The Common

The Common

Christmas 5

 

Life is a collaborative effort.  We often fail to recognize that and so it sometimes seems that life itself fails us.  During the seasons of Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanzaa, certain ideals are espoused and encouraged to be taken into the new, upcoming year.  These ideals are in reality practices that provide for the collaborative effort of living.

 

The English manor of olden times was in reality a very large farm or plantation often protected by stone walls.  Within the land holdings were bungalows for those that lived and maintained the manor properties, crops, and livestock.  Each manor was self-sufficient and large parcels of land, although owned by the landholder who was generally of the peerage, were set aside for use by the workers.  Such land was called the commons land or “commons” as it was used by all but especially the “common people”.

 

Today some countries have extended the concept of common land while others have done away with it.  It has served as the basis for the establishment of local and national parks but generally speaking, the concept of “the commons” has been used more in an economic sense.  The collaborative approach to living has given way to a more self-centered, ownership ideal.

 

These three holidays, however, serve to remind us that life is indeed a collaborative effort and we are all in it together. Sow what happens when we forget that living should be collaborative?  What can occur when we elect to extinguish rather than expand and encourage?

 

Englishman William Forster Lloyd in 1833 proposed the concept of “the tragedy of the commons” in which sheep allowed to graze irresponsibly ultimately killed all the grass upon which they grazed.  This idea was reiterated in 1968 in an essay written by ecologist Garret Hardin in warning of the dangers of unregulated use of shared resources.

 

Both Lloyd and Hardin applied their theories to land used by everyone, not just those within the commons environment so many argue their conclusions.  Unregulated use of anything can lead to overuse and the killing of such natural resources.  Many feel they were describing the tragedy of open access rather than a true use of a common area.

 

Peter Barnes, an economist, used the sky as a metaphor to such issues.  Since the sky belongs to all, he wanted to have it considered a worldwide generic commons with companies paying forfeits to pollute.  Logically, he maintained, it would be a wider business decision to have proper manufacturing procedures that reduced the amount of pollutants released and avoidance of fines.  This would provide for a cleaner environment for all, a healthier living, and a less polluted commons area of the sky.

 

Harvard professor Yochai Benkler has proposed a new collaboration regarding the use of common materials and information.  His model is a new modus operandi of socioeconomic production in which large numbers of people work cooperatively employing the Internet as a communicative and collaborative tool.  First mentioned in his paper “Coase’s Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm”, written in 2002, Benkler gives credit to this idea to Eben Moglen.   A later book published in 2006 expands on this concept.  “The inputs and outputs of the process are shared, freely or conditionally, in an institutional form that leaves them equally available for all to use as they choose at their individual discretion.”   Copyright issues are avoided since commons-based projects are often shared under an open license.

 

In other words, the idea of the commons has been expanded to include intellectual material and advancements.  This means that scientists and inventors are collaboratively working together for the betterment of all.  The concepts behind the celebrations of Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanzaa share a similar pattern of shared usage and responsibility.  They encourage us to live so as to the benefit of all and not just focus on ourselves.  They may seem like simple evenings of enjoyment but the ideals they espoused just might create advancements that make our living more productive as well as enjoyable.  When you light a candle for Hanukah or Kwanzaa or Christmas, you are lighting the way of a brighter future for us all.

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