Fragments for a poetic discourse on commons – dialogue between macro and micro

In the Ark of Seeds we have been working with plant seeds since 2007. We hit upon creative keys to preserve and diffuse biodiversity in plants and cultural diversity in the human population. We have chosen Creative Commons to license and distribute our work, because we trust that humanity is actually remixing knowledge. We believe this will bring forward new ethical and viable results.

Seeds are fun to work with because they are physical, they are alive and sensitive, and at the same time they are highly symbolic.

In our practice we synthesize contemporary art, an unprejudiced and gentle scientific touch with groundbreaking research in law.

We have observed that the trend of experimenting with legal instruments to prevent or stop mismanagement of resources is growing. For instance the spread of urban agriculture is linked with the ability of a community to recognize and formulate their needs in relation to global change, and to gain the use of spaces.

Often a local community including lawyers, philosophers and academics, will study for years in order to prepare viable proposals, and then publish the results to be copied, remixed and used also by other communities. This is a new form of direct democracy, which articulates public sovereignty independently and without conflict with governmental statements.

Do we all have the right to protect and administer common goods; does one need expertise, or a nomination?

The following are the standard principles we found on the civic declarations in order to determine the right to manage common goods:

  • The management can be performed by anyone, with the condition that it is carried out free of all forms of discrimination, fascism, racism, homophobia and sexism, and that the decision, action and process is open to participation through active policies of inclusion and affirmation of singularities and diversity.
  • The collective protection and management of common goods is an essential contribution to the qualitative growth of society, and it needs to be supported independently from the logic of profit and market.
  • Such action often needs inter-disciplinarity and sharing between the arts, knowledge and every professional field, in order to gain a free human dimension, in which working together and relationships are based on a cooperative and non-competitive participation, each individual according to their means and abilities, and according to their needs and desires.

So far in our project we have taken all of these points into account. But the next question is:

is the protection and sharing of plant seeds included in the definition of managing common goods?

“Common goods constitute everything that is needed in the exercise and expression of fundamental rights, and in the free development of the person. Their existence is based on the principle of intergenerational safeguarding of these utilities.

Commons must be managed by direct participation of the local communities in the care and administration of the goods.

The title of such common goods, regardless of ownership, must be considered widespread.”

This is my translation of a few points of the Rodotà Commission Bill to amend the Italian Civil Code – June 14, 2007.

What would happen if the use of a common good would became legally restricted from people? If it would become illegal for a person to provide and to sustain him/herself, under what terms would that person be able to honor legality?

Capitalism, as we experience it now, seems to be based on a type of concealed partnership between governments and corporations that has proven not only to be unsustainable, but also to generate monsters, as Goya himself would have painted it.

I give an example: could we define time as a common good with widespread ownership? Can we do whatever we want with our free time? What if a tax office had an interest in banning or taxing Time Banks? Worldwide, are Time Banks about avoiding paying taxes? Or are they platforms to connect local synergies, to improve sociality and problem solving within a community, offering solutions that compensate the inefficiencies of both the State and the private sector in taking care of individuals and families at the border of poverty?

This leads to the question: is it structurally possible for a tax office or any legal institution defined by monetary management to recognize the value of social dynamics and to accept their implementation when they support social cohesion and basic subsistence? How can we shift the perception of value from monetary to common good?

Legality is the pact that we have chosen to share and regulate our social life. If laws were passed that would crush the ability of people to live together with dignity, the distance between corruption and the State would become shorter. In fact, in every country of the world, every time a regulation teaches to people that their survival depends on their ability to lie and to bend the rules, the pact shifts from legality to criminality.

That is why I like to collaborate with lawyers, to study regulations and to interrogate institutions on their ethical path. Legality should not be an obstacle to subsistence and it is everyone’s privilege to safeguard that we are all equidistant from common goods.

But it looks like the resources are lacking: as if we would really need to leave something, somebody behind. Of course everybody knows that the dilemma between private interest and common good is impossible to solve.

Or, in fact, we know it only until some of us go for it and make it work. Until a small community with its honest and proactive self- determination shows that it might take this many steps to make the resources available for everybody. And then other communities take it up, remix it, use it and bring it forward, while agreeing that the solution was self-evident and calling it the Commons’ Sense 🙂

* This text is released under Creative Commons 4.0 International license.


Egle Oddo

Visual artist