Once upon a time, and everywhere, ancestral voices guided proper behaviour. Despotism was dwarfed by power of the dead. Commons preserved those older voices in gifts of good soil; good water; good place – received as legacy of past behaviour and bequeathed as a legacy of our own. Bad behaviour spoils ancestral gifts. It is an outrage. Future tales will tell, write, sing of the bad ancestor – the dark archetype in the battle of right and wrong.
The act of enclosure is a nihilistic act – a denial of inherited culture and the assertion of personal right to amorality. No ancestor, priest, politician; no village tittle tattle – nor wagging finger of cultural tradition can instruct what I do in my own property.
Considering our predicament of extreme resource depletion, cascading loss of species, wildly impoverished soils and crazily-man-made climate change – are they not predicaments of enclosure? We look around from our properties; our homes as castles and ask who is responsible? But no one claims responsibility. All, sit behind enclosures – oil monopoly, land monopoly, intellectual property, democratically-elected monopoly…
Enclosing commons, we silence the voices of both ancestors and descendants. And we silence the truth of natural physics – even though to listen would be to our selfish advantage. Flood and storm will ignore what is private to our property. A kind of narcissistic transcendence of laws of physics, is sought in the privacy mirror – a decadent meditation, which is actually a form of nihilism. Without fossil fuels, collapse would follow such decadence and out of that collapse a new romantic beginning… But we have transcended a once universal law by the power of coal and oil, because we have mined it from outside our particular time and space. That has led to a discounting of our own time and space. Instead of romantic renaissance, we have climate change. A single species cannot change the living climate of the Earth? Perhaps not – even by a plague. It has been done by liberating the flames of very many millions of Summers of fossilised photosynthesis.
The tragedy of the enclosures removes this profundity – both the physical earth – the intelligence of our senses – and the transcendental earth – the ancestral gift of personal morality – are not to be transcended, but lived and lived properly – the one physically and the other spiritually. Receiving and passing on of commons is a sacramental cup which feeds both personal and social happiness. It is the primal tool for the spirit of the good life. It is the primal spur to the physics of the good economy.
We can see that the tragedy of the enclosures is a desolate, self-destructive and lonely business.
Considering the great modern religions – Judaism, Islam, Protestantism, Humanism and so on – Has their adoption been a prop to the property holder, sustaining the idea of unaccountable privacy, which is at the heart of the pillage of nature and of climate change? My actions are confided between myself and my god/conscience.
Protestantism of the reformation was exactly that. It liberated the depravity of the most brutal period of English history. Church and monastery had adopted and maintained most aspects of older religions in local gods of place (in shrines of saints) and in adapted, ancient seasonal festivals and holidays. Time and place kept their ancient sanctities. People were both located and synchronised in landscape and economy. Ancestral voices spoke in the evidence of strip fields; in the trade guilds; the (albeit shaky) subjection of state to church… Of course, Hinduism and Buddhism retain similar elements today. This writer finds no significant difference between theism and atheism. In shedding ancestral instruction, Protestantism mutated seamlessly into Humanism, while atheistic Buddhism remains highly religious – rooted to ancestral shrines and devotions…
Anyway, religions which suggest transcendence of commons are but a blink of the eye of human storytelling. The modern religions which have found human behaviour replicated in the movement of the spheres, with the transcendental power of the human intellect, or with a single creator of everything – have come, either with concepts of fields and property, or as a repost to fields and property by monotheistic nomadic cultures. I speculate that ancestral voices evident in the passage of commons have ruled for most of Homo sapiens span. Heaven may only be five thousand years old. Perhaps. without property, or without imagined borders to nomadic cultures no one would have dreamed of heaven.
Maybe it’s time for a return – for an excavation of the neglected strata of the psyche – for a return to properly-evolved, ordinary human behaviour. Surely, ordinary inherited moral behaviour should prove an effortless relief? For a brief perversity of a few hundred years we have defied inherited wisdom – firstly by land enclosure, whose justification spawned cultural enclosure – and secondly by the magnificence of the flames of fossilised life and the super-humanity, extra-humanity it has lent to our finger tips.
In shame, it is time to face both ancestors and descendants. Ancestors gave us the Earth. Will descendants inherit it? Or shall we sit before the mirror of property, hugging proprietor’s rights – the privacy of conscience? The enclosures radiate in two dimensional circles, rectangles and hierarchical triangles – all of them under an Earth-transcendent heaven of some kind – atheistic, or theistic, but also judicial. They replace common responsibility with private right. They replace complex moral consequence with simple, amoral stillness. Inter-connected; multi-connected, both deep and shallow complexity is ended in law by a simple fence line.
Meanwhile, common resources shrink, species cascade, atmospheric carbon dioxide swells… We could easily step down from the transcendent rights machine and occupy the vacant roles bequeathed by ancestral effects – the culturing – the receiving, fermenting, maintaining and, in turn, bequeathing what we discover – the means to the good life. Footsteps leave impressions – some, as they should be, others not. It’s a curious, surprising, engaging, comic, tragic, both in and out of step passage to the sorrow and happiness of shrugging off the rights machinery and adopting responsibility for commons of soil, sea, water, air, biomass, biodiversity, which we’ve received for both better and worse from the hands of ancestors.
It was a dark and stormy night. We told the tale-teller, tell us a tale. It was a dark and stormy night…
The great religions have maintained older sanctities of place and time and they remain fixed in our moral understanding. Today, we interpret those things in commons, shrines, festivals, venerated masterpieces of music, literature, architecture – things done by this or that ancestor. We are anchored to their humanity. We read them and sing them again. We repoint the stone. No god in heaven; no reading of the revolving stars can help us face the catastrophe of climate change. Culture survives by what we do one by one, not by grand coercive power, or by the ornaments of property, but by stumbling, as best we can, across that sacred ancestral ground.
What is this writer puffing on? Betrayal, shame and an attempt at reparation. Is the above any use? It is a comfort. It carves my role.