A Short Walk Through Commons, Enclosures and the EU

The factions gather & swell in an entirely human tumult. As the poet says – the worst in passionate intensity call others to the fold. Meanwhile, the ways of life of opposing factions have similar effects, because their ways of life are similar – the only differences being in magnitude – that is, in the poverty, or wealth of practitioners. Wealth commands the greatest effects. Factions are so obsessed with hating their mirror-image opponents, that they forget their similar effects – the common follies of their similar ways of life and also of the untapped virtues of their common humanity.
For today, we have a period of great and unprecedented forgetting. It is the Great Forgetting of what we know. We know this – that we are living through the most epic of all human times and that all of us (at least in Europe and America) must dramatically change how we live, or otherwise face catastrophe to end all catastrophes.
The human causes of trashed ecosystems and runaway climate change are very simple. They are very easily understood and nearly everyone understands them Even so, the effects are complex and unpredictable. The malignancy is certain, but the complexity of feed-back loups and tipping points eludes our perfect understanding. We can only rationalise unknowns as we stumble upon them. Many, who should know better, are locked in arguments supporting this, or that projected model – to the degree that they become lost in an unpredictable world of future effects. Meanwhile, they may neglect the world of easily understood (and remedied) causes. Present action creates the future – that is all we can truly know of it. Our causes live in a world of simple arithmetic and simple morals – that is in ordinary household economics.
In the household, we ration what we have as fairly as we can – in things – food, clothing, toys, bottles of wine… – and also in time – in chores and pleasures. A household is made up of rations of what we can justly do. That is, it is made up, more of verbs than nouns. As we travel out, we carry with us, those filial actions – those household verbs. In the larger world we act out the familiar identity. We know who we are and what we can do. We don’t exceed our rations of things, or of liberties – of nouns, or verbs. If we do so, we lose a part of our identity. We have parents and children. We have tragic and comic passing of time. We embody ancestors and teach children chores and pleasures. This is the world of the commons. Once upon a time, such commons were expressed and formalised by religion. Those commons drove the culture. Leaders could lead – and they could pillage the culture, but they had no means to create it. They could only attempt to steer, benignly, or malignly, what was being created. They needed the intelligence, ingenuity and dexterity of durable cultural tradition to make what they needed – even for pillage. The state depended on vibrant commons and knew it.
The powers of many millions of years of sequestered photosynthesis were suddenly brought into the light and multiplied the cultural powers of what people could do by about twenty. But that power was seized and enclosed and so commons withered into dependant consumerism. People no longer made the culture. Coal, oil and gas made ninety-five percent of the culture and without commons of restraint. Of course, application of coal, oil and gas, had no past – It seemed so miraculous that it could end history. It had no concept of the future – only fantasies of future miracles upon miracles.
Households, commons and religions have been a perennial thorn in the foot of the oil-state. For a start, the state cannot understand verbs – the cultural power of what people do. In fact, culture is simply what people do to make it. The state would like to enclose all the verbs to make them powerless, yet happy oil-fed nouns. Today, it has largely succeeded. Yet, everything we do has an effect and so also a moral. Morals are dangerous to the state – personal right and wrong, may not chime with statutory right and wrong.
Enlightened, new economic models, such as doughnut economics, circular economics and so on are worthy arguments to improve the enclosures. However, such arguments end by endorsing an improved enclosure and so further supressing the commons.
Without oil, it is essential to revive the dexterity, ingenuity and moral probity of the commons – of the powers of what people (one by one) can do. People must reclaim the culture from the enclosures and begin living on the common. The springs are not entirely dry. They survive in the household and that is where the true economy must begin – where the word itself also began. I nearly used the metaphors embers and kindling, but fire, today is not appropriate, though we love it so. It is a shame – the hearth – the treasures of the mantlepiece – we love them – but that is what is truly new in our economics – the end of fire and all its mythologies and the search for what we must newly love. That’s a new myth in the making – as potent as tales of the flood and the fall…
No. We don’t negotiate with the enclosures, we drain them of our footsteps and our blood. We don’t lobby for an aviation tax, we stop flying. We don’t lobby against the pernicious behaviours of super markets, we stop shopping there – neither do we lobby for their improved behaviours – organic produce, fair trade… We seek proper, fair-trading and organic market places, such as proper trades’ people and market squares. We don’t argue for electric vehicles to re-power our massive oil infrastructures. We change and diminish the structures, to a demand which renewables can supply. We turn our backs and then open intelligence and hearts to a new and possible world. Given current trajectories, we’ll probably fail, but we may not fail – and in any case, doing the right thing, even when it fails is the source of happiness. It remains possible that we may emerge from the rubble with something of a culture intact, as stock and money markets cascade in chaos around us and as atmospheric CO.2 settles back into something like a stable terrestrial/atmospheric cycle. The common can stand as it once did, whatever leaders do, and in the dawn, small birds may resume their songs. There is very little hope, but romance is a powerful, transformative thing.
If we continue to waste precious and diminishing time in worthy argument with power’s enclosures (such as the EU), and so neglect our own footsteps, then we’ve not a hope in Hell. We can easily do both, you say? Looking around me, I don’t see that at all, though by all means try it. I hear rising anger and marching in the street and opposing factions with identical life-styles shaking each-others’ lapels.

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3 Responses to A Short Walk Through Commons, Enclosures and the EU

  1. Joshua Msika says:

    We’ve had a bit of a debate at work (well, mainly me talking at people) about agency: What forces have the agency to shape society’s future? I have been inspired by Erik Lindberg’s article: https://www.resilience.org/stories/2014-01-21/agency-on-demand-holmgren-hopkins-and-the-historical-problem-of-agency/

    In it, he contrasts two models of change. Firstly, one which believes that climate change presents society with a moral choice between a future of continued exponentially increasing consumption and voluntary restraint to live within the Earth’s boundaries. Secondly, one which believes that society will be changed through climate breakdown and Energy Descent, regardless of what we do in the present.

    At first glance, the narratives are not particularly contradictory, but the key difference is in their model of societal change. The first narrative needs a revolution, a change in the people in power, or at least in their ideas, in order to reach a positive conclusion. The second narrative argues that climate breakdown and Energy Descent will achieve the work of a revolution: rending apart existing systems of power (and enclosure) and re-arranging them in ways yet to be fully foretold. The positive conclusion of the second narrative is brought about through appropriate preparation for, and creative adaptation to, these inevitable forced reconfigurations.

    It seems to me that you’re much more in the second camp. You rarely, if ever mention strategies focused on changing the ideas of those in power, or even changing the people in power. Yet, you describe the nature of historical power and in this post, you put quite succinctly and convincingly the process by which the powerful have captured (enclosed) the culture-ing process with fossil-fuelled tools. So what clues does this analysis of the nature of power (and those in it), both in fossil-fuelled and non-fossil-fuelled economies/cultures, hold for the future?

    More specifically: The powerful currently wield hugely potent fossil-fuelled tools in their clumsy hands and make the dominant culture. How can our sunlight-powered cultures compete? Do we wait until the fuels no longer flow and step into the breach? Or is that waiting too long? Should we be taking these tools out of their(our) hands and putting them to rest? Is that even possible? Will those who seek to take the tools out of their hands be unable to put them down themselves?

    I think I’ve got it now: If at some point we flipped from a commons-based culture based on “the skill, ingenuity and dexterity of durable cultural tradition” to a fossil-fuel-based culture, how and when will we flip back? Is it a matter of choice or do we have to wait until the fuels stop flowing?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. bryncocyn says:

    Joshua, that’s perfectly expressed. Firstly, I love what Eric Lindberg writes. There are very few who express what I’d express (you are one) – I don’t know him, but feel a bond.

    For myself, the two positions are imprinted in me by life itself. My romantic self – the one who writes, argues with my pragmatic self, who experiences obstacles and disappointment, that on the other side there is that beautiful shore that doing the right thing must (even after death, where my children live) eventually find. The romantic self is the true self. It is also common humanity.

    The other self is a story of perennial failure. It has never changed the state of things, but it does try. It talks to customers, it signs those petitions. Eventually it may be forced to take sides and man the barricades. It argues for land value tax, citizen’s dividend, restorative justice, carbon rationing, proportional representation, green new deals… – all without effect. Actually, that self has also farmed organically for fourty-three years and has a pragmatic store of knowledge about carbon cycles, soil capacity and so on, which absolutely no-one has an interest in – even though the “science” is pitifully loaded towards, not even bio-chemistry, but merely physics and chemistry. It was told by the “press officer” of the Soil Association that it had been “a pain in the back-side” for twenty years, for its continued opposition to the organic certification of oil-powered centralised distribution/procurement systems. In short, it is a joke!

    I don’t know if we have to wait until fossil fuels stop flowing. I do know that I must flip back as soon as possible and not wait until a lovely flipping-back system is put in place, perhaps by the power of my political or military persuasion – I know by sad experience that I cannot rely on that.


    • Joshua Msika says:

      I’m just reading through this again and there’s a great deal of it that resonates for me. Your last sentence is the crux: “I don’t know if we have to wait until fossil fuels stop flowing. I do know that I must flip back as soon as possible and not wait until a lovely flipping-back system is put in place, perhaps by the power of my political or military persuasion – I know by sad experience that I cannot rely on that.”

      If experience has taught you (me, us) that political or military persuasion is unlikely to change society in the direction that we hope for, then our hope must be based on a belief that external limits (fossil fuels, climate chaos) and internal contradictions (refugees, Brexit, financial crash) will achieve that change. But at the same time you (and I and thus we) feel strong guilt for not being able to change as quickly as we would like.

      I say: don’t beat yourself (myself, ourselves) up. Make the choices that you can (and there are plenty to make, all it requires is some human creativity!) and leave the rest. Guilt over actions over which we have no choice should be indulged in moderation, to act as a spur to actions in areas over which we do exercise some control.

      Liked by 1 person

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