Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Commons as a Movement

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The commons is something very new and quite ancient. Its newness can be seen in the huge variety of commons proliferating on the Internet: free software and open source software, open archives, Wikipedia, peer-to-peer file sharing, open science initiatives, the open access movement in scholarly publishing, social networking software, and on and on. These innovations constitute the new digital commons. Yet as novel as these developments are, the commons is as old as the human species, which has always been rooted in communities of social trust and cooperation — a fact now being confirmed by evolutionary biologists, neurologists and geneticists.

The real aberration in human history is the vision of humanity set forth by neoclassical economics. Homo economicus defines human beings solely as rational, ahistorical individuals who invariably seek to maximize their material utility through market exchange. It also asserts — astonishingly — that all of society should be organized around this vision. This is the fragile fiction that is beginning to be unmasked — by free software, by anti-globalization advocates, by environmentalists and others.

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