Work on developingCommons Based Reciprocity Licenses (or CBRLs, for short) continues apace here at the P2P Foundation. When speaking of the types of licenses, we often find it hard to explain how they fill a niche in the alt. license spectrum, falling somewhere between the straight up copyleft and the popular Creative Commons Non-Commercial License.
To that end, I asked Michel Bauwens to condense his thinking on CBRLs into a short (5 minute) video we could share with people, which you’ll find below. It was filmed by our associate Kevin Flanagan and recorded at a break during the Open Everything Convergenceheld in the Cloughjordan Ecovillage in Co.Tipperary, Ireland.
Are CBRL’s perfect or will they work? We don’t know, but we believe that we’ll only arrive at an answer by creating them and testing them out. Whatever their viability, they represent a statement that Free/Open Culture shouldn’t be appropriated by capital while the Commons withers, unable to ensure it’s own social reproduction. We’d like to thank Dmytri Kleiner, for his pioneering work in this area, not just for providing a critique of Creative Commons, but for actually getting his hands dirty (along with John Magyar) and creating the first working CBRL, the Peer Production License, which can be adopted right now. In fact, the PPL has already been adopted by a number of collectives, such as Sharelex, Infrastructures.cc, En Defensa del Software Libre and the other organization I regularly work in: Guerrilla Translation.
I’d also like to acknowledge Primavera De Filippi and Miguel Said Vieira for their excellent critique of the concept in their must-read article: “Between Copyleft and Copyfarleft: Advance reciprocity for the commons“. The P2P Foundation is now working along with Primavera, Annemarie Naylor, Karthik Iyer, Joel Dietz and others to develop new CMRLs partly based on Primavera´s and Miguel’s recommendations.
In an interview recently, Aftab Omer observed that I seem hesitant to describe Sacred Economics as a post-capitalist economic vision. I replied that I am not talking about the end of capitalism, bur rather a transformation in the nature of capital, so that capitalism no longer bears the social dynamics to which we are accustomed.
After the interview, Aftab probed a little deeper. “As you know,” he said, “the essence of capitalism lies not in the kind of money being used, but in control over capital in a broader sense. Why then do you not describe your thinking as post-capitalist?”
One reason is simply strategic: the term “capitalism” is so fraught with a century and a half of ideological baggage that it is impossible to use the term without triggering blunt political categorizations, throwing the conversation onto well-worn and deeply rutted paths. For example, it invites comparisons with the failed experiments in state socialism of the 20th century, or suggests that I don’t value individual enterprise and initiative.
There is a second, and deeper, reason why I avoid the term: if we define capitalism as the private ownership of the means of production, and post-capitalism as ending that private ownership, we are still reifying “ownership” or property as an absolute category. But in fact, ownership like money is nothing but a social agreement, a system by which society allocates certain exclusive rights to decide how capital is used. Even in the most resolutely capitalist countries, this right is never absolute: to take a trivial example, zoning ordinances severely limit what we can do with our property in American suburbia.
What is more relevant to me than the fiction of property is the precise nature of the social agreements that define and underlie property. In Soviet state socialism, despite ideology to the contrary, it was actually a small elite group that decided how the means of production were to be deployed (and who reaped most of the benefits). In that sense it wasn’t so different from Western capitalism.
Reading Sacred Economics, one might think, “This is still capitalism. It still allows private ownership of land, factories, intellectual property, and other means of production.” But if we don’t see ownership is a reified category, an absolute predicate, then the matter is not so simple. Because what is this “ownership”? What is the social agreement that the concept embodies? It is rather different than what we have today.
Echoing Roman law, to own something today implies the right to ”use, enjoy, and abuse” it. In other words, all the benefits derived from it are yours, and you are under no obligation to use it in a way that benefits society or the planet. (As mentioned, this has seldom entirely been the case in practice.) What would ownership mean if we significantly altered this Roman law conception? That is what Sacred Economics proposes. First, it circumscribes the private right to “use and abuse” property by penalizing socially and environmentally harmful activities like polluting. Secondly, inspired by Henry George, it separates as much as possible the “enjoyment” (i.e. the fruits) of ownership from the fruits of the labor and creativity added to the thing owned. This means eliminating “economic rents” – the proceeds one obtains through the mere ownership of property, as opposed to the improvement of the property or the wise use of the property. Thirdly, it limits the extent to which one may enclose the cultural and intellectual commons, in part by curtailing copyright and patent terms. Finally, it asserts a public interest onto financial capital by subjecting money to a demurrage fee, a negative interest rate, that discourages hoarding and encourages zero-interest lending, in essence making money less of a thing you can keep, hold, and own. Hold onto it too long, and eventually it will no longer be “yours.”
“If we define capitalism as the private ownership of the means of production, and post-capitalism as ending that private ownership, we are still reifying “ownership” or property as an absolute category. But in fact, ownership like money is nothing but a social agreement, a system by which society allocates certain exclusive rights to decide how capital is used.”
These might seem like technical reforms that leave the fact of ownership of the means of production unchanged, but actually they change what “ownership” means. When we understand that property is a fluid concept, a broad label we give to a complicated set of social agreements, then it becomes hard to say what is capitalism and what is not.
At bottom, the blurriness of the concept of ownership implicates the blurriness of the concept of the owner. Who, or what, owns property? The 17th-century thinkers that developed the philosophical foundations of property law (and law in general), Hobbes, Locke, Pufendorf, Hutcheson, etc., despite their differences, all pretty much took for granted a world of separate individuals giving consent, entering into contracts, and making free-willed moral choices. It is from this assumption that libertarian ideas about the sanctity of property and the sanctity of contract are born, along with the irreconcilable difficulties that arise in integrating these with the good of the body politic. Private property (its presence or absence as an absolute category) goes hand in hand with the separate self. A system grounded in the understanding of our inter-existence, in the fluid and fractal co-construction of self and society, no longer takes ownership as a well-defined category. The terms capitalist, socialist, post-capitalist, and so forth, because they draw on ownership as an elemental concept, are therefore a little bit obsolete.
“Veteran journalist Dr. Monica Horten goes deep into the details of how the entertainment industries gain political sway, and how policymakers respond to the industry’s advances.”
Horten focuses on three recent policy initiatives, and painstakingly pulls together facts from publicly available sources about how those proposals came together. By comparing the development of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the Spanish “Ley Sinde,” and the UK’s Digital Economy Act, she draws a clear picture of the mechanisms that play into each of the debates, and who is behind them.
A major part of that story is the export of U.S. intellectual property policy abroad. To that end, Horten looks at the history and the development of the U.S. Trade Representative’s annual “Special 301″ report, a document mandated by law which must list countries that do not provide “adequate and protective” protection of intellectual property rights. Horten makes a solid case that the U.S. entertainment industry lobbying played a direct and deliberate role in establishing the Special 301. With the background on Special 301, its role in shaping ACTA and Ley Sinde becomes that much more apparent.
Legislators are asked to approach many problems as experts, but are rarely given the time or information to do so. The standard corporate exploitation of that mismatch is to present those legislators with information favorable to industry position.
Horten tracks how the copyright industries have taken this bargain a step further, pushing for the creation of whole new structures like the Special 301 report that funnel industry-friendly information to legislators with the imprimatur of government legitimacy.
Moreover, that system itself has been refined over the years to create a default condition that advances the copyright lobby’s goals. At the behest of the copyright industries, the U.S. Trade Representative must critique laws all over the world to a maximalist IP standard; as a result of its findings, countries around the globe are put under great pressure to change those laws.
While documenting this process, Horten provides meticulous footnotes that point to public documents and legislative proceedings. Beyond providing sources, these footnotes reveal a history of otherwise uncaptured expertise: many cite live web streams of policy debates dating back years, watched by Horten at the time.
The landscape Horten describes may be bleak for those who would like to see evidence-based copyright policy, but it’s not hopeless. After all, each of the major case studies she documents have been diminished, delayed, or defeated by popular opposition. Money and connections play a major role in politics, but few politicians can afford to ignore real and widespread dissatisfaction. A Copyright Masquerade is no handbook for activism, but it does describe effectively what political pressure points activists have been able to successfully press.
In presenting the stories of activism that have slowed or stopped proposals that had the full backing of the copyright industries, Horten raises an important question. What is so compelling about copyright policy that it gets Internet users up in arms, draws resignations from EU officials, and leads to street protests in actual freezing temperatures?
Again, Horten’s got an answer. It’s a familiar one to those versed in copyright debates. Whether the copyright industries are seeking measures that filter content (like blacklisting sites from Domain Name Servers, search engines, or payment providers) or measures that restrict user access (like graduated response programs that result in a slow-down or suspension of Internet connections), the effect is the same. When the Internet as a communications medium is the target, users’ essential freedoms and civil liberties are all too often collateral damage.” (https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/09/copyright-masquerade-corporate-lobbying-takes-spotlight)
Improve Pirate Bay founder Peter Sunde’s prison conditions immediately
“I am suffering tremendously – socially, physically, as well as psychologically – by the shortcomings of [the prison,] Västervik.” ~ Peter Sunde, aka Brokep
Peter is most famous as Brokep, co-founder and spokesperson of the Pirate Bay. But his impact extends far beyond file-sharing. He also worked tirelessly to support creators through the payment system/social site, Flattr, and is bringing encrypted messaging to the masses through the app, Hemlis.
But now he is suffering in the restrictive conditions of Västervik prison, poorly suited to a non-violent offender accused only of “crimes” related to copyright infringement and fighting for a free and open internet.
Peter requested a transfer to a lower security class prison, specifically Tygelsjö, that would be more appropriate for his situation and would also allow him to be closer to his family, hopefully making his imprisonment more bearable. But weeks later, the Swedish authorities have not made any move to accommodate his request.
Peter has also requested access to food that he can actually eat. Prisons are required by law to provide a diet that respects prisoners’ beliefs, however the prison diet at Västervik is so severely lacking in vegetarian and vegan meals that Peter has lost at least 7 kilos (~15 pounds) in just a few weeks. Healthy vegetables and plant-based meals are a very simple request, but there has been no effort to accommodate his dietary needs. Peter is clearly suffering serious physical and psychological stress because of the lack of nutrition available to him.
This is no way for the prison authorities to treat any person in their care. The excessive restrictions are especially shameful for a non-violent offender like Peter Sunde. The Swedish Ministry of Justice, which oversees the Prison and Probation services, must act immediately to lift the disgraceful conditions he is being kept in and to relieve his suffering by:
Transferring him to a lower class prison and
Providing sufficient nutrition for a plant-based diet.
More information, descriptions of prison conditions, and Peter’s request for transfer: https://www.aftonbladet.se/debatt/article19207648.ab (Swedish) http://torrentfreak.com/losing-weight-pirate-bay-founder-requests-security-downgrade-140703/
And more on Peter’s other projects: Hemlis – https://heml.is/
We featured Henry Warwick’s “The Radical Tactics of the Offline Library” video a few days back. Today we present a guest post on the subject written Annemarie Naylor, director at Common Futures.
In the course of our work, we have called for common libraries as platforms for the production, exchange and consumption of knowledge and know-how – principally, in recognition of our increasingly read/write world, and in seeking to emphasise the scope for the capture and curation of the ‘long tail’ to grow the knowledge base to which we all have access.
However, we recently came across two films which we think others might find interesting:-
The former concerns Aaron Swartz and, whilst tragic, highlights what a person with a passion for making the world a more transparent place can do if s/he is able to harness support via digital channels and translate that into social action. The Radical Tactics film is also available in long hand and offers a comprehensive ‘history of the library as the locus for copying rather than storing knowledge and know-how’.
The latter helpfully underlines that the UN Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy and to share in scientific advancements and its benefits.” Unfortunately, it also says: “Everyone has the right to protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic of which one is the author.”
There is, then, an ongoing battle for the commons as ‘intellectual property’ in the form of the Open Knowledge project, and despite considerable evidence to support the view that traditional patents and copyright provisions stifle innovation; notably, the BRIC and other developing countries have woken up to the potential to get ahead by embracing peer-to-peer licensing (rather than patents/copyright), so there will be considerable scope to make a strong economic case for open knowledge going forward.
To put this into some kind of local perspective: the UK faces unprecedented reductions in public library service budgets over the next 3-5 years. The Government, for its part, is preparing to recommend a number of actions to address growing concern in the run up to the General Election. In the interim, we are more and more reliant upon Amazon and Google.
The former now boasts 41% of the book-selling market in the UK today, just introduced terms in relation to publishers that will enable it to print books (that go out of stock) on demand from its warehouses, and all of this at a time when there are just 1,500 independent book shops left – no book shops at all in many places. Meanwhile, the latter has sought to perpetuate the traditional commodification of knowledge and know-how, albeit through channel shift, at the same time as reducing the search for knowledge and know-how to a corporately driven ‘question and answer’ machine. This, contrasts sharply with #humansearch services like Ask NYPL.
In effect, then, we are witnessing the wholesale privatisation of knowledge production, exchange and consumption.
This is why we’re doing our utmost to establish an open course and community-led alternative: http://www.commonlibraries.cc It also explains our interest in approaches to sharing knowledge.
We are keen to identify organisations like the Waiting Room and Islington Mill Studios who are self-organising access to knowledge/learning in a host of different ways. So, if you have any examples / suggestions about whom we should look to for further inspiration or, else, approach as potential partners – please do let us know.
“The Personal Portable Library in its most simple form is a hard drive or USB stick containing a large collection of e-books, curated and archived by an individual user. The flourishing of the offline digital library is a response to the fact that truly private sharing of knowledge in the online realm is increasingly made impossible. While P2P sharing sites and online libraries with downloadable e-books are precarious, people are naturally led to an atavistic and reversalist workaround. The radical tactics of the offline: abandoning the online for more secure offline transfer. Taking inspiration from ancient libraries as copying centers and Sneakernet, Henry Warwick describes the future of the library as digital and offline. Radical Tactics: Reversalism and Personal Portable Libraries traces the history of the library and the importance of the Personal Portable Library in sharing knowledge and resisting proprietarian forces.
The library in Alexandria contained about 500,000 scrolls; the Library of Congress, the largest library in the history of civilization, contains about 35 million books. A digital version of it would fit on a 24 TB drive, which can be purchased for about $2000. Obviously, most people don’t need 35 million books. A small local library of 10,000 books could fit on a 64 GB thumb drive the size of a pack of chewing gum and costing perhaps $40. An astounding fact with immense implications. It is trivially simple to start collecting e-books, marshalling them into libraries on hard drives, and then to share the results. And it is much less trivially important. Sharing is caring. Societies where people share, especially ideas, are societies that will naturally flourish.”
Here’s Michel Bauwens’ contribution to this years, Ouishare Fest: The Age of Communities Michel earnestly talks about the opportunities and challenges of the FLOK Society — Free, libre, open-knowledge society — a project founded by three government institutions in Ecuador, aiming to make a transition to an open-knowledge common society. To find out more, please read FLOK’s Transition Plan.
The ongoing Snowden revelations about NSA surveillance have all sorts of implications for the rule of law, constitutional democracy, geopolitical alignments, human rights and much else. The disclosures deserve our closest attention for these reasons alone. But what do these revelations have to do with the commons?
If we regard the act of commoning as a genre of citizenship – acts of voluntary association and action that are critical to human freedom and democracy – we can see that snooping by both the NSA and its corporate brethren are profoundly hostile to the future of the commons. They violate some fundamental notions of human rights, civil freedoms and the ability of individuals to protect their privacy and thus their sovereignty.
If the market/state apparatus can digitally monitor our reading habits and telephone calls, email correspondence and purchases, physical movements and much else, then it has effectively snuffed out the sovereignty of a free people. The barrage of the successive Snowden disclosures has been followed by a relentless government propaganda war, cable TV denunciations and even attacks on Greenwald by the liberal nomenklatura (Michael Kinsley, George Packer). It’s as if “respectable opinion” did not care to note or defend the elemental human freedoms that a functioning democracy requires.
It was such a pleasure therefore to (belatedly) encounter a series of four lectures delivered last fall by Eben Moglen, a law scholar and historian at Columbia Law School, founder of the Software Freedom Law Center, and former general counsel of the Free Software Foundation. The four talks — “Snowden and the Future” — offer one of the most eloquent and historically informed critiques of the Snowden revelations and their implications for freedom, democracy and – I would add – the capacity of people to common.
The lectures address the following themes:
What has Edward Snowden done to change the course of human history?
How does the evolution of surveillance since World War II threaten democracy?
What does it mean that information can be both so powerful and so easily spread? In a network embracing all of humanity, how does democracy survive our desire for security?
On this blog, I try to avoid venturing into topics that veer off-topic such as, say, national security politics or election campaigns. But I make an exception in this case because the rise of state surveillance in collaboration with the corporate digital giants has enormous ramifications for the commons movement. The NSA’s routine and sweeping surveillance not only affects our potential to think and act as commoners by installing fear and self-censorship; it seeks to structurally and permanently lock in such profound unfreedom. It makes any bottom-up citizen initiative or commons subject to absolute government control, as enabled by absolute top-down control of the Internet and all communications infrastructures: a totalitarian growth upon a nation that has fought and died for freedom.
Free software champions have long pointed out the enormous importance of free/libre/open source software – and digital commons more generally – as guarantors of basic human rights and freedoms. Now the reality of these assertions has been vividly confirmed.
It is a treat to see a law scholar who clerked by Justice Thurgood Marshall and has defended legal software encryption, address the meaning of the Snowden disclosures. I will not attempt to summarize Moglen’s incisive, powerful commentary, but I will offer this excerpt as a taste, and encourage you to read the entire four lectures. It’s a long read, but well worth it:
The power of that Roman Empire rested in its control of communications. The Mediterranean Sea, which was the transit hub of every western civilization, was their lake. And across their European empire, from Scotland to Syria, they pushed the roads—roads that fifteen centuries later were still primary arteries of European transportation. Down those roads which, as Gibbon says, rendered every corner of the Empire pervious to Roman power, the Emperor marched his armies. But up those roads he gathered his intelligence. Augustus invented the posts: first for signals intelligence, to move couriers and messages at the fastest possible speeds; and then for human intelligence. He created the post-chaises, so that, as Gibbon says, those who were present when dispatches were written could be questioned by the Emperor. Using that infrastructure for control of communications, with respect to everything that involved the administration of power, the Emperor of the Romans made himself the best informed human being in the history of the world.
That power eradicated human freedom. “Remember,” says Cicero to Marcellus in exile, “wherever you are, you are equally within of the power of conqueror.”
Because of Mr. Snowden, we now know that the listeners, in their aggressive effort to maintain the security of the United States by breaking anything that stands in the way of listening, undertook to do what they repeatedly promised respectable opinion in the trade they would never do.
Systematically, they attempted what they had once and for all promised many a time in the discreetest but most credible fashion to respectable opinion, which then carried their water for them throughout our world. They always said they would not attempt breaking the crypto which secures the global financial system.
That was false.
When, on September 6th, the New York Times re-entered the pursuit of journalism in this area so triumphantly, by revealing the existence of Bull Run, publishing Mr. Snowden’s various disclosures concerning both the substance of Bull Run and the National Security Agency’s discussions of it, we learned that the United States listeners had been systematically and deliberately trying to subvert the crypto that holds the international financial system together, for years. And we learned a good deal more—which we shall spend more time upon on another evening, considering carefully what we learned in this respect—we learned that their efforts had been so far only partially successful.
Within hours they had forfeited respectable opinion around the world, which had stood solidly in their corner all the way along. The recklessness of what they had done, and the danger to which it put the people in the world who don’t accept danger from the United States Government, was breathtaking.
When the morality of freedom is so thoroughly thrown away, it isn’t only the “little people” of the world who suffer, but they do.
The empire of the United States, the one that secured itself by listening to everything, was the empire of exported liberty. What we had to offer all around the world was freedom—after colonization, after European theft, after the forms of twentieth-century horror we haven’t even talked about yet—we offered liberty; we offered freedom.
In the twentieth century we were prepared to sacrifice many of the world’s great cities, and to accept the sacrifice of tens of millions of human lives, in order to secure our selves against forms of government we called “totalitarianism,” in which the State grew so powerful and so invasive that it recognized no longer any border of private life, and brought itself into everything that its subjects did. Where the State listened to every telephone conversation, and kept a list of everybody every troublemaker knew.
So let us unfortunately tell the truth as it appeared to the people who worked in the system: When the morality of freedom was withdrawn, our State began fastening the procedures of totalitarianism on the substance of democratic society.
There is no historical precedent for the proposition that the procedures of totalitarianism are compatible with the system of enlightened, individual, democratic self-governance. No one has ever previously in the history of the human race evolved an argument—and as I will show next time no argument can be evolved—that would give us any confidence in the ability of the procedures of totalitarianism to coexist with those of constitutional democratic self-governance. It is enough to say for now that omnipresent invasive listening creates fear. And I need not be Justice Brandeis to tell you that fear is the enemy of reasoned, ordered liberty.
Here are the four parts of the Moglen lectures, available in video, audio and print formats:
In this, the final installment of our serialization of Penny Nelson’s Douglas Rushkoff interview for HiLobrow magazine, the conversation turns to the differences between analogue and digital media, the derivative life and how to get out of this whole mess. In case you didn’t catch them, here are the links for part 1 and part 2 of this fascinating interview.
PN: Let’s talk about technology. In terms of administering a shared goods-and-services system, the internet might be a good match. But it also seems that the internet, and machines and technology in general, can stand in place of actual relationships, and can be a stumbling block. How do you negotiate between those ideas?
DR: The word that describes digital for me is discrete. For example, take sounds. With an actual sound, no matter how hard we zoom in, it’s still a real thing. There’s still more fidelity, more information to be found. If I scan or sample it, I’ve now translated that sound in the real world into a number. Something that was an event, in nature, in the world, is now a number. It’s a derivative of reality. That number encapsulates as many metrics and as much information about the sound as I’m capable of including, and I can then make copies of the number and manipulate them. So there’s greater choice in that way. But the only things the number can reproduce about that sound are the things I’ve told it to reproduce.
PN: It only knows what it’s supposed to measure.
DR: The reproduction process also involves a sampling rate, which necessarily leaves stuff out. Even if the sampling rate is so good, so super-mp3, that it’s beyond my conscious hearing, there is still space between the samples. Just like a fluorescent light; there’s space between the flashes.
Now the question is, for all intents and purposes, is it the same, or not? I would argue that formany intents and purposes, it is the same, but for all intents and purposes, it is not. It is a re-creation of a thing, and an approximation, and without even getting spiritual and talking about prana and chi and everything else, there is a difference.
In high school when I needed to do a research project, I would go to the library to find a book. I couldn’t help but see the 20 other books on the shelf nearby, I had to read 20 spines before I found mine. And in reading those 20 spines I would see stuff I wouldn’t have found otherwise, and I might get ideas for my paper randomly — not by predetermined choice. I would see them by virtue of the fact that some librarian who was alive before me made a decision, by virtue of legacies and input and real life messiness. Whereas when I’m in the digital realm and I know the book I want, I type it into Google, and it’s there. And nothing else.
PN: This discrete freedom of choice sounds like a very controlled environment.
DR: Right, what are my range of choices? And who’s giving me that range? People are utterly unaware of that. So when I look at technology I say well great, people have the ability to write online, but they don’t, most of them, have the ability to program. In other words we can enter our text into the little blog box, but we aren’t thinking about the biases built into a daily blog structure, which are towards short, daily thoughts, not introspective . . .
Or look at online communities. I’m going to become friends with another person who owns a 2004 red Mini with a sunroof, like mine, rather than with my neighbor who happens to have a different car; I’m going to look for that perfect affinity. But that’s not a real relationship, that’s my digital relationship, which is discrete! Discrete communities end up groping towards conformity of behavior really quickly.
That’s why it’s a consumer paradise, because it really does celebrate the idea of increasingly granular affinity groups, increasingly granular product choices.
8. The Derivative Life, An (Un)Reality Show
PN: An over-arching theme I found in the book is how the common-sense stuff of our reality, the economy and money and shopping and working, is really science fiction; we don’t live inside a “natural” economic structure — we made it up.
DR: It gets very much like Baudrillard in a way. We lived in a real world where we created value, and understood the value that we created as individuals and groups for one another. Then we systematically disconnected from the real world: from ourselves, from one another, and from the value we create, and reconnected to an artificial landscape of derivative value of working for corporations and false gods and all that. It is in some sense Baudrillard’s three steps of life in the simulacra.
So by now, as Borges would say, we’ve mistaken the map for the territory. We’ve mistaken our jobs for work. We’ve mistaken our bank accounts for savings. We’ve mistaken our 401k investments for our future. We’ve mistaken our property for assets, and our assets for the world. We have these places where we live, then they become property that we own, then they become mortgages that we owe, then they become mortgage-backed loans that our pensions finance, then they become packages of debt, and so on and so on.
We’ve been living in a world where the further up the chain of abstraction you operate, the wealthier you are.
9. The Way Out
[An Ithaca Hour, an example of an alternative currency]
PN: So since this is a system we created, can we create something else?
DR: Right, that’s what open-source was supposed to be about. I believe that every realm of human experience and design is ultimately open-source if we choose for it to be. That’s why I got interested in religion and money, because those seemed to be the two areas that people would not accept an open-source premise. Religion — of course it isn’t, those are sacred truths! But I would argue that Judaism was actually intended as an open-source religion. I’ve written a book about that, called Nothing Sacred, which was and still is controversial. Because if the Torah is open for interpretation, if it’s this beautiful, myriad, hypertextual, hyperdimensional document that it is, then the whole thing is up for grabs: what happens to the real estate, the Israeli state?
Money of course is the other big area, it’s still the one thing they won’t let you print.
PN: You’ve seen the dual currency idea from the Middle Ages coming back in certain places?
DR: We’ve seen it coming back for 10 or 20 years now in places like Ithaca, New York, and Portland, Oregon; little places with alternative communities and hippies and weirdos and Grateful Dead parking lots and things like that. They could try local currency because people were weird enough to go for it.
More recently, after the economic downturn in Japan, dual currencies started to take hold in the non-”alternative” community. Everyone had time, but no one had money. Everyone was willing to work, but there were no companies they could work for. And since the only way we know how to work is to outsource our employment to a company, things looked bad.
One of the main needs people had was getting health care to their grandparents and great-grandparents who lived in towns far away. No one could afford home health care for them — people to bathe them, walk them around, give them their shots, their IVs, their bedpans. So if you can’t afford the service what can you do? What they did was set up a non-local complementary currency system where you would volunteer a certain number of hours of work to take care of an old person where you lived. You would acquire credits, and then someone who lived near your grandparents would take care of them for the credits you paid. There was no money involved! The currency was literally worked into existence. Even after the economy improved and people got their health insurance back, old people preferred the health care workers who were coming from the real people rather than the ones that came from the companies.
Now it’s starting to hit places in the US where things are especially bad — Detroit, Lansing, Cleveland — these are towns that have resources in people, land, old factories. They have time, they have energy, but they don’t have money and they don’t have any corporate interest. So what can they do? Make a local currency, start doing things for each other. I’ll fix your car, and you do something for me.
Promoting bank-lent businesses is basically saying that you don’t believe in sustainable business models yet. Any business that started with the bank is not a sustainable business model, because it’s already in the debt/interest track. This is where Obama is still confused. He should say,“Look, I realize the economic crisis is real, there are mortgages and loans and we’re going to work on that. But the more important thing right now is, rather than spending $5 trillion of your great-grandchildren’s money on these bankers that screwed up, let’s see how can we spend a teeny bit of money and reeducate communities about real economic development and sustainability.”
And it’s easy! When I talk to economists, or when I talk to bankers, they all say, “well that doesn’t work, you need a bank to go in and invest in a community for it to happen.”
Actually — you don’t. You don’t need the bank.
Life Inc., How Corporatism Conquered the World, and How We Can Take It Back, by Douglas Rushkoff: website.
Session of the Free Libre Open Knowledge summit in Quito
I’ve just returned from the best conference I’ve ever attended. It was the “summit’ of the Free Libre Open Knowledge FLOKSociety held in Quito, Ecuador. In recent times I’ve followed the free software, open source, open knowledge, open culture, new commons movement and its leading advocates. What happened in Quito was phenomenal: a gathering of activists, academics, pubic policy types, writers, hacktivists, indigenous people, visionaries, etc. — all mapping plans to take the “open knowledge” and the “new commons” approach into education, agriculture, new industrial production, public affairs, and other spheres of contemporary life. Under the general label of “Buen Conocer,” the event and the year of extensive research projects that preceded it were supported by the government of Ecuador. The next step is an attempt to realize at least parts of the vision mapped at the summit within that nation’s public policies, perhaps becoming a model for other countries as well as they seek alternatives to the toxic forms of capitalism and old fashioned socialism that earlier centuries have left behind.
There was a enormous amount of good energy and lively debate. Unlike the dreary scholarly gatherings I sometimes attend, there was very little show boating and trade show self-promotion that academic conferences usually feature. People seemed committed to making good ideas come to life in down-to-earth practical ways.
This site on the Resilience web page provides a good introduction and links for anybody interested.
Here in Spanish, is the summit’s site. I was primarily involved in the “Open Data and Open Government” table (“mesa,” shown below), skillfully moderated by Enrique Rojas, one of fourteen “mesas” where the issues were hammered out.
I’ll have more to say about this later as I ponder what I heard, saw and felt about it all, and as the results of the gathering emerge. Evidently, this June will be a month in which the central organizers and researchers edit and publish the summits findings and recommendations. The only newspaper reporter from the U.S. or Europe covering the scene was a fellow from The Guardian. I spoke with him at length. We’ll see what he has to say about the deliberations.