It is today increasingly critical for us in the technological society we are creating globally to both understand and accept that The Commons Usufruct Law and its governing principles are subordinate to the biophysical principles of the Cosmic Law of Unification. And just as the biophysical principles are inviolate in their governance of Nature, so the social principles of The Commons Usufruct Law are inviolate in their governance of a functional society wherein long-term, social-environmental sustainability is the requisite outcome.
So what, at this juncture, can we, as a society, relearn from the hunter-gatherers? We can relearn to live by the principles of social behavior embodied in The Commons Usufruct Law—principles that grew as unplanned, individual behaviors that simply emerged out of a life epitomized by the continual novelty of reciprocal relationships between humans and Nature over the millennia. I say relearn because, as writer Carlo Levi once said, “the future has an ancient heart.”1
With the foregoing in mind, the innate sustainability that governed the lives of the hunter-gathering peoples can be reframed into a conscious commitment for today’s human society. To wit: Sustainability is a conscience, life-long journey of continual adaptation to changing conditions in a way that protects the productive capacity of nature to produce and deliver the products and services that constitute our life-support system and, consequently, the quality of our life.
Principle 1: Sharing Life’s Experiences Connects Us To One Another
We are compelled to share our life’s experiences with one another as best we can to know we exist and have value, despite that fact that we are forever well and truly alone with each and every thought, each and every experience and the emotion it evokes in our personal journey from birth through death.2 And the best way share experiences is by working together and taking care of one another along the way, which, incidentally, is the price of social-environmental sustainability.
Principle 2: Cooperation and Coordination Are the Bedrock of Sustaining the Social-Environmental Commons
When we coupled cooperation and coordination with sharing and caring, it precludes the perceived need to compete for survival and social status, except in play—and perhaps story-telling. Linking individual well-being strictly to individual production is the road to competition that, in turn, leads inevitably to social inequality, poverty, and environmental degradation. Self-centeredness and acquisitiveness are not inherent traits of our species, but rather acquired traits based on a sense of fear and insecurity within our social setting, which fosters our ego’s perceived need to impress others with our personal prowess, which means that more is always better and enough does not exist.
The separation of work from the rest of life, which began centuries ago with the inception of agriculture, is today fully manifested. Jobs are so fundamental to people’s sense of identity and class distinction within the social hierarchy that many become severely depressed when they lose their jobs. Moreover, today’s competitive marketplace, where people are “bought and sold” at the economic convience of businesses and corporations, is a breeding ground for stress-related illnesses due to the uncertainty and unpredictability of everyday life over which people feel increasing out of control. Long-term stress not only wears down the body but also initiates the potential for high blood pressure, heart disease, mood disorders, and chronic pain brought on by relentless muscle tension.3
Principle 3: The Art of Living Lies in How We Practice Relationships
The art of living lies in how we practice relationships—beginning with ourselves—because practicing relationship is all we ever do in life. Wisdom dictates, therefore, that we live leisurely, which means to afford the necessary amount of time to fully engage each thought we have, each decision we make, each task we perform, and each person with whom we converse in order to fulfill a relationship’s total capacity for a quality experience. We learn to live fully in the measure in which we learn to live leisurely, a sentiment echoed by Henry David Thoreau: “The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure.”4 If one lives leisurely, all aspects of life blend into a seamless whole, wherein contentment and joy can be found. In this sense, everyone can be a life-long artist in the joy of living if they so choose.
On the one hand, all relationships are self-reinforcing feedback loops, which in Nature are neutral in valuation because Nature has only intrinsic value. On the other hand, these same self-reinforcing feedback loops carry either a positive or a negative accent in human valuation because we want specific, predetermined outcomes that give us the illusion of being in control of circumstances. This human dynamic is the same as that driving the notion of success or failure, wherein each is the interpretation of an event, but not the event itself.
Principle 4: There is More Beauty and Peace Than Ugliness and Cruelty
There is more beauty and peace in the world than ugliness and cruelty because peace is simply a condition of Nature. In the end, therefore, it’s a matter of what we choose to focus on—the beauty and kindness that surround us if only we look for it or the large spoonful of fear fed to us daily by the media. As Francis Bacon put it: “The best part of beauty is that which no picture can express.”5 Even in the midst of war, beauty exists in a smile, a hug, caring for a child, and the ever-fresh face of a flower. In essence, ordinary people are motivated primarily by their inner harmony and balance, which is expressed as through their sense of aesthetics.
Principle 5: People Must Be Equally Informed if They Are To Function As A Truly Democratic Community and Society
For a group of people to be socially functional, they must be equally informed about what is going on that affects them; in other words, there must be no secrets that are actually or potentially detrimental to any member. Inequality of any kind based on gender or social class is merely fear of inadequacy disguised as privilege.
Principle 6: We Must Consciously Limit Our “Wants”
By consciously limiting our “wants,” we can have enough to comfortably fulfill our necessities as well as some of our most ardent desires—and leave more for other people to do the same. In essence, there are two ways to wealth: want less or work more. Unfortunately, the capitalistic system of economics is based on dissatisfaction and a continual stimulus to purchase superfluous items at the risk of personal debt, the long-term expense of the environment, and thus all future generations.
Principle 7: Every Decision Is The Author of a Never-Ending Story of Cause and Effect
With every act we consummate, we become the authors of a never-ending story, a mystery of everlasting change in the world. This is so because every cause has and effect, and every effect is the cause of yet another effect, ad infinitum. And, because change is a constant process of eternal becoming, the story we initiate is ever novel and irreversible.
Principle 8: Simplicity is the Key to Contentment, Adaptability, and Survival
Any fool can complicate life, but it requires genius to keep things simple. Simplicity in living and dying depends on and seeks things small, sublime, and sustainable. What’s more, simplicity is the key to contentment, adaptability, and survival as a culture; beyond some point, complexity becomes a decided disadvantage with respect to cultural longevity, just as it is to the evolutionary longevity of a species. As artist Hans Hoffman puts it, “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”6
Principle 9: Marvel at the Abundance and Resilience of planet Earth
The notion of scarcity is largely an economic construct to foster consumerism and increase profits, but is not necessarily an inherent part of human nature. We need to overcome our fear of economically contrived scarcity and marvel instead at the incredible abundance and resilience of the Earth and our sacred duty to protect it for all generations.
Principle 10: Only Mobile Property Can Be Owned Outright
The right of personal ownership applies only to mobile property, that which one can take with them, such as a table, cell phone, or automobile. On the other hand, things that one cannot carry with them, such as land, which can be borrowed long term, is to be shared equally through rights of generational use. In other words, a person can borrow land as a trustee, but cannot personally own land to the detriment of any generation. After all, no human being on Earth can create land. Thus no human has the right to degrade or destroy that which they cannot create and all the generations to follow must use.
Principle 11: Nature, Spirituality, and Human Well-Being Are Paramount
Placing material wealth, as symbolized by the money chase, above Nature, spirituality, and human well-being is the road to social impoverishment, environmental degradation, and the collapse of societies and their life-support systems.7
Principle 12: Every Legal Citizen Deserves the Right To Vote
Every legal citizen of every country deserves the right to an equal vote of their conscience on how their country is to be governed because they and their children and their children’s children must live with the consequences of the collective choices and actions.
Principle 13: We Must Choose; In That We Have No Choice
Here, the abiding paradox of life is that we have a choice in everything we think and almost everything we do—except practicing relationships, experiencing ourselves as we experience relationships, choosing, changing the world, living without killing, and dying. In those we have no choice of what we do, but we do have a choice of how we do it—and we must choose because not to choose is still a choice. In addition, we make a new choice (even if it’s doing nothing) each time a circumstance in our life changes, which, of course, is an ongoing process, be it the outworking of biophysical principles that govern life or how we view the life’s changes as we mature in years.
The constancy of change dictates the omnipresence of choice. Life can therefore be viewed as an eternal plethora of decisions, each of which is a fork in the path we follow. Each time a decision is made, others are foregone. Nevertheless, each decision creates a kaleidoscope of additional choices. In turn, choice is the author of both wisdom and folly, which manifest as the consequences of our decisions and actions. This latter statement is particularly relevant, as Israeli Statesman Abba Eban observed: “History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.”8
Choices always have effects in the form of trade-offs and consequences that become the causes of still other effects, and so on. Some of the consequences of our choices we may not like, but we must choose just the same, because not to choose is still a choice. In this sense, everything we think and do has a trade-off of positive and negative consequences at the time a thought is formed, a decision is made, and a choice of action is taken. Hence, each choice is a trade-off of hoped-for outcomes amid the unknowns and uncertainties of life. So it is day in and day out.
Principle 14: We Change the World Simply Because We Exist
As an inseparable part of the Nature, we have no choice but to change the world in our living simply because we exist and use the world’s energy to survive. We do, however, have a choice in selecting the level of consciousness with which we treat our environment in the reciprocal relationships of life and living.
Consider, for example, that over 90 percent of the major armed conflicts during the five decades between 1950 through 2000 occurred not only in countries containing hotspots of biodiversity but also more than 80 percent of these conflicts took place directly within hotspot areas. Less than one-third of the 34 recognized hotspots escaped significant conflict during this period, and most suffered repeated episodes of violence in one form or another, such as the widespread military use of the herbicide Agent Orange in the jungles of Vietnam. The pattern was remarkably consistent over these 5 decades, including war refugees within these areas hunting wildlife for food, cutting trees for firewood, and building camps. Because hotspots are concentrated in politically volatile regions, it is essential for the conservation community maintain continuous involvement in these during periods of war, and efforts to protect the biodiversity need be incorporated into military, reconstruction, and humanitarian programs in conflict zones throughout the world if these places and all the resources and services they provide are to be maintained as part of the global commons.9
OUR CHALLENGE IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
The twentieth century began with numerous hunting and gathering peoples still pursuing their ancient ways of life, which centered on their relationships with extended families, plants, animals, and their spirit world. Had we industrialized humans been wiser, they could indeed have been our teachers. But as the twentieth century matured, a wave of self-appointed “civilizers” superimposed their own set of religious values and social constructs on the few remaining hunting-gathering peoples and, not coincidentally, took their land and resources in the process. The birth of the twenty-first century is already seeing an accelerated effort to encapsulate the few remaining hunting-gathering peoples within the administrative clutches of one state or another, as well as the outright theft of coveted natural resources, such as timber,10 oil,11 pastureland,12 and mining13 in South America.
This collective turn of events is indeed a pity, because the industrialized societies of today are highly structured, often rigid in the extreme, and densely populate the areas they occupy. Although such civilized people enjoy the so-called luxuries of technology that hunter-gatherers could scarcely have imagined, the world is sharply separated into those who have much in a material way and those who have little, and it is composed of societies that are largely ruled by men. The cost of this materialism and male domination, with its penchant for competition and control (often through violence), which began only a few millennia ago, is that much of planet Earth lies in various degrees of impoverishment, if not ruin, with respect to the potential quality of human livelihood, which defiles Nature’s commons as every person’s birthright.
Our challenge in this century is to raise the level of our consciousness of cause and effect with respect to the questions we ask and the decisions we make. We are, after all, trustees of this wonderful living trust called planet Earth—and the children of all generations are the beneficiaries of our wisdom and humility or our folly and arrogance. The choice of how and why we alter the Earth is ours, the adults of today. The consequence we bequeath to every child of today and beyond. How shall we choose—to protect the commons as the unconditional gift of Nature that is everyone’s birthright or continue to fight over how we are going to carve it up for personal gain and so despoil it unto everlasting?
THE COMMONS USUFRUCT LAW
© Chris Maser, 2009. All rights reserved.