THE NEXT THING TO DO
I have four siblings.
Growing up I've learnt to share.
I used to cry at that fact, when I was younger.
It's hard to let go, when you're a child.
Giving is the absence of having.
And, as a child,
even as an adult,
who doesn't want to have?
Five children is a lot to allot resources to;
the older tends to concede to the younger.
Toys, hand-me-downs, labour; I've watched my parents give up meals for us.
I've watched them try to hide that.
Hunger's a fee. Pain is as necessary as food.
(Worse is the rage, which festers on their shoulders and hurtles off their arms.
I share the burden. I take the brunt. Or,
I knead it from their backs, their calves
and still worry
that I have not done enough.)
The kinds of things we give up or give away.
When I was younger I could not appreciate it:
all the self-sacrifice.
My family does not have much money.
In our current system, that's how it works; I'm a statistical probability.
I am very common.
As of the fourth quarter of 2020, 40% of Canadian households collectively own less than 3% of all net worth in Canada.
As you go up each quintile the pool of wealth concentrates into smaller, smaller hands holding larger, larger amounts.
Capitalism, it admits, is competition-based. Hierarchical.
That any success is dependent on the expense of others.
This is my theme.
Economics is a social science.
It is found in the space between people.
What could a system be beyond control?
In 1968, Garrett Hardin argue that humans will, by their "nature", overgraze the common resource for their self-interests instead of the collective good.
He says: "Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons."
We are greedy and hungry and helpless to our desires. Our ambitions push us to pain.
This is, to him, the paradigm of human action: self-destruction.
Human nature is a Helen of Troy, really.
Wars are waged over her. This is apparently her fault.
But something is learned in the ways she is blamed:
Human nature is a scapegoat.
His take on human nature is not an uncommon one.
It's a widespread belief! Enough to remain present in economics textbooks and inform philosophies.
Proclamations of "human nature"--especially those that depict humanity as inherently violent--have long suffused literature, art, politics, and economics, largely in the West.
These proclamations have also been frequently questioned.
How do you define human nature?
How much of is it inherent to us or responsive to our environment?
Who do we include when we talk about "being human"?
What are the consequences?
(There is something to be said about Christian parallels;
humans, again, by their nature, are predisposed to sin and require an overarching Force to restrain them.
A Force that demands belief.
Hardin would eventually be the source of some controversy,
for connections to white nationalist movements.)
He says: "Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit – in a world that is limited."
This is The Tragedy of the Commons.
Hardin declares that this tragedy can only be avoided by placing the commons under some form of formal rule,
most typically manifesting as privatization and top-down regulation.
Hierarchies of control.
As if people have to be tricked into goodness, something that is impossible to achive on one's own.
Logic and reasoning are without. Those have to be imposed.
Kindness is outside the remaining budget. It's simply not cost-effective.
It's no wonder, then
how useful Hardin's tragedy is to a system like capitalism.
In 2009 Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in Economic Science,
for her work in proving Hardin wrong.
Hardin's absolutist claim on the natural greed of humanity was debunked as Ostrom pulled from case studies around the world to determine how a community can govern themselves.
Ostrom, unlike her contemporaries, worked and was educated in political science.
Perhaps that is why, in contrast to most economists at the time, her range of research was so extensive,
looking at forestries in rural Japan to the Zanjera irrigation communities in the Philippines.
Ostrom examined how these commons are managed in countries like Nepal, Spain, Indonesia, Sweden, Nigeria, Bolivia and the United States.
The kind of social rules they stewarded over themselves,
the agreements held between each other,
detailing the absence of the tragedies Hardin proposed.
Ostrom, in lectures and books, spent her life thoroughly examining the aspects behind the community governed common pool resources (CPR).
Their mechanics, rulesets, problems. Differences between Western privatization models and each other.
She analyzed the sociological, cultural, and ecological aspects fuelling their perpetuities.
In Nepal, farmer-made irrigation systems were found to be more efficient than their contracted, concrete-constructed counterparts.
Local knowledge and culture are not considered valuable assets in managing a CPR.
The foreign institutions entering these spaces are often blithely ignorant of the conditions and evironment,
and slick in their assumed superiority, bastardize the CPRs natives have organized themselves.
There are multiple ways in understanding this.
One is imperial in nature.
A history so common it bleeds into the present,
the story where foisted, prescriptivist ideals and social supremacy imposes itself into a space
and harms more than it helps.
Whether it's culture or company, these authorities have long scarred the communities they inhabit.
Even after they leave.
The other is efficient.
The current model incentivizes expansionism, maximization. Mass.
In our modern globalist Anthropocene,
under the breadth of international megacorporations,
it's obvious how that played out.
Like our political systems, these corporate entities have grown fat in their organization, in their timetables and progress reports.
Every step up in scale a degree more impersonal.
Ostrom recognizes in her writing how current models were designed for that scale, where uniformity and efficiency are valued higher than the slow process of customizing for local conditions.
Even to their own detriment; mostly to the locals' detriment.
Perhaps that difference is what justifies it for them. Perhaps they feel it is beneath them.
In these high-communication small-scale communities, these faceless, lofty institutions become cruel in their mechanics.
The things they assume about the spaces they occupy, and the people that inhabit them;
Whatever amount of prejudice, whatever form of automation, placement, technique,
has, as Ostrom recounted,
Ostrom stressed the importance that culture actually played in these communities,
that, in fact, they were foundational to these self-governed CPRs.
Unlike formal, private systems, culture gave people something the former could not:
Extrinsic incentives can, at best, be unfeeling and, at worst, tend to the life-threatening.
In capitalism, depending on who is asked, these incentives range from the promise of personal prosperity to "work or die" coercion.
In these communities, in contrast, the people worked under social contracts of honour, responsibility, respect, or the personal desire to help other people.
As Ostrom observed, cultures of reciprocity tend to have higher rates of success.
Their collectivist ideals feed into their commitments to each other, contrary to Western individualism,
contrary to Western ideas of competition. Of a contest.
Of something you can win.
The promise of personal prosperity is an interesting one.
Companies invest a lot of money in defining what "prosperity" is,
and in turn invest in what humans will do to achieve it.
Success in cellophane, in sealed plastic, surrounded by packing peanuts and recyclable confetti.
The Western conception of self-fulfillment is, generally, wealth. Ease.
Lacking in fear and sickened with privilege.
Overconsumption as well plays a role into the supposed tragedy of the commons.
Hardin, however, was far more invested in population control.
A culture of consumerism in an era of mass production
would inevitably lead to ecological catastrophe.
Another variant of self-destruction.
in systems of coercion, in a society where 100 companies are responsible for 71% of carbon emissions,
how much destruction is really ourselves' fault is indeterminate.
I did not mention opulence as a facet of wealth.
Objects are now out of fashion.
Minimialism is the new trend:
a spacious, all-white, stainless-steel emptiness.
What is called happiness, it seems,
is living simple and free in a society that is neither.
It really betrays something, then how minimalism is critiqued
As a privilege affordable only to the rich, in money, time, and choice.
(Generally, those that make claims on human nature
mistake the ways their culture functions as an inherent part of human life.
It is astounding to them how someone else can work in another way.
Think in another way.
Live in another way.
Violence enters the space of their idiot denial.
Ultimately, she came up with eight principles when managing the commons:
clearly defined group boundaries;
harmony between CPR governance and local needs and conditions;
all participants of a ruleset having the ability to change and affect those rules;
and those rule-making rights are respected by external authorities;
self-maintained introspective monitoring;
graduated sanctions for rule violators;
conflict resolution mechanisms;
and finally, a nested tiering that would value the smallest unit's management style over its larger, interconnected system.
Ostrom's principles, while seemingly simple individually, inform a profound idea.
Intervention is complex. It has to be, or else it fails so utterly it doesn't even count as an intervention.
In order for communities to solve the problems created and exacerbated by modern-age international organizations,
by prescriptive, reductive institutions that delineates people into boxes for the sake of efficiency,
Ostrom realizes that the issue is multiscalar. Polycentric.
She realizes that the solution must be the same.
Ostrom has been considered a "quiet revolutionary".
In both part and sum these principles are predicated on currencies that would be incredulous to a corporate entity.
Currency like trust, like faith.
Despite the obvious, typical critique, trust that Ostrom is very aware of the credible commitment problem.
Some people just might not commit to their work.
However, it is with these models of long-term self-governancies,
these modes of behaviour and accountability,
the principle of the thing,
that these communities may continue to exist.
That a future like this is possible.
Hardin himself was not an economist. He was an ecologist.
It was a philosophy that informed much of his work, particularly the article that codified the tragedy of the commons.
Something he perceived out of "survival of the fittest" behaviours in organisms. Something he blamed on the welfare state,
for how they allowed the over-breeding of humanity. Something that is inlaid in his ecology, and his perspective on humanity.
Resource-consumer disparity. Population cruch. The Malthusian catastophe.
(Malthusianism has far been critiqued, in many ways now.
It's not just the contradictory evidence or excessive pessimism,
but the problems its misanthropic and inhumane characteristics will eventually lead it to.
Hardin, like other Neomalthusianists, was an advocate of population control, many of them by any means necessary.
There are extremes.
When it comes to population cullings, to the thinning-out of people themselves,
who gets the privilege to live?
Hardin, for background, was known for anti-immigration and race science rhetoric,
his listing by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist,
and position as vice-president on the American Eugenics Society.)
Ostrom in her work has also spoke on ecology,
on its intersection with sociology,
and applying the tools from her work into ecological preservation and vice versa.
Similar to how she views the complexities of CPRs, Ostrom derides the simplistic, singular panaceas that developers are so attracted to,
she recognizes that in order to actually adress the hyperobject of climate change,
our solutions need to be polycentric. Holistic.
This isn't just on a scalar level,
but geopolitical as well.
Places with poor infrastructre, most often those situated by the Ring of Fire and in the Global South, get hit the hardest by natural disasters,,
by both excess and instensity.
From emissions and the worsening climate conditions that they played little role in, these countried continually get ignored and waved down until their next tragedy.
Climate justice is social justice.
At this point, it's obvious that Hardin did not belive the same.
Between his calls for restrained reproductive rights and his reported "quasi-fascist ethnonationalism",
you can tell what kind of answer he'd have
to "who gets to live?".
Perhaps it was because he assumed humanity's desire for self-destruction
that made it so easy for him
to leave them for dead.
The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement called for population decline
to the point of oblivion,
as a solution to climate change.
On April 22, of 2022,
this year's Earth Day,
Wynn Alan Bruce set himself on fire on the steps of the Supreme Court.
Bruce was a Shambhala Buddhist who, upon seeing the government's inability to properly address the climate crisis,
protested the loudest way he could.
He would gain little to no media attention from the press.
Mark Fisher, acclaimed for his revelatory writings across blogs and books,
having written Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, which reviews society's seeming inability to imagine a system other than capitalis,
remains deeply mourned,
ever since he killed himself in 2017.
Marx's definition of alienation is one where the worker is made foreign to the products they produce,
and become disillusioned with their position in society,
with their place in life.
Under the thrashing death-throes of late-stage capitalism, a strain of nihilistic "doomerism" has infested the zeitgeist.
There is an almost constant terror at reality, a condensed form of existential dread,
only so much more tangible.
Our current system makes little room for connection,
under the ideal of efficiency.
Capitalism creates the thing it is precepted on. Is precriptivist when it calls itself descriptivist.
Perpetuates itself in doing so.
Like any attempt in change would be unfathomable in scale.
I've slammed myself against the wall just to feel a little more real.
My sister is already mean to my kid brother, him at fours year old,
and complains about cycles of abuse.
Indeed, watching him waddle his way through kindness,
the paltry things he saves and shares,
I hate myself
because I can't help but feel
the slightest twinge of horror.
Is this what we look like?
Recently, my family has been sharing food with their friends.
We have these pseudo-wars of gifts and treats, each a challenge in reciprocity.
I remember being confused when my white teacher told me it was rude to refuse her gifts,
when another asked me why I was so invested in other Muslims' issues.
My friends laugh at my almost wrathful insistence to help.
My family makes peace almost wordlessly.
We make promises and then follow them.
It feels unfair
how much of this gets discounted.
Thought unviable, or unreal.
Ostrom, however realist she was in her evidence-gathering,
was an optimist at heart.
I don't slam myself against walls anymore.
I'm no longer that cold stoic;
my mother urges me to dress for the weather.
I'm no optimist,
but lately I've been thumbing the pocket above my heart.
I think of the next thing on my to-do list.
I feel real.