Voices Of The Commons
Voices Of The Commons

Episode 2 · 2 years ago

Sophie Varlow - Explaining The Commons Ep 2


This week we talk to Sophie Varlow, from Commons Platform. The commons platform is values-based social media, built and owned by everyone, for everyone. It’s a collaborative group of co-creators, of all backgrounds, experiences and skills.

In this podcast, Sophie talks about:

  • The challenges of communicating the Commons to everyday people
  • How the commons has always existed, predating markets and states
  • The reductionism of GDP vs. other value systems
  • What's missing in Western society and how the Commons can help us reconnect

Listen to the podcast or download it here.

Welcome to the voices of the Commons. We're here to help you learn about the Commons transition. Don't know whatthat is. Stick with our Commons transition to to find out how this simplething is already all around you. Stay tuned for more episodes. Hello,Ladies and Gentlemen, and we're here for another voices of the Commons podcast,and today one of the one of the greatest voices in London of the Commonsis I could ever say your second name, Sophie, without me Volo Varlo Harlow. It's like Barlow, but with a V, as in like diard. You Barlow, bit like that, but really not very the same.Another way, which probably only like one percent of our listeners will get.So when just a flat you live on air is as I was going aroundsaying, Oh yeah, do you anyone like can interview about the Commons?I send an emails to people, like lots of people came back and saidall sophie, and I didn't like to go back and say that, yeah, I know that anyone else, but so so what is the what wedo on this podcast is trying to hope. We are beyond trying actually explaining theCommons to people that are probably already doing it but don't know they're doingit. And I as I've got further into this project, I find Istumbled over explaining the Commons to people. So how do you do that?Well, that's an interesting one because I don't think someone has explained it tome. About three years ago I don't think I'd understood it either, becauseI think it's one of those things where you sort need to know why inorder to understand it, because if it's just people saying Oh, well,you do things collectively, you like, yeah, but why? Like,give me an example of why that's going to make a positive difference in theworld and then I can kind of engage with it. So I guess forme what came how it came about, was looking at solving problems of inequalityand waste and global degradation and then thinking, well, what could we do collectivelyabout that? And then I kind of came across the Commons as like, Oh shit, people are already doing that, is it all? Won'tto say that? So the so yeah, people are already doing kinds of stuffwhich we were doing. That scale would be really beneficial. So theway I look at it with the Commons is that and moment you've got amodel that says, well, there's the state, who organize things on abig scale, like you know the welfare states, or you know where ourtaxes go, roads, those kind of bigger infrastructure kind of things, andthen you've got capital, so you've got companies who produce stuff and we arethe market for that and we buy stuff. But there's a whole load of thingsthat happen in between and that have always happened in between. In fact, before the state and capital existed, we didn't need those organizations to helpus organize ourselves or help us decide what to eat. We just knew becausewe kind of organize ourselves and communities and we shared the resources that were alreadythere. And I guess we've kind of forgotten how to do that innately nowbecause we've got so dependent on the state organizing the biggest we can. Ithink we have, but have we been conditioned out of it? I thinkwe have, and it's profitsible to condition people out of it, isn't it? Because if you make people feel like...

...they don't know how to organize themselves, well, they don't know how to eat sustainably or they don't know howto grow food, then you can sell them stuff. And also, ifyou are the kind of government that wants to have more control over people onindividual basis, then sure it makes a lot of sense to make them losetheir own instincts for how to look after themselves. So, and I thinkreligion probably did that. You know, thousands of years go as well.It's sort of make people lose their own and then in eight sense of theirspirituality, their connection to the earth, their connection to each other, forthe Games, or you know, quite a political game, of organizing societyaccording to the wants of large sort of religious organizations. Remember when I wasabout a hundred years ago, when I was a university, I was studyingthe like the origins of state education and and always thought, I was alwaysgrew up thinking like and the end of the nineteen century the wonderful government thought, and Dr Bernardo Thought, religion, I'm sorry, thought education would befree for everyone and actually was like as a guy called Roberts think you saidwe must educate our masters, because these people are getting clever and clever beforethey get any wiser. Let's make sure we teacher what we need them toknow and that it was a very you know, really, I thought theywere helpingess and that's the other thing always annoys music is, which might begoing off topic, is like we just get educated to get jobs. Yeah, yeah, of your singer say about that. Well, I know,when what are those jobs for? Because of some jobs, I'm sure,are really, really useful in society and then other jobs are feeding that machine. I suppose that is about consumption, extraction and resources, extraction of Laborfrom the earth and from people to create products which they're only people who've alreadyextracted from other people can afford. So it's like not a lot of jobsfeed that process of extraction and consumption and exploitation and and you know, withit best will in the world. I mean people find some meaning in that, I'm sure. I like there's meaning in in creative jobs and there's meaningin all sorts of things that people are doing, but the way that it'scooptive. So I always feel like it must be a little bit solderstroying towork and advertising because you're doing something really, really creative. But if you stopand look at the sort of long as term effects of it. Likea lot of advertising, is about making people feel bad about themselves, thatthey feel like the solution to feeling bad about themselves with this new product.And that is a very mad men post Second World War methodology to like makeyou fool in adequate. So I could deliberate. Yeah, tising strategy willtotally. I women's magazines, for example. Like apparently it takes about a Minionof Reading Women's magazine to feel significantly, a few percentage points worse about yourself, and then you turn the page and sure enough there's an advert thatthing you feel shit about. But like good marketing. I can't do anexample, but I good marketing makes you, makes you like feel empowered. Solike I will. I have a sucker for running shoes. So youknow I've been I you know I'm going to get those running shoes. I'mgoing to run like Husain Bolt or something is but I know, I feel, I feel they've done you know, they tricked me in a nice way. Like I feel more able to run. So I will get out and run. I don't feel inadequate as a...

...result of what. I've got agood point. As a good point, somebody's found a really good balance therebetween making me feel like you're empowered and when you have self efficacy, butalso that you kind of just need their products just to push you on yourway. And I work in marking and I know it's been done to me. I just think like if you didn't know it's been done to you,like that's even more manipulation. Yes, yes, so I guess bringing itback to the common thank you, or trying to all right, I supposethat the fact that so many things have been done by people collectively for solong and and there's there's elements of it that still exist now. So wewere talking about kids just for me. So the fact that, you know, parents will help pick each other's kids up from school and and makes hefor each other and they're we cake stools at the school and people will givelifts to each other and people in look after each other's only relatives when needit. You know, that kind of stuff is a kind of Commons that'shappening all the time and it's not recognized by the state, it's not recognizedby capital. No one's advertising at me to make you do it. It'sa kind of a nate part of the way that we care about each otherin society. And one really interesting fact that I probably have said in thoseof different contexts is that GDP actually rests on kinds of unpaid labor. SoDomestic Labor, reproductive labor, emotional labor, none of those are paid. Andyet if people weren't doing them, and it's usually particular marginalized groups thatare doing more of it, and and women do a massive percentage of it, and if people we throw that Labor, if they were no longer doing thosekind of actors commoning, then it would have a massive hit because thosethings that have to then be paid for. And if you works out the valueof those things, it's up to about sixty percent of GDP. Sothey kind of consumer market stuff rest on top of that, but it isn'tthe whole of what GDP is. Are Gross National Product actually rests from allkinds of swing labor. Why do we measure everything by GDP? Like becauseit's only just know what that means. But is like the gudiboos. It'slike a status symbol for a country of what it is. But yeah,so is it like if but in bout example, could be both work,like if I went out to work and my wife stayed at homes after thechildren. You're contributing to GDP. Yeah, she's not. Yeah, exactly that. Yeah, totally. and well, I mean, as you know,different countries have different models. And then is in Bhutan, for example, they have a gross national happiness index. So they're much more interested in howhappy people are. And and yeah, the problem a GDP that a lotof sort of new economics people are talking about now, if be KateRaworth with that dont economics and D growth, people are saying. Well, actually, as a model, if you're looking at GDP, that just reinforcesthis idea that we've got to produce more stuff and consume more stuff and thatis the success of our country and that makes a so called strong economy.But the ramifications of that are the more production that happens means the more it'sextraction areas of resources from the earth,...

...the more you know, the moreLabor has been extracted from other parts of the world that's cheaper, the moreclentral there is, the one slavery and, and I think you probably know thisfact that but by something like that, by there's Abe the data in August, which is over global over breacher overshoot day, which means that we'veconsumed as much resources of the planet can sustain for that year already by Augustand then the rest of the year we're kind of overshooting. So we're we'reconsuming more than the earth can sustain and that that's cut them by if youif you use GDP as a measure, that's seen as a healthy a healthycountry, a healthy economy, healthy society, which it clearly isn't. But ittakes a long time to change that narrative about because one of the thingsthat's just going to be showing up more and more. It's so always beenconcerned about food, but the the amount of extraction that happens because of themeat industry is a very hidden thing. You know, certainly if you happento watch those documentaries on Netflix, which in itself is a forward, becausewho can you sumerism that that they and I think as a growing up it'salways like it petrols the evil thing, but actually, you know, thered meat industry is I don't know how many times more than the petrol thing. But then we just we will just advertised with like if you go totestcoes across the road here there's every form of like dodgingly consumed, not testcoes, of course, but like you know, just badly produced food. Yes,and I think if we kind of operated a bit more of the Commons, another nice descriptional a way of looking at the Commons is that it's it'sabout having a resource. So like the rainforest, for example, is aresource which then is cut down to make grazing land for for beef. Andthe water is a collective resource really as well. But a lot of companieswould use, over use water because they'll get licenses to kind of use muchas they want from particularly lego particular river because they paid for a license todo that. And so they're over using land there overusing water, and thenthere's a massive coo to output from that as well, and then we arethe consumers at the end that just by the beach. But if we hadmore offensive connection to those resources, like why should those resources be in thehands of whichever company is managed to acquire, by whatever, in the farious means, that piece of rainforest which was actually being really well managed by anindigenous Ye people at the time, you know, and indigenous people's are beingsqueezed out and out now, but they the way that they manage land ishighly sustainable and has been for up to sixtyzero years. So if we viewthat as a common for example, that's where a resource, a piece ofland, is being really, really well managed by a defined group of peopleand where the products of that land are...

...being used in ways that make surethat everyone gets what they need from it. So in that sense, the Commonsis not a niche thing but something we really kind of need as away of looking at the world and resources that we will use. So whatcould we as you walk around London, which is where we both live,but what could we do differently? That's like because I feel there's like,you know, the all these ratting, all changes are gonna happen, butthere's so many little things that we could do every day that would either makepeople more aware of it or more connected to the Commons, because it becauseone of the things was that appeals to me is this, this conversation abouthow we're like the Commons is an organism of were all connected. I'm notreally sure how to I'm saying this too early, because I keep on readingit in different things but how could it? Could you explain that so people listeningcould understand it? Yeah, I mean, I to be honest,I heard about it first when you mentioned earlier, but I can say whatI feel that to be. And so and thoughts that came to mind werethat, again, we've sort of agreed to be in a world that's ledby state and capital, but they don't know all of us right. Sothe rest of us are thinking minds in the way that we relate to eachother and not owned by state or capital. That's that's US and the way thatwe are. I think we are sort of in lately collaborative. Ithink we're in nate be cooperative, and so when we say hello someone instreet without have to do that, then one's paying is to do it,but it makes that connection stronger, it makes it gives something to each other. It's it's a kind of form of exchange. And then there's all sortsof other forms of exchange, like just simply helping each other carry shopping ortaking a cup of tea to someone who needs a bit company, or whenwhenever there's a I think it was in think like a commoner, David,body gives us an example of like every time there's a disaster, everyone dropseverything and Mux him yes, and like no, would ask. So youknow, and we going to pay for this. Yeah, what do Iboys? You for doing. Boys, you for making this Fascadia after theyou know, the plane crash or somethink, it's just there. Yeah, andit's also it's the most beautiful thing. I still remember. I get Iget a little bit of my little bit tears and I as whenever Ithink about when I had in my third baby. I was connected with agroup that was just tough as a toddler group, and I was run outof the Church and I'm my third baby. I was just put on the list. I don't know what this was, but I was put on this andthen for two weeks, every evening somebody from the local community brought ahot meal over and I so needed that help me. Or what those lookingafter three tiny, tiny kids. They allaysed under three and a half thetime, and just the idea that someone I'd never met was going to comering on my door but at thirty and there's going to be hot food onthe table was just and that all exactly, and those are the kind of thingsthat I think people do and that it's a shame that disasters have tojolter us out of our mindset so to do that, because actually, ifwe did that with each other more,...

I think the world of be areally lovely place. And I think also that we do that with our reallyclose friends and we do that with our family, but we could be doingthat on a much larger collective level, and I think that's also what Ilove about that is it's independent of anyone's particular political leanings. As soon asyou start using words like socialism or fascism or whatever, that's you know,that's talking about self at a massively bigger scale where people are really polarized.But when when you come back down to well, what about people actually justlooking after each other? And that's neither right nor left. That's just like, I think that's just humanity. There's as what's this documentary about? It'scalled Cuba and the camera man and it's this this American filmmaker that's been backto Cuba every like ten years, for forty years or something. He goesback and finds the same group of people and there's is three old guys he'slike sixty when he meets them, because we and they just live off theland and they tend their farm and everything and they were, they're always connected. There's three brothers are always connected. They're always happy and and it's notthe the camera man is like presenting this incredibly rosy pictures just, you know, shows them bad good times of bad times, but they're, you know, they're just happy with where they are. You don't do want this. Andit eventually, at the end of it, one of them has tohave at your lary's taken up. Okay, and an American guy brings back oneof those little gadgets that you stick under your Chin to help you talk, and they're like, I know that existed, but as I was watchingus, thinking, you know, they are actually quite lucky. You know, they just the kind of have everything they need. And you know,I am always needing something more, you know, like a ort to aniphone xplus instead of an iphone x. You know, there's just this UNit's because of the environment, really, is where I'm going with that.Yes, yeah, and yet so those are things we feel like we need, and yet when happiness studies have been done, so I think a fewyears ago positive psychology movement did a bunch of studies on happiness and what's kindof missing in Western society and it was things like meaning, purpose, connection, belonging and identity. And I think all of those things are missing forall of us in different ways, and so we've got different strategies and meetingthat's needs. Like will either to think we need socialist government or think weneed a really strong authority are and leaders to kind of put things right,but essentially the things that we're all missing at a real base human level arequite similar things, and so my felt sense of it is really that ifwe could start coming together and doing things collectively and caring for each other,that would give a sense of community and belonging and meaning and purpose and itwould give a sense of identity. So that's why I think actually, rightat this point, it's really crucial to start seeing ourselves more as a Commons, because that's how we can stay kind of you need united rather than divideit in times which are really changing and...

...we really need to kind of getcollective solutions to massive problems. So what one, because this is like itlike it is a very interesting political time. But it's also, you know,I feel like we could in the UK could go either way at themoment. And you know, what can we actually do? Because I feellike in you know, in this coworking space, in the people are I'mvery connected to a lot of people, but I feel like society is disconnected. MMM. And what what can we'll try not to say. What canwe do? So few, but I'm go've got. I think it's loadsof things we can do. And when I do wake up with hope eachday, actually, I mean partly that's because I wouldn't mention but I'm tryingto build a Commons platform. So it's a platform whereby all of those actsof commoning, with things that people do to share stuff on each other,share cars, share resources, whatever. It's just easier to do it ona platform if you can find stuff to borrow off people. So I'm notgoing to go on, go, I was gonna cough. So okay,going on right more because we can probably talk about that another time. Butmy sense of hope comes from the fact that actually, if we could justorganized better the ways that we share resources with each other, then we canovercome all of those problems. Because we don't actually need so much stuff.If we can share with each other. You might only need one car perstreet, you might only one drill or per kind of postcode area. Mightyou know? We don't need all the stuff. They don't need all thiswaste. We don't need to consume so much. We don't need to extractso many resources. And I think also the knock on effect of doing thatis we remember that we're part of a community and then also, if wepart a part of communities, that's maybe start growing food a bit more,community gardens growing food. I think you get that sense of connection to eachother but also to where stuff comes from more and I think we're missing that. I think where we don't have that sense of connection, it's not justfrom each other, but it's from like literally where our stuff comes from.We're so divorced from it and we live in a world where we kind offeel as though are success with successful, the more that we're removed from wherestuff comes from, which is a really weird way around because like, ifyou're really, really successful, it means you're sitting on top of great bigpile of other people's labor and stuff that's been extracted out of the earth inreally the the area's ways and in parts of the Earth that we've been extractingfrom ever since colonialism began, and and that's them to be the mark ofsuccess. But actually it's a really, really lonely position to be. Thenon the other flip side, if you have an organic carrot that's massaged byso that's like truck that you can't it's was that you can't win to seethat you have the really expensive organic one, you have the rancid Geo Thermo blastedthing. It's well and it's a problem that organically produced the saying morefood is way more expensive. I think there's ways of dealing with that.I think, you know, actually coming together a bit more in communities andsharing some of the load of growing stuff together can be a really nice thingto do, because not everyone wants to... all that stuff. But ifeveryone's contributing in some way to something else, that there's lots of like an shareabledotnet. But there's lots of examples of community gardens where people are allgrow the same thing, and my grandparents, just that's my my uncle would growone lot food that, if quite near each other. He grow onea lot of food, where grandfather grow the other, and then they justswap there was like a there was a there was like, you know,one of those organic boxes, but it just came from from there and itwas but like we we just don't grow stuff like you know. It's notwe're not interested, we don't have time in air quotes. But it isway easier to do that than we think it is. It takes a bitof organization and I think that's sorts missing. I think because actually another thing I'venoticed along with that list of needs I mentioned earlier, is ease.Like everyone's overstretched and I think we're all actually craving a bit of ease,just the things to feel less of a struggle. And so when you thinkon my God, not only that, I've got to do all my stuff, I've also got try and volunteers the great carrots one day week, it'sjust going to feel like an extra bird and isn't it? And I thinkagain, to have a way to organize that flexibly so that actually it putsa bit of fun and joy into it and you're meeting people in your localcommunity and also acknowledging that not everyone is going to be able to put in, but they could still benefit, and I think that's what's really nice forme about this concept of the Commons, is that it's also Commons of everyone'scombined and collective energies. Some people have energy, sometimes other people don't.Some people are able to so called contribute and other people can't at the momentbecause of caring responsibilities or disabilities, in physible disabilities, and I would liketo live in a world where what, however much you were able to contributeit any given time, you can still receive the benefits of a collective andour community, and that really turns upside down, I think the world thatwe live in at the moment, which says you're only really of value ifyou're producing and if you're like performing according to the nine hundred and twenty fivesort of model, and I think that excludes so many people that actually welive in quite an unfair world and I would like to see a world wherewe're all able to benefit from all the sort of collective forms of stewardship andand contribution that everyone can make, and we have to talk to each other. I think that I was listening to there's like the take away. Thetakeaway for this podcast is going to talk to other people, say, ifI try to start in a carrot farm in the local park? Yeah,we're just sharing a draw with each other, whatever it is. Yeah. So, so where can we find you? But where you online these days,you can find the website for the Commons platform, which is a littlebit on hold at the moment, but it still has information. It's ait's a huge creative project that is like not easy to put together. Yeah, don't be polite about it. Yeah, I'm having a little rest from tryingto it's not like setting up a gardening blog. Yeah, bold tofascitated. You know, it's like building...

...sales force, not that you wantto be all toas force, whether God. Yeah. So, Commons platform dotorg if you want a bit of information and yeah, and just findme. I think I'm on the only Sophie Varlow. So you'll find meworked in on facebook. Will I am good than I know that. Thankyou very much. High Five. Thank you thank you much. Thanks forlistening today. You can stay in the loot by subscribing to us. Youcan only use that's at the commoner go to Bigley forward slash of the commoner. That's the IT. Dot L Y forward slash the commoner. Have agreat day.

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