The commons includes anything which supports quality of life and is available to all. Nature is the most obvious example—especially air and water (land, animals and plants having become owned) but cultural commons like languages, institutions, procedures, arts, expectations, and history are potent common ground. So understand, value, support, reclaim, and learn from the commons.
Related: 7 Checks on Extreme Inequality, 21 E Pluribus Unum, 28 Generating Shared Orientation, 40 Nature First, 51 Restrained Liberty, 56 Spaces for Dialogue and Collaboration, 63 Universal Participation
Going deeper …
This is an edited version of the video on this page.
If you want a wise democracy, you need to have very rich commons to encourage people being together and taking responsibility together. There is an associated pattern called “Deep Time Stewardship” which is very closely tied to the commons. Everybody is taking care of it, this thing which we all use. It is ours. It is something that includes everybody: “We use the streets.” “We use the sidewalks.” They are part of our commons. We need to take care of them.
Nature is too often assumed to either be there as a commons and not well taken care of, or it is owned and not totally available to everyone else. Whenever you see privatization activities, that means that pieces of the commons are being contained and changed into commodities. The commons is not a commodity. Take a look at the fact that as our water gets polluted, more people are drinking bottled water. This is an example of not taking care of the commons, not stewarding the commons in a way that maintains it as a commons. It becomes something which is part of the landscape but is not usable by people. Even air and water are becoming colonized.
Lots of people think the commons is nature and we should take care of it, but a lot of the built environment is also commons, like sidewalks. I wrote a poem about that, “As Democratic as a Sidewalk”. But note that anybody can walk on the sidewalk, but you can’t sleep or sit on the sidewalk. In some places there’s lots of efforts to close down the commons.
There are also cultural commons, the often nonphysical aspects of life that we all live with. People share language and care about it, and there are people who try to preserve languages, there’s people who try to defend their right to use them. Diverse languages around the world embody different ways of looking at things. In some languages you can say things you can’t say in other languages. I know people who are working to preserve languages, even as the cultures that they belong to are going extinct. They are desperately trying to preserve the language because it has its own value. It would be nice if the culture could be preserved also, but in the onslaught of globalization and economies, cultures that go along with that – or succumb to it – often lose valuable parts of themselves, and sometimes you need to take a piece of such a culture and preserve it.