The connective commons : helping our economy align with nature


Figuring out how ecology and economics integrate is an important issue for our society to address ; we currently have a capitalistic system on steroids that is extracting from and polluting the earth at increasing rates.

Economic systems come in different forms. Coachella for instance is more capitalistic than Burning Man which runs on a more peer production commons economy. Economic systems are defined by the rule sets people use to exchange services and products to meet needs. Capitalism is one rule set. Peer production commons (where people work without money) is another rule set. These rule sets lead to emergent collective behaviour. Peer production commons has other types of emergent behavior. When the collective behavior is coherent and harmonious humanity begins to look like a superorganism.

What we seek is for the natural ecosystem and the human collective to work in synergy together. There are certain businesses and community activities that embody a lifestyle more resonant with nature – local organic farms, farmers markets, home food growing, community food forests and gardens, community meals, communal living, organic restaurants and cafes, health food stores, solar companies, ecobuilders , eco-friendly cleaners, eco product companies, second hand stores, clothing swaps, holistic health centers, nature education, yoga, tool sharing, neighborhood generated entertainment, outdoor dance events, biking, local production, biodegradable products, eco restoration activities, depaving, permaculture etc…. These things are competing with big box stores, and extraction based multinational corporations.

How do we enable the healthier businesses and activities to grow and emerge more coherent behavior with the ecosystem? And to be resilient against other types of capitalistic forces

One of the keys is to look at the economy at the bioregional scale. In addition we can look at how to synergize the capitalistic systems with the commons to create a super organism. Capitalism runs more on people motivated to help others. Its primary unit is the business. Peer production commons, is partly run on altruism, but even more so, research has shown, by social norms, and by the social rewards it brings. People work for the commons because they like the community it brings them, and the friendships it creates. The primary unit of the commons is the community, the collective.

I’d like to introduce the idea of a connective commons. Different business can be linked by a connective commons. So for instance a yoga center and organic restaurant could be linked with this commons connective tissue. Lets say, in addition to their normal monetized activities, the yoga center and organic restaurant also have volunteers that teach yoga classes and volunteers that wait or cook at the restaurant. The volunteers can then have access to both free yoga classes, and a certain number of free meals. This builds synergy between the two businesses.

This connective commons could act as connective tissue for a bioregional collective of businesses that includes small farms, organic restaurants, yoga centers, nature school, holistic health centers and also non business activities, like food growing and home cooked community meals, home for-working, organizing clothing swaps and tool libraries. People can volunteer for any of the businesses or community projects. In return they can get a certain amount of free meals, CSA boxes, yoga classes, massages, free or more affordable rooms in other community members houses to live in etc. A community council can oversee that the volunteer- service balance is in harmony. (There’s a movement to get a small town to run on this connective commons by having everyone volunteer for 3 hours a week. It’s called the Ubuntu small town project. They call this kind of economy contributionism. The money businesses save can be used to purchase self sufficient clean energy supply for the town)

This collection of business and community can act as a super organism. This hybrid is a new type of complex adaptive system. It has behaviors that neither a purely capitalistic system nor a purely commons would have. Volunteers can shift to where they are most needed that week. So if a small farm had some crisis and needed a lot of help, the volunteers can shift from other businesses to work there during the crisis. the volunteer force is an organic marketing force for the more monetized activities. There is more sharing or resources. The businesses become more resilient. Incentives increase to start community projects (putting on a clothing swap might get you free restaurant food). There is a lot more community and friendships in this system. People work as a support system for each other. Consumption of extractive products is less.

Because this super organism is so vibrant over time, it will grow. People will flow to become part of, and spend more time in this super organism. Engagement less with big box stores and environmentally-unfriendly multinational corporations would become less. People would be more enriched by being part of a community, that would not have to depend on a consumerist lifestyle for fulfillment so much.

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