Distributed structures are semi-autonomous spheres of self-provisioning and -governance that can operate according to their own distinct rules and situational needs.
Commoners prefer distributed systems because they maximize self-determination and locally responsive governance while avoiding the the coercion of centralized, command-and-control authority systems, such as corporations, autocrats and state bureaucracies.
Historically, commons have been small-scale systems because they have relied heavily upon face-to-face social connections and human conviviality. Evolutionary scientists often point to the so-called "Dunbar Number" -- named after anthropologist Robin Dunbar (wiki ) -- which postulates that, given the size of the brain neocortex, humans can maintain stable relationships only with about 150 people (a number that others estimate could go as high as 290 people). Apart from such apparent physiological limits on group size, distributed structures for commons helps ensure that power is not consolidated and abused, and that governance is responsive to local circumstances.
There is no inherent reason that commons cannot work at larger scales. However, larger systems require special infrastructures to assure that authority is accountable, that people can participate and give their active consent, and that the social trust, purpose and coherence of the group are maintained. Internet platforms such as [open source software] and [Wikipedia] are familiar examples of larger-scale commons that have surmounted these challenges.
However, te general history of the commons has been one of distributed, autonomous structures of relatively small-scale groups. Historically, hundreds of thousands of discrete natural resource commons -- based on farmland, forests, fisheries, pastures, water, wild game, etc. -- have been autonomously managed, with little or no state involvement.
In modern times, many institutional infrastructures and tools -- law, bureaucracy, hierarchy, the Internet -- have been invented to help enlarge the size of stable, functional groups. While this has enabled the creation of large, modern institutions, it has also facilitated the centralization of power and control at the expense of individual participants and local knowledge.
The challenge of contemporary commoners, then, is to find ways to adapt modern institutional forms so that they can support human empowerment and conviviality, not simply the consolidation of power. Distributed commons are an attractive way to do this.
"Scaling the commons" can be achieved through a process of emulate & then federate, especially via the use of digital networks. In this fashion, the advantages of distributed structures AND larger-scale cooperation can be combined.
# Alternative numbers Anthropologist H. Russell Bernard and Peter Killworth and associates have done a variety of field studies in the United States that came up with an estimated mean number of ties, 290, which is roughly double Dunbar's estimate. The Bernard–Killworth median of 231 is lower, due to upward straggle in the distribution, but still appreciably larger than Dunbar's estimate. The Bernard–Killworth estimate of the maximum likelihood of the size of a person's social network is based on a number of field studies using different methods in various populations. It is not an average of study averages but a repeated finding. Nevertheless, the Bernard–Killworth number has not been popularized as widely as Dunbar's.
I don't know if we need this detailed explanation. The exact Dunbar number (or its alternative) is a secondary point.