The Generative logic of the Commons

The Generative logic of the Commons
by Roberto Verzola

Extract from a keynote speech called "The Generative logic of the Commons" by Roberto Verzola in Germany, November 2010

Abundance spawns two contrary mindsets: monopolizing it for private profit-making, versus holding it in common for the good of the whole community and future generations

These two will compete for our minds. Which mindset will ultimately win is by no means clear.

An example in agriculture is the contest between farmers who share commonly-held seed varieties among themselves, versus multinationals who extract monopoly rents from their proprietary seeds through plant variety protection, patents, F1 hybrids, and the “Terminator” technology.

In the industries of the West, very little is commonly-held now; the corporate mindset holds sway. Curiously, however, the world’s main source of industrial abundance today is China. which boasts of a huge but less dominant State sector, in precarious balance with a growing corporate sector, under the Communist party’s schizophrenic ideology of “market socialism”.

In the information economy, user movements for copyright and patent exemptions, open access, free software and other forms of non-exclusivity have made big inroads in building commons of information techniques, tools and content for sharing. However, corporations and governments are trying to stem the tide of sharing by tightening IPR enforcement and through agreements like the GATT/WTO and the up-and-coming ACTA.

Corporations are undermining abundance held in common

Unfortunately, we created corporations and gave them life before Asimov drew up his Three Laws of Robotics. The First Law was: “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” The Second: “A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.” We would be much better off today if all corporations – which, like robots, are man-made automata – were constrained by these laws.

Our legal systems instead put into these business automata a single urge – to seek profits. This one-track mind has made them take over commonly-held sources of abundance – from seeds, to land, to knowledge – and turn these into monopolies because it is profitable to do so. What they could not take over, they have undermined or sabotaged, to create artificial scarcity. Corporations have destroyed the fertility of our soils, substituting commercial synthetics in their place; they have stopped the natural flow of mothers’ milk in favor of commercial formula; they have bought out independent seed companies, to force-feed us with genetically-modified toxic foods, all in pursuit of profit. They have become, in Wolfgang Hoeschele’s words, “scarcity-generating institutions”.

We conceded to corporations legal personhood, turning them into a de facto man-made species of business automata. They have become super-aggressive players in our political, economic, and social worlds. Beating us in our own game, they have taken over governments, economies, and media. Having become masters in domesticating Homo sapiens, they now house, feed, train and employ tamed humans to serve as their workhorses, pack mules, milking cows, watchdogs, stool pigeons and smart asses.

Thus, I will argue, corporations are now the dominant species on Earth. They routinely ignore human orders, injure human beings and foul up ecosystems in violation of laws for automata; these man-made mammoths now occupy the top of the food chain and have become the greatest threat to our well-being and the survival of many species on this planet."

See full list of 10 Hypotheses About Abundance and the Commons here