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Archive for 'Politics'

Book of the Day: Revisiting Associative Democracy

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
28th July 2014


* eBook: Revisiting Associative Democracy. How to get more co-operation, co-ordination and collaboration into our economy, our democracy, our public services, and our lives . Ed. by Andrea Westhall, 2011

This eBook further develops Paul Hirst’s views of Associative Democracy and their current relevance.

Andrea Westhall explains:

“What are the limits of representative, deliberative or participative democracy? Is there anything else? How can all forms of democracy respond to the future and the environment? How might the language we use, and our unconscious assumptions, limit, or even disable, our ability to respond to some of the biggest challenges of our day? How do you understand and change systemic and complex situations, without creating catastrophic unintended consequences? And just how should we run, or think about, economic activity?

These are some of the big questions that sit at the end of society’s ‘to do’ list. Like ‘Change my life’ we never quite get round to them properly. We have lots of ideas but ? through habit or the need for survival ? we tend to put the action off for later. And we can’t do them by ourselves, whatever the self-help gurus or management consultants might say.

In order to break out of habitual ways of thinking, or to promote creativity, sometimes it is worth focusing on ideas or approaches that challenge and provoke you. This was the thinking that brought together a group of people around a particular text and a particular concept. Associative Democracy, a book by Paul Hirst, was written in 1994.”

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Posted in Featured Book, P2P Governance, Politics | No Comments »

Community Owned and Operated Cellular Networks in Rural Mexico

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
28th July 2014


I recently attended HOPE X in NYC and really enjoyed this presentation on community owned cellular networks in rural Mexico.

You can find out more about Rhizomatica at http://rhizomatica.org/.

(41 mins) Why try to avoid them spying on us on their networks when we could just build our own? This is what the Rhizomatica project has done in rural Mexico, where they help to build and maintain community owned and operated GSM/cellular infrastructure. Come and hear about experiences in the field and how to deal with the technological, legal, social, and organizational aspects that come along with operating critical communications infrastructure from a community emancipation and autonomy perspective. If you enjoy freedom, community, and dismantling the corporations and governments that seek to monitor, control, and exploit us, then this presentation is for you.

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Posted in P2P Infrastructures, P2P Movements | No Comments »

Improve Pirate Bay founder Peter Sunde’s prison conditions immediately

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Stacco Troncoso
27th July 2014


Improve Pirate Bay founder Peter Sunde's prison conditions immediately

Peter Sunde

Our friend Nadia EL-Imam, from Edgeryders has alerted us to this important campaign. Please read the article below and  add your signature to the petition.


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:

  1. Transferring him to a lower class prison and
  2. 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/

Flattr – https://flattr.com/

Photo Credit: Simon Klose

Click here to sign the petition

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Posted in Activism, Anti-P2P, Campaigns, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Empire, Events, Open Calls, Politics, Sharing | No Comments »

Enric Duran on shared and disobedient crowdfunding platform networks

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
25th July 2014


We’ve recently featured Coopfunding, an Open-Sourced crowdfunding platform designed to “…promote the financing of projects with a social, self managed and cooperative nature.”  Today we present a guest article by Enric Duran, one of the developers behind Coopfunding and its parent-project, the Catalan Integral Cooperative, explaining the reasons that led to the creation of Coopfunding. This article was originally published in Radi.MS


The expansion of crowdfunding in the last few years has been quite vertiginous.

Hundreds of projects have been able to get off the ground around the world coming from very different backgrounds but united in the aim of creating a link between donors and the projects they sponsor.

Crowdfunding, for its practicality and usefulness, has expanded without any ideological limitation and while it served to finance many social projects it has also supported more conventional initiatives based on consumerism and business as meant in the capitalist system.

In this way, more traditional fund raising events like benefit gigs and have been overlooked, and we should take in to account that with the crowdfunding model we are at risk of leaving the financing of social initiative in the hands of unscrupulous business which, through the management of crowdfunding platforms, are making the same profit that any middle man would make in an ordinary business transaction, through the charge of commissions which range between 5% and 10% of the donations received. Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indygogo have already made profits in the millions region.

we are at risk of leaving the financing of social initiative in the hands of third party business

Also, there are several projects which are managed by cooperatives which nevertheless still charge a 5% fee on donations in order to support themselves, like Goteo.org, managed on mainland Spain by a foundation dedicated to the expansion of common good, funditaly.it, a recent cooperative project and also a foundation in Veezuela calledwww.causasolidaria.com.

Another interesting project, which promotes the decentralization of its supporter, is Awesome Foundation, where donors from all over the world can network by theme or territory, pool their savings together and choose a project to which donate $1000 every month. Although it isn’t a micro-financing platform, it is still a project without intermediaries.

Still, there are some projects around the world that avoid supporting themselves through fee charging, like for instancehttp://www.microgenius.org.uk/, managed as a public service by http://www.communityshares.org.uk/ with the aim of facilitating the selling of shares in cooperative projects. Also without commission are Mymoneyhelp.fr, born in Lille, which is financed by social enterprise sponsoring and http://crowdfunding-italia.com, which is operating through voluntary work.

The majority of platforms impose an “all or nothing” clause with a limited term of not many days to accomplish the target

Another obstacle is that the majority of platforms impose an “all or nothing” clause with a limited term of not many days to accomplish the target (40 days is the usual). It’s a mechanism which benefits the intermediaries, since generally it is asked that promoters use their own funds or funds they had already secured through other means to start the campaign, of which they will have to loose the 5% commission fee in order to reach their target and secure the donations.

Furthermore, it seems to benefit the donors by guaranteeing the success of the projects they sponsor, whilst, in a sort of paternalistic way, denying them the choice to fund the projects regardless of it success in reaching the target.

Probably this does not affect the projects which have a strong human capital and who are well connected to social networks, since they will be able to fulfill the terms imposed, but this dynamic definitely puts smaller projects at a disadvantage, since they may not have the capacity to mobilize support in such a short amount of time. In this way then, a sort of social darwinism is created, where only the strong projects are likely to succeed, where as the smaller ones are lost on the way to oblivion. Evidently, this competitive and pressure are typical of the system in which we live, and not of the one most social movements are trying to create.

The fact is that a lot of projects which may need self financing can survive whether they reach their target or not, since that’s always been the case: many self managed projects have survived through the determination and creativity of their promoters. Many projects then, may need to receive on going financial support, or at particular times of the year, something that platforms such as crowdfunding do not take in to account.

Coopfunding.net re invents the concept of crowdfunding and adapts it to the real needs of the social projects that make use of it.

For this reason, it is necessary that we re invent the concept of crowdfunding and adapt it to the real needs of the social projects that make use of it. This is what the project coopfunding.net is trying to do, having become operative after many months of gestation.

Some of you may remember that Coopfunding already had a pilot appearance in the Spring of 20013, when a crowdfunding platform decided to cut our campaign due to the legal risks that it might have posed.

The campaign was collecting funds in order that Radi, which is not in operation at radi.ms, could become an alternative communication media through which we could still organize our activities despite my forced clandestineness since 2013.

This then, is another thing to bear in mind. 99% of crowdfunding platforms abide by the rules chosen by the 1% of the population, within the legal boundaries decided by different countries. Therefore, if we want to enjoy a crowdfunding platform which is coherent with the principles of projects which propose disobedience and revolution, we have to build one ourselves since we cannot depend on those which, despite their best intentions, are still bound by the legality of their policies.

http://www.coopfunding.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/coopfundingBarra.jpg

Coopfunding is a crowdfunding platform, newly released, without commissions or mediation, where each project can choose their terms according to their needs. With or without dedlines, rewards, with total flexibility and with the objective of being a tool for supporting social change projects.

The financial sustainability of the project is envisaged to be relying on the donations of social activists, through varied payment options and through the inclusion of local currencies, barter and criptomoney, whatever each project decides.

Coopfunding is a cooperative project open to the participation of whoever may want to contribute to make it possible, within a framework of disobedience towards the current system and a vision of integrated revolution. Furthermore, Coopfunding is a shared ownership projects, since it relies ultimately on the open consensus process of the Cooperativa Integral Catalana.

The tools which we use to access such support should be shared and communal too

I think it is important that, if we want a society where the tools we need are shared and communal, we might as well start with the ones where we can already apply this principle. Since financial support is a key factor in the success of many projects who are building alternatives, the tools which we use to access such support should be shared and communal too.

It would be very interesting if we could create a network of cooperative initiatives so that they may collaborate and support each other and gain public visibility, something very important in order to reach all the people that are necessary to have an effective fund raising campaign.

We are hoping and wishing that soon many other projects of this nature will spring up around the world, if you know of any please share the information!

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Posted in Activism, Campaigns, Collective Intelligence, Commons, Cooperatives, Crowdfunding, Economy and Business, Ethical Economy, Featured Content, Featured Essay, Guest Post, Open Models, P2P Collaboration, P2P Foundation, Politics, Sharing | No Comments »

Video: Tomislav Tomasevic on Commons-Based Political Struggles in Central and Eastern Europe

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
24th July 2014


Interview conducted by Frédéric Sultan with Tomislav Tomasevic on the occasion of the Economics and the Commons Conference in Berlin.

Watch the video here:

(the wrong video is likely shown below, due to a technical issue with the playlist, click on the link directly, or on item 3 of the playlist)

http: // www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSMv1ZCxIYw&list=PLiO9RvnsUfkYR3nlESkj73h8CLnDhh2kY&index=3

or here at: http://www.remixthecommons.org/?fiche=luttes-politiques-basees-sur-les-communs-une-conversation-avec-tomislav-tomasevic

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Posted in Commons, Default, P2P Movements, Politics, Videos | 1 Comment »

Evgeny Morozov on the dangers of Algorithmic Regulation

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
24th July 2014


In shifting the focus of regulation from reining in institutional and corporate malfeasance to perpetual electronic guidance of individuals, algorithmic regulation offers us a good-old technocratic utopia of politics without politics. Disagreement and conflict, under this model, are seen as unfortunate byproducts of the analog era – to be solved through data collection – and not as inevitable results of economic or ideological conflicts.

Excerpted from Evgeny Morozov:

” If policy interventions are to be – to use the buzzwords of the day – “evidence-based” and “results-oriented,” technology is here to help.

This new type of governance has a name: algorithmic regulation. In as much as Silicon Valley has a political programme, this is it. Tim O’Reilly, an influential technology publisher, venture capitalist and ideas man (he is to blame for popularising the term “web 2.0″) has been its most enthusiastic promoter. In a recent essay that lays out his reasoning, O’Reilly makes an intriguing case for the virtues of algorithmic regulation – a case that deserves close scrutiny both for what it promises policymakers and the simplistic assumptions it makes about politics, democracy and power.

To see algorithmic regulation at work, look no further than the spam filter in your email. Instead of confining itself to a narrow definition of spam, the email filter has its users teach it. Even Google can’t write rules to cover all the ingenious innovations of professional spammers. What it can do, though, is teach the system what makes a good rule and spot when it’s time to find another rule for finding a good rule – and so on. An algorithm can do this, but it’s the constant real-time feedback from its users that allows the system to counter threats never envisioned by its designers. And it’s not just spam: your bank uses similar methods to spot credit-card fraud.

In his essay, O’Reilly draws broader philosophical lessons from such technologies, arguing that they work because they rely on “a deep understanding of the desired outcome” (spam is bad!) and periodically check if the algorithms are actually working as expected (are too many legitimate emails ending up marked as spam?).

Algorithmic regulation could certainly make the administration of existing laws more efficient. If it can fight credit-card fraud, why not tax fraud? Italian bureaucrats have experimented with the redditometro, or income meter, a tool for comparing people’s spending patterns – recorded thanks to an arcane Italian law – with their declared income, so that authorities know when you spend more than you earn. Spain has expressed interest in a similar tool.

Such systems, however, are toothless against the real culprits of tax evasion – the super-rich families who profit from various offshoring schemes or simply write outrageous tax exemptions into the law. Algorithmic regulation is perfect for enforcing the austerity agenda while leaving those responsible for the fiscal crisis off the hook. To understand whether such systems are working as expected, we need to modify O’Reilly’s question: for whom are they working? If it’s just the tax-evading plutocrats, the global financial institutions interested in balanced national budgets and the companies developing income-tracking software, then it’s hardly a democratic success.

With his belief that algorithmic regulation is based on “a deep understanding of the desired outcome”, O’Reilly cunningly disconnects the means of doing politics from its ends. But the how of politics is as important as the what of politics – in fact, the former often shapes the latter. Everybody agrees that education, health, and security are all “desired outcomes”, but how do we achieve them? In the past, when we faced the stark political choice of delivering them through the market or the state, the lines of the ideological debate were clear. Today, when the presumed choice is between the digital and the analog or between the dynamic feedback and the static law, that ideological clarity is gone – as if the very choice of how to achieve those “desired outcomes” was apolitical and didn’t force us to choose between different and often incompatible visions of communal living.

By assuming that the utopian world of infinite feedback loops is so efficient that it transcends politics, the proponents of algorithmic regulation fall into the same trap as the technocrats of the past. Yes, these systems are terrifyingly efficient – in the same way that Singapore is terrifyingly efficient (O’Reilly, unsurprisingly, praises Singapore for its embrace of algorithmic regulation). And while Singapore’s leaders might believe that they, too, have transcended politics, it doesn’t mean that their regime cannot be assessed outside the linguistic swamp of efficiency and innovation – by using political, not economic benchmarks.

As Silicon Valley keeps corrupting our language with its endless glorification of disruption and efficiency – concepts at odds with the vocabulary of democracy – our ability to question the “how” of politics is weakened. Silicon Valley’s default answer to the how of politics is what I call solutionism: problems are to be dealt with via apps, sensors, and feedback loops – all provided by startups. Earlier this year Google’s Eric Schmidt even promised that startups would provide the solution to the problem of economic inequality: the latter, it seems, can also be “disrupted”. And where the innovators and the disruptors lead, the bureaucrats follow.

The true politics of algorithmic regulation become visible once its logic is applied to the social nets of the welfare state. There are no calls to dismantle them, but citizens are nonetheless encouraged to take responsibility for their own health. Consider how Fred Wilson, an influential US venture capitalist, frames the subject. “Health… is the opposite side of healthcare,” he said at a conference in Paris last December. “It’s what keeps you out of the healthcare system in the first place.” Thus, we are invited to start using self-tracking apps and data-sharing platforms and monitor our vital indicators, symptoms and discrepancies on our own.

This goes nicely with recent policy proposals to save troubled public services by encouraging healthier lifestyles. Consider a 2013 report by Westminster council and the Local Government Information Unit, a thinktank, calling for the linking of housing and council benefits to claimants’ visits to the gym – with the help of smartcards. They might not be needed: many smartphones are already tracking how many steps we take every day (Google Now, the company’s virtual assistant, keeps score of such data automatically and periodically presents it to users, nudging them to walk more).

The numerous possibilities that tracking devices offer to health and insurance industries are not lost on O’Reilly. “You know the way that advertising turned out to be the native business model for the internet?” he wondered at a recent conference. “I think that insurance is going to be the native business model for the internet of things.” Things do seem to be heading that way: in June, Microsoft struck a deal with American Family Insurance, the eighth-largest home insurer in the US, in which both companies will fund startups that want to put sensors into smart homes and smart cars for the purposes of “proactive protection”.

An insurance company would gladly subsidise the costs of installing yet another sensor in your house – as long as it can automatically alert the fire department or make front porch lights flash in case your smoke detector goes off. For now, accepting such tracking systems is framed as an extra benefit that can save us some money. But when do we reach a point where not using them is seen as a deviation – or, worse, an act of concealment – that ought to be punished with higher premiums?

Or consider a May 2014 report from 2020health, another thinktank, proposing to extend tax rebates to Britons who give up smoking, stay slim or drink less. “We propose ‘payment by results’, a financial reward for people who become active partners in their health, whereby if you, for example, keep your blood sugar levels down, quit smoking, keep weight off, [or] take on more self-care, there will be a tax rebate or an end-of-year bonus,” they state. Smart gadgets are the natural allies of such schemes: they document the results and can even help achieve them – by constantly nagging us to do what’s expected.

The unstated assumption of most such reports is that the unhealthy are not only a burden to society but that they deserve to be punished (fiscally for now) for failing to be responsible. For what else could possibly explain their health problems but their personal failings? It’s certainly not the power of food companies or class-based differences or various political and economic injustices. One can wear a dozen powerful sensors, own a smart mattress and even do a close daily reading of one’s poop – as some self-tracking aficionados are wont to do – but those injustices would still be nowhere to be seen, for they are not the kind of stuff that can be measured with a sensor. The devil doesn’t wear data. Social injustices are much harder to track than the everyday lives of the individuals whose lives they affect.

In shifting the focus of regulation from reining in institutional and corporate malfeasance to perpetual electronic guidance of individuals, algorithmic regulation offers us a good-old technocratic utopia of politics without politics. Disagreement and conflict, under this model, are seen as unfortunate byproducts of the analog era – to be solved through data collection – and not as inevitable results of economic or ideological conflicts.

However, a politics without politics does not mean a politics without control or administration. As O’Reilly writes in his essay: “New technologies make it possible to reduce the amount of regulation while actually increasing the amount of oversight and production of desirable outcomes.” Thus, it’s a mistake to think that Silicon Valley wants to rid us of government institutions. Its dream state is not the small government of libertarians – a small state, after all, needs neither fancy gadgets nor massive servers to process the data – but the data-obsessed and data-obese state of behavioural economists.

The nudging state is enamoured of feedback technology, for its key founding principle is that while we behave irrationally, our irrationality can be corrected – if only the environment acts upon us, nudging us towards the right option. Unsurprisingly, one of the three lonely references at the end of O’Reilly’s essay is to a 2012 speech entitled “Regulation: Looking Backward, Looking Forward” by Cass Sunstein, the prominent American legal scholar who is the chief theorist of the nudging state.

And while the nudgers have already captured the state by making behavioural psychology the favourite idiom of government bureaucracy –Daniel Kahneman is in, Machiavelli is out – the algorithmic regulation lobby advances in more clandestine ways. They create innocuous non-profit organisations like Code for America which then co-opt the state – under the guise of encouraging talented hackers to tackle civic problems.

For Silicon Valley, though, the reputation-obsessed algorithmic state of the sharing economy is the new welfare state. If you are honest and hardworking, your online reputation would reflect this, producing a highly personalised social net. It is “ultrastable” in Ashby’s sense: while the welfare state assumes the existence of specific social evils it tries to fight, the algorithmic state makes no such assumptions. The future threats can remain fully unknowable and fully addressable – on the individual level.

Silicon Valley, of course, is not alone in touting such ultrastable individual solutions. Nassim Taleb, in his best-selling 2012 book Antifragile, makes a similar, if more philosophical, plea for maximising our individual resourcefulness and resilience: don’t get one job but many, don’t take on debt, count on your own expertise. It’s all about resilience, risk-taking and, as Taleb puts it, “having skin in the game”. As Julian Reid and Brad Evans write in their new book, Resilient Life: The Art of Living Dangerously, this growing cult of resilience masks a tacit acknowledgement that no collective project could even aspire to tame the proliferating threats to human existence – we can only hope to equip ourselves to tackle them individually. “When policy-makers engage in the discourse of resilience,” write Reid and Evans, “they do so in terms which aim explicitly at preventing humans from conceiving of danger as a phenomenon from which they might seek freedom and even, in contrast, as that to which they must now expose themselves.”

What, then, is the progressive alternative? “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” doesn’t work here: just because Silicon Valley is attacking the welfare state doesn’t mean that progressives should defend it to the very last bullet (or tweet). First, even leftist governments have limited space for fiscal manoeuvres, as the kind of discretionary spending required to modernise the welfare state would never be approved by the global financial markets. And it’s the ratings agencies and bond markets – not the voters – who are in charge today.

Second, the leftist critique of the welfare state has become only more relevant today when the exact borderlines between welfare and security are so blurry. When Google’s Android powers so much of our everyday life, the government’s temptation to govern us through remotely controlled cars and alarm-operated soap dispensers will be all too great. This will expand government’s hold over areas of life previously free from regulation.

What, then, is to be done? Technophobia is no solution. Progressives need technologies that would stick with the spirit, if not the institutional form, of the welfare state, preserving its commitment to creating ideal conditions for human flourishing. Even some ultrastability is welcome. Stability was a laudable goal of the welfare state before it had encountered a trap: in specifying the exact protections that the state was to offer against the excesses of capitalism, it could not easily deflect new, previously unspecified forms of exploitation.

How do we build welfarism that is both decentralised and ultrastable? A form of guaranteed basic income – whereby some welfare services are replaced by direct cash transfers to citizens – fits the two criteria.

Creating the right conditions for the emergence of political communities around causes and issues they deem relevant would be another good step. Full compliance with the principle of ultrastability dictates that such issues cannot be anticipated or dictated from above – by political parties or trade unions – and must be left unspecified.

What can be specified is the kind of communications infrastructure needed to abet this cause: it should be free to use, hard to track, and open to new, subversive uses. Silicon Valley’s existing infrastructure is great for fulfilling the needs of the state, not of self-organising citizens. It can, of course, be redeployed for activist causes – and it often is – but there’s no reason to accept the status quo as either ideal or inevitable.

Why, after all, appropriate what should belong to the people in the first place? While many of the creators of the internet bemoan how low their creature has fallen, their anger is misdirected. The fault is not with that amorphous entity but, first of all, with the absence of robust technology policy on the left – a policy that can counter the pro-innovation, pro-disruption, pro-privatisation agenda of Silicon Valley. In its absence, all these emerging political communities will operate with their wings clipped. Whether the next Occupy Wall Street would be able to occupy anything in a truly smart city remains to be seen: most likely, they would be out-censored and out-droned.

Algorithmic regulation, whatever its immediate benefits, will give us a political regime where technology corporations and government bureaucrats call all the shots. The Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, in a pointed critique of cybernetics published, as it happens, roughly at the same time as The Automated State, put it best: “Society cannot give up the burden of having to decide about its own fate by sacrificing this freedom for the sake of the cybernetic regulator.”

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Posted in P2P Governance, P2P Hierarchy Theory, P2P Technology, Politics | 2 Comments »

Video: Primavera De Filippi on Ethereum

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
23rd July 2014


Very clear explanation on the potential of distributed governance through the bitcoin protocol, the good and the bad:

“Ethereum is a contract validating and enforcing system based on a distributed public ledger such as the one implemented by the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. The system allows for the management of complex distributed autonomous organizations, which raises questions about legality. Could this new platform promote the establishment of an entirely decentralized society, or will its disruptive potential eventually be absorbed by the established system? In this talk Primavera De Filippi — Berkman fellow and postdoctoral researcher at the CERSA/CNRS/Université Paris II — explores the dangers and opportunities of Ethereum.”

Watch the video here:

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Posted in P2P Governance, Videos | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: A Critique of Posthumanism and Transhumanism

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
23rd July 2014


* Article: Futurological Discourses and Posthuman Terrains. By Dale Carrico. Existenz 8/2 (2013), 47-63

From the Abstract:

“Seven basic distinctions seem to me key to grasping futurology as both a discursive and a sub-cultural phenomenon:

(1) technologies and technology: the actual constellation of artifacts and techniques in the diversity of their stakes and specificities as against technology as a de-politicizing myth disavowing these specificities;

(2) progress and destiny: techno-developmental social struggles in the service of avowed political ends in a material historical frame as against a paradoxical naturalization of progress into destiny, autonomy, convergence, and/or accelerationalist momentum;

(3) mainstream futurology and superlative futurism: hyperbolic techno-fixated norms and forms that suffuse popular marketing, promotional, consumer discourses as well as neoliberal administrative, developmentalist discourses as against the futurist amplification of this speculativeness, reductiveness, and hyperbole into faith-based, techno-transcendental, putatively scientific but in fact pseudo-scientific, quasi-theological aspirations toward superintelligence, supercapacitation and superabundance;

(4) superlativity and supernativity: posthuman/ transhuman against bioconservative/naturalizing futurisms, highlighting continuities and inter-dependencies of the two, as distinguished in turn from legible democratizing technodevelopmental social struggle, consensus science and sustainable public investment;

(5) posthumanism and transhumanism: post-humanisms as variations of superlative futurology against post-humanisms as variations of the critique of humanism, amounting to a distinction of moralizing prevalence as against ethical reconciliation;

(6) futurist discourses and subcultures: material differences in the objects and archives of discursive as against subcultural formations;

(7) futurity and The Future: distinguishing between the political openness inhering in the present in the presence of ineradicable stakeholder diversity as against instrumentalizing projections of parochial fears, fantasies, and stakes that would disavow and so foreclose futurity.”

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Posted in P2P Movements, P2P Theory | No Comments »

What Does a Post-Growth Economy Look Like?

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
22nd July 2014


Utopía

No respectable person in American politics dares to question the virtue of economic growth even though it is increasingly clear that life on Earth will collapse if current patterns of extraction and consumption continue.  So what is the responsible path forward?

It was exciting that the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. decided to host a two-hour webinar to explore this topic two weeks ago.  The dialogue – “A Deeper Look at the Limits to Growth:  Looking Beyond GDP Towards a Post-Growth Society” – amounted to dipping a toe into the water rather than a confident plunge.  But for Americans, who woefully lag behind European activists on this topic, it was a welcome attempt to get beyond conventional political stances.

Economic growth is always touted as the absolute precondition for greater social justice or environmental progress.  Yet somehow growth never really translates into sustainable gains for the environment or fairer allocations of rewards.  Nonmarket goals are always a receding chimera, an afterthought, a political football.  On the other hand, it is equally true that criticizing economic growth is a sure-fire way to be politically marginalized in American public life.  That’s a real problem, too.

The IPS webinar sought to probe the “fundamental rift between traditional progressives over the future of economic growth.  One segment argues that ecological limits dictate that the economic growth paradigm that we know is over…..Other progressives argue we should pursue growth policies — or even ‘green growth’ — and not concede that we are ‘anti-growth.’”

Here is how IPS introduced the webinar:

How do we move beyond the notion that green economists are tone-deaf to equity issues? How do we move beyond the misguided aspirations of many groups excluded from economic prosperity to grow the pie so they can have a larger piece of the pie?  What is the green economist message to traditionally economically excluded constituencies?

Is there a way to “redefine growth” that doesn’t politically concede limits to growth? (After all, conventional wisdom say no politician will win on a degrowth program). Is there a common framework that can unify both of these movements that address both of these group’s deep systemic concerns?

In the past, organized labor and environmentalists have gamely attempted to find a common ground – a “blue/green alliance” – that would push for higher wages and stronger environmental protection at the same time.  Such projects have been a valiant effort to force capital to internalize its negative externalities (pollution, habitat destruction, etc.) and allocate the benefits of growth more equitably.

However, such efforts have never achieved all that much. Organized labor has persisted in seeing economic growth as a necessary condition for improving its members’ standard of living.  And environmentalists, with good reason, have persisted in trying to limit the extraction and consumption of natural resources – which is often seen as anti-labor. A deep unity has been elusive.

Peter Victor, an economist who studies environmental issues at York University, UK, argued the overwhelming case for ecological limits to growth.  He noted that the material “throughput” of industrial economies has been increasing, but the capacity of the biosphere to absorb the waste has not; GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is far outpacing the ecological footprint of economic activity.  Growing the economy at 3% per year over the next 100 years would mean that the economy would become 18 times larger, he said.  The only way to prevent a corresponding increase of ecological harm would be for efficiencies to increase 18-fold as well, which is patently ridiculous.

Victor offered five arguments for the need to limit growth:  the overwhelming evidence that the current economy is ecologically unsustainable; the increasing difficulty in finding low-cost fossil fuels, which means any future economic growth will have greater ecological impacts; the failure of economic growth to correlate to human happiness; the waning prospects of real economic improvements in “developing” economies; and the growing impact of market activity on many living species.

Ron Blackwell, the former chief economist for the AFL-CIO and UNITE, the textile workers union, agreed that both environmentalists and labor are failing in their respective missions and need to find better ways to work together.  And he agreed that labor has traditionally seen economic growth as essential to increasing employment.  Yet the post-2008 recovery has seen virtually no real growth in jobs or wages.  While calling for greater solidarity between labor and environmentalists, Blackwell’s prescriptions were mostly for greater public funding for education, research and greener infrastructure.  He also urged everyone to recast the growth discussion as “growth for what?”  What exactly are we trying to grow?

Alas, I’m not sure if such “split the difference” approaches are going to get us where we need to go.  It may ultimately come down to “which side are you on” – growth or post-growth?  Will the argument for jobs and the environment be carried on within the “growth framework” – or can we begin to re-imagine the economy as something significantly different, something that escapes the growth compulsion?  Can we imagine the economyas a subset of ecological systems, and begin to align human culture with the Earth’s inescapable needs as a living system?

David Korten, the author and activist, pointed out that the growth frame (falsely) assumes that technology can replace nature’s services.  We need to shift our conceptualizion of “the economy” into a story of production integrated with the living system known as Earth, he said.

It is not exactly clear how to achieve this, however – although I think that the commons offers some helpful suggestions.  To engage with an ecological commons is to develop a reciprocal relationship with nature; to focus on nonmarket, household needs rather than consumerism or for-profit gains; to focus on local needs rather than global market trade; and to nourish a different vision of human development than neoliberalism.

Juliet Schor, the Boston College sociologist who studies consumerism, work and the economy, argued that “we need to transcend the tradeoffs,” such as the alleged tradeoff between greenhouse gas emissions and human well-being.  We cannot just “green the economy” as a sideline, she warned, if we are going to meet the 8 to 10% annual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say wealthier countries must achieve to prevent runaway global warming.

Schor had some of the most compelling suggestions in the webinar.  For example, focus on the local and regional as the space for real transformation.  She also argued that we must begin to focus on sectoral improvements rather than broad macro improvements alone.  The idea should be to “de-carbonize” energy, transportation and food production as distinct sectors of the economy.

Schor denounced neo-Keynesian economists as “a cargo cult” that still believes in “trickle-down effects” to improve social well-being while pursuing growth.  That won’t work, she said.  We need to “restructure bottom-up processes” if we are to transcend the tradeoffs and reinvent the economy.

Mateo Nube, an activist with Movement Generation, offered some excellent suggestions of his own.  Instead of taking growth as the starting point of discussion, we need to move beyond the whole GDP discussion and re-focus on the original, core goal of economics – the management of “home.”  If Earth is our home, how do we begin to regain control over its management from out-of-control global markets?  Nube advised, We start by re-building our relationships to place, and regain our capacity to manage “home” (earthly resources) in reciprocal, democratic ways.

Unfortunately, this is precisely the conversation that neo-Keynesians, locked in an archaic framework of discussion, dismiss.  They don’t wish to decentralize the economy, impede its global “efficiencies,” or integrate the many negative “externalities” of the economy into a new framework that would largely eradicate externalities.

I found it a depressing that some of the conventional commentators on the panel were so policy-oriented in their approaches that they had nothing to say about the role of democratic participation and innovation — Internet-style — as a promising space for transformation.  The great strides being made by open design,hardware and manufacturing (cars, furniture, farm equipment, etc.) are a good example.  Why can’t subsistence agriculture and locally based fishing be fortified as more eco-sustainable alternatives to industrial farming and industrial fishing?

Mateo Nube noted that growth built on expansion always eradicates diversity because it is always expanding into territories occupied by others.  Growth is always about homogenizing diversity by stealing from other countries, from nature and from living systems.  “We have been moving from 6,000 languages to 500 languages, and from hundreds of banks in the world to about five mega-banks,” said Nube.  “The only way to deal with the impact that the global economy has on place is to devolve power, resources and decisionmaking to a local, living economy that has autonomy.”

Getting back to the rift between organized labor and environmentalists, Nube said that we must recognize that “social inequity is a form of ecological imbalance.”  The best way to address this problem is to restore our labor in relation to life systems, he said:  Combine ecological restoration with social justice, and build a visionary, oppositional economy that entails translocal cooperation.  The strategy should be used to displace the current system.

It’s great to hear such dialogues in an American context where the idea of post-growth rarely gets a hearing.  I’m hoping that the fourth international Degrowth conference in Leipzig, Germany, in early September will help push this conversation along.


This article was originally posted in bollier.org

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Essay of the Day: Information Machine and the Society of Metadata

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
21st July 2014


* Article: Italian Operaismo and the Information Machine. By Matteo Pasquinelli. Theory, Culture & Society February 2, 2014

From the Abstract:

“The political economy of the information machine is discussed within the Marxist tradition of Italian operaismo by posing the hypothesis of an informational turn already at work in the age of the industrial revolution. The idea of valorizing information introduced by Alquati (1963) in a pioneering Marxist approach to cybernetics is used to examine the paradigms of mass intellectuality, immaterial labour and cognitive capitalism developed by Lazzarato, Marazzi, Negri, Vercellone and Virno since the 1990s. The concept of machinic by Deleuze and Guattari (1972, 1980) is then adopted to extend Marx’s analysis of the industrial machine to the algorithms of digital machines. If the industrial machine can be described as a bifurcation of the domains of energy and information, this essay proposes to conceive the information machine itself as a further bifurcation between information and metadata. In conclusion, the hypothesis of the society of metadata is outlined as the current evolution of that society of control pictured by Deleuze (1990) in relation to the power embodied in databases.”

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