Land grabs, structural adjustment policies, colonisation, resource extraction, illicit financial flows, tax havens, paywalls, enclosure, gentrification, systemic inequalities and oppression, barriers to access, cash cropping, glass ceilings, slavery, privatisation, unfair immigration laws, terminator seeds — there are so many words and ways that wealth and resources have been taken or stolen at the expense of others and hoarded or managed undemocratically. I realised the other day that my ultimate dream is to live in a world where my freedoms, opportunities and life (and those of all people) don’t come at the expense of another.
Elsie, Commons Transition Project, Jul 31 2020
Imagine the co-creation of beautiful new and imaginative commons — new forms and ways of creating and sharing knowledge and beauty; new, life-affirming technologies; new ways to grow, manufacture and distribute food more fairly and ethically and so on that a more mainstream transition to commoning; where we and our communities, democratically and equitably manage and steward our own resources!
However, as I write this, the world’s 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60 percent of the planet’s population. Huge swathes of resources such as land, water, energy, housing, agriculture, and minerals around the world are privately owned or managed by corporations and individuals. Half of England, for example, is owned by less than 1% of the population. Or at least that was the case last year.
We have a hoarding problem. Even Fortune magazine can see it.
And so, the transition to commoning is going to require some of us — corporations, countries and individuals alike — to give up some of what we currently ‘own’ or are hoarding at the expense of others. And it’s not just the billionaires — it’s anyone of us, or any community, country, or continent/bloc (the West/Global North in particular), that hoards, or consumes more resources than our fellow humans. To be clear, I don’t just mean continuing to individually accumulate wealth and resources but redistributing them to others — I mean giving up accumulation in the first place. Without this, there can never be true equity in our world.
‘Giving up’ to the commons is a matter of justice
One, very important argument for redistribution of wealth and resources, whether that’s through commoning or not, is because it’s a matter of justice, equity and reparation. The point is that poverty and inequality don’t exist because they are ‘natural occurrences’; they exist because there is a system in place, designed, contributed to and perpetuated by us humans (some more than others) that make it so; and therefore we can’t ‘eradicate it’ like it’s a disease — we must dismantle the systems that keep people impoverished and life inequitable. In short; those billionaires didn’t get rich because money rained down upon them, they didn’t even get rich because they’re just ‘good’ people who worked every hour of every day (because Jeff Bezos’s worth increased about $12,000,000 an hour this year according to this article and no one’s labour is worth that. (Side note — the lowest paid job I could see for US-based Amazon employees was paid at $12.36 per hour). According to Oxfam, even if you saved $10,000 a day since the building of the pyramids of Egypt, you would have only one-fifth the average fortune of the 5 richest billionaires. Wild huh?
Land grabs, structural adjustment policies, colonisation, resource extraction, illicit financial flows, tax havens, paywalls, enclosure, gentrification, systemic inequalities and oppression, barriers to access, cash cropping, glass ceilings, slavery, privatisation, unfair immigration laws, terminator seeds — there are so many words and ways that wealth and resources have been taken or stolen at the expense of others and hoarded or managed undemocratically. I realised the other day that my ultimate dream is to live in a world where my freedoms, opportunities and life (and those of all people) don’t come at the expense of another. It made me really think about the true cost of my life, which the systems and many of us, myself included, are desperate to obscure. I can only imagine how much lighter I would feel in that world — and I feel that the commons, and the fair distribution and management of resources is a significant step towards that.
‘Giving up’ to the commons is important for our planet and our future
‘Give up’ some of our resource consumption and ownership isn’t even a purely altruistic move — it’s essential for the sake of the planet as a whole too, for our own sakes and for the sake of our children and their children and so on. Many of us, particularly those of us in the Global North, consume too many resources and it’s costing the planet. One study estimated that we would need five Earths to support the human population if everyone’s consumption patterns were similar to the average person living in the USA (you can work out your own footprint here — mine is 2.9, which is CRAP) — another great reason that economic growth is a ridiculously terrible measure of ‘progress’ (for more on this, please follow the writings of my good friend Jason Hickel).
Are you feeling uncomfortable about where this is going? If so, I understand that; most of us have been born into a system that favours competition over cooperation, where the measure of our worth is how productive we are and how much we own. We might have been taught that ‘giving’ is good, but few of us want to talk about ‘giving up’ what we own. And hey, maybe that’s just a fundamental human trait, but what if we transform that? Because…
…‘giving up’ to the commons important for a better, more beautiful world
Imagine what would be possible if those of us ‘with’- the wealth hoarders, the landowners and landlords, the energy producers, the resource extractors, the colonisers, the giant corporations, the agricultural industry, those of us with systemic white, male, straight, class or able privilege — the gatekeepers of the world’s resources that we could, and should, all share; decided to ‘give them up’? To give up the power and privilege of controlling resources and share them with the world.
Because giving up power and privilege is an illusion when we truly know what there is to gain. It isn’t so painful to take less when you know that you live in a world where people are seen and valued equally, where sharing, collaboration, cooperation and community are the default — when we recognise that this is our only home, that we are all interconnected and that when we come together for our collective benefit, magical things happen. Imagine what the world will feel like when we are all free. What might be possible for others and for all of us when everyone is given the same space and opportunity? What a beautiful, creative, compassionate world that would be.
Finally, giving up to the commons is probably going to happen whether we like it or not…
…so we might as well get on board.
“Give it up, or it will be taken from you
If not by the humans from whom it is stolen
Then by the wind and the water and the waves”Commons Transition