I suspect that there is no such thing as a commons. Well, historically, there are “commons” all over the place. But it appears to have been erased by the Enlightenment discovery of “progress” and “improvement” as a socially desirable project. (See how I got all those terms in there? Progress, Improvement, and Project.)
The Commons is an anarchist’s dream of a shared sense of what Aristotle called eudaimonia or human flourishing.
The Commons seems now only an “idea” in the same way that “America” is now only and idea of a land where freedom rings.
We are a product of erasure: the Commons was eradicated by Progress. One might now be able to read this history something like this: Progress allowed Property to erase Commons by convincing people that eudaimonia was to be found over the rainbow and that science and technology (the plough*, for example) were two of its colors. Can we set Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress alongside a kind of revisionist tale of our own called something like Ploughman’s Regress?
Perhaps it’s odd to think of an historical period labeled The Enlightenment as a watershed moment when humanity lost its shit, but as eloquent as that was, I’m having trouble thinking otherwise.
The disease of Progress was diagnosed almost as soon as the first boils on the ass of humanity inflamed. Perhaps the bulk of Jonathan Swift’s work could be characterized as an attempt to inoculate the world against it.
Inoculation against Progress and Inoculation against Smallpox occur at basically the same moment (1720s). One seems to have worked…and that of course is all she wrote.
I’m fairly certain it’s too late to eradicate progress; but perhaps there is a vaccine that might temper its Mongolian march?
Ah, old man, I think it is that thing still called the book.
But of course I’m aware that with every good there is an inherent twining of the bad within it. The book allows the “word” to spread–literally of course, but primarily as regards the Bible as the commoner might now consider his/her (Anne Hutchinson!) own direct contact with the Word as divinely legitimate and challenge the ordered patriarchy. And yet, so too the father of lies travels in the curls of typescript as readily as by the fist of the scribe.
But you see, I’m asking to temper the march, not do away with it. I want to recover the Commons and temper Progress and Improvement.
Instead we endlessly repeat the race pitting tortoise and hare and apparently do not see it as cautionary or remember that it’s the tortoise who succeeds.
Wise Greeks, who knew everything before they could understand they knew everything–what lessons might we actually heed?
As we are the descendants of Rome (Empire/hare) and not Athens (City/tortoise), perhaps none.
*I’m using the British spelling for the sake of historical accuracy.
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