Ugliness is what cannot fit – what cannot flow in the time/space of the common. It is unhappy. What is fitting makes happiness. True function is elegance. True elegance is function. Either makes the other considered, timely, appropriate and fitting. Neither John Keats, nor John Ruskin will turn in their graves.
When we make things or grow things we take the physics of nature and change it. We ask, is what we do both functional and elegant? How does it fit? That ordinary skills have at their finger-tips, the choices of beauty or ugliness, also provides the honour, of microcosmic personal springs becoming tributaries to the macrocosmic flow of cultural commons. However small the spring, we can stand with ancestors and contribute to descendants.
That flow is through both time and space.
A society which is most integrated with natural cycles will have the greatest means to sufficiency. The minute observations of individuals comprise dynamic adjustments to such an integration. Every message from nature must first pass through someone’s senses. The responses of community which create the best settlement will be a complex balance of personal responses. Such complexity is essential but is almost impossible to organise, until we come to see that it is an inherited organism. We organise ourselves but by an existing common code.
That is the function of commons – no legislation, or institution can replace them.
Moral commons provide a timeless social skeleton for the living and dying metabolisms of generations. Contemporary personal responses to personal observation animate the skeleton, but without the skeleton nothing coheres sufficiently for nervous system and metabolism to function properly. We inherit that cohesion and must also bequeath it.
When we enclose commons, we cast aside the skeleton, for personal advantage. Personal advantages do not fit the social flows of either time, or space. They are ugly – with a shattered and personal function and without elegance.
The battle to reduce CO.2 emissions and to shrink economic activity to what fits the continued regeneration of both the mass and diversity of species, is essentially a battle to reclaim commons.
If we believe it is a battle to improve behaviour inside the enclosures, then not only will we fail, but we will also have neglected the true battlefield. If we lobby for legislation to improve the behaviours of property holders and monopolies, we make them more effective – we give the resource-denying, climate-denying fence-line, a false credence.
Commons were enclosed by violence and for personal enrichment. Still, and everywhere we see the rich grow richer and the poor, poorer. Enclosure is blind to how it settles, or to how it fits. Private property – intellectual, status, land, seed, money-creation – has the property-right of both privacy and amorality. Behind my wall, I can behave as I choose. Ugliness can be my choice. My home is my castle – from the walls, like Margaret Thatcher, I can shout, “There is no such thing as society.” If you like, my literally selfish and ephemeral skeleton – the one that will end as calcium and phosphorous deposits – will have replaced the immortal, guiding, moral frame of the commons.
In enclosing commons, we claim right to irresponsibility. Common’s right is to responsibility.
How do we reclaim commons? – By behaving like a commoner – by revitalising one cell of the social organism and by calling for others to join us.
Consider the verb, to settle… – to settle in a household; landscape; community; for a community to settle in time and in its borders, without friction with ancestors, descendants, or neighbours.
To settle in time, we cannot consume future resources, or change the future’s atmospheric condition, because time flows. If we dam the flow for temporal enrichment we reduce the flow downstream. Craft’s people and farmers should understand. That well-cut, well-fitting masonry will be admired downstream, just as from upstream we’ve received those elegant parish churches, river bridges and solid harbour walls… The reward is not money, but happiness.
To settle in space, we must consider both neighbours and other species.
In the UK, commons have been violently supressed and enclosures violently imposed since before the Reformation, although it was not until then, under the pretext of Protestantism, that they became as widespread and as shameless.
Nevertheless, 2018 marks the end of a period of failed attempts at commons revival. It is the end in two ways. Firstly, because if we fail today, climate change will mark the end of settled human cultures. And secondly if we succeed – well, we will at last, against wild odds, have succeeded.
That’s a tall order – to succeed, when for five centuries we have failed. Nevertheless, it is the only order.
Recent polemics have shouted, cut the crap – we must mobilise to change the monopolies – the corporations and governments – that personal behaviour is nothing.
The polemics are utterly wrong. We must evacuate the enclosures, not change them. They are, after all, occupied entirely by us – by our purchases and permissions. An enclosure, just like a corporation, is an abstract idea. Their physics has been provided by us – we meandering and lost commoners of lost commons.
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