Coming to terms with the commons means a willingness to learn a new language and the alien worldview that it makes possible. That is one of the great lessons that I have gleaned from reading histories of English commons and the enclosure movement.
I realized this anew upon reading an essay by historian Peter Linebaugh, “Enclosures from the Bottom Up,” in the December 2010 issue of Radical History Review. (Alas, the essay is locked behind a paywall, but fortunately, a website called “Envisioning a Post-Capitalist Order: A Collaborative Project” -- which Radical History Review has a hand in – has posted a downloadable pdf version of the essay here.)
Linebaugh -- the great scholar of the commons and author of The Magna Carta Manifesto (University of California Press, 2006) – has a way of conjuring up entire ways of knowing that have disappeared. I was struck by two passages describing the folkways of commoners. The first links “body-snatching” with the commons, a conjunction that made me start. It turns out that, amidst a civil rebellion in Otmoor, near Oxford, England, in the 1830s, a rallying cry of the commoners was “Damn the body snatchers!”
For pragmatic activists fighting the good fight against expansive copyright laws, the focus is usually on the here-and-now — how the law prevents us from sharing our works online, how it criminalizes all sorts of everyday activities, how it sanctions monopolies that charge ridiculous prices and stifle competition.
As Hollywood studios and record labels watch a whole new online "sharing economy" arise -- in which ordinary people create and share things online without having to buy "product" -- Big Media is coming to a dismaying realization: the people formerly known as the audience are morphing into a participatory network. And this new social form is beating the hell out of an already-tattered business model.