Commoning: How Things Hold Together And How The Way In Which We're Currently Going About Things As A Society Is Not How Things Hold Together
—part 2 of a practical discussion about common interest, the economy, and the social production of artwork
It started and it's alive. The meeting continues every two weeks, same place, starting at 1pm. You can join at any point - bring questions.
Sunday , February 7th 2010 - 1pm to 4pm
Lower Manhattan Cultural Council
125 Maiden Lane, 9th Floor
New York, NY 10038
RSVP* and bring a photo ID required for security desk protocol
(*email:daria [at] prosodicbody [dot] org)
***Also, go see The End of Poverty? A documentary, call to movement, global analysis of poverty and what's needed to end it. And check out a growing reading list.****
the following is a letter composed by Robert Kocik:
Greetings to Each of Us—to those who attended last Sunday’s commoning meeting, to those who did not attend, and to those who may attend next Sunday’s meeting,
First, to thank everyone who came to the talk and helped flesh-out the idea of the commons and get the LMCC residency going. The discussion, for me, as it took on a life of its own, corroborated the need to work in common and to create integrative forms that work toward our mutual and greatest good. I’ve received some incredible feedback since—the discussion has essentially remained open and ongoing. I’ll be setting up a group list and a blogsite allowing anyone to tune in or input at any time. For now, in preparation for the next meeting, I want to post a list of actions or practices or procedures or upayas that I'm planning relative to this residency. I didn’t mention my personal intentions during last Sunday’s talk because I didn’t want to over-determine the direction of the commons discussion. Perhaps the nature of the meeting lacked some definition as a result. I also realize that my inability to presume the needs I have within my work, or your needs within yours, can become the needs of another—that our works can become each other’s work—is part of the problem with mutuality; the individualism, egoism, isolationism, and seeming primacy of privateering. In any event, here is my abbreviated list—offered as suggestions for inciting your own needs.
EXHIBITION OF THE HISTORY OF THE COMMONS, THE PRIVATIZATION MOVEMENT, AND THE CONSEQUENT IMMISERATION OF ALMOST EVERY ONE; WITH A PARALLEL AND COUNTER HISTORY OF EFFECTIVE COMMONING
Putting together this two-veined exhibition will be my primary focus. I want this show to be museum-grade, incredibly well-researched, artifact-rich, graphically compelling, along with intermittent speakers and symposia. Think of it like as an exhibition with accompanying catalogue—big-public-and-press-seeking, dissemination oriented, dissidence in disguise. The LMCC space is the workroom and pilot space for the growing exhibition. A vast work. If anyone wants to join me, I’d be thrilled. Right now I’m trying to partner with Bill Moyers’ Backbone Campaign and CUP, to pick up energy. Seeing the economy as an enclosure for the few who benefit most through its privatization, and working toward due share of net wealth.
The destitute south is financing the affluent north—Sub-Saharan Africa pays $25,000 per minute to northern creditors. As I mentioned at the talk last Sunday, the eradication of poverty would take care of the entire society—instead of focusing on the middle class (demand economy) or the rich (supply-side, trickle-down economy—the belief that the health of the financial sector is the precondition for popular prosperity), both of which are well-tested failures. I’ve provisionally named this third economy the ‘commensurate economy’ and the ‘consequence-side economy', as well as ‘epiekeian economy’ (after Aristotle). Action that does not treat the ‘bottommost’ is complicit with conditions that create and maintain disparity (or as T. Paine stated, the complacent ‘adopt the crime’). In NYC there are 40,000 people in the shelter-system and 350,000 doubled-up households. I had invited the organization called Picture the Homeless (PTH) to speak at last Sunday’s meeting. No one showed, but it certainly would have been a different day had the homeless faction been at the table. PTH wants the streets as true commons. They work to overturn Giuliani’s fascist Quality of Life Regulations and seeks to make policy changes that serve to enact a more equitable housing program. What are the poets doing about gross maldistribution? Right where Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy and Paul Wellstone left off—revive and invigorate the FDR Economic Bill of Rights (“necessitous people are not free people”). As things stand right now, we’re on the Larry Summers plan—successful countries depend upon a satisfied and ever so slightly improving middle class. If Obama has mentioned the poor since being elected, I haven’t happened to have been listening at the time—proceeding from the perspective of poverty is obviously not viable U.S. policy.
POET PRESSURE GROUP
Form a concertable force. Bring our skills to bear on need. Against the politics of incarceration? Throw in with. Show up for. Voice it so it is so. Who’s out there we can support and work along with? With whom do we have common cause? The reason poets have no weight in the society is that they’re not throwing their weight around. A grouping in no way restricted to poets. A poet in name only (I like the sound of that.) Provisional poet. Poet in deed.
LAW, THE THING ABOUT LAW
Gerrard Winstanley, “the best laws that England has [and here he was referring to Magna Carta] are yoaks and manicles, tying one sort of person to be slaves of another.” My reading of the history of the struggle for common good overwhelmingly reveals that injustice is maintained by the ‘law’ implemented by those whose interests it protects. Sages, philosophers, rightwingers, anarchists, antinomians, and dissidents all agree—law is inferior to voluntary call to greater good. What’s with this consensus? Chuang Tzu went so far as to say that the law produces the crime. Time for poets to become both students of law and adept proponents of the greater-than-law that actually holds things together and fulfills us—to be knowledgably present at the point of lawmaking and lawbreaking and law-outshining. Perhaps we would have caught the overturning of the Glass-Steagall Act. Perhaps we could have implemented something more potent than Obama’s flippant ‘shame on you’ issued to run-amok Investment Bankers. Laws come from ‘habit mind’ and can only keep things close to how they’ve always been. Precedent—and the overriding precedent is our self-interested competitiveness. The precedent is progress’s utterly excruciating incrementalism in times of emergency and suffering, and at all times, in any case. Can law bring us to a fair, reciprocally proportioned economy in which all own a portion of the national wealth? Or is economy and law like democracy and government—as H. Zinn never tired of reminding us—democracies only ever change because of the actions of people, not governments. ‘Natural Law’, and ‘just price’; are they mere phlogiston. Aren’t natural laws more manmadeness? How does a government turn into the ‘state’ as distinct from ‘us’?
RE-ENGLISH: MISNOMERING AND RENAMING (THE NEOLOGIZING THAT CAN GUIDE US OUT OF THIS UNJUSTNESS)
Just start making a list. Most of the world is being turned into what it’s being turned into through language. Most of the world is being turned into what it’s being turned into through manipulation of words. Most of the world is being turned into what it’s being turned into though conscious misuse of words. ‘Free market’, ‘clean coal’, politics as PR campaign for Brand Name. Even the all-empowering ‘vote’, as Lysander Spooner has pointed out, is that specious mechanism by which we hand over all of our actual rights. Though poets’ province is 'language' we don’t sit at the table where discussion determines power. We seem to rule ourselves out by sticking to the status quo we’ve set for ourselves. What do true words correspond to? English has never been the speech of a free people. The fault-line runs straight through the poets (in place of our irrelevance, placing the entire responsibility in our hands). Re-inhere!
Do people actually have a say in public space? In NYC the creation of public space has been outsourced to private developers since 1961. Public spaces have been designed by private developers in exchange for zoning bonuses. There are 503 such spaces in NYC—a de-centralized Central Park of sorts. There is no agency that monitors these spaces to assure compliance. It’s estimated that up to half of these privately owned public spaces have fallen back into private use, or only minimally (nominally) meet a pubic criterion. Here’s a good place to start! Make a map. Represent ‘the people’. Fit this into the larger context of the determination of public space by a vested few. Keeping in mind—business has always been the primary ‘institution’ in America, and has always approached ‘public’ as inimical to its interests. Hence the business interest in influencing politics at all costs. I suspect that an actual history of public space (as a primarily very privately determined phenomenon) has yet to be written.
There’s need for a watchdog agency that detects and exposes private abuses in their earliest stage. Good examples of overstepping that hurts everyone: the collusion over the last 30 years between Federal Regulators and Bank Lobbyists, the privatization of water in California (‘paper water’ now exists, long live the Resnicks!), the public handover of the genome to private pharmers so that we can pay twice for our medicines—and any nationalization of risk for the sake of privatized gain in schemes designed to enrich the fewest.
Direct democracy through referendum. Mobilize all resources to announce and realize this initiative. No time even for a third party to pull us out of the morass. (Third-party bypass.) As long as there is the two-party perpetual-stasis machine (or what Nader calls the two-party one-party party or Money Party), we’re going nowhere. How can 100 intelligent people divide almost perfectly down the middle regardless of issue?
It would do a great deal of good to get together and come up with as many successful, effective models of commoning as we can. Perhaps starting with the body as a commons and the new biology of epigenetics in which thought, action and environment orchestrate gene expression—50-trillion cells working in concert (when all is well) with no cells unemployed or going hungry. I wouldn’t exclude business models. Perhaps an instance of ‘waste’ (in response to Alan’s Davies’ challenge) would be poets reshaping the world from scratch only to re-discover the need to invent the common measure of exchange called ‘money’ all-over-again. Social entrepreneurism, triple-bottom-line businesses, for-profits that seek to be profitable only to enable their social mission, a business such as Grayson Bakery in Yonkers, all function for mutuality and against the hypertrophy of our current financial sector. Can we further our roles as artists and poets, not by turning day jobs into private businesses, but by bringing our very vocations and creativities to bear on the needs of society and the means by which our society establishes value?
How to help when we ourselves need help? To help oneself by helping others? All the above practices presume selflessness (the basis of the commons). Beneficence over dissidence—otherwise we’re just repeating the sick model of artist-egocentrism and defining ourselves as pathogenic by separating ourselves from the social body. As in a biological system, in which 99% of mutations are deleterious—100% of what poets do must manifest as that 1% of anomaly that is salubrious. Simple.