Beyond Big Bird
Contrary to popular conservative belief, PBS is more than a entity on the dole; an extended hand in which the deficit balloons. It is part of The Commons, like public libraries, schools, town squares and national parks – just to name a few. These are all under attack by a corporate ideology that seeks privatization of our most sacred spaces.
The Commons are places, knowledge and culture where we are able meet and form a sense ourselves relative to that of one another. It is both a product and a conduit of reciprocity. It is in these places that we learn to act rather than react; that we learn see beyond differences and come to appreciate our inherent similarities. It is an acknowledgement that we are not defined by property or wealth, but by those characteristics that inform our humanity of its dignity, reverence, creativity and interdependence. It is where we recognize nature for its kinship. It is also where we see that domination is not necessary for survival, as we have been taught, but that survival depends on cooperation.
The idea of the commons in America has a history dating back to 15th and 16th centuries in England. Every English village had a common grazing area for those who did not own land, but owned animals. This legacy was brought to America by the colonists and leaders of the newly formed country. Thomas Paine declared nature’s gifts are “the common property of the human race.” In the Land Ordinance of 1785, Thomas Jefferson and others established a cooperative model for the settlement of the West by setting aside a one square mile section of every township as a common property. This land was to be used to build a public school.
From the commons comes a perception of cooperation that acts to influence general acts of compassion of empathy. Adam Smith, known for Wealth of Nations, wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments in 1759. In it he states a philosophy that encapsulates the function and benefit of the commons:
The social emotions such as generosity, humanity, kindness, compassion, mutual friendship and esteem are considered overwhelmingly with approbation by the impartial spectator. The agreeableness of the benevolent sentiments leads to full sympathy on the part of the spectator with both the person concerned and the object of these emotions and are not felt as aversive to the spectator if they are in excess.