Session 5: What is the Commons

Posted March 26, 2011 in Curriculum, Learning. Tagged: ,


What Is The Commons?


The Commons is the vast wealth of natural and human achievement that we inherit together and have an obligation to pass on, undiminished, to future generations.

The Commons is like a river with three tributaries: nature-based, culture-based, and community/societal.  The natural commons includes air, water, seeds, and biodiversity.  These are all gifts we collectively inherit from creation.  We didn’t make them.  They are just here for us.  The cultural commons describes the gifts of knowledge such as art, science, philosophy, language and mathematics.  The community/societal commons includes a wealth of things, from the neighborhood playground and library to the Internet to Social Security.  It’s our ‘we-ness’ as opposed to our individual selves.

The Commons has provided basic sustenance throughout human existence; The Commons supplies everyone’s food, water, fuel and medicines.

The Commons is our knowledge bank: it holds humanity’s vast store of science, art, customs and laws and is the seedbed of all human creativity.

The Commons is communication:  humans communicate through shared languages that are living products of many generations, and through collective creations like the Internet.

The Commons is community:  the public square, the school gym and the neighborhood.  Outside of families, it is the glue that holds us all together.

The Commons is a worldview, a perspective, a subjective sense of the world.

This is our common wealth, yet we have forgotten how to recognize and take care of the commons. We passively accept the “enclosure” of our commons, which transforms shared resources enjoyed by all into private commodities available only to those who can afford them.  By doing so, we strengthen the narrow version of economics that dominates in the United States today — a version that presumes that the only important value is created through market exchange.

The Commons need to be managed and owned by organizations with a commitment to the common good.  These institutions could be private trusts, nonprofit corporations and public governmental entities.  Government has an important role in both designating commons and establishing legal frameworks for protecting them.  And in some cases, local, state and federal government may own, regulate and manage the commons.  Taxation is one of the ways we pay for the protection of the commons.  In other cases, The Commons will be managed by a commonwealth institution.