I want to start with a blunt and perhaps jarring statement, that we are embroiled in a deep and serious war – a war against the imagination. This phrase comes from Beat poet Diane di Prima, who wrote:
The war that matters is the war against the imagination
all other wars are subsumed in it….
the war is the war for the human imagination
and no one can fight it but you/ & no one can fight it for you
The imagination is not only holy, it is precise
it is not only fierce, it is practical
men die everyday for the lack of it,
it is vast & elegant.
“The ultimate famine,” di Prima warns, “is the starvation of the imagination.”
When an artist-friend shared these lines with me, I realized how profoundly they speak to our times. In today’s world, there seems to be very little room in respectable circles for wide-open dreaming and experimentation, or for stepping off in new directions to explore the unknown. But the realm of the unknown is precisely where we really start to see and live.
In today’s world there are certain presumptions that serious people aren’t supposed to question, such as the necessity of economic growth and capital accumulation, and the importance of strong consumer demand and expansive private property rights. The more of these we have, the better, we are told.
These dogmas have sucked all the air out of our public life and politics. Which is one reason that I have come to see the commons as a precious patch of ground — an important staging area for thinking and living our way past the prevailing orthodoxies. The commons is a space from which an insurgency might be launched – indeed, it IS being launched, if you train your eyes to see it.
In the next few minutes, I’d like to suggest how the commons paradigm can help us develop a new social and cultural vision, and new strategies for practical change. Paradoxically enough, redirecting our attention away from conventional politics and policy may offer the most promising possibilities for developing a transformational vision.
We’re surely reaching a point of diminishing returns within the existing system. Real change and regeneration are going to require that we jump the tracks somehow. We need to start imagining different ways of being, doing, and knowing – and we need to invent new institutional structures to support such a paradigm shift.
A video version of Bollier’s entire talk is available by clicking the image below: