The Commons Exists Off-Screen, Reflections from Peter Block and Charles Holmes

Peter Block and Charles Holmes have long been calling people into conversations that matter. With his characteristic directness and poignancy, Peter reminds us that we’ve been building for distance for years, at the expense of building for community.


The Common Good Reader makes the point that creating community consciousness is the work, now that election mania has peaked.

The call is to not let us be defined by a media industry and world that makes its wealth from attention. What grabs attention is the illusion that we are a nation divided, that the vote is a measure of citizen engagement, that the contest between rich and poor is among irreconcilable strangers, that celebrities are interesting.

I am not a nation divided.

We too easily confuse life observed on a flat screen with life on Wentworth Avenue where we live. James Carville got Clinton elected in 1992 with the insightful exclamation “It’s the economy, stupid.” Today’s exclamation is, “It’s entertainment, stupid.”

The common good is a commitment to support a culture where each person and family has control over their own well-being. This can’t be voted into being. It comes from overcoming our addiction to consumption and accumulating wealth for its own sake, and halting the isolation that both create. An early version of social distancing was the move to the suburbs and Eisenhower’s passion for the Interstate Highway System. Both were profoundly isolating, breaking up urban life that jammed us close together, yet very good for commerce, real estate development, and moving the front porch to the backyard.

The common good in this moment can be created in walking distance from Wentworth Avenue. It is to imagine a communal ownership of land, a low interest rate for debt. It requires ending our belief that only the rising value of land and housing produces financial security. Or that your zip code at birth decides your future.

The commons is ultimately a local production, based on trusting neighbors and making our place better together. This is all occurring wherever you live. It is just not great entertainment, stupid.

And, I am glad you voted.

(Charles Holmes) Thank you for the invitation to abandon my screens and head out to be in the space of the common good, the space in which there are no contestations over who belongs. This space is community and community is both created and strengthened by conversations that stem from powerful questions. I take your examples with me, thank you too for these!

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