P2P Foundation

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Everything written by Michel Bauwens

Eco-agricultural food sovereignty vs. seed-enclosing neocolonial paternalistic benevolence: a tale of two meetings

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
30th March 2015

Republished from Morten Thaysen:

“This week the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID hosted a meeting in London with big agribusinesses to discuss strategies to increase corporate control over seeds in Africa. The location of the meeting was secret. So was the agenda. Attendance was strictly invite-only and nobody who even came close to representing African small farmers was invited.

Meanwhile, farmers and food sovereignty activists met at the World Social Forum in Tunis to discuss their solutions to the problems of our food system. These two meetings represent not just two different types of meeting – a closed, secretive meeting of the powerful versus an open, democratic meeting of grassroots activists – but also two radically different paths for the future of our food. One is based on corporate control and would generate vast profits for a small elite; the second is centred on sustainable, democratic, local food production.

As often was the case in colonial times, the corporate agenda in Africa is today often disguised as paternalistic benevolence. Friendly sounding projects such as the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa, backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the DfID (Britain’s Department for International Development)-supported New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition promise to eliminate hunger by creating the conditions that will bring new corporate technologies and more big business investment to African agriculture.

On the face of it, that all sounds very good. So why this level of secrecy for the meetings about the projects? Samwel Messiak, a Tanzanian food campaigner I met in Tunis, tells a very different story of the corporate agenda for Africa’s food. He told me that in Tanzania the New Alliance has helped corporations ‘buy’ land off local communities without their consent and without paying them compensation.

This is because the corporate agenda of AGRA and the New Alliance threatens to move control of land and seeds into corporate hands. The push for corporate engagement in Africa’s agriculture also has a strong focus on producing cash crops for consumption in richer parts of the world (a practice started in colonial times) which, if anything, provides less food for people living locally. It seems strange that a supposedly charitable organization such as the Gates Foundation is involved in this agenda; it seems they have swallowed the idea that only the market can provide for our needs.

In a very different setting from the corporate meeting in London, an alternative vision for our food is forming. In a packed room at the World Social Forum in Tunis, farmers and food sovereignty campaigners discussed a radically different food system.

Farmers and campaigners from across the world shared examples of how agriculture can provide livelihoods for farmers and food for local communities, and can be a central part of women’s liberation: women are taking a leading part in food production in most places. There is powerful evidence that organic farming practices and local seeds used by small-holder farmers are able to produce more food on less land and with less water than industrial agriculture.

Agribusinesses are putting small-scale farmers under pressure everywhere. But representatives from places like Chile, Senegal, Bangladesh and Italy told the meeting how farmers are showing how local communities can take back control of their food systems to provide healthy and affordable food. It was inspiring to experience how unified farmers and campaigners from different places are in their fight for democratic control of our food. As we chanted at the end of the meeting: ‘The people united will never be defeated.’

In 2015 it shouldn’t be a radical notion to want to move beyond colonialism and make sure farmers can keep control of the resources needed to grow food to feed their communities. So it is more important than ever that we stand with small farmers across the world to defend their right to control their own land and their own seeds and our right to healthy local food.”


Posted in Food and Agriculture | No Comments »

The real nature of the on-demand economy: “NEVER LEAVE HOME AGAIN.”

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
30th March 2015

The on-demand world isn’t about sharing at all. It’s about being served. This is an economy of shut-ins“.

Shutting people out is an important part of being a shut-in: When signing up, customers can choose the option of not seeing their Alfred, who will come in when they’re at work. Alfred’s messaging is aimed at sweeping aside any middle-class shame.“We’re trying to remove the taboo and the guilt that you should have to do it,” says Alfred’s CEO Marcela Sapone over the phone. “We’re empowering you to let others do it for you. You’re the manager of your life. It’s against the stigma of ‘People use this because they’re lazy.’ Absolutely not. They’re using this because they’re extremely busy.”

Excerpted from Lauren Smiley:

(we recommend reading the whole article with its different case studies)

“In 1998, Carnegie Mellon researchers warned that the internet could make us into hermits. They released a study monitoring the social behavior of 169 people making their first forays online. The web-surfers started talking less with family and friends, and grew more isolated and depressed. “We were surprised to find that what is a social technology has such anti-social consequences,” said one of the researchers at the time. “And these are the same people who, when asked, describe the Internet as a positive thing.”

We’re now deep into the bombastic buildout of the on-demand economy— with investment in the apps, platforms and services surging exponentially. Right now Americans buy nearly eight percent of all their retail goods online, though that seems a wild underestimate in the most congested, wired, time-strapped urban centers.

Many services promote themselves as life-expanding?—?there to free up your time so you can spend it connecting with the people you care about, not standing at the post office with strangers. Rinse’s ad shows a couple chilling at a park, their laundry being washed by someone, somewhere beyond the picture’s frame. But plenty of the delivery companies are brutally honest that, actually, they never want you to leave home at all.

GrubHub’s advertising banks on us secretly never wanting to talk to a human again: “Everything great about eating, combined with everything great about not talking to people.” DoorDash, another food delivery service, goes for the all-caps, batshit extreme:

Katherine van Ekert isn’t a shut-in, exactly, but there are only two things she ever has to run errands for any more: trash bags and saline solution. For those, she must leave her San Francisco apartment and walk two blocks to the drug store, “so woe is my life,” she tells me. (She realizes her dry humor about #firstworldproblems may not translate, and clarifies later: “Honestly, this is all tongue in cheek. We’re not spoiled brats.”) Everything else is done by app. Her husband’s office contracts with Washio. Groceries come from Instacart. “I live on Amazon,” she says, buying everything from curry leaves to a jogging suit for her dog, complete with hoodie.

She’s so partial to these services, in fact, that she’s running one of her own: A veterinarian by trade, she’s a co-founder of VetPronto, which sends an on-call vet to your house. It’s one of a half-dozen on-demand services in the current batch at Y Combinator, the startup factory, including a marijuana delivery app called Meadow (“You laugh, but they’re going to be rich,” she says). She took a look at her current clients?—?they skew late 20s to late 30s, and work in high-paying jobs: “The kinds of people who use a lot of on demand services and hang out on Yelp a lot ?”

Basically, people a lot like herself. That’s the common wisdom: the apps are created by the urban young for the needs of urban young. The potential of delivery with a swipe of the finger is exciting for van Ekert, who grew up without such services in Sydney and recently arrived in wired San Francisco. “I’m just milking this city for all it’s worth,” she says. “I was talking to my father on Skype the other day. He asked, ‘Don’t you miss a casual stroll to the shop?’ Everything we do now is time-limited, and you do everything with intention. There’s not time to stroll anywhere.”

Suddenly, for people like van Ekert, the end of chores is here. After hours, you’re free from dirty laundry and dishes. (TaskRabbit’s ad rolls by me on a bus: “Buy yourself time?—?literally.”)

So here’s the big question. What does she, or you, or any of us do with all this time we’re buying? Binge on Netflix shows? Go for a run? Van Ekert’s answer: “It’s more to dedicate more time to working.”

Lauren Smiley concludes:

In many ways, social class can be defined by the chores you don’t do. The rich have personal assistants, butlers, cooks, drivers. The middle class largely do their own errands?—?with the occasional babysitter, pizza boy, maybe a cleaner. The poor do their own chores, and the chores of other people.

Then came on-demand’s disruptive influence. The luxuries usually afforded to one-percenters now stretch to the urban upper-middle class, or so the technology industry cheers. But can you democratize the province of the rich without getting a new class acting, well, entitled? My parents made me put away the dishes not to “outsource” their workload?—?they could have done it faster. They did it so I wouldn’t turn out to be a brat.

Now an entire generation is not just being served: It’s having to work out what it means when you buy someone to do it for you.”


Posted in P2P Hierarchy Theory, P2P Subjectivity, Sharing | No Comments »

MOOC’s are not doing well for racial, gender and class equity

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
30th March 2015

From an essay that critiques the uncritical enthusiasm for MOOC’s:

(Audrey Watters and Sara Goldrick-Rab critique Kevin Carey who has written a book called The End of College )


“This vision of the University of Everywhere is endowed with such grandeur that it can leave one breathless; it is so hopeful about the future that any doubt or critique may seem unkind, even inappropriate. Why ask questions about how or why or who or what? Carey and his University of Everywhere want you simply to believe. And if you do have questions, you must be a defender of the status quo, an insufficiently “careful reader,” or, worse yet, a professor in a traditional institution.

Indeed objections seem to offend Carey, as they would any true believer. He promotes the online and hybrid future of higher education and extols the innovations that have spun out of Stanford’s artificial intelligence lab — startups like Coursera and Udacity — with a fanatical sustained passion that sets aside the far more conflicted reality of these initiatives. While the University of Everywhere purports to be a meritocracy that will save us all from social inequities, it’s worth noting that it is being built and promoted by three of the most elite of America’s universities: Harvard, Stanford and M.I.T.

These universities are at the center of the recent push for massive open online courses (better known as MOOCs), which are the cornerstone of Carey’s University of Everywhere. In his telling of their history, the Golden Three and their new MOOC initiatives can do no wrong.

Except they have already done much wrong. Take the experience of San Jose State University with MOOC-like instruction provided by Udacity. Beginning in early 2013, this experimental effort at one of the most racially diverse universities in the country was promised to “end college as we know it.” Yet the data show that the pilot was an unmitigated disaster. The students in the Udacity-run classes — remedial algebra, college algebra and statistics — did far worse than students in traditional, face-to-face classes. Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun blamed the students, whom he said “were students from difficult neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in their lives… [For them] this medium is not a good fit.”

Here is Thrun in a Silicon Valley tech blog: “If you’re a student who can’t afford the service layer, you can take the MOOC on demand at your own pace. If you’re affluent, we can do a much better job with you, we can make magic happen.” Incredibly, as Tressie McMillan Cottom has noted, the University of Everywhere is also magically postracial. No wonder, since, as the data from MOOCs around the country clearly show, this university is for the highly educated, not the underserved.

Given the sheer vehemence of his argument and a professed lack of responsibility to warn off “careless misinterpretation,” perhaps it is unsurprising that Carey omits the evidence about the real and disturbing flaws of online and even hybrid education. To support his contentions that information technology can lift all boats, he turns to William Bowen, author of a study using a randomized experiment to assess the effects of online versus face-to-face instruction. He reports that Bowen found no differences when it came to the outcomes he measured: course completion rates, scores on final exam questions and a standardized test.

“Bowen had previously been skeptical of the idea that technology could fundamentally change higher learning. Based on his new research, he wrote, ‘I am today a convert. I have come to believe that now is the time.’” Rather than question the wisdom of sudden conversions based on single studies, Carey wonders, why didn’t colleges immediately hop on board and begin embracing what he calls “a golden opportunity to charge students less money without sacrificing the quality of instruction”?

The answer, of course, lies in empirical research and respect for the scientific process, both of which Carey has little time for. Bowen’s 2012 study was then and remains today one of only a tiny number of such studies producing these sorts of results. Despite efforts, including those of Ithaka S&R, where Bowen works, to suggest that instructional format does not affect outcomes, there are just four rigorous yet also stylized and idiosyncratic studies that even somewhat support the conclusions that Carey promotes. And the most robust of them, a study of 700 students at the City University of New York, identifies negative impacts for lower-achieving students placed into online-only courses.

Moreover, none of the studies examine the outcomes commonly used to assess the utility of educational interventions — for example, year-to-year retention and graduation rates. A thoughtful reader of the research might ask: What responsible educator, and indeed, what responsible educational policy expert, would recommend wholesale changes in higher education based on such a paltry body of knowledge? When a long and detailed body of scientific evidence (the most recent example is the evaluation of ASAP at CUNY) details the intensive attention required to bring first-generation and low-income students from college entry to graduation, why run in the opposite direction, offering less personal contact and coaching?

Carey’s book invokes education research only when it serves his narrative. Otherwise, education research — indeed all manner of research — is framed as one of the many flaws that weigh down certain elements of our current higher education system.
Carey does not ask questions of experts who are unlikely to agree with what he is arguing, including noted economist David Figlio. “When I look at the weight of the evidence, it looks like online education might come at some sacrifice to student learning,” said Figlio in a recent article. “Thoughtful administrators will need to weigh those sacrifices against the cost savings. You can see a situation where schools for the haves will continue with face-to-face instruction, perhaps enhancing it with technology. And the have-nots will get this mass online instruction. That can be potentially problematic from an equity perspective.” Of course, Figlio works at one of those “traditional” institutions that Carey abhors and thus he can be ignored.”


Posted in P2P Education | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Multitude, Assemblies, and a New Politics of the Common

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
29th March 2015

* Essay: A Common Assembly: Multitude, Assemblies, and a New Politics of the Common. Elise Danielle Thorburn. Interface: a journal for and about social movements, Volume 4 (2): 254 – 279 (November 2012)

From the Abstract:

“Contemporary experiments in organising the “multitude” have proliferated of late – from the encampments of Occupy to the Quebec student strike, the Arab Spring, and the European anti-austerity movements. These experiments, all appearing highly networked, have a political form in common – the assembly.

This organising model, the “assembly” as form, now seems to provide a point of convergence for a variety of left tendencies – including both jaded transversal activists who want a bit more vertical organization and vanguardists who have been forced to learn the lessons of horizontality.

It is a politics no longer split along traditional lineages, but rather opens us on to a politics of the common – something shared between people, not mediated by the State or capital. Using concepts drawn both from concrete activist experience and from the tradition of autonomism. This paper explores some of the genealogy of the assembly as form, and examines the autonomist notion of the common in order to see the convergences between emergent assembly projects – such as the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly – and theoretical tools that Autonomist theory has provided in order to being the project of thinking about how we can structure, coordinate, and organise movements so that they get us closer to the creation of a new world.”


Posted in Commons, Featured Essay | No Comments »

Movement of the Day: Kick It Over, these insane neoclassical economics

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
28th March 2015

Jeff Guo explained the project to the Washington Post:

“Harrington now runs a campaign called Kick it Over, which aims to combat what it describes as “the fantasy world of neoclassical economics — a faith-based religion of perfect markets, enlightened consumers and infinite growth that shapes the fates of billions.” The project is connected with the anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters, which had gestated the original idea behind the Occupy Wall Street movement. Harrington, who studied alternative economics at The New School, hopes to reform the profession from the inside, starting with the way it’s taught.

“When I was in school, I started realizing how limited was the range of economic ideas that students were exposed to in the classroom,” he said. “Neoclassicism is essentially the standard for 95 percent of the graduate departments in the country.”

Through mailing lists and word of mouth, Harrington recruited economics students from around the country to hold the campaign’s first official demonstration here, at this tweedy conference of academics. About nine students showed up at the Sheraton on Friday night to hand out fliers and smash the orthodoxy.”


Posted in Featured Movement | No Comments »

100 P2P Women: Sybille Saint Girons

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
26th March 2015

We continue our regular series featuring the work of pioneering women in the P2P movement with Sybille Saint Girons interviewed by Michel Bauwens – Jan 2015


Michel Bauwens: Dear Sybille, tell us something about your general background and what motivated your engagement in the Valeureux and Wezer projects?

Sybille Saint Girons: Why do humans, full of good qualities and wishing for happiness, not manage to live together in harmony? That is the question that triggered me from a very young age. I went to a Freinet School where diversity, creativity and collaboration were normal, and it was a painful shock to discover elsewhere there was competition, censorship and insecurity. As a creator of organisational customised software, I perceived computing as a way to connect people through sharing information and thoughts on their need for action. It was a first step toward cooperation; the challenge was to overcome resistance and awaken new behaviours at the dawn of the information society.

At the same time, I explored different horizons in today’s world to understand how our common problems were solved elsewhere. Some tribal peoples inspired me with their common sense and practical style of cooperation. Sciences such as computing, geometry, physics, and biomimicry combined with ancestral wisdom and the field of Human Potential have expanded my outlook and revealed some useful principles.

Writing my MBA thesis, I validated that neither cooperation nor trust can be imposed, rather, they emerge when the right conditions are present. I realized that corporate and even grass-roots contexts were not often conducive conditions. Since then I have focused on creating these favourable conditions, interlacing my various experiences (sailing, filming, home construction, MBA action-research, big European IT projects ..), my learning (Neuro-semantic, Sociocracy, Holacracy, energy, shamanic and psychological therapies …) and an open mind to research the fringes of subjects such as governance, currencies, evaluation, education, health.

This thirst also comes from my personal need for well being. A severe health diagnosis at the age of 21 year made me focus on the essentials, and the resulting partial blindness in 2008 obliged me to mutate completely. Today I am alive thanks to an inexplicable force which also drives me to attentively explore and joyfully serve individuals and collectives.

I call this ontogogy, from onto- being and -gogy leading, which means guiding through the dynamics of transformation and creating the conditions to synergize our diversity. More concretely I design and engineer cooperation processes, tools, games for the commons. Wezer is the fruit of my journey.

MB: Can you explain what the Valeureux association is about? In the online material you mention the work of Jean-Francois Noubel, what is the linkage exactly? Who are you working with, not just in individual terms but as ‘social forces’ that you are aligned with? What is your specific relation to concepts such as the sharing economy, p2p and the commons?

SSG: The Valeureux Association started from a common will to manifest Jean-François Noubel’s propositions in ‘real life’. From an informal collective of 10 utopians, it is now a legal non-profit organisation based in Paris. We now understand that it is a “Factory of common good and wealth actualisation tools”. Its purpose is to “reveal, attune and share all forms of wealth in the service of Life”. Its mission is to ‘actualize’ wealth, making it visible, renewing and deploying its potential. Valeureux develops and shares cooperation processes (governance, currencies, evaluation, collective intelligence, human development) with citizens associations and social organizations in France and Europe through conferences, workshops, games, training, software and consulting. It offers professional quality services to solidarity economy actors. Most of its activities are gift-based but contracts are used to ensure clarity. Valeureux applies to itself first what it promotes to others.

We are nourished and inspired by various thinkers, doers and edge-riders, not belonging to any one school of thought. We are working with courageous organisations and individuals, legal or otherwise, large or small, with a shared intent to act toward a “fair and joyful society”.

We practice “experience before talk”, “walk your talk and take one step at a time”, “wealth is here, let’s reveal it”, “leadership is required, let’s distribute it”, “include and transcend efficiency & resilience”, “ancient & present & innovation”, “I & we & environment”, “human & techno”.

We are connected with many many networks in Paris, Europe and Worldwide. Its a long list; mainly transition oriented projects in various fields. Each of us is a social networking hub in our own right!

Today, Wezer is starting to dynamise our networks by offering a space of discussion, creation, cooperation but in the commons, which means open source, and sovereign and independant from money control. We are gathering providers (Community Forge, Koina, Comeety, Yilnius Sensorica, Enspiral…), inspiring groups (Fair, Commons, P2P Foundation), geeks (OCA, Simplon, Fing), cooperatives (Mutual Aid Network, Fair-Coop, P2P Value, Symba, Coop-cité, Copaname…) and communities (Ouishare, Essé 20e, Compagnons de la reinvention, Alternatiba, EGPC, G1000, coworking spaces, ecovillages…).

MB: Can you explain more about the Wezer collaborative platform, which I understand is an open source platform for the solidarity and cooperative economy? How far has this project progressed in practical terms?

SSG: Wezer is an open source cooperation platform to bring together all the functions to cooperate together today. It is based on the open source Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) framework “Odoo” which already does many of the functions that communities and non-profit organisations need. We’ve created a few new modules to include social innovation such as multiple currencies, reputation system and fractal groups. We are not really inventing anything, just modelling and connecting the best processes on one platform. One useful tool is the “participatory project management”: with 1 click, tasks can be posted to the marketplace, where volunteers can see how to help. The systems support negotiation over process and price, without annoying emails, then the task goes through a workflow before assessment and payment. Wezer increases efficiency and clarity and reduces data entry, silo effect, and energy dispersion.

We launched the prototype last May and tested it since. We received financial support from a French partner “Chant des possibles” that has allowed us to pay professionals to dress-up Wezer, as Oddo more recently contains a CMS. We are now implementing version 1.0 in the 4 pilot communities who are attempting the Wezer adventure as partners: Fair Coop a new kind of cooperative in Catalonia; Mutual Aid Network, a new kind of cooperative based in Madison (USA), which reward contributions with economic and social cooperation tools; Coud’à Coude, a social sharing club in Paris; SEL Audonien, the largest LETS in France.

We are also consolidating our two internal platforms, structuring our team and processes to serve the many communities now using Wezer.

Our next steps are to weave “wealth actualizer” partnerships with international actors so we can develop the emergence modules (deliberation, democracy, governance…), create Wezer kits tailored to specific situations (ecovillages, COOP, SCIC, third places, business networks, towns…) and serve more communities. We are also looking for financial support. The needs are so burning, the solutions so close and shared, I am confident we will forget our habits of competition and co-create sovereign tools as a commons for all.

MB: Do you have a broader vision and other projects that are in preparation in addition to Valeureux and Wezer? In other words, what’s next?

SSG: Last year, another wholehearted project started: an intentional community in the south of France. TERIS is an experience and research camp for sustainable innovation. Jules, my 28-years-old son, his edge-rider friends and I are building a place where we can live the dream we yearn for, we’re not waiting for some future paradise. It will be in harmony with the experience I’m promoting, and of course a place to host pioneers, trainers, seekers, transitioners, to weave together solutions, to live well in all dimensions.

I have a broader vision for Valeureux: to become an “Open University of Cooperation” where each profession in service of organizations is an opportunity to train, rehabilitate and graduate the activists of tomorrow.

This service will also help us to consolidate our existing model by receiving grants to host trainees / rehabilitants, and prevent Valeureux from becoming a mere software shop.

In partnership with other collectives, including TERIS, I wish to deliver “Citizen Wealth Actualizer” courses. I am already maturing the idea with other utopians… It must include all the necessary topics to create a fair and joyful society for all: agro-ecology, eco-building, governance, economics, computer science, facilitation, foreign languages, business management, design, etc., and personal development.

On a personal level, I will restart hosting womens circles and painting. Moreover, now that my fourth collective book is published (“Collective Intelligence, lets co-create consciously the world of tomorrow” written collectively by 7 collective intelligence experts), I am driven to share my story to inspire people, and to help them find an inner space where they can dare to act without having to wait for the perfect conditions. This new step initiated last November in Lithuania, frightens me, because I don’t want to lapse into boasting of my achievements nor have audiences pitying my ailments, just to speak from the heart with courage. In the same spirit, I may step on public responsibilities, as France is deeply suffering on many levels and lacking in enlightened leaders.

I fear first the prevailing politically-correct-fascism and second the intensity of involvement without any certitude of outcome. I am these days in Bali having a retreat to understand where life wants me to go, and breathing in courage and faith.

Thanks Michel for this opportunity you give me to express an share!

If you are interested in other articles from this series see last weeks interview with Ruth Catlow of Furtherfield by Penny Travlou



Posted in Collective Intelligence, Cooperatives, Culture & Ideas, P2P Collaboration | No Comments »

What matters with makerspaces are not the machines, but the new social relation to technology

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
18th March 2015

Excerpted from Marc Chataigner:

“Technology is a specific set of know-how and habits that will shape the way you interact with the world surrounding you, thus shape the way you see the world.

You may think that, in order to free yourself from that specific way to see the world, you should free yourself from technology ; you’ll be partly right, only partly, because without any set of given technology, a human cannot perceive nor interact much with the world around him.

As Bernard Stiegler puts it, technology cannot be resumed to objects, tools, knowledges, laws, hard drives, books, etc. Technology is all of it. Like water for the fish, technology is the ‘milieu’ in which we evolve. Depending on where in the world you grow up, you will learn a different set of technology, therefore experiment a different kind of milieu and develop a different experience and understanding of the world around you. Technology is that interface layer, between you and the world.

* Technology as a way to enslave

When large internet companies explain us that their value is to reveal to us an up-to-now-unthinkabke world (and thus develop free tools for us to interact with that augmented world around us), technology definitely remains that interface between us and the world.

But while these technology companies target the in-between you and the world, they also seize part of your ability to perceive and interact with that world. Some name it the ‘attention economy’, when corporations are competing to grasp some of your free time. The power they build lays into this medium they own and partly rule, allowing you to perceive what is happening, or maybe one day, not allowing you anymore.

And even if one day we could put an open source file into a 3D printer like we put a pod into a Nespresso and get a ready-to-drink coffee, that effort wouldn’t make us ‘creators’ as we don’t feel ‘coffee creators’ when drinking our Nespresso.
Since the Arts & Crafts movement, and more recently within the free software movement, technology is questioned, mainly around its ability to either empower people, or enslave them. Following William Morris, the question is whether the machines and technology, the knowledge and know-how, are neutral technologies, designed to be shared and made accessible to everyone, or whether the machines and technology remain within the hands of a few, thus become instruments of their power. That question is to be an ever-going negotiation process.

* The Revolution Will Be Not 3D Printed.

FabLabs are born embedded among this internet culture of the freeware and all kinds of freedoms. The Makers movement gathers more types of people than only the FabLabs high tech peeps ; among them are also craftsmen, carpenters, smiths, ceramics, cooks, mechanics, etc. For them, beyond the 3D printer hype, a tool or a knowledge is a way to empower the community, at least at the beginning, when contributing to the commons still returns more that it takes.

Fablabs and makerspaces are known for the machines they shelter, 3D printers and other CNC machines. Some will mill, cut, extrude matter, all will have in common to be plugged to a computer, its CAD software and Internet database. The magic of these machine lays in the fact that they are automaton that can be piloted by any unskilled person.

Indeed, the time required for the craftsmen, the smith, the carpenter, the cook, the ceramist, the mechanic to master the hand gestures in no longer mandatory. Machines can perform these tasks of molding, cutting, baking, mixing, etc. The freedom such machines provide seems to lay in?—?as Lassi Patokorpi puts it?—?‘digital craftsmanship’, when people only need their fingers to launch a factory with the clic of a mouse. Look mom, no hands.

* And the Machines will be freed

These CNC machines nevertheless cannot?—?yet?—?perform all the required tasks to create an object, and the digital craftsmen still need to know about some designing skills, some drying processes, some material characteristics, some assemblage technics, etc.

And even if one day we could put an open source file into a 3D printer like we put a pod into a Nespresso to get a ready-to-drink coffee, that effort wouldn’t make us ‘craftsmen’ as we don’t feel ‘coffee creators’ when drinking our Nespresso. Just consumers.

But in the Makers’ world, we do love these automatic machines. In such a way that I believe the ‘commodity fetichism’ Marx was envisioning is turning into a ‘fetichism for automaton’.

* The commodity fetichism is turning into an automaton fetichism.

According to me, the characteristic that turns these machines into an extraordinary piece of technology is the fact that, in fablabs or makerspaces, they are now reachable. They have been ‘freed’ from the assembly line and the factory, freed from a proprietary stand and from performing the same task for million of pieces. Now they can be programmed by anyone, to perform a single task each time.

Moreover, the ‘makers’ are distinct form ‘workers’ by the fact that they don’t have to come to the machine and be at its service, machine-operators, but they now come to a machine that is at their service, creators.

Once out of the assembly line, these machines, like all other sorts of technology, in the hands of creators may become more than they ever were discovered for. They get dismantled, hacked, hardware and software, they produce little plastic craps or an affordable chair made out of recycled plastic bottles. And as it goes, new machines get freed and hacked every single day : knitting, cooking, making chairs, …

* Democratization is about interfacing

When I use the term ‘machine’, I’m speaking about ‘automaton’, i.e. not only efficient and powerful tools, but ‘software embedded machinery’, as much as a computer or a serveur actually is. For instance, Google search engine is a fabulous machine. Has it be freed or does it still stands on the assembly line? This remains an open question.

Nevertheless, its interface helped billions of people to find their way within the Internet maze. They also produced data set to help monitor the flue epidemic, or SDK to fork they softwares. Those are interfaces, ways to deal with the matter, may it be data, line of codes, knowledge, car, ceramic, you name it. Interface shall be seen as ‘tekhnê’, a way to grasp the world, in all its different meanings.

If we acknowledge that technology is our interface to the world, the more reachable and hackable this interface will be, the more of the world we will collectively be able to understand and experience. If we believe in this idea that the more people get their hands on the world around them, the better our collective world may be, then our main focus should be all types of interfaces rather that machines themselves.”


Posted in Open Hardware and Design, P2P Epistemology, P2P Manufacturing, P2P Technology, P2P Theory | 1 Comment »

How does real change occur? P2P Theory vs. socialist theory

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
15th March 2015

P2P Foundation Logo

This article was originally published on this blog in 2009

Marxism, and other forms of socialism based on a ‘a priori’ political struggle to take power and achieve change ‘afterwards’, are in my opinion wrong in their understanding of how fundamental social change can be achieved.

I would summarize my interpretation of their key ideas as follows: capitalism creates a new class, which, due to its structural position as workers, can become aware of its interests, organize themselves politically, and achieve political power in order to take over the means of production. So the image is of one class, eventually with allies, to take over political and economic power, from another class that was previously dominant.

But is there any historical precedent for such a form of change. What I know of history does not square with such an interpretation.

Fundamental change is only achieved by a congruence of change, both from the bottom, and from the top, a double reconfiguration of classes to a new system.

For example, faced with an increasing crisis of extensive globalization, the Roman Empire could not longer afford the same kind of extensive militarization and coercive power which could maintain a slave-based system. Faced with structural crisis, and probably combined with a pressure from below in the form of slave revolts, some slave owners started their slaves into coloni, the earliest form of serfdom (a different process is also mentioned by historians, that of freeholders converting to serfdom). For slaves, this was undoubtedly an advance, as they could now have families, construct local communities, and only had to give part, instead of the totality, of their produce to the new domain lords. This new system, which created enhanced motivation, more autonomy and interest for innovation, was more productive than slavery. Hence a dynamic whereby former slave-holders could see the advantage of moving towards the new system of production. The main idea here is that, faced with a crisis of the old system, populations started experiment with alternative patterns in different fields, that those patterns started integrating with each other to the point of forming a viable alternative, and by the year 975, year of the “First European Revolution’ driven by the Church, coalesced into the new feudal system. The change could only occur because of the congruent interest of both serfs and domain holders, who both had advantage in changing, therefore conferring legitimacy to the birth of the new system.

The change from feudalism to capitalism occurred in a very similar fashion. When feudalism entered in crisis mode beginning in the 16th century, a series of changes had started occurring (some starting at least in the 12th century, such as the invention of modern accounting), creating new patters of social activity. Enlightened self-interest in parts of the ruling class (nobility and royalty), would have led an increasing number of them to invest and engage with the new capitalist practices, and coopt successful merchants as well. Thus, change started occurring because the congruent interest of both the new bourgeoisie, and parts of the nobility, creating ever more integration of new patterns, slowly forming a coherent alternative. Just as with the previous change from slavery to feudalism, it is only after a long period of maturation, that political revolutions such as the French or American Revolutions could occur, and that the previous meta-system could be replaced.

Socialist proposals cannot account for this. The owners of capital have zero interest in such a radical change of ownership, while the workers cannot point to any successful alternative patterns that could form the basis of a new society, instead having to opt for radical but unproven social experiments. In my view, this can account for 200 years of failure of the socialist movements to achieve successful transitions.

The key problem therefore was that it could not point to any other proven alternative that would be more productive, and elicit congruent change both from the top and from below.

However, peer production changes this equation. We now have a hyperproductive alternative based on peer production, peer governance and peer property, that is superior to the traditional practices of industrial, and even informational, capitalism. It is because of the hyperproductivity of open and free input, participatory production processes, and universally available output in the form of the commons, that, just as in the previous two meta transitions, sections of the former ruling class are changing into netarchical capitalists, and investing into new types of open business models, ‘enabling and empowering sharing’, or associating with commons-based peer production. So as the Google’s, eBay’s, YouTube’s and Flickr’s are morphing from the top, so are workers morphing into peer producers. Both are them are congruently engaging in new patterns, that are slowly learning from each other, integrating, and maturing into a wholly new way of conceiving of production and civilization. Political revolutions can only be the result of such maturation, and of the crisis of the previous system.

Peer to peer theory therefore, has a much more realistic chance of being correct, because the changes it is predicting, and the process it is advocating, is consistent with what we know about previous phase transitions.

All of the above of course does not mean that there is no role for the social and political struggles of social movements. What it means is that the peer to peer movement, as expression of the new successful patterns that will form the core of the new post-capitalist civilization, need to work on a policy platform, that can inspire the social movements to a set of demands that no longer signify the status quo, a return to no longer operable models of the welfare state, or destructive despair. It also signifies that while we work on the autonomy and social reproduction of sharing and commons-based communities, we need to critically ally ourselves, based on common interests (while also be aware of differential interests) of the new netarchical forces that are converting, and thereby strengthening the emergence of the P2P alternatives.

The specific historical conjuncture demands a certain acceleration of these efforts.

- The financial crisis is a deep long-cyclical slump, definitely burying the neoliberal model, but not necessarily the class power configuration which created it

- The Obama administration signals the coming to political power of that fraction of capital which is aligned to peer production. The Obama coalition represents the conjunction of Wall Street, hence the doomed-to-fail attempts to restore the old predatory financial system; the high tech sector most conducive to P2P-influenced economic models (hence the ‘open’ nature of theother aspects of the Administration); the social-media induced P2P mobilization of the most dynamic social forces that were instrumental in creating its victory.

- At the same time, the forces of the old order of vectoral capitalism (the forces living from IP monopolies and mass media control), being in the panic that they are, are stepping up aggressive measures against the further emergence of peer to peer practices, as witnessed by the attempts in the EU Parliament, to abandon net neutrality.

- The financial dislocation and breakdown of the previous globalized order of neoliberalism, will lead to increasing expressions of social rage, and waves of mobilization, but that do not have adequate policy proposals.

- Populations living in increasingly bankrupt and hollow states, and desperate public authorities facing infrastructural breakdown, will increasingly look to measures to protect themselves from the global meltdown, to resilient community formation, and distributed infrastructures that can reboot their disintegrating social order.

The P2P movement is therefore at a historical juncture, where it has to start developing the ability for policy formulation and connect with social mobilizations.

Usually a new social movement goes to three broad stages: it starts with transgressive, ‘subcultural’ behaviour that ignores the constraints of the larger society, such as filesharing; it starts to develop social forms to insure its own social reproduction, i.e. creating the new patters within the old, as the free software community has done, now being followed by open hardware and distributed manufacturing communities, and the drive towards open money; but the next step is changing the old institutional order itself, and this crucial step has barely started.

In order to birth the new, an integrated set of alternative patterns and institutions must have been created, so that when the old metasystem breaks down, the new subsystem is sufficiently robust to serve as an alternative template for the phase transition.

All of this is of a tall order, and we are far from ready for this. Nevertheless, it is what we must do.

(I am indebted to Franz Nahrada’s lecture at Oekonux 4, for a clearer understanding of the import of pattern language integration, for successful social change)

Video presentation on the same topic, in Helsinki´s Pixelache festival:

Alternative Economy Cultures PART 2 from pixelACHE festival on Vimeo.


Posted in Original Content, P2P Theory | No Comments »

Assessing the Greece / Eurogroup negotiations (3): the Varoufakis strategy as neither victory nor capitulation ?

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
10th March 2015

The current conjuncture, in Greece and also beyond, is marked by efforts to make sense of what happened at the February negotiations within the Eurogroup. Sources close to the Greek government try to present their outcome as a «victory», while other people, outside but also inside SYRIZA, consider instead that this was a «defeat» or a «capitulation».

Interesting commentary by AKIS GAVRIILIDIS about the negotiating strategy of the Syriza team vis a vis the Eurogroup.


“In the summer of 480 BC, a force that is traditionally classified as «Eastern», the Persians, had invaded a place that is traditionally classified as part of the «West», indeed as its birthplace. Guess which: Greece.This invasion first led to a battle which by now has been elevated to the status of a pop icon in late modernity: the one at Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans faced boldly the Persian army and resisted heroically, but finally died to the last one «like real men». Curiously enough, the event that made king Darius abandon his plans and return to Asia, the naval battle of Salamis, is much less famous than this glorious defeat.

The battle was given at sea after the Athenians followed the risky advice of Themistocles not to defend their brilliant city at all. The oracle of Delphi had predicted that they would be saved by «wooden walls». Some took that to the letter and started cutting timber. But Themistocles was able to give the right interpretation to the signs: the wooden walls were the ships. The strong point of the most vulnerable is not closure, but flight to the open, to the liquid element. So the whole population, including civilians, retreated from Athens, which was occupied and burned to ashes by the Persian army.

Then, the large Persian fleet followed the retreating triremes, but it was obliged to give the battle at the straits between Attica and the island of Salamis, where its numerical advantage was useless and indeed turned into a disadvantage. Which is why it was eventually defeated.

In the Western imaginary, this conflict has been construed as the first, foundational clash between «European civilization» and «Asian barbarism». This dualism is to be found to a certain extent already in ancient Greek historiography, and especially Herodotus. But in Herodotus we find a small detail, a third element, which prevents this dualism from closing and being really universal. This is nomadism, and more precisely the nomadic people of the Scythians.

Herodotus, like some later classical writers, thought of nomadism as a military strategy rather than as a way of life which was the opposite of Greek settledness. His Scythians were inaccessible – in Greek, aporoi. Instead of defending the walls of a city or capital against an invader, the Scythians simply dispersed. They had no city, not even the idea of a «centre», for their only fixed places were on the distant periphery of their realm. Darius I of Persia, later the invader of Greece, entered Europe for the first time in 512 BC on a punitive expedition against the Scythians. He bridged the Bosporus, then the Danube and then marched as far as the river Don in a vain attempt to bring the enemy to battle and conquer them. Frustrated, he was eventually obliged to retreat and leave the Scythians undefeated. So the Scythians, who in so many ways have to be presented as the polar opposite of the Athenians, are suddenly in some ways like them – they too have beaten the Persians. Not only that, but they have done so by behaving as the Athenians would later behave, according to Herodotus’s description of the Persian Wars: the Athenians overcame the invaders not by trying to defend their territory but by taking to the sea in ships and becoming aporoi (Neal Ascherson, Black Sea. The Birthplace of Civilisation and Barbarism (1996), London, Vintage, 2007, p. 54-5).

* Losses and responsibilities

I am certainly not intending, nor able, to assure anybody that a glorious victory such as the one in Salamis is waiting around the corner; even less that it has already taken place. However, I think that the tactics that Varoufakis followed in these negotiations can be seen as a parallel to Scythian nomadism.

Rather than frontally attacking a much superior force and dying heroically, Varoufakis opted for de-territorialisation; moving back and forth, he entered the field and tried to lure Schäuble et co. into coming out to open sea and declaring before everybody that they oppose the resolution of a humanitarian crisis; into showing publicly that they put profits before people, and before democracy, and assuming the political responsibility for that – rather than invoking the «objective forces» of the market. In doing so, the Greek negotiator exposed himself, but this is no news as Greece was already exposed in multiple ways; in exchange, the «creditors» are now exposed as well.

Varoufakis has been accused by some, inside and outside Greece, that he acts in a «narcissistic way», like «a performer». Indeed he did a performance, but this was not a funny little particularism of his character, nor an accidental weakness; it was the very core and the strength of his action. His discourse was performative, as it was not addressed only to his fellow ministers in a dualist way, but it presupposed a third element: a set of listeners/ spectators. Or, better, it tried to introduce, to produce this audience through its very developing and bring it in the game – to make public what was previously secret. This is why the outcome contains a «constructive ambiguity».

For this reason, any judgment about the outcome of this triangularisation will depend on what everybody else will make of this exposure, on the reaction of this audience –which is not yet known. It may be that the other European peoples feel OK with Schäuble’s hierarchisation. In such a case, perhaps different kinds of performances may prove preferable.

So we cannot tell yet if this performance was a «felicitous» one, as they say in linguistics. For the time being, what is certain is that this exposure involves a loss. But sometimes, there are losses that are inevitable, definitive, and then it is not worth devoting forces in order to reverse them –since this is not possible any more. Alles was besteht, ist wert, daß es zugrunde geht (All that exists deserves to perish). In 480 BC, Athens was burnt, but a new polis was built in its place later.

* Aporias

The reasons why it is difficult to judge where the performance was successful, can also be expressed in another way. The Greek negotiators had to move in the extremely limited space left to them between two seemingly contradictory demands: the one was not to cede to the blackmail of the austerity fundamentalists, and the other to keep Greece in the Eurozone – both of which were part of the mandate of the last elections. This was a situation that could be aptly described by a term much appreciated by Derrida, and which coincides with the one used by Herodotus in relation to the nomads: it is an aporia – a situation where there is no passage, no way forward.

This is, of course, an aporia, and we must not hide it from ourselves. I will even venture to say that ethics, politics, and responsibility, if there are any, will only ever have begun with the experience and the experiment of the aporia. When the path is clear and given, when a certain knowledge opens up the way in advance, the decision is already made, it might as well be said that there is none to make: irresponsibly and in good conscience, one simply applies or implements a program (Jacques Derrida, L’autre cap, Paris, Ed. de Minuit, 1991, p. 41; translated in English as The other heading).

The decision made by the Greek negotiating team, who were in this aporia, arguably was to become themselves this aporia (for the others), to make it public and contagious. To call this becoming-inaccessible «a retreat», presupposes the underlying notion of a front (according to which the “back”, and generally the sense of direction, is defined). This move was certainly a flight. I cannot be positive that with this flight «SYRIZA won time and space», as my friend Sandro Mezzadra claimed in a recent common article he wrote along with Étienne Balibar; but, in any case, I can recall that the tradition of Italian post-operaism, including Sandro himself, and also Paolo Virno, has taught us that there are at least some flights that are not cowardice or passivity, but autonomy and agency.

From this point of view, the success of the fight against austerity and neoliberalism will depend on our ability to combine traditional militant and/ or institutional struggles with a becoming-inaccessible, like the Scythians who «simply dispersed instead of defending the walls of a city or capital against an invader». Perhaps the terrain for this struggle «is – can only be – Europe itself», as Balibar and Mezzadra affirm; but equally important for me is the question how does one move on this terrain. In this respect, I think it would be useful to build on some sources of inspiration from other continents as well.”


Posted in Politics | No Comments »

Me Through We: Cooperation, Indra’s InterNet and Africa’s Ubuntu

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
7th March 2015

Excerpted from Nick Jankel:

“There is a beautiful Buddhist scripture, the ‘Flower Garland Sutra’, that contains an empowering metaphor that can help us navigate the waters of authentic collaboration. In the sutra is description of a net used by the King of the Hindu Gods, Indra. The net, draped over his palace on Mount Meru, goes on infinitely (he is the king of the Gods after all); and, hanging at each cross-point, is a jewel. If you look closely at one of the jewels, in its polished surface you can see all the other jewels reflected right up to infinity. Each jewel relies on the brightness and integrity of the others for its own luminosity. Each jewel contains an image every other jewel, just as any part of a hologram contains all the information of the entire image. In other words, in every mote of dust, the entirety of the universe resides.

Quantum physics also suggests that we live in such a participatory universe, where everything is co-created with, and interpenetrated by, everything else. Quarks, atoms, molecules are not discrete entities, islands unto themselves, but part of a ‘field’ of reality where everything is intertwined. Elementary particles burst in and out of existence, the quantum void. This has an analogue in the Buddhist concept of pratityasamutpada, or ‘dependent origination’. This is not something we should imagine happens in some far away cosmic landscape. Non-linear, quantum, interdependent causality is now almost certain to be occurring in the hot, wet reality of our neurones, something most scientists thought was impossible even 5 years ago!

There appears to be a fundamental inter-penetrability and interdependence of all things, both unfolded and enfolded; explicate and implicate; form and emptiness. Perhaps we are all part of a grand symphony, that is in a constantly dynamic point and counter point with itself. We are all manifestations of the same life force. Carl Sagan, a celebrated scientist and agnostic came to realise that this unity does not require us to believe in religious mumbo jumbo or an “outsized, light-skinned male with a long white beard”. Instead he considered the interdependent state of all things to be a “final expression of the material universe.” This network of things seems similar to the French philosopher, and enfant terrible of post-modern theory, Jacques Derrida’s ideas that books, films, political beliefs, policies and humble words are never fully ‘present’ in themselves?—?they always refer, infinitely, to other ‘texts’. Meaning emerges from this network when we as humans engaged in it.

So we might imagine Indra now has an InterNet, through which he reaches out to the other gods, to see if they want to co-create a social enterprise together, whilst he straddles Mount Meru. Technology is finally supporting us to thrive. As our post-industrial ills have proliferated, so too have the number and variety of electrifying and electrical opportunities for us to work together to heal them. In fact, the evolution of wikis and social media technology might well be nature’s way of healing the alienation that technology itself created. Like the dock leaf that grows near the nettle, ready with an antidote to the pain when we need it, digital technology is helping us heal the social and ecological wounds inflicted by the cotton gins and workhouses of the Industrial Age.

It is clear that neither the Capitalist nor Communist ideas of ‘Me-for-Me’ vs. ‘Me-for-We’ have created a world of harmony and prosperity for the majority of people. Binary oppositions rarely can. I believe it is the wisdom teachers job to expand their consciousness until the oppositions have been resolved in creative tension. The African philosophy of Ubuntu, which transformed my life during a year teaching science in rural Zimbabwe as a late teenager, offers up as solution to the Me / We conundrum.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains:

Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality?—?Ubuntu?—?you are known for your generosity. A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed. So inspired and enabled by Indra’s InterNet and African Ubuntu, we can transform our family, business and social lives through an idea of ‘Me-through-We’?—?my sense of being and strength comes through and from my voluntary and confident interplay with others. A simple metaphor for this is the jazz band?—?its performance depends on each individual being brilliant in themselves, for themselves; yet at-one-and-the-same-time, transcending their own egos and desires to make something magical happen as a group. This, I call interplay.

Interplay, enabled and encouraged by the rise of the ‘twitterverse’, is I believe the most rapid, secular and contemporary way to salve all our existential suffering with the balm of interdependent being, no matter whether we are ‘spiritual’ or not. If our emotional issues were born in collaboration with others when we were infants and children then it is logical to think that they will therefore be resolved?—?and our full fearless potential realised?—?in collaboration with others. Interplay can only grow from the soil of personal liberation of heart and mind. Then it comes down to the choices we make, day in, day out, about what kind of business, career, projects, families and communities we want to build.

Interplay is a life philosophy that the businessman and politician alike can harness to achieve a sense of inter-subjective peace.

As we purposefully hone our Collaboration IQ by risking real-world collaboration?—?closer and closer to our livelihoods?—?we can all harness our unique intersubjective biology to play our full part in manifesting the potential power of the digital revolution; not just disruptive innovations and but the transformation of society towards inclusive economic and political systems.

Interplay?—?as a free choice, a personal priority, a new life philosophy?—?affords the human race the greatest chance of solving the complex issues standing in its path of survival whilst simultaneously offering the individual the most contemporary, rapid and non-esoteric path to full psychological and spiritual happiness through a complete transcendence of the ego (and all its fears, needs and pains).

Our future?—?as enlightened individuals and as a collaborative species?—?belongs to those of us who attempt the terrifying but enlivening experience of authentic collaboration: Seeking love, truth and creativity in interplay with others.”


Posted in P2P Collaboration, P2P Spirituality, P2P Subjectivity | No Comments »