The New Commoner

News From Now-where – In Praise of Nowtopia
February 28, 2009, 2:07 pm
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We’ve just come across a rather fine book entitled ‘Nowtopia’ (AK Press, 2008); written by Chris Carllson one of the founders of the worldwide Critical Mass cycle movement. Subtitled How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacant-Lot Gardeners Are Inventing the Future Today! this book takes a look at the people who are pioneering a ‘new politics of work’. Where some people see the commons as a possible part of the future of capitalism, Carlsson explores those who have embraced the commons in order to live away from wage slavery in the here and now, or as Carlsson puts it “They aren’t waiting for institutional change from on-high but are getting on with building a new world in the shell of the old.”

This is a highly accessible book – which is important because ideas of ‘access’ versus ‘ownership’ are central to the growth of the commons – the reader is presented with a series of real-world projects rather than dry economic theories. This approach really captures what the commons is all about and inspires the reader to get on their feet and build their own ‘nowtopia’. But that’s not to say that this book ignores theory all together, in fact the author raises some very important questions about class, professionalism, expertise and hierarchy and although we don’t share all the author’s views (just around 99% of them!) we warmly welcome the debates that this book will no doubt throw up. The balance between practice and theory is best summed up in Nowtopia’s own blurb…

Outlaw bicycling, urban permaculture, biofuels, free software, even the Burning Man festival, are windows into a scarcely visible social transformation that challenges politics as we know it. As capitalism continues its inexorable push to corral every square inch of the globe into its logic of money and markets, new practices are emerging that are redefining politics. In myriad ways, people are taking back their time and technological know-how from the market and in small under-the-radar ways, are making life better right now. In doing so, they also set the foundation—technically AND socially—for a genuine movement of liberation from market life. The social networks thus created, and the practical experience of cooperating outside of economic regulation, become a breeding ground for new strategies and tactics to confront the everyday commodification to which capitalism reduces us all.

Nowtopia uncovers resistance and rebellion amidst fractions of a slowly recomposing working class in America. Rarely self-identifying as mere ‘workers,’ people from all walks of life are doing incredible amounts of work in their “free” “non-work” time. This unpaid work is creating immediate practical improvements in daily life. More interesting still, these myriad initiatives constitute a more thorough-going refusal of politics and economics as usual. In Nowtopia, Marx’s concept of the General Intellect is freshly applied to the disparate initiatives that are percolating largely out of public sight. Building on the investigative methodology developed by autonomist Marxists in Europe and the U.S.A., Carlsson recontextualizes the so-called “middle class” as an example of working class recomposition. The practical rebellions outlined in this book embody a deeper challenge to the basic epistemological underpinnings of modern life, as a new ecologically-driven politics emerges from below to reshape our assumptions about science, technology and human behavior.

Nowtopia is all about what people can do (and, in fact, are doing…) to change their lives right here, right now. The DIY nature of the book instils a sense of optimism and hope for the future, it shows hat change is not only possible, but do-able – and do-able with our own hands.  Our only real criticism is that AK Press and Carllson didn’t practice what they preached when it came to the production of this book, it would have been nice to see some kind of Creative Commons license as rather than the outdated, and frankly non-Nowtopian copyright symbol on the book’s title page.

Get yourself a copy of this book (US click here) – now! And while you’re waiting for delivery check out the Nowtopians blog spot.


Bike lift at Heroes’ Square, Budapest, April 22, 2006

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