The factions gather & swell in an entirely human tumult. As the poet says – the worst in passionate intensity call others to the fold. Meanwhile, the ways of life of opposing factions have similar effects, because their ways of life are similar – the only differences being in magnitude – that is, in the poverty, or wealth of practitioners. Wealth commands the greatest effects. Factions are so obsessed with hating their mirror-image opponents, that they forget their similar effects – the common follies of their similar ways of life and also of the untapped virtues of their common humanity.
For today, we have a period of great and unprecedented forgetting. It is the Great Forgetting of what we know. We know this – that we are living through the most epic of all human times and that all of us (at least in Europe and America) must dramatically change how we live, or otherwise face catastrophe to end all catastrophes.
The human causes of trashed ecosystems and runaway climate change are very simple. They are very easily understood and nearly everyone understands them. Even so, the effects are complex and unpredictable. The malignancy is certain, but the complexity of feed-back loops and tipping points eludes our perfect understanding. We can only rationalise unknowns as we stumble upon them. Many, who should know better, are locked in arguments supporting this or that projected model – to the degree that they become lost in an unpredictable world of future effects. Meanwhile, they may neglect the world of easily understood (and remedied) causes. Present action creates the future – that is all we can truly know of it. Our causes live in a world of simple arithmetic and simple morals – that is in ordinary household economics.
In the household, we ration what we have as fairly as we can – in things – food, clothing, toys, bottles of wine… – and also in time – in chores and pleasures. A household is made up of rations of what we can justly do. That is, it is made up, more of verbs than nouns. As we travel out, we carry with us, those filial actions – those household verbs. In the larger world we act out the familiar identity. We know who we are. We don’t exceed our rations of things, or of liberties – of nouns, or verbs. If we do so, we lose a part of our identity. We have parents and children. We have tragic and comic passing of time. We embody ancestors and teach children chores and pleasures. This is the world of the commons. Once upon a time, such commons were expressed and formalised by religion. Those commons drove the culture. Leaders could lead – and they could pillage the culture, but they had no means to create it. They could only attempt to steer, benignly, or malignly, what was being created. They needed the intelligence, ingenuity and dexterity of durable cultural tradition to make what they needed – even for pillage. The state depended on vibrant commons and knew it.
The powers of many millions of years of sequestered photosynthesis were suddenly brought into the light and multiplied the cultural powers of what people could do by about twenty. But that power was seized and enclosed and so commons withered into dependant consumerism. People no longer made the culture. Coal, oil and gas made ninety-five percent of the culture and without commons of restraint. Of course, application of coal, oil and gas, had no past – It seemed so miraculous that it could end history. It had no concept of the future – only fantasies of future miracles upon miracles.
Households, commons and religions have been a perennial thorn in the foot of the oil-state. For a start, the state cannot understand verbs – the cultural power of what people do. In fact, culture is simply what people do to make it. The state would like to enclose all the verbs to make them powerless, yet happy oil-fed nouns. Today, it has largely succeeded. Yet, everything we do has an effect and so also a moral. Morals are dangerous to the state – personal right and wrong, may not chime with statutory right and wrong.
Enlightened, new economic models, such as doughnut economics, circular economics and so on are worthy arguments to improve the enclosures. However, such arguments end by endorsing an improved enclosure and so further supressing the commons.
Without oil, it is essential to revive the dexterity, ingenuity and moral probity of the commons – of the powers of what people (one by one) can do. People must reclaim the culture from the enclosures and begin living on the common. The springs are not entirely dry. They survive in the household and that is where the true economy must begin – where the word itself also began. I nearly used the metaphors embers and kindling, but fire, today is not appropriate, though we love it so. It is a shame – the hearth – the treasures of the mantlepiece – we love them – but that is what is truly new in our economics – the end of fire and all its mythologies and the search for what we must newly love. That’s a new myth in the making – as potent as tales of the flood and the fall…
No. We don’t negotiate with the enclosures, we drain them of our footsteps and our blood. We don’t lobby for an aviation tax, we stop flying. We don’t lobby against the pernicious behaviours of super markets, we stop shopping there – neither do we lobby for their improved behaviours – organic produce, fair trade… We seek proper, fair-trading and organic market places, such as proper trades’ people and market squares. We don’t argue for electric vehicles to re-power our massive oil infrastructures. We change and diminish the structures, to a demand which renewables can supply. We turn our backs and then open intelligence and hearts to a new and possible world. Given current trajectories, we’ll probably fail, but we may not fail – and in any case, doing the right thing, even when it fails is the source of happiness. It remains possible that we may emerge from the rubble with something of a culture intact, as stock and money markets cascade in chaos around us and as atmospheric CO.2 settles back into something like a stable terrestrial/atmospheric cycle. The common can stand as it once did, whatever leaders do, and in the dawn, small birds may resume their songs. There is very little hope, but romance is a powerful, transformative thing.
If we continue to waste precious and diminishing time in worthy argument with power’s enclosures (such as the EU), and so neglect our own footsteps, then we’ve not a hope in Hell. We can easily do both, you say? Looking around me, I don’t see that at all, though by all means try it. I hear rising anger and marching in the street and opposing factions with identical life-styles shaking each-others’ lapels.
Note: Feasta is a forum for exchanging ideas. By posting on its site Feasta agrees that the ideas expressed by authors are worthy of consideration. However, there is no one ‘Feasta line’. The views of the article do not necessarily represent the views of all Feasta members.