The Commons – a new European concept? Inaugural meeting of the European Parliament Common Goods Intergroup.
May 31, 2015 § 2 Comments
As we gathered for it, this European Parliament Common Goods Intergroup meeting, promised to be intriguing… was the Parliament about to embrace the commons as a template for a more participatory politics?
It was indeed a political meeting, with the banners of the four parties who had come together in support of it prominent behind the podium, a coalition that, as Sophie Bloemen details in her excellent account of the intergroup’s formation, had required the mutation (dilution?) in its title, of ‘commons’ into ‘common goods’.
Such concerns were quickly overshadowed by the mix of culture shock, optimism, contradiction and sheer linguistic struggle that Europe-wide mutuality turned out to entail. But then this is 28 nation politics and I was new to it.
Shock and awe at the huge scale of the Brussels European Parliament building and the hushed modernity of its vast interior – the Charlie Hebdo effect piled onto the Bin Laden effect meant the whole place seemed imprisoned in that other aspect of modernity, security. There were also the twin Britshocks of realising during the meeting that what I was hearing were the voices of southern Europe, Italy, Spain, Portugal and France, and that of the 50-60 participants, I was apparently the only Brit. Coupled with this was the reminder that however good the four-language interpretation was, it put a huge burden on attention, and being able to grasp what was being said – Italian man speaking in the room – English woman interpreter in the ears.
The meeting started half an hour late, which despite effective facilitation put all the speakers under pressure. And speakers there were in plenty, arrayed in one-to-many conference style. There were repeated calls for ‘the need for debate’ but debate was overwhelmingly subordinate to a series of charismatic and often vociferous presentations mostly from the podium, peppered with multiple exhortations that the commons and common goods ‘were a good idea’, ‘we must…’ ‘we need…’ ‘we have to…’ etc., etc. Lot’s of talk about commons not much apparently from commons. When I spoke to ask the other delegates ‘who we were’ and how many had direct experience of commoning, around a third of the audience put up their hands, an indicator perhaps that less preaching to the converted would have been appropriate.
This was an inaugural meeting, so uncertainty and clumsiness can be excused, however on balance the presentations had a lot to say about common goods resources, i.e. a city’s water supply and much less about commoning, often a fragile flower growing out of peer-to-peer governance, commitment and emotional competence. The meeting certainly seemed in no doubt that a wider extension of the common goods theme might be one way to shape a new and very necessary politics. As Marisa Matias the impressive Portuguese MEP who had convened the meeting said at the end of her introduction, ‘the Left is lost’.
Was this a meeting then, as it perhaps seemed, where the old left was trying to befriend a new and promising flavour of the political month? There was no coffee break and apart from casual chat before the meeting, no interaction between the assembled delegates –the old paradigm of a representative polity?
And yet… in her introductory remarks Marisa Matias outlined two agenda items, ‘how to think outside the logic of the state’ and ‘how to handle the management of the commons’, both radical contradictions of neoliberal preferences. Perhaps this Common Goods Intergroup event was a way of introducing to an old politics, news of political innovation that was proving unexpectedly and improbably successful.
Only days before, Barcelona and possibly Madrid had elected officials with a ‘commons’ agenda; and… Anne le Strat outlined the successful Eau de Paris return of the Paris water supply to municipal ownership (paralleled by at least one other commune I know of in the Ardeche); There were several references to commons rights progress in Spain, and in Italy a supreme court decision had opened constitutional protocols to commons forms of organisation, along with the adoption of ‘beni comuni’ as a legal concept. Alongside this, as Benjamin Coriat outlined, in Barcelona the recovery of the commons appeared to be afoot.
A delegate from Transform made a reminder that there was a continuing need for recovery of the many public goods had been given to exponents of capital, she also argued for the establishment of a federation of commons. Paoli Napoli from CENJ, a French judicial research centre argued convincingly in favour of questioning the validity of state monopolies as a way of discovering commons. Ricardo la Fuente a Portuguese Free Culture activist drew attention to the scale of the capture of the internet commons by Facebook and Google, US dominated vertical monopolies that threaten the integrity and freedoms of the internet. He argued that safe-guarding access to the public sphere of the internet was a vital aspect of the commons agenda.
Michel Bauwens, a long-time peer to peer exponent, spoke about the digital commons, a driver of the unprecedented social change that underlies the commons movement. Bauwens outlined three digital commons institutions, one: the huge numbers of people who are contributors to the building of open public goods such as Linux, Arduino and Wikipedia etc (not to mention the countless millions of blogs like this!); secondly: the digital enterprises that feature peer-to-peer governance and transparency, he gave as examples: Loomio, Inspiral etc.; and third: for-benefit foundations such as the P2P Foundation and many others.
Bauwens warned that digital innovation presently tends to be compromised, since to pick up the resources to expand and develop an innovation, means becoming a ‘start-up’ with the likelihood of capture by venture capital. Devising alternative ways of financing commons innovation, he seemed to be saying, will be a vital part of an emerging commons economy. Bauwens left early to talk to the mayor of Ghent about another current proposal – Assemblies of the Commons – he also mentioned generating Chambers of the Commons, mirroring, at least in the UK, the ubiquitous ‘chambers of commerce’ and lastly the need, as he put it, to develop an ‘operating system’ for the commons. All welcome news.
In conclusion: Encouraging evidence from across southern Europe that there were a variety of instances of participatory politics inspired by, or already implementing commons/common goods. Great resources: the whole meeting was streamed live and by the following morning a video of it had been posted by the EFDD group with English interpretation.
And… the meeting had a classroom format – people sitting in rows facing expert speakers. As a groupwork facilitator I long ago learned that such a format inhibits or prevents the kind of face to face (and peer to peer) cooperation and communal knowing that commoning requires. This is not a minor matter, conversations are shaped by context. If this is the only Parliamentary format for commons/common goods discussion/negotiation/interpretation, I’d be concerned that this infrastructure could inadvertently exclude the intended benefits.
And yet… perhaps too much should not be expected from a body such as the Parliament which is devoted to scrutiny and correctivity, not usually a recipe for innovation. The European Parliament is an extant political forum, it mends and bends the proposals of European institutions. Diemut Theato, an MEP I happen to have met, some years ago demonstrated this when, due to her leadership and financial perspicacity, the entire European Commission had to resign. The Parliament’s potential ability to bounce back European legislation that ignores, compromises or damages the common good is very welcome. With regard to the common good, every little helps!
Video of the meeting: https://youtu.be/2WYHEWTHDek
Common Goods Intergroup members: the Greens, the left group GUE, the Social Democrat party (S&D) and the EFDD (joint president Nigel Farage) and which now includes Beppe Grillo with his Cinque Stelle party.
The Common Goods Intergroup and this meeting was facilitated by Elisabetta Cangelosi and Pablo Sanchez Centellas
November 1, 2013 § Leave a comment
The psyCommons began as a flicker of intuition.
A decade of necessary resistance to the state’s attempt to capture psychotherapy and counselling in the UK masked a more important perspective – around 75% of the population have no need of ‘mental health’ services. What is it they know and do that keeps them psysavvy?
This video begins to examine and define these capacities – the ordinary wisdom and shared power of the psyCommons. If you have anything to add or subtract, let’s hear it.
The second in a series of videos about the psyCommons looks at how the basic human capacity to resolve and survive the ordinary difficulties of daily life through family, friends and local communities, is undermined by the psychological professions, along with their pharma allies.
The psyCommons and its Enclosures: Professionalized Wisdom and the Abuse of Power
A third video is a bit of a sideways step. Butterfly Therapy builds on some images I made a while back to honour the common sense capacity we have to survive, recover and flourish from many, if not all, of the challenges of the human condition.
August 23, 2013 § 1 Comment
As the psyCommons idea has begun to move out into the world it has set off chat about its value and context. The most recent take on the psyCommons was this article, The richness of everyday relationships in a leading UK Counselling journal, Therapy Today. A handy nudge in the right direction. David Bollier wrote a blog piece about it and so also, in German, did Silke Helfrich and in Spanish, Javier Jiménez Cuadros.
Some of the most valuable support and insight have come from Thomas Allan, and this guest blog entry by him features a collection of four reflections on the psyCommons idea, inspired by his enthusiasm for Community Psychology.
Having recently read “The Richness of Everyday Relationships”, I wanted to put my support behind the ‘shared power’ and ‘ordinary wisdom’ of the ‘psyCommons’. The article prompted me to reflect on the role of the professional in the helping professions, dominant forms of knowledge and language, and on my own values, commitment and accountability to marginalized individuals and groups in various community contexts.
The psyCommons is a name for the universe of rapport – of relationships between people – through which daily life is navigated. But in my view, the psyCommons is also a model for critical thinking and systemic wisdom.
As I read, the notion of psyenclosures became clearer: Psychiatry and Psychology – an enclosure of our ordinary wisdom and shared power? Solicitors and Barristers – an enclosure of our ability to resolve conflict? In our local community, the car garage has enclosed a monopoly market share by accumulating and sequestering expertise in fixing cars. How far does the metaphor of enclosure go? Does the Hairdresser enclose our ability to maintain our personal appearance? At what point is a community service an enclosure and at what point a shared community resource? It seems only a question of management, but it also raises questions of values and power.
An insight that struck me was the reference to the boundaries between the psyenclosures and the psyCommons; a kind of socially determined ‘mental illness’ that divides and alienates. In this context, boundaries signify inclusion or exclusion and, rather than being fixed, obvious and natural, are a human constructed limitation on what is the acceptable extent of responsibility and participation. It implies that some are able to participate in a given system, but others are not, and those who are not have been dispossessed of the reciprocal social ties and psychological supports necessary for their well-being. For me, it evoked Michel Foucault in Madness and Civilization of how society constructs diversity as deviance using ‘totalizing’ discourses that reflect the power of one group over another, where ‘psychiatry provides the grand narrative..’ (Prilleltensky & Nelson 2010).
Boundaries then, when used as a control mechanism, can also lead to social marginalization; economic and social disadvantage where individuals and communities are systematically blocked from rights, opportunities and resources (e.g. housing, employment, healthcare). It is possible to reduce what is from what is not in the medical world mainly through cause and effect relationships (Virus = Illness, Vaccine = Prevention, Treatment = Cure), but in the social world we need to contextualise in order to understand why or how something has happened. In the absence of objective certainty, the decision to boundary between social in-group and social out-group is not a scientific act of discovery but an act of power. The same kind of power is exercised by anyone who comes to control a jointly used resource where the right of others to use it is lost; a boundary or limitation has been established seen typically in the case of property rights and land ownership e.g. colonisation, enclosure of common land or corporate land grabs. In the context of the psy professions, Community Psychologists Carolyn Kagan and Mark Burton (2010) refer to this deeply problematic, simplistic and reductionist process as the ‘ideological definition of one’s identity in the interests of dominant groups’:
I find much in common in the psyCommons with Community Psychology (CP), a sub discipline of Psychology that seeks to understand people in context with communities and the wider society. It’s a values based approach that draws especially (but not exclusively) from constructivist and transformative paradigms. There are many practical applications and interventions but in brief CP has an ecological theme (the fit between people and their environment), stresses the importance of cultural relativity and diversity so that people are not judged by one single standard or value, and a focus on social change ‘towards a maximally equitable distribution of psychological as well as material resources’ (Rappaport 1977:3). A very useful quote by Community Psychologist Ed Trickett appears to link this approach to the psyCommons concept: “Human activity is not situated within a social vacuum; it is situated within a socio-historical and cultural context of meanings and relationships” (Trickett 1996; Prilleltensky & Nelson 2010). CP also promotes principles such as ‘Sense of Community’ and ‘Social Capital’, both of which I would suggest are principles shared by the psyCommons:
Sense of Community: Community Psychologist Seymour Sarason described it as ‘the sense that there is a network of and structure of relationships that strengthens rather than dilutes feelings of loneliness; the sense that one belongs in and is meaningfully part of a larger collectivity’ (Sarason 1988:41)
Social Capital: Speaks of the potential of communities to improve the well-being of their members through the synergy of associations, mutual trust, sense of community and collective action (Hooghe, 2003; McKenzie & Harpham 2006).
CP makes visible the dominant cultural narrative of ‘blaming the victim’: “What typically seems to happen is that the situation of marginalized persons is portrayed as result of their own characteristics. What is essentially a social and historical phenomenon is presented as a biological or an intra-psychic event” (Kagan & Burton 2010). Linking this to the psyenclosures, this creates demand for experts who are employed to define the reality of individuals by reducing their personal experiences to a set of pathologies with technical names and treatments.
According to this view, the existing social reality internalizes the ideological narrative (such as the stereotyping of the mentally ill or indeed the unemployed, elderly or the disabled – consider the TV comedy ‘Little Britain’ whose basis for humour was a set of sketches based entirely around poking fun at the victims of this process of marginalization) and ‘reality’ is then seen as a natural rather than socially determined state of affairs. Kagan and Burton’s view is that “psychology has often colluded with ideologies that blame the victim by offering endogenous ‘causes’ of the situations in which oppressed people find themselves”.
But by drawing from the value of holism and using an ecological metaphor, CP provides an effective antidote to medical model reductionism. An example of this is understanding mental illness not only at the level of individual characteristics, but as relating to other factors such as unemployment and debt, lack of social support networks or discrimination. This perspective provides a different lens through which to understand reality and implies that changes in human behaviour are possible when boundaries of the social and organisational environment can be changed. As the network of shared power, rapport and relationship between individuals in current and historical system dynamics, this theoretical approach shares a common principle with the psyCommons.
Social Ecological Model: pays explicit attention to the social, institutional, and cultural contexts of people-environment relations. This perspective emphasizes the multiple dimensions (example: physical environment, social and cultural environment, personal attributes), multiple levels (example: individuals, groups, organizations), and complexity of human situations (example: History: cumulative impact of events over time?)
What can be done in practice? Well, this needs further exploration, but by asking different questions; questions that prompt critical reflection rather than the questions that propose there is a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. And rather than critique, as intriguing as it is, what would be useful is critical thinking in practice, prompting people to reflect on questions such as those proposed by Flyvbjerg (2001) ‘Where are we going?’ ‘Is this direction desirable?’ ‘Who gains and who loses?’ ‘By which mechanism of power?’, thus, we are now concerned with ‘how values and power play out in social change processes in various contexts’ (Prilleltensky & Nelson 2010).
I would also emphasise bringing a sense of shared history such as that of the Commons to the foreground. Smith (1999) states “to hold an alternative history is to hold alternative knowledge. The [learning to be had from] access to alternative knowledge is that they can form the basis of alternative ways of doing things.” I think developing learning towards a critical understanding of dominant cultural narratives, and developing alternative forms of knowledge alongside new structures of governance and processes of civic accountability is crucial. In particular, the work cooperative: “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise”(ICA), which explicitly embodies the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity, is particularly suited to meet these objectives as an alternative to the dominant bureaucratic organisation.
Other areas for exploration that came to mind when reading “The Richness of Everyday Relationships”:
Empathy: the need to reconnect to others through thought, feeling, listening, talking, deed, gesture, planning and action.
In an economics of enclosure, the psyCommons are fragments: fragments of thoughts, fragments of ideas, fragments of feeling, fragments of communications, fragments of understanding, fragments of the whole.
Empathy is a vital connecting quality enabling those who empathise to understand what they have in common as opposed to emphasising differences. It provides understanding of a diverse range of experience and it is this diversity that makes up the picture of the whole. Moreover, listening to the stories of others can make them real for those who care enough to listen, validate their experiences, help guide people towards their own solutions and empower people to re-claim their history.
Culture: Culture = Commons, Enclosures = Control of Culture?
Culture can be defined as ‘the knowledge, language, values, customs and material objects that are passed from person to person and from one generation to the next in a human group or society..’
The Commons is about culture and cultural change. What is needed is the reclaiming of culture, both economic and psychological, from an oppressive norm or societal status quo; e.g. enclosure, (monopoly) capital.
Discourse: Discourse Analysis is a useful way of theorizing culture, and “social processes operating in contested terrains, in which different voices become hegemonic” (Bratton 2010).
Metaphor: The importance of using metaphor to link social constructs to concrete things. “Metaphors reveal alternative ways of thinking about the origin and nature or organizing, its processes and the constructs that form its ontological roots” (Bratton 2010). Thus, using the enclosures as a metaphor, an historical antecedent and a current reality, in this sense, provides an alternative lens through which to understand reality (ontology).
Aristotle: ‘Midway between the unintelligible and the commonplace it is Metaphor that produces the most knowledge’
Organisation: Organisations and organizing play a central role to both the health of the psyCommons and the process of enclosure. The dominant metaphor as applied to organisations is overwhelmingly the machine metaphor and fits the objectives of the bureaucratic organisational form: ‘organisations were viewed as the primary vehicle through which lives were rationalised, planned, articulated, scientized, made more efficient, orderly and managed by experts’ (Bratton 2010).
Bratton, J. 2010 Work and Organizational Behaviour
Carter, P. & Jackson, N. Re-thinking Organizational Behaviour: A Poststructuralist Framework
Flyvbjerg, B. 2001 Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails and how it can succeed Again
Parkhurst, J. The Social Side of Health (Blog)
Prilleltensky, I. & Nelson, G. 2010 Community Psychology: In Pursuit of Liberation and Well-being
Rappaport, J. 1977 Community Psychology: Values, Research, & Action
Restakis, J. 2010 Humanizing the Economy: Cooperatives in the Age of Capital
Smith, L.T. 1999 Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples
Sarason, S. 1988 The Psychological Sense of Community
June 3, 2013 § 4 Comments
This is a second post of reflections following my participation in the Economics and the Common(s) Conference – From Seed Form to Core paradigm in Berlin May 22-24, 2013. Find the first post Beyond Market and State – the Commons and Commoning here.
Courtesy of the generosity of the Heinrich Böll Foundation an enormous amount of material from the May 2013 Berlin conference is online here, alongside this I thought I’d post a few headlines of strategies, tactics or perspectives that I found valuable. And in recognition of an emphasis in the conference on the economics of commons and commoning I’ll follow this with a longer account of the talk about money by Jem Bendell that for me was the highlight of the event.
First a few headlines:
Commons culture emphasises a move from transaction to relationships
In a psyCommons context this means letting go of a deferential bow to the transactions of professional psychological expertise framed as assessment, diagnosis and treatment, and moving to giving or receiving help or care based on relationship that includes rapport.
We need to make a move from developing ‘exchange value’ to ‘use value’
As I’m coming to understand this it means letting go of money as a yardstick of value and moving toward utility – towards liking, or love as an indicator of validity in a service, object or relationship.
Patenting is only the tip of a vast iceberg of trade secrets
Patenting and copyright have seemed reasonable as due protection and reward for creative effort until, as the conference reminded me, they become increasingly enclosures encroaching more and more into daily life – the public face of its commoditization. Also from a psyCommons perspective, much of the contents of patent and copyright enclosures have been paid for from public funds.
Establish commoning principles but have the humility to know they are only provisional
This is my intention with the psyCommons proposal i.e. that it is a proposal subject to revision and update (and contribution!).
Don’t be over-interested in definitions of the commons – a tomato doesn’t need to know whether it is a fruit or a vegetable
I agree but I have learned to distinguish between what amounts to a common pool resource and what I see as a functional commons – groups of people in relationship held and sustained by negotiations about principles and procedures. Here is a listing from the commons I belong to.
Caring for the Health Commons: What it is and Who’s Responsible for it
Michael D. McGinnis February 20, 2013
I came across this at the commons conference, McGinnis gives a helpful overview of priorities.
Resist claims which suggest that anything that doesn’t belong to the state is bad, dangerous or invalid
I can’t now recall who said this but I have long supported the need to honour wilderness both in the sense of unfettered imagination and in resisting the desire for enclosure of people in flight from their own and other’s creative chaos.
Reclaim subjectivity from the distortions of capital
If the first task of the psyCommons notion is recognition of a thriving common pool resource of ordinary wisdom and shared power, the second task is to make whatever contributions we can to dissolving what Negri and Hardt call the empire within, the extent to which we have become entranced by the imperatives of capital.
Commoneering, Money Markets and Value
A talk by Jem Bendell, Professor of Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cumbria gave what was for me an electrifying outline of the huge formative influence money has on lives and well being. The video of his talk is available here. The following account is an appreciative review of what he had to say.
Jem defined a commons very technically (he’s a professor!) ‘a commons is a system of relations between people and phenomena that has an emergent property of sustained sufficient access for all’, and then moved on to talk about money.
The current mainstream money system he told us represents an almost total enclosure of our ability to trust each other. Governments, central banks and private banks work together to generate the dominant means of exchange, the dominant way we relate to each other. This banking system drives further enclosure and it works against a commons culture because of the way that credit is created.
Where does money come from? 97% of money, he pointed out is issued by private banks. When we take out a loan, the bank, through extending credit to us, is creating new money.
While there are a lot of different currencies world-wide, the bank-issued debt system behind them is the same. What does this mean, he asked? The shocking answer was that we are all in debt for ever because all this money is issued with interest. This means that there is more debt than there is money to pay off what has been borrowed. The system can only continue if there are ever increasing amounts of money loaned each year. As I type this I find myself asking, isn’t this a Ponzi, i.e. ‘pyramid’ scheme on a global scale?
Jem went on to say that the scale of the indebtedness feeds massive inequality and it also means the economy has to grow because loans will only be issued to service economic activity.
This creates an intense growth imperative that drives the commodification of more and more of daily life and planetary resources, there is a pressing need to turn everything into a commodity that will yield a profit so as to service the interest on the debt.
Jem Bendell argued that this monetary system is anti-commons, it prevents the growth of a commons economy. It shapes the way we experience life, we think that wealth is scarce, that we must all compete for a share of it when actually, as he emphasised very strongly, the wealth is us.
How to take this economic perspective into commons life, or daily, or indeed any aspect of life was less clear but I did come to understand why there is so much attention given to alternative currencies that are attempting get outside what he called the ‘bankertarian’ or ‘bankocracy’ of money based on indebtedness.
Shocking too to realise that money whether global and personal is a very elaborate form of fiction, as I mentioned earlier a story, apparently in the Ponzi tradition, in which constant growth is a precondition for the scheme to continue.
But as Jem Bendel pointed out in his conclusion, it can’t continue, we are already over the critical threshold of 440ppm of carbon dioxide and half the Arctic ice has been melting each summer for a while now. Here is the slide he showed us.
We need a new story. Urgently. And if it was the intention of the Commons conference to bring this home, it worked for me.
While my understanding of capital has been poor but improving lately, I have long seen a belief in the inevitability of capitalism as a form of trance induction. Historically, people, courageous people risked (and sometimes lost) their lives to extricate themselves from the cradle-to-grave grip of medieval Roman Catholic trance induction, I suspect that with capitalism we are faced with an equivalent task.
Trance inductions reinforce beliefs through disallowing discrimination, while I don’t suppose it is news to see capital as a particularly archaic but virulent heritage religion, we need to step off critique and make up a new story that breaks capital’s self-serving trance, one that serves mutuality and reciprocity rather than bankers and their cronies. Can the commons provide that story? I suspect the commons is the story.
Do we have the time? That remains to be seen.
I’ll update this post with links to the Commons conference key-note videos and other documentation when they become available.
June 3, 2013 § 2 Comments
This is the first of two posts of reflections following my participation in the Economics and the Common(s) Conference – From Seed Form to Core paradigm in Berlin May 22-24, 2013 See also the second post Making Money.
In this post I’ll offer some reflections on the conference experience and in the second I’ll say something about what I’ll take away from it into commoning.
I had three agendas for the four days of the Berlin Commons conference; the first was to gain perspective on the psyCommons perspective, the proposal that there is an existing and thriving commons of human rapport, ordinary wisdom and shared power. Done. It was easy to see how the psyCommons notion sits within an emerging worldwide cultural/political movement focused on commons and commoning, plus rolling back or interrupting enclosures of commons of any kind. What is being sought is a way of structuring human social relations that reaches ‘beyond market and state’.
My concerns about whether the psyCommons proposal had legs were dissolved by the experience of discovering at the conference a vast collection of global and local networks of commons action and intention, many of them wildly divergent but in ways that spoke of the emergence of powerful cooperative ethos. Agenda item two: make connection with key exponents of the emerging commons, over two hundred people from 30 countries attended the conference. Done.
The positive zizz of the conference was overwhelming, how to keep discrimination awake was sometimes a struggle.
Each morning at breakfast in the hotel the muzak played Judy Garland singing Over the Rainbow. Might the commons movement and with it the psyCommons proposal be only a tiny blip on the event horizon of capital accumulation? Might commoning be co-opted as a band aid for its woundings? An ever present danger perhaps but aren’t we also inhabitants of an inflection point in history equivalent in its scope to transform our economic life as Gutenberg’s press? And if so doesn’t the re-emergence of the commons as a way of structuring social relations provide an antidote to the supposed inevitability of capital?
The Commons conference could hardly have been more richly placed to support the notion of the dissolution of apparent cultural inevitability. The Heinrich Böll Foundation hosted it and fifty metres away across the street from Foundation’s somewhat cubic building…
….was another cube, a 1942 WW2 air raid shelter, icon of an earlier, apparently immutable, institution that nevertheless perished…
…albeit following the application of considerable force.
And a certain optimism could be held to permeate the very ground beneath us in the conference venue. The Heinrich Böll Foundation occupies a site in the Mitte district of central Berlin that until 1989 was behind the Berlin Wall.
In that year the German Democratic Republic, the GDR, a client state of the USSR that had for decades maintained a barbed wire and guard post grip on millions of German people, succumbed to determined peaceful resistance (though not without enormous pain and recrimination). Optimism about the commons as a ‘world beyond market and state’ could still be misplaced but the Berlin wall fell, an unimaginable event for those of us old enough to have seen the horror of it in operation. So too in some countries have civil rights been transformed (not to forget slavery) and there have been local successes too, the toxicity of smoking seemed immutable but sustained effort has created smoke-free offices and other buildings.
And then there is the matter of scale, how can the re-emergence of commons and commoning match the scale of the interplay of market with the transport commons that we met on arrival at the Berlin central station?
Here again might not threads of optimism about commoning be found? What makes such an elaborate infrastructure and huge complexity of processes feasible both in design and management? Isn’t it software and internet interoperability? And isn’t this, as was very apparent at the Commons conference, now available to anyone and everyone? So far as the psyCommons proposal suggests that human rapport is ubiquitous, don’t we now through the internet and associated software, have the means of production for communities of global and local commons?
A third agenda I took with me to Berlin was the expectation of being able to contribute, to find people for whom the psyCommons proposal would seem like a gift. The richness of the presentations, perspectives and diversity of takes on what the commons might be, should be, or already was, ran wall to wall, and some of it was vividly memorable, however contribution turned out to be more problematic and I remain unclear why this was (but read on).
In the infrastructures stream I gave a brief account of the Independent Practitioners Network (IPN), a long-standing commons infrastructure, but there were no followup questions, no further interest. I raised the notion of psyCommons in the culture stream but again it was received politely but without questions or followup. Did I run into, as I suspect, some (appropriate) aversion to psychology as a pariah domain of distress and stigma? (there’s an understanding among therapists that at a party never say you are a psychotherapist – people will disappear).
Awkward this and it could be mindfluff. However for all its value (see post 2!) I did tend to experience some aspects the conference as leaning towards the technocratic – technocratic in the sense that there is a technical solution to any and every problem and away from the subjectivities of heart and body (though the food was great!).
I had expected to meet far more lived experience of commons and commoning, instead intellectual/academic conversations ‘about’ commons often seemed to prevail – there was a strong ‘digital commons’ story – that sometimes morphed into a ‘knowledge commons’ narrative which seemed to presume that everything of consequence can be digitised – there was even an assertion that ‘all commons are knowledge commons’.
And it needs to be acknowledged that this was framed by a repeated emphasis on the need to move from transaction to relationship. I take this as a reminder that human relationship is based on a commonality of presence, of gaze, of body language, where feeling and emotion, sustained through rapport precede and shape discrimination and action. But oops… might we be back to the pariah domain of psychology?
If any of this seems mean-spirited, this is not my intention, that my lived experience of being in a long-standing commons with at least two significant fruits, didn’t find significant engagement, was disappointing but the feeling of disappointment rests happily on the richness of an otherwise phenomenal event – for some further details of which, see post two, Making Money
April 22, 2013 § 1 Comment
The psyCommons notion is a statement about the ordinary wisdom and shared power of our daily relations with others. it is about recognizing and valuing the myriad forms and instances of these relations as a commons resource in company with the air we breathe, the rivers, the oceans and the radio spectrum.
The psyCommons is alive and well. It is a wilderness reverberating with the ironies and contradictions, the delights and derelictions of the human condition. And, as throughout history, it is perpetually under threat due to distortion and exploitation from enclosures, the capture and sequestering for profit or advantage of various forms of our wealth.
The psyCommons blog aims to give attention to both of these dimensions of the psyCommons it provides a space for inquiry, for work in progress. Contributions are invited.