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Archive for 'Culture & Ideas'

A Neat Inversion

photo of Charles Eisenstein

Charles Eisenstein
21st December 2014


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The two positions I’ve described each harbor hidden assumptions about the nature of change that set them into irreconcilable opposition. The radical critique gives the system primacy over the individuals that make it up, and concludes that change must originate on the system level. The opposing position gives primacy to the base level and doesn’t recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In truth, the system arises from the totality of its constituents, and then conditions its constituents to perpetuate the system. System and constituents form a unified whole. That means that disruption at any level is equally revolutionary.

As an American visiting South Africa I was struck by the near ubiquity of domestic servants among white South Africans. Households that are in all other ways decidedly middle class have at least one and often two or three domestic servants. This bespeaks the enormous inequality of wealth that prevails in that country, one of the most unequal in the world. It is, of course, incompatible with a healthy, just society, and it goes hand in hand with another striking phenomenon there: the prevalence of security systems, razor wire, electric fences, etc. protecting nearly every white home (and those of wealthy blacks, Indians, and coloreds too).

System-wide, it is not a pretty scenario: extreme poverty creating a huge pool of people desperate to be nannies and gardeners. On the level of the individual household, though, the matter is more complicated. Sometimes these workers practically become part of the family. Is it wrong to hire them and thereby participate in the capitalist system of privilege and exploitation? Or is it one’s duty as a privileged person to offer employment to impoverished people who are desperate for it? In South Africa, as in many countries with a high degree of wealth inequality, many people consider it a social obligation to hire servants if you can afford them – even if you don’t really need to. It is incumbent upon a person of means to take care of the less fortunate.

The same debate applies more generally, to the realm of philanthropy, charity, and any work that directly benefits the less fortunate without changing the system. A leftist critique of these goes something like this: “Sure, treating the domestic help well, giving to charity, housing the homeless, even walking an old lady across the street… these are all nice, but they do nothing to change the exploitative, ecocidal system of global capitalism. On the contrary, charity, philanthropy, and individual acts of kindness only perpetuate that system. Here’s how:

(1) By ameliorating some of its worst consequences, they make capitalism all the more palatable.

(2) They divert altruistic energy toward relatively innocuous goals instead of toward addressing the systemic foundations of injustice.

(3) They appease the conscience and make one’s own complicity more acceptable.

(4) They generate a codependent relationship with the needy, in which the charitable enterprise depends for its survival on the very conditions it ostensibly seeks to address.

It occurs to me that the above critique invites a precise inversion, which might go like this: “All of your social and political activism, your focus on the big picture, the system, etc. is an escape from dealing with the immediate needs of the people right in front of your face. It diverts energy away from your human responsibilities, enabling you to be an unforgiving, callous person, an inattentive parent, a bad neighbor, absolving yourself of responsibility in those realms because, after all, you are busy doing the Big Important Things. It is just an ideological cover for your failure to look after your brother.” Here is the inversion of the radical’s critique, point by point:

(1) By heartlessly failing to respond to the worst effects of capitalism, it makes capitalism intolerable, thereby justifying radicalism’s own premises.

(2) Political radicalism diverts altruistic energy toward idealistic, unattainable goals, instead of toward meeting real and present human needs.

(3) It allows the radical to absolve himself of guilt over failing to take care of his fellows, with the excuse that, after all, I’m working on changing the system.

(4) It generates a codependent relationship with the oppressors: their persecution validates the worldview of the radical, whose identity depends on the very institutions he seeks to overthrow.

To these four I would like to add a fifth critique (and its inversion) that applies more to the level of NGOs and development aid, but also indirectly to the mentality of the rescuer in general.

(5) Charity subsumes local self-sufficiency, local cultures of reciprocity and mutual aid, cultural traditions and identity, and so on under the “helper’s” worldview that says in effect, “I know what you need better than you do, and can provide it better than you can.” It is an instrument of colonization and hegemony that disrespects and disempowers the very people it purports to help.

(5) Radical political ideologies are themselves born in the context of, and in reaction to, the dominant culture, and are still the creatures of that culture. They take the aspirations and desires of the oppressed and feed them through an ideological filter devised by an intellectual elite. Operating by them, one risks imposing a subtle form of colonization and hegemony over the very people one purports to liberate.

Reading the radical critique and its inversion, I agree with both sides! What might be a synthesis of these poles?

First, much of the difference between these two positions stems from one’s assumptions about whether deep systemic change is even possible. When I think of the person paying his servants well, giving to charity, and fulfilling the obligations of wealth as prescribed by bourgeois morality, I am reminded of the ancient Chinese ideal of the Confucian gentleman, discharging the duties of his station with humanity and integrity. Confucian thought, as I understand it, does not question the earthly order in which there will always be the emperor, the nobles, the officials, the gentlefolk, and so on down the line to the beggars; therefore, it is for each person to seek the most enlightened enactment of his or her role. As such, Confucianism, like similar medieval philosophies, could be said to be an enabling ideology of feudalism: the social order is ordained by heaven.

What if, more than an enabling philosophy, it is also a description of reality? What if there is some kind of karmic necessity for every possible life situation to coexist on earth, so that the karmic path of each person, and the human drama generally, might unfold toward its completion? I hesitate to consign a tradition as rich and nuanced as Confucianism to a ready category (an enabler of feudalism) defined within Western political thought. I think there is more to the Confucian view – and by extension, the inversion of the radical critique outlined above – than meets the eye.

The Confucian view I have described would seem profoundly conservative in its political implications: the worldly order enjoys a divine mandate: God has made some into blue-bloods and others into beggars. Who are we to interfere in the divine order of things? However, inherent in the idea that the present order has been necessary for the human drama to play out is an evolutive implication: that once it has played out, the present order becomes no longer necessary. It holds the potential for a turning of the age, and indeed that concept lurks within traditional Chinese thought as the millenarian ideal of the Tai Ping, or great peace. Radical social change was inescapably part of such ideals: witness for example the call for egalitarian land reform in the Zhouli (a Confucian classic) and in the writings of the Confucian/Taoist sage Mencius.

What these classics say to me is that humanity and compassion on the level of personal interactions between the privileged and the oppressed, between the fortunate and the unfortunate, need not be separate from, nor opposed to, actions to change the system of oppression.

The two positions I’ve described each harbor hidden assumptions about the nature of change that set them into irreconcilable opposition. The radical critique gives the system primacy over the individuals that make it up, and concludes that change must originate on the system level. The opposing position gives primacy to the base level and doesn’t recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In truth, the system arises from the totality of its constituents, and then conditions its constituents to perpetuate the system. System and constituents form a unified whole. That means that disruption at any level is equally revolutionary.

Perhaps we could look at acts of direct human-level compassion as complements to, not substitutes for, action on a social or political level. I can offer two reasons why. For one thing, they come from the same place: a desire to serve the well-being of something beyond the separate self. What we practice on a personal level conditions us to act from the same place generally. To choose care for another over self-interest, for example to sacrifice comfort and security to serve an aging parent or disabled child for years and years, takes a kind of courage, trust, and fortitude – no different than the courage required to confront injustice, the trust required to make peace, or the fortitude required to persevere in the face of political setbacks.

Secondly, consider what lies at the foundation of the system of oppression. In South Africa, a man from the townships told me that the reason his people acquiesce so readily to the economic status quo is that, after five hundred years of colonialism, they have almost no self-esteem or independent identity left. They hardly dare believe they deserve better. No longer embracing ubuntu, the young generation in particular fills the void left by the destruction of their traditional story of the people (my words not his) with consumerism, individualism, and all the rest. They, like most people living in civilization, have been infected by the Story of Separation, within which our economic system, our exploitative relationship to nature, our deterrence-based criminal justice system, agricultural system, medical practices, and so forth make sense.

One of the main themes I’ve explored in my recent work is that any act that disrupts or contravenes the Story of Separation is also a political act. Any act of forgiveness, generosity, courageous service, or unconditional love violates the basic assumptions of the world-view that underpins our civilization. After all, what kind of life experience generates the fear, the insecurity, the desire to dominate and control that motivate our politics, economy, criminal punishment system, and so on? By offering people exceptions to this kind of life experience, we erode the foundation of our system.

This includes interactions with people on lower (or higher) socioeconomic positions. If the relationship is one of genuine dignity and respect (as opposed to patronizing “help”), it weakens the psychological and narrative foundations of the system, contrary to the radical’s critique. Imagine yourself as a desperately poor slum-dweller. What will be your experience of the world, your view of yourself and human nature, if you are consistently treated with coldness, dehumanization, and contempt (whether patronizing or cruel)? You will probably internalize this treatment, becoming resentfully docile, or exploding out in violent reaction to it. If we want a different result, we must create different conditions.

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Posted in Collective Intelligence, Culture & Ideas, Original Content, P2P Subjectivity, Politics, Sharing | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Anti-Leaders in Social Movements

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
21st December 2014


* Article: Anti-leaders(hip) in Social Movement Organizations: The case of autonomous grassroots groups. By Neil Sutherland, Christopher Land et al. Organization June 5, 2013

(please note embedded link above may only work after ‘searching’)

From the Abstract:

“Through the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement, the idea of horizontal, leaderless organization has come to the attention of the mass media. In this article we explore radical, participative-democratic alternatives to leadership through an empirical study of four Social Movement Organizations (SMOs). Whilst there has been some writing on leadership within SMOs, it has mirrored the ‘mainstream’ assumption that leadership is the product of individual leaders possessing certain traits, styles and/or behaviours. In contrast, critical leadership studies (CLS) recognize that leadership is a relational, socially constructed phenomenon rather than the result of a stable set of leadership attributes that inhere in ‘the leaders’. We utilize this framing to analyse how leadership is understood and performed in anarchist SMOs by examining how actors manage meaning and define reality without compromising the ideological commitments of their organizations. Furthermore, we also pay attention to the organizational practices and processes developed to: (a) prohibit individuals from permanently assuming a leadership role; (b) distribute leadership skills and roles; and (c) encourage other actors to participate and take-up these roles in the future. We conclude by suggesting that just because an organization is leaderless, it does not necessarily mean that it is also leadershipless.”

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Posted in Featured Essay, P2P Governance, P2P Hierarchy Theory, P2P Movements, P2P Subjectivity | No Comments »

The Prototype: more than many and less than one

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
21st December 2014


The prototype: more than many and less than one by Alberto Corsín Jiménez is  part of a series of research papers presented at the Prototyping Conference and published in the Journal of Cultural Economy. Special Issue, Prototyping cultures: art, science and politics in beta, ed.

Reprap DarwinPrototypes have acquired much prominence and visibility in recent times. Software development is perhaps the case par excellence, where the release of non-stable versions of programmes has become commonplace, as is famously in free and open source software (Kelty 2008). Developers are here known for releasing beta or work in progress versions of their programmes, as an invitation or call for others to contribute their own developments and closures. An important feature of prototyping in this case is the incorporation of failure as a legitimate and very often empirical realisation.
Prototyping has also become an important currency of explanation and description in art-technology contexts, where the emphasis is on the productive and processual aspects of experimentation. Medialabs, hacklabs, community and social art collectives, dorkbots, open collaborative websites or design thinking workshops are spaces and sites where prototyping and experimentation have taken hold as both modes of knowledge production and cultural and sociological styles of exchange and interaction. Common to many such endeavours are:user-centred innovation, where users are incorporated into artefacts’ design processes; ICT-mediated forms of collaboration (email distribution lists, wiki spaces, peer-to-peer digital channels), or; decentralised and so-called ‘horizontal’ organisational structures. Some economists favour the term ‘open innovation’ to describe an emerging production paradigm, where the boundaries between production, distribution and consumption (inside and outside an organisation) are increasingly blurred and interpenetrated (Chesbrough 2005). Computer-aided rapid manufacturing or 3-D printing are for example contributing to the collapse of some such categories, say, when a person can customise an artefact’s design from her home computer and have it immediately printed out in 3-D. The object’s materiality is then rendered ‘propinquitous’ (Buchli 2010),‘an intangible everyware(Greenfield 2006), less of a thing than an event. From a historical and sociological angle, the backdrop of such cultures of prototyping is not infrequently connected, if in complex and not always obvious ways, with a variety of artistic vanguards, the do-it-yourself, environmental and recycling movements, even the development of cybernetic philosophy (Turner 2006)…..
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Prototyping Culture

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Posted in Conferences, Culture & Ideas, P2P Research | No Comments »

Video: Neal Gorenflo on Why No One Will Buy Tourism in the Future

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
20th December 2014


From a keynote by Neal Gorenflo at the Buy Tourism Online conference in Florence, Italy about the sharing economy and travel:

““The gist of the talk is that the rise of net culture, with it’s emphasis on collaboration, peer relationships, and social good, is changing the habits of the next generation of travellers. A large and growing cohort, mostly from developed countries, don’t want pre-packaged, mass-produced travel experiences. In fact, that’s the opposite of what they want. It’s counter to their value system. They want to hack travel, i.e. make their own travel experiences. Better yet if the hacking is done with locals and creates lasting benefits for travelers (like new skills) and their destination communities.

Aside from the digital professionals present, the audience was mainly Italian and European boutique hoteliers. I think they have a much better chance of adapting to this new reality than chain hotels. I shared a few ideas with them like turning their hotel’s business centers into coworking spaces, teaching skills that are regional specialties (beer making, glass blowing, fashion design), and connecting travelers to the local community through local causes. In general, the idea is to view a hotel as a community center that links travelers directly with locals for learning, community contribution, and cultural exchange.

I gave a bunch of examples where aspects of this new travel paradigm are unfolding like Destination Coworking, The Digital Detox, Seats2Meet, and The Embassy Network. On the latter, I explained how The Embassy Network, as a collection of social innovation communes (i.e. coliving spaces), blurs the lines between travel and everyday life by making a network of houses available to residents allowing them to live like a local in a variety of destinations. In other words, networks collapse the difference between home and destination, everyday life and holiday. Admittedly, The Embassy Network is similar to time-share condominimums, but with one big difference — you get access not only to many places, but many communities where learning, social innovation, and self-development are priorities. This is particularly appealing to young adults who want this lifestyle, but often can’t afford housing, travel, and learning as separate offerings.

I closed with the idea that travel may be returning to its historical roots in The Grand Tour and pilgrimages, where learning and spiritual renewal are the focus, and that this offers the travel entrepreneurs a chance to do well by doing good.”

Watch the video here:

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Posted in Economy and Business, Featured Video, P2P Lifestyles, Sharing, Videos | No Comments »

Establishing the Main Center of the Neighborhood

photo of Øyvind Holmstad

Øyvind Holmstad
19th December 2014


By Christopher Alexander. Original text here.

Assume now that a rough area for your neighborhood has been established, and its boundary is clear. The area may be part of an existing city, in need of new life or refurbishing. It might equally well be a green field site near a town, or on the edge of an existing town or village.

RULE 1.
Let us ask ourselves which particular place in the area dedicated to the neighborhood most inspires us by its life or potential for life, and also has the greatest capacity for becoming the spiritual and emotional heart of the new neighborhood?

In order to do this, we need to walk around many times, with others and alone, asking ourselves which place has the natural magnetism to pull us to go there, which makes us want to stay there, which has the power (potentially) to give us life merely from being there.

On a green field site, where a neighborhood does not yet exist, this feeling will most likely be generated by a view, by the form of the land which has a natural protected area, a declivity, or by a high spot which looks out. Great trees, are also capable of giving us such a place, naturally occurring water, the edge of a forest, the bottom of a cliff. It is impossible to predict with any general principles, what feature of a particular piece of land will have this character. Each piece of land is different, and will tell you, in its own way, what unique feature, on that land, is best suited to become the spiritual center of a future neighborhood built there.

On a site that is part of an existing neighborhood, or part of an existing town, the procedure is not very different, though it may turn out to be more complicated. ….

RULE 2.
Let us now ask ourselves how the place we have chosen as the most natural center, may be enhanced and made profound.

What we are asking here, is what kind of actions will support the essence of the place, make it convenient and natural for people to come to it, protect it from surrounding influences, so that it can have its own peacefulness and life.

RULE 3.
Let us now ask ourselves how this place, which has been activated (in principle) by our response to Rule 2, may also be made beautiful and tranquil, as a work of architecture.

The way to achieve this is to spend time, gazing on the land, at the place where the building is to be, or at the space itself, as a place and as a beautiful entity in itself. Ask yourself — standing there, and closing your eyes — how high it is, what line will enhance the place, where you would most expect to find the front edge of the building, if it is a peaceful and gentle place.

It will not be out of place, either, to ask childish things, of your inner eye. What color is it? When you close your eyes, what color do you see? What kind of windows does it have? When you close your eyes, what shape are the windows, what figure gives them inspiration, and makes the place worth being in?

CONCLUSION
As you see, these three rules are not rules in quite the usual sense. The rule does not tell us, magisterially, Do this! Do that!

Instead it is a rule, but the rule says to you, Ask yourself this, and this and this — and it works this way, because the rule knows that if you follow it, the vision of your own heart will answer the question correctly, and know what to do. And it knows, too, that when several of you do the same, together — that is, do what this rule tells you, in the way of asking yourselves these questions — then, for the most part, you will find yourselves in agreement with your fellows.

And that is where a lasting sense of unity and harmony within the neighborhood can come from: the results are not arbitrary, but found in the deepest place in your heart. It will last.

SUMMARY OF TASKS FOR THIS UNFOLDING:

  • Define the area of this main neighborhood center on the ground and mark its corners with stakes.
  • Transfer the positions of these corner stakes by direct GPS survey, via computer, to the topographic map you have.
  • Try to decide what shaped space, how enclosed and how open, and what buildings around the space, will make it a beautiful spot.
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Posted in P2P Architecture and Urbanism | No Comments »

Video Explains the Importance of Subsistence Land Commons

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
18th December 2014


Commons conversation

Participants in a workshop hosted by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) and the German Institute for Human Rights are featured in a nicely done five-minute video, “A Commons Conversation.” (Tip of the hat to Silke Helfrich.)  It’s a thoughtful introduction to subsistence and traditional commons, especially in Africa. The focus is on secure land tenure and food security.King-David Amoah, Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development

The July 2014 workshop is in the midst of producing a “Technical Guide on Tenure Rights to Commons” (or “TG Commons,” for short) at the request of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).  The guide seeks to support the adoption of “Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT).”

According to the workshop, the TG Commons will:

provide strategies to overcome the challenges inherent in the recognition and protection of tenure rights to commons. The overall objective of the guide is to contribute to national food security, to secure access to natural resources (especially for marginalized and vulnerable groups), to support human well-being and livelihood, sustainable resource use, and ecosystem functioning. This is particularly timely, since today about three billion rural families’ livelihoods depend on common lands, forests and fisheries.

The TG commons guidebook is focused on “providing concrete strategies to achieve the recognition and protection of tenure rights to commons.”

The video is refreshing in addressing, in direct, personal terms, why the commons matters for traditional communities and subsistence commoners. It asks people questions such as, “What are important keywords for you personally relating to the commons?” and “Why is the question of the commons relevant to you?”

The answers came from people like Alphajoh Cham of the Ministry of Lands, Country Planning and the Environment, Sierra Leone; Theo Rauch of the Centre for Development Studies in Berlin; Carolin Callenius of Bread for the World; and Million Belay of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa; and Myrna K. C. Kain, the former Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous People. An informative short video well-worth watching

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Posted in Collective Intelligence, Commons, Culture & Ideas, Ethical Economy, Featured Video, Food and Agriculture, Open Models, Original Content, P2P Lifestyles, Sharing, Videos | No Comments »

Why sharing is a common cause that unites us all

photo of Rajesh Makwana

Rajesh Makwana
18th December 2014


People before profit sign in front of bank of america

Given that a call for sharing is already a fundamental (if often unacknowledged) demand of engaged citizens and progressive organisations, there is every reason why we should embrace this common cause that unites us all.


Across the world, millions of campaigners and activists refuse to sit idly by and watch the world’s crises escalate, while our governments fail to provide hope for a more just and sustainable future. The writing is on the wall: climate chaos, escalating conflict over scarce resources, growing impoverishment and marginalisation in the rich world as well as the poor, the looming prospect of another global financial collapse. In the face of what many describe as a planetary emergency, there has never been such a widespread and sustained mobilisation of citizens around efforts to challenge global leaders and address critical social and environmental issues. A worldwide ‘movement of movements’ is on the rise, driven by an awareness that the multiple crises we face are fundamentally caused by an outmoded economic system in need of wholesale reform.

But despite this growing awareness of the need for massive combined action to reverse ongoing historical trends, clearly not enough is being done to tackle the systemic causes of the world’s interrelated problems. What we still lack is a truly unified progressive movement that comprises the collective actions of civil society organisations, grassroots activists and an engaged citizenry. A fusion of progressive causes is urgently needed under a common banner, one that can create a consensus among a critical mass of the world population about the necessary direction for transformational change. As many individuals and groups within the progressive community both recognise and proclaim, this is our greatest hope for bringing about world renewal and rehabilitation.

A new report by Share The World’s Resources (STWR) demonstrates how a call for sharing wealth, power and resources is central to the formation of this growing worldwide movement of global citizens. As more and more people raise their voices for governments to put human needs and ecological preservation before corporate greed and profit, this demand for sharing is consistently at the heart of civil society demands for a better world. In fact, the principle of sharing is often central to efforts for progressive change in almost every field of endeavour. But this basic concern is generally understood and couched in tacit terms, without acknowledging the versatility and wide applicability of sharing as a solution to the world’s problems. For this reason, STWR argues that the call for sharing should be more widely perceived and promoted as a common cause that can help connect the world’s peace, justice, pro-democracy and environmental movements under a united call for change.

How is the call for sharing expressed?

In many ways the need for greater sharing in society is longstanding and self-evident, as there can be no social or economic justice when wealth and income inequalities continue to spiral out of control, increasingly to the benefit of the 1% (or indeed the0.001%). There is now an almost continuous and high-profile discussion on the need to tackle growing extremes of inequality, which is a debate that is often framed entirely – if not always explicitly – around the need for a just sharing of wealth and power across society as a whole.

At the same time, advocacy for new development paradigms or economic alternatives is increasingly being framed and discussed in terms of sharing. This is most apparent in the international debate on climate change and sustainable development, in which many policy analysts and civil society organisations (CSOs) are calling for ‘fair shares’ in a constrained world – in other words, for all people to have an equal right to share the Earth’s resources without transgressing the planet’s environmental limits. Furthermore, some prominent CSOs – including Christian Aid, Oxfam International and Friends of the Earth – clearly espouse the principle of sharing as part of their organisational strategies and objectives, and call for dramatic changes in how power and resources are shared in order to transform our unjust world.

The renewed concept of the commons has also fast become a well-recognised global movement of scholars and activists who frame all the most pressing issues of our time – from unsustainable growth to rising inequality – in terms of our need to cooperatively protect the shared resources of Earth. On a more local and practical level, there is also a flourishing sharing economy movement that is empowering people to share more in their everyday lives through the use of online platforms and sharing-oriented business models, as well as through gift economies and shared community projects.

In most other instances, however, the basic demand for sharing is implicitly discussed or inadvertently promoted in popular calls for change. For example, millions of people across the world are struggling for democracy and freedom in manifold ways, from people-led uprisings against corrupt governments to those who are actively participating in new democracy movements within communities and workplaces. But there can be no true form of democracy – and no securing of basic human rights for all – without a just sharing of political power and economic resources, as outlined in a section of STWR’s report on participative democracy.

Similarly, the principle of sharing underlies many of the campaigns and initiatives for peaceful co-existence, whether it’s in terms of redirecting military spending towards essential public goods, or ending the scramble for scarce resources through cooperative international agreements. From both a historical and common sense perspective, it is clear that competition over resources causes conflict – and there is no sense in perpetuating an economic paradigm where all nations are pitted against each other to try and own what could easily be shared.

Yet the basic necessity of sharing is often not recognised as an underlying cause for all those who envision a more equitable and peaceful world without insecurity or deprivation. This is despite the fact that the mass protest movements that have swiftly emerged in recent years, including the Arab Spring demonstrations and Occupy movements, are also invariably connected by their implicit call for greater economic sharing across society, not least in their reaction to enormous and growing socio-economic divisions.

Why advocate for sharing?

Given that a call for sharing is already a fundamental (if often unacknowledged) demand of a diverse group of progressive individuals and organisations, there are a number of reasons why we should embrace this common cause and advocate more explicitly for sharing in our work and activities. In particular, a call for sharing holds the potential to connect disparate campaign groups, activists and social movements under a common theme and vision. Such a call represents the unity in diversity of global civil society and can provide an inclusive rallying platform, which may help us to recognise that we are all ultimately fighting the same cause. It also offers a way of moving beyond separate silos and single-issue platforms, but without needing to abandon any existing focuses or campaign priorities.

A call for sharing can also engage a much broader swathe of the public in campaign initiatives and movements for transformative change. Many people feel disconnected from political issues owing to their technical complexity, or else they feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenges that face us and ill equipped to take action. But everyone understands the human value of sharing, and by upholding this universal principle in a political context we can point the way towards an entirely new approach to economics – one that is inherently based on a fair and sustainable distribution of resources. In this way, the principle of sharing represents a valuable advocacy and educational tool that can help to generate widespread public engagement with critical global issues.

In addition, a popular demand for governments to adopt the principle of sharing has radical implications for current economic and political arrangements, both within countries and internationally. This is clear when we examine the influence of the neoliberal approach to economics that continues to dominate policymaking in both the Global North and South, and which is in many ways the antithesis of an economic approach based on egalitarian values and the fulfilment of long-established human rights. In an increasingly unequal and unsustainable world in which all governments need to drastically re-order their priorities, a call for sharing embodies the need for justice, democracy and sound environmental stewardship to guide policymaking at every level of society.

A global movement for sharing

Ultimately, only a collective demand for a fairer sharing of wealth, power and resources is likely to unify citizens across the world in a common cause. Unless individuals and organisations in different countries align their efforts in more concrete ways (a process that is already underway), it may remain impossible to overcome the vested interests and entrenched structures that maintain business-as-usual. While we face the increasing prospect of social, economic and ecological collapse, there is no greater urgency for establishing a broad-based global movement that upholds the principle of sharing as a basic guide for restructuring our societies and tackling the multiple crises of the 21st century. In the end, this may represent our greatest hope for influencing economic reforms that are based on the needs of the world as a whole, and guided by basic human and ecological values.

If the case for promoting sharing as our common cause seems convincing, then it compels us to acknowledge that we are all part of this emerging movement that holds the same values and broad concerns. Without doubt, a dramatic shift in public debate is needed if the principle of sharing is to be understood as integral to any agenda for a more just and sustainable world. If you agree with the need to catalyse a global movement of citizens that embrace sharing as a common cause, please sign and promote STWR’s campaign statement. By joining this ‘global call’, any individual or organisation can influence the development of this emerging theme and vision, and help spark public awareness and a wider debate on the importance of sharing in economic and political terms.

Image credit: Studio Blackburn

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Posted in Campaigns, Collective Intelligence, Commons, Culture & Ideas, Ethical Economy, Open Models, P2P Collaboration, P2P Lifestyles, Sharing | No Comments »

The Nature of Order: Unfolding a Sustainable World

photo of Øyvind Holmstad

Øyvind Holmstad
17th December 2014


Stuart Cowan is the co-author of Ecological Design and participates in the rich culture of sustainability emerging in Portland, Oregon.

His review of The Nature of Order, was first published in Resurgence, 2004.

THE UNIVERSE IS abundantly filled with living structure at every level of scale. Energy, matter, and information cascade from vast sheets of galaxies through to our own solar system, to the earth, to the oak glistening in the glade, to its microbial symbionts, on to their proteins, and ultimately to the Planck scale at which spacetime becomes discrete.

When we are most alive, we experience the universe in its wholeness. We experience our connection to a thirteen-billion year old unfolding story that links every living cell, every particle, every star. Why then are we surrounded with buildings, landscapes, and artefacts that engender fragmentation?

Christopher Alexander, an architect, builder and mathematician, has spent forty years attempting to discern the living structure inherent in the universe and harvest this structure for use in practical processes that repair damaged places and create harmonious new ones. In his extraordinary four-volume summation of a fruitful life’s work, The Nature of Order, Alexander proposes both a new science and a new approach to buildings and places unified by a profound notion of wholeness as the governing field.

Wholeness is understood as a richly nonlinear field of interactions among salient entities – or centres – with surprising, yet empirically verifiable properties. Centres support larger centres, and in turn are recursively formed from smaller centres. As we know from experience, subtle changes may greatly affect the field of wholeness. The field has a number of postulated mathematical properties, but currently resists even approximate calculation.

Fortunately, we can access the field of wholeness through personal observation. We need merely ask, “To what degree each of two things we are trying to judge is, or is not, a picture of the self – and by this I mean your and my wholesome self, perhaps even our eternal self”. This mirror of the self test asks us to awaken to our deepest feelings in the presence of a farmhouse, a chair, a painting, and to see whether we are made more or less alive. Remarkably, extensive experiments have demonstrated that subjects cross-culturally will reach extremely high levels of agreement after honest engagement with the task of evaluating wholeness.

Based on intensive examination of thousand of examples, Alexander posits fifteen fundamental properties that generate life and wholeness from a system of centres. These properties include levels of scale, strong centres, boundaries, alternating repetition, positive space, good shape, local symmetries, deep interlock and ambiguity, contrast, gradients, roughness, echoes, the void, simplicity, inner calm and not-separateness. This list, while provisional, hints at something of profound importance; a comprehensive taxonomy of transformations that generate orderly, larger and larger wholes with living structure.

These fifteen properties are so powerful precisely because they generate structure-preserving transformations (1). They extend the existing structure of wholeness, enhancing existing centres through well-defined processes. Alexander proposes that this set of structure-preserving transformations, together with an understanding of the overall field of wholeness, provides the foundation for a new kind of science based on wholeness rather than fragmentation.

This science would of course be consistent with existing physics, chemistry and biology, yet proceed from a completely different epistemological base. It would be able to treat complex, self-organising processes as core rather than peripheral phenomena. Such a science would restore meaning, context and story both to the human and the more-than-human realms. Most significantly, “We shall have a vision of the world in which the world itself – all of it – animals, plants, mountains, rivers, buildings, roads, terraces, rooms and windows – is a part of a single system and a single way of understanding”.

The Nature of Order holds out the magnificent prospect that there are processes that ordinary people can use, in small groups or vast collaborations, to create living structure, whether at the scale of a single hand-painted tile, a city or a continent. These processes use precisely the same kinds of transformations spontaneously employed by breaking waves, developing frog embryos, spiral galaxies or nonlinear chemical reactions. In vernacular form, these processes have been harnessed and turned into shared practices by traditional cultures for millennia.

Living structure, while ubiquitous in the universe, represents a minute portion of the space of available configurations for a house, garden or public plaza. Processes for generating living structure are essential if we are to heal our wounded cities, towns and countryside. Such processes can be learned fairly readily. Proficiency is built up through disciplined application. At every step, each process ultimately relies on the mirror of the self test. Is this step creating more or less life? How is it supporting the whole? How is it being supported by existing centers?

Remarkably, these questions can be constructively discussed. Time and again, I have seen groups of students, architects, or citizens undertake the fundamental differentiating process of creating wholeness. Individuals are able to effectively communicate the structure of wholeness, as they perceive it, and demonstrate to the others why a given step has certain positive or negative effects. The group is then able to verify the observation and respond with additional tests. Gradually, haltingly, greater and greater differentiation and intensification of centers in support of an ever deepening structure of wholeness emerges. The end result is likely to have a fundamental life and coherence that is largely absent from design processes cut off from the wellspring of wholeness and the mirror of self.

There are many ways to enhance the process of creating living structure. One approach is to understand the patterns that help to generate wholeness within a given recurring context. For example, the pattern ‘Light on Two Sides of Every Room’ provides a generic rule for placing windows in such a way that they strengthen the existing centres in the room. Patterns, together with a grammar derived from their intrinsic spatial and conceptual relationships, can be combined into a kind of pattern language and systematically applied. Hundreds of patterns, ranging in scale from construction details to regions, have been documented by Christopher Alexander and his colleagues, most notably in A Pattern Language (Oxford, 1977).

A sequence of patterns carefully chosen to unfold wholeness can greatly accelerate the process of creating living structure and increase its chances of success. For instance, a traditional Japanese tea house may be generated through a well-defined sequence of twenty-four steps beginning with the placement of the tea house in a secluded garden, and ending with the construction of a small pillar in an alcove off the tea room (tokonoma). Efforts are underway to study these sequences in a wide variety of practical situations and make good sequences broadly available.

The Nature of Order begins with the structure of wholeness in the universe and derives adaptive processes that systematically generate living structure in the world around us. Ultimately, I believe it provides a new foundation for sustainability; one grounded in our deepest aspirations to act in ways conducive to all life, testable at every level of scale, and enabled by a powerful set of replicable processes and patterns that are already partially understood.

In order to test this notion, my research team at Ecotrust developed a pattern language for bioregional sustainability for the coastal temperate rainforest ecosystem hugging the west coast of North America, from northern California to Alaska. We generated a website documenting fifty-seven patterns ranging from “Civic Society” to “Sense of Place”. The site uses an open source model that allows site visitors, from all over the world, to test the patterns, adapt them for their own use, and suggest improvements.

Whilst still in an experimental stage, this bioregional pattern language confirms that processes working at the smallest scales – helping to give life to a garden, a storefront or a stretch of river – can be systematically linked to processes at larger scales, including those that ensure the connectivity and functionality of ecosystems at a continental scale and those that maintain compatibility with the cycling of nutrients and materials at a planetary scale. As Alexander states, “At every scale, every act of formation is both local and global, both creative/complete and accretive/incomplete.”

Sustainability emerges from a million individual acts of creative engagement; living processes that preserve the structure of wholeness, healing and repairing damaged sites along the way. These living processes, while self-organising, effectively co-ordinate across different levels of scale, ensuring that small acts sum to meet the preconditions of health for the biosphere. At the same time, these processes systematically translate large-scale sustainability conditions, like those provided by The Natural Step framework, into the joyful detail of millions of living centres. Living processes incrementally restore both the human spirit and its necessary correlate, the wholeness of the world and its diverse beings.

The Nature of Order provides the most powerful set of processes to date for unfolding a sustainable world. These processes affect the scale of activity, the flow of money, the sharing of understanding, and the way decisions are made. They demand of us a commitment to wholeness in ourselves and in each of our interactions with the world.


(1) WHOLENESS-EXTENDING-TRANSFORMATIONS: Discussion of these transformations can be found throughout The Nature of Order, where they are most often referred to by their older name, “structure-preserving transformations.” This name has been given up because it does not correctly suggest the emergence of new structure from wholeness, and seems only to refer to structure that is already there in its entirety. The references in The Nature of Order use the term “structure-preserving” almost exclusively, and the references given below will most often show that term being used for consiatence with the book, even though w-e- transformation is now thought to be more accurate. (See here.)

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Posted in P2P Architecture and Urbanism, P2P Books | No Comments »

New Film Documents Commons-Based Peer Production in Greece

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
17th December 2014


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As one of the countries hardest hit by austerity politics, Greece is also in the vanguard of experimentation to find ways beyond the crisis.  Now there is a documentary film about the growth of commons-based peer production in Greece, directed by Ilias Marmaras. “Knowledge as a common good: communities of production and sharing in Greece” is a low-budget, high-insight survey of innovative projects such as FabLab Athens, Greek hackerspaces, Frown, an organization that hosts all sorts of maker workshops and presentations, and other projects.

A beta-version website Common Knowledge, devoted to “communities of production and sharing in Greece,” explains the motivation behind the film:

“Greece is going through the sixth year of recession. Austerity policies imposed by IMF, ECB and the Greek political pro-memorandum regimes, foster an unprecedented crisis in economy, social life, politics and culture. In the previous two decades the enforcement of the neoliberal politics to the country resulted in the disintegration of the existed social networks, leaving society unprepared to face the upcoming situation.

During the last years, while large parts of the social fabric have been expelled from the state and private economy, through the social movements which emerge in the middle of the crisis, formations of physical and digital networks have appeared not only in official political and finance circles, but also as grassroots forms of coexistence, solidarity and innovation. People have come together, experimenting in unconventional ways of collaboration and bundling their activities in different physical and digital networks. They seek answers to problems caused by the crisis, but they are also concerned about issues due the new technical composition of the world. In doing so they produce and share knowledge.”

George Papanikolaou of the P2P Foundation in Greece describes how peer production is fundamentally altering labor practices and offering hope:  “For the first time, we are witnessing groups of producers having the chance to meet up outside the traditional frameworks – like that of a corporation, or state organization.  People are taking initiatives to form groups in order to produce goods that belong in the commons sphere.”

The film features a wide variety of commons-based experiments that are making a difference in people’s lives — for example, Project Aktina, a solar energy pavilion in a public space that allows people to use free electricity for charging one’s laptop or phone, provide shareable electric bicycles, develop a free wifi network or host neighborhood events.

Vasilis Kostakis of the P2P Lab and Foundation in Greece introduces the film in this way:

“The free/open source software and design communities; the hackerspaces and the do-it-yourself enthusiasts; the movements for an independent Internet; the initiatives for free/communal wifi and open access to knowledge; the resilient/permaculture communities… What do all these have in common? Are they unrelated cases or coincidences? Or could they be seen as seeds of a new civilization full of contradictions and chances for renaissance and change? This documentary — a low-budget yet sublime production — narrates the story of several Greek-based, knowledge-oriented communities that are building the world they want, within the confines of the fragmented world they want to transcend.”

You can watch the trailer for the film here  — and the full film here. The audio is in Greek, but you can activate English subtitles by hitting the “CC” button at the bottom of the YouTube player. The filmmakers would like to produce a version with Spanish subtitles, so if you know of a skilled Greek-to-Spanish translator, get in touch with director Ilias Marmaras at mbholgr(at)gmail.com.

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Posted in Collective Intelligence, Commons, Culture & Ideas, Featured Video, Open Models, Original Content, P2P Collaboration, Peer Property, Sharing, Videos | No Comments »

In praise of Russell Brand’s sharing revolution

photo of Adam Parsons

Adam Parsons
17th December 2014


Russell Brand

For all of Brand’s joking and braggadocio, a sagacious theme runs through his new book: that a peaceful revolution must bring about a fairer sharing of the world’s resources, which depends upon a revelation about our true spiritual nature. 


The political conversation on sharing is growing by the day, sometimes from the unlikeliest of quarters. And at the present time, there is perhaps no-one calling louder for a new society to be based on sharing than Russell Brand, the comedian-cum-activist and revolutionary. It is easy to dismiss much of Brand’s polysyllabic and self-referential meanderings, as do most of the establishment media in the USA and Britain, but this only serves to disregard his flashes of wisdom and the justified reasons for his popularity.

His latest book is clearly not meant to be taken entirely seriously as a roadmap to “systemic change on a global scale”, hence the various crude digressions and contradictions. Yet as pointed out by Evan Davies at the beginning of his second BBC Newsnight interview, Brand has probably engaged more young people in thinking about serious political issues than any politician, despite his infamous disavowal of voting in parliamentary elections. On this basis alone, there’s every reason to take seriously Brand’s call for a revolution based on the principles of sharing, cooperation and love. But what does his idea of a caring, sharing revolution actually mean in practice?

Sharing is fundamental to a fair society

To elucidate, Brand uses a homespun analogy in his book: if 20 school children were in a playground and a couple of them took all the toys, you would “explain to them that sharing is a basic human value and redistribute the toys”. In a similar way, he says that the minority rich who are hoarding resources are misguided in their belief that it can make them happy, and we have to “be the adults” and help them. Which will require somehow dismantling the machinery of deregulated capitalism, winning over the military, and redistributing their excessive wealth.

Admittedly he’s a bit sketchy on the details of how to achieve this, although he does endorse Thomas Piketty’s proposal for greater transparency around the assets of the super-rich—with a modest tax on their wealth as well as their income (see chapter 19 entitled: “Piketty, Licketty, Rollity, Flicketty”). But many other implicit recommendations are scattered throughout the book for how sharing could be institutionalised on a local or national level. He is keen to point out, for example, that the “corporate world in its entirety is a kind of thief of more wholesome values, such as sharing”. And thus the least they can do, he suggests, is to stop exploiting tax loopholes (which is “a kind of social robbery”) and instead pay their fair share of taxes.

In describing how “Jesus is pretty committed to sharing”, he also makes it clear that any British politician who claims to be a Christian should—like Jesus—try to help the poor and heal the sick, and not implement austerity policies and sell off the National Health Service. By implication, the kind of sharing that Brand upholds clearly needs to be systematised through progressive taxation and the universal provision of public services and social security. And this is best exemplified, in no particularly radical way, in the Western European ideal of the welfare or social state: the collective pooling and redistribution of a nation’s financial resources for the benefit of society as a whole.

Brand’s other line of reasoning is a bit more contentious: “Socialism isn’t a dirty word,” he says, “it just means sharing; really it’s just the bureaucratic arm of Christianity”. But do we have to call ourselves a socialist to espouse the human value of sharing? Or could this simple principle help us to better navigate between the divisive ‘isms’ that still drive much of the debate on how governments should guarantee social and economic rights for all people?

It’s pretty clear what Brand is trying to say, though: that the religious faiths have all expounded the importance of sharing wealth and other resources fairly, and it’s high time that this age-old moral value and ethic underpinned the fabric of our societies. As he expressed it here in an interview with SiriusXM Radio: “They said the problem with socialism is that it placed economics forever at the heart of politics, when what belongs at the heart of politics is spirituality. And socialism in a way is just a Christian principle, just the idea that we’re all the same, we’re all connected; we should share. We can’t be happy if other people are suffering. It’s just a sort of logical thing.”

A fairer society, based on sharing, demands radical democracy

Here’s another of Brand’s sure-fire political insights: that a sharing society is dependent on mass civic engagement and truly representative democracy. Drawing on a fleeting interview in his house with David Graeber, he writes: “Democracy means if enough people want a fairer society, with more sharing, well-supported institutions and less exploitation by organisations that do not contribute, then their elected representatives will ensure that it is enacted.” But this will never happen, Brand suggests, so long as we have leaders who have been “conditioned and groomed to compliantly abide by the system that exploits them”, whose only true agenda is “meeting the needs of big business”. Hence there can be no true form of democracy without “a radical decentralisation of power, whether private or state.”

Brand repeatedly returns to this theme of sharing both political power and economic resources more fairly among the populace, which he sees as an obvious prerequisite to any form of true democracy and the creation of a better world. And who can deny that a solution to gross inequality and ecological breakdown will never come from the likes of Barack Obama and David Cameron, who he describes as “all avatars of the same neoliberal concept, part of the problem, not the solution”?

How Brand proposes that power should be “shared, not concentrated” is perhaps a bit vague or outlandish in places, such as when he advocates for “total self-governance” via “small, self-determined communities that are run voluntarily and democratically” and without any leaders, which may eventually require nation states to be somehow “dissolved”. But in other places he’s entirely lucid and practical, as in his endorsement of direct democracy in Switzerland or participatory budgeting in Brazil. He concludes: “Generally speaking, when empowered as a community, or a common mind, our common spirit, our common sense, reaches conclusions that are beneficial for our community. Our common unity.”

When it comes to the business world, Brand is also quite cogent in his recommendations for how to “structure corporations more fairly” and redistribute power downwards. One proposal is for Employee Investment Funds, in which a significant percentage of the company’s profits are shared with workers, and controlled by democratically accountable worker management boards that have to use the proceeds for social priorities and in the public interest. Another proposal is for jointly-owned and value-driven enterprises in the guise of co-operatives, which Brand argues provide a model that can democratise the workplace and prevent the proceeds of labour from being poured into the pocket of some “thumb-twiddling plutocrat who by happy accident owns the firm”. He adds simply: “The profits should be shared among the people who do the work”.

Humanity must share the world’s wealth and resources

From the outset, Brand makes it clear that his greatest concern is the “galling inequality” of our world, which is sustained by an economic system that continues to “deplete the earth’s resources so rapidly, violently and irresponsibly that our planet’s ability to support human life is being threatened.” In frequently quoting Oxfam’s “fun bus” statistic – that a bus carrying 85 of the world’s richest people would represent more wealth than that owned by half the earth’s population – he also makes it clear that he is “seriously comfortable with society getting extremely equal.” As he puts it: “the practical, fair allocation of resources, the preservation of the planet must naturally be prioritised.”

Although Brand does not profess to have all the answers for how we can share the world’s wealth and resources more equally between countries as well as within them, he does at least emphasise that it must happen. And very quickly too, because more “important perhaps than this galling inequality is the fact that we have a limited amount of time to resolve it” (that is, unless we “plan to wait until the earth is a scorched husk then blast off to a moon-base.”) He also professes his belief that “all conflicts… are about resources or territory and the theological rhetoric merely a garnish to make it more palatable.” Which clearly means, in Brand’s commonsensical worldview, that sharing land and resources is a prerequisite for peaceful co-existence – an egalitarian approach that he specifically endorses when discussing the economic alternatives long practised within Cuba.

Decrying the fact that profits and wealth are increasingly consolidated within a mere fraction of the world population, Brand’s simple observation about the need for a new economic paradigm is again difficult to disagree with. He actually says this a few times, in so many words: “There is another way. There is the way. To live in accordance with truth, to accept we are on a planet that has resources and people on it. We have to respect the planet so we can use the resources to nourish the people. Somehow this simple equation has been allowed to become extremely confusing.” What is being demanded is not whimsical, he adds later, but “pragmatism, systems that function.” Yet none of this happens, and “can’t because they [i.e. rich elites, big corporations and those who serve them in governments] have prioritised a bizarre, selfish and destructive idea over common sense.”

Brand’s light-hearted book may be forgiven for omitting to mention ecological limits or the end of economic growth, which is imperative for any serious discussion about how to achieve greater equality on a planet with finite resources. But he does draw upon the ideas of various progressive thinkers for how to “reapportion money and power” and share the world’s wealth more equitably and sustainably. This includes “the peaceful establishment of a fair global alternative” through the cancellation of unjust debt; the rolling back of corrupt global trade agreements; a return to localised and ecological farming; the revocation of corporate charters “for businesses that have behaved criminally” (or handing over their resources to the workers and turning them into cooperatives); and the incorporation of measures other than GNP to judge a nation’s success.

He is also under no illusions about the international politics that renders these broad proposals somewhat utopian. More than one chapter is devoted to the tenets of America’s ‘Manifest Destiny’ and the Monroe Doctrine, which he describes as the ideological pillar of the U.S. government’s imperialist strategies and perpetual war-mongering. And there is of course nothing new about today’s geopolitical reality of global dominance and control by powerful countries, he suggests, as reflected in the erstwhile vagaries of the British Empire which was built by “vicious thugs using violence to get their way, reneging on deals and nicking the resources of whole nations”. The whole thing was a “swizz”, he says, and deceptively based on a Christian mythology which is in truth about “empathy and sharing”, and not a false authority achieved “through coercion and violence.”

Hence his inevitable conclusion that “real change will not be delivered within the machinery of the current system – it’s against their interests”; so “change has to be imposed from the outside”; and “this change will not come without cohesive, unified resistance. We all need to come together and confront our shared enemy.”

The sharing revolution begins within ourselves                                              

Yet for all of Brand’s braggadocio and posturing about chopping off the Queen’s head, killing corporations and overthrowing the establishment to “take our power back”, he is also passionately convinced that the revolution must be peaceful. He says that all “revolutions require a spiritual creed. It doesn’t matter who is doing violence or to what end. Violence is wrong.” Therefore the only way to end conflict and change society for the benefit of everyone is through a new revelation about our purpose on earth, a revolution in our understanding about who we are as human beings.

Spirituality, he says, is “not some florid garnish” but “part of the double-helix DNA of Revolution. There is a need for Revolution on every level – as individuals, as societies, as a planet, as a consciousness. Unless we address the need for absolute change, unless we agree on a shared story of how we want the world to be, we’ll inertly drift back to the materialistic, individualistic magnetism behind our current systems.”

Perhaps this is a major reason why Brand’s silver-tongued musings are so popular, as he is arguably at his best when describing how social change will never happen without inner, personal change. He also has the courage to share candid insights from his past ignominy and his own spiritual journey, even if it sometimes comes close to proselytising: “My love of God elevates the intention of this book beyond the dry and admirable establishment of collectivised communities.”

Brand is often inspiring when he describes the alienating effects of commercialisation and “the impulse we all have for union” that has been misdirected into our worship of shopping malls, material comfort and possessions. Our longing for revolution, he says, is really “our longing for perfect love.” And our true salvation lies in the “acknowledgement of our unity. That we are one human family. One consciousness. One body.” The last chapter of the book reads like a poetic entreaty to that awareness of the Self which lies behind all form and comprises the true spiritual reality we all share. No doubt purposefully, the last word in the book is “love”.

While such ideas can be easily dismissed as New Age truisms, Brand has a deft ability to weave his spiritual convictions into a case for wholesale political and economic transformation. For instance, in contemplating how it is that humanity can endure the needless poverty and suffering of others, he neatly examines how “an extraordinary attitude [of complacency and indifference] has been incrementally inculcated” in our societies.

He asks plaintively: are we really doing all we can to help those less fortunate than ourselves? And why does the old maxim ‘From each according to his means, to each according to his needs’ still linger in our conscience, even after all the “capitalist lies and communist misadventure” of the past century? By retelling a story about a spontaneous act of goodwill in helping a stranger, Brand points to the obvious answer: because empathy, kindness and sharing is hardwired into our human nature. To share with one another is to be who we really are.

The implications of this simple truth are far more radical than any historical revolution based on ideology or violence, which is arguably the overall message of Brand’s book. “The agricultural Revolution took thousands of years,” he writes, “the industrial Revolution took hundreds, the technological tens. The spiritual Revolution, the Revolution we are about to realise, will be fast because the organisms are in place; all that needs to shift is consciousness, and that moves rapidly.”


A shorter version of this article was originally published by Open Democracy atwww.opendemocracy.net/transformation

Photo credit: duncan, flickr creative commons

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Posted in Commons, Culture & Ideas, Ethical Economy, Featured Book, Sharing | No Comments »