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From Owner to Consumer – The Privatized American

January 24, 2009

 

Disseminated by The Erie Wire from The Forum on Privatization and the Public Domain 

doggy1There are many things that we assume to be ‘ours’ – from our immaterial thoughts and material bodies, to parks and pensions, hospitals and highways, and the land we may have long inhabited – until one day we find that they are no longer ‘ours’ but the ‘property’ of someone else: they have been privatized.

Privatization takes many forms, from selling off a public utility to the contracting out of social services. It takes the form of claiming ‘property rights’ over genetic material isolated from a human and the patenting of seeds.

      See ‘Seed Policy Project’ under ‘Agriculture’ for information on this new (summer 2008) project.

Privatization also describes the ‘intellectual property’ (copyright) claims of the Entertainment Industry and the ascendancy of corporate control over and benefit from university research and intellectual endeavours.

gmo-ratThe privatization and commercialization of the public domain has changed the nature of our social and political relationships. This may best by symbolized by the marginalization, if not demolition, of the village square and Main Street by privately owned and policed shopping malls where citizenship is redefined as a matter of ‘consumer choice’ and ‘lifestyle.’

A healthy society, however, requires a healthy public domain with a diversity of structures, spaces and management to nurture common interests and provide for the public good. These may take the form of public libraries, open source software, farm-saved seed, community gardens, public schools, roads, parks, and socialized health care.

It is not just a question of private versus public, individual versus the state. There is much collective activity in between that has historically been described as ‘commons.’ Indeed, in our daily lives we participate, perhaps unknowingly, in a variety of formal and informal ‘commons.’ These commons – material and immaterial – need to be recognized if social health is to be nurtured and restored and the economics of privatization brought under public scrutiny and examined in the context of broader social values and interests.

How cultural workers (including writers, musicians and artists) should be compensated for their contributions to society, if not by copyright royalties, shares common ground with the question of how indigenous peoples are to conserve their culture, language, spirituality and ecology without being forced to ‘own’ it according to the property laws of the dominant culture.

The Forum on Privatization and the Public Domain has been established to counter the destructive forces of privatization and promote a strong public discourse on the relationship between private property, various forms of commons, the public domain and public good.

ramban

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