Free, Fair and Alive

planted: 26/11/2021last tended: 27/11/2021
The insurgent power of the commons
David Bollier / Silke Helfrich

I read it in 2021. I loved it.

Partly as it draws threads between topics of great interest to me - commons, complexity science, commons-public partnerships, digital commons, patterns. It even ticked my wiki box.

It's also a very practical manifesto for political / social organising. I really like this about it. Its feel like a guidebook to (one form of) Anti-capitalism.

As they say:

this book is not just to illuminate new patterns of thought and feeling, but to offer a guide to action.

It also full of real-world examples of commoning already in action.

Since reading it I'm dipping back in to it and looking at the specific patterns and ideas in more depth. The pattern-style they use makes it really usable. See Triad of Commoning.

It has three main parts:

  • part 1, discussing the commons and commoning and what they are and their insurgent potential.
  • part 2, outlining a whole bunch of patterns for commoning that you might use. See Triad of Commoning.
  • part 3, about how to grow the Commonsverse and challenge the hegemonic power.

Some sections I particularly liked:

1. Discussion

1.1. How does it relate to Ostrom / Governing the Commons?

Not a reinterpretation - but a shifted orientation, yes. Subtitle of FFA is "the insurgent power of the commons". Ostrom is certainly not insurgent! Somewhat propertarian in her basic framing, akin to 'Austrian' economics (Hayek etc). Whereas FFA is counter-enclosure, counter-extractivism, post-propertarian. Hence common-ING as its pivot, the radical, situated practice, rather than commonS, the co-optable, abstract, political-economic form.

– @mikehales -

2. How it was written

I found it great to discover that this book was researched and composed using FedWiki.

3. What's the title about?

This is reflected in our title, which describes the foundation, structure, and vision of the commons: Free, Fair and Alive. Any emancipation from the existing system must honor freedom in the widest human sense, not just libertarian economic freedom of the isolated individual. It must put fairness, mutually agreed upon, at the center of any system of provisioning and governance. And it must recognize our existence as living beings on an Earth that is itself alive.

Bit of similarity to Doughnut Economics there - free and fair is a bit like the social foundation, alive is a bit like the avoidance of planetary overshoot.


You will find many quotes from FFA dotted around my wiki. Check out the backlinks.

4.1. Unfiled

What we really need today is creative experimentation and the courage to initiate new patterns of action. We need to learn how to identify patterns of cultural life that can bring about change, notwithstanding the immense power of capital.

The new structure can help us envision different sorts of community, social practices, and economic institutions — and above all, a new culture that honors cooperation and sharing.

We came to realize that if we aspire to social and political transformation but try to do so using the language of market economics, state power, and political liberalism, we will fail.

5. Elsewhere

5.1. In my garden

Notes that link to this note (AKA backlinks).

5.2. In the Agora

5.3. Mentions

Recent changes. Source. Peer Production License.