Commons Sense New thinking about an old idea

Commons Sense New thinking about an old idea
Mary McDermott, Community Development Journal
Jan 2014

Caricatures of creating, maintaining and living a commons-based life abound. As a rule, they assume pessimistic views of human relations, the primacy of the economy, hyper-individualism and congenital dissipation. They essentially favour a strong form of Social Darwinism. Such parodies, however, also point to the many movements for radical economic and socio-political change, which have simply replicated the very problems they sought to overcome. Caricatures are troublesome. They offer a complex, challenging and dominant backdrop for this volume.

Commons Sense: new thinking about an old idea arose from the energy and wit of Órla O’Donovan’s engagement with the writings of Ivan Illich. In particular, Illich’s concept of conviviality seemed to offer a deep and sustained rebuttal to an instrumentalist life, a call to radical yet recognizable ways of living. A convivial society is, in Illich’s words, ‘… a society, in which modern technologies serve politically interrelated individuals rather than managers …’ (Illich, 1973, p. 3). Commoners seek ‘convivial society’ in its simple original sense, but also in this more nuanced, multifaceted pursuit of a shared world, pulled by politics, not pushed by technocracies. In this spirit it is asked here, for example, ‘what is the end game of development of any kind?’ To jump to a predictable end-point, of course … who does not want to live with the breadth of dignity to engage meaningfully with others, in a just and sustainable environment, at a human pace, at a human scale? Indeed … but how?

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