The Tragedy Of The Sell-Off

Given that our right-wing government thinks that the UK’s national forests would be better looked after by profit-driven corporations who could turn them into ‘energy’ or tables and chairs, I remembered this excellent essay on the Tragedy of Enclosures, notably a swift deconstruction of the Tragedy of the Commons with reference to modern environmental crises, and which concludes:

As land changes hands, so does power. When communities own the land they make the laws, and develop them to suit their own needs. Everyone is responsible for ensuring that everyone else obeys them. As landlords take over, it is their law that prevails, whether or not it leads to the protection of local resources. Thus, when the people living around Twyford Down try to prevent a road from destroying their common, it is they who are arrested for impeding the bulldozers, rather than the developers, who are committing, in commoners’ terms, an unspeakable crime.

The language in which the old laws were expressed gives way to the language of outsiders. With it go many of the concepts and cautionary tales encouraging people to protect their environment. Translated into the dominant language they appear irrational and archaic. As they disappear, so does much that makes our contact with the countryside meaningful: it becomes a series of unrelated resources, rather than an ecosystem of which we, economically, culturally and spiritually, are a part. For human beings, as for the biosphere, the tragedy of the commons is not the tragedy of their existence but the tragedy of their disappearance.

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About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.


  1. What pisses me off is the way they announce this news today of all days. People are shopping, they’re not at home watching the news. Most of the journalists who research this stuff are at home as well, and there will be reduced times for TV news bulletins in the next few days.

    So it’s a very good time to bury bad news. The govt is also withdrawing all funding for Bookstart, amongst other cuts.

    In the context of that passage, I don’t think the problem is so much the language in which the debate is taking place. It’s the fact that there’s no discussion going on at all, as far as most people are concerned. This sell-off is hidden news.

  2. Hi Ros,

    Yeah, I guess there is that. But there seems to be an ongoing campaign to protect the forests, so I dare say this will be hitting the headlines quite a bit over the coming months.

    There’s so much bad news around at the moment, and I think people are starting to realise it isn’t all necessary; that this is simply an idealogical right-wing move…