Stewards of the Legal Commons: it’s Time for a Merited Investment in Scalability

Kent Dahlgren
5 min readDec 24, 2022
A live oak splits limestone as its roots seek water and nutrients flowing beneath the surface

The following poem is set at the base of the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

For a couple generations the poem served as a welcome, the same word many of y’all have printed upon the mats which lie at your front door.

I can trace my family line back over 1,000 years, to a man known only as “the Saxon,“ so I find it fitting that the origin of the word “welcome“ is informed by the following:

The Old English (west Saxon) word “wielle” comes from Proto-Germanic wallaną (which means: “to well up, spring out, bubble forth”).

And it’s suggested that ancient villages could only extend a “welcome” as far as its well (its wielle) was able to serve, speaking to the quantity of available water per community.

In that era, the well represented a commons, which is “land or resources belonging to or affecting the whole of a community,” and until recently, responsible stewardship of the commons had a direct relationship to whether or not a community was able to survive through hard times.

However, with the advent of what’s currently called “liberalism,“ inclusive to conservative ideology, recognition of the commons is tantamount to “communism,“ which is entirely incoherent, but that’s besides the point, because coherent political discourse has been intentionally corrupted to ensure inaction, only worsening the state of societal ossification.

The point is: it’s now considered a virtue to exhaust land and resources upon which a community is dependent, and this justification is typically framed in the context of dominion, itself an ideology that suggests that it’s our proper role to entirely destroy and exhaust these resources, because God is going to give us an entirely new one after the rapture, or whatever.

Of course, that framing is a little absurd, but still not very far off the mark when one considers the absurdities that are defended by the stewards of our current institutions, inclusive to the corporate giants and their heroes.

So far, I’ve only referenced environmental resources in this article, but I’m actually more interested in “the commons“ of our legal system upon which our government and culture are built, and I’ve chosen to leverage nature as metaphor to effectively make my point.

The stewards of these “legal commons“ include attorneys, all of whom are mostly compensated for the perpetuation of entropy, because they are typically compensated by the hour, and are therefore transactionally rewarded for adding just as many complications as possible.

It’s easy to hate attorneys, but that’s not my intent.

My intent is to draw attention to how the irresponsible stewardship of our “legal commons“ has contributed to a state of entropy that begins to resemble sand, potentially undercutting the viability of our very government, culture, and economy.

In a recent decision, the Supreme Court chose to emphasize expediency over justice, to ensure that the “justice system” does not become mired in legal disputes designed to exploit this worsening state of entropy to the detriment of the system.

I can acknowledge and appreciate the brutal wisdom of this decision, but it doesn’t exactly fix the problem, and may actually contribute towards further catastrophic erosion of faith and confidence in our legal system’s ability to deliver justice for those who don’t have the money necessary to “buy your way out of trouble.”

Everywhere I look, I discern the symptoms of ossification, which at first resembles strength, but soon reveals brittleness, resulting in a revocation of welcome to those who were once called to pursue excellence within our unique culture.

And I can discern a solution, which does not come from the top, but rather from the bottom.

A substantial, overwhelming majority of legal issues are not actually happening “at the top,” are they?

Most activity actually happens down close to the ground, and so a redistribution of responsibility into what I call a fourth, fifth, or even a sixth tier of political subdivision would serve as a decentralized load balancing investment, in the interest of systemic scalability.

Indeed it’s in this same precise manner one can effect a massive increase in systemic throughput for an enterprise software architecture, which I know from battle-hardened experience, having managed some of the largest and most scalable enterprise architectures on the planet, including critical infrastructure relied upon to protect the largest financial and commerce institutions on earth.

To effect an increase of scalability, you don’t add more resources at the top; you add resources at the bottom, redistributing responsibility away from centralized infrastructure and across the lower-tier.

When our existing system of government was put into affect, the largest city in the country was pretty small, fewer than 50,000 residents (New York City). We have outgrown our system of government, which requires an investment in scalability to protect from further ossification.

At the present there’s three tiers:

  • a federal government
  • the state governments
  • county governments
  • and each state constitution acknowledges a political subdivision called a city, or a town, or a parish, etc.

Some large cities, such as New York, acknowledges a fourth level of political subdivision, such as the boroughs (Bronx, Brooklyn, etc), but there’s room for more.

I’m standing here in the Austin Greenbelt, looking at this enormous Live Oak that appears to be actively splitting this slab of limestone in half, inviting me to consider that this tree is only able to grow as high as it’s able to root, and if you give the roots time, nothing absolutely nothing stands in their way.

Behind me, is Barton Creek, which is slowly finding its way into the endless variety of caves which lie just beneath the surface, which is how the creek survives the ghastly heat of summer.

And as luck or fate might have it: above me circles a mated pair of ravens, which represents the sixth time I’ve encountered ravens since I moved to Texas.

“As above,” as they say: “so below.”

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Kent Dahlgren

Product management fix-it guy. World-famous people skills. Extremely small hands. (edit) marketing lady says I’m also supposed to say “CEO of software company”