The Law of the Commons

TRC contributor Christopher Weller


Originally, human beings lived in a state of nature where all things were held in common; it was war that first divided up the world, and the resultant ‘law of nations’, the common usages of mankind that regulate such matters as conquest, slavery, treaties, and borders, that was first responsible for inequalities of property as well.”

~ David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years


Looking out across the landscape of society today, one may find it quite difficult to recognize or sense a state of community. The complexity of society in our modern era seems highly integrated, sophisticated, and somewhat efficient. But as we are seeing in the past several decades, and some may say centuries, is that the complexity is but a facade that hides the self-destructive, inefficient, and brutal culture driving us toward calamity. Our society filled with violence, angst, anxiety, war, and misery is the direct result of our failing efforts to master the world. It is as if we are being subdued, blocked, or restricted from such an effort by some unseen, incomprehensible natural law. A fate misinterpreted as the “natural state of man.”
In past centuries, and some may say since the dawn of the human species or even the beginning of life itself, the world followed a different pattern, one bound by a more supreme law of nature. But, this law consists not of merely chemistry, physics, or geology alone, nor is it just biological, and even ecological – the same scientific pursuits inherent in the culture of today dominating the world.
Throughout the majority of the history of life, there was a law that all life lived by, from the smallest bacterium to the human, that seems to encapsulate and encompass all of the laws that we arrogantly, and with great naivety, believe we have mastered today. It is what seems to be telling us now, more than ever, that we have been led astray by the false promises of the egotistical culture in control of our lives and the destiny of life on this planet. It is a seemingly all-encompassing law of the universe, built into the natural world. It is the Law of the Commons.
Like our traditional understanding of “the commons”, which is understood as a social pattern that is defined as a community, or communities, that share resources, such as land, sea, air, water, ad infinitum, and therefore, cannot be commoditized or “owned,” so too is the state of life on this planet. All the “communities” of life share resources, maintain the life of other species in symbiotic relationships, and are subservient to a law held in common, in and of itself, to maintain and ensure their existence upon the Earth.
Over the centuries, the Commons, and the underlying law, which governs the existence of life, has been shrunk to the far corners of the Earth. It has been overrun and pushed aside by the culture of destruction we are captive to today, with all of the systems of society running completely counter to the Law of the Commons. They are devoid of community, devoid of stewardship, devoid of an understanding of oneness with the life of this planet. We are separated from it all, seeing ourselves as separate from it, and we believe we have the rights of gods upon the Earth.
Why then, have we lost the Commons? And why is it as we further embellish ourselves into this culture of separation, does the suffering, misery, and doom only increase? Why is it that we believe we can somehow fix our grand problem with the magic of technology and the implementation of more programs, further distancing ourselves from the Commons?


Technology is both a cause and a result of our separation from and objectification of nature. It distances us from nature, as today’s artificial environments, reliance on machinery, and processed foods exemplify; on the other hand it is precisely our conceptual distancing from nature that encourages us to apply technology to it as an object of manipulation and control.”
The distinction between self and environment is minimal among the earliest form of life, the bacteria, which blur the self-other distinction with their fluid sharing of genetic material. Even higher animals and plants, however, rely upon on another for the co-creation of the internal and external environments essential to their mutual existence.”
No plant or animal is a completely individuated, separate, distinct being….there is no clear-cut, absolutist definition of the self or the organism; our belief to the contrary is only a projection of our mistaken view of our own selves.”
~ Charles Eisenstein, The Ascent of Humanity


Our extension of ourselves through the use of technology, before even homo sapiens came to be, with even many species of animals using technology, from birds to bacterium, using & manipulating the environment, to “extend the self” is proof of connection and oneness. For as Eisenstein states, “Where [then] does the body end and the ‘extension of the body’ begin?”
Thus, our separation, and the entirety of its affects on our dominion and our understanding of our place, our existence on the planet, our “selfish genes,” our dominance & control, our idea of objectifying the world and ourselves, defining our “rights” of ownership, breakdown under such scrutiny and examination. It is the delusions produced by our dominant culture that not only separate us from the Commons, but also allow us to believe that we are above its ultimate law, the Law of the Commons.
Technology, once thought of as our vindication, our golden crown, chalice, and scepter of dominion, had never been a means of separation at all throughout the history of life, and even human evolution, but rather, has always been a means of further extending the species into the Commons, further contributing to symbiosis, and further interacting with the world.
It seems ironic that most species, including humans, who use tools, and hence, technology, learn the trait from their mothers, through imitation and play, but the Law of the Commons also teaches us that the Earth is our Mother, and to survive we are not only spawned from her womb, but we must learn, imitate, even through play and leisure, from her the lessons of how we ought to live on this planet; how we must interact with her and use the connecting powers of technology. The Law of the Commons tells us that life on this planet is not to be full of struggle, anxiety, angst, and misery, but to be in constant interaction, symbiosis, and at play.



In Roman law, property, or dominium, is a relation between a person and a thing, characterized by absolute power of that person over that thing….Human beings can have relations with one another. But what would it mean to have a ‘relation’ with a thing?….[But,] Imagine a man trapped on a desert island. He might develop extremely personal relationships with, say, the palm trees….and, if he’s there too long, he might well end up giving them all names and spending half his time having imaginary conversations with them. Still, does he ‘own’ them? ….Clearly, then, property is not really a relation between a person and a thing. It’s an understanding or arrangement between people concerning things.”
~ David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years


The foundation of today’s cultural delusions inherent in the societal systems of today that keep us led astray from the Law of the Commons, comes from how we understand the definition of property and ownership, and hence, the “right” to objectify the world. It comes down to how we define things, and our relationship to them and each other.
Counter to the Law of the Commons, our idea of property and ownership has an intrinsic sense of “freedom” related to our idea of owning property, which came from an ancient, Roman idea that stated that one was “free to do whatever one wants” with the property under their dominion. That meant that tree, rock, fish, fowl, animal, and even slave was under complete control of the “owner.” Later, even human “rights” were instilled into this understanding of ownership. In turn, rights and privileges became “business contracts” with the monarchy or state, or, as in today’s world, with plutocracy, oligarchy, or the Corporatocracy.
By the Age of the Enlightenment, the body was separated from the mind into a dualism, where one could say they had “ownership” of their own body, in a metaphysical compliance to the evolving cultural and economic paradigm. The idea was entirely tempting to adopt. It fit very well with the growing culture of separation. Lust for power ‘over’ could be justified, and even the most insignificant person could claim to have “ownership.” The idea of property had come to the self. Separation came to its final apogee, as each and everyone of us became more deluded by the vision that we are the gods of the Earth.
Nonetheless, owning paradoxically implied that there is always the ability to be bought, sold, lost, or surrendered. Ownership itself implies its own separation. Ownership brought the culture of separation to another level of absolute control of everything under its realm. The tempting element in its conception, which seemingly appealed to everyone, since everyone has “rights”, its lie of egalitarianism implied that anyone could own, but also anyone could lose everything, including their “rights” as a human being. This very concept of ownership is responsible for enslaving the human race, and makes our own freedom, and the right of all living things to exist on this planet, expendable.
With everything, even our own bodies now objectified as things, separate from Nature, meant that everything could be exploited – everything becomes a commodity subservient to the one who achieves mastery over it. Everything is an object to be controlled, manipulated, and bent to our will. To divide is indeed to conquer, and the separation of ourselves from our world allowed for the world itself to be enslaved. For separation leads to the temptation to control, and the lust for power ‘over’ only intensifies, reinforcing itself over and over.
But as we are now seeing today, the Law swiftly gains the upper hand. It increasingly punishes and lays down its judgment. We only believe we stay ahead of the game. And our delusion, reinforced by the culture of separation, allows us to believe that we are not bound by the Law of the Commons.
Furthermore, inherent in the delusion, ownership of any property can only be comprehended when there is a separation involved. This is because ownership is better understood not as the relationship between the object owned and the owner, but the relationship between owner and potential owner – it is the relationship between people that is important, reinforced by the fear of one taking from them their property, and the delusion of scarcity created by the economic systems that have developed. It is, in truth, the relationship between people and the thing owned.


Those who have argued that we are the natural owners of our rights and liberties have been mainly interested in asserting that we should be free to give them away, or even to sell them.”
…Finally, similar ideas have become the basis of that most basic, dominant institution of our present economic life: wage labor, which is, effectively, the renting of our freedom in the same way that slavery can be conceived as its sale…
…it is only by the threat of sticks, ropes, spears, and guns that one can tear people out of those endlessly complicated webs of relationship with others (sisters, friends, rivals…) that render them unique, and thus reduce them to something that can be traded.”
~ David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years


The concept of ownership breaks down when the human race realizes that they are one. If all things are part of the same system, if we are all part of the Commons, there is no separation from each other. There is no need for the angst and anxiety of losing anything. Our whole practice of living in the delusion would not make any sense without us continually reinforcing such a belief that all is objectifiable, all is available to be bought & sold, acquired & processed, surrendered, or hence, “owned.”
As the well-known scripture of Genesis reads, Adam, which essentially means “mankind,” not one man, is responsible for the “original sin,” which is the “sin” of separation from the world in order to harness the power of God. The “original sin” of the ancient Greeks was when Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to the human race. The punishment for the “sin” of separation and lust for power ‘over’, has always been understood by all the cultures of the world superfluously. All of the human race submits to the Law or will fail. Human society must return to the Commons as a whole, or it will be devoured and eliminated by the Law. But, as we know, such absolute power “corrupts absolutely,” and it becomes an addiction of the most powerful sort.
For our society, and especially the masters of it, to continue with the addiction, the true “original sin,” we must equally continue to delude ourselves. Our culture of separation can not continue without the delusions it creates. But the Law of the Commons ensures that such delusions are not enough to save us.


As we seek concepts so separated from the world, we believe they are so far above nature, and the arrogance and ego-boosting belief that we invented the concept, such as our economic systems, becomes so strong that it has blinded us, so much so that we can’t see even the slightest connection to the natural world. However, in a sense, at the very foundation of these systems is the fact that their connection is so strong to the Law of the Commons, that as they lead the human race farther away in separateness, they cause not only our destruction, but the Law is simultaneously at play, forcing all those that ignore its power toward oblivion. Such systems must fail, because like anything else that has failed to exist in this world, it failed because it doesn’t obey the Law of the Commons.



A Homecoming awaits beneath our names, our numbers, our words, and our physical separation; you have been waiting for it your whole life. Sometimes it wells up and we run before it to save our selves, but its trace remains as a promise and a reminder of what life should, can, and will be.”

~ Charles Eisenstein, The Ascent of Humanity


As we invest more effort into such self-destructive systems the signs and symptoms of separation increase. The Law of the Commons is indeed a “promise” to humanity, in the sense that nothing is separate from the world, above the world, or in control of the world. And, that as we separate ourselves, the universe has less of a purpose, we are less of a person, and become a “thing”. The Law says that the purpose and the meaning of life is – there are no “things.”
When the Law is disobeyed, when we don’t listen to the promise, even our rights to ourselves, our own bodies, are measured, and are objects to sell or own. This includes our cherished “human rights”, for even they become property to be owned and can be lost. And when we allow this system to continue on, we have given them away and our future is lost.
Obviously, air, water, and land are all something that can not be objectified into a thing, because nothing separate from something else can be in and of itself, a thing. To be a thing you must have separation from space and time. There must be a contrast between the “thing” and the observer. But, if you are one with it, and all your systems, beliefs, and consciousness act as though they are one with it, you are one with it, then you cease to be a thing. Everything becomes one and the same. And, thus, nothing is “owned” at all. All is Commons. All is one.


This is why the belief in the techno-fix to all of societies ills never work, and will only lead to more problems, and we delude ourselves that we just need to add more technology. This is why the hopes in “progress” never work, because the Law of the Commons ensures that as long as we continue to use the methods that separate us, and objectify the world, including ourselves, there is never “progress.” There is never dreams & hopes “answered”. Technology never satisfies nor quells them. There is never peace, security, or leisure, and our fears, anxieties, and misery only increase. The addiction seeks only a new “fix” through near religious faith in science and technology.
These efforts also do not focus on the symbiosis of the Commons, by not contributing to the betterment of the world, and instead objectifying everything, and everything becomes a “likely slave” to be used. Other living things are used in order to better ourselves, rather than better our world. This is because, as mentioned above, of the belief inherent in our culture of defining property from the old Roman laws, where property is defined as something that can be done with as the “owner” pleases.
It is seen in how our entire economic system is interdependent upon those that they exploit. The great oil companies that were born out of the Industrial Revolution, were and are still dependent upon industry for their existence, even though at the same time exploit industry, manipulate countries, have no patriotism to one nation, but only to who is buying, and so on ad infinitum. But, they remain dependent on them. For if there were not a demand for their product, they would have nothing to sell.
Like today, tens of millions traffic the internet, especially social network sites and blogs, bringing about radical, revolutionary ideas and action. The recent Occupy Movement uses it, the Egyptian rebels used it, and their message speaks of demand that the economic system that such internet companies rely on and are imbedded in must be turned on its head. But, the “owners” of the net cannot shut it down, not for too long because the global economic paradigm depends on the internet, even sites like Facebook, to maintain itself. The Law ensures that these corporate powers can only survive through dependency on others.
Thus, the Law of the Commons exists in every corner of the culture of separation. No one can claim to escape it. Even the economic powers, living and breathing in an entirely cultural delusion, have dependency on its sheep, its cattle, upon us. They are one with us. The Law of the Commons, which states that all shall live as one with nature and all things or perish, manifests itself even in the economic delusions of the “owners of the world.”
The Law will force the corporate powers into their own self-destruction. As is happening now, they’re cannibalizing themselves as they bump into the end of “growth.” They must continue to acquire and consume as many weaker corporations as they can. It is the only way for them to continue to survive. They do not yet realize that their idea of “growth” is a delusion, and lust for it continues on relentlessly. We have seen this before in history. Many collapsing cultures have failed to obey the Law of the Commons, like the collapsing culture of Rapa Nui upon Easter Island, which reached the limits of what the island’s land-base could give them and they descended into cannibalism. Once again, the Law demands compliance, or we will be cursed into consuming ourselves.
The Law is paradoxical in relation to our behaviors. If we obey it, we live, we survive as a species, and surviving because all other life benefits from it, including our own. As we stray from the Law, it is the opposite, and we are degraded into a threat to all living beings, including ourselves.
At all costs, our efforts must be not only to rejoin with the world consciously & culturally, but also to actively stop the paradox, to end the dilemma by forced abandonment of such systems. For the system can not stop on its own. It is not like any other addiction. The drug or alcohol addict can submit to being powerless over their addiction and are given then the psychological power from their belief in a divine power to overcome the substance of their addiction.
As with the addiction of the usual addicts, who must abandon and surrender their power over themselves to a “higher power”, even if those of us in the Transition Movement surrender ourselves to the power of the Law of the Commons, those that have benefited most from this power, the money masters, the heads of the global economic paradigm at the reigns of the culture, have no ability to submit at all and will never surrender. As they are removed, we only leave a void for more to fill their shoes and continue the exploitation. It must be the entire system that must come down, and with it will fall the addicts in charge of it.


For when you are dealing with addicts who have gained such immense power over the world, their lust is impossible for them to shake. It has been ingrained, ever so deeply, that they can not release it without killing themselves. The power of dominion has shaped a false, alternate universe for them, so much so that they believe they are the higher power, that there is nothing to surrender to. This is why it is called the “original sin.”
The only “intervention” in such a case, especially when the world, all life, our lives, our future are threatened, for the benefit of the powers that be, is that we make all efforts to take the world back from them – they will only concede to change by force. They can not be persuaded. There is no “12-step” program for them. There is only one “intervention” – Revolution!



The full integration of the pain from the life of separation is what impels us back toward wholeness. One way or another, the pain will be felt. We can either wait for it to come to us, like an addict determined to get a fix at any cost, or we can go to it. Perhaps if we can see the futility of control, the futility of perpetually postponing the consequences, then we will have the courage to face them. It is said that no addict truly enters recovery until he or she hits bottom; however, it is equally true that “bottom” is different from person to person. At some point the addict decides no longer to evade the pain of a shattered life, wrecked family, sick body, or ruined career. He feels the accumulated agony, mourns what is lost, tries to make amends. Sometimes he succeeds in doing so before all is lost, before all friendship, all wealth, all health has been converted into money for the fix. Perhaps we humans will do so as well, and begin making amends to the world we are ruining before all beauty, all goodness, all wealth, all life is consumed.“

~ Charles Eisenstein, The Ascent of Humanity


Our power lies with the supreme Law of the Commons. It is reinforced and supported by its eternal traits of symbiosis and connection. But it has no discrimination when it unleashes its final fury, its final judgment. It will not discriminate between the polar bear, the salmon, the sea turtle, the movie star, the CEO or the homeless man, the soldier, the policeman, or the Occupier. The pain will come. All will be punished!
Just as much as the powers that be will not see the need to change, even at the apogee of such fallout from their addiction plaguing the whole world, the Law of the Commons fights back with pure fury and wrath, with the same level of adamancy. The more the systems of conscious and cultural separation resist, the more unforgiving will be the judgment and punishment of the Law will rain down upon us all.
This is not ideology talking, when “revolution” is mentioned. This is not belief in some type of “…ism” that can rescue us, that such a message, such wisdom and understanding is coming from. It is not a liberal or conservative opinion. It is not political, cultural, sociological, religious, or even a philosophical position. Nor will the revolution needed be based upon some obscure, radical theory. It is the ultimate law, and no matter what our “beliefs” are now or were in the past, all ideas, all positions, and all beliefs are subservient to the Law. The revolution is just us submitting to the Law of the Commons. Whatever comes out of it can only be – by following the Law.
The Transition Movement, who seeks to live by the Law of the Commons, must begin to act against the madness, to stop it. We must act as though we are obeying the Law to its full extent, living according to its promise and its demands. There is no need to fear following the Law. To delay or destroy such a movement, destroying any of its leadership – those who do would only serve to destroy themselves. For such a revolution is not a move to “get ahead,” to have more than our neighbor, to compete, or to ensure “progress.” It is no envious pursuit to steal away what the elite in control “have.” Our goal is only to reverse the damage and to be one again with the world. There is not even the traditional sense of “equality” in this pursuit. The concept of “equality” is not even being suggested, because in symbiosis there is never anything that is unequal. There is only contribution. There is only balance.
The true affluence and wealth brought to us by obeying this Law of the Commons will never come back to the human race as long as it is ignored by the present culture of dominion, self-destruction, and death. That is part of the self-delusional nature of it. For the current culture of separation to have gone on this long, the Commons must be seen as a harbor of angst, anxiety, suffering, and misery. How else would we be able to go on with such insanity? Our efforts to continue to allow ourselves to be enslaved by it and its leadership, and our reluctance to stop them & their system, are an integral part of the delusion. We are told that any other way to live would be “wild, out-of-control, violent, nasty, brutish, and short.”
But with the removal of the old paradigm and its leadership, the veil will be lifted. We will then be open to the connection and through it we will see that all the anxiety in order to live is gone, angst about living is eliminated, and the dying culture will be seen for what it is – a system of delusions built upon delusions.
It is cooperation, contribution, connection, symbiosis, synchronicity, and oneness that are the true mechanisms of living on this planet. They are the true variables incorporated into the ancient equations of the great Law of the Commons. Competition, separation, “selfish genes”, owning property, and objectifying the world were all flawed and false elements we tried to inject into the equation of life that only made the equation unsolvable.