Breaking from the Status Quo

farmstead_ruins_DSCN0322When you’re stuck, you’re stuck because you know you’re at a dead end. You know you’re just flapping your lips, moving words around on the page or in your mouth but without cutting through to something that truly is an alternative to the status quo.

I knew that the problems in the social environment —deepening inequalities, more and more people marginalized, displaced, disconnected and depressed— were linked to the problems in the natural environment  and its deepening crisis of toxic waste, carbon overload, more extreme weather and rising temperatures.

In fact, the world seemed to be on a collision course with the planet that sustains it. But how to find a place to stand that would be inside a genuine alternative. I had to break away, to force myself to get on a plane and go where instinct told me I might find a new perspective: the land of my ancestors, in the Highlands of Scotland.

Excerpt of Reclaiming the Commons:

“At a time of feeling at a dead end, I went to Scotland looking for my ancestral and even, I hoped, my tribal roots. In the rugged glens of the Tay River Valley, I discovered a legacy of which I had known nothing: a people, my people, living in direct relations with the land in self-governing commons and commons communities, small villages or hamlets called fermtouns or townships. They set stints, or limits, on the number of sheep and cows to be sent to the upland common pasture, and decided how often field strips should be left to rest, to lie fallow and recover their fertility.

“The legacy I discovered included great loss as well: a loss that goes well beyond the dislocation of people from the land itself through the Highland clearances. My ancestors weren’t just displaced. They were dispossessed. They were stripped of their traditional knowledge vested in the land, their ways of knowing through the experience of working that land, their ways of sharing this in a commons of knowledge and, in their spiritual practices, honoring their place in Creation. They were disenfranchised too because they lost the legitimacy of local self-governance, the local interpretation of justice, fairness and the common good. The so-called tragedy of the commons, I learned as I explored this lost history, turns out to have been based not on the facts of how people like my ancestors lived on the land but on assumptions useful to those trying to clear them off of it.”

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