We need another way to think about this

So....two weeks after the rain stopped falling and 13 days after the blame starting getting passed around, the political divides over the role of government in protecting people (or saving them) from natural disasters rages on. In just one example, Larry Lessig takes on Bill O'Reilly and his ilk who see the failure of the public sector as proof of the need for less government, in their minds, "Government failed. More of itwould be worse."

When compared to the some of the claims about "what Katrina proved," O'Reilly almost sounds sane. Or at least saner than the neo nazis who think the Jews brought on Katrina, right-to-lifers who see the storm's 'fetus-like-shape' as proof that God wanted to wipe out abortion clinics in New Orleans, or the fundamentalist Christians who blame gay people. I am not making this up - click here for these and other hate-filled claims.

All it proves to me is that the "government or market" dichotomy of problems/solutions just doesn't work anymore (if it ever did). All the more reason to check out the really smart folks over at On The Commons who have been working for some time to fill in the vast rhetorical possibilities between these two poles. They remind us that there are important resources that we must hold in common (air, water, public safety) and that we must look beyond just the market and government for ways to protect, maintain and grow the commons.

Certainly philanthropy, resident of the murky middle place between these poles, should pay attention to the logic of the commons as it is clarified and becomes more widely understood. Then, perhaps, philanthropy might make more sense.

2 comments:

Phil Anthropoid said...

I like the trope of philanthropy's occupying the "murky middle"--or murky "other," if we wish to avoid the government-market axis. I've always been bothered by how the commons figures in the works of Locke and other property theorists. It belongs to that metaphorical State of Nature that comes under the purview of civilization only after it's been deeded to some individual. Even the air we breathe is commodified in the form of carbon dioxide "credits" for polluters and articles of condominium that give one ownership not of bricks and mortar but of the space occupied by walls, floors, and ceilings.

marnie webb said...

I agree entirely that we need someway to organize our responses and our thoughts than the government/business either/or.

For me, a glimmer of an answer is had in the way that individuals organized and responded in the KatrinaList.net project. The solution architecture allowed a great many people to work together without having to belong to a government office or a corporation.

So, it seems, those in the murky middle -- philanthropists, intermediaries and some very large support organizations like Red Cross -- have a job of developing systems and platforms -- on and off line -- to take advantage of this posibility of distributed work to effectively mobilize people and distribute the solution.