Transcending Economic Dualities

Cover of Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons

Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons
by David Bollier
New Society Publishers, 2014

This book excites me in a rare and precious way. It has the potential to introduce many more people to a startlingly new way of making sense of where we are as a species and what we can do—starting within the communities we inhabit—to move toward the world of our dreams. Although an actual commons “movement” doesn’t quite exist yet, there is a depth of transformation in the ideas and activism Bollier describes in this book that may offer us one of the key entryways into a livable future.

Think Like a Commoner provides a coherent framework that freshly illustrates the enormous losses that have accompanied the transition to capitalism and its continued entrenchment. It does so by making visible the existence of the commons and the devastating effects of markets and states encroaching on the commons, which they have both been doing for the last several hundred years. At the same time, the book is more about hope than about destruction, because it brings us into the rich and complex world of people managing resources together in a collaborative way. The commons, which are a truly collaborative form, were the principal means of managing resources for millennia, and is gaining momentum in this critical time in human history. This fact is what gives me so much hope and excitement the more I learn about it.

A Clash of Two Paradigms for Managing Resources

This book also provides a simple and deep introduction to how the commons work, why commons are so important, and examples of commons that persist, such as the acequias in the Southwest of the United States and fisheries in Maine. It also describes new commons that are being created today, especially with the advent of the internet—for example, peer production such as Wikipedia, open source software, and many more.

Despite centuries of ongoing losses to capitalist encroachment, it is still the case that at least two billion people on our planet depend on resources held as commons for their daily necessities, and a growing number of people are actively engaged in creating commons as a way of reclaiming our very humanity. My hope is that this book can help catalyze a movement to turn around the continued appropriation by large corporate and state players of resources previously held as commons. Some of the key zones of struggle are the internet, where corporations continue attempts to limit usage; water, where corporations are battling, from Maine to Bolivia, to wrest access and control from local communities; and land, particularly in Africa, where massive sales of land previously held as commons are being made to large foreign entities without benefit to the local people. Like their predecessors in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, the local people, dispossessed, become unable to subsist on the land they had known for millennia.

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