Monday, 22 June 2015

"The quiet realization of Ivan Illich's ideas in the contemporary commons movement "

The interest in the idea of 'the commons' is gathering pace and growing in scope:
Futures Forum: Transition to the knowledge commons
Futures Forum: Towards a commons-based society
Futures Forum: The triumph of the commons
Futures Forum: Transitioning from a Consumer Culture >>> to Sustainable Consumption
Futures Forum: Decentralized Manufacturing
Futures Forum: The sharing economy >>> “A lot of people want to do the right thing but they are struggling because the systems and culture aren’t right. Companies and governments have got a big role to play in doing that.”
Futures Forum: Local currencies: getting radical: a P2P perspective

One of the pioneers of the commons was Ivan Illich:
Obituary: Ivan Illich | Education | The Guardian
Ivan Illich - The Lancet

Tools for Conviviality (1973) was published only two years after Deschooling Society. In this new work Illich generalized the themes that he had previously applied to the field of education: the institutionalization of specialized knowledge, the dominant role of technocratic elites in industrial society, and the need to develop new instruments for the reconquest of practical knowledge by the average citizen. 

He wrote that "[e]lite professional groups . . . have come to exert a 'radical monopoly' on such basic human activities as health, agriculture, home-building, and learning, leading to a 'war on subsistence' that robs peasant societies of their vital skills and know-how. The result of much economic development is very often not human flourishing but 'modernized poverty,' dependency, and an out-of-control system in which the humans become worn-down mechanical parts."[2] Illich proposed that we should "invert the present deep structure of tools" in order to "give people tools that guarantee their right to work with independent efficiency."[14]

Tools for Conviviality attracted worldwide attention. A resume of it was published by French social philosopher André Gorz in Les Temps Modernes, under the title "Freeing the Future."[15] The book's vision of tools that would be developed and maintained by a community of users had a significant influence on the first developers of the personal computer, notably Lee Felsenstein.[16]

Ivan Illich - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Ivan Illich: a brief introduction - YouTube
Tools for Conviviality

Illich’s essay, “ Silence is a Commons,” appeared in CoEvolution Quarterly in winter 1983, and I still marvel at how much wisdom he packed into that short piece. It was still the early days of the personal computer revolution, and Illich feared that “computers are doing to communication what fences did to pastures and cars did to streets.”

It’s too bad that he didn’t live to see the rise of the Internet, which in some ways has mitigated some of his fears (and in other ways, fulfilled his fears). In any case, his take on the commons and the threats to it are still worth considering. He starts with a nicely nuanced description of the commons:

"People called commons those parts of the environment for which customary law exacted specific forms of community respect. People called commons that part of the environment which lay beyond their own thresholds and outside of their own possessions, to which, however, they had recognized claims of usage, not to produce commodities but to provide for the subsistence of their households. The customary law which humanized the environment by establishing the commons was usually unwritten. It was unwritten law not only because people did not care to write it down, but because what it protected was a reality much too complex to fit into paragraphs."

Ivan Illich and Silence as a Commons | On the Commons
Ivan Illich: Silence is a Commons | Just Think of It
Silence is a Commons - P2P Foundation

Recently, his ideas were explored at a series of lectures in the States on the Commons, and the thinking of Ivan Illich in today's context:
After the Crisis: the thought of Ivan Illich Today - Oakland - LocalWiki
After the Crisis:The thought ofIvan Illich today - flyer

The Quiet Realization of Ivan Illich's Ideas in the Contemporary Commons Movement

I come here today as an ambassador of the commons movement – a growing international movement of activists, thinkers, project leaders and academics who are attempting to build a new world from the ground up. It’s not just about politics and policy. It’s about social practices and the design of societal institutions that help us live as caring, intelligent human beings in spiritually satisfying ways.

Many Americans have not heard of the commons except in connection with the word “tragedy.” We’ve all heard the famous tragedy of the commons parable. It holds that any shared resource invariably gets over-exploited and ruined. Since the “tragedy meme” appeared in a famous 1968 essay by Garrett Hardin, it has been drummed into the minds of undergraduates in economics, sociology and political science classes. It serves as a secular catechism to propagandize the virtues of private property and so-called free markets.

Thanks to the tragedy smear, most people don’t realize that the commons is in fact a success story – that it is a durable artifact of human history, that it is a way to effectively manage shared resources, and that it lies at the heart of a growing political and cultural movement.

I have been a part of this movement for the past fifteen years, writing books, blogging, organizing conferences, giving talks, writing strategy papers, working with partners and trying to raise money. On this journey, I have discovered that the commons contains vast worlds within worlds, most of which are invisible to the Harvard-trained policy wonks who dominate Washington and the neoliberal economists from the great universities.

The commons is in fact alive and well in countless manifestations. It includes millions of open source software communities that have created Linux and infrastructure that powers the Internet; tens of thousands of Wikipedians who write and edit in more than 150 languages; and scientists and academics who contribute to more than 9,000 open access scholarly journals. The Internet amounts to one of the great hosting infrastructures for the creation of commons.

The commons can be seen in irrigation collectives in Latin America; in farming ejidos in Mexico; and in coastal fisheries off Chile. The commons is alive and well in community forestry systems in Nepal, participatory budgeting systems in Brazil, and stakeholder cooperatives in Canada. The commons is hard at work in seed-sharing communities in India and community gardens in cities around the world. It is powering the “collaborative consumption” that lets people share cars, apartments and tools. The commons lies at the heart of indigenous cultures as well.

You could say that the commons constitutes the great invisible sector of the economy and human society. Or as Illich would have put it, the commons is vernacular culture at work. It’s important to stress that the commons is not a resource. It’s a resource plus a community plus that community’s particular rules and norms for managing the resource. You could say that the commons is a socio-ecological-political-cultural paradigm and worldview.

Let me also stress that the commons movement is not a utopian or ideological project. Nor is it about conventional politics or public policy. The commons is mostly about building working systems for meeting everyday needsoutside of the market and state. It is practically minded and reality-based. It is a grassroots, do-it-yourself, take-charge-of-our-future kind of movement. Commoners are determined to open up new social and political spaces in which people can make their own rules, negotiate their own governance, and craft solutions that are tailored to their local circumstances.

It should be obvious by now why Ivan Illich was passionate about the commons. It embodies so many of his core ethical, ecological and political concerns. It serves as a paradigmatic response – a counterpoint – to the pathologies of modern markets, government, science and large institutions. He understood how the commons could foster a different, more spiritually wholesome pattern of life – and perhaps how it might provoke a new sort of political struggle to achieve it.

The Quiet Realization of Ivan Illich's Ideas in the Contemporary Commons Movement | David Bollier

No comments: