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The Commons and the Danger of Misplaced Outrage

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/01/22/commons-and-danger-misplaced-outrage

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The first mistake is to identify the State - the government - as some sort of neutral body. It is controlled by a section of society and runs society on their behalf.

“The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” - Marx

That doesn’t mean the state always does the bidding of each and every capitalist. First of all, there are conflicts among them, and some of the ruling class lose out. But its purpose is to ensure those differences are smoothed out.

As for the State running the infrastructure, yes, working people benefit from such, but do we actually have any control over it so that those operate in our interests?

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Reagan’s 1981 inaugural address was half correct in that from that day forward the GOP and complicit Dims made sure that the government became “the problem”.


Darn. When I saw the article’s title “The Commons and the Danger of Misplaced Outrage”, I thought the author was finally going to tell us why CD turned off the ability to link here in the Commons.


The Reagan stolen election (look up “October Surprise” and follow that with “Iran-Contra”) was indeed a key turning point in the modern despoilation of the commons.

To grasp what is needed at this point in human history, it is important to look much further back, to the first enclosures, and to the launch of colonization by Europeans who declared themselves “enlightened” and “liberal” as God (or at least the Pope) authorized them to seize “unpopulated” (by Christians) lands and enslave their inhabitants (look up Doctrine of Discovery for Papal authorizations).

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Well all this is quite reasonable, except it airbrushes out of the picture the repressive apparatuses of the state, domestic and for imperial action overseas, which account for, what, 50% or more of “the government.” Not to even talk about how much of “the government” in our cities is controlled by real estate interests hardly interested in “the common good.” So fine, I like good public services and good initiatives as much as the next person. But frankly unless you look at the contradictions and crimes of government, you’re just painting a phony picture and appealing to a gauzy view of reality. Therein lies the danger of misplaced boosterism and denial of very well placed outrage. Mythologizing government has also been a tool of the ruling class forever. “The commons” is not “the government.”


During the Bush Jr years, Bush tried to sell off national forest to private developers- and I am specifically thinking about the Nantahalla NF in case anyone wants to entertain the thought that I am just mud slinging a bunch of fake facts. We used to camp, hunt, fish, hike around in those forests. Selling that land to private developers would have taken away our right to engage in those activities on that land. After Obama got elected, I was in a sporting goods store and over heard some redneck complaining that “Obama is going to take away our right to hunt.” I wish that redneck and all the other misguided fools like him would understand who is really trying to take away our right to hunt and the very tricky and indirect means they try to do so. There’s no reason why hunters can’t be drawn into the Progressive fold. Can you put away your animosity towards meat eating hunters in order to collectively protect our Commons?

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Good points.

National governments, as they are generally structured today, disproportionately favor the wealthy. While some suggest that the answer is getting people to vote, I find the electoral system , in the US, anti-democratic. I’d like to know ideas you might be aware of, for more just and democratic social structures and systems for community engagement and decision making.


Well there is some truth to that, now that their karma is running over their dogma.

Some are even being experimented with, Steve.

UK and France have created People’s Assemblies formed by the random selection of voters but designed to reflect the cross-section of citizens on the climate.

Why not extend such forms to all aspects of society. Give them teeth rather than being simply consultative.

At one time the idea was to build workers councils to administer industry democratically - check out the IWW and the One Big Unions and syndicalism.

We have progressed now and the IWW now incorporate community decision-making to be incorporated into it model.

We have now the information society, we are all connected to the internet.

Now even the most basic mobile cell phone held by a small farmer in the undeveloped countries can receive texts from experts on sowing and harvesting and impending weather effects.

Let’s put the big questions up for a vote. Shouldn’t everyone have a say in decisions that affect them all? Isn’t that the essential idea of democracy? The problem with capitalism is that the economy isn’t up for a vote.

Check out the concept of ‘collaborative filtering’ (CF) software. This technology is currently used on the internet where a crisis of choice already exists. Faced with a super-abundance of products and services, CF helps consumers choose what to buy and navigate the huge numbers of options. It starts off by collecting data on an individual’s preferences, extrapolates patterns from this and then produces recommendations based on that person’s likes and dislikes. With suitable modification, this technology could be of use to socialism - not to help people decide what to consume, but which matters of policy to get involved in. A person’s tastes, interests, skills, and academic achievements, rather than their shopping traits, could be put through the CF process and matched to appropriate areas of policy in the resulting list of recommendations. A farmer, for example, may be recommended to vote upon matters which affect him/her, and members of the local community, directly, or of which s/he is likely to have some knowledge, such as increasing yields of a particular crop, the use of GM technology, or the responsible use of land by ramblers. The technology would also put them in touch with other people of similar interests so that issues can be thrashed out more fully, and may even inform them that “People who voted on this issue also voted on…”

The question is, would a person be free to ignore the recommendations and vote on matters s/he has little knowledge of, or indeed not vote at all?

Technology cannot resolve issues of responsibility, but any system, computer software or not, which helps reduce the potential burden of decision making to manageable levels would.

How could too much voting be bad for you.

Just a quick off the top of my head answer to your question. Capitalists simply will not permit decision making to be taken out of their control. In socialism all manner of expressing the will of communities will be possible…the most fitting will be adopted


Our institutions are crumbling before our eyes because, for the most part, the institutions were working. At the time of Reagan’s election, the “real owners” of America had been on the downswing, and he was their boy. If they couldn’t run the federal government the way they wanted (see Gilded Age), then they would just break it. Too bad they were so successful.

The flurry of post-Civil War and early 20th century amendments combined with new economic policies led to massive growth in US democratic potential. People of color and women could finally vote, and they did. FDR’s new deal, while far from perfect was pretty effective at distributing wealth; US democracy was on the upswing and the nation’s aristocracy was not. Their ability to keep on owning the nation’s wealth was diminishing and now the ERA was rearing its ugly head–guaranteeing Constitutional rights to half the population. OMG! Enter Reagan and the notion of “bad government”’ which was actually working for the average white male American, and slowly improving for all the rest of us.

The thing about institutions is that they shape humans as much as humans shape them. For a while We the People were headed in the right direction, but we’ve been played by those who truly believe they are the real owners of America. Our institutions are littered with people who want to destroy them. My fellow citizens elect people to government who want to destroy government. It’s a very nasty circle, and until we each start behaving like responsible citizens, asking not what my country can do for me, but what can I do for my country (community, neighborhood, school, family…) there will be no release. Good people can change bad institutions. We do not have to live with the status quo.

It’s always been a struggle, which is why it is so disconcerting, so outrageous to see the hard fought wins slipping away. Now we must struggle to regain lost ground and struggle more to ensure that our Constitution guarantees all human and constitutional rights to all humans in the US (and not non-humans like corporations).

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