Right, we've taken back the web! Now what?
It's time for a story. One summer's day in England, a fine young gentleman is out for a stroll, or to "take the air" as refined young English gentlemen say. On that fabled island, there is an old law called "Free Reign", which specifies that farmers must keep at least one path open to the public through their land in order that those so inclined might take the air uninterrupted. However, on this fateful day, our fine young English gent happens upon a fence blocking his path. He becomes annoyed that some peasant has dared spoil his wonderful stroll and so - with an air of legal, nay, righteous justification - he kicks down the fence and proceeds. Of course, he is just as quickly trampled by the Brahmin bull in the field, whom the fence was preventing from escaping into some unsuspecting and ill-equipped English village.
This story is known as Chesterton's Fence and has many versions, including a very beautiful one about a lamp, a monk, and the philosophy of light. The moral is: don't break down barriers the function of which you do not fully understand. Much like we first introduced the subversive joy of Ethereum and then returned to a deeper understanding of the current financial system; now that we've looked at what it might mean to reclaim the web as a creative and collaborative commons, we must go back and understand more clearly what kinds of institutions we may need to keep our world wide web safe to walk through gaily.This week¶
That said, institutions need not be things like The Federal Reserve, or a government department, or a place you go when you need to spend some time separate from society. We have - for instance - the institution of marriage: which is a practice or a custom. It is in this sense which we will be using the word for the rest of Module 4.
This is because the internet routes information around slow-moving bureaucracies and so requires that we update the practices and customs we use to relate to one another and organize ourselves. In particular, it has caused - and will continue to cause - critical shifts in three spheres of human life: how we identify ourselves, how we reach consensus, and how we experience time. Cast in the language of anarchy - which really means no rulers, not no rules - these views of institution-as-practice or custom can be collected under the term "counterpower":
Institutionally, counterpower takes the form of what we would call institutions of direct democracy, consensus and mediation; that is, ways of publicly negotiating and controlling that inevitable internal tumult and transforming it into social states (or if you like, forms of value) that society sees as the most desirable: conviviality, unanimity, fertility, prosperity, beauty, however it may be framed.
Focussing in on the notion of custom and conviviality, we can turn to Ivan Illich for another important perspective on the critical words for this week, commons and custom:
A commons is not a public space. A commons is a space which is established by custom. It cannot be regulated by law. The law would never be able to give sufficient details to regulate a commons. A typical tree on the commons of a village has by custom very different uses for different people. The widows may take the dry branches for burning. The children may collect the twigs, and the pastor gets the flowers when it flowers, and the nuts from it are assigned to the village poor, and the shadow may be for the shepherds who come through, except on Sundays, when the Council is held in the shadow of the tree.
The concept of the commons is not that of a resource; a commons comes from a totally different way of being in the world where it is not production which counts, but bodily, physical use according to rules that are established by custom, which never recognizes equality of all subjects because different people follow different customs. Their differences can be recognized in the way they share the commons.
Andy Tudhope - June 17, 2021
Mariano Conti - Feb 11, 2021
Dandelion Mane - August 6 2020