Rarely have I read an essay that knits together some very different commons with such wisdom and depth. Joline Blais' 2006 essay, “Indigenous Domain: Pilgrims, Permaculture and Perl,” is a wonderfully insightful analysis that reveals the underlying unity and logic of commons principles. Her piece appeared in Intelligent Agent (vol. 6, no. 2), published by the Inter-Society for the Electronic Arts.
Blais' essay is valuable because it speaks to the rift that is said to separate commons based on natural resources and those of cyberspace. The segregation of those two classes of commons has always bothered me. There are of course significant differences between managing depletable natural resources and managing cheap and limitless stores of digital information. Yet it has always struck me that the two great tribes of commoners have much more in common than not, and should be in closer consultation with each other.
Blais not only confirms this, she suggests a way forward. She does this by applying her extensive knowledge of actual indigenous peoples to contemporary permaculture and digital culture. The links that she draws among them are not rhetorical or metaphorical, but explanatory. Because she understands the common paradigm is about integrating resources, social relationships and culture into a single system, she is able to identify recurrent patterns of commoning in some very different resource regimes.
For example, Blais draws clear connections between Native Americans managing their lands and the permaculture movement. The latter, emulating indigenous peoples, is trying to re-create sustainable human/nature relationships in a modern context. She also shows how the cultural practices of indigenous peoples resemble those of digital communities. One example is the community of programmers that created and maintains Perl, a programming language, in its low-tech, high-trust systems of self-governance.