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Resilience & The Commons


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An argument for a democratic polity, economy, and culture to increase global society's adaptive capacity. And the offering of the commons as a model for an effective, resilient, and democratic way to manage common pool resources.

Published in: News & Politics
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    SLIDE: one nation indivisible

    So what do these episodes have in common?

    At each step, my ancestors were forced out when leaders succeeded in consolidating power. And at each step they were lucky to get out alive.

    Let’s pause here to recognize that this is not just my history. We’re all refugees of this process. We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t. The base of the statue of liberty reads:

    'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me…”

    But our ancestors were more than just tired and poor. They were nimble survivors, and traumatized victims of violence and oppression. Most lost beloved family members and their cultural identity in these transformations.

    The weight of this trauma is felt today, even if experienced generations earlier. And this traumatizing process goes on now with indigenous people the world over.

    But also in less dramatic but equally poisoning way in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and government. We experience dulling if not life threatening exclusion whether it’s in East Oakland, middle management at a Fortune 500, or he workings of our pseudo-democracy. Nearly everywhere we go, we’re excluded from decision making and the bounty of our work. And it’s soul-crushing.


    SLIDE: consolidation of wealth and power

    OK, back to my story. Let’s review.

    We fled from a monarchy.

    Then a nation state.

    And then fled from a slave-holding agrarian confederacy to a centralized industrial republic

    What’s the lesson here? There’s a couple.

    First. that we should not be fooled by the form this process takes. Or distracted by its many symptoms.

    Whether it’s called

    -Monarchy or Republic
    -Communist or Capitalist
    -Democratic or Republican
    -For profit or nonprofit
    -Unsustainable or Sustainable

    If it’s concentrating decision making and resources, then it’s moving toward a less resilient system, one that’s prone to crisis and collapse.

    The all too familiar issues emerge in the wake of this process: poverty, pollution, racism, crime, addiction, genocide, homelessness…the list goes on.

    This is the many-headed hydra that politicians, nonprofits, and social enterprises battle fruitlessly. They cut off one head, and another emerges. The mortal head remains obscured. This happens over and over. This is treating symptoms, not causes.


    SLIDE: equity

    We should design for equity, democracy, and diversity because they’re not just Berkeley bumpersticker moral imperatives, they’re survival imperatives, part of a resilience design language.

    The lack of these design features in society is at the root of all our social and environmental problems. Without a true democracy, society can’t self-organize, use resources sustainably, or adapt to changing conditions.

    To quote Al Gore, to solve the global warming problem, we must solve the democracy problem.

    And if we solve the democracy problem, then we’ll also alleviate nearly all social problems because nearly all are exacerbated by inequality.

    That’s the findings The Spirit Level, new book by the Equality Trust based on 30 years of social research. This study, however, is only unique in its thoroughness. There’s mounting evidence that more equal societies work better for everyone, rich and poor.


    SLIDE: nowhere left to run.

    The second lesson is that we must design for resilience because there’s nowhere left to run. We must learn to share this planet’s resources.

    -the planet is settled

    -and effects will reach you no matter where you go because we live in a tightly coupled global economic, political, and climate system.

    Unlike my ancestors, my son Jacob can’t physically flee the problem. He’ll face the same issues no matter where he goes.

    The only exodus left is to another system, one that distributes decision making and resources.

    But what kind of system? Resilience Alliance member Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel winning research on how commons work offers a vision.


    SLIDE: Exodus to the commons

    What is a commons? And why do they matter now? A commons is a common pool resource that is managed directly by users as common property.

    Some are finite natural resources like grazing lands, forests, irrigation waters, and fisheries

    Some are virtual and offer infinite supply like open source software or information commons like Wikipedia.

    Ostrom has documented in scores of case studies over many decades how various communities manage commons equitably and sustainably over the long term.

    Her Nobel winning work debunks theories about the Tragedy of the Commons. She has refuted the idea that private property is the only effective methods to manage finite natural resources.

    Her work shows that ordinary people working at the local level can manage resources better than corporations or governments, who often don’t understand user’s needs, local conditions, or take the best interests of locals to heart. Who apply one size fits all solutions.

    In other words, she has shown us that we don’t have to run, the commons give us a way to share power and wealth.


    SLIDE: qualities

    Commons embody ancient wisdom, seeing nature as common property is part of indigenous cultures the world over.

    Commons are resilient social-ecological systems that support democratic values, equity, and care for nature in one framework

    Commons share similar principles across cultures but adapt to local conditions leading to a healthy institutional diversity.

    Commons are practical, it’s often dramatically cheaper for users to manage commons themselves than for experts to do it

    Commoners are neither selfish nor altruistic, self-interest and collective interest are merely aligned


    SLIDE: design principles
    In comparing communities, Elinor Ostrom found that groups who manage commons successfully share these eight design principles:

    -Group boundaries are clearly defined

    -Rules governing the use of collective goods are well matched to local needs and conditions.

    -Most individuals affected by these rules can participate in modifying rules.

    -The rights of community members to devise their own rules is respected by external authorities.

    -A system for monitoring member's behavior exists; the community members themselves undertake this monitoring.

    -A graduated system of sanctions is used.

    -Community members have access to low-cost conflict resolution
    For common-pool resources that are parts of larger systems: appropriation, provision, monitoring, enforcement, conflict resolution, and governance activities are organized in multiple layers of nested enterprises.


    SLIDE: Call to action

    My thesis today is that the consolidation of power and wealth is at the heart of all our social and environmental problems.

    And that the solution is to become distributors of power and wealth.

    So I believe that THE priority of our civilization should be the establishment of a democratic polity, culture and economy.

    And I propose that we shift the sustainability movement into a new phase, one that focuses on creating a society shares.

    That help us exit from a corporatist landscape that encloses commons, commoditize everything, creates artificial scarcity, concentrates power and wealth, homogenizes culture, and pits us against each other.

    This means focusing on things like:
    Mass collaboration technologies
    Complementary currencies and timebanks
    Local food production
    Community land trusts
    Adaptive, multiscale governance structures and policies
    Worker coops, Limited equity housing coops
    Participatory budgeting, deliberative citizens councils, Government 2.0
    Public art and media
    New laws and regulations that help people share
    Election and campaign finance reform
    Services that circulate resources locally
    Mutualization of government services
    Open source everything

    And for investors, think about investing not to make money, but to get off the centralized currency system and corporatist grid all together. Invest in your community’s ability to provide for itself and solve problems together. This is real wealth.

    This direction can help us build commons at every scale, from neighborhoods to cities to regions, and beyond. So we can stop running. So we can relax. So we can spend more time with loved ones. So we can become more fully human. So that we have a future.
    I hope you’ll join me in this movement. Thank you.

    Up next is Stephanie Smith, a Harvard-trained designer and social entrepreneur who champions alternative lifestyles and new forms of community. Watch out for her upcoming book about the Third Economy and her experiences starting Cul de Sac Communes.
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Resilience & The Commons

  1. 1. Neal Gorenflo, Publisher,; D4R Cohost resilience & the commons
  2. 3. one king, one nation, & one church  King  Louis XIV  revoked the Treaty of Nantes and made  Catholicism  the religion of France in 1629. The protestant Gorenflos left for Germany sometime after that. Louis XIV believed in one king, one nation, one church.
  3. 4. one Germany Gorenflos probably left Germany during the 1830s after a horrible drought amidst the political turbulence related to German unification and the inability of rulers to help ordinary people.
  4. 5. one nation indivisible William Gorenflo defected from the Confederate Army during the Siege of Vicksburg when he realized the war was lost. He walked to New Orleans and joined the Union Army. A brother tried to kill him with an ax for changing sides when they were reunited near Biloxi, Mississippi.
  5. 6. same as the old boss I'll tip my hat to the new constitution Take a bow for the new revolution Smile and grin at the change all around me Pick up my guitar and play Just like yesterday Then I'll get on my knees and pray We don't get fooled again -The Who
  6. 7. equity democracy diversity Are not only moral imperatives, they’re survival imperatives , part of a resilience design language .
  7. 8. nowhere left to run
  8. 9. exodus to the commons
  9. 10. qualities Commons embody ancient wisdom.
  10. 11. design principles Commons: People & nature in harmony.
  11. 12. open is the brightest green Call to action: Distribute power & wealth. Commons at every scale.