Ed. note: We were saddened to hear of the recent death of Patrick Noble, one of our occasional contrarian commentators on Resilience.org and also on our content partner site Feasta.org. Patrick was an organic smallholder in North Wales and a wordsmith not afraid, as he would say, to “slay sacred cows.” We will miss him. Below is part of the last series he posted on his writing blog, Towards a Convivial Economy. You can find out information about his last book there as well. I agree with this quote from Caroline Whyte’s tribute to him on Feasta:
I doubt if I ever agreed one hundred percent with the arguments in any of his articles, but they always helped me to think.
Commons and Enclosure
Yes. Cultures are what people do. The future is created by present actions – for better and for worse. Targets, achievements, status… can change nothing. Today’s part of the benign future of our imagination, will become deferred for that day – while the malign will accelerate. It follows that the greatest force for the fruition of our imagined benign future is firstly our personal moral probity (which directs of actions) and secondly that of fellow citizens. Such morals are what maintains the common. The purpose of all enclosures is to remove the moral and to replace it with rights to amoral property, which is usually irresponsible (home as castle} and can charge rent. These enclosures include rent-gathering land property, rent-gathering money property (interest is rent) and rent-gathering information property. Idle rent is entirely parasitic on true economic activity. It diminishes, intelligence-gathering, ingenuity, dexterity, probity and not least, of course – happiness.
But there is one major and utterly pernicious enclosure, for which I can find no direct evidence in contemporary literature – other than vague references to monopoly. I call it status enclosure. This is the facility for enclosed professions to charge massive rents to use their “services”. These services are often required by law as intermediaries to legal requirements of citizens.
I include, medical practice, dentistry, pharmaceuticals, every aspect of the law, architecture, planning consultancy, all forms of enclosed consultancy… I may take my £10/hour income to pay for the, at least £300/hour, of “professional” advice. The common says that £10/hour of that is wage, while £290/hour is idle and utterly destructive rent.
Had we paid attention to just three of our ancestors who understood the perils of modernity (there are many, many more) we could have rumbled the destruction that was to come and is now firmly residing amongst us. Plainly, this enclosure is embodied in what we may safely call, the new middle class. That middle class – not corporation, or government – is the major obstacle to action on both our divorce from nature and action on climate change. In the UK it is embodied in the power of professional advice, peer-review/career review and in the return of the New Labour Party and its completely-enclosed, highly-dangerous leader, “Sir” Keir Starmer.
Anyway, here are three of my ancestors, who also say what I mean to say – Adam Smith, Ivan Illich and David Fleming. Of course, there are many, many more stretching into pre-history.
Here are some simple behavioural rules –
1 – It is futile to lobby for green, or egalitarian improvements to enclosed systems, such as corporate provision. In doing so, we give credence to the system, and we may lengthen its life. Corporations will be very happy to provide for the green consumer – wherever the money lies. But they cannot relinquish dependent consumerism, nor of course, their amoral corporate rights. The problem we face is not how to green existing enclosures, or corporate supply, it is the destructive nature which is intrinsic to the amorality of both corporation and enclosure – it is how to regain responsibility for our actions.
2 – Both corporations and governments are abstract ideas. They cannot exist without the very many small purchases and personal ballot papers which make them reality. I spend and vote them into being. They are my creation and so they are my responsibility.
The answer is plain – de-spend the corporation and re-spend the moral probity of proper shops and trades’ people who still survive in our villages and town centres. Re-spend conviviality. Re- spend the moral and physical common.
Many green activists and nearly all academics are busy lobbying governments and corporations to act on climate heating and while action is urgent, they target the wrong source. The true source is ourselves, and of the collapse of personal morality into dependence on the non-existent morality of others. Cultures are always (as I say) the sum of what people do. They are not things (nouns), they are the living present (verbs).
Anyway, those academics are dangerously deluded. We should (I mean the morality embodied in the word, should), give them no ear. Challenge the supply side, they say. Maintain the enclosure, respect and income intrinsic to my doctorate!
No! we should reply, challenge the demand side – that is ourselves. We are the source of everything, for better and for worse. Currently, we have chosen, at least for human cultures – a lifeless planet.
If we remove that academic noise, which is most of the dangerous noise – at least on climate heating – probably less for ecology – we will be left, firstly with sensual evidence of the present (the only physical truth and the only place and time, where action produces reaction) and secondly with the entirely human views of genuine academics. For me, these include people such a Kevin Anderson and James Hansen. Yes, they have real names and their actions are founded on their own learnt and inherited morality – not on career, peer-respect, wage, or intellectual property.
Below is a related salutary lesson.
3 – A salutary lesson
Consider the climate change activist, or academic, who jets from podium to climate change summit to podium again.
Firstly, her knowledge should have made it impossible for her conscience to board the jet aeroplane in the first place.
Secondly, those places are merely publicity machines. No one will have time, while there, or space, to truly understand her paper.
Thirdly, everyone interested must first download her paper, on-line. She had no need to stir from home, nor had other attendees. The summit itself could have been created as a web site for contributions and responses.
Fourthly, her reason for attendance can only be for increased standing with her peers. Lobbying for peer-review, which is of course, actually, career review and for increased status in the eyes of all.
This means that she regards her status and influence to be greater than her utterly pernicious behaviour in a personal and massive increase in green-house gases. As we’ve seen, status achieves nothing, but to differ action. Present action and only in the present creates everything – from both a personal extent and to a mass extent. If we think her a role model, then it would be wise to instantly forget her. We may be sure that her scientific papers will be riddled with career-related compromise.
Her true influence will be, not to the accumulation of knowledge, but to a rosy future for jet aeroplanes.
4 – I have some personal soft-spots. Here are two –
Vandana Shiva – For very many years, Vandana has fought for Indian communities – for the return of theircommons in self-determination, in tools and in seeds and against the pillage by the colonial empires of Monsanto, Gates and their subservient nation states. Her consumption of jet fuel must be massive.
Greta Thunberg – Greta’s message is the best message – she calls on adults to at last, behave properly and to lead their children into a time and space of safety. Of course she would never have met heads of government, UN officials, or prominent jet-setting activists, such as Naomi Klein, without some very shady Gates-like green new deal-pursuing intervention. I think she is innocent of it. Similarly, her “Stick to the science,” is trusting and innocent.
Extinction Rebellion, utterly to the contrary, calls on corporations to behave, so that we can remain dependent on their benign provision. The true message should have been firstly, to their members and secondly to a wider body-politic. Many members are from the destructive middle-class “enlightenment” which is currently causing such lack of action on both climate heating and ecology – they are the professions to which we differ and also pay massive debilitating rents.
Of course, many members have personally abandoned air-travel, the family car… – while Greta sports a massive CO.2 budget.
Lastly, I’m afraid that I must slay a very sacred cow
For the most part, the so called, UK economy is composed not of economic activity, but of a monetarist casino. The true economy is probably but 10% of the whole – leaving the casino 90%. I draw that figure out of a hat. I’m sorry that my deteriorating health makes me unable to pursue the true figures – which once upon a time I’d have loved to do, or at least to guess, since much of the casino is deliberately hidden.
My sacred cows are steady-state, circular, de-growth and doughnut economists, who all propose de-growth of the casino and not at all the re-growth of a true and small economy on the common, which is its true habitation.
Now, those economists would be very welcome on the common, though I doubt they’d be much practical help. As I say, truth is found in reactions to actions – where a tool touches its materials comes a spark of truth – for both better and for worse. Only that relationship can build moral and physical commons for good behaviour. It enters the ancestral store. They could be useful in devising monetary systems, in which money is strictly controlled to be but a tool of exchange, so that money as property is outlawed.
Since economics is but one branch (the stoutest) of moral philosophy, those economists are acting utterly irresponsibly in proposing de-growth of the casino, when (being economists) they must know the consequence – immediate casino collapse and so also collapse of every section of the true economy. Business will fold. Unemployment will soar to near 100%. Tax revenue will crash and so social infrastructures will disappear. There will be no social security and no maintenance of hard infrastructures.
Read David Fleming. He will endorse the above.
There is but one place that an economy can survive. That is the common. The transition movement had it right from the beginning. Only there, can we build communities resilient enough to withstand casino collapse. It will collapse anyway. Our task is to build that common. Most of the infrastructures for that common survive awaiting re-occupation. It is our absence that makes them so week. It is our bad behaviour. Only on the common can we find our true relationship to the countless other species with which we share our habitation.
It is a deep tragedy that academics such as Kate Raworth (who is adored by most of the green and egalitarian movements) should be drawing so many into false hope for the status quo and into delaying proper, morally guided and beneficent action.
What can we take with us and what must we leave behind in the enclosures?
How much of the common remains? – I shall suggest that it is very much more than most people imagine.
EVACUATION OF THE ENCLOSURES
Hard as it is, these are things we must leave behind – aviation, the family car, all cultural activity related to fire, ideas of suburbia, ideas of dependency…
We will take with us much that does not appear in GDP figures – money-less activities, strong family morals and we shall alight in many still existing, though much shrunken commons – hard infrastructures of towns, villages, market squares, church, mosque, synagogue, temple, meeting house, pubs, cafes… and soft infrastructures of skill, ingenuity, moral probity – that which makes the ethics of the trades. All of these things will also lead to happiness.
Even today, inside the enclosures, we behave more by inherited and bequeathed family values, than by laws of the land and corporate demands. I think the potency of that money-less economy is massive. Without it, all economies would collapse.
Also consider that those inherited family values extend into both friendship groups and to common interest clubs and societies. It is taboo to charge interest to a friend in financial difficulty, just as it is so between family members. We would also not do the same to our walking, archaeological, music society, local football club and so on.
Consider the household –
There, a true economy survives in rationing of both chores and pleasures and of fair shares of what we can have and what we can do. Any true economy is made essentially, by commonly-agreed rationing and in fair shares of what we can do. Of course, all economies are made in the present moment and by what people do. All else – targets, dispensations and so on, provide an illusion that something has been done, while forgetting that it is in the present moment, that all must be done.
Only in the household do children learn the ethics of what will will drive them – and on reaching parenthood, bequeath them in turn.
In short, in evacuating the enclosures, we leave behind a world of limp, unhappy dependency, to enter a world of happy trade relationships, convivial population centres and liberating personal responsibility. The common is a place of ingenuity, dexterity and intelligence of the natural world, into which we must find our place. We can find that response nowhere else – as I say, where a hand, or tool touches its materials, comes a spark of truth – for better and for worse.
Follow the spark. It is a delight.