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“To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right.”
Thinking About the Commons
I was looking through links on this web site, and came across this verse about the commons that used to be, well, common.
They hang the man and flog the woman
That steal a goose from off the common
But let them prosper and go loose
That steal the common from the goose
This is supposed to be an old nursery rhyme. Though, I never heard it as a child, I heard many others. Seems a little more of an adult theme, than to be a nursery rhyme, but be that as it may, it apparently died out from memory as the commons ìdied out”. This sparked a remembrance of something I had thought of a few years ago.
We don’t have much commons or commoners anymore, people who used to make their living from the common land. The theft goes on, for whatever is left. We have fish and game laws to protect wildlife from poachers, yet there is little restriction on building more houses, more businesses, more farmland fenced or plowed, land taken and totally controlled in many different ways, all of which takes away habitat for wildlife, ìsteals the common from the goose”. It is a blind, irrational thing, to both punish and allow different actions that both destroy wildlife.
I was thinking recently about how the body passes around nutrients, each organ, each cell, taking what it needed from the flow, and no more, letting the rest pass on by. In similar manner, who has not sat at dinner with a lot of other people, and passed dishes of food around, and each person takes some and passes on the rest to the next person? It would be unthinkable that one person would take grossly more than they could eat, essentially stop the flow of food at themselves, pass on only dribbles and crumbs to the people ìdownstream”. And yet, when we deal with money, that is precisely how people behave. Some very few divert the flow of money to themselves, and keep far more than they need, and others quite literally starve. And instead of everyone else being offended, and taking action to change this behavior in one way or another immediately, people eagerly try to learn just how this feat is done so they can do it themselves. What would be highly disapproved behavior in one context, is encouraged, emulated, in only a very slightly different one. Once more, it seems a blind, irrational thing.
What I see going on, is that monetary systems attempt to make people into independent agents, even though it is a fact we are not. Every man and woman for themselves to the highest degree possible. Instead of passing resources around, and people taking what they need and passing the rest on, we play a game with money where we try to take more from society and nature, than we need. We try to be independent, because in this game we can’t rely on other people to give help unless we can pay them. So we try to save up money for the problems that may strike us. Since problems in the future are of unknown character, we can never have too much. The system devours itself, creating problems of people taking too much to deal with the fear of not having enough.
If we had friends we knew we could count on, regardless of what problems came along, we could relax a little from this problem of an unknown future. If we counted up the resources we have, and collectively didn’t take them faster than they renew, we would at least not cause problems ourselves, with regard to having enough in the future. If we worked together, we would find that many of the energy expensive tools we think are necessities, were actually designed to replace people that we found too expensive and unreliable under a monetary system. With this system gone and people back together, we no longer need so many of the expensive tools.
Endless laws are passed to try and fix symptoms from this basic problem of everyone trying for financial independence, but not to deal with the basic problem. The rich rule in one way or another, they pass the laws, and have no intention of getting rid of a system that favors them. The laws go every direction, become a tangled mess, contradictory. ìWhat a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive”, Shakespeare wrote. So true, and exactly what we have.
People On Their Own
Win Wenger writes: “The fact that declining civilizations fail to solve their problems, which Toynbee attributed to other causes, might very well be attributed instead to that very tendency to try to work through central arrangements.
“In rising civilizations, people on their own, at “grass roots” level, take on the problems and issues. People are enough in communication to imitate each other’s successes and avoid each other’s failures, but for the most part are working free of central direction, and usually aren’t the people who had been expected to be the source of the answer.
“It also seems intuitively correct that people who work with what they have, including themselves, on the problems, are more likely to find effective solutions than either the central authorities or all the masses of people standing around waiting for their direction or for resources which are controlled by someone else.”
by Dee Hock
One concept that I have puzzled over is an ancient, fundamental idea, the idea of community. The essence of community, its very heart and soul, is the nonmonetary exchange of value; things we do and share because we care for others, and for the good of the place. Community is composed of that which we don’t attempt to measure, for which we keep no record and ask no recompense. Most are things we cannot measure no matter how hard we try. Since they can’t be measured, they can’t be denominated in dollars, or barrels of oil, or bushels of corn – such things as respect, tolerance, love, trust, beautythe supply of which is unbounded and unlimited. The nonmonetary exchange of value does not arise solely from altruistic motives. It arises from deep, intuitive, often subconscious understanding that self-interest is inseparably connected with community interest; that individual good is inseparable from the good of the whole; that in some way, often beyond our understanding, all things are, at one and the same time, independent, interdependent, and intradependent – that the singular “one” is simultaneously the plural “one.”
In a true community, unity of the singular “one” and the plural “one” extends beyond people and things. It applies as well to beliefs, purpose, and principles. Some we hold in common with all others in the community. Others we may hold in common with only some members of the community. Still others we may hold alone. In a true community, the values others hold that we do not share we nonetheless respect and tolerate, either because we realize that our beliefs will require respect and tolerance in return, or because we know those who hold different beliefs well enough to understand and respect the common humanity that underlies all difference. Without an abundance of nonmaterial values and an equal abundance of nonmonetary exchange of material value, no true community ever existed or ever will. Community is not about profit. It is about benefit. We confuse them at our peril. When we attempt to monetize all value, we methodically disconnect people and destroy community.
The nonmonetary exchange of value is the most effective, constructive system ever devised. Evolution and nature have been perfecting it for thousands of millennia. It requires no currency, contracts, government, laws, courts, police, economists, lawyers, accountants. It does not require anointed or certified experts at all. It requires only ordinary, caring people.
True community requires proximity; continual, direct contact and interaction between the people, place, and things of which it is composed. Throughout history, the fundamental building block, the quintessential community, has always been the family. It is there that the greatest nonmonetary exchange of value takes place. It is there that the most powerful nonmaterial values are created and exchanged. It is from that community, for better or worse, that all others are formed. The nonmonetary exchange of value is the very heart and soul of community, and community is the inescapable, essential element of civil society.
If we were to set out to design an efficient system for the methodical destruction of community, we could do no better than our present efforts to monetize all value and reduce life to the tyranny of measurement. Community is more than a mega-balance sheet with the value summed on a bottom line. Money, markets, and measurement have their place. They are important tools indeed. We should honor and use them. But they are far short of the deification their apostles demand of us, and before which we too readily sink to our knees. Only fools worship their tools.
Only fools worship their tools.
There can be no society without community. In fact, there can be no life without it. All life, all of nature, all earthly systems, are based on closed cycles of receiving and giving, save only that gift of energy which comes from the sun. There can be no life whatever without balanced cycles of giving and receiving.
Nonmonetary exchange of value implies an essential difference between receiving and getting. We receive a gift. We take possession. It is a mistake to confuse buying and selling with giving and receiving. It is a mistake to confuse money with value. It is a mistake to believe that all value can be measured. And it is a colossal mistake to attempt to monetize all value.
When we make that attempt, we methodically replace the most effective system of exchanging value for the least effective. Because we cannot mathematically measure the nonmonetary, voluntary exchange of value, we cannot prove to our rational mind the efficiency of the whole or the parts. Nor can we engineer or control that which we cannot measure. Nonmonetary exchange of value frustrates our craving for perfect predictability and the control that it always promises but can never deliver.
When we monetize value, we have a means of measurement, however misleading, that allows us to calculate the relative efficiency of each part of the system. It allows us to engineer mechanisms to “solve” problems that our measurements have revealed. In a strange way, we measure our problems into existence, then try to engineer them away. It doesn’t occur to us that destroying an extremely effective system whose values we can’t calculate in order to calculate the supposed efficiency of an ineffective system is fundamentally flawed. It doesn’t occur to us that attempting to engineer a society and institutional structures based on mathematical measurement may be equally flawed. As the popular dictum says, “What gets measured is what gets done.” Perhaps that’s precisely the problem.
Giving and receiving can’t be measured in any meaningful sense. A gift with expectation is no gift at all. It is a bargain. In a nonmonetary exchange of value, giving and receiving is not a transaction. It is an offering and an acceptance. In nature, when a closed cycle of receiving and giving is out of balance, death and destruction soon arise. It is the same in society.
When money’s rant is on, we come to believe that life is a right that comes bearing a right, which is the right of getting and having. Life is not a right. Life is a gift, bearing a gift, which is the art of giving. And community is the place where we can give our gifts and receive the gifts of others.
Life is a gift, bearing a gift, which is the art of giving.
When our individual and collective consciousness becomes receptive to new concepts of organization which that way of thinking implies, society and its institutions may yet come into harmony with the richness and abundance of the human spirit, and the earth of which it is an inseparable part. That is the voice that sings to us now, and the song is beginning to be heard throughout the land.
Copyright ©1999 by Dee Hock
The above text is quoted from: Dee Hock’s Birth of the Chaortic Age, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., San Francisco, 1999. You can buy his book in most bookstores or on the net. He is affiliated with a very interesting group of humans at: http://www.chaordic.org/
Trust and True Community
In his essay Community Values, Dee Hockwrote:
“In a true community, unity of the singular “one” and the plural “one” extends beyond people and things. It applies as well to beliefs, purpose, and principles. Some we hold in common with all others in the community. Others we may hold in common with only some members of the community. Still others we may hold alone. In a true community, the values others hold that we do not share we nonetheless respect and tolerate, either because we realize that our beliefs will require respect and tolerance in return, or because we know those who hold different beliefs well enough to understand and respect the common humanity that underlies all difference.”
Dee Hock would have us tolerate different beliefs and values, and yet call the result community. I see this as a contradiction. If I don’t hold the same beliefs, and have different values as a result, I will end up being a person the others cannot trust to act properly according to their values. Yet trust is a vital part of community. If the differences are minor, then they can be tolerated. But beliefs and values get placed on serious life and death issues as well. In such cases, the community will be torn apart by different beliefs and values.
An extreme example is that Osama bin Laden and his followers do not have the same beliefs and values as the majority of the US. Their beliefs and values end up saying that Americans should die. Obviously they cannot be part of the community here. There would be no trust. Yet among themselves, they have the same beliefs and values, they can have a community with each other.
If a core value is tolerance of everyone’s beliefs, that will please no one in the end. Such a person is seen as the pandering politician, ready to say yes to everyone, so eager to please the person at hand that the one spoken to yesterday is forgotten. Tolerance of many different beliefs leads to lies. I can trust the extremely tolerant person only to be untrustworthy. I don’t form community with such people. I can’t form community with them.
In the US, many different groups with different beliefs co-exist. Tolerance has been possible because there has been enough physical room and resources so that there was little competition. All the different groups have had a core agreement to work according to certain basic rules. Other than that, one set of beliefs seemed to be no better than another. Those who pay attention to issues of peace, said, look at that, tolerance is the way to peace. But if the rules adopted come to fail, and there is not enough, it will quickly fall apart. Differing belief systems are like a fault line, if there is no stress, it all seems like one solid thing. As soon as there is enough stress, the division quickly becomes apparent.
Examples are easy to find. Maps of the world have had to be changed quite frequently in the last few years. For example in eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union, the rules of centrally ruled markets failed, the people were under stress, not enough work, not enough money. And quite suddenly, the fault lines appeared. To think this would not happen in America sounds like wishful thinking.
If we want a solid community, we need agreement on basic beliefs. Communities that are riddled with divisions of different belief systems will fail under stress. The ultimate division happens when the belief is that people are independent of each other. To go back to the analogy of fault lines, an interesting phenomena with earthquakes is that sometimes apparently solid land becomes like quicksand, or soft mud. Buildings lose their foundation. It has happened that buildings completely disappear, swallowed up by the quivering land. The stress of the earthquake separates all the particles of soil, like billions of tiny faults. That would be the condition of a society with powerful beliefs of individual independence, under enough stress. Things built in times of no stress would crumble, foundation gone.
We have actually seen this happen in small degree. Riots have sometimes happened with societies that believe in individual independence, with people looting, setting fires, doing destructive acts, but not as a coordinated thing, just everyone doing what they want. Always there is some stress that happens to set loose these actions, but they only happen because there is no real bond between people, they are like the individual grains of clay or sand, with no structural integrity. Under enough stress, they separate out and do whatever seems good to each individual, and what was built together is torn apart in a flash.
Community Requires Shared Beliefs?
Bill Ellis comments: ” I don’t think we necessarily have to have shared beliefs to have community. My community of close friends working on many project together includes Christian Fundamentalists, Jews, Catholics, Atheists, Buddhists, and people from many other beliefs and values. Yet we have worked together to build a library, build a health center, clean up a river, and many other projects. I might not like any of them to dictate any project or to raise my children but we get along well. And things get done.”
Arthur Noll answers: “People of different beliefs are apt to get along as long as there is plenty of food, water, other resources. When these resources get scarce, and the group made up of different fundamental belief systems is stressed, one person is not likely to agree with another about how to solve the problems. Their belief systems give different answers to how to solve the problems. The community fractures. We have seen this happen many times around the world. An earthquake doesn’t happen unless the stress builds up. Then a fault line will let go. Build up stress in a community, and it will fracture along different belief systems. If people chose to build their lives in fault zones, they have to expect to deal with earthquakes. A society that pays no attention to rules about energy efficiency and sustainability will inevitably come to points of severe stress, and the community will fracture. I predict that your community will dissolve unless you all can come to fundamental agreements about the realities of the universe, and stop ignoring factors of energy efficiency and sustainability. It takes energy to sustain a library building, to save information. When things get tight, what is most valuable? Why are you choosing to save this set of information over that? Different belief systems will have different opinions about the value of different information. When space is considered cheap, it is no problem to save stuff you really don’t care about. If space becomes expensive, there will be arguments. There are tremendous sustainability questions about how health care is done at the present time. How much medical care to give, to who? In an atmosphere of plenty, it is easy to be generous. When things get tight, fundamental belief systems will get tight as well, about who gets how much.
“The fossil fuel production in back of the abundance of the present society is peaking and will be headed down in a few years. Wake up and smell the earthquakes coming. Different belief systems are fault lines. Build on a fault line and you face destruction of whatever you build.”
Bill Ellis responds: “Arthur, IMHO you stress materialism too much. There are other more basic needs. The most basic human need is “belonging” being respected by your peers, caring and being cared for, loving and being loved. Few mother will eat their children even if the are starving. Most people will give their lives for others. The Firemen in WTC did not ask what someone believed. In most cases of severe stress people pull together instead of pulling apart. e.g New York city today.
“This is a good time to see if your theory or mine works. I’m betting that the stress to the global system of the WTC bombing will, in the long run, bring people together to solve their problems. Neither the religious fundamentalism of bin Laden, nor the corporate market fundamentalism of American policies will end up rulling the world. Civil globalism will rise as all people face the consequences of continued terrorism or continued corporatism. The end will be a WinWinWorld based on cooperation and community. The basic need of “belonging” will override other belief systems. We will all surrender a little materialsim for a world of justice, equity, and peace.”
Arthur Noll responds: “Bill, I’m not sure why you say that I stress materialism too much. My understanding of things does not diminish the importance of belonging, of love. I see these as material forces, the result of biochemical activity in the brain, but that doesn’t mean they are unimportant. I start off my observations about the needed structure of society with the point that we are interdependent, we live as a single organism, and die without each other. We need to love each other as much as we love ourselves, because others are basically an extension of our bodies.
“You are also actually agreeing with me about the importance of people sharing fundamental beliefs, when you say that in the face of stress people will come together, and put aside their racial and cultural differences in the common belief that cooperation and win-win situations are the most important things. I don’t see this happening, but I wouldn’t be unhappy if I were wrong and it did. Basically, my actions at the moment are the same for either way it works out. I am trying to get people to join me in working together, to have a sustainable society. Such a society that doesn’t have the weakness of win-lose relationships. It doesn’t exploit natural resources, doesn’t use up things faster than they renew. It lives as a single body in the extent of it’s cooperation. I’ve been looking for people to join me in this for about 10 years. I’ve been rejected over and over. People will say that they want to live in harmony with nature, they often talk a great line about love and cooperation, but basically they are mostly hypocrites. They have no intention of actually making such deep changes in their lives.
“If the situation continues as it has, and only a few sincere people are found, and the rest are full of denial about the importance of such actions, and would rather blame other groups for their problems, continue with their endless battles for material wealth and power at the expense of each other and nature, then it means we have to take some different actions, from those we would take if everyone agreed to live in balance with each other and nature. If someone is threatening to commit suicide by pouring out gasoline and burning down the house we are both in, if I can’t persuade them to stop, and I don’t want to join in this, it is better that I get out of the house.
“I read in the paper recently of a way in which the current “war”, could grow to such dimensions of suicide. Many of the people of Pakistan view Osama bin Laden as a hero. Their government is officially helping us to catch him, though. What if there was a coup, and the present government was removed? Pakistan is a nuclear nation…
“If people are going to come together, they need to start doing it now. But that is certainly not happening in many, many places.”
Understanding The Industrial Age
In another essay, Dee Hock writes: “For nearly three centuries, we have worked with exceptional diligence to structure society in accordance with that perspective, believing that with ever more reductionist scientific knowledge, ever more specialization, ever more technology, ever more efficiency, ever more linear education, ever more rules and regulations, ever more hierarchal command and control, we could learn to engineer organizations in which we could pull a lever at one place and get a precise result at another and know with certainty which lever to pull for which result. Never mind that human beings must be made to behave like cogs and wheels in the process.
“For more than two centuries, we have been engineering those institutions and pulling the levers. Rarely, very rarely, have we gotten the expected results. What we have gotten is all too obvious: obscene maldistribution of wealth and power, a crumbling ecosphere, and collapsing societies.
“Just as the machine metaphor that arose from Newtonian science and Cartesian philosophy was the father of today’s organizational concepts, the Industrial Age was the mother. Together, they dominated the evolution of all institutions. The unique processes of the age of handcrafting were abandoned in favor of mechanistic, dominator organizations, which, in order to produce huge quantities of uniform goods, services, knowledge, and people, amassed resources, centralized authority, routinized practices, and enforced conformity. This created a class of managers and specialists expert at reducing variability and diversity to uniform, repetitive, assembly-line processes endlessly repeated with ever increasing efficiency. Thus, the Industrial Age became the age of managers.”
Why Community Matters
by Rusty Foster
“Human reality is socially constructed. That is, most of the “facts” that determine our daily lives are socially constructed facts, which are true as long as enough people believe them to be true. The right to own property, the right to not be murdered, indeed the right to continue to live at all; all of these are socially constructed rights, which are true only as long as enough of us believe in them.
“American society has created for itself a Mobius-like reality by privileging capital, or property rights, above all else. This has granted corporations the power to purchase the reality that best suits them, and corporations in turn recreate the reality that privileges money. Communities — places, real or virtual, where people speak directly to each other, without corporate mediation — are the only hope we have to reassert control over our own reality, and place it back in the hands of people, instead of the fictional entities we call corporations.
“What other “truths” do we hold to be self-evident? Which of them do we privilege over the lives of other humans, over even our own lives? Which of your opinions determines the reality in which you live, and from where did you derive that opinion? Are we, as a species, satisfied with the reality we’ve constructed for ourselves? It is only by asking and truthfully answering these questions, like Jefferson did, that we can begin to reassert control over the basic facts of our existence. Community matters because communities are people, and people create reality. What world do you want to create?”
The Obligation Blind-Spot
by Eric Sommer
Gandhi once received a letter urging world leaders to draw up a charter of human rights. “In my experience,” he replied, “it is far more important to have a charter of human duties.”
Gandhi’s point is well taken. Progressive theory and practice, whether involving peace movements, civil liberties movements, the anti-imperialist movement, the labour movement, women’s movements, the anti-poverty movements, the social democratic, socialist, anarcho-cooperative, and communist movements, has had one element in common: It has revolved around a `discourse of rights’, not a `discourse of duties or obligations’.
The overwhelming thrust of progressive movements has been to strive to extend the `rights’ of ordinary people through struggles against dominant power groups. These struggles have gone under the names of, and have striven to extend the realms of, `freedom, `democracy’, `equality’, `independence’, `self-determination’, and the like. To the extent that progressive movements have emphasized `obligation’ at all, it has been almost exclusively in terms of the obligations which the state, capital, patriarchal males, or other currently dominant social forces ought to assume vis-a-vis society or the oppressed.
In short, progressive theory and practice has been a theory and practice of `what we are owed’, either by other individuals or by the `powers-that-be’.
In fairness, progressive movements have to some extent also emphasized `fraternity’ or `solidarity’. Expressing a positive thrust towards caring and mutual support, the principal of `solidarity’ has been indispensable in building cooperation within and between social movements. Solidarity has proven its value in such areas as: building support for trade-union job actions and strikes; building support for progressive movements in the third world; and building mutual support within oppressed groups through institutions such as women’s consciousness raising groups and black consciousness raising groups.
Beyond such important `movement uses’, however, existing notions of solidarity have proven unable to extend into everyday life: For these notions have never been concretized in terms which would allow them to serve as the basis of sustainable obligations or agreements through which groups of people might work together to meet one another’s needs on an ongoing basis.
ORIGINS OF THE BLIND SPOT
To fully understand the nature of the `obligation blind-spot’, we must look back to its historical origins. At the beginning of the modern era, a great `revolt against tradition’, involving European thinkers like Rousseau and Voltaire, and the rise of the capitalist and industrial working classes, coincided with the rise of modern `economic culture’. This revolt, which threw off the fetters of the obligations which had been imposed under serfdom and feudalism, took place under the names of `freedom’, `democracy’, and `equality’. These three watchwords were, and remain, essential elements in all attempts to secure greater social justice. But they are simply not enough. For in advancing freedom, democracy, and equality, and in throwing off the bonds of tradition, and of traditional and imposed forms of obligation, the European Enlightenment, and the movements which came after it, left only the market-place to fill the void of connectivity between people.
Today, we can see the consequences of this historical development in the utter attenuation of meaningful committed connectivity between human beings in modern societies. Modern people have become `market isolates’, able to combine their powers to produce the goods, services, and being-promoting experiences necessary to sustain their lives solely through business corporations and the marketplace.