- Common Goods
An Introduction: I Object
Is there any more valid standard by which to judge a system of social organization than the general level of satisfaction it enables? By this yardstick, current conditions are intolerable!
I propose a different way.
I can’t deny the legitimacy of certain satisfactions to be gained from modern market capitalism. One’s physical experience of a sweatshop-made garment or product can remain positive and fulfilling, even when one is mindful of the hypocrisy and global structural violence embodied by these commodities. Mass-produced objects can also be contextualized in a way that makes them into unique personal statements. The contradictory nature of these experiences remains for the most part unacknowledged, vaguely unsettling, and though there exists within this structure an easily consumed world of comfort and distraction for some of us, for many more the reality is harder to ignore. Our objects are a concrete expression of our culture. The production, exchange, and distribution of commodities are the driving forces of culture. [End Page 352] Production especially is deeply linked with the structure of society. This fact gives us a lens through which to consider this global market economy, in which seductive objects are hastily made by near slave labor to be impetuously consumed and swiftly discarded.
But more importantly, we can become object producers ourselves. We can aspire to recapture the reins of our immediate modes of production and exchange, and then the fact of commodities as agents of culture holds great power.
If we take control of production, we are taking that power back. This is a path for those of us who would nonviolently change society: change its commodities, its understanding of production, of distribution and exchange. Even the way we relate to things personally. Do you have a sweater or other garment made for you by a relative or close friend? How does that feel to use when compared with something from a store? Imagine if, rather than wearing blinders to remain ignorant of the grotesque production processes that made all of your stuff, you could celebrate and enjoy the vision of its creation you hold in your mind like that grandmother-knit sweater! What if you could feel that warmth for each item in your household: clothes, plates, chairs, blankets, bicycles? Each thing imbued with an awareness of its loving, familiar source. And what if it was all free? You could ask for anything you needed, knowing that your own contribution was likewise used with respect and care. This is basically the life I envision and propose.
Strategy: Free Market
Harnessing the manufacture and distribution of goods has been a revolutionary strategy for some time and has in many cases involved that most humble of commodities: cloth. Control of the production and use of this material that is so necessary for social well-being and expression has been central in historical examples of colonial exploitation, as well as resistance to it. Regaining local cotton spinning and weaving practices in India was a key part of Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent independence movement, which eventually gained independence for that country. Centuries earlier, during the American Revolution, a similar strategy was used to boycott the importation of British-produced cloth. In both cases, it was handweaving on an individual scale that symbolized national self-sufficiency and independence from imperialism. This can be our initial tactic as well. [End Page 353]
Textiles’ importance in society cannot be overstated. We wrap ourselves in them twenty-four hours a day and use them to express allegiances and position ourselves in society. Our experience of them is also profoundly sensory in nature. You are touching cloth right now if you notice it. Textile production is likewise a sensual experience. Measuring out various fibers, feeling their textures as they slide through your fingers, holding bundles of yarn, feeling the taut surface of your just-woven cloth on the loom—even the burning ache of your lower back after hours of bent-over threading of the loom, the stinging in your shoulders after throwing the shuttle back and forth a thousand times that tells you to stop, these sensations seduce with an...