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Reproducing here an interesting point of discussion about this article from another forum:

> "I'm not really steeped in conversations about the commons, but I've found the conversations are often contentious. It seems to me that one of the fault lines is a division over the relative importance of competition versus cooperation.

I'm not authority but like what Noam Chomsky said:

"The “New Spirit of the Age” cannot tolerate the pre-capitalist conception of the Forest as the shared endowment of the community at large, cared for communally for its own use and for future generations, protected from privatization, from transfer to the hands of private power for service to wealth, not needs."

The commons like the economy isn't so much a thing but a doing. It is "the shared endowment of the community at large, cared for communally.""


> "What is meant by the term "Commons" in these kinds of discussions? It seems like a lot of people are concerned with this entity, the "Commons", they want to protect its resources, etc.. What is it exactly? Is there anything tangible in this "Commons"?"

My response:

I agree the commons are contentious (and I would suggest they are contentious as a term more than as a concept) because often invoked in politicized terms or contexts. This came out in our LI conversations as well. I like [your] definition of a "shared endowment of the community at large, cared for communally", in line with the definition offered in my article which tries to be as integrative and unpolarized (archetypal?) as possible. The recognition of the need to take care of this endowment can contribute to entrain the system in a virtuous circle... This can arise from love, reason, political or religious stand, conservatism (of resources), good household type management, risk prevention, generosity etc...

The commons can be intangible as well as tangible. The objects (forest, knowledge, gene pool), process/culture (taking care of something as a community), outcomes (livelihood, wellbeing etc...). People see them in different ways depending on their beliefs, sensibilities and cognitive functioning. It goes back to your comment on debategraph, which is not intuitive to you, but is intuitive to others (super intuitive to me for example).

This shows that people must gain access to learning and discovery of possibilities via different points of entry that corresponds to what they would be the most comfortable with 'intuitively'.

I was wondering how the commons 'archetype' could be expressed in different ways to 'speak' to different types..."


Another comment:

"I'm new to the Commons discourse. I'm in the observation phase. Not sure what to make of it. I see the same discussions going on in several different places and the discussion seems to be the same.. I'm instinctively wary when I see that. If I look at an actual discourse, say Sociology, I will see thousands of people, tens of thousands if not more, engaging in a discourse, but every instance will be distinct, unique. I find it extremely unlikely that a discourse is being truly formalized if all the speakers are repeating the same thing. That sounds more like a Metanarrative or Ideology than the actual formalization of a discourse.. However, I'm not ready to come to any conclusions, since I'm still an outsider, an observer from the outside. I'm interested in taking each component, each concept of the conceptual system of Commons-ism and seeing where it came from, who helped develop the concept, including which publishing companies and their parent companies first published the foundational texts. A lot of it sounds a little like a religious discourse, a bizarre strand of Pantheism, or even something from the Catholic Worker Movement, Distributism, Christian anarchism.. Lots of anarcho-communist stuff, it seems, libertarian socialism.. The reason I'm asking for a bibliography is so I can join into the conversation, which I haven't been able to do now consistently for the last several years.."

My response:

Indeed the commons have been around for ever. I am not sure that it is an intentionally developed concept as a basis for an ideology and that there is one commons discourse, but rather multiple commons discourses and multiple 'attractors' to the commons. I rather see it as an archetype - probably the reason why I and others try to attempt an overarching definition of it...- as I suggest in the response above.

A few resources on the commons. Many different feels and venture points...


Jessie Henshaw

Helene, Glad I wasn't skipping over things and noticed this link in your STW comments. I've printed it out to read more carefully, but I think it's just what I was hoping you'd do. It seems to read wonderfully. I'll back link it to my "milieu" post that seemed to work for us too.


Thanks Jessie! We need to progress on this.


Here is A comment from Tom Atlee in another discussion thread (https://www.facebook.com/groups/120497731371323/permalink/348583501896077/), who just wrote a book Empowering Public Wisdom to deal with similar issues:

"This discussion and the items we list as our priorities as CEO of the world dance around the possibility of a "pattern language for a healthy civilization". A pattern language articulates design elements (things to keep in mind, guidances for wisely solving common design problems) and the relations between those "patterns".

Three sample pattern languages along those lines are

* a sustainable economy - http://reliableprosperity.net
* good group process - http://groupworksdeck.org
* communities that have "the quality that has no name" (the original pattern language) -

I've been involved in two pattern language projects. The co-creation of such an intellectual magnum opus is a monumental and evolving task. I love the idea, but don't know where the energy would come from to do it. The reward is a framework that can be used in everything from transformational organizing to sustainability education to inspiration for people's individual missions in life - to say nothing of the pure beauty of a well-crafted pattern language.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is the different perspectives and ways of thinking that each participant in such an undertaking brings to the project. That is also the greatest potential gift. A key factor in co-intelligence is using diversity creatively. It is not easy, but if successful, the result is deeper insight into the whole that we are all part of, and that is trying to emerge among and through us."

David Bovis

Hi Helene, as usual, you are one of only a few people with sufficient depth of thought to inspire me to respond these days, I'm genuinely impressed with all the effort you put into these debates and their consolidation, i don't know how you find the time.

The output is phenomenal, your vocabulary and use of the English language makes much of what is incredibly complex and intuitive, explicit clear and understandable. I do wonder however, if the language evolving out of these attempts to identify what is 'Good' for the human race on this planet in the long term (i.e. What works, for the benefit of all, no one-person gaining at another persons expense - 'Kaizen'), isn't too detached from the vocabularies of the masses to make any difference in the real world, if the extensive discussions and comparisons of opinion, provided via the input forums, do ultimately lead to any conclusions.

What good will an answer be if the language in which those answers are presented, scientific, systems oriented or in parables, cannot be understood by others? ... could it be, that the only way to allow another human being (adult mammalian brain) to truly come to an evolved and developed level of understanding is to provide them (it) with sufficient sensory and emotional experience from which meaning and understanding can be assimilated in individual ways.

If the words and terminology which emerge as properties of the multiple-variable inputs, required to try to communicate complexity, themselves become so complex they are incomprehensible to anyone other than those who have been involved on the journey (having had the neural 'discovery' experience at a mesolimbic pathway [seeking mechanism] level), then i suspect, any such answer, will be of little use to anyone.

Ultimately, don't we need a solution to this? (I'm convinced we already have the answers - they just haven't been understood to a point they have been understood across generations).

I suspect this solution is to consciously provide considered and constructed 'experience', ideally from the moment a human takes it's first breath .... to consider what is 'Good' experience (a philosophical debate) from the moment of birth, we naturally HAVE to consider Parenting, Pedagogy, Professions and Politics (as impacted by theology, economics, cultural beliefs in what is 'good' as parents / leaders etc.) and this then requires an understanding of the entire world of psychology and now, with advances in technology, neuroscience, as well as 'systems' in socio-technial conditions and how those 'systems' influence outcomes in respect to everything they comprise and touch .. to include conscious consideration of the 'effect' all experience has, all the way down to the detail of stressor hormones, chronic release of cortisol damaging cells (biology / physiology) and the 'learned helplessness' aspect of control (Process, product and people) in all social conditions which add to or detract from the individuals capacity to perform in whichever family or vocation they find themselves in.

This is a good example of 'complex language' not making sense to most, other than those who have been through the journey of discovery to have developed the vocabulary and syntax to assimilate it against their own experience / prior knowledge.

The compound problem with 'understanding' is that those who 'think' they understand another persons words, can ONLY interpret what they think the other person means relative to their own world view (Context / Confirmation Bias etc.) so, many comments and additions to a debate only become antagonistic, with much effort used to overcome the failings of language (accentuated when presented in written form, rather than in conversation F2F). Leading to nearly 7000 comments which require complex analysis systems to draw any value from them.

In my own studies, 'root cause' always becomes down to individual (and subsequently 'group') 'Belief' (as imprinted by emotional environmental experience [my own 'language' in the absence of common language in the sectors i evolved out of]) and what is 'believed' to be 'Good' - shown in my own proprietary models like 'Believe-Think-Feel-Act', developed to try and give the amazingly complex some simplicity.

So the crux of ALL human behaviours / systems / social constructs and models by which we run countries and consume the world, comes down to what we believe (typically in our own self-interest), to be "GOOD". We therefore need to consider what is 'GOOD' in all it's psychological, physiological & philosophical complexity ... and i suggest we don't have to re-invent the wheel. If we strip the 'Religion' away from the history in which these principles have been previously addressed, we find many humans before us who have come to understand (without the evidence of scientific discovery to back it up) what '"GOOD'" is ....

In many parables and principles, we've been told, in relatively simple language (which, we must note, hasn't been readily understood or engendered into everyday life), Do unto others, Love thy neighbour, don't build houses on sand, sow seeds where they can grow ... and in respect to 'Greed' ... (a huge 'psychological driver of reactions) ... we find it doesn't live alone, but comes with other 'Self-defence' based 'passions', also identified as key issues. Pride, Avarice, Wrath, Sloth, Lust, Envy, & Greed .... They were identified as the '7 Deadly sins' and quite rightly. But as i say, we need to strip away the religion, forget about 'Sin' as it is used to 'Blame' and make us 'Bad' (For a religious system based greed driven need to control) and come to understand why individually and socially these issues are at root of many 'human' problems ... and what and how we need to 'be' (behave), as parents and peers to develop future generations who don't suffer, psychologically, socially and materialistically, from prevailing conditions in which these 'Sins' (for want of a better word for now) remain part and parcel of 'life' as we accept it, as 'good'.

I suggest, it's only at this level, that we can consider, at sufficient depth, alternative economic (circular) models and the development of other global 'systems' (that are currently believed to be 'good') which, in their current ignorance, have got 'society' so far, but now detract from the potential of the human race to enjoy a very different existence on this amazing planet.

It ultimately has to come down to the education, of parents, peers and politicians ... at the moment, the demarcated, 'topic' based approach to education perpetuated in our universities and business schools doesn't promote or even allow such inter-connectivity across disciplines to be understood by anyone coming through the system. If you have any aspect of your activities that are campaigning to change the global university approach to education, let me know, I'll so all I can to support you.

ekanath khatiwada

Hi Helene,this is really a good stuff!!!! hope un will benifits from this discussion to developing their new development frame work .


Thank you David for this thoughtful comment. I am honored to have inspired this :) -with the help of Jessie. It deserved a thoughtful response, hence a little delay on my end.

I agree the wording may be a bit difficult for mass communication. We have tried to be as clear as possible in a concise way so as to present something flowing and compact focused on building a bigger picture from the ground up. Don't forget this is the response to a question asked in the Systems Thinking World group. I do hope the members of this group have understood it, and saw how most of the streams that have been mentioned along the journey have found their place. The goal was not to reach a conclusion, but provide a continuum of pathways that interwoven together would produce some leveraged effect.

Don't forget as well the title of the piece. Commons sense, related to common sense. There is a lot in there to be developed and elaborated on in simpler terms. Illustration as you mention of how this manifests in 'real life' through sensory and emotional experiences, in particular through stories and examples, and there are many narratives to be derived from there. Several were shared in the discussion. Many people tend to think we are reaching some sort of a tipping point, or at least highlight that there has been tremendous change in conversations over the past two years...

Identifying what is 'good' for the human race -without entering in a 'moral' debate- refers to choices to be made sometimes simply dictated by common sense, knowing what is right, with mechanisms to change course… You are right, religious principles and parables came into existence to inculcate some basics of what was deemed to be 'good' for the system at the time they were laid down into scriptures. Some are more universal/archetypal and common sense than others.

And yes this is something gained through all what you describe, which is actually a chicken and egg question, because how can parenting, pedagogy and politics create the conditions for embodying a sense of ethics (as in ways to solve dilemmas) if they are not themselves conscious of the necessity of doing so. Hence the emerging process is a bootstrapping one…

I am indeed working with people who have different approaches to education, and I will most probably soon be working on projects to diffuse the ideas exposed in the article. I will let you know.


Thanks Ekanath. Don't hesitate to spread it around!


Hi Helene

I liked the pattern-language link.

Just surfing it quickly, I found it made my visual cortex pretty pleased, as the key words made me see diversity in the implementation of designs generated from attending to the concepts on pattern-language.

Nodes of diversity will help to re-diversify parts of the planet that are now so devoid of the texture, resiliency, and beauty of places where diversity is actively sought and supported.


Thanks Mary, yes, much of what is described here is going to happen through conversation and sharing experiences and what matters, and pattern language is one way to get people to ask themselves and each other questions that can help them expand the horizon of their sensorial and understanding capabilities... Kind of traveling across cultures and boundaries to explore the unknown... and get another perspective on what you know...

Poor Richard

Hi, Helene,

I like your description of commons "as the shared environment and the medium of exchange that all people use and change, inherit and create, and then transmit to future generations." That seems an apt top-level definition at which, from above the atmosphere, the biosphere can be seen as a single commons.

I like the assets-culture-resultant formula. IMO there is not much more to be said at the level of the global biospheric commons. We don't yet know very much about interacting with the workings of the atmosphere or the earths crust from that extra-planetary perspective.

Descending into the atmosphere and flying over the surface at say 10,000 feet we can distinguish land and sea and see some large bioregional commons. Each of these has its own assets-culture-resultant aspects. We can keep heading downward into a recursive (nested) and/or perhaps fractal set of commons (ecosystems) at smaller and smaller scales until we get down to fence-rows and rooftops. Each of these may enclose its own tiny commons.

This recursive metaphor of commons closely parallels the pattern of ecological bioregions and micro-regions for good reason.

Anther set of typical constituents of commons (similar to assets-culture-resultant but perhaps not exactly the same) is people-places-things-relations-rules-results. Or put another way, sets of objects (people-places-things) and associated algorithms which produce results. You might say that almost any arbitrarily chosen set of such objects and algorithms might be called a commons regardless of whether the objects and places were geographically co-located and contiguous or not.

You might also say that any individual object or place might belong to multiple logically or physically overlapping or intersecting commons. I hope this doesn't sound too abstract. It is actually a pretty succinct logical skeliton and once it is embraced one can immediately get to the concrete particulars--particular people, places, and things--the set of ingredients that make up a given commons whether it be a household, a farm, a business, a town, a state or a bioregion.

Then one can define inputs and outputs, feedback loops, processes, and other relations and rules (the algorithms of a particular commons). IMO this is a very tangible approach conducive to empirical metrics and engineering. Of course for this very same reason it may be somewhat antagonistic to or disharmonious with other commons metaphors, idioms, or ontologies such as those which one of your commenters characterized as religious or philosophical in character.

As I've said before, on a very general level ownership can be seen or expressed in terms of governance or control. You say that "Communities develop a sense of ownership of the process," and I would extend that to individuals and groups within each community as well. This is a form of subsidiarity wherein ownership, authority, governance, or management are roughly equivalent things just expressed in different idioms.

All this is fairly compatible with your essay as I read it and in my mind it provides complementary scaffolding for concrete, physical particulars and metrics.



Thanks Richard. I like your insights and how you build upon this synthesis. Especially the recursive-fractal-nested possibilities of the asset-culture-resultant dimensions of the commons. The people-places-things-relations-rules-results perspective you refer to adds the action (who/context/network) dimensions that enable multi-local (in the sense of subsidiarity) stewardship. This is indeed what was implied in my description, but this type of formulation could probably help make it less abstract and more 'applicable'. I will make some changes to the article in these directions. Don't hesitate if you have more insights. The idea is to get to something clear and 'applicable' enough to diffuse on a wider scale.

Poor Richard

Thanks, Helene.

A few more words about ownership, which seems to be a central issue in discussions of the commons.

I can imagine a trip to a planet where I have heard that "everything belongs to everyone". As I travel through space I imagine what this planet may be like. Is it an egalitarian paradise? When I arrive I find it is a place of anarchy and chaos where most of the ecosystem has been destroyed in the process of constant disputes and conflicts.

Some version of private property (in effect if not in name) obtains everywhere the world over. "Possession is nine points of the law" is not an arbitrary formula, but the results of thousands of years of common law trial and error aimed at reaching pragmatic rules of thumb. The same common law contains dozens of other rules, doctrines, or principles that place conditions and limitations on private ownership. It is never absolute.

Private property is a form of subsidiarity that says, in effect, that as a general rule, things are best managed by those closest to them. Are there exceptions? As Cenk Uygur says, OF COURSE.

In the past, private owners have generally had the right to destroy their property. Considering the population growth and the carrying capacity of many resources and ecosystems, it may be about time to gradually start retiring that right from the typical bundle of private property rights. In that case, property could remain private as long as the owner kept it in a condition that it can later be passed on to the next person. Obviously such a principle would apply more to some types of things than to others. This is just an example to show how treating private property or public property as monolithic concepts is inapt (or perhaps inept). Neither one is either the root of, nor the solution to, all evil. When the customary understandings of property collide with changing needs and conditions, it is better to operate on them surgically rather than cast them out of the village for being possessed by evil spirits.

Much of the conversation about the commons seems to me to be imbued with this "evil spirits" vs "good spirits" mentality.


"All ownership is conditional"

"Disenclosure of the commons"

Patric Roberts (Mushin)

As a humble participant in the Flow of Conversations triggered by Bi Ki Moon's humanitarian concerns and passionate desire for revolutionary out of the box solutions to our current creative collapsing opportunities I appreciate the summary of "Common~Sense for Sustainable World." The most impressive outcome for myself has been the free authentic engagement of many brilliant concerned world citizens in the process of appreciative inquire and dialog over the past 20 months. Which leads me to offer this as the emergent outcome as a green fragile shoot in the future.

We human beings are not the problem. The current paradigms in education, religions, politics and commerce are operating in a blind swept along historic drift and the pain point in current human suffering is unsustainable even in the near future. The end of growth without restraint is now upon us and its the consequences of the erroneous assumptions in the blind spot causing the pain point, and opening the splace in our reflective awareness to design a new future together. When perceived in this manner one is freed of living in the constructs of previous institutional systemic systems demanding obedience and negating free will as sovereign world citizens. Simultaneously, one's emotional disposition get's fired up from the belly as a creative expansive intelligence in the design of imagined future beyond problem solving.

Breakdowns become triggers for immediate effective actions within planetary emerge~un~see experiences as world citizenry committed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as earthlings committed to a household of humanity caring for the children of tomorrow by transforming the denial in the current leadership crisis. We begin to take the bull by horns not in ideological ontological arguments rather the heart to heart manner of trusted interactive manner in human dignity as a specie I call Homo sapiens amans ~ wise-sing up social loving animals, not gods. The ivory positions, titles and declared publications in patriarchal institutions gives way to all people's full employment designing a future together.

Helene is an amazing weaver in networks of conversations and harmonizing the emergent new song arising in the creative commons in the grasses we love on earth while reaching for the stars in systems thinkers dreaming and imagining new possible possibilities. The beauty of a mother's love expressed graciously for the entire family of man. We can not say that our small conclave as explorers is an emergent illusion or reality, its definitely fun to swim together in our imagination. Maybe that is the new island of sanity not just today but forever? Maybe we never meant as Homo sapiens amans to live in certainty and not knowing is the comfort and hospitality being born in this new creative commons. I pray so!

I imagine a bios~homo~sphere like a shooting star arising in this moment where our collective humanness is a new pattern in the flow of interactive relationships operating in a disposition of joyful concern encouraging, adorning and clearing learning for the children of tomorrow as planetary citizens demonstrating dignity throughout the emerging awakening cosmos of the living universe surrounding us. I imagine surprises and beauty beyond our wildest imaginations today and an imperturable knowing love that is enactively embodied in our flesh and humanity.

Thank you for hearing, singing and dancing together. Great party! Let's go to work and do it. In deep appreciation Patric

john varney

I like the whole concept here, which seems to me to be a reflection of our true situation whereas much of modern life is a frightening distortion wherein great power begets great power and greed begets greed and growth begets growth (which is actually destruction) to the detriment of all.

I would query your early definition of commons. You say, "It includes the natural environment that is our host on earth, and all what we inherit and create, use and change, and then pass on to future generations." This might be so, but is it not couched in a language that can allow distortion? It already divides mankind from nature. Surely we are one with nature not merely enjoying nature's hospitality? Don't you think this fundamental division is one reason many people think nature is there to be exploited? And nature is life - not a passive environment.

Of course, you know this full well - but why, then, allow yourself to use such careless language? It is likely to be used against you and the commons at some stage.

I have worked with management teams for 30 years and also with community groups. I am very clear that people can identify and then solve their own problems - with some help with process. Top-down solutions do not work but bottom-up needs guidance to soem extent - not in the what but in the how and the why. How would you see the necessary skills being developed and deployed? Who would be able to do this? How can such a process be brought into being?


Thank you Patric! The appreciation is shared. You have been a real inspiration in the Journey!


John, thank you for your feedback. And apologies for 'such careless language'! :) It is obvious that we, humans, the conscious observers, are an integral part of this complex living system called Nature with everything we inherit or create, including what we may 'see' of nature around us. I have invited comments and criticism because many eyes are better than just the eyes of those who produce a text...

This wording is an addition, part of an iteration on an initial wording. It actually needs to be changed. I just changed it to "It includes the natural environment we humans are a part of, and all what we inherit and create, use and change, and then pass on to future generations. Thanks for pointing this out.

As for "How would you see the necessary skills being developed and deployed? Who would be able to do this? How can such a process be brought into being?":

First of all, this approach will probably be included in a People Sustainability Treaty focusing on a systemic approach to the stewardhip of the commons, destined to be 'rolled out' by people who will take execution into their hands, at the 'place' they are at. The goal is once this is out there and widely diffused to identify and try and bring together the people, resources, methodologies that can help the process -this process is actually part of the approach. The ideal being that those who have some answers and can facilitate the process "just do it" and help put the pieces together. That's what the framework and platform would help achieve in an emergent manner, starting with what we may have identified as examples through communities of practice.

If you have ideas to share, you are welcome to share them here, or in the Linked In thread.

Michelle Holliday

Helene, I keep wanting to share with you how the commons fits within my take on sustainability, resilience and thrivability. It's related to John's comment above. The way I understand it, life is integral. Parts in any living system are distinct, but they're not truly separate. They exist within an integral, unbroken whole. That goes well beyond interconnectedness, in which I may be connected to another person or to a forest...but I may also elect to disconnect. Integrality implies that we are fundamentally one, even though we are unique expressions of that wholeness. Within this view, the commons makes deep sense. Without recognizing the integrality of life, the commons is still one step removed from me (interconnected, not integral) and I feel a conflict between care of self and care of the commons. This seems a critical point.

I also like John's point about creating experiences to help people grasp integrality. And still, we need words first (even if they're not understood by the masses) so that we can understand clearly enough to create those immersive experiences.


Thanks Michelle.

It's an interesting discussion that I am having with others as well. Because in this endeavor that we have, to generate a 'pull' towards sustainability, resilience & thrivability, you need to reconcile the parts and the whole and indeed express wholeness and the integrality of life.

Several things come to mind here. First, I am not sure the notions of sustainability, resilience and thrivability alone contain an idea of wholeness and integrality and have enough 'attraction' to form the consciousness of that whole… Then, I think wholeness and integrality must be expressed in ways other than words, or at least other than words of wholeness and integrality -hence I like the idea of immersive experiences to help grasp integrality and make sense of it, rather that creating a representation of it-. It's about 'forming' integrality by pointing vectors towards a whole, rather than speaking 'of' integral…

Words or descriptions put people in corners or in tribes. The integral discourse is not different. It is most probably the most evolved one, but to be really integral and whole you must speak to all, and help each part see itself as a critical piece, part of the whole…

The interesting thing about the commons is that it is whole and parts at the same time, so as a part, even if not recognizing the whole from the position it holds, it is still only one step removed from the commons as a whole, and as a commons, it can work itself toward the commons as a whole…

So now how do we create these immersive experiences, and how do we point all the vectors of change -the various pieces of the change…- towards the commons as a whole… We need to get to the integrality of life 'bottom up' and not top down :)

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