“The shift that we need now to accomplish politically, not only theoretically, is to change the dominant wisdom from the absolute domination of the subject (as owner or State) over the object (territory or more generally the environment) to a focus on the relationship of the two (subject-nature). We need a new common sense recognizing, outside of the Western liberal hubris, that each individual’s survival depends on its relationship with others, with the community, with the environment.” Excerpted from Arthur Brock, who earlier in the article argues that our current economic models have broken the basic covenants of healthy economies.”*
Arthur Brock starts with defining the two most important rules of commons-based economics, which define the sustainability of common resources:
1. Any limited resource you take is yours only temporarily and must be returned in full when you’re done with it.
2. Use what you take to grow the value producing capacity of the commons.
He then comments:
“These may just sound like nice ideas, but I assure you, they are neither idealistic nor merely theoretical. Organisms and species ignore them at their own peril. Those that break these covenants deplete their environment and progressively erode their chances of survival, eventually causing their own extinction (or near extinction). However, every species and individual that follows those rules enriches their environment and increases their chances of survival.
Let’s take a look at these principles in action in an economy you’re actually very familiar with – your body. Remember, an economy is a system of production, distribution and consumption. Your body takes the nutrients and sugars in food, distributes them to cells, produces other cells, enzymes, hormones, minerals, amino acids, bones and tissue which in turn keep the whole process going. All resources consumed by your body are returned to the larger ecosystem. And while your body is running, all resources that your organs or cells use are theirs only temporarily and must be shared with the rest of the body.
Do you know what cells that stop sharing their resources with the rest of the body are called?
That’s right. When cells stop sharing their resources and devote those resources instead to their own growth, they are considered cancerous. And unless that pattern of cancerous growth is interrupted, the grow consuming more and more resources until they kill their host.
This is what it looks like to break the rules of the commons.
When you think about that kind of cancerous behavior, do you see any connections to how companies are organized to behave? What do you imagine are the consequences of allowing this pattern of behavior continue?
How long until cancerous corporations, people and countries who keep breaking the rules of healthy economies strip the planet of resources and poison our ecosystems to levels that can no longer sustain human life?
When do we activate our social immune system to reject unhealthy patterns and anybody operating in those ways?
These commonwealth economies contain deep wisdom. We have knowledge of the truth of them in every fiber of our being and literally in every cell of our body. Yet in today’s culture and economy we ignore this truth. We diminish it with marginalizing phrases like “Protestant Work Ethic” and deny the desire to provide as much value as we can.
But hard work feels good. It feels good to build something, to make something great happen, or to participate in the flow of energy of physical labor. Accomplishment is satisfying. Yet in the face of this emotional and physical response, we elevate an ideal of being wealthy and just being able to “make your money work for you” which actually means having everyone else do the real work for your profit.
Maybe it is not religious acculturation but rather a biological urge – not a Protestant Work Ethic, but a Biological Worth Ethic. The bees, trees, ants and plants just keep working. They keep doing their part to keep the larger system going. I think they know that their biological “worth” depends on it. If they don’t keep the ecosystem going, there won’t be an ecosystem to feed them. Every creature, every cell, every living system is working to keep these agreements and build greater shared value, except us. We’ve built an entire economy on extracting value for our personal gain.
In our society, the wealthiest people are the ones who “just have money work for them.” Typically it isn’t even their money; it’s ours – our savings, investments and retirement funds. They gamble with other people’s money instead of creating actual new value and then we bail them out with more of our tax money when they lose their bets. Sadly “too big to fail” really means “too greedy to follow the rules.”