ConsumerismEconomicsPeople SystemsSocietyVillage Development

The Promise of the Commons

Regular readers may remember an article I posted back in 2010 — Kings, Conquerors, Capitalism and Resilience Lost — where I covered a little historical ground for one particular former ‘East Bloc’ country; a history shared by several countries in central Europe. The article outlined how previously resilient land-based communities — which had lived and even thrived for centuries in close relation to each other and the land that sustained them — had struggled to cope with an onslaught, a rapid succession, of ideologies that were thrust upon them (Fascism, then Communism, and the final nail in the coffin, Capitalism). The article ended with a glimpse into the lives of some of the land-based people still remaining — stalwart and practical souls who do so little to harm the earth, but whose historical lives are being tragically impacted by political and economic forces outside of their control.

In the video above, John D. Liu covers similar territory — but over a wider geographic. Take a watch.

For thousands of years, different ideologies have come and gone, but one that has always endured, even if it is now being steadily eroded, is that of The Commons — cooperatively managed lands and lifestyles that worked for the common good. The Commons encouraged decentralisation and relationship — healthy relations between people and between people and place. Natural systems and human needs together created symbioses which employed, sustained and nurtured both.

I think it needs to be understood that nature doesn’t understand or change its immutable laws to fit modern economic or political ideologies and ‘invisible structures’. Genetic Engineering and Geo-engineering are a case in point — being extreme and unnecessary efforts to try to get nature to fit an unnatural paradigm of our own creation (what we call in Permaculture, ‘forcing functions’).

Well over half of the world’s population lives on traditional lands to which they have no formal title. They live as most people throughout history have always done. But, in a rapidly privatising, wealth appropriating world, their rights to critical resources are being steadily eroded by corporate interests. This translates to their sustainable and even restorative use of those lands being supplanted by short-terminism and extraction. Helping to solve their problems may well solve our problems — whilst also giving us something to pattern our own communities on.

Further Reading:


  1. Excellent content well worth the time it takes to watch.
    Here in Britain the enclosures of the commons by the ‘authority of the day’ has been going on for centuries. Perhaps the time is now right for those enclosures to be revoked, For those who claim ownership of land let go of that ownership, revoke their registration of it and foster the creation of new commons.

  2. Thanks Craig – love what you have written here about land based peoples. You’ve written a lot in a few paragraphs – wonderful. Oh, to be a commoner. And yes, I will watch the film too!. I wonder whether there is another term we can use instead of nature’s “laws”. The idea of a law doesn’t seem to sit well with me. It’s shorthand I guess – but I would always go for nature’s patterns (and processes) – and that fits well with permaculture. Thoughts?

    1. Thanks for your comment Peter. I guess I kinda like the term ‘laws of nature’. Let me explain. Consider the ‘law of gravity’. If we understand that law, and then incorporate that understanding into our psyche, we will stay safe (i.e. we won’t go jumping off cliffs), and we will also know how to benefit from that law (i.e. we can, for example, use it to advantage with water flows for irrigation or low-tech energy solutions), etc.

      In themselves, laws are not bad things. They’re intended to be a protective fence around society.

      In similar fashion, there are unchangeable mechanisms in natural systems, the knowledge of which we can use to both protect ourselves and to take advantage of.

      Plowing and churning our soils, for example, has a particular effect (destruction of soil structure and the rapid breakdown of organic matter). That’s a law. If we learn the laws of nature, and determine to keep our activities in harmony with them, we will reap the benefits – and in many, many ways.

      The laws of soil biology, for example, tell us (or anyone who has studied soil science, like myself), that the larger you go in scale in agriculture, the more you must compromise and start breaking natural laws. So, take this to its logical conclusion, and you discover that the human race, if it is to stay in harmony with natural laws, should really be based on small-scale, but widespread, community based agriculture. By living in harmony with the laws of soil biology, we suddenly discover we’re living in a decentralised world that offers hope for humanity, and innumerable benefits to all the individuals involved. With people productively working the land, gaining physical and mental health, we’d suddenly see a dramatic reduction in crime, prisoner counts, hedonism and many other social woes, and the corporations wouldn’t stand a chance in growing the monopolies they do. And so on.

      I don’t take laws to be a negative. I regard them instead as a protective barrier that tell us how to be healthy and happy. I guess we can have a negative view of the word ‘law’, because our governments often create stupid ones… but in the decentralised world I dream of, where we’re living in harmony with natural laws, the governmental laws would change – to suit the practical, down-to-earth needs of people who are endeavouring to live a sustainable life on the land. For example, bans of composting toilets, and other nonsensical laws would go out the window.

      My two cents.

  3. Thanks for your response Craig – thoughtful. I guess I find the term law immutable and contrived (man-made) – perhaps it’s my rebelliousness or anarchist streak! Certainly ecology (or ecological science) has many “laws”, but many are made into mathematical constructions. I have, in the past, recast gravity from a law to the “mutual attraction between heavenly bodies” – more poetic perhaps. Perhaps there are immutable laws – but there are also the local manifestation of them at the level of place. Scale – is perhaps less of a law and more of a design constraint – ignored by most. I look forward to a decentralised world where the promise of the commons can be realised – great film by the way. You’re comments are worth more than 2c!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Back to top button