Afterword

Some sweet day, we shall gather at the river and be renewed… The crooked ways will be made straight and the last fears unbound. We’ll reflect beneath the shade of ancient trees, that generations will rest there too – the common flow of humanity – passing the spirit from departing generations to the curiosity, ingenuity and dexterity of the living.
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That’s what commons are – an inherited guide to proper behaviour. We also inherit the Earth. Commons teach maintenance of that gift, so that it remains as complete as we found it. Commons are a kind of artificial, moral genetic code for the anciently-learnt best behaviour of the species. As we accept the legacy, so our personal learning may contribute to it – that matching of appropriate social behaviour with the settlement of our community amongst the soils, minerals, bacteria, fungi, plants, fish, insects, invertebrates and animals of which it is a part.
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With the eyes of ancestors and descendants upon us, we also take up both honour and obligation as we embody their footsteps…
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Except that we can no longer conjure that day. The common – that is, the methods of convivial society, has been betrayed – the legacy cut short, by the most narcissistic and vicious generation ever to receive the gift. Without gratitude; without grief, we took the most copious gifts and squandered them. We betrayed each other and severed the essential curiosity for our settlement – our causes and effects… We took our rights – consumer rights, sovereignties and properties – and treated the common as an old and inappropriate thing to be enclosed and trampled by a right to carelessness (liberal values).
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Gratitude and grief – here is Andrew Cliburn – “We cannot seem to grieve anymore in rich and latticed ways (in public, loudly, for long enough, or deeply enough) and we cannot seem to know that in gratitude comes the kind of responsibility that engenders the act of return. Thinking of gratitude and grief as twins and as totally necessary ways of being maturely alive as a human is no longer a given and probably can’t be until there is a reckoning.”
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But the common is not a thing. It is a vision, honed, as Ivan Illich says by labour, craft, dwelling and suffering – that is, by time’s mutation of the nature of settlement. As we adopt the role of commoner and adapt to it – we find that the role has an obligation to observe – to be intelligent to change. The commoner is the species, in a particular time, in a particular place and with particular skills on which a particular community depends. The advantageous mutation of a community (and in macrocosm, of the species) is always a response to one pair of eyes and then another and so on. One pair of eyes, along with all the rest, connect humanity to her earth. Think of that. Without commons, we have a crazy casino, which most call the economy, we have cascading ecologies on which we all depend (and so must join the cascade) and we have catastrophic climate change.
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As we sit amongst our consumer rights, corporate dependencies, intellectual, status and property rights, the chance of poverty and the chance of riches, we have a supressed yearning for what we cannot express. We cannot express it because the language has fallen from accustomed use. Nineteenth Century poets pursued the difference between narcissistic fancy and physically-inspired imagination. Ordinary people, like me, also know it – standing on the common – in the physics of reactions to our actions – those destructive, or creative actions, which draw a frown, half-smile, or nod from the ancestors.
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The common is imaginative – it guides human settlement in the physics of changing landscapes and seasons. By physics, I mean all that can be sensed. By commons, I mean an intrinsic moral guide to negotiating that often unpredictable physics.
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The common has kings, queens, corporations, newspapers, politicians and bishops as its subjects. That is why we had the enclosures – so that the common became subject to corporations, newspapers, television news rooms, gangsters, politicians…
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Now, the common remains, only in tiny but numerous (billions) of enclaves – in the “sanctity of the home”, in family anecdotes, parental guidance, celebrations and holidays. By that, I mean everywhere. It is plain to me, that those enclaves are the very places (I also suggest, the only places) where the remedies to our currently crazy ways of living will germinate, ferment and finally overwhelm the blind, unresponsive fences of the current utterly-destructive power. A contrary power will not achieve it. This is old as the hills.
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I’m told, I’m away with the fairies – well, that’s also not a bad analogy. I’ll say this, there is no other way. What it means is simple – not esoteric, or deeply philosophic – it means that if I don’t change how I live, to accord with my intrinsic morality, then there is not a hope in hell for the success of my campaign to change society in the same direction. If I campaign for action on climate change by wildly jetting from podium to podium, there will not be a hope in hell of combatting climate change. To use the methods and languages of enclosure to fight enclosure, only spawns new enclosures. We see that everywhere – New Labour politics destroys labour movements, “eco-system services” destroy eco-systems, “true-cost-accounting” destroys priceless commons, organic regulation of super markets destroys organic systems…
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I think it is probably true that the established religions have all, once upon a time, been the formalised voices of the commons. Of course, that formalisation has led to dangers, as political hierarchies within religious organisations have come to “enclose” their status. Then (to use these islands) instead of church and state we come to have a state church (Reformation), followed by rapid enclosure of the last commons.
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If we are to end catastrophic climate change and also reverse the catastrophically increasing chasm between rich and poor, first, we must reclaim the common.
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In our billions of house-holds we have deeply-intrinsic rules – these are heart-felt. We also have pragmatic and conveniently-changeable rules. We have a household economy (actually a tautology) – in which we fairly distribute rations of time (chores and pleasures) alongside rations of things (food, clothing, toys…) We have forgotten that this is also how a society can be run and that this is what happens on the common.
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It follows that to fight resource depletion, inequality of distribution and climate change, we need look no further than ourselves. If we shut our eyes and then remember – the voices of parents and the voices of children, we may find that we already know what to do. As the physics of the world reacts unpleasantly to our unpleasant actions, by all that’s holy, we can set out to behave properly at last.

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