as if ithas always been like it is, for over the course of time, people consider things to be natural that in fact evolved historically and were produced by society – jumping to theoretical conclusions, as it were. This process can also be observed in the neoclassical classification of goods. Theoretically determining common goods as rival and not excludable will, at best, make experts of the global drinking water situation utter a disillusioned “if only!” “Rival”? Yes, at least more or less. Canada is different from the Sahel. But “not excludable”?


In 1954, Paul A. Samuelson, the first US Nobel laureate in economics, established his “pure theory of public expenditure” with mathematical brevity. Alongside Richard Musgrave, the sage of public finance, welfare economist Samuelson is considered the father of the theory of public goods.2 In his oft-quoted 2-½ page article, he “explicitly assume[s] two categories of goods: ordinary private consumption goods […] which can be parcelled out among different individuals […] and collective consumption goods […] which all enjoy in common […].” (Samuelson 1954) Samuelson then categorizes the “public goods” he examines with the non-rival objects. The rival ones, in contrast, are transformed to become “private goods.” Samuelson performs this coupling – rival and private on the one hand, non-rival and public on the other – under the heading “assumptions” in his influential article. He assigns each of these dual categories a logic of its own: “(1) outputs or goods which everyone always wants to maximize and (2) inputs or factors which everyone always wants to minimize […].” Here,Homo economicus3 comes to the fore, even though the author explicitly points out that many areas of life elude this logic of maximizing utility, namely that individuals’ social environment influences their preferences, yet “[i]t is not a ‘scientific’ task of the economist to ‘deduce’ the form of this function.”

Samuelson then limits his inquiry to the question as to how enough goods for which consumers to do not compete can be supplied. The market as a broker will fail, for the price of non-rival goods can hardly be determined by the interplay of supply and demand. For this reason, music and information, for example, are artificially kept scarce today – in this way, they can be made “priceable.” As an alternative, Samuelson believed the community could be responsible for dealing with this issue. Yet decentralized structures within which the people involved negotiate the production and distribution of public goods themselves would never result in the ethically desired result. The only remaining option is the state. And here, Samuelson makes another logical leap, one that can be traced throughout the literature:

rival and private = to be managed by the market
non-rival and public = to be managed by the state

This linkage was successful. To this day, what economists call a “public good” is usually given over to the state. Other institutions are disregarded. The linkage seems imperative and natural, even though the two parts certainly can be separated, and indeed must be separated from one another.

Samuelson was aware of the complexity of his search for the optimal (state) formula for allocation. “The solution ‘exists,’” he stated, “the problem is how to ‘find’ it.” (Samuelson 1954) And even then, there could still be free riders who enjoy the common goods without contributing anything in return. This is a problem for sociology, he stated in capitulation, sounding as resigned as an impassioned mathematician reaching the limits of the calculable.


Another sensation followed eleven years later: James McGill Buchanan, also a Nobel laureate, published his article “An Economic Theory of Clubs.” (Buchanan 1965) It, too, is short and succinct. “No general theory has been developed which covers the whole spectrum of ownership-consumption possibilities” (ibid., 1). Instead, research remained limited to private or public goods – even though hardly any goods displayed the characteristic of “extreme collectiveness” ascribed to public goods; de facto, practically everything was located somewhere between the two extremes. Therefore, Buchanan proposed “to drop any attempt at an initial classification or differentiation of goods into fully divisible and fully indivisible sets” and tried to develop a theory of goods with “some ‘publicness.’” (Buchanan 1965, emphasis added) He called them “club goods.” It was not “one user” or “the public” who accessed them, but a group of users. Thus, their utility for an individual depended on the number of people involved. From then on, club goods belonged to the established categories of goods.

Buchanan concluded that the core of the debate about goods was about “the sharing arrangements”–be they organized by the state or cooperatively.5 Accordingly, he did not seek the optimal formula for governmental provision and distribution, but the optimal formula for all those situations in which a limited group of people uses something jointly. He described one of his basic assumptions using the example of a country club. The rule “the more members, the lower each individual’s membership fee” is valid only up to a certain size. If the club grows larger, it gets overcrowded, just like a traffic jam on a highway.

This example shows that Buchanan, too, is aware that his basic assumptions are simplified to a great degree. Memberships and environmental factors change. Different motivations for action can hardly be taken into consideration. Just like Samuelson, he comes to a remarkable and largely overlooked conclusion: actually, “[t]he necessary marginal conditions […] allow us to classify all goods only after the solution is attained”6 (emphasis added). Economists following him apparently closed their minds to this insight and its consequences. The textbook version of the classification of goods still looks like this:

  Read Common Goods Don’t Simply Exist – They Are Created
 August 7, 2016
Institutions And Trust In Commons: Dealing With Social Dilemmas

by Martin Beckenkamp, Counter Solutions


From a game-theoretic point of view, commons represent both a chance and a problem. Game-theory is a mathematical tool that allows us to analyze decision-making in situations with social interdependencies such as sports, where a team has to decide either to play defensively or offensively in a match against another team, or economic situations, where companies have to decide whether to enter into partnerships or do business by themselves. From this perspective, commons provide win-win opportunities. On the other hand, these opportunities may disappear if the players try to maximize their own narrow self-interests. In the latter case, the common welfare is not achieved; the gain of a single actor is allowed to thwart potentially greater gains for the entire community. This tension helps explain why commons are often called a social dilemma.

Trust is an important component of cooperation in the commons because commons are extremely vulnerable. As Elinor Ostrom put it in her 2009 Nobel Prize lecture: “The updated theoretical assumptions of learning and norm-adopting individuals can be used as the foundation for understanding how individuals may gain increased levels of trust in others, leading to more cooperation and higher benefits with feedback mechanisms that reinforce positive or negative learning. It is not only that individuals adopt norms but also that the structure of the situation generates sufficient information about the likely behavior of others to be trustworthy reciprocators who will bear their share of the costs of overcoming a dilemma.”

Trust can often be achieved in small groups, where people know each other, because informal norms (and feelings of guilt and shame in cases of defection) are sufficient to stabilize the common welfare. But what about the cases in which groups become sufficiently large and people do not know each other?

In such cases, institutional structures are extremely important for the maintenance of trust. The history of trade gives some examples of institutions that were invented over the centuries in order to enable investors to benefit while preventing trickery and piracy. In many cases, however, institutions are used to establish and consolidate the power of private interests that do not care about the collective interest of all. It can well be argued that many steps of this long history of trade are mirrored in modern commons and online platforms like eBay (which initially was a commons). Many modern commons not only mirror or reinvent traditional commons, they pioneer new institutional arrangements for building trust and cooperation. Open source software projects and Wikipedia are prominent examples.

In modern digital commons, often a small community starts out enthusiastically with great trust among its members. But after some time and considerable growth, instances of criminality or vandalism may occur. When the first defections (or misunderstandings about presumed defections) arise, the whole system is endangered. Solutions about how to handle defections have to be found. On one hand, sanctions have to be strong enough that they can credibly threaten those who intend to defect; on the other hand, they cannot be so strong as to signal general mistrust of the whole community, which has succeeded in cooperating at least some of the time. It is not easy to find benevolent and strong solutions, which is why many commons fail.

However, commons can be successfully stabilized if they adhere to key design principles, according to Elinor Ostrom’s landmark research (1990).1 A closer look at seven of her eight design principles shows that they fulfill two requirements mentioned earlier: strength and benevolence. Ostrom identified commons as needing (among other things) clear boundaries that separate members and non-members; the adaptation of rules to local conditions and needs; the involvement of the members in decision-making; and effective monitoring by members and graduated sanctions against rule-breakers.

The design principles for effective self-governance in a commons are somehow dialectic because they recognize the necessity of institutional strength and authority while also recognizing the harm of top-down directives and outside intervention. The same dialectic can be found with respect to benevolence in a commons. The starting point is the conviction that people are willing to cooperate, but this conviction is not blindly applied. Instead, the commons recognizes that people potentially may defect, and appropriate safeguards are thus adopted.

These considerations may seem to be simple at first glance. However, trust is not only a psychological phenomenon between persons; it is equally an institutional phenomenon. Well-designed institutions foster personal trust, and inadequate institutions may stifle or even destroy personal trust. The “interface” between the social psychology of commons and the functionality of institutions is therefore extremely important. It is analogous to the human-computer interface, which may be more or less ergonomic.

Poorly designed institutions may be functional in principle, but the assertion of top-down authority may provoke resistance to perceived threats to freedom (“reactance” sensu Brehm, 1966). Conversely, too little structural authority and too much benevolence may allow conflicts and defections to escalate, ultimately destroying the commons. Ostrom gives examples of village commons that failed because they did not have clear rules for the distribution of crops from the commons to individual offsprings (as opposed to distribution to families).

To put it bluntly as a first key insight: controls and sanctions are necessary components to protect the integrity of the commons.

From my point of view it is important that the members of the commons have a structural or systemic insight into the game-theoretic social dilemmas of commons. They should be aware that there is a potentially tremendous win-win situation, but they should also recognize that any win-win situation is extremely fragile and requires protection against defections.

The history of many failed commons demonstrates that stakeholders often do not see the potential win-win of collective action. They fail to appreciate scientific evidence and political analyses that say, “Take less and you will have more.” They perceive that they will be better off if they defect – and indeed, that a failure to defect could jeopardize their survival, as in cases of very poor fishermen who desperately need food.

This leads to a second key insight: Commons can be successfully maintained only if stakeholders have substantial insight into a potential win-win constellation.

This is not only a cognitive problem, but also a problem of emotionally feeling the relevance of commoning as a solution for their circumstances.

Some history of modern commons, like open source projects, started with the fascination about the win-win that the community achieves through collaboration. For instance, Wikipedia started with some enthusiasm that “we,” i.e., anybody in the world who wants to participate, “write our encyclopedia.” In this case there was no lack of psychological commitment to a potential win-win, but there was a reluctance to accept certain institutional structures or impose sanctions and controls. But this reluctance gradually disappeared following increasing vandalism of the website and cheating in editorial submissions, e.g., self-serving content. At first glance, the idea of rules and sanctions may seem to contradict the idea of an open source project. In fact, such things are what guarantee its survival. Controls and sanctions are a necessary component of successful commons.

The point of rules, sanctions and member participation is to engender trust, a social phenomenon that is both psychological and institutional. Understanding and designing successful commons requires a keen consideration of the interplay between psychology and institutions, or what might be called “institutional ergonomics.”

Martin Beckenkamp (Germany) is an environmental economics psychologist. He teaches at Cologne University and the BiTS Iserlohn and does his research at the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods in Bonn, currently on a project about biodiversity under the view of a socal dilemma. He lives in Bonn.


  • Brehm, Jack W. 1966. Theory of Psychological Reactance. Academic Press, New York.
  • Ostrom, Elinor. 1990. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K.
  • —————. 2009. “Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems,” Nobel Prize lecture, available athttp://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economics/laureates/2009/ostrom-l….

  Read Institutions And Trust In Commons: Dealing With Social Dilemmas
 August 8, 2016
The Structural Communality Of The Commons

by Stefan Meretz, Counter Solutions


The commons are as varied as life itself, and yet everyone involved with them shares common convictions. If we wish to understand these convictions, we must realize what commons mean in a practical sense, what their function is and always has been. That in turn includes that we concern ourselves with people. After all, commons or common goods are precisely not merely “goods,” but a social practice that generates, uses and preserves common resources and products. In other words, it is about the practice of commons, or commoning, and therefore also about us. The debate about the commons is also a debate about images of humanity. So let us take a step back and begin with the general question about living conditions.

Living conditions do not simply exist; instead, human beings actively produce them. In so doing, every generation stands on the shoulders of its forebears. Creating something new and handing down to future generations that which had been created before – and if possible, improved – has been part of human activity since time immemorial. The historical forms in which this occurred, however, have been transformed fundamentally, particularly since the transition to capitalism and a market economy. Although markets have existed for millennia, their function was not as central as they have become in contemporary capitalism, where they set the tone. They determine the rules of global trade. They organize interactions between producers and consumers across the world. Some observers believe they can recognize practices of the commons even in markets. After all, they say, markets are also about using resources jointly, and according to rules that enable markets to function in as unrestricted and unmanipulated ways as possible. However, markets are not commons, and it is worth understanding why.

Although markets are products of human action, their production is also controlled by markets, not by human action. It is no coincidence that markets are spoken of as if they were active subjects. We can read about what the markets are “doing” every day in the business pages. Markets decide, prefer and punish. They are nervous, lose trust or react cautiously. Our actions take place under the direction of the markets, not the other way around. Even a brief look at the rules mentioned above makes that clear. Rules issued by governments first recognize the basic principles of markets, but these rules function only as “add-ons” that are supposed to guide the effects of the markets in one direction or the other.

One direction may mean restricting the effects of the market so as to attain specific social goals. Viewed in this light, the supposedly alternative concept of a centrally planned economy turns out to be nothing more than a radical variant of guiding markets. The other direction can mean designing rules so that market mechanisms can flourish, in the hope that everyone is better off in the end if individuals pursue their own material self-interest. The various schools of economic thought reflect the different directions. They all take for granted the assumption that markets work, and that what matters is optimizing how they work. A common feature is that none of these standard schools of thought question markets themselves. That is why markets are at times described as “second nature” (Fisahn 2010) – a manifestation of nature and its laws that cannot be called into question, but only applied.

The habit of treating markets, and therefore also the economy, as quasi-natural beings prompted economist Karl Polanyi to speak of a reversal of the relationship between the social and the economic: “Instead of economy being embedded in social relations, social relations are embedded in the economic system” (Polanyi 1957). Before the onset of capitalism, only religious ritual acts were seen as having a life of their own in this way. The attitude was: “We cannot regulate god or the market, we can only attempt to secure their goodwill, perhaps plead or at times outwit them, but we can never get them under control.” In the case of markets, it is the economic augurs of all kinds who take on the task of fathoming divine will. They are interpreters of the inevitable.

Markets are not commons – and vice versa. The fundamental principle of the commons is that the people who create the commons also create the rules for themselves. But are people able to do so? Isn’t it better to trust in a mechanism that may be invisible and impersonal, but that is also generally valid, rather than trying to formulate and negotiate rules oneself? Now we are at the core of the differing concepts of humanity: the market position assumes Homo economicusindividuals maximizing their utility. 1 These are isolated people who at first think only of themselves and their own utility. Only by trading on the market do they become social creatures.

Now, it is not these isolated individuals who determine their social relations. As we saw above, they give themselves up to the workings of the markets, trying to derive benefits from them. To make it abundantly clear: isolated individuals submit to an anonymous power that is not their own by joining it and internalizing its logic. They then have the opportunity to create and confirm their individuality by means of consumption. Consumption is also the medium in which social life takes place. In other words, markets are not only places of distribution; they are places where people connect and develop identities. As consumption does not create true communality, and as many people feel isolated even in a group, the only way out of this dilemma is more consumption. Thus, consumption creates more and more consumption, which matches the producers’ interests to sell more and more to consumers. It also perfectly serves the necessity of the capitalist economy to keep growing. However, consumers can never “buy our way out” of their social isolation. Markets are based on and continuously create structural isolation.

Structural isolation does not mean that we do not come together or cooperate. Yet in markets, cooperation always has the bitter flavor of competition as well. 2 We cooperate so that we can hold our ground better in competitive situations. With the underlying necessity of competition, any cooperation on one side implies exclusion on the other. One company’s success is another company’s failure. One country’s export surplus is another’s trade deficit. One person’s success in applying for a job means rejection of all the other candidates. One person’s green card means another person’s deportation. It is this aspect of markets which I call structural exclusion. Both aspects, structural isolation and exclusion, permeate our actions, thoughts and feelings like a gossamer web. They determine what people consider normal in everyday life. If a fish swims in endless circles in its bowl and has learned not to bump into the glass, seemingly automatically, it might falsely suppose it is enjoying the freedom of the ocean. If we are to withstand structural isolation and exclusion, we need places and forms of compensation. Besides consumption, which we have already mentioned, families and other social relationships play a central role here. Time and again, we can observe that people who lose their social relationships quickly end up in a situation of real isolation and exclusion.

Structural isolation and exclusion entail another type of behavior, one I call structural irresponsibility. Hardly anyone wants to marginalize others, hardly anyone wants their own advantage to be paid for by others – yet this still takes place. Isolation and separateness in markets also mean that we cannot grasp the consequences of a purchase. Perhaps we have heard about people in the Congo working under extreme and inhumane conditions to extract coltan, from which tantalum for producing cellphones is extracted. But do we do without cellphones for this reason? And we have read about t-shirts being produced with child labor, but do we pay attention every time we buy one? Or environmental pollution caused by aluminum production – do we even know which products contain aluminum?

These are only a few of countless examples that show that it is virtually impossible to exercise personal responsibility under market conditions. Short of massive boycotts or public organizing, consumer purchases cannot alter the labor conditions and environmental effects of production; in this respect, money is an extremely poor means of communication. All of our after-the-fact attempts to contain the harmful consequences of market activity amount to a never-ending task, one that often fails, sometimes colossally – for instance, in limiting global CO2 emissions.

But that is not the only option, as the commons demonstrate. Here, people are connected to one another. They use common resources, devise rules to sustain or increase them, and find the social forms that fit best. The starting point is always the needs of the people involved, and those needs are never the same. In a commons, the implicit model of humanity is not about individuals’ abstract equality, but rather their concrete uniqueness. People participate actively in the commons process with their rich individuality. Thus, the following is clear: if both the resources and the products are different, and if the people involved remain special individuals, then uniform rules cannot work. But that is not a problem in a commons because, in contrast to the market, the rules of a commons are made by the commoners themselves. It is no simple task to establish workable rules, and they may fail, but there are countless commons that do work, provided that certain conditions for success are taken into account.

Self-organization works if it is in fact self-determined. For this reason, an important aspect during the rule-making process is taking the participants’ different needs into account – be it in form of consensus or compromise. It is critical that people feel a sense of fairness. Fairness is not the same thing as formal justice: It describes agreements that nobody feels they need intervene against. That, too, is different in the case of markets. Here, there is a system of equivalent trading that is formally just, because in an ideal market, assets of the same economic value change hands. But first, this holds only on average; individual cases can be unjust or even fraudulent.

Let us recall: People who maximize their own benefit do so at other people’s expense, and those other people have to bear the burden. Second, equivalent trading means that different productivities may be expressed in the same prices, but in real terms, in different amounts of effort necessary to achieve the same price. Developing countries have to work much harder than industrialized ones for the same monetary yield. Is that fair? No. The market ignores differences; commons take them into account. What is more, the market pushes differences aside; commons thrive on them. If a few varieties of rice obtain the highest profit, then all other varieties of rice are displaced from the market. Participants in the commons, in contrast, are aware that diversity is not a flaw – an impediment to “maximizing value” – but a positive quality. It means more creativity, more variety, more opportunities for learning, a better quality of life.

Self-organization can fail. It is often unsuccessful if alien logic creeps into practices of the commons, and that can occur in very different ways. For example, if equal portions of a finite resource are made available for the people involved to use (formally just), then it may well be that individuals feel this arrangement to be unfair. This may be the case if the resource is of lesser quality, or if the needs of the people involved differ for reasons made transparent. Formally equal distribution must be augmented by additional criteria that are to be taken into account until everyone feels things are fair.

As soon as fairness is neglected, the danger arises that individual strategies for maximizing utility prevail. Then, market thinking enters into the commons. If one person begins to push through his or her individual goals at other people’s expense, fairness is undermined to an ever greater degree. Others respond in kind, a downward spiral sets in, and in the end, self-organization fails. Market ideologues are aware of this effect and occasionally employ it in order to destroy commons. For example, in Peru (and elsewhere) the proposal was made to divide up land that had previously been used jointly and to distribute it to the indigenous popul­a­tion with individual titles of ownership–formally just, of course. Members of communities were to be transformed into isolated, utility-maximizing individuals. The indigenous population rejected this plan because they realized it would endanger their lifestyle. 3

Commons work only if everybody is included in the community and nobody is excluded. They are based on cooperation, and they generate cooperation. They enable responsible action, and they require it. In this sense, the social practices of commons represent structural communality. Commons projects represent a practical rebuttal to the Homo economicusparadigm. Nobody has to have certain characteristics in order to participate in commons projects, but many people change when they do. In commons, people can live as what they have actually always been: societal beings who jointly create their living conditions. In contrast to the logic of the market, individuals have nothing to gain from having their way at other people’s expense. A central step in learning about practices of the commons is understanding that one’s own needs are taken into account only if other people’s needs are also part of the common activities. I call this aspect of the commons structural inclusion. The Ubuntu4 philosophy of the Zulu and Xhosa puts it in these words: “I am because you are, and I can be only if you are.”

Actually, this expresses something obvious. It seems so special to us because we have been trained from an early age to struggle as individuals against others. Selection determines our experiences at school; opportunities in life are allocated along with grades. We experience selection in markets when we need to sell our labor or our products. We experience selection when we are sick or old, when we worry about receiving appropriate care. Selection is the means of structural exclusion employed in the logic of the market. Whatever “doesn’t make money” falls between the cracks.

To be sure, the commons have boundaries, and it must be decided who belongs and who does not. We have learned from Elinor Ostrom that drawing such boundaries is important – at least in the case of rival common resources.5 In a commons, there is a very different social logic at play than in market settings; the criteria for access and use may include one’s local affiliations, contributions of labor and particular uses of the commons. For example, rules of open-access usage make sense for goods that are non-rival and not consumed or “used up” (such as collaborative websites like Wikipedia or free software programs); such rules help avoid underuse of the resource and the danger that they might be abandoned. In contrast, goods that are rival and consumptive, such as land, water or fisheries, require other sorts of rules because in such cases the problem is overuse, not underuse.

What is decisive in the success of a commons is which rules are recognized by the community as reasonable or necessary. Here, the primary question is not whether something pays off, but what sustains the commons and their resources so that everyone involved can benefit in the long term. The social form is valuable in and of itself, as social relationships are the decisive means for settling disputes. And conflicts are to be resolved in such a way that everyone feels that the process and its results are fair, as discussed above.

Thus, commons structurally generate responsibility on the part of their participants for preserving the resource and the collective relationships, while markets generally do not. Commoners are in charge of shaping the social relationships involved; therefore, they can take responsibility for their actions. However, this also entails their responsibility to do so. In the commons, it is possible to deal with conflicting goals and varying needs before taking action. In the market, however, action comes first, and then the consequences are dealt with later. The market is seldom capable of mediating between different needs and identifying responsible solutions because maximum profits is the touchstone for choice.

We are all aware of such paradoxes. We want to drive on a good road network without congestion, but object to having major roads pass by our front doors. We want environmentally friendly energy to replace nuclear power, but we object to windmills marring the landscape. We object to fish stocks being depleted, but want to purchase fresh and cheap fish. Different needs and goals conflict with one another, and the one that can mobilize the most market and political power will prevail. First, we create a fait accompli, then we have to suffer the consequences.

In the commons, people are capable of mediating between different needs and desires from the outset. Farmers can come to an understanding about joint usage of pastures in advance, and can do so time and again to avoid overexploitation of the common resource; fisherfolk can arrange for sustainable fishing quotas, in contrast to nation-states, each of which wants maximum usage for itself; free software projects can agree on programming priorities. Filmmaker Kevin Hansen speaks about commons cultivating a sense of overarching responsibility: “A commons approach innately presumes responsibility and rights for all. No one is left out. It is the responsibility of all commons trustees (effectively, this means everyone) to be responsible – even for those who do not speak…. [T]his includes not only the young, elderly or disabled people who cannot speak for themselves. It also means the disenfranchised, the poor, the indigenous and other humans who have traditionally not had a significant voice in politics and economics.” 6

While including everyone is part of the logic of the commons in terms of principle and structure, such inclusion does not occur automatically, but must be implemented intentionally. The freedom to shape arrangements that exist in principle also entails a necessity to do so. That is different from market relationships, where rules are set externally and uniformly. Whichever option earns money prevails. In a commons, communities must themselves determine the rules appropriate for individual situations and for the people involved in them. In the process, the temptation to achieve gain at the expense of others, after all, is ubiquitous, coming from the logic of the market. Yet to the other, I am the other as well. If I prevail at the expense of others, they will do the same (or exclude me). That would be the beginning of a downward spiral, a development we know well. The company that lowers wages faster than others generates more jobs. The one that cuts benefits most can obtain credit in order to survive. That is the logic of the markets, where most people end up losing, and even the winners cannot be sure whether they themselves might be among the losers tomorrow. We can establish commons and their structural communality, inclusion and generation of responsibility on the part of their participants only in opposition to the logic of exclusion. That is never easy, but it is worth the effort.


  • Fisahn, Andreas. 2010. Die Demokratie entfesseln, nicht die Märkte, PapyRossa.
  • Polanyi, Karl. 1957. The Great Transformation. Boston. Beacon.

Stefan Meretz (Germany) is an engineer, computer scientist, and author who lives in Berlin. His publications focus on commons-based peer production and development of a free society beyond market and state. He blogs at http://keimform.de.

  Read The Structural Communality Of The Commons
 August 10, 2016
A Nonviolent Strategy To End War

by Robert J Burrowes, Counter Solutions


There is a long history of anti-war and peace activism. Much of this activism has focused on ending a particular war. Some of this activism has been directed at ending a particular aspect of war, such as the use of a type of weapon. Some of it has aimed to prevent a type of war, such as ‘aggressive war’ or nuclear war. For those activists who regard war as the scourge of human existence, however, ‘the holy grail’ has always been much deeper: to end war.

There is an important reason why those of us in the last category have not, so far, succeeded. In essence, this is because, whatever their merits, the analyses and strategies we have been using have been inadequate. This is, of course, only a friendly criticism of our efforts, including my own. I am also not suggesting that the task will be easy, even with a sound analysis and comprehensive strategy. But it will be far more likely.

Given my own preoccupation with human violence, of which I see war as a primary subset, I have spent a great deal of time researching why violence occurs in the first place – see ‘Why Violence?’ http://tinyurl.com/whyviolence and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice’. http://anitamckone.wordpress.com/articles-2/fearless-and-fearful-psychology/ – and by taking or teaching strategic nonviolent action in response to many of its manifestations.

Moreover, given that I like to succeed when I work for positive change in this world, I pay a great deal of attention to strategy. In fact, I have written extensively on this subject after researching the ideas of the greatest strategic theorists and strategists in history. If you are really keen, you can read about this in ‘The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense: A Gandhian Approach’. http://www.sunypress.edu/p-2176-the-strategy-of-nonviolent-defe.aspx

However, because I know that most people aren’t too interested in scholarly works and that nonviolent activists have plenty of worthwhile things to do with their time, I have recently been putting the essence of the information in the book onto two websites so that the strategic thinking is presented simply and is readily available.

One of the outcomes I would like to achieve through these websites is to involve interested peace and anti-war activists from around the world in finalizing the development of a comprehensive nonviolent strategy to end war and to then work with them to implement it.

Consequently, I have been developing this nonviolent strategy to end war and I invite you to check it out and to suggest improvements. You can see it on the Nonviolent Campaign Strategy website. https://nonviolentstrategy.wordpress.com/

If you are interested in being involved in what will be a long and difficult campaign, I would love to hear from you.

You might also be interested in signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World’ http://thepeoplesnonviolencecharter.wordpress.com where the names of many nonviolent activists who will work on this campaign are already listed.

Ending war is not impossible. But it is going to take a phenomenal amount of intelligent strategic effort, courage and time. Whether we have that time is the only variable beyond our control.

Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?’ http://tinyurl.com/whyviolence His email address is and his website is at http://robertjburrowes.wordpress.com

  Read A Nonviolent Strategy To End War
  Agust 10, 2016
Existential Threats And Our Belief Systems

by David Anderson, Life/Philosophy, Counter Solutions


This new Homo sapiens contradictory planetary reality leaves not just the western world, but the whole world in search for answers. We need to find the reason we are heading so rapidly toward dangerous shoals. How could we, the most clever and brilliant primate ever, be bringing on our own demise? Where did we all go so wrong? Could it be the pattern of our thought process, laboriously pieced together over the centuries beginning with the bronze/iron/agricultural age ten thousand years ago, that is now working against our continuation? Could it be there are self-destructive elements in that thought process so dangerous as to bring on our end? And if so, what are those elements?

For the first time in our species history we are being faced with the possibility of an existential threat to our continued existence. And unlike threats in the past that brought down other species, this one will not be determined by a random meteor or other cosmological or climatic happening. It will be self-inflicted.

Early on those of the Abrahamic faith were told that our planet was given to them by their God. Those words have guided the western traditions through to this day. He said that we are to till it and care for it. He also told us to multiply. That was all this God said. Now Planet earth is telling the world that these words were far too simplistic. He did not warn us of human population size limitations. He did not tell us that our planet is a finite domain. He did not warn us that our economic and technological advancements could one day destroy the regenerative resource capacity of the planet. He did not speak to the danger of dumping into it every year hundreds of millions of tons of highly toxic chemical waste, much of it non-biodegradable.

This new Homo sapiens contradictory planetary reality leaves not just the western world, but the whole world in search for answers. We need to find the reason we are heading so rapidly toward dangerous shoals. How could we, the most clever and brilliant primate ever, be bringing on our own demise? Where did we all go so wrong? Could it be the pattern of our thought process, laboriously pieced together over the centuries beginning with the bronze/iron/agricultural age ten thousand years ago, that is now working against our continuation? Could it be there are self-destructive elements in that thought process so dangerous as to bring on our end? And if so, what are those elements?

Another question: Why is our response so muted? Could it be that there are inherent cranial/biological deficiencies in our makeup; so serious that we as a species are unable to comprehend that we have become a threat to our own future? Could the cranial/biological side of us also be our problem?

We have evidence past and present that our treatment of our planet and all other life on it is has been mirrored in ruthlessly competitive, mean, vicious, brutal, murderous behavior. The following ancient biblical verse speaks to this. It shows us that far into our distant past we were fully aware of our problem.

Jeremiah 17:9

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?”

Looking at the world today; we can draw the conclusion that our cranial malware is the same as it was in the Jeremiah’s time. He writes about “deceit.” Is this the reason our extinction possibility is not understood? Is deceitful self-absorption the reason? Continuation of CO2, Methane release, exponential population growth, acidification of the oceans, resource depletion, corruption, extreme poverty, ISIS beheadings, Atomic bombs in the hands of psychopaths ‑ and the list goes on. Only pockets of human concern come to the surface. What care I most of us say? All of that is too far away, out of my vision.

The result; threats to our species’ continued existence remain hidden away, buried in the depths of the global human brain. Many of our citizens simply ignore the whole thing and go about their business. And when the harsh ecological facts are revealed, narratives are cleverly fashioned to remove those facts from reality. Life can then go on in a perpetual “Disney World” kind of existence. Tomorrow will take care of itself. It is easier to pretend everything is OK. Or my God will take care of it. Or for some within the Abrahamic traditions there will be an Apocalypse after which everything – at least for the faithful ‑ will be OK.

Even in academia, except for the physical sciences, humanity’s reality as to its relationship to Planet earth and the Cosmos is often turned into a confusion of professionalized internalized vocabulary and endless footnotes. This has become most obvious in the social sciences of psychology, sociology and economics. In the first two, reductive mechanistic “survival of the fittest” theory becomes the excuse for an explanation of our neurotic psychotic human condition. There is no inference to humanity’s meaning, purpose or mystery. Leave that to the religionists and philosophers they say. Let them argue back and forth as to what is or is not beyond the brain cage. Their answer is simple. We are the way we are because we are the way we are. We are in earthly fact no different from wind-up clocks. Find the faulty part and you have found the problem. Fix that part and you have solved the problem. And as for the social science of economics, there is even a hint among some – strangely even to include those who are in the atheist camp ‑ of raw market capitalism being “the hand of God” working its beneficence. So we see an absence of planetary inquiry in business schools the likes of Harvard, Warton and the University of Chicago. The need for negative external costs to be built into every investment decision that will damage the Biosphere is not to be a part of the decision process. Maximizing the return is. There is no interest in saving the planet. Becoming more efficient in raping it yes, but not in saving it.

Equally ineffective are many of those who study the world religions. As much as they try to look into the future, their mindset remains constricted by past thought. In many university departments of religion, staying within preordained religious codes and past philosophical constructs rules. Getting papers published rules. Esoteric long winded words rule. Tenure rules.

So, a perpetual “Disney World” existence even reigns among many academics. There is, however, a note of optimism here: In spite of this overall dementia at so many levels of society, larger and larger numbers throughout the world – in and outside of academia ‑ are beginning to understand that at no time in human history has it been more important to face the issue of the threat to our species survival, and at no time in human history has it been more important to search for solutions. The numbers are not high enough for there to be an overwhelming world critical mass, or even an organized collective struggle pointing to revolution, but they are high enough to make a difference. Pope Francis’ LAUDATO SI in 2015 and the COP21 meeting in 2016 are illustrations.

Those with this awareness find themselves facing the age-old challenge made long ago by the Plato. Have I the courage to remove myself from my friends – and their criticism of me – and step outside of the cave, turn my back on those in denial of the agony of the human condition and move into the bright light? Have I the courage to join the others out there who are in search for a new and yet undiscovered human purpose that can move humanity forward by way of a new form of thought that will contradict those failed presuppositions that are preventing human life on this planet from becoming integral ‑ at one ‑ with the natural forces inside and outside of the planet?

The term “Bright Light” in Abrahamic thought here refers to the state of man in the pre temptation Garden of Eden. In Buddhist thought that same state is defined as “Nirvana.”

Have I the courage to challenge all of our/my past thought grounded on ten thousand years of presuppositions; even though I know that this will call for a change greater than at any other period in our post bronze/iron/agricultural age history, and even though I may have to change the past and present validation of very much of what I as well as the society around me takes for granted, knows and believes? Am I willing to accept this challenge?

That is just the beginning. Now comes the hard part. You and I by challenging our beliefs and the institutional structures supporting them will not alone solve our problem. It will take more than just a change in your “belief” or my belief in this or that. That will be no better than placing bandages on a fatal wound. Our human society in its entirety will have to find the courage to confront the dark side of the human condition. It will have to examine that mysterious and often deadly juxtaposition between our dark side and our loving side, a perplexing dichotomy that continues, as it did for Jeremiah, to haunt our species. All of human society will have to move outside of the cave into the light.

Is this at all possible? Could it take place on a grand scale? Can we expect those in power throughout the world to change, many of whom are now controlling our thought processes through the academy, through the media, through the religious institutions, and in so many other ways? That is the question. As we are now beginning to see, those not ready to change will not step aside easily. For the powerful and privileged “they” it is they who come first, Planet earth second. Wealth and power comes first. Accreditation comes first. Also, we know from revolutions in past history how difficult change can be. We know that stated purpose is not always achieved. Often, there is a dark side to those who have power after a revolution. That dark side can be a dangerous driver of behavior.

As Jeremiah observed; our brain cage controls our thoughts and actions. No one is spared. So the biblical quote that we can be “wicked” should give us pause. It tells us that the pseudo “civilized” behavior we can observe in so many today is just a mask behind which hides the real them, the real you and the real me. That applies at all levels in our modern society, the lowest as well as the highest.

So, our species’ behavioral survival equation will not be an easy one to construct. Putting in place the necessary changes will be extremely difficult. It will entail challenging the validity of our social, political, religious and economic thought and the institutions that support that thought. It will entail separating out those originating presuppositions we have believed to be “inherent truths” that we are now discovering were built on ecological flaws.

And we will not be given the time we had during the last big change, beginning five hundred years ago – followed by the Industrial Revolution. We do not have five hundred years. We may only have one hundred. Our planet is right now caving in upon us.

Holding us back is the fact that there will be resistance every step of the way, some violent. Yet we can observe that larger and larger numbers of the earth’s human citizens are coming to the realization that there has to be a new equation. Larger and larger numbers understand that without it our psychotic and neurotic responses powered by our cranial destructive emotions: so defined by words such as: psychotic, aggressive, selfish, deceptive, mean spirited, ego centric, jealous, possessive, dishonest, power hungry, narcissistic ‑ and yes to again quote Jeremiah; deceitful and wicked, will spell our end.

Reduced to a few words; if we are to survive on this planet:

We will have to change the way we view our present social, political, religious and economic thought and the institutions that support that thought. We will have to separate out those originating presuppositions we have believed to be “inherent truths” we are now discovering were built on non-sustainable ecological flaws. In their place we will have to design and introduce into society forms of thought and systems of governance that reflect new ethical formulae the purpose of which will be the protection and continuance of the Earth’s diverse yet mutually supporting systems encompassing all life and nonlife.

Reduced to even fewer words:

We will have to step out of the cave.

David Anderson brings together a wide range of interests in his writings, namely; Western theology, history, evolutionary anthropology, philosophy, geopolitics, and economics.

He has published three books. A fourth is near completion. It is about the necessary geo political, social, religious, economic paradigm shift needed for human survival.

This Countercurrents essay is its FOREWARD.

See: http://www.inquiryabraham.com/new-book.html

David is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Hawaii (Harvard Asia Pacific) Advanced Management Program. Over his career he was an international risk manager and senior executive at several of America’s premier multinational institutions. During that period he became increasingly aware of the underlying cultural, institutional and religious causes of past and present civilizational dysfunction and conflict.

  Read Existential Threats And Our Belief Systems
 August 10, 2016
Humans Are Poisoning The Ocean—And It’s Poisoning Us Back

by Nika Knight, Counter Solutions


It’s no secret that we have trashed, poisoned, and warmed oceans at an unprecedented ratevia human-caused climate change and pollution.

It seems that oceans may be paying us back in kind, according to a new study that found levels of bacteria responsible for life-threatening illnesses spiking in the North Atlantic region.

The study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) discovered that a deadly variety of bacteria known as vibriois spreading rapidly throughout the Atlantic as a result of hotter ocean temperatures.

Marine ecologist Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, who was not involved in the research, described the shift to theWashington Post as “an ecosystem-level effect of climate change”:

What this new research does is present evidence of the increased prevalence of these bacteria over broad regions of the North Atlantic from preserved samples collected over 54 years. The prevalence of these bacteria has increased as the ocean has warmed, both as result of global warming and multi-decadal variations in ocean circulation.  This trend may be caused by changes in the plankton community rather than just the temperature alone.  In other words, increased prevalence may be an ecosystem-level effect of climate change.

Vibrio bacteria cause infections in humans and animals, and a growing number of people are hospitalized each year after consuming fish contaminated by the pathogen, the study notes, observing that the rapid rise in vibrio levels on the U.S. and European Atlantic coasts corresponds with the increasing number of hospitalizations for vibrio infections on both continents.

“We were able to demonstrate that there was an increase in the numbers of vibrios, probably a two or threefold increase, correlated with the increase in climate temperature, and then correlated with outbreaks of vibrio infections that have been recorded in the medical records,” said Rita Colwell, a microbiologist at the University of Maryland who is a co-author of the study, to the Post.

Colwell told the Post that the shift in vibrio bacteria numbers is just one of many enormous ecological transformations to come as a result of climate change. “It’s a disruption of the natural pattern, and it will be selecting for a number of species, and that’s the problem,” Colwell said.

“We don’t just damage the oceans even as we ourselves go unaffected by the consequences of that damage,” the Post observes. “Rather, from harm to fisheries to direct human health threats, that damage hurts us, too.”

  Read Humans Are Poisoning The Ocean—And It’s Poisoning Us Back
  August 10, 2016
Planetary Boundaries—Governing Emerging Risks And Opportunities

by Victor Galaz, Counter Solutions


The climate, ecosystems and species, ozone layer, acidity of the oceans, the flow of energy and elements through nature, landscape change, freshwater systems, aerosols, and toxins—these constitute the planetary boundaries within which humanity must find a safe way to live and prosper. These are thresholds that, if we cross them, we run the risk of rapid, non-linear, and irreversible changes to the environment, with severe consequences for human wellbeing. The concept of planetary boundaries, though recent, has already gained traction in scientific and in some policy circles, and is generating debate more broadly. Nevertheless, despite decades of talk on sustainable development, reform of international governance and institutions has not kept pace with the scale and urgency of the global environmental crisis. The notion of planetary boundaries can be seen as a way to frame governance reform. This discussion introduces key elements of governance in a world with boundaries: deep reform of international governance, such as the United Nations system and trade treaties; emerging ecological concepts and principles in international law; the role of economics for the biosphere; and, the need to integrate different kinds of knowledge—from the local to the global. The literature is rich with ideas for solutions and real-world experiences. One recent example from south-eastern Australia demonstrates innovative approaches to knowledge sharing and communication between scientists, urban planners, and local communities for sustainable development in a changing climate. Finally, there is need for a mobilizing narrative: a story grounded in the concept of planetary boundaries, uniting the solutions, and framed in such a way as to offer opportunities for learning, innovation, and creativity at all levels, in both the North and South. There are no simple solutions to what are complex problems involving politics and trade-offs. Ongoing debate and discussion—in academia, in policy circles, and in society at large—is healthy, but we should not allow debate about the precise nature of planetary boundaries to stymie progress. Exploring these issues and the interface between different fields is a challenging task, to be sure. Still, it is essential if the concept of planetary boundaries is to fulfill its potential as a guide for human action in the Anthropocene.

Key Concepts

  • There are planetary boundaries within which humanity must find a safe space to flourish. They constitute environmental thresholds that, if crossed, raise the risk of undoing much human progress.
  • Despite decades of worldwide discussion on sustainable development, reform of international governance and institutions is outpaced by the rate of global environmental change.
  • Key elements of governance reform to drive sustainable development are: deep institutional reform at the international level; key emerging concepts in international law and legal principles; the importance of biosphere economics; multi-scale knowledge integration; and, a mobilizing narrative as a driver of transition.
  • Most likely to succeed is a narrative that, grounded in the concept of planetary boundaries, offers opportunities for learning, innovation, and creativity at all levels, in both the North and South.
  • More sustainable outcomes at the local level can be achieved where scientists and planners work together with local communities to integrate global and local knowledge and establish better, ongoing dialogue.

The notion of planetary boundaries attempts to define a safe operating space within which humanity can flourish. The boundaries relate to climate change, change in biosphere integrity (i.e. biodiversity loss and species extinction), stratospheric ozone depletion, ocean acidification, biogeochemical flows, land-system change, freshwater use, atmospheric aerosol loading, and the introduction of novel entities (such as radioactive materials and organic pollutants).1

Recently, the original boundaries were updated, but the central message remains:2there are global environmental thresholds beyond which the risk of non-linear, abrupt, and irreversible changes rises substantially. Crossing the thresholds would have severe repercussions for human wellbeing. The idea of planetary boundaries is the subject of ongoing discussion and debate, both scholarly and socially, as it should be. Do thresholds in natural systems really exist? Does the framing with a focus on scarcity and global boundaries help or hinder action? Are boundaries a useful guide for human ingenuity and innovation for sustainable futures?3

Here, we build on existing debates, and identify five elements of governance mechanisms, or ‘solutions’ that, as yet, have received only modest attention.4 A word of caution: simple political or institutional solutions to such complex problems seldom exist. Instead, proposals for institutional reform are hard. They are always associated with political values and trade-offs, and hence need continuous public, scholarly, and political debate.5 And, as with any global sustainability issue, we need to bear in mind unresolved North–South issues and tensions.

The governance elements discussed here are related to issues around the need for:

  • Deep institutional reform at the international level;
  • The potential to tap into international law and legal principles;
  • The importance of biosphere economics;
  • The need for multi-scale knowledge integration;
  • And, the need for a mobilizing narrative as a driver of transition.

We explore each of these elements briefly below. While none is straightforward and each has its implementation problems and trade-offs,6,7 we should not let this distract us from the urgent need to focus on solutions.

Shaking Up International Institutions

It is increasingly clear that incremental reforms of international institutions cannot keep up with the rate of environmental, social, and technological change which leads to the Anthropocene. In 2012, the Earth System Governance Project, an international network of social science scholars analyzing various aspects of environmental institutions and political decision-making, concluded that:

Incremental change—the main approach since the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment—is no longer sufficient to bring about societal change at the level and with the speed needed to mitigate and adapt to Earth system transformation. Structural change is needed.8

In other words, actions to arrest the global environmental crisis have so far not matched the scale and urgency of the task.

Secretary General Ban Ki Moon arrives in Kangerlussua on route to ilulissat greenland with the PM of Denmark and the PM of Greenland. A view from the plane of Giant Icebergs in the IIlulissat Fjord

UN Photo / Mark Garten. Icebergs in Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland, where ice sheets have been melting at an accelerating pace.

Indeed, several authors have suggested more substantial global reforms.9,10Biermann and colleagues, for instance, propose structural changes including (but not limited to): strengthening international environmental treaties; weaving environmental, social, and developmental values into global trade and investment regimes; upgrading the powers of the United Nations Environment Programme comparable to those of the World Health Organization or the International Labor Organization; and, better integration of sustainable development within the UN system itself.

These reforms aim to increase the legitimacy and accountability of international environmental policy-making and simultaneously increase coherence and help guide institutional interplay. The notion of planetary boundaries may serve as a guiding framework for these reforms. Reforms such as these will surely be challenged, as they always have in the history of the UN and in global environmental governance in general. Barriers include insufficient multilateral commitment, knowledge gaps, and political gridlock, to mention a few.11 This should not distract us from their importance, however.

Such reforms need to consider that environmental change is not only incremental, but also can unfold in abrupt ways with severe repercussions for human security. Globally networked risks pose severe global governance challenges and require not only structural changes, but also new flexible modes of collaboration at the international level. As the “food crisis” in 2008-2009, recurrent outbreaks of novel infectious diseases such as Ebola and Zika, and the possible cascading impacts of climate change on food security, financial stability, and human migration illustrate, the challenge to global resilience lies in maintaining both institutional predictability and flexibility. While this might sound like a difficult trade-off, recent studies show that a combination is possible, if embodied in globally spanning networks.12 For example, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources has developed sophisticated information processing in collaboration with state and non-state actors in the last decade, leading to a much wanted reduction in illegal and unreported fishing.13 Adaptive and global collaborations between state and non-state actors such as these may provide space for much needed decentralized, bottom-up approaches involving multiple institutions and actors.

Tapping into International Law and Legal Principles

Overarching principles and norms in international law guide both state and non-state actors alike, and new norms have been proposed as a way to address planetary boundaries. For example, Dutch environmental policy scholar Frank Biermann argues that overarching legal principles, as well as concepts of peremptory norms in international law (ius cogens, i.e. norms that no state may deviate from), could provide two good starting points.14 Similarly, Kim and Bosselmann argue there is a legal case for “a goal-oriented, purposive system of multilateral environmental agreements” based on a new legally binding international norm—a Grundnorm.15 The existing legal concept of ecological integrity could be used as a principle of customary international law and interpreted to include the science of planetary boundaries, as well as moral and ethical dimensions. In other words, a state would be required to ensure that their legal frameworks preserve ecological integrity, defined as within planetary boundary thresholds.

In a related idea, Higgins and colleagues propose making ecocide a crime, with states “legally bound to act before mass damage, destruction or ecosystem collapse occurs.”16 Other countries would have a duty of care to render aid where ecosystems were at risk of collapse. This would entail, among other reforms, a new International Environmental Court.

United Nations Photo. The leaders of COP21 celebrate the adoption of the Paris Agreement in December 2015.

The evolution of such norms might seem difficult, if not impossible considering the ever-existing risk of political gridlock and tangible conflicts of interest between states. However, as scholars of international relations, politics, and law have explored at length, norm changes with international level impacts can unfold in abrupt ways. Norms evolve through a life cycle as they emerge (often at the national level), cascade, and transgress a “tipping point” at which a critical mass of relevant state actors adopt the norm. This process can be facilitated by so-called “world historical events,” such as wars or major depressions, and is driven by “norm entrepreneurs” that link domestic and international politics in ways that contribute to the diffusion of the new norm. The prohibitions against certain kinds of weapons, the end of slavery, and the adoption of the Aarhus Convention in 1998 after the end of the Cold War exemplify abrupt changes in international norms. Whether the Paris Agreement in 2015, and the surprising explicit ambition to aim to limit the increase of climate change to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels really will materialize, remains to be seen. At best however, this new ambitious target indicates a nascent international norm that puts climate stability and risk at the center of international discussions and national action.

Towards an Economics of the Biosphere

Planetary boundaries define a safe operating space; hence, crossing a boundary may lead to unacceptable costs. For a long time economics has ignored the type of instability and the possibility of multiple equilibria inherent in the notion of planetary boundaries. From the perspective of cost-benefit analyses, it means that shifting to another regime with another equilibrium and an unacceptable high loss of welfare should be avoided at almost all costs. In such a case, economics should not focus on adjustments towards the traditional, stable, narrow economic growth path, but on policies that take account of possible tipping points in the ecological system. A good example is climate change. The planetary boundary can be characterized by an increase in global mean temperature of 2°C. This implies a budget of greenhouse gas emissions that the world as a whole has to respect. The issue is actually quite similar to the optimal extraction of an exhaustible resource. Economics provides tools for solving this type of problem, but it applies these tools mainly to resource economics, and has not yet made the switch to macroeconomics with planetary boundaries. Another important issue is the “tragedy of the commons” at this global scale. In the absence of an effective governing institution, the question is how the optimal use of the budget of greenhouse gas emissions is going to be implemented and respected. Economic research on stability of climate treaties with approaching catastrophes that could support the political processes of the COP meetings, such as the recent COP 21 in Paris, has just started.17


NOAA Photo Library. Fisherman haul in a lobster trap in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. The lobster fishery in Maine provides a good example of possible “tipping points” in biosphere economics.

Interesting progress has been made in the last decade though, with important practical implications: the term biosphere economics denotes an emerging phase in economic research and policy that takes tipping points and regime shifts in complex natural systems seriously.18 Biosphere economics builds on previously done important work, for example in developing alternative methods for measuring well-being,19,20 but highlights that the mere existence of a possible catastrophic threshold has important implications for policy making.21 Even if regime shifts are uncertain, a precautionary approach is required rather than optimization that ignores potential regime shifts. Planetary boundaries are kinds of risk thresholdswith the potential to act as focal points and yield realistically optimal policies.22,23Investments in resilience—that is diversity, flexibility, and learning—have costs, but become optimal when possible “tipping points” are taken into account. A good example is the management of the lobster fishery in Maine.24 The fishery became very profitable when the lobster was turned into the only species in its functional group in the ecological system, but this increased the vulnerability of the system and the risk of collapse. In such a case, it is better to improve the resilience of the system at the expense of some fishery profits today, but this policy only results if potential tipping points are taken into account. Hence, focusing economic thinking on single metrics (such as GDP or efficiency) is not only simplistic, but also prone to failure, as it undermines resilience in the longer term. A dashboard of metrics that instead track planetary well-being, and that take threshold effects seriously, will prove much more useful as a guide for research and action.

Platforms to Link Global and Local Knowledge

The notion of planetary boundaries is quickly gaining ground in global environmental scientific assessments. A number of arenas for cross-disciplinary scientific synthesis have emerged in the last few decades, including the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the Intergovernmental Science–Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The new global scientific initiative Future Earth exists to create action-oriented science for the Anthropocene. These bodies are critical not only in standardizing global knowledge but also by constructing spaces for deliberation between science and society.25

The policy impact of these initiatives cannot be taken for granted, as shown in decades of work on how scientific knowledge is used in policy-making and governance.26,27 An issue’s salience is seldom (if ever) enough to trigger international action, but must be combined with institutional mechanisms that enhance the credibility and legitimacy of information.

One of the most pressing questions arising in planetary boundary discussions centers on scale (so-called downscaling): are global thresholds and boundaries applicable to local, regional, or national levels? There is considerable debate on the usefulness of compressing multi-scale socio-ecological processes into simpler global metrics.28,29 A number of more practical and action-oriented attempts have come from academics and policy-makers.30-32

Downscaling is equally an institutional issue. The use of climate information and science in local settings is associated with vast challenges created by lack of information and data, capacity, and human and economic resources.33 The situation is even more challenging in climate-vulnerable and fragile states where vital monitoring infrastructure is missing and state capacities are weak or even non-existent34 Moreover, whether useful and actionable planetary boundaries metrics and indicators can be developed at the local level remains to be seen.

Belspo / Nevens / UN ISDR. The IPCC launches a special report in Brussels in 2012. The IPCC represents a cross-disciplinary body constructing a space for deliberation between science and society.

A number of recent practical initiatives combine insights from global assessment programs with local knowledge in ways that are perceived as legitimate and transparent. Tengö and colleagues, for example, have studied multiple evidence-based approaches showing that local and indigenous knowledge systems, developed through long periods of experimentation, adaptation, and co-evolution, can provide valid and useful knowledge, as well as methods, theories and practices for sustainable ecosystem management.35 The importance of combining knowledge systems becomes apparent especially in community-based monitoring and information systems, or bridging organizations—those that connect actors across scales, and provide arenas for deliberation and learning.36,37

From these experiences emerge tangible examples of ways to downscale planetary insights, sensitive to local issues. Such initiatives may also benefit from recent developments in communication and information technologies, improving early warnings, responses, and collaboration capacities.38

The Need for a Mobilizing Narrative

Institutional reforms, legal principles, economic policies, and organizational innovation all play a role in Earth system governance. However, global transformation needs upward pressure from grassroots movements and sub-global deliberations, and the dynamics of transitions and transformations is the subject of considerable study,39,40 as are the processes by which societal norms emerge, cascade, and reach a critical mass of relevant actors, finally becoming established.41

Such processes need a mobilizing narrative or framing;42 a story, which often has powerful implications for policy-making. Climate change, for example, can be seen as a technological challenge, the result of market failure, an issue of global distribution, or as the ecological limit to overconsumption. Each of these framings implies different policies and assignment of responsibilities and blame. Martin Hajer proposes another reframing of the issue—one focused on learning, innovation, and creativity:

Such a reassessment could involve combining green growth with the frame of the energetic society. Get citizens, farmers and businesses onboard, and develop a new, beckoning mindset that presents new opportunities, offers new openings, releases more energy and encourages the creativity that already exists in society to flourish.43

Michael Studinger / NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. The moon remains in the morning sunlight over snow-covered peaks in northeastern Greenland. The photo was taken by scientists working on NASA’s Operation IceBridge, a multi-year aerial survey of polar ice.

Planetary boundaries need not imply a top-down narrative. A growing literature explores the possibility of using these boundaries as an engine of socially and ecologically informed innovation.44,45 A kind of alternative framing can also be found in global initiatives, such as the work by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.46 It should be noted that many “planetary boundary” narratives are possible, ranging from techno-optimistic notions such as “Ecomodernism” and “Abundance,”47,48 to notions of changes in values and institutions to incorporate “Biosphere Stewardship,”49 and anti-capitalistic critiques and ideas for fundamental global economic reform and redistribution of wealth.50 It is difficult, if not impossible, to know how these different narratives will evolve or take root in complex social and political realities. On the contrary, we know very little about the conditions that make new problem framings materialize and replace older ones.

In addition, while the planetary boundaries framing might seem reasonable, it has nevertheless induced considerable debate between states with different development needs. As Frank Biermann notes, the notion of ‘thresholds’ embedded in the notion of a “safe operating space” also has unavoidable political dimensions.51 Vested interests will question the existence of these boundaries and advance alternative counter-narratives.52 Actors can also differ in their risk adversity, or can interpret and value scientific uncertainties differently.

Ultimately, this means that a future oriented around planetary boundaries must be made attractive and meaningful to different actors, in both the North and South. It must connect risks with opportunities, emphasize co-benefits, and explore abundance within a safe operating space.

Concluding Reflections

Discussions about possible governance reforms based on the notion of planetary boundaries are quickly gaining ground, and inducing much needed debates about the future of global environmental governance. We have touched on ideas around deep reform of global institutions, the potential to tap into law and legal principles, the importance of economics informed by biosphere realities, the importance of integrating knowledge across scales, and the need for a narrative that mobilizes people toward larger transitions. These are important starting points for more discussion and debate, not the final word. In fact, quick-fix solutions for governance and institutional problems this big and this important are impossible. Exploring these issues, and connecting risk with opportunities is a challenging task. It is essential, however, if the concept of planetary boundaries is to fulfill its potential as a guide for human action in the Anthropocene.

Victor Galaz is Deputy Science Director and Associate Professor in Political Science at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and Senior Academy Researcher at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Among his publications in English are articles in International Environmental Agreements, Nature,Climate Change, Science, Ecological Economics, The Lancet, Public Administration, Environmental Politics, and Governance. He is also the author of Global Environmental Governance, Technology and Politics: the Anthropocene Gap.


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Originally published by Solutions Journal

  Read Planetary Boundaries—Governing Emerging Risks And Opportunities
  August 10, 2016
The ‘Rooted’ People

by Chris Sunderland, Counter Solutions


With the climate emergency now breaking upon the world, some may wonder whether human society is going to be capable of an effective response. It seems that our current toolkit is threefold. First there is the political dimension. The Green party is making substantial progress and other parties are lining up their own positions in regard to climate change. Second are the organisations, like the Transition Movement, where thousands of small scale projects are showing the way to a low energy future. Third comes the activists, promoting disinvestment away from fossil fuels and opposing fracking. Each of these movements represents a dimension of our response to the ecological crisis with its own distinctive means of approach and each has real success to report, but the scale and urgency of the environmental emergency forces us to ask hard questions. Are these things enough? Can we rely on politics to solve this, or is the whole system simply too slow and cumbersome? Why are the activist voices so muted in this age of dread danger? Can a set of small scale experiments, as witnessed so remarkably in the Transition movement, really shift public perception? Or even, can all these things combined actually do the business and lead us into a better harmony with the earth?

I have come to the opinion that we are set to fail as a human species unless we can embrace one further dimension of our response to the ecological crisis. And that is the faith dimension. I say ‘faith’ rather than religion, because, in my opinion, the major religions of the world are currently failing in this area. I also use the term ‘faith’ to imply something deeper than a simple strategy for change, something that relates more to our being than our actions and which arises from a deep longing in our hearts. To introduce my reasoning I would like to take a step back in time.

It is now nearly fifty years since Lynn White published his short paper entitled ‘The historical roots of our ecological crisis’ pointing his finger at the Christian faith for promoting attitudes of earth domination and anthropocentrism and blaming it for our prevailing attitude to the natural world.

It seemed a slightly strange charge to make at the time, because the church of the 1960’s was losing its hold on public consciousness and it was hard to conceive that it could have had such a deep and lasting effect on society. Yet more recent studies of the human mind show that the structure of our minds changes continually in response to the set of stimuli1 around us. It is clear that through the course of human history we can lose sensitivity to some things and gain sensitivity to others. It is therefore very credible that a religion that attains a public following may nurture one set of moral sympathies while closing down on others and that this may have substantial and lasting impacts on public policy. This ability to modulate our moral sensitivity may be one of the most important and least recognised properties of faith in society.

White asserted that Christianity was the most anthropocentric religion the world had ever seen. It was a shocking claim addressed, as it was, to members of a society that wanted to believe its historic faith was essentially good, but it raised vital questions.

In Cornwall there are about a hundred natural springs. One of these wells is to be found at, what is now, a National Trust property called Llanhydrock. Imagine with me, how these springs may have been seen by ancient cultures. Maybe at first, the fresh water bubbling up from underground reservoirs is perceived by the sensitive imagination as both important and wonderful. The community that grows around the well knows its need of fresh water and senses that the spring’s continual flow is essential to the life of the community. The people may not document this. They may not even say it. But they know it. Without this spring their community would not exist. They also may sense the importance of the cleanliness of water. They will have experienced how water from rivers and streams is prone to upstream contamination. Here is fresh, clean and pure water, flowing continually. The people come each day to collect their water. The place becomes a place of gathering. The deep sense of importance of this well is known at a subconscious level and finds an outlet in religious imagination, or inspiration. It may feel like a gift. It may feel like its properties need to be guarded, perhaps by a divine being. So it may have been that a religious imagination gave rise to stories of the well’s origins in order to express such things about its importance to the community that were known at the subconscious level, and as a result, the place came to be invested with religious significance and to become ‘sacred’, meaning set apart, inviolable and a portal to the divine or ‘other’.

Records suggest that the well at Llanhydrock was most likely a pagan shrine in its origins, but was later adopted by the monks of Bodmin and rededicated to the Celtic Saint ‘St ‘ydroch’. This type of ‘adoption’ of sacred springs was a common practice of the church. It was also an example of anthropocentrism whereby something of mystical value in relation to nature, was replaced by the veneration of a human being. Such humanisation of the shrine subtly bound the community into the Christian religious fold with its norms and practices.

The Celtic interpretation of the place in due course gave way to Roman Catholic mores and then to the Reformation. Some say that the Protestant Reformation stood for the sweeping away of the sacred itself. Holiness in England, was now to be found in the text, that is the Bible, and in the state, with the King declaring himself head of the Church. After the dissolution of the monasteries, Llanhydrock was closed as a religious community and became the seat of the Robartes family. They came to own around one third of Cornwall. The well now stands almost forgotten, as little more than a garden feature.

That little vignette of history may give an insight into deep changes in religious sensibility that have taken place in the history of England, and across many of those countries influenced by it. The reverence for the well at Llanhydroch originated in faith, associated with deep unarticulated values, experience of life ‘beyond words’, and religious sensibility. The shared values, in the case of the well, are as simple as ‘we are the community that need this water’. The religious sensibility came to inhabit the place by a process of imagination that has been repeated by religions across the world. Such sacred sites did not need to ‘teach’ their sacredness, as an abstract belief system. Like all authentic religion, it was passed on by imitation. People, who wanted to be in the group, became part of the community and naturally adopted its beliefs. In this sense religion acts like music and values2, in being passed on by an imitative process. People want to be members of the group. Their pro-social leanings make them want to take on board its understandings of the world. So they embrace the sacredness of the spring and come to ‘believe’ in it.

This anthropomorphic tendency, witnessed by the history of Llanhydroch, has been part and parcel of Judaeo-Christianity from the time of Judaism’s very first struggles with Baal and the Ashtoreth and the need to contend against abhorrent practices like child sacrifice, but anthropocentrism was dramatically accentuated by Christianity’s identification of divinity with a human being. This has been the genius of Christianity in terms of making the divine feel accessible, but it may also have been its undoing in terms of its relationship with the natural world.3

Anthropocentrism is still very apparent in the church of today, being reinforced by the set services and readings of the church. Week by week the worshipper is presented with a human-focused conception of the world and its challenges. For example, it is hard to find a single meaningful reference to the natural world in the weekly Anglican liturgy apart from a perfunctory acknowledgement of God who made the world in the creed.

Lynn White further proposed that Christian teaching, arising from the first chapter of Genesis, had led to a widespread attitude in Western Society justifying human domination of the earth. He referred to the Genesis narrative which tells of the seven days of creation, climaxing in the creation of the human being as ‘the image of God’ and accompanied by the command:

‘Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon it’.

Subsequent commentators have tried to argue that these words were not meant in their domineering sense but as a more benign ‘stewardship’ over all things, but this is to miss the point. The assessment of White’s critique concerns how these words were received by people at the time, not how they should have been interpreted.4 It turns out that there is a strong case that these words were actually important in the rise of science and technology and all that has flowed from that in terms of our relationship to the earth. They contributed to a scientific mindset, which, even now, continues to be tainted with arrogance towards the earth.

Francis Bacon is acknowledged to be an influential, early scientific visionary and populariser of scientific method. He was one of the first to really grasp the importance of rigorous, wide ranging experiment working in a dynamic relationship with an appropriate theory. Useful theories would be those that interrogated observations and predicted further experiments. He saw the potential for his method to sweep away so many of the high level and useless theories, or ‘preposterous philosophies’ of his day.

Bacon lived in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, when England had been through its church reformation, when Puritanism was in the ascendancy and people were free to imagine new forms of society without some of the constraints of the past. This was also the age when the Bible was in the foreground of public policy. Dreams of the future were based on biblically justified visions and literal rather than metaphorical readings of the Bible were favoured. So it was that Francis Bacon dreamt of a future where, through his new method, human beings would ‘conquer’ nature. He talks about science having the ability to ‘to storm and occupy her (nature’s) castles and strongholds and extend the bounds of human empire as far as God Almighty in his goodness shall permit’.5 And his justification for this was a way of reading Genesis, whereby science was helping humankind recover from the frustrations of our existence after ‘the Fall’, restoring us to the original vision of Genesis Chapter One where human beings were magnificently powerful and ruled over all things.6 He described this as the ‘Masculine Birth of Time’ with ‘masculine’ denoting the rationality of this new world as opposed to the supposedly feminine world of feelings.

Bacon may have been a pioneer in scientific development but his imagery about the ideal human relationship to nature is strangely domineering and he justifies it through his interpretation of the Genesis narrative. His views were popular in his day and would be taken on by nascent scientific bodies like The Royal Society7 as well as colonisers like the New England Company, who wanted to ‘subdue’ and ‘civilise’ their new possessions as quickly as possible.

Since Bacon’s day the role of religion in supporting scientific endeavour has declined, yet it is arguable that that domineering attitude towards nature, established by Bacon, has been passed on to today’s much more secular society so that scientists, engineers and those modern colonisers, the free market fundamentalists, approach the world with an objectivity divorced from any proper fellow feeling that would arise from being participants in the natural order.

In the fifty years that have followed White’s paper, the church has had plenty of time to prove him wrong. Yet, tragically to my mind, it has failed to do so. We have seen church leaders like Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury issue strong calls about our responsibilities towards climate change, but the awful truth is these statements do not translate to the grass roots and a dull apathy prevails in most congregations towards environmental concerns.

It is worth noting that Lynn White defined the ecological problem in religious terms. This, in itself, is a contentious thing for many in a secular age. He said:

‘More science and technology are not going to get us out of the present ecological crisis until we find a new religion, or rethink our old one.’

As I understand it, White was not saying there was anything wrong with scientific method per se, but there was something deeply wrong with the attitude towards the natural world that frequently accompanies scientific interventions. Changing attitudes can be construed as a religious problem.

With this in mind I will close this essay with some proposals for the recognition of a new spirituality that can act as an antidote to the more poisonous elements of today’s world, like our consumerism, individualism, boredom, destruction of nature and loss of community life. It forges a set of values that allow us to stand against the tide of the free market and create better marks of progress. I call this inner disposition by the word “Rooted” and it is based on a three-fold longing for connection that I think many people may recognise within themselves.

Firstly, we long to connect again with the natural world. We are searching for ways of life that are in a better harmony with the earth. We believe a new harmony can be found and shape our lives around this search. Some people make substantial sacrifices in this pursuit, doing with little money, exploring radical forms of community living and new enterprise that may shift the dominant patterns of human society.

Secondly, the pursuit of rootedness has to do with the love of a place or places. Reconnecting with the natural world must be expressed in dedicated practice of some kind and this necessarily creates an attachment to particular places. We care about those places where we have lived and laboured. We also care about the great diversity of life in these places that we have observed and come to value and will work to safeguard this.

Thirdly, we value human community life as something precious, which needs to be actively nurtured in our attitudes and practice. We long to go about the world knowing that we belong, as members of a vibrant and inclusive community, recognising and welcoming the great diversity of humanity as part of the great diversity of the natural world.

So there it is, summarised in a longing to connect with nature, place and people. It is a spirituality for our age that can give shape to our life’s path, helping to form our sense of identity and create our friendships. It is not a religion, because it has no rules, no membership and no prescribed set of beliefs in the divine. It is also, for that reason, not a threat to religion and could be embraced by religious and secular people without discrimination. It could also become a movement, if people chose to make it so. It is the fourth dimension.

This is not a plea for any sort of return to a primitive existence, or a denial of science and technology, or even a denial of city living, which may be the most sustainable way of life for the large numbers of human beings currently on earth, but it is a recognition that we need to find ways of feeling and expressing this sense of being ‘rooted’ within the life of the modern city. So, we need to discover the natural world, even in this world of cars and tarmac and learn to cherish it with a sacred duty. We need to search for a deeper sense of human community and mutual responsibility for the natural world even within the diverse and creative dynamics of city life. In my home city of Bristol we have a burgeoning underclass of people who are self-consciously looking for a new way of life, who prize ‘community’ in a broad and inclusive sense and actively seek harmony with the natural world. These are the ‘rooted’ people. Their spirituality is shaped by their search for a different way of life.

They ‘believe’ another way is possible and are committed to try to live this out. Cities have very similar dynamics all across the world. If we can crack what it means to live as a sustainable city region, we may have the answer to the global problem. And its heart may be in changing our attitude to the world around us. If we were to place a rediscovery of rootedness at the heart of our modern agenda, we would find a multitude of creative ways of relating to nature and to each other that were deeply enriching to our humanity, while encouraging a way of life in harmony with the earth.

Chris Sunderland is one of the founding directors of the Bristol Pound, a local currency project that has attracted widespread attention and is currently developing a new food cooperative, called Real Economy, designed to get fresh food to people in the toughest circumstances.In earlier stages of his career, Chris was a research biochemist, working in an Oxford laboratory at the cutting edge of biotechnology, then a vicar in an inner-city tower-block estate.Chris is convinced that we are living through an age of deep change, when all of our cultural systems, including our politics, our economics and our religious institutions, are in decline and something new is emerging. At this moment the one thing that human beings must pay attention to is our relationship with the earth.The Bristol Pound and its sister project Real Economy are an attempt to give people a taste of a different type of economic system, that is led by values, full of relationships and a driver of change towards a sustainable culture. Chris blogs at the site http://withwingslikeeagles.org and can be found on Twitter @wwingsleagles. He is the author of several books, most recently Rise Up with Wings like Eagles to be published by Earth Books on Dec 9th 2016.


1Susan Greenfield Mind Change Penguin Random House 2014

2Ian McGilchrist The Master and his Emissary Yale University Press 2009

3Chris Sunderland Rise up with wings like eagles Chapter Eight Earth Books, forthcoming publication 2016

4Peter Harrison Subduing the Earth: Genesis 1, Early Modern Science, and the Exploitation of Nature Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Bond University 1999

5Mary Midgely Science and Poetry Routledge 2001 p56ff

6Harrison ibid

7Mary Midgely Science and Poetry Routledge 2001 p 62

Chris’ new book, Rise Up with Wings Like Eagles, will be published by Earth Books in December of 2016.

  Read The ‘Rooted’ People
 August 13, 2016
The Tragedy Of The Anticommons

by Michael Heller, Counter Solutions


This essay introduces the tragedy of the anticommons. What’s that? Let’s start with something familiar: a commons. When too many people share a single resource, we tend to overuse it – we may overfish the oceans and pollute the air. This wasteful overuse is a tragedy of the unmanaged commons. How do we solve such a tragedy?

Often, by creating private property. Private owners tend to avoid overuse because they benefit directly from conserving the resources they control. Unfortunately, privatization can overshoot. Sometimes we create too many separate owners of a single resource. Each one can block the others’ use. If cooperation fails, nobody can use the resource. Everybody loses in a hidden tragedy of the anti­commons. I say “hidden” because underuse is often hard to spot. For example, who can tell when dozens of patent owners are blocking a promising line of drug research? Innovators don’t advertise the lifesaving cures they abandon.

The anticommons is a paradox. While private ownership usually increases wealth, too much ownership has the opposite effect: it wrecks markets, stops innovation, and costs lives. We can reclaim the wealth lost in a tragedy of the anticommons. But it takes tools to end ownership gridlock. The following pages provide the basic analytic tools you need: a brief overview of the anticommons lexicon (Heller 2008; 2010).


Traditionally, ownership has been categorized into three basic types: private, commons, and state property (Heller 2001). Let’s unpack those categories:

We all have strong intuitions about private property, but the term is surprisingly hard to pin down. A good starting point comes from William Blackstone, the foundational eighteenth-century British legal theorist. His oft-quoted definition of private property is “that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe.” In this view, private property is about an individual decision maker who directs resource use.

Commons property refers to shared resources, resources for which there is no single decision maker. In turn, the commons can be divided into two distinct categories (Eggertsson 2002). The first is open access, a regime in which no one at all can be excluded, like on the high seas. Mistakenly, the legal and economics literatures long conflated the commons with open access, hence reinforcing the link between commons and tragedy. The second type of commons has many names, but for now let’s call it group access, a regime in which a limited number of commoners can exclude outsiders but not each other. If the ocean is open access, then a small pond surrounded by a handful of landowners may be group access. Group access is often overlooked even though it is the predominant form of commons ownership, and is often not tragic at all; it is the core concept that this volume celebrates.

State property resembles private property in that there is a single decision maker but differs in that resource use is directed through some process that is, in principle, responsive to the needs of the public as a whole. In recent years, state property has become less central as a theoretical category: intense state regulation of resources has dropped from favor and privatization has accelerated. Today, for many observers, the property trilogy can be reduced to an opposition of private and commons property, what one scholar calls simply “all and none” (Figure 1) (Barzel 1989).

Figure 1: The Standard solution to the commons tragedy

I believe a substantial cause of our cultural blindness to the costs of fragmented ownership arises from this too simple image of property. We assume, without reflection, that the solution to overuse in an open access commons is ordinary use in private ownership. This logic makes it difficult to imagine underuse dilemmas and impossible to see the uncharted world beyond private property.

Privatizing a commons may cure the tragedy of wasteful overuse, but it may inadvertently spark the opposite. English lacks a term to denote wasteful underuse. To describe this type of fragmentation, I coined the phrase tragedy of the anticommons (Heller 1998). The term covers any setting in which too many people can block each other from creating or using a valuable resource. Rightly understood, the opposite of overuse in a commons is underuse in an anticommons.

This concept makes visible the hidden half of our ownership spectrum, a world of social relations as complex and extensive as any we have previously known (Figure 2). Beyond normal private property lies anticommons ownership. As one commentator has noted, “To simplify a little, the tragedy of the commons tells us why things are likely to fall apart, and the tragedy of the anticommons helps explain why it is often so hard to get them back together” (Fennell 2004).

Often, we think that governments need only to create clear property rights and then get out of the way. So long as rights are clear, owners can trade in markets, move resources to higher valued uses, and generate wealth. But clear rights and ordinary markets are not enough. The anticommons perspective shows that the content of property rights matters as much as the clarity. Wasteful underuse can arise when ownership rights and regulatory controls are too fragmented.

Figure 2: The revealing the hidden half of the ownership spectrum

Making the tragedy of the anticommons visible upends our intuitions about private property, which can no longer be seen as the end point of ownership. Well-functioning property instead is a fragile balance poised between the extremes of overuse and underuse.


Solutions to commons property dilemmas give clues to solving anticommons tragedy. To start, consider the distinction between open access and group access. This distinction can do some work on the anticommons side of the spectrum as well. For open access, like the high seas, states must command resource use directly or create hybrid rights, such as fishing quotas. The anticommons parallel to open access is full exclusion in which an unlimited number of people may block each other. With full exclusion, states must expropriate fragmented rights or create hybrid property regimes so people can bundle their ownership. Otherwise, the resource will be wasted through underuse. There is, however, one important respect in which full exclusion differs from open access: an anticommons is often invisible. You have to spot the underused resource before you can respond to the dilemma.

Group access in a commons also has an anticommons parallel: group exclusion in which a limited number of owners can block each other. For both group access and group exclusion, the full array of market-based, cooperative, and regulatory solutions is available. Although self-regulation may be more complex for anticommons resources, close-knit fragment owners can sometimes organize to overcome anticommons tragedy (Depoorter and Vanneste 2007). For group exclusion resources, the regulatory focus should be support for markets to assemble ownership and removal of roadblocks to cooperation.

Group property on the commons or anticommons side of private ownership is exponentially more important than the rare extremes of open access or full exclusion. Much of the modern economy – corporations, partnerships, trusts, condominiums, even marriages – can be understood as legally structured group property forms for resolving access and exclusion dilemmas (Dagan and Heller 2001). We live or die depending on how we manage group ownership. Now, we can see the full spectrum of property, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: The full spectrum of property, revealed (Heller 1999)


After I proposed the possibility of anticommons tragedy, Nobel laureate James Buchanan and his colleague Yong Yoon undertook to create a formal economic model. They wrote that the anticommons concept helps explain “how and why potential economic value may disappear into the ‘black hole’ of resource underutilization” (Buchanan and Yoon 2000).” In recent years, economic modeling of the anticommons has become quite sophisticated.

To date, the most debated application of anticommons theory has been in the area of drug patents and innovation (Heller and Eisenberg 1998). Since my 1998 Science article with Rebecca Eisenberg, there has been a flurry of follow-on papers and reports, many concluding that patents should be harder to obtain, in part to avoid potential anticommons tragedy effects. A recent book on the patent crisis concludes that, “the structure of the biotechnology industry seems likely to run high anticommons risks,” particularly when companies are attempting to bring products to market (Burk and Lemley 2009).

It’s not just biomedical research that’s susceptible to anticommons tragedy. The framework has been applied across the high tech frontier, ranging from broadcast spectrum ownership to technology patents. Also, cutting edge art and music are about mashing up and remixing many separately owned bits of culture. Even with land, the most socially important projects require assembling multiple parcels. Innovation has moved on, but we’re stuck with old-style ownership that’s easy to fragment and hard to put together.

Anticommons theory is now well established, but empirical studies have yet to catch up. How hard is it to negotiate around ownership fragmentation? How much does ownership fragmentation slow down technological innovation? Does the effect vary by industry? It is difficult to measure discoveries that should have been made but weren’t, solutions that could exist but don’t. We are just starting to examine these conundrums. A recent study reported experimental findings that reject the presumed symmetry of commons and anticommons and find instead that anticommons dilemmas “seem to elicit more individualistic behavior than commons dilemmas” and are “more prone to underuse than commons dilemmas are to overuse.” The researchers conclude that “if commons leads to ‘tragedy,’ anticommons may well lead to ‘disaster’” (Vanneste et al 2006).


We have millennia of practice in spotting tragedies of overuse. When too many people fish, fisheries are depleted. When too many people pollute, we choke on dirty air. Then, we spring into action with market-based, cooperative, and legislative solutions. But underuse caused by multiple owners is unfamiliar. The affected resource is hard to spot. Our language is new. Even though a tragedy of the anticommons may be as costly to society as the more familiar forms of resource misuse, we have never noticed, debated, or learned how to fix underuse. As a first step, we need to name the phenomenon: the tragedy of the anticommons should join our lexicon.

This essay is adapted from Chapter 2 of The Gridlock Economy (2010). For further resources, see http://www.gridlockeconomy.com.


  • Barzel, Y. 1989. Economic Analysis of Property Rights. Cambridge University Press.
  • Buchanan, J. and Yoon, Y. 2000. “Symmetric Tragedies: Commons and Anticommons.” Journal of Law and Economics. 43: 1.
  • Burk, D. and M. Lemley. 2009. The Patent Crisis and How the Courts Can Solve It. University of Chicago Press.
  • Dagan, H. and M. Heller. 2001. “The Liberal Commons.” Yale Law Journal 110: 549.
  • Depoorter, B. and Vanneste, S. 2007. “Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together: Pricing in Anticommons Property Arrangements.” Journal of Law, Economics & Policy. 3:1.
  • Eggertsson, T. 2002. Open Access versus Common Property. In T. Anderson & F. McChesney, eds., Property Rights: Cooperation, Conflict, and Law. 74-85. Princeton University Press.
  • Fennell, L. 2004. “Common Interest Tragedies.” Northwestern Law Review, 98:907.
  • Heller, M. 1998. “The Tragedy of the Anticommons: Property in the Transition from Marx to Markets.” Harvard Law Review. 111:621.
  • —————. 1999. “The Boundaries of Private Property.” Yale Law Journal. 108:1163.
  • —————. 2001. “The Dynamic Analytics of Property Law.” Theoretical Inquiries in Law. 2:79.
  • —————. 2008. The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives. New York: Basic Books.
  • —————, editor. 2010. Commons and Anticommons. London: Elgar Publishing.
  • —————, and Eisenberg, R. 1998. “Can Patents Deter Innovation? The Anticommons in Biomedical Research.” Science. 280:698.
  • Vanneste, S. et al. 2006. “From ‘Tragedy’ to ‘Disaster’: Welfare Effects of Commons and Anticommons Dilemmas.” International Review of Law and Economics. 26:104.

  Read The Tragedy Of The Anticommons
  August 10, 2016
Feminism And The Politics Of The Commons

by Silvia Federici , Counter Solutions

Feminism And The Politics Of The Commons

At least since the Zapatistas took over the zócalo in San Cristobal de las Casas on December 31, 1993, to protest legislation dissolving the ejidal lands of Mexico, the concept of “the commons” has been gaining popularity.2 There are important reasons why this apparently archaic idea has come to the center of political discussion in contemporary social movements. Two in particular stand out. On one side is the demise of the statist model of revolution that for decades had sapped the efforts of radical movements to build an alternative to capitalism. On the other hand, the defense against “old and new enclosures” have made visible a world of communal properties and relations that many had believed to be extinct or had not valued until threatened with privatization.3 Ironically, these enclosures have demonstrated that not only has the commons not vanished, but also new forms of social cooperation are constantly being produced, including in areas of life where none previously existed like, for example, the Internet. The idea serves an ideological function as a unifying concept prefiguring the cooperative society that many are striving to create. Nevertheless, ambiguities as well as significant differences remain in the interpretations of this concept, which we need to clarify if we want the principle of the commons to translate into a coherent political project.4

What, for example, constitutes a common? We have land, water, air commons, digital commons; our acquired entitlements, e.g., social security pensions, are often described as commons, and so are languages, libraries, and the collective products of past cultures. But are all these commons equivalent from the viewpoint of their political potential? Are they all compatible? And how can we ensure that they do not project a unity that remains to be constructed? Finally, should we speak of “commons” in the plural, or “the common,” as Autonomist Marxists propose we do, this concept designating in their view the social relations characteristic of the dominant form of production in the post-Fordist era?

With these questions in mind, in this essay I look at the politics of the commons from a feminist perspective where “feminist” refers to a standpoint shaped by the struggle against sexual discrimination and over reproductive work, which, to paraphrase Linebaugh’s comment above, is the rock upon which society is built and by which every model of social organization must be tested. This intervention is necessary, in my view, to better define this politics and clarify the conditions under which the principle of the common/s can become the foundation of an anti-capitalist program. Two concerns make these tasks especially important.

First, since at least the early 1990s, the language of the commons has been appropriated for instance by the World Bank and put at the service of privatization. Under the guise of protecting biodiversity and conserving the global commons, the Bank has turned rainforests into ecological reserves, has expelled the populations that for centuries had drawn their sustenance from them, while ensuring access to those who can pay, for instance, through eco-tourism.5 The World Bank is not alone in its adaptation of the idea of the commons to market interests. Responding to different motivations, a revalorization of the commons has become trendy among mainstream economists and capitalist planners; witness the growing academic literature on the subject and its cognates: social capital, gift economies, altruism.

The extension of the commodity form to every corner of the social factory, which neo-liberalism has promoted, is an ideal limit for capitalist ideologues, but it is a project not only unrealizable but undesirable from the viewpoint of long-term reproduction of the capitalist system. Capitalist accumulation is structurally dependent on the free appropriation of immense quantities of labor and resources that must appear as externalities to the market, like the unpaid domestic work that women have provided, upon which employers have relied for the reproduction of the workforce. It is no accident, then, that long before the Wall Street meltdown, a variety of economists and social theorists warned that the marketization of all spheres of life is detrimental to the market’s well-functioning, for markets too, the argument goes, depend on the existence of non-monetary relations like confidence, trust, and gift giving.6 In brief, capital is learning about the virtues of the common good.

We must be very careful, then, not to craft the discourse on the commons in such a way as to allow a crisis-ridden capitalist class to revive itself, posturing, for instance, as the environmental guardian of the planet.

A second concern is the unanswered question of how commons can become the foundation of a non-capitalist economy. From Peter Linebaugh’s work, espe­cially The Magna Carta Manifesto(2008), we have learned that commons have been the thread that has connected the history of the class struggle into our time, and indeed the fight for the commons is all around us. Mainers are fighting to preserve access to their fisheries, under attack by corporate fleets; residents of Appalachia are organizing to save their mountains threatened by strip mining; open source and free software movements are opposing the commodification of knowledge and opening new spaces for communications and cooperation. We also have the many invisible, commoning activities and communities that people are creating in North America, which Chris Carlsson has described in his Nowtopia (2007). As Carlsson shows, much creativity is invested in the production of “virtual commons” and forms of sociality that thrive under the radar of the money/market economy.

Most important has been the creation of urban gardens, which have spread across the country, thanks mostly to the initiatives of immigrant communities from Africa, the Caribbean or the South of the United States. Their significance cannot be overestimated. Urban gardens have opened the way to a “rurbanization” process that is indispensable if we are to regain control over our food production, regenerate our environment and provide for our subsistence. The gardens are far more than a source of food security. They are centers of sociality, knowledge production, and cultural and intergenerational exchange.7 [….]

The most significant feature of urban gardens is that they produce for neighborhood consumption, rather than for commercial purposes. This distinguishes them from other reproductive commons that either produce for the market, like the fisheries of Maine’s “Lobster Coast,”8 or are bought on the market, like the land trusts that preserve open spaces. The problem, however, is that urban gardens have remained a spontaneous grassroots initiative and there have been few attempts by movements in the US to expand their presence and to make access to land a key terrain of struggle….


More generally, the left has not posed the question of how to bring together the many proliferating commons that are being defended, developed and fought for so that they can form a cohesive whole and provide a foundation for a new mode of production. It is in this context that a feminist perspective on the commons is important because it begins with the realization that, as the primary subjects of reproductive work, historically and in our time, women have depended on access to communal natural resources more than men and have been most penalized by their privatization and most committed to their defense.

As I wrote in Caliban and the Witch (2004), in the first phase of capitalist development, women were at the forefront of the struggle against land enclosures both in England and in the “New World” and they were the staunchest defenders of the communal cultures that European colonization attempted to destroy. In Peru, when the Spanish conquistadores took control of their villages, women fled to the high mountains where they recreated forms of collective life that have survived to this day. Not surprisingly, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw the most violent attack on women in the history of the world: the persecution of women as witches. Today, in the face of a new process of Primitive Accumulation, women are the main social force standing in the way of a complete commercialization of nature, supporting a non-capitalist use of land and a subsistence-oriented agriculture. Women are the subsistence farmers of the world. In Africa, they produce 80 percent of the food people consume, despite the attempts made by the World Bank and other agencies to convince them to divert their activities to cash-cropping. In the 1990s, in many African towns, in the face of rising food prices, they have appropriated plots in public lands and planted corn, beans, cassava along roadsides… in parks, along rail-lines, changing the urban landscape of African cities and breaking down the separation between town and country in the process.9 In India, the Philippines, and across Latin America, women have replanted trees in degraded forests, joined hands to chase away loggers, made blockades against mining operations and the construction of dams, and led the revolt against the privatization of water. 10

The other side of women’s struggle for direct access to means of reproduction has been the formation across the Third World, from Cambodia to Senegal, of credit associations that function as money commons (Podlashuc 2009). Differently named, the tontines (as they are called in parts of Africa) are autonomous, self-managed, women-made banking systems that provide cash to individuals or groups that have no access to banks, working purely on a basis of trust. In this, they are completely different from the microcredit systems promoted by the World Bank, which function on a basis of mutual policing and shame, reaching the extreme, e.g., in Niger, of posting in public places pictures of the women who fail to repay the loans, so that some women have been driven to suicide.11

Women have also led the effort to collectivize reproductive labor both as a means to economize the cost of reproduction and to protect each other from poverty, state violence, and the violence of individual men. An outstanding example is that of the ollas communes (common cooking pots) that women in Chile and Peru set up in the 1980s when, due to stiff inflation, they could no longer afford to shop alone (Fisher 1993; Andreas 1985). Like land reclamations, or the formation of tontines, these practices are the expression of a world where communal bonds are still strong. But it would be a mistake to consider them something pre-political, “natural,” or simply a product of “tradition.” After repeated phases of colonization, nature and customs no longer exist in any part of the world, except where people have struggled to preserve them and reinvent them. As Leo Podlashuc has noted, grassroots women’s communalism today leads to the production of a new reality, it shapes a collective identity, it constitutes a counter-power in the home and the community, and opens a process of self-valorization and self-determination from which there is much that we can learn.

The first lesson we can gain from these struggles is that the “commoning” of the material means of reproduction is the primary mechanism by which a collective interest and mutual bonds are created. It is also the first line of resistance to a life of enslavement and the condition for the construction of autonomous spaces undermining from within the hold that capitalism has on our lives. Undoubtedly the experiences I described are models that cannot be transplanted. For us, in North America, the reclamation and commoning of the means of reproduction must necessarily take different forms. But here too, by pooling our resources and re-appropriating the wealth that we have produced, we can begin to de-link our reproduction from the commodity flows that, through the world market, are responsible for the dispossession of millions across the world. We can begin to disentangle our livelihood not only from the world market but also from the war machine and prison system on which the US economy now depends. Not last we can move beyond the abstract solidarity that so often characterizes relations in the movement, which limits our commitment, our capacity to endure, and the risks we are willing to take.

In a country where private property is defended by the largest arsenal of weaponry in the world, and where three centuries of slavery have produced profound divisions in the social body, the recreation of the common/s appears as a formidable task that could only be accomplished through a long-term process of experimentation, coalition building and reparations. But though this task may now seem more difficult than passing through the eye of a needle, it is also the only possibility we have for widening the space of our autonomy, and refusing to accept that our reproduction occurs at the expense of the world’s other commoners and commons.


What this task entails is powerfully expressed by Maria Mies when she points out that the production of commons requires first a profound transformation in our everyday life, in order to recombine what the social division of labor in capitalism has separated. For the distancing of production from reproduction and consumption leads us to ignore the conditions under which what we eat, wear, or work with have been produced, their social and environmental cost, and the fate of the population on whom the waste we produce is unloaded (Mies 1999). In other words, we need to overcome the state of irresponsibility concerning the consequences of our actions that results from the destructive ways in which the social division of labor is organized in capitalism; short of that, the production of our life inevitably becomes a production of death for others. As Mies points out, globalization has worsened this crisis, widening the distances between what is produced and what is consumed, thereby intensifying, despite the appearance of an increased global interconnectedness, our blindness to the blood in the food we eat, the petroleum we use, the clothes we wear, and the computers we communicate with.

Overcoming this state of oblivion is where a feminist perspective teaches us to start in our reconstruction of the commons. No common is possible unless we refuse to base our life and our reproduction on the suffering of others, unless we refuse to see ourselves as separate from them. Indeed, if commoning has any meaning, it must be the production of ourselves as a common subject. This is how we must understand the slogan “no commons without community.” But “community” has to be intended not as a gated reality, a grouping of people joined by exclusive interests separating them from others, as with communities formed on the basis of religion or ethnicity, but rather as a quality of relations, a principle of cooperation and of responsibility to each other and to the earth, the forests, the seas, the animals.

Certainly, the achievement of such community, like the collectivization of our everyday work of reproduction, can only be a beginning. It is no substitute for broader antiprivatization campaigns and the reclamation of our common wealth. But it is an essential part of our education to collective government and our recognition of history as a collective project, which is perhaps the main casualty of the neoliberal era of capitalism.

On this account, we too must include in our political agenda the commu­nalization of housework, reviving that rich feminist tradition that in the US stretches from the utopian socialist experiments of the mid-nineteenth century to the attempts that “materialist feminists” made from the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century to reorganize and socialize domestic work and thereby the home and the neighborhood, through collective housekeeping – attempts that continued until the 1920s when the Red Scare put an end to them (Hayden 1981 and 1986). These practices and, most importantly, the ability of past feminists to look at reproductive labor as an important sphere of human activity not to be negated but to be revolutionized, must be revisited and revalorized.

One crucial reason for creating collective forms of living is that the reproduction of human beings is the most labor-intensive work on earth and, to a very large extent, it is work that is irreducible to mechanization. We cannot mechanize childcare, care for the ill, or the psychological work necessary to reintegrate our physical and emotional balance. Despite the efforts that futuristic industrialists are making, we cannot robotize care except at a terrible cost for the people involved. No one will accept nursebots as caregivers, especially for children and the ill. Shared responsibility and cooperative work, not given at the cost of the health of the providers, are the only guarantees of proper care. For centuries, the reproduction of human beings has been a collective process. It has been the work of extended families and communities on which people could rely, especially in proletarian neighborhoods, even when they lived alone so that old age was not accompanied by the desolate loneliness and dependence on which so many of our elderly live. It is only with the advent of capitalism that reproduction has been completely privatized, a process that is now carried to a degree that it destroys our lives. This trend must be reversed, and the present time is propitious for such a project.

As the capitalist crisis destroys the basic elements of reproduction for millions of people across the world, including in the United States, the reconstruction of our everyday life is a possibility and a necessity. Like strikes, social/economic crises break the discipline of wage work, forcing new forms of sociality upon us. This is what occurred during the Great Depression, which produced a movement of hobos who turned the freight trains into their commons, seeking freedom in mobility and nomadism (Caffentzis 2006). At the intersections of railroad lines, they organized hobo jungles, pre-figurations, with their self-governance rules and solidarity, of the communist world in which many of the hobos believed (Anderson 1998, Depastino 2003 and Caffentzis 2006). However, but for a few Boxcar Berthas,12 this was predominantly a masculine world, a fraternity of men, and in the long term it could not be sustained. Once the economic crisis and the war came to an end, the hobos were domesticated by the two great engines of labor power fixation: the family and the house. Mindful of the threat of working class recomposition during the Depression, American capital excelled in its application of the principle that has characterized the organization of economic life: cooperation at the point of production, separation and atomization at the point of reproduction. The atomized, serialized family house that Levittown provided, compounded by its umbilical appendix, the car, not only sedentarized the worker but put an end to the type of autonomous workers’ commons that hobo jungles had represented (Hayden 1986). Today, as millions of Americans’ houses and cars are being repossessed, as foreclosures, evictions, and massive loss of employment are again breaking down the pillars of the capitalist discipline of work, new common grounds are again taking shape, like the tent cities that are sprawling from coast to coast. This time, however, it is women who must build the new commons so that they do not remain transient spaces, temporary autonomous zones, but become the foundation of new forms of social reproduction.

If the house is the oikos on which the economy is built, then it is women, historically the house workers and house prisoners, who must take the initiative to reclaim the house as a center of collective life, one traversed by multiple people and forms of cooperation, providing safety without isolation and fixation, allowing for the sharing and circulation of community possessions, and, above all, providing the foundation for collective forms of reproduction. As has already been suggested, we can draw inspiration for this project from the programs of the nineteenth century materialist feminists who, convinced that the home was an important “spatial component of the oppression of women,” organized communal kitchens, cooperative households calling for workers’ control of reproduction (Hayden 1981).

These objectives are crucial at present. Breaking down the isolation of life in the home is not only a precondition for meeting our most basic needs and increasing our power with regard to employers and the state. As Massimo De Angelis has reminded us, it is also a protection from ecological disaster. For there can be no doubt about the destructive consequences of the “un-economic” multiplication of reproductive assets and self-enclosed dwellings that we now call our homes, dissipating warmth into the atmosphere during the winter, exposing us to unmitigated heat in the summer (De Angelis 2007). Most importantly, we cannot build an alternative society and a strong self-reproducing movement unless we redefine our reproduction in a more cooperative way and put an end to the separation between the personal and the political, and between political activism and the reproduction of everyday life.

It remains to be clarified that assigning women this task of commoning/collectivizing reproduction is not to concede to a naturalistic conception of femininity. Understandably, many feminists view this possibility as a fate worse than death. It is deeply sculpted in our collective consciousness that women have been designated as men’s common, a natural source of wealth and services to be as freely appropriated by them as the capitalists have appropriated the wealth of nature. But to paraphrase Dolores Hayden, the reorganization of reproductive work, and therefore the reorganization of housing and public space, is not a question of identity; it is a question of labor and, we can add, a question of power and safety (Hayden 1986). I am reminded here of the experience of the women members of the Landless People’s Movement of Brazil [the MST] who, after their communities won the right to maintain the land that they had occupied, insisted that the new houses be built to form one compound so that they could continue to communalize their housework, wash together, cook together, as they had done in the course of the struggle, and be ready to run to give each other support when abused by men. Arguing that women should take the lead in the collectivization of reproductive work and housing is not to naturalize housework as a female vocation. It is refusing to obliterate the collective experiences, the knowledge and the struggles that women have accumulated concerning reproductive work, whose history has been an essential part of our resistance to capitalism. Reconnecting with this history is a crucial step for women and men today both to undo the gendered architecture of our lives and to reconstruct our homes and lives as commons.

Silvia Federici is a long time activist, teacher and writer. She is the author of many essays on political philosophy, feminist theory, cultural studies, and education.


  • Andreas, Carol. 1985. When Women Rebel: The Rise of Popular Feminism in Peru. Westport, CT. Lawrence Hill & Company.
  • Anderson, Nels. 1998. On Hobos and Homelessness. Chicago, IL. University of Chicago Press.
  • Carlsson, Chris. 2008. Nowtopia. Oakland, CA. AK Press.
  • Caffentzis, George. 2004. “Globalization, The Crisis of Neoliberalism and the Question of the Commons.” Paper presented to the First Conference of the Global Justice Center. San Migel d’Allende, Mexico, July 2004.
  • —————. “Three Temporal Dimensions of Class Struggle.” Paper presented at ISA Annual meeting held in San Diego, CA (March 2006).
  • De Angelis, Massimo. 2007. The Beginning of History: Value Struggles and Global Capital. London, UK. Pluto Press.
  • —————. “The Commons and Social Justice.” Unpublished manuscript, 2009.
  • DePastino, Todd. 2003. Citizen Hobo. Chicago, IL. University of Chicago Press.
  • The Ecologist. 1993. Whose Commons, Whose Future: Reclaiming the Commons. Philadelphia, PA. New Society Publishers with Earthscan.
  • Federici, Silvia. 2011, “Women, Land Struggles, and the Reconstruction of the Commons.” WorkingUSA. The Journal of Labor and Society (WUSA), 14(61) (March 2011), Wiley/Blackwell Publications. Published in Spanish as “Mujeres, luchas por la tierra, y la reconstrucción de los bienes comunales,” In Veredas, No. 21, 2010. Issue dedicated to Social Movements in the 21st century. Veredas is the Journal of the Department of Social Relations of the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana of Mexico City in Xochimilco.
  • —————. 2008. “Witch-Hunting, Globalization and Feminist Solidarity in Africa Today.” Journal of International Women’s Studies, Special Issue: Women’s Gender Activism in Africa. Joint Special Issue with WAGADU. 10(1) (October 2008): 29-35.
  • —————. 2004. Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body, and Primitive Accumulation. Brooklyn, NY. Autonomedia.
  • —————. 2004. “Women, Land Struggles and Globalization: An International Perspective.” Journal of Asian and African Studies. 39(1/2) (January-March 2004).
  • —————. 2001. “Women, Globalization, and the International Women’s Movement.”Canadian Journal of Development Studies. 22:1025-1036.
  • Fisher, Jo. 1993. Out of the Shadows: Women, Resistance and Politics in South America.London, UK. Latin American Bureau.
  • Hayden, Dolores. 1981. The Grand Domestic Revolution. Cambridge, MA. MIT Press.
  • —————. 1986. Redesigning the American Dream: The Future of Housing, Work and Family Life. New York, NY. Norton.
  • Isla, Ana. “Enclosure and Microenterprise as Sustainable Development: The Case of the Canada-Costa Rico Debt-for-Nature Investment.” Canadian Journal of Development Studies. 22 (2001): 935-943.
  • —————. 2006. “Conservation as Enclosure: Sustainable Development and Biopiracy in Costa Rica: An Ecofeminist Perspective.” Unpublished manuscript.
  • —————. 2009. “Who pays for the Kyoto Protocol?” in Eco-Sufficiency and Global Justice, Ariel Salleh, ed. New York, London. Macmillan Palgrave.
  • Mies, Maria and Bennholdt-Thomsen, Veronika. 1999. “Defending, Reclaiming, and Reinventing the Commons,” In The Subsistence Perspective: Beyond the Globalized Economy. London: Zed Books, Reprinted in Canadian Journal of Development Studies, 22 (2001): 997-1024.
  • Podlashuc, Leo. 2009. “Saving Women: Saving the Commons.” In Eco-Sufficiency and Global Justice, ed. Ariel Salleh. New York, London: Macmillan Palgrave.
  • Shiva, Vandana. 1989. Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development. London. Zed Books.
  • —————. 1991. Ecology and The Politics of Survival: Conflicts Over Natural Resources in India. New Delhi/London. Sage Publications.
  • —————. 2005. Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace. Cambridge, MA. South End Press.

This chapter is adapted from an essay originally published in The Commoner, January 4, 2011, available at http://www.commoner.org.uk/?p=113. It has also been published in Uses of a Worldwind: Movement, Movements, and Contemporary Radical Currents in the United States, edited by Craig Hughes, Stevie Peace and Kevin Van Meter for the Team Colors Collective (Oakland: AK Press, 2010).

  • 1.Linebaugh, Peter. 2008. The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberty and Commons for All. Berkeley, CA. University of California Press.
  • 2.A key source on the politics of the commons and its theoretical foundations is the UK-based electronic journal The Commoner, now entering its fourteenth year of publication (www. commoner. org.uk). See also the essay by Gustavo Esteva in this book.
  • 3.A case in point is the struggle that is taking place in many communities in Maine against Nestlé’s appropriation of Maine’s waters to bottle Poland Spring. Nestlé’s theft has made people aware of the vital importance of these waters and the supporting aquifers and has truly reconstituted them as a common (Food and Water Watch Fact Sheet, July 2009). Food and Water Watch is a self-described “non-profit organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food in the United States and around the world.”
  • 4.An excellent site for current debates on the commons is the recently published issue of the UK based movement journal Turbulence. Ideas For Movement (see December 5, 2009 issue), available at http://turbulence.org.uk
  • 5.For more on this subject, see the important article, “Who Pays for the Kyoto Protocol?” by Ana Isla, in which the author describes how the conservation of biodiversity has provided the World Bank and other international agencies with the pretext to enclose rainforests on the ground that they represent “carbon sinks” and “oxygen generators.” In Salleh. 2009.
  • 6.Bollier, David. 2002. Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth. New York and London: Routledge. 36–39.
  • 7.An early, important work on urban gardens is Bill Weinberg and Peter Lamborn Wilson, eds. 1999. Avant Gardening: Ecological Struggle in the City & the World. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia. See also the essay by Christa Müller in this book.
  • 8.The fishing commons of Maine are presently threatened with a new privatization policy justified in the name of preservation and ironically labeled “catch shares.” This is a system, already applied in Canada and Alaska, whereby local governments set limits on the amount of fish that can be caught by allocating individual shares on the basis of the amount of fishing that boats have done in the past. This system has proven to be disastrous for small, independent fishermen who are soon forced to sell their share to the highest bidders. Protest against its implementation is now mounting in the fishing communities of Maine. See “Cash Shares or Share-Croppers?” Fishermen’s Voice, Vol. 14, No.12, December 2009.
  • 9.Donald B. Freeman, “Survival Strategy or Business Training Ground? The Significance of Urban Agriculture For the Advancement of Women in African Cities.” African Studies Review, 36(3) (December 1993): 1-22. Also, Federici 2008.
  • 10. Shiva 1989, 1991:102–117, 274.
  • 11.I owe this information to Ousseina Alidou, Director of the Center for African Studies at Rutgers University (NJ).
  • 12.Boxcar Bertha (1972) is Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Ben Reitman’s Sister of the Road, “the fictionalized autobiography of radical and transient Bertha Thompson.” (Wikipedia) See Reitman, Ben. 2002. Dr. Sister of the Road: The Autobiography of Boxcar Bertha. Oakland, CA. AK Press.

First published by Wealthofthecommons.org

  Read Feminism And The Politics Of The Commons
 August 11, 2016
Rethinking The Social Welfare State In Light Of The Commons

by Brigitte Kratzwald, Counter Solutions

When we talk about commons in Europe, the question usually arises whether public services are also to be considered commons. In order to answer this question, we must examine our understanding of the (social welfare) state on the one hand and the concept of the “public” on the other.


The social welfare state typical of western Europe from the end of World War II to the 1980s had three functions: redistributing wealth by means of taxation; ensuring protection from individual risks through insurance or transfer payments; and providing goods and services that were to be available to all for free or at affordable prices.2 In this way, the state met a number of important economic and social needs while also gaining a high degree of control over people’s lives, which often gave rise to the criticism “nanny state.”

As the neoliberal economic model prevailed around the world, the role and functions of the state were redefined. Now the most important task of the state is to ensure competitiveness in the global economy. By default, the provision of goods and services occurs according to market criteria, or this responsibility is delegated entirely to private companies with the expectation that they will improve efficiency and customer responsiveness. This has been an unfulfilled promise, however. Indispensable goods and services have become more expensive, are often no longer available everywhere, and their quality has diminished. It has become clear that the state is not a neutral actor that truly represents the interests of the general public, but rather it reflects societal power relations.

Worse, social movements that support public services have been forced to defend the continued provision of such state services, as seen in such efforts as the Stop GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) campaign, the campaign against the EU Services Directive, and various initiatives against the privatization of water supply, public transportation, hospitals and nursing facilities. The only credible goal is to ensure sufficient funding, not any expansion of services. Because of public austerity programs, however, these campaigns have rarely been successful. If we now consider anew what the idea of the commons could contribute to the question of public service, we must arrive at a new definition of the concept of “public.”


In the economic definition of goods, public goods are generally characterized as non-rival and non-exclusive – that is, one person’s usage does not “use it up” or preclude another from using it. But since the terms of exclusivity are societally negotiable, the definition of what is “public” – i.e., what should be provided by “the state” – is decided at the political level, even more than in the case of commons.3 Even Adam Smith had stated that the state must provide certain things that the market does not provide yet which are in the public interest. He mentioned raising and educating young people, for example (Smith). In the social welfare state, political decisions have assigned many responsibilities to the state, from energy, water supplies, public transportation, housing and public media to health care and education. The state’s role was to make sure that these things were available to all. So if nowadays more and more of these areas are assigned to the market, then these, too, are political decisions. Because of this dualism of the market and the state, people have come to perceive that “public” means that something is owned or provided by the state, which is seen as a service institution to meet the needs of its citizens.


Historically speaking, however, the state and the public have been understood in different ways. To Aristotle, for example, man was a zoon politikon, a social being by nature who is destined to organize a society and to act within it. The ideal of the citizen was derived from this concept and citizens were defined by their “participation in judging (krísis) and governing (arché).” Both took place in the public assembly of all citizens who had to fulfill their rights and duties there (Schmidt 2007).4 This active involvement by the citizens constituted the state and did not take place outside of governmental structures (ibid.: 13).

In historical England, access to the commons, the communally used land, not only secured the livelihoods but also the independence of those who did not possess land of their own. It gave people the opportunity to take advantage of their political rights. Since the commons was the public place for those who did not own property, enclosures of the commons amounted to a disempowerment of the commoners. Enclosures eliminated the places where commoners convened to defend their rights, and where they planned uprisings and revolutions.5 As late as 1795, a knaves’ insurrection in Hüttenberg, Carinthia, began at an assembly on the Tratte, the commons.6 In some Swiss cantons, the Landsgemeinde exists to this day. “The citizens of a canton who have the right to vote meet on a certain day in the open air to settle legislative matters.”7

Issues of public interest were not handled by the institutional state in all these cases, but by all people who participated in shaping a community. Such a concept of the public points to people’s ability to appropriate what they need and self-authorize their actions, defining the public sphere as the locus of commoning. Current discussions about public space also point in this direction (Kruse/Steglich 2006). Thus, we can also pose the question about public services from the perspective of the commons, whereby state institutions can also carry out various functions.


The concept “private” requires closer inspection too. It has a dual meaning that becomes clearer when we look at privatization in the fields of social services, health and education. On the one hand, privatization refers to the provision of marketable services by profit-oriented “private” enterprises, in other words, by the market. On the other hand, privatization also refers to relegating services that are not marketable to the private sphere, i.e., families and especially women. So there are in fact two dualisms of public and private – the state and the market, and the state/market apparatus and the private sphere, in the sense of family or volunteering. In this sense, the public sphere can be construed as an area “beyond the state and the family,” a place of great importance for a society’s social reproduction. The public sphere can be seen as the place where the community provides services for its members, or users themselves provide the services, as seen, for example, in many civic associations, volunteer fire departments, and in schools and kindergartens run by dedicated parents. Because so much attention is lavished on the patriarchal social welfare state, this realm of life, analogous to the commons, is often overlooked. Its significance has hardly been perceived at all because we have directed our demands and desires to the state, and looked to it to secure our prosperity. As the safety net provided by the social welfare state deteriorates, however, this area is becoming even more important. Yet at the same time, it is under threat because people have less and less time for it.8

In other words, rethinking the social welfare state from the perspective of the commons means stepping out of the private sphere and reclaiming the state and the public sphere. In this context, “state” includes all levels of government, including the federal states and the municipalities. This means that commoners need to consider themselves part of the public sphere again, the sphere of politics.9


In many cases, governments have proven to be poor trustees of the things entrusted to them. Discontent about how they are doing their job is on the rise. People are standing up and taking responsibility with the words, “This is ours, and we want to make the decisions about it.” Only through this process are these things becoming truly public goods and services. In this way, people are reclaiming control over the direct circumstances of their lives. We have been witnessing such processes of reclaiming in great numbers in recent years, going far beyond the demand for sufficient funding of public institutions and services. Some examples include the Berliner Wassertisch, a network of individuals trying to reclaim water management in Berlin,10 the Energiewende Hamburg, a coalition engaged in energy policy,11 and the Austrian railroad passengers’ initiative, Pro Bahn.12

Since self-determination is easiest to implement at the local level, it is municipalities above all that can benefit from the idea of the commons.13 One way of doing this is through municipal cooperatives as an alternative to public-private partnerships. Numerous cooperatives of this kind are currently emerging in the field of renewable energy. The funds for financing public institutions come from the citizens themselves, who in return have opportunities to participate and make decisions. While this makes sense in some contexts, it is not a universal solution; after all, the point is also to provide sufficient funding for public services, not simply to replace them with voluntary contributions on the part of the public.

In her book Reclaim the State (Wainwright 2009), Hilary Wainwright describes how people can succeed in taking responsibility for public funds. For example, the people in an affected neighborhood can rally to win authority and direct benefits from state funding rather than delegating such authority and money to, say, real-estate developers commissioned with developing a neighborhood. Wainwright demonstrates that citizens and local politicians can join forces and successfully bring pressure to bear on businesses as well as on politics at the state and federal level.

What such initiatives share with commons is that the users themselves actively take control; rules are devised in a bottom-up procedure, and people demand control over their lives and are prepared to take responsibility for them. In addition, the citizens active in such arrangements can delegate various tasks to the state or the municipality. But in turn, the state and the municipality are held accountable to them, and there must be decision-making procedures that include the users and the people employed. For example, governmental institutions can be assigned to serve as trustees by managing various things according to decisions made by the citizens, but those institutions are denied the right to dispose of resources or sell them at will. In case of conflict, the state can offer mediation and must provide space and funding to carry out such decision-making procedures. The city government of Porto Alegre did so in exemplary fashion for the participatory budget process (Wainwright 2009). Another example is the process for public procurement in Mexico City, one of the world’s megametropolises. Government institutions should also be used to support those societal groups for whom it is difficult, for various reasons, to participate in decision-making processes.

How services are provided – by the state, controlled by those affected; by citizens, through various forms of government support and financing; or in self-organized social networks – must be decided anew in every individual case. The prerequisite is that this space for political empowerment is not enclosed by means of privatization.

As in the case of commons, creating and maintaining such public services takes substantial time and cannot be had for free. We must speak out when the idea of the commons is used to justify cutting public expenditures, especially for social services and health, as is the case in England, where Prime Minister David Cameron talks about “Big Society.”14 After all, the legal right to certain basic human services must remain untouched. Such an understanding of the role of the public opposes both kinds of privatization, that is, it is also against pushing tasks such as education and care back into the realm of the family and thus into that of women. After all, neither the state nor the family alone can ensure that the needs of children, youths, the elderly and disabled people are met and that they can develop their potential and contribute their skills. Such integration is a task for all of society, as reflected in the famous African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.”15

Brigitte Kratzwald (Austria) is a social scientist and commons activist. She hosts the websitehttp://www.commons.at and blogs athttp://kratzwald.wordpress.com.


  • Esping-Andersen, Gösta. 1990. The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Cambridge. Polity Press.
  • Hirsch, Joachim. 2002. Herrschaft, Hegemonie und politische Alternativen. VSA Verlag, Hamburg.
  • Kaul, Inge, Pedro Conceição, Kattel Le Goulve, and Ronald Mendoza. 2003. Providing Global Public Goods: Managing Globalization. Oxford and New York, NY. UNDP.
  • Kruse, Sylvia; Steglich, Anja. 2006. Temporäre Nutzungen – Stadtgestalt zwischen Selbstorganisation und Steuerung. In: Möller, Carola; Peters, Ulla; Vellay, Irina: Dissidente Praktiken. Erfahrungen mit herrschafts-und warenkritischer Selbstorganisation. Ulrike Helmer Verlag, Königstein/Taunus.
  • Schmidt, Jürgen. 2007. Zivilgesellschaft. Bürgerschaftliches Engagement von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek bei Hamburg.
  • Smith, Adam (undated edition; original, 1776). Reichtum der Nationen. Voltmedia GmbH, Paderborn.
  • Wainwright, Hilary. 2009. Reclaim the State. Experiments in Popular Democracy. London. Seagull Books.

  Read Rethinking The Social Welfare State In Light Of The Commons
 July 22, 2016

by Françoise Marie BERNARD, France


J’aime la paix et pour quoi ?
J’écris pour la paix et pour quoi ?
Des odeurs de serpent se promènent dans l’air
Comme un venin envahissant mon être…
J’aime la vie et la liberté,
Et je veux les chanter à haute voix !
J’aime le bonheur et la joie,
Je veux en profiter comme il me sied !
La vie a un gout sucré et palpitant
Et nous les Humains nous avons le droit
De jouir de ses plaisirs dans le firmament
De notre propre culture, notre esprit, notre foi…
Il n’est pas interdit d’aimer,
Il n’est pas interdit de rire,
Il n’est pas interdit de danser
Quand on veut vivre…
On oublie que nous sommes tous Les mêmes êtres humains.
Il faut regarder à l’intérieur, en nous,
Profondément méditer sur nos destins…
Les richesses du cœur sonnent dans le monde
Chacun avec sa façon de crier.
Chacun sait se grandir pour voir la ligne des ondes,
Ce ciel où la vie l’appelle pour pleurer.
J’ai mal à mon âme bleue,
Mes pleurs inondent mon regard
Lorsque je pense à tous ceux
Qui ne pleureront plus dans le brouillard…
Toi doit le cœur est givré, en errance,
Regarde-moi dans les yeux, moi le même être que toi,
Regarde-moi et dis-moi où est la différence,
N’y a-t-il plus d’amour au fond de toi ?
Imagine, imagine que dans ton esprit
Il y avait le sourire avant ce diable sourd,
Il y avait l’amour avant la haine et le mépris.
Penses-y, penses-y maintenant et toujours.


I love peace and for what?
I write for peace and for what?
snake smells are walking in the air
As pervasive poison my being ...
I love life and freedom,
And I want to sing out loud!
I like the happiness and joy,
I want to enjoy myself as befits!
Life has a sweet taste and thrilling
And we the humans we have the right
To enjoy its pleasures in the firmament
In our own culture, our spirit, our faith ...
It is not forbidden to love,
It is not forbidden to laugh,
It is not forbidden to dance
When we want to live ...
We forget that we are all
The same human beings.
We must look within, in us,
Deeply ponder our fates ...
The riches of the heart sound in the world
Each with his way of crying.
Everyone knows how to grow up to see the line of the waves,
This sky where life calls for crying.
I hurt my blue soul
My tears flooded my eyes
When I think of all those
Who no longer cry in the fog ...
You whose heart is frosted, wandering,
Look into my eyes, I be the same as you,
Look at me and tell me where is the difference,
Is there more love inside you?
Imagine, imagine in your mind
There was a smile before the deaf devil,
There was love before hatred and contempt.
Think about it, think about it now and always.

Eu amo a paz e para quê?

Eu amo a paz e para quê?
Eu escrevo para a paz e para quê?
cheiros de serpentes estão andando no ar
Como veneno difundida meu ser ...
Eu amo a vida e liberdade,
E eu quero cantar em voz alta!
Eu gosto da felicidade e alegria,
Eu quero me divertir como convém!
A vida tem um sabor doce e emocionante
E nós os seres humanos, temos o direito
Para desfrutar de seus prazeres no firmamento
Em nossa cultura, o nosso espírito, a nossa fé ...
Não é proibido de amar,
Não é proibido rir,
Não é proibido dançar
Quando queremos viver ...
Esquecemo-nos de que somos todos
Os mesmos seres humanos.
Temos de olhar para dentro, em nós,
Profundamente refletir sobre os nossos destinos ...
As riquezas do som do coração do mundo
Cada um com sua maneira de chorar.
Todo mundo sabe como crescer até ver a linha das ondas,
Este céu onde a vida pede chorando.
Eu machuquei minha alma azul
Minhas lágrimas inundaram meus olhos
Quando penso em todos aqueles
Que já não chorar no nevoeiro ...
É necessário o coração é fosco, errante,
Olhe em meus olhos, eu ser o mesmo que você,
Olhe para mim e diga-me onde está a diferença,
Existe mais amor dentro de você?
Imagine, imagine em sua mente
Havia um sorriso antes que o diabo surdo,
Havia amor antes de ódio e desprezo.
Pense nisso, pense nisso agora e sempre.


Me encanta la paz y para qué?
Escribo para la paz y para qué?
olores de serpientes están caminando en el aire
Como veneno penetrante mi ser ...
Amo la vida y la libertad,
Y quiero cantar en voz alta!
Me gusta la felicidad y la alegría,
Quiero disfrutar de mi mismo como corresponde!
La vida tiene un sabor dulce y emocionante
Y nosotros los seres humanos tenemos el derecho
Para disfrutar de sus placeres en el firmamento
En nuestra cultura, nuestro espíritu, nuestra fe ...
No está prohibido amar,
No está prohibido reírse,
No está prohibido bailar
Cuando queremos vivir ...
Se nos olvida que estamos todos
Los mismos seres humanos.
Hay que mirar hacia dentro, en nosotros,
Profundamente reflexionar sobre nuestros destinos ...
Las riquezas del corazón de sonido en el mundo
Cada uno con su forma de llorar.
Todo el mundo sabe cómo hacer crecer hacia arriba para ver la línea de las olas,
Este cielo donde la vida llama a llorar.
Me duele mi alma azul
Mis lágrimas inundaron mis ojos
Cuando pienso en todos aquellos
Que ya no llora en la niebla ...
Debe el corazón se hiela, errante,
Mírame a los ojos, que será el mismo que usted,
Mírame y dime dónde está la diferencia,
¿Hay más amor dentro de ti?
Imaginar, imaginar en su mente
Había una sonrisa antes de que el diablo sordos,
Había amor antes de odio y desprecio.
Piense en ello, pensar en ello ahora y siempre.

  Read J’AIME LA PAIX ET POUR QUOI ?  I LOVE PEACE AND FOR WHAT?  Eu amo a paz e para quê?

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