CHAPTER SEVEN – BIOMASS IS A COMMON – A Meditation upon the Cabbage

Some commons to be restored into the fabric of my midsummer night’s dream– roads, market squares, harbours, soils, water, biomass….

But all other commons are as nothing compared to commons of biomass.  Just as towns, roads and trades are emergent properties of agriculture, so agriculture emerges from the flows of biomass between species to and from human cultures.

Biomass cycles from field to city and back again.  That flow is obviously a common and a common good if managed by good common law.

The cabbage I sell in the market place has common biomass, but also the value of being a cabbage.

So, I ask for a cabbage price to pay for the labour of producing it.  To value a common is to enclose it.  My valued cabbage is an enclosure valued at my labour value.

But the sewage and waste leaf produced from the cabbage must return to the common flow of biomass.  Unless a biomass equivalent is returned to my field, I cannot grow as many cabbages in the future, because the fertility of my soil has been diminished by one cabbage.

So the common produces value (enclosed common), but common law asks for that value to be returned, so that the common can keep producing value and so that succeeding generations can continue to provide themselves with cabbages.

In effect I can as good as “own” a field without owning its soil, biomass, or water.  These are commons to be protected.

It is accepted that commoners own the means to the responsibilities of the common.

Can the site value of a property (enclosed common) be similarly considered?  Substitute house for cabbage.  My labour construction value becomes my own enclosure which I can sell or bequeath. But the soil beneath, the biomass of the roof timbers and the quarried stone remain on the common and beyond valuation.  My home remains my castle.  What of my garden?

Dr Pangloss returned from the vanity of the world (including his own vanity) to cultivate his garden.  I think he can call his garden his in the same way that a commoner “owns” and “loves” his piece of common land.  He can buy, bequeath, or sell his ownership, but ownership includes responsibility for the common.

Gardens are tricky.  Mine can become large, only if yours becomes small.

The idea of commons transcends (or perhaps subverts) ephemeral generations and should/could/has been the foundation of law.  My common rights define areas in which I can become responsible and the common itself may prescribe the limits to my temporal enclosure of labour value.  The common must be passed on in the state that I received it.  As I say commons to be considered in this way are soil fertility, water (quality and quantity), roads, harbours, market squares and of course – but more difficult to define in effect than in personal behaviour – biomass, rivers, the sea and the atmosphere.

Such understanding lies deeply in all of us, but has been overlaid by the oil-given fantasy of prosperity-rights for all.  For a while that fantasy (if we remove the, for all of us) has been so nearly realised that most cannot relinquish their share.  Four hundred parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide will soon remove the same prosperity, which caused it.

Anyway, the idea of commons received from ancestors and passed on to descendants is an intrinsically-inherited moral, which I hope can be released from its post-modern imprisonment.  It may be the dynamo for my (to most quixotic) new (and old as the hills) folk movement.

Meanwhile we can continue to argue within the rights machinery of ephemeral post modernity!

For instance, we can argue for site value taxation if (as is certain) common dis-valuation and disenclosure is not accepted.  Site values are the largest part of current property values and are created in an amoral casino.  Houses depreciate in value as their physics decays.  It is only the site value which inflates.

A site value tax would extract revenue from larger gardens to be returned to a fund for the Common Good of gardeners.  Substitute other trades & pleasures for gardener and we find a possible recipe for a transition to ideas of common responsibility!

Here’s a thought – The common flows in time & through generations, whereas property (enclosed common) is static and temporal – like my cabbage’s soon-spent price, or my house which will eventually need re-roofing.  Property tends to atrophy, whereas the common, like life (as we shall explore) is self renewing – at least when functioning properly and can attain its optimum flow.

Laws of commons define what we do and are therefore agents of change, whereas laws of property defend who we think we are and are therefore agents of stasis.  Of course we die, oblivious to our property, while the social system goes on to untangle our legacies.  Here lies she, who once held property, but has now returned to the common.

Enclosing the dynamic fluidity of a common into the protective stillness of property is a major tragedy of post modern times, when nearly everybody aspires to that short-sighted, parochial status of an owner of decay and atrophy!

I explored a similar theatre in my last book in the dynamic, curious, convivial, catholic, comic and tragic language of tools and its opposite – the static, guarded, parochial and serious language of state (and property).

Enduring economies follow laws of mortality and inheritance. Decadent economies follow laws of status and atrophy.

Life defeats atrophy by death and renewal.


The destruction and construction by human activities which create an economic whole have been ripples in the flowing decomposition and composition of the complexity of species which create an ecological whole.  Plague-like humanity has recently created a flood.

But because the quantity of atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen to climate changing levels, “experts” have been deluded into an ecologically-disconnected study of “the carbon cycle”.

But carbon cannot cycle.  Life cycles.

However, we can study the cyclic fluidity of human behaviour; of the flows of human biomass to and from the biomass of fungi, bacteria, plants and animals.  In other words, the cyclic fluidity of the common!  The central law of commons is the rule of return.

Common returns of a community flow between economy and ecology.  I extract (enclose) my labour value by the transformation of common resources firstly into my property and then – the tricky part – (property is soon spent) returning them by similar weight, to the common.  After all, my bones will return to common soil – dust to dust…. and my labours can extract only as much as they return, or else I must move on in the slash and burn manner.  In any case, only common returns can maintain a settlement and its children.

I shall come to the folly of measuring carbon as motionless mass in the next chapter, but one.  Carbon sequestration is a typically post-modern static enclosure, whereas life flows through the common with variable speed, mass and power.




It seems to be that other social species have kings and queens ruling over flocks, packs and herds.  And it seems to me that humanity cannot escape her hierarchies.  Depose our rulers and we become them.

So in my midsummer night’s dream I place figures of authority where they do least harm.  I allow them big houses, big egos, but no skills and no tools.  After all, this is the state in which Power has lived happily for millennia.

Historically, rulers have not thought to use their brains, or to soil their hands – or to dictate how patches and rude mechanicals apply theirs.  That modern rulers do so, is an extra-ordinary perversity, created by the extra-ordinary and perverse power of oil.  It is plain that ordinary behaviour, which follows ordinary, limited physics, must eventually return.  Perversity is levelled by nature – fossil-fuelled lives by climate change – man-made hubris by natural nemesis.

Fossil power will be as ephemeral as its effects.  Let’s hope those effects don’t include an ephemeral humanity.

Pastoralists have observed “unpleasant” character changes of previously “benign” cows, or ewes, when by chance they come to power in herds or flocks.  Humans are no different to those other social animals.  There are sufficient examples from history.  We enact our roles.

The older and more complex a civilisation becomes, so the language of “them and us” becomes more distinct.  So we have the curious, convivial language of tools and the serious, incurious language of state.

Simpler nomadic or pastoral cultures may have held egalitarian conversations in a common language.  However, much as I’d like to, I don’t propose to re-find Arcadia.

In my midsummer night’s dream the evolutionary (ordinary) behaviour of the powerful is not resisted – rather it is tamed.  I use these words as tools to dig a terrain just the shape of my humanity.  As the soil resists in ways which are not mine, I shall have to reconsider how to coexist with the soil which feeds me – and to keep the peace, with what feeds the naturally-evolved, idle stupidity of power.


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