Jonny Gordon-Farleigh of STIR magazine shared with me an arresting little snippet of history that speaks eloquently about the quiet role of social reciprocity in a civilized life. Consider walking paths as commons, as described by Robert Macfalance in his book, The Old Ways: A Walking Journey:
“Paths are consensual, too, because without common care and common practice they disappear....In nineteenth-century Suffolk [UK] small sickles called 'hooks' were hung on stiles and posts at the start of certain well-used paths: those running between villages, for instance, or byways to parish churches. A walker would pick up a hook and use it to lop off branches that were starting to impede passage. The hook would then be left at the other end of the path, for a walker coming in the opposite direction. In this manner the path was collectively maintained for general use.”
It seems to be that we need more modern-day “hooks” that invite people to participate in anonymous acts of self-directed enterprise and reciprocal generosity. Sounds like a great alternative, when feasible, to the connivances of large markets and remote, centralized bureaucracies.