On the “CommonsWealth”

What is CommonsWealth?

There is a new form of human organization emerging around us every day, but yet still on the horizon. It exists beyond all previous forms of human civilization: beyond city-states, beyond Empire, beyond nations, beyond supranational institutions. This new entity permeates the domains of politics, economics, and society, and calls for a new word to suggest in an allusive way the resonances and connotations necessary to understanding it as a whole. This is the CommonsWealth.

The noun “commonwealth”, meaning “public welfare general good or advantage” dates from the 15th century. Originally a phrase (the common-wealth or the common weal — echoed in the modern synonym “public weal”) it comes from the old meaning of “wealth”, which is “well-being”, and is itself a loose translation of the Latin res publica (republic). The term literally meant “common well-being”.
— Wikipedia, “Commonwealth”

Politics

common (“public”) +‎ weal (“well-being”). From c. 1450 as common wele
— Wiktionary, “commonwealth”

CommonsWealth echoes the older term “commonwealth” and suggests a community that organized around a “public.” More recently, commonwealth refers to voluntary organizations of entities, and in some cases, self-governing semi-autonomous communities.

The original idea of a public good that is held in “common” demands a unity of the people, subsumed into a repressive hierarchical entity, by virtue of their being a mass. The politics of the masses opens the door to the tyranny of the majority. By pluralizing the “common” from “commonwealth” into “commons,” the CommonsWealth recognizes and acknowledges the ever-emerging plurality of the political Multitude, a plurality which cannot be distilled or reduced or diminished into a mere mass.

The people has traditionally been a unitary conception. The population, of course, is characterized by all kinds of differences, but the people reduces that diversity to a unity and makes of the population a single identity: “the people” is one. The multitude, in contrast, is many. The multitude is composed of innumerable internal differences that can never be reduced to a unity or a single identity — different cultures, races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations; different forms of labor; different ways of living; different views of the world; and different desires. The multitude is a multiplicity of all these singular differences.
— Hardt and Negri, Multitude, p. xiv.

Economics

The mass of the people, as distinguished from the titled classes or nobility; the commonalty; the common people.
— Websters, “commons”

Commons are shared resources, but the word also means “the people.”

As an economic force, the commons were engaged in economic activity for their livelihoods in ways that the elites were traditionally not. Economic activity was frequently considered a lower class occupation, and something that the upper classes considered beneath them.

As shared resources, commons may be depletable or not; they may be free-access or not. Commons includes both natural resources like forests and oceans as well as new commons like information, currencies, organizations, and liberties. Regardless of their type, commons can be created, sustained, and managed. Economics Nobel winner Elinor Ostrom’s work led the way, and commons scholars of all kinds for half a century have shown us how.

So, CommonsWealth underscores the fact that the economy of the future is built on commons, both the people and the resources that they share and steward together.


Society

“Only connect.”
— E. M. Forster, Howard’s End

Wealth refers to much more than financial or monetary accumulation, or material acquisition. Wealth, stemming from “weal” refers more accurately to “well-being.” Quality of life, freedom from stigma and persecution, and fairness of opportunities are examples of more complex phenomena that constitute what we really need in our lives: connection.

“[T]here is no center, only an irreducible plurality of nodes in communication with each other.”
— Hardt and Negri, Multitude, p. 82.

In the networked society that is the CommonsWealth we are all connected by increasingly short chains of influence.

“[W]e are all connected by short chains of influence. It doesn’t matter if you know about them, and it doesn’t matter if you care, they will have their effect anyway. To misunderstand this is to misunderstand the first great lesson of the connected age: we may all have our own burdens, but like it or not, we must bear each other’s burdens as well.”
— Duncan Watts, Six Degrees, p. 301.

Consequently, CommonsWealth suggests a world in which the wealth that is generated actively contributes to the well-being of society as a whole and to everyone in it.


CommonsWealth

CommonsWealth, then, is the synergy of all of these modalities into a complex adaptive system, a reality that is organic and leverages difference into the evolutionary strategies of an organism, rather than a static mechanical structure that reduces individuals to cogs in a machine.

Political, economic, and social theorists in the 20th century struggled to come to grips with a totalizing global system which seemed destined to consume all of its inhabitants into a compassion-less mind-less ravenous monster, heedless of either individual human needs or their shared environment. Their unfortunate conclusion was that in order to abandon the negative, we must abandon everything, including each other. They were wrong. There is an alternative.

“[What postmodernists] cannot imagine is a nontotalizing system or structure that nonetheless acts as a whole.”
— Mark C. Taylor, The Moment of Complexity: Emerging Network Culture

A political philosophy of the CommonsWealth insists instead that:

The CommonsWealth is not only possible but both inevitable and desirable.

The capacity to create commons, sustain them, and even to regenerate them, into a productive garden of many kinds of wealth — political, economic, and social — is what distinguishes the CommonsWealth from all previous forms of social organization. The CommonsWealth is a future which we all make. Together.

References