In his marvelous meditations, “Stanzas on Commoning,” poet, artists and architect Robert Kocik explores the commons as only an artist can: as simultaneously a historical phenomenon, a philosophical concept, and a collaborative art practice.
Kocik’s “Stanzas” derive in part from his work with the group “Commoning,” which he describes as
“a group of poets, performers and persons working together toward shared prosperity. Their foci: history of the enclosure of the commons leading directly to today’s privateering, wage stagnation and material inequity; inner and somatic practices as the basis of fairness; the ways in which laws become the means for maintaining imbalance; hypertrophy of the financial sector; language as hegemonic force of globalization; and private determination of public space by ‘business’ that has always approached ‘public’ as inimical to its interests.”
HOW THINGS HOLD TOGETHER AND HOW THE WAY IN WHICH WE’RE CURRENTLY GOING ABOUT THINGS AS A SOCIETY IS NOT HOW THINGS HOLD TOGETHER
“The word without action is empty, action without the word is blind, and action and the word outside the spirit of the community is death.” (Nasa (indigenous people of southwestern Columbia) proverb)
Nonetheless, we seem to be held together by that which divides us (the Nasa people would say ‘kills us’: we are held together by that which kills us). We are held together by dividing ethics (the treating of each other as equals) from economics (competing against and profiting over others). An anarchic market inequitably holds together an economy that is our shared means of subsistence; though it does so at the cost of our sense of commonality and conviviality. Systems that hold us together by dividing us do so either through coercion or the assumption that such systems are inescapable, unbeatable, inalienable, or self-evident. Such systems that hold us together by separating us are the very instruments of inequity. Were we to rid ourselves of this duplicity, would the whole world come tumbling down or would we suddenly wondrously cohere?
The word ‘commons’ often brings to mind the historical phenomenon of the English commons, particularly the enclosure movement carried out during the English Interregnum (1649–1660)——as the closing of commons was prerequisite for the industrial revolution and the genocidal, privatized colonization of America. A broader understanding of commons could include anything from the contemporary Landless Workers’ Movement Movimento do Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra in Brazil where 3% of the population owns two- thirds of the arable land, to the openly edited online encyclopedia Wikipedia.
With this writing, I want to determine whether commons——the word and the phenomenon——can be translated in a way that serves to locate and then transform the current prosperity divide in the U.S. ‘Prosperity’ includes consideration of wealth disparity (wealth = income + assets – debt), racial and gender economic divides, ecological justice (well-being of all beings), and the setting of agendas for socioeconomic policies.
A commons is a network of resources jointly used and managed. As such, any interpretation of commons becomes less and less useful to me the further it drifts from concern for subsistence, livelihood and our material condition. A commons can be understood through its functions; traditionally used for hunting, fishing, gathering timber, firewood, stones for building and marl for fertilizer, pasturage, gardening, gleaning leftover grain from harvested fields, nutting, herbing, and fruit and berry picking. As generally perceived through the eyes of their lords and masters, commoners were lazy, obdurate, undisciplined, minimally productive, non- wasteful, self-reliant, argumentative, collectively celebratory ingrates. It was the commons——the land they were tied to——that kept commoners from destitution; it was their community, safetynet, and social security. In seventeenth century England commoning became a barrier to industrial progress, cultivation, and the development of English landscape architecture. Low productivity and weakened ingenuity are still considered the trademarks of nonprivatized industry. As recently as 1991, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari eliminated the constitutional right to ejido, citing low yield of community owned land.