The Commons

Interview | Sharing the Commons: Humanity’s Collective Heritage

The enclosure process takes the commons out of the hands of people and gives their production and management to the private sector or government. This has led to the degradation of our commons and many other kinds of problems, like the marginalization of people from their lands, refugees, colonialism and war. So the importance of identifying these different commons is to recognize that each one must be handled differently. And this means acknowledging that, in many cases, they are not being managed effectively and that they provide a vital source of value which is being exploited.

SI: What effect is competition and consumerism having on the commons?

JQ: It’s having a huge impact. The intervention of both the private sector and the state into people’s commons has reduced their opportunity to share resources. Enclosure and ownership of the commons once referred mainly to people’s lands. Unfortunately, as the result of enclosures, colonialism, privatization and globalization, all aspects of life today are being enclosed: land, knowledge, culture, technology, water, genetics, biodiversity, and public services like infrastructure, health and education. All beings and resources have been turned into virtual commodities. Everything can be bought and sold in the marketplace, including our labor, ideas and creativity. Competition essentially means that the right of ownership by the rich is based on the privatization of the commons and the dispossession of the poor, economically, politically and culturally. This robs people and species of our right to share an ecological, cultural, political and economic space. And when we are all disposable beings without common spaces, we must fight for our survival. So I ask you, how can we share when our legal systems and institutional environments do not encourage sharing?

SI: Are the economic and political systems creating economic slavery, or a modern day indentured servitude, with the commodification of people and the commons?

JQ: We sometimes characterize the present global regime as neoliberalism, but I think this term is misleading. It implies that we can somehow get back to the roots of liberalism. It suggests that freedom and equality are still within our grasp in the present system. I’m afraid that we’re way beyond that now and must wake up to the world we’re actually living in. Our language and political recognition are lagging far behind the reality of current events. It seems to me that people are becoming subjects of an emerging social order that author Philip Bobbitt3 has called the ‘Market State.’ This Market State promises to increase market freedom and choice by enhancing our economic opportunity as consumers. This means privatizing nearly everything, supposedly for the people’s benefit.

Meanwhile, the private sector and banks are rapidly swallowing up governments and bending national constitutions to their favor, decreasing the role of government and limiting our political rights as citizens. Voting and popular representation are becoming less meaningful because governments are pledged to support the interests of large corporations, not the people’s interests. The plan of the Market State is that government will have no duties other than national defense, protection of property and the dismantling of barriers to business.

What’s on the horizon is political and economic totalism — not totalitarianism, but something entirely unique in history. It’s like the Roman Empire, but fully commercialized, computerized, weaponized and global. While I think that mass economic consolidation may be a stage in the evolutionary destiny of the planet, I also believe that the world’s people are equally impelled to organize as a countervailing superpower to put these raging market forces in check. I believe this is part of the Plan. The world’s people must create new political accountability structures to protect our shared resources and to restore the promise of freedom and equality that is rapidly fading from our lives.