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<nettime> commons digest [x3 - Kuhn, Brown x2]
nettime's electronic commonwealth on Thu, 17 Jan 2002 07:27:16 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> commons digest [x3 - Kuhn, Brown x2]

Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2002 00:58:23 -0600
Subject: Re: Chicago, know your .histories
From: Karl Kuhn <karl {AT} select-media.com>
To: Lachlan Brown <lachlan {AT} london.com>, <nettime-l {AT} bbs.thing.net>
Message-ID: <B863E92E.A3%karl {AT} select-media.com>
In-Reply-To: <20020110201018.21134.qmail {AT} iname.com>


Hi. Thanks for your thoughts on the "commons" and "commonwealth". They are
important distinctions and I appreciate your bringing them to the fore.
While we felt a little silly when we realized that we fired the initial call
for participation off without a more thorough read by our allies here better
suited to position some of the historical points, your response is a great
reminder why we reached out in the first place.

So, we've been nose down in the tactical, myopic, soup of getting this thing
on and there are certain clarification issues that have not been nearly as
realized as they maybe should be by now. Our goal is to provide an arena for
a swell of people that can focus and examine this dialogue, we are not the
group to provide a detailed historical analysis or all the critical input.

That's where you come in. I am very interested to here more about your work
and how you think you can contribute. We are re-working the symposia ideas
as I type this and in the next few days will push you some more information,
if you are interested. They are pretty, um, "global" (ie soft) because we
are looking for the participants and moderators to run with them.

The music, films, installations, sound art gallery, net object gallery,
gallery and alternate performance space tours and after hour parties are
going to be incredible. We think the symposia and various publications of
works will be as well. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Thanks again taking for taking the time to comment.



Ps. Hello to everyone else on your cc list. Yo, don't make other plans for
April 18-20

On 1/10/02 2:10 PM, "Lachlan Brown" <lachlan {AT} london.com> wrote:

> No, this is not right. Its important to
> know your .histories (small h or repressed histories rather than History) as
> the 
> confusion over the meanings of 'commons'
> and common-wealth' is an outcome of these repressed histories.
> You can't know where you are at until you
> know where you came from, Once you know

[ . . . ]


From: "Lachlan Brown" <lachlan {AT} london.com>
To: karl {AT} select-media.com, nettime-l {AT} bbs.thing.net
Date: Mon, 14 Jan 2002 17:02:43 -0500
Subject: Don't Fuck with Democracy.


Thanks for your reply. My mail is not meant as a criticism of your conference
(nor is the subject line) in Chicago nor of its theme concerning rights and
responsibilities in a 'digital commons' and methods of tactical media.  I just
wondered where the phrase ‘tragedy of the commons’ came from and what this
phrase was doing in your conference call. It sounds like dangerous right wing
revisionism in new media suited to the undemocratic agenda of the National
Security State. 

I read in the conference call for participation a very familiar history, the
history of 'the commons' or common rights and responsibilities in relation to
land and community obligations; as well as an idea developed from this history
by democratic radicals called Levellers or the Leveller Movement or Party
during the 1640s.

Given the democratic gains of the period you mention, the 1640s in England,
intimately tied up with an outpouring of  ‘tactical media’ or ‘press
pamphlets’, the formation of ‘textual communities’ or reading publics (like
Nettime bbs), ‘tragedy of the commons’ is not merely incorrect it is
dangerous undemocratic nonsense.

The Leveller party  or movement anticipated and in some cases won many of the
rights we now take for granted, or have recently lost.  The Levellers invoked a
notion of 'common wealth'  to put forward a political platform that included
parliamentary reform, the end of monarchy, the formation of a Republic in
England,  a written constitution, and universal suffrage. ‘Extremes’ of the
Leveller movement included women writing as women for the first timeasserting
their right to speak for themselves and to lobby for full political
participation in politics including the vote and the right to sit in
parliament. This was 300 years before the right was won. The ‘true-Levellers’
orDiggers who acted on a remarkable insight that we can still learn from
concerning the interrelation of land ecology and politcs.  They occupied and
cultivated common land near Royal Estates arguing that the land should be
parceled out among the poor.

Most of the Leveller platform was achieved during the following three hundred
years. The American revolution was deeply inflected by the Leveller tradition.

The actions of Levellers introduced civil rights we take (or until recently
took) for granted.  To give an example, Leveller John Lillburne by refusing to
recognize the authority of a court of Puritans who sat to trial him gave us the
‘right to silence before the law’ – his argument was simple he refused to
speak since he could not see who had elected the judges who tried him: he
refused subjectivity to an arbitrary power.  I see we have recently accepted
subjectivity to arbitary power by accepting changes to the law that remove this
right.  Modern Democracy appeared in template in the mid 1640s. The American
Revolution and Constitution recalled the Leveller platform. This is hardly a
‘tragedy of the commons’. 

The period is particularly relevant to tactical media, reading publics, and
activism hence it is great to see you recalling this repressed history. It is
not good however to assume that what was a remarkable outpouring of ideas,
creativity, and innovation in culture and politics ended in tears. The
Levellers made the world we know, and when the surrendering British at Yorktown
played ‘the world turned upside down’ they played the hymn of the Levellers
out of respect for the achievement of Amercan democratic revolutionaries.  OK?

I have a paper of the period which I wrote as an allegory for the coming
digital revolution(and as a comparison for claims to radicalism in electronic
media), which was circulated among people getting involved in ‘the new media’
in 94-95. I meant to write a second part comparing 7 years of online electronic
media with the time 1640s in retrospect, but, well, events...

Sorry about my tone, I have a cold.


Lachlan Brown

P.S. The 'tragedy of the commons' probably refers to the Enclosures Act of the
18th century.  This has relevance to what I have called ‘new enclosures’
attending the application of IT in libraries impacting scholarship traditions
in universities, etc. and while this is one reaction, it is not a necessary
consequence of radical publishing, the formation of reading publics, and the
production, reproduction and dissemination of knowledge. It’s a problem
Professors are eventually going to have to tackle before they allow scholarship
to be consigned to the ‘unmarked grave of history’.

> Lachlan,
> Hi. Thanks for your thoughts on the "commons" and "commonwealth". They are
> important distinctions and I appreciate your bringing them to the fore.
> While we felt a little silly when we realized that we fired the initial call
> for participation off without a more thorough read by our allies here better
> suited to position some of the historical points, your response is a great
> reminder why we reached out in the first place.


From: "Lachlan Brown" <lachlan {AT} london.com>
To: nettime-l {AT} bbs.thing.net

Thank you MCKenzie,  Kermit, and Mikael for pointing out the source for ‘the
tragedy of the commons’.  "The Tragedy of the Commons," Garrett Hardin,
Science, 162(1968):1243-1248.


One might have expected Malthusian biology combined with in the equation of
Mass Destruction Game Theory and validated by a retrenching scholarship
compromised by the military industrial complexes reaction to counter-cultural
social innovation would crop up somewhere around the question of ‘the

I see Hardin, citing J.B. Wiesner and H.F.  York ‘the dilemma of steadily
increasing military power and steadily decreasing national security’, is not
writing about 'the commons' at all, but about Nuclear Arsenals in 1968 during
an intensely insecure cultural period in which scholarship became deeply
compromised by the institutionalization of education as a mere element and
resource in a new social contract and a new form of government, that of The
National Security State.  He was writing not about ‘the commons’ at all but
about ‘Mutual Coercion Mutually Agreed Upon’ the necessary basis for
suspension of the social contract and democratic rights and an apology for a
‘new social contract’ in which the balance between estates of The State, The
Market and Ethics mediated by the Public was to be suspended for the sake of
Cold War emergency contingency.

Was he one wonders writing to posterity an apology for his time from the
fall-out shelter to which 

What relevance does ‘R-Complex thinking’ of the National Security State have
for the rich, complex, diverse, contradictory nature of our common wealth, our
culture(s), how is it to anticipate and assure the longevity of our culture(s)
and why do we continue to accept this imbalance to the social contract? 

Scientific Rationality among herdsmen is an unlikely scenario. Some of us have
higher brain functions than those governed from the brain stem, and any
argument based upon assumed behaviour with no empirical basis may make
interesting economic theory, and might make what appears to be a fairly
interesting game simulation but... 

‘The Commons’, our democracy, is not a given, an ideascape to be colonized,
it is an outcome of  democratic thinking.  Behaviour in a 'commons' is
comparative and cultural, governed by best use of land and resources for a
'community', ‘how do we make best use of what we’ve got” governed by
‘tradition’ or what has worked well in the past and carried a community
across unremembered unrecorded events -- long term cycles of climate change,
pestilence, war, --“kinship” trust in unpredictable as well as predictable
behaviour among co-‘herdsmen’’/wimmin, as well as well as openness to the
memes of other cultures, in a forum where all matters affecting the commons,
and the common wealth, our culture(s), may be raised, discussed, and commonly
understood.  .This is democratic thinking. Historically, managing ‘the
Commons’ or communal land of the community was how we got democracy.

Alexander Wilson’s The Culture of Nature is helpful toward an understanding of
a 'new social contract', and of course Serres had something to say about 'the
Natural Contract'.

About my subject line, I apologise but Hardin provides validation for it:

'Coercion is a dirty word to most liberals now, [1968] but it need not forever
be so. As with the four-letter words, its dirtiness can be cleansed away by
exposure to the light, by saying it over and over without apology or
embarrassment. ' 

I repeat, don't fuck with democracy.

“The only way we can preserve and nurture other and more precious freedoms is
by relinquishing the freedom to breed, and that very soon. "Freedom is the
recognition of necessity" -- and it is the role of education to reveal to all
the necessity of abandoning the freedom to breed. Only so, can we put an end to
this aspect of the tragedy of the commons.” 
Hardin 68


Make love not war.

Lachlan Brown

Cultural Studies 
Goldsmiths College


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