Beyond Ownership: notes on “Commonism”

True wealth is an expression of what “we do together” rather than what “I have myself.”

For what “I have myself”, or what one has in possession, are inert things separated from the flow of life, susceptible to destruction by time or contingency, which is why this expression of wealth tends to be “stored” or hoarded from others, in order to protect it from natural decay or from being stolen.

But what “we do together”, or what we share in common, is an active process of embodied practical activity in which we participate in each others lived experiences. What we share is creativity—not as the product but the very process of creation itself. Thus this expression of wealth can never be lost or stolen, for it is a truth that we hold in common with the ultimate nature of reality itself. Creativity is, to quote A.N. Whitehead,

the universal of universals characterizing the ultimate matter of fact. It is that ultimate principle by which the many, which are the universe disjunctively, become the one actual occasion, which is the universe conjunctively¹

While what “we do together” is the true expression of wealth, what “I have myself” is a falsity that can only be sustained by a form of practical delusion; a kind of “pretend play” where you act as if you can own wealth independently of the network of relationships that make its existence possible—a network of which you are only a part.

Capitalism is that mode of life where the pretend play of ownership is raised to the level of natural right in the form of private property law. This apparently secular order has its roots in a more ancient theological notion where God as the divine creator “owns” us, the product of his creation. Just as God was understood to exercise his will over his property as he freely pleased, so too this apparently secular age defers collective responsibility to the individual owner of private property. That this secular age attempts to obscure its theological roots is the basis of why Marx considered Capitalism to be founded on mystifications, and why Adorno and Horkheimer considered the “Age of Reason” to be founded on unacknowledged myth. What the Age of Reason and the Age of Faith have in common are their shared roots in an ancient Greek fascination with the idea of a primary “substance”, which functioned to ground the world of everyday appearances on some “more real” ground or substratum. 

But following Whitehead and Buddhism, the fundamental basis of reality is not a thingly substance, but a living process— the process of coming into being togetherwhat Buddhism calls “Pratītyasamutpāda” or dependent co-arising: all dharmas (phenomena) come into being in dependence on all other dharmas; everything connects to everything else, there is nothing behind phenomena that exists independently of them. This inter-dependent connectivity of togetherness is a condition for the possibility of the creative advance into novelty:

‘Together’ is a generic term covering the various special ways in which various sorts of entities are ‘together’ in any one actual occasion.  Thus ‘together’ presupposes the notions ‘creativity,’ ‘many,’ ‘one,’ ‘identity’ and ‘diversity’…the novel entity is at once the togetherness of the ‘many’ which it finds, and also it is one among the disjunctive ‘many’ which it leaves.

…The many become one, and are increased by one. In their natures, entities are disjunctively ‘many’ in the process of passage into conjunctive unity.

This Category of the Ultimate replaces Aristotle’s category of ‘primary substance’.”²

To establish Commonism is to actually establish the truth of creativity as lived process, rather than as finished product. Capitalism’s existence is only possible as a symbiont which parasitically takes advantage of the eternal truth that wealth is engendered through the socially interactive, mutual participation between all active agents. Capitalism’s symbiotic relationship to socialized creative-production is not one of mutual enhancement, but of an asymmetrical limitation that threatens the entire relationship itself (for if the parasite depends on the host for its survival, but actively destroys its host, it necessarily undermines its own existence).

This conception of Capitalism as a parasitic symbiont that operates derivatively from a more primary true basis runs counter to a vulgar Marxist-Leninist conception of history that conceives of the relationship between Capitalism and Communism in terms of linear causation, in which one succeeds the other. It is not that Communism, or for us Commonism, comes “after” Capitalism, as if Capitalism fulfills some metaphysically necessary historical function, but rather Capitalism is but one expression of a more ancient form of power grounded on absent or alien ownership, that has always existed through a parasitic relationship to the primary ground which we can call our “repressed” Commonism. Socialism/Communism as imagined by Marxism-Leninism is just Capitalism in drag, imitating but never actual being an unrepressed and liberated Commonism—for it only replaced private, individual ownership by public, state ownership rather than relinquishing ownership itself. Phallic ego-consciousness actively represses the feminine matrix of interdependent creativity.

In order to establish the liberation and free development of Commonism, and to realize the emancipation of the repressed feminine in actual practice, we need to fundamentally reevaluate what it means to Be. To Be is to be supported by active participation with all others—Being is Becoming. The question is not, “to be or not to be”, but rather: what can we become? And since Being is only possible through Becoming, then there is no basis by which anything can exist independently of anything else to be associated with the notion of ownership, whether that be an independent thing that is owned or an independent agent who can own.

Nothing is your own, for all things are held in common.


¹ Process and Reality: An Essay on Cosmology, Alfred North Whitehead, pg. 21

² Ibid

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