When discussing ownership and possession we tend to think about things. But today we’re going to step outside the box. Are you prepared to let go of your ideas?
After selling the house, giving away all my furniture and since pruning my goods down to what I can fit into two panniers, a top box and a treasure box, I realised that I found it difficult to give up my intellectual ‘property’. Several boxes full of old essays on education, the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of science, psychology reports, action research reports, the theoretic chapter of a PhD on implicit learning, photographs I’d had specially printed and all my teaching materials. I had spent 5 years in a virtual world roleplaying with a wealth of stories I’d created or contributed to the creation of and felt irritated when others who continued roleplaying after me had “changed the history” of my characters.
But I’ve learned to let it go, not least because I’m humbled by those who share.
In “Green Yorkshire” I wrote a review of my visit to Incredible Aqua Garden, Todmorden. Todmorden was the forerunner of the Incredible Edibles movement, turning over public space to the production of food. It’s now highly organised with a trail you can follow which enables a visit to each of the initiatives around town. The route is designed to bring you past local businesses to help support them. It is now monitoring its local economy by tracking the production and sale of free-range eggs in the community.
The aqua garden produces food using a system of aquaponics. Large fish tanks produce waste which is filtered through vegetable beds, fertilising them for food growth. The water returns to the tanks, clean. But more impressive is that all the designs for the system are open source.
The term ‘Open Source’ was originally used to describe computer programmes that were freely distributed with the ‘source’ code used to design the programme. You may be familiar with, or even use, two powerful programmes that are open source, Gimp and Blender. Compared to the near £50/month to get the same creative power from Adobe, this is an absolute gift.
The term has now been extended to include other freely distributed designs. Incredible Aqua Garden makes all the designs for their aquaponics system freely available, including the electronics circuits and software.
One of the most innovative open source design systems I’ve come across is Precious Plastic. I’ll let it speak for itself:
How amazing is that? All you need to start your own business.
A case could be made that a business like this would only encourage more plastic consumption – as we don’t need to feel guilty about it any more – it can be recycled. Consumption will be the theme for next week’s challenge. But, for now, let’s enjoy the sharing of intellectual property to deal with contemporary problems. It’s to be commended, not denigrated.
“Creative Commons helps you legally share your knowledge and creativity to build a more equitable, accessible, and innovative world. We unlock the full potential of the internet to drive a new era of development, growth and productivity.
With a network of staff, board, and affiliates around the world, Creative Commons provides free, easy-to-use copyright licenses to make a simple and standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work–on conditions of your choice.”
How many of you are making use of the free images out there to support your blog? Yup, me too. When I haven’t got a picture to go with my post – I look for a free to use image. But how many of you give back? What do you share?
It took me a long time, but I eventually added a creative commons share alike licence to my work. I passed on all the academic books and articles relating to my intellectual work. I finally shredded and composted that paper trail of old ideas. I let it go psychologically as well as physically. Occasionally I wonder if I made a mistake, but mostly I feel free of it and the felt obligation to do something with it. My life has moved on, but if anyone ever becomes interested in the questions I posed, I can point them toward suitable literature and explain how I approached the problem. There would be a certain pleasure in seeing someone else do something with it.
In nature, there are many mutually beneficial relationships, which could be described as an economy, such as bees collecting nectar in exchange for pollination. However, there are some relationships which are uni-directional. Bacteria which help to fix nitrogen in soil don’t directly benefit from it. But the process triggers a chain reaction whereby the growth of fungi later in the chain provide nutrients for the nitrogen fixing bacteria. However, these kinds of exchanges aren’t conducted with a sense of credit and debt, this is just what organisms do (Charles Eisenstein, 2011).
Why don’t we?
I used to feel awkward about asking for help and also when offered or given help when I needed it. I think part of that was feeling I couldn’t repay in kind. But age has taught me that there is a time it possible to be that helper for someone else. Learning to receive is as important as learning to give.
A gift economy
I pass by a house on a walk into the nearest town and during harvest, they make their surplus freely available. They put apples, plums and vegetables into bags with a sign to help yourself. No one takes more than one bag of anything. Similarly, Incredible Edibles committees also report that no-one takes more food than they need from the crops available. These small gestures are the seeds for a larger gift economy.
A novel idea was suggested by Larry Korn, permaculture teacher. He advised acquiring fruit tree stock that had not had the central branch cut. If it had been (which is usual), the tree would need to be forever pruned. One feature of permaculture is an economical labour inputs.
It was one of those times I woke up. Of course! Why is it that humans felt that they were better than nature that they should shape the tree more productively? Surely the shape of the tree that evolved would be the most efficient and productive for that tree? Why do we prune? Trees are pruned to make the tree more productive for human purposes. To maximise yield at lower levels to ease human access. Larry Korn suggested leaving it be. What fun we had as children climbing into those higher reaches of the tree. Why not share some of the yield with birds and animals?
Sow a seed for a larger gift economy. What can you freely give today?
Eisenstein, Charles (2011). Sacred Economics: Money, Gift and Society in the Age of Transition. Evolver Editions.