Common Ground

I have lived in the American South for almost all of my life, and when I try to explain the Southern perspective to someone who didn’t grow up here, I tell them, “We have no common ground in the South. “…not legally, not socially, not politically; certainly not in the realms of race or religion.  New Testament fundamentalists have had so many schisms over minor points of doctrine…if you really have free will, can you choose to not be a Baptist?

We Southerners come from an older, richer culture.  Most of us trace our ancestry from Anglo-Scots or Welsh or Irish (listen to the music!), transported (voluntarily or not) from the mother country under the prevailing 18th c. doctrine of land enclosure by Act of Parliament.  By contrast, the New England colonies were settled under older legal doctrines.  Most New England towns still maintain a parcel of common land, a legal distinction which does not appear to exist in the South.

The phrase English Common Law is somewhat misleading.

There is Common Law. “…by the ancient common laws of this realm.” Statute of Uses, Henry VIII (1536) is directly relevant to claims of ownership in real property, land and the chattels and improvements thereon.

And there is English Law, the result of the gradual usurpation of Common Law by Norman nobles and their lawyers following the Conquest of 1066.  Concessions, forced at times by popular rebellion, included not only such fundamental legal precepts as grand juries and writs of habeas corpus; but the Statute of Merton (1236) which stipulated that the [Norman] barons “would not change the law of the realm.”  Merton also protects common rights in land.  The Statute of Quo Warranto (1290) in which Edward I (Longshanks) was forced to agree by statute that customs continuous since Richard I (a century earlier) should be confirmed.

The long way ’round…English Law (with some notable concessions to Common Law) derives from French Law (those Norman lawyers), grounded in Roman Law which held that most customary practices had at their source deep-rooted local knowledge, combined with “natural reason” or a kind of basic “common sense.”  Unspoken yet general agreement confirmed through long-standing practice within a large social group gave these customs legal force and a status equivalent to written law.  (e. g. verbal contracts are binding..!)

The assertion of common rights in land is made more difficult in our current society that has never established common land as a legal right; but paradoxically traces its history to a society that evolved and existed for centuries, for millennia even, as small communities sharing land for grazing livestock and growing staple crops.  As I delve deeper into history, it becomes more and more apparent that human culture has evolved alongside small-scale farming on shared land, that that is human culture.

Custom, and customary, are related linguistically to use (which covers a lot of legal rights) and accustomed, synonymous with wont (a nice bit of Middle English).  Those rights of use, for instance, include “Public footpaths on private land…remnants of an earlier landscape predating the Enclosure Acts.  Public access, or right-of-way, is granted by English Common Law on the basis of traditional use; that right is relinquished if the path is not used once a year.”

So, the key words…custom, use, tradition, right of way…are still there in our language, in social formalities that we act out but can’t readily explain…IMG_1161

Meanwhile, through the corporate aegis of our elected representatives, we pursue concrete solutions, permanent solutions, that inevitably involve bigger and more expensive machines to perform work that could be performed by humans.  Human scale solutions tend to be time-consuming, labor-intensive (that is sort of the point…), and thus more costly than mechanical solutions (once we have absorbed and distributed the investment in machinery).

Working collaboratively leads directly to Common Ground.  When we develop human capital through local volunteer effort, professional internships, or workshops conducted by non-profits; people working together in small groups at human scale…tends to have a much smaller carbon footprint.

About michaellangford2012

Timber framer, boatbuilder, dreamer, writer, musician; collector of books, tools, aphorisms. "There is nothing, absolutely nothing…half so much worth doing…as simply messing about in boats."
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