The term may be unfamiliar, but the idea has been around for centuries. The commons is a new use of an old word, meaning “what
we share”—and it offers fresh hope for a saner, safer, more enjoyable
future. The commons refers to a wealth of valuable assets that
belong to everyone. These range from clean air to wildlife
preserves; from the judicial system to the Internet. Some are
bestowed to us by nature; others are the product of cooperative
human creativity. Certain elements of the commons are entirely
new—think of Wikipedia. Others are centuries old—like colorful
words and phrases from all the world’s languages. Anyone can
use the commons, so long as there is enough left for everyone
else. This is why finite commons, such as natural resources, must
be sustainably and equitably managed. But many other forms
of the commons can be freely tapped. Today’s hip-hop and rock
stars, for instance, “appropriate” the work of soul singers, jazz
swingers, blues wailers, gospel shouters, hillbilly pickers, and
balladeers going back a long time—and we are all richer for it. That’s the greatest strength of the commons. It’s an inheritance
shared by all humans, which increases in value as people draw
upon its riches.
The full text of this article can be found in the Fall | Winter 2010 issue of Kosmos Journal or may be downloaded as a PDF here.
Jay Walljasper is an award-winning writer who has reported on a wide range of topics from urban issues and sustainability to music and travel. He is the author of the What We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons (2010), The Great Neighborhood Book (2007), and Visionaries: People and Ideas to Change Your Life (2001).