Strengthen the Nested-I

Strengthening the Nested-I means that a human being is engaged in relationships with and within larger collectivities, and is strengthened by those relationships because they enhance one's capacity for human development. In some commons, this means there is a personal enlivenment; in other, less personal (administratively run commons, this may result in a welcome mutualization of benefits. The design of spaces or processes for commoning may also help strengthen the nested-I.

Nora Bateson writes:

"I" carries the suggestion that I am somehow individual, independent, when interdependence is the law."

... even within our bodies containing over 10 trillion organisms without which we cannot live.

It may be wise to acknowledge that collectivities can suffocate the nested-I, too. It's all a matter of perspective, context, norms, etc. But clearly the isolated "self-made" I is a fiction that should be named. Let's discuss.


People living in modern liberal capitalism tend to regard the individual as an isolated agent independent of larger systems of community, nature, and politics. This is reflected in purported dichotomies such as individual vs. collective, public vs. private, and objective vs. subjective.

As evolutionary science is confirming, however, the idea of the "self-made man" and homo economicus are historical aberrations in the history of humanity. Individuals are in fact nested within larger systems and collectives, which profoundly shape and guide the development of the supposedly autonomous individual.

We have coined the term "the nested-I" to signal this more accurate understanding of human development and identity. The term helps us see more clearly the relational and contextual factors that shape the individual and, in turn, how these affect the dynamics of self-governance through commons. (For more, see Varieties of Rationality in The Inner Life).

See Entangled with Nature for a larger discussion of the idea of the nested-I.

See also a discussion of the "dividual" by Lewis Hyde in his book Common as Air (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010), and Goethe's perspective on his identity as a collectively created thing.

# Notes add some arguments, why we ARE "nested Is"; we are already born "in connection", literally. DB: Andreas Weber's book Matter & Desire (English title), a translation of a German book of his, has some great biological/ecological examples of this. Michael Tomasello on why we cooperate

# See also