1. Commons and not-commons
The aim is to establish a new starting point when considering property; to start from what we share in common, and then move to consider the consequences and responsibilities related to those things not held in common. One of the many challenges is that the commons are common in the sense that they exist naturally; they often do not get noticed, until their tragic disappearance.
2. Natural commons
It is becoming increasingly obvious that everything around us comes from the natural commons; an immediate example is the air we breathe, along with the trees which keep air breathable. Mainstream economics includes this as an aspect of ‘land’ but then usually treats it as an externality and hence free to use or abuse. How can economic and business activities view the natural commons as shared bounty for all life-forms today and tomorrow?
3. Property rights
Although the focus for much legal, financial and business activity, as well as associated with increasing inequity in the world, there is little questioning of the natural or ethical basis for property. Once property mainly related to land, but it now includes ideas and expressions. Today’s dominant ‘western’ sense of property is often related back to John Locke’s mixing ‘my labour with nature’s free provision’. But does it conveniently ignore his caveats? Could we also usefully learn from the approach to property of indigenous tribes?
4. Social and cultural commons
Being social creatures by nature, human society has the potential to support and encourage freedom and prosperity, or enslavement and poverty; this power of society makes it an aspect of the commons and warrants our consideration. Culture is the nurturing of what can be grown or developed within communities to strengthen (or weaken) society. Dance, performance, literature, music are examples. Distinct in each community, but all communities partake of culture and thus is a commons. Its influence can be almost universal, such as the examples of Rumi and Shakespeare.
5. Knowledge commons
Knowledge is a non-depletable resource; a teacher does not lose knowledge or understanding imparted to others, more likely gains more in the process. Shared knowledge shared spurs understanding and more knowledge. Creativity can be of universal benefit and needs community support. Can we avoid exploitation of both the creator and the public? How can intellectual property rights support rather than inhibit prosperity and freedom?
6. Digital commons
Technology has brought unprecedented immediacy and reach for communication and sharing, typified by the internet and wireless connectivity. The many advantages come alongside the might of corporations entering our homes. Desires both to share and to not share are playing; apparently free internet resources and social media platforms do have costs and public advantages are being privately extracted. How can the huge benefit of the digital commons be protected against exploitation and corruption?
7. Global commons
Establishing governance beyond national boundaries requires mutual agreement for the sake of all; United Nations is today’s dominant ‘inter-governmental organisation’ intending to bring nations together and deal with common issues. Some global common issues have become obvious such as oceans, atmosphere and the polar regions; each has at least some form of mutually agreed treaty, albeit deficient in many ways. As with all commons there is the constant challenge of private exploitation or pollution at the cost of the common interest.
8. Trade and financial commons
Our common aspiration is to trade and to extend trust as credit. UN agencies and other inter-governmental organisations have attempted to establish fair play amongst nations of very different strengths; at times neo-liberal economic theory has prevailed. Transnational corporations are almost beyond any national regulation and present particular challenges to a commons of non-exploitative trade and finance.
9. Law as the commons
Our humanity shows a particular nature; Natural Law in this context denotes what is natural to the human being. Human-made law may or may not reflect Natural Law, and tend to be short-term. Some traditions have formulated expressions of Natural Law, guiding us towards living together naturally and finding prosperity and freedom. The ten indications expressed in Sanatana Dharma such as Truth, Non-stealing, Purification seem to have immediate relevance to a more harmonious and natural lifestyle, and for the protection of The Commons.
9. What of the commons?
Appreciation of what is shared in common can be the reference for any consideration of obligations and responsibilities associated with ownership, possession or control. Aspirations for rent-seeking and ownership-exploitation are commonplace in many parts of the world; what is the understanding that can lead to its moderation or restraint? Our humanity is the prime example of global commons. Let us work towards unity, inclusiveness, love and compassion. Let us support this through our understanding of Natural Law, our acknowledging the wisdom of the ages, our choice of good company today and our efforts to serve others.