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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 »

Movement of the Day: The Green Web Foundation

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
20th December 2014


“One day the Internet will run entirely on renewable energy. The Green Web Foundation believes that day should be within reach, and develops tools to speed up the transition towards a green Internet”.

Towards a green web:

“The Green Web Foundation wants to facilitate the transition towards the Internet being powered by sustainable “green” energy. Why do we need that? How much electricity is the Internet using? What is the power used for? What is the difference between green and gray hosting? Does efficient equal ‘green’ as well? Find answers to these questions below.

* How much electricity is the Internet using?

Around 5-10% of the world’s available electricity is now consumed by the combination of datacentres, networks and Internet-connected-devices (PC’s, laptops, smartphones, iPads etc) and this percentage will continue to grow in the coming decade.

* What is grey hosting?

“Grey hosting” means that the servers of the web or datacentre hosting company are running on energy which is generated using fossil fuels and/or nuclear energy. The problem with this, apart from the negative impact on the climate and world, is simply that these resources are rapidly running out. If it is not a suitable strategy for the future, why put our money into it today?

* What is green hosting?

“Green hosting” means that the servers on which the web or datacentre hosting company are running on energy which is generated from sustainable sources such as wind, solar, thermal or hydro-power.

* We use a very energy efficient data-centre, does that make us green?

Efficiency is a great step in the right direction! Many companies worldwide are trying to lower their energy bills, and that is a good step to take. But if the remaining electricity is still being generated by the burning of coal or gas, for instance, the environment will keep deteriorating. The only way forward towards the green web that makes sense in the long run, is for all Internet services to become powered by renewable energy.

* What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy is energy that is generated by sources that do not run out in the foreseeable future: the wind will keep blowing, the sun will shine for quite a while more, and the rain will keep falling, accumulating in lakes and rivers that in turn feed the hydro-power stations.

Nuclear energy will run out (apart from its linkage to many other issues). Gas and oil are available only with limits, and burning them increases carbon levels and consumes our precious oxygen, impacting on the quality of the air we breathe and the cycles of our worldwide climate. Use of biomass also requires burning, with the same impact on air and climate, let alone on our precious forests.

* Is it possible to run the Internet entirely on renewable energy?

Yes, it is. Internet hosting companies and data centres are the new ”heavy industries” of our time. Data centres have a very stable and predictable electricity demand – they are perfect clients for use of renewable energy, and some very large data centres are already fully powered by solar power and wind power.

Currently, many data centres and other industrial clients are supplied by utility companies whose electricity comes from coal and oil generation. However, large factories are disappearing in the Western world, and the utility companies that formerly supplied them are facing lower demands and redundant capacity. When data centres and their clients start demanding renewable energy, utility companies will have to make changes in what they offer the market.

* What is a Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) or Carbon Offset Certificate?

In a number of locations, the only power available is ‘green’ power (generated from hydro power, solar and/or wind power) mixed in with ‘grey’ power (generated from fossil and/or nuclear energy). We call this ‘grey-green’ power. Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) are a way for consumers to offset the carbon burned by the grey power, through purchase of RECs to an equivalent value of the carbon burned in the grey power, and to demonstrate a commitment to 100% renewable power becoming available. These certificates are sold by agencies that do not produce power, and may result in investment in renewable energy production.

Unfortunately, offsetting carbon produced by electricity generation through purchase of such certificates may not be an effective way to increase the generation of renewable energy. Certificates offer “grey” fossil burning power plants a way to stay in business: by simply buying carbon offset certificates equivalent to the carbon produced by their grey electricity, their carbon generation is “offset” and grey is said to be “greened”. But in the end, we need the world to be powered on actual green energy – fully renewable energy.

There is a special class of RECs called ‘gold credits‘, that has been developed by the WWF. When used wisely, such as for offsetting in situations where there are no renewable alternatives yet (such as the aviation industry), gold credits and especially credits generated by mangrove forests, can be quite a good idea in this transitional period. In the long run, however, only actual 100% renewable energy will do.

* My company is offsetting gray energy with carbon-offset certificates, can we become a partner of The Green Web Foundation?

Only 100% renewably powered companies can become a Silver, Gold or Dev Partner of The Green Web Foundation. However, there are a small number of green hosting organisations in The Green Web Foundation database who are unable to purchase green power for their local operations, and who have for the time being purchased carbon offset certificates to show their commitment to green power.”

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Posted in Featured Movement, P2P Ecology, P2P Energy, P2P Infrastructures | No Comments »

Towards a Commons-Based International Food Treaty

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
16th December 2014


* Proposal: The commons-based international Food Treaty: A legal architecture to sustain a fair and sustainable food transition. By Jose Luis Vivero Pol. Rencontres internationales « Penser une démocratie alimentaire », 25-27 novembre 2013, Nantes

From the Summary:

“Food as a purely private good prevents millions to get such a basic resource, since the purchasing power determines access and the price of food does not reflect its multiple dimensions and the value to society. With the dominant no money-no food rationality, hunger still prevails in a world of abundance. Hunger is needlessly killing millions of our fellow humans, including 3.1 million young children every year, condemning many others to life-long exposure to illness and social exclusion. This paper argues this narrative has to be re-conceived and a binding Food Treaty, based on a commons approach to food, will create a more appropriate framework to work together towards a fairer and more sustainable world. The eradication of hunger no later than 2025 would be the main objective within a broader framework whereby food and nutrition security shall be understood as a Global Public Good. Within the treaty framework, those governments that are genuinely determined to end hunger (a coalition of the willing) could commit themselves to mutually-agreed binding goals, strategies and predictable funding. The paper presents the rationale to substantiate the treaty, as well as objectives, provisions and a possible route map for the process.”

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Posted in Commons, Food and Agriculture, P2P Rights | No Comments »

John Michael Greer on intermediation and the end of the market economy

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
16th December 2014


France, Château de Beynac Window

Extracted from his blog, John Michael Greer talks about the historical role of intermediation in both thriving and declining economies. This extract forms part of larger series of posts entitled “Dark Age America”


One of the factors that makes it difficult to think through the economic consequences of the end of the industrial age is that we’ve all grown up in a world where every form of economic activity has been channeled through certain familiar forms for so long that very few people remember that things could be any other way. Another of the factors that make the same effort of thinking difficult is that the conventional economic thought of our time has invested immense effort and oceans of verbiage into obscuring the fact that things could be any other way.

Those are formidable obstacles. We’re going to have to confront them, though, because one of the core features of the decline and fall of civilizations is that most of the habits of everyday life that are standard practice when civilizations are at zenith get chucked promptly into the recycle bin as decline picks up speed. That’s true across the whole spectrum of cultural phenomena, and it’s especially true of economics, for a reason discussed in last week’s post: the economic institutions and habits of a civilization in full flower are too complex for the same civilization to support once it’s gone to seed.

The institutions and habits that contemporary industrial civilization uses to structure its economic life comprise that tangled realm of supposedly voluntary exchanges we call “the market.” Back when the United States was still contending with the Soviet Union for global hegemony, that almost always got rephrased as “the free market;” the adjective still gets some use among ideologues, but by and large it’s dropped out of use elsewhere. This is a good thing, at least from the perspective of honest speaking, because the “free” market is of course nothing of the kind. It’s unfree in at least two crucial senses: first, in that it’s compulsory; second, in that it’s expensive.

“The law in its majestic equality,” Anatole France once noted drolly, “forbids rich and poor alike to urinate in public, sleep under bridges, or beg for bread.” In much the same sense, no one is actually forced to participate in the market economy in the modern industrial world. Those who want to abstain are perfectly free to go looking for some other way to keep themselves fed, clothed, housed, and supplied with the other necessities of life, and the fact that every option outside of the market has been hedged around with impenetrable legal prohibitions if it hasn’t simply been annihilated by legal fiat or brute force is just one of those minor details that make life so interesting.

Historically speaking, there are a vast number of ways to handle exchanges of goods and services between people. In modern industrial societies, on the other hand, outside of the occasional vestige of an older tradition here and there, there’s only one. Exchanging some form of labor for money, on whatever terms an employer chooses to offer, and then exchanging money for goods and services, on whatever terms the seller chooses to offer, is the only game in town. There’s nothing free about either exchange, other than the aforesaid freedom to starve in the gutter. The further up you go in the social hierarchy, to be sure, the less burdensome the conditions on the exchanges generally turn out to be—here as elsewhere, privilege has its advantages—but unless you happen to have inherited wealth or can find some other way to parasitize the market economy without having to sell your own labor, you’re going to participate if you like to eat.

Your participation in the market, furthermore, doesn’t come cheap. Every exchange you make, whether it’s selling your labor or buying goods and services with the proceeds, takes place within a system that has been subjected to the process of intermediation discussed in last week’s post. Thus, in most cases, you can’t simply sell your labor directly to individuals who want to buy it or its products; instead, you are expected to sell your labor to an employer, who then sells it or its product to others, gives you part of the proceeds, and pockets the rest. Plenty of other people are lined up for their share of the value of your labor: bankers, landlords, government officials, and the list goes on. When you go to exchange money for goods and services, the same principle applies; how much of the value of your labor you get to keep for your own purposes varies from case to case, but it’s always less than the whole sum, and sometimes a great deal less.

Karl Marx performed a valuable service to political economy by pointing out these facts and giving them the stress they deserve, in the teeth of savage opposition from the cheerleaders of the status quo who, then as now, dominated economic thought. His proposed solution to the pervasive problems of the (un)free market was another matter. Like most of his generation of European intellectuals, Marx was dazzled by the swamp-gas luminescence of Hegelian philosophy, and followed Hegel’s verbose and vaporous trail into a morass of circular reasoning and false prophecy from which few of his remaining followers have yet managed to extract themselves.

It’s from Hegel that Marx got the enticing but mistaken notion that history consists of a sequence of stages that move in a predetermined direction toward some as-perfect-as-possible state: the same idea, please note, that Francis Fukuyama used to justify his risible vision of the first Bush administration as the glorious fulfillment of human history. (To borrow a bit of old-fashioned European political jargon, there are right-Hegelians and left-Hegelians; Fukuyama was an example of the former, Marx of the latter.) I’ll leave such claims and the theories founded on them to the true believers, alongside such equally plausible claims as the Singularity, the Rapture, and the lemonade oceans of Charles Fourier; what history itself shows is something rather different.

What history shows, as already noted, is that the complex systems that emerge during the heyday of a civilization are inevitably scrapped on the way back down. Market economies are among those complex systems. Not all civilizations have market economies—some develop other ways to handle the complicated process of allocating goods and services in a society with many different social classes and occupational specialties—but those that do set up market economies inevitably load them with as many intermediaries as the overall complexity of their economies can support.

It’s when decline sets in and maintaining the existing level of complexity becomes a problem that the trouble begins. Under some conditions, intermediation can benefit the productive economy, but in a complex economy, more and more of the intermediation over time amounts to finding ways to game the system, profiting off economic activity without actually providing any benefit to anyone else.  A complex society at or after its zenith thus typically ends up with a huge burden of unproductive economic activity supported by an increasingly fragile foundation of productive activity.

All the intermediaries, the parasitic as well as the productive, expect to be maintained in the style to which they’re accustomed, and since they typically have more wealth and influence than the producers and consumers who support them, they can usually stop moves to block their access to the feed trough. Economic contraction, however, makes it hard to support business as usual on the shrinking supply of real wealth. The intermediaries thus end up competing with the actual producers and consumers of goods and services, and since the intermediaries typically have the support of governments and institutional forms, more often than not it’s the intermediaries who win that competition.

It’s not at all hard to see that process at work; all it takes is a stroll down the main street of the old red brick mill town where I live, or any of thousands of other towns and cities in today’s America. Here in Cumberland, there are empty storefronts all through downtown, and empty buildings well suited to any other kind of economic activity you care to name there and elsewhere in town. There are plenty of people who want to work, wage and benefit expectations are modest, and there are plenty of goods and services that people would buy if they had the chance. Yet the storefronts stay empty, the workers stay unemployed, the goods and services remain unavailable. Why?

The reason is intermediation. Start a business in this town, or anywhere else in America, and the intermediaries all come running to line up in front of you with their hands out. Local, state, and federal bureaucrats all want their cut; so do the bankers, the landlords, the construction firms, and so on down the long list of businesses that feed on other businesses, and can’t be dispensed with because this or that law or regulation requires them to be paid their share. The resulting burden is far too large for most businesses to meet. Thus businesses don’t get started, and those that do start up generally go under in short order. It’s the same problem faced by every parasite that becomes too successful: it kills the host on which its own survival depends.

That’s the usual outcome when a heavily intermediated market economy slams face first into the hard realities of decline. Theoretically, it would be possible to respond to the resulting crisis by forcing  disintermediation, and thus salvaging the market economy. Practically, that’s usually not an option, because the disintermediation requires dragging a great many influential economic and political sectors away from their accustomed feeding trough. Far more often than not, declining societies with heavily intermediated market economies respond to the crisis just described by trying to force the buyers and sellers of goods and services to participate in the market even at the cost of their own economic survival, so that some semblance of business as usual can proceed.

Read the full text here.

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Posted in Anti-P2P, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Empire, Politics | No Comments »

Podemos: the political upstart taking Spain by force

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
16th December 2014


Podemos-main
The following article, written by sociologist Carlos Declos, is the best overview I have read of Podemos’ current situation. It was originally published at Reflections on a Revolution.


Some frequent questions about the political singularity that now leads the polls in Spain. Just who are Podemos? And could they be a force for change?

In April of 2013, the far-right Spanish television channel Intereconomía invited an unlikely guest to their primetime debate show: a young, Jesus-haired college professor with an unequivocally leftist background named Pablo Iglesias, just like the founder of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party. Their goal was to corner him and hold him up as an example of an antiquated and defeated leftist past. Yet Iglesias responded to their rhetoric in a simultaneously polite but firmly antagonistic tone that appealed to both the younger generations who became politicized through the indignados movement and the older generations who did so during Spain’s transition from dictatorship to constitutional monarchy.

Over the following months, Iglesias and the team of academics and activists behind him were able to use this window of opportunity to catapult the message of the social movements and, most importantly, the people left behind by years of austerity and neoliberalism, into the mainstream media. Shortly after gaining access to the media, they formed the political party Podemos (“We Can”), initiating what polls are showing to be an authentic dispute for control of the Spanish government. How they were able to accomplish this in such a short amount of time will be studied in the political and social sciences for years to come.

Because it is a process that I have followed very closely for a number of years, I have often been asked by independent media-makers, academics and activists about how all of this came to be and what the implications are for movement politics. In this piece, I try to address some of the main questions I get from people who are actively engaged in the struggle for a real democracy.

Who are Podemos? Who are its leaders? Is this just another typical leftist party?

Podemos is a new political party that emerged at the beginning of 2014, initially as an alliance between the trotskyist Izquierda Anticapitalista and a group of academic “outsiders” with an activist background who had built a vibrant community through a public access television debate show called La Tuerka (“The Screw”). When I refer to this second group as outsiders, it is not to suggest that their academic output is eccentric or of a low quality. Rather, they are the types of academics who do not fit the mold favored by the so-called Bologna reforms of higher education in Europe, with its emphasis on highly specialized technical “experts” and empirical research, and its hostility towards a broader, theoretical and more discursive approach. These academics are currently the party’s most recognizable faces due to their formidable skills as communicators and their access to the mainstream media.

Recently, Podemos held elections for their Citizens’ Council, which is effectively the party’s leadership. Over 100.000 people participated in those elections through online voting. The team selected by Pablo Iglesias won by an overwhelming majority. It includes an interesting mix of academics, activists and some former politicians. For instance, Juan Carlos Monedero worked as an adviser to Hugo Chávez between 2005 and 2010, and he also advised Gaspar Llamazares of the Spanish United Left party. Íñigo Errejón is a very young and highly promising political scientist who carried out research in Bolivia and Venezuela, though prior to that he was one of the founders of Juventud Sin Futuro (Youth Without a Future), who had a major role in spearheading theindignados movement. Other activists from Juventud Sin Futuro include Rita Maestre and Sarah Bienzobas. Rafa Mayoral and Jaume Asens worked as lawyers for the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH), the highly successful civil disobedience movement for decent housing. And Raimundo Viejo and Jorge Moruno are prominent intellectuals associated with the autonomist left.

Whether or not Podemos can be considered a typical leftist party will depend on its evolution. What is clear is that they do not adopt the rhetorical and aesthetic baggage of the marginal leftist and green parties that currently decorate European parliaments. Also, in contrast to SYRIZA, Podemos did not exist prior to the 2011 wave of protests; they emerged based on a diagnosis of the movements’ discourse and demands. Much of what has made Podemos so effective in the post-2011 political arena has been their ability to listen to the social movements, while the pre-existing Spanish political parties were busy lecturing them. Yet, as time progresses and support for the party grows, Podemos is finding itself increasingly tempted to assume the structures that are best adapted to Spain’s formal institutions. Unsurprisingly, these structures are those that currently exist. Whether or not this institutional inertia can be overcome depends on the degree to which the party’s constituents are capable of maintaining tension with its leadership structure and guaranteeing their accountability.

Why did Podemos explode onto the scene in the way they did?

Podemos burst onto the political scene because they understood the climate in the aftermath of the 2011 protests better than any other political actor. For example, the role of the social networks in connecting those movements was extremely important, but a lot of people and political organizations misinterpreted that fact as support for a techno-political, decentralized peer-to-peer ideology. In contrast, I think Podemos saw the social networks as a discursive laboratory through which to build and strengthen a common narrative that they would then take to the public arena in order to maximize its impact. To put it bluntly, they were not content with memes and likes and long comment threads. They wanted to take that discussion to the bars, the cafés and the unemployment lines.

In a sense, the key to Podemos’s emancipatory potential can be summed up in a phrase popularized by Raimundo Viejo and later put into a song by Los Chikos del Maiz, a Marxist rap group that has been very close to the party’s emergence: “El miedo va a cambiar de bando,” which translates to, “Fear is going to change sides.” Currently, they are accompanying that phrase with another, saying that the smiles are also starting to change sides. Using this approach, what they have managed to do is take the insecurity and fears produced by precariousness, unemployment or poverty and, in contrast to projecting it on immigrants (which is what Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and, to a lesser extent, Beppe Grillo have done), they project it onto what they call “la casta” (the caste), which is basically the ruling class. And they have done this while, at the same time, “occupying” feelings like hope and joy.

Who supports Podemos? What segment of the population would consider voting for them?

In most of the reports I have seen or read in English, Podemos is described as a sort of outgrowth of the indignados movement, in something of a linear progression. I think this is wrong. While their message resonated far beyond their class composition, the indignados movement was largely composed of a relatively young, college-educated precariat. Their emphasis on direct action and slow, horizontal deliberation introduced something of a selection mechanism into actual participation in the movement, whereby people who were less versed in the culture of radical politics, had less time to spend in general assemblies, were not entirely comfortable with public speaking, were not particularly interested in learning new internet tools and were not willing to take the risks associated with civil disobedience were filtered out over time.

In contrast, Podemos’s access to television guaranteed contact with an older audience, which is extremely important in a country such as Spain, with its older population structure and decades of low fertility. And the types of participation that Podemos enabled (namely, ballot boxes and smart phone apps) have a low learning curve, require less time and involve fewer risks than the more autonomous politics of the indignados. Because of this, Podemos attracts a crowd that includes a much larger component of underprivileged, working class and older people, in addition to a very strong, college-educated youth demographic.

The ideological composition of the people who support Podemos is also interesting. While the bulk of the support they draw comes from people who used to vote for the center-left “socialist” party, nearly a third of the people who currently support them had previously abstained from voting, turned in spoiled ballots or even voted for the right-wing Popular Party. Furthermore, while Podemos openly rejects the standard “left-right” division that has characterised Western politics for years, surveys are showing that their voters mostly view themselves as leftists, that is, neither center-left nor far left. Taken together, this might suggest that Podemos are drawing on something of an untapped leftist imaginary, or that they may very well be redefining what it means for people to consider themselves “leftists” in Spain.

What is Podemos’s relationship with the grassroots movements?

Podemos’s relationship with the grassroots movements is a tricky question to tackle. In addition to the establishment parties and the mainstream media, some people who are active in the grassroots and social movements have been quite critical of Podemos. There are a lot of reasons for this, and I think it is an issue that requires much more reflection than what I can offer here, which is entirely my opinion at the moment. But at its heart, Podemos is part of a growing exasperation with an institutional “glass ceiling” that the social movements keep bumping up against and have not been able to shatter. This exasperation is visible not only in the rise of Podemos but also in the emergence of municipal platforms intended to join outsider parties, community organizations and activists in radically democratic candidacies. In this context, people from the social movements are generally split between those who favor that type of participation and those who prefer a radicalization of non-institutional action.

The main criticism I see coming from the second group is that Podemos started “from the top and not from the bottom.” I think this is wrong. A comically low-budget local TV show and a Facebook page are not what I would consider “high” in a neoliberal chain of command. What Podemos have done is rise very quickly from there, and as they have done so, they have had to deal with questions related to institutional inertia and the autonomy of their own organization. And that is where I think critical voices coming from the social movements are right to be nervous.

While Podemos initially drew its legitimacy, structure (the Círculos they started in various cities were basically conceived as local, self-managed assemblies) and demands (a citizen-led restructuring of the debt, universal basic income, affordable public housing, an end to austerity policies, etc.) from the social movements, their intention was always to draw people from beyond the social movements. They have succeed wildly in doing so, and it turns out that the world outside of the social movements is huge. And despite the fact that they agree with the demands of the social movements, that world appears to be less interested in the social movements’ methodology than the social movements would like. This is enormously frustrating, because it confronts us with our own marginality. It is also unsurprising, because if people who are not activists loved our methodology as much as our message, there would probably be a lot more activists.

The main example of this tension is the internal elections. So far, Iglesias’s lists have consistently won with close to 90% support, and many people who have been influential in shaping the discourse of the social movements (and even that of Podemos itself) are increasingly being left out of decision-making because they are not on those lists. Once out, they discover how little influence the social networks and the Círculos actually have not only relative to that of the members who appear on TV, but also on the people who are not actively involved in theCírculos, yet still identify with Podemos enough to vote in their elections. So far, this has led to some internal accusations of authoritarianism, which I find misguided and think are kind of missing the point. I think the real problem is that we are finding that, in the present climate, people are generally happier to delegate responsibility than we suspected, at least until they can vote on specific issues that affect their daily lives.

At the same time, this propensity to delegate depends a lot on the legitimacy and trust people have in Podemos, which to a large extent was built through their relationship with the streets. So I think the influence the social movements have on Podemos is going to depend on their ability to engage in street politics in such a way that they are able to meet dispossessed people’s needs, on the one hand, and shape the public conversation in a way that forces Podemos to position itself. An example would be the PAH. Podemos cannot stray too much from their demands for decent housing because everybody knows and agrees with them. If Podemos were to stray too far from their demands, the PAH could mobilize against them or simply put out a harsh press statement, undermining their legitimacy considerably.

Where do you see this going? Could Podemos actually win the elections?

I think this is going to change Spain and Europe as we know them, no matter what. Polls are showing that Podemos have a real shot at being the most voted party in the country. Some show that they are already the most supported, and Pablo Iglesias is by far the most popular politician in Spain. If Podemos were to win, in all likelihood the Popular Party and the “socialists” would try to form a national government centered on guaranteeing order, making a few cosmetic changes to the constitution and sabotaging any chance for Podemos to ever beat them. They would also probably try to destroy any chance at something like Podemos rising again. As it stands, the establishment is doing everything in its power to discredit them: associating them with terrorist organizations, accusing their spokespeople of misconduct based on nothing, fabricating news stories. Fear really has changed sides, and it is clearly the establishment that is frightened.

In this sense, I think it’s very important for movements, and for Podemos themselves, to think of what is happening as a kind of political singularity. This is not Obama putting the Democrats in the White House. It is a group of people who have been actively engaged in the struggle against neoliberalism that have managed to turn a populist moment during a period of economic crisis into a hope for a better democracy and an end to neoliberal austerity. At least in Spain, to blow this chance could be a major step backwards for emancipatory politics, towards another long journey through the desert.

Carlos Delclos is a sociologist, researcher and editor for ROAR Magazine. Currently he collaborates with the Health Inequalities Research Group at Pompeu Fabra University and the Barcelona Institute of Metropolitan and Regional Studies at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

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Essay of the Day: Democracy and Consensus in African Traditional Politics

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Michel Bauwens
15th December 2014


* Essay: Kwasi Wiredu. Democracy and Consensus in African Traditional Politics. A Plea for a Non-party Polity

Summary:

“Wiredu discusses the use of the consensus principle for political theory and practice in Africa. The consensus principle used to be widespread in African politics, and Wiredu elaborates on the example of the traditional political system of the Ashantis in Ghana as a possible guideline for a recommendable path for African politics. For empirical data, he draws from historical material published by British anthropologists (Evans-Pritchard & Fortes et al.) and Ghanaian intellectuals (Busia et al.). According to Wiredu, a non-party system based on consensus as a central principle of political organisation in Africa could avoid the evident problems of both the one-party system and the multi-party system imposed by the West.”

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Sharing as our common cause

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Stacco Troncoso
15th December 2014


Common cause dark blue short

The following text is the Executive Summary of Share the World’s Resources latest report: Sharing as our Common Cause. You can read or download the whole report here.


This report demonstrates how a call for sharing underpins many existing initiatives for social justice, environmental stewardship, true democracy and global peace. On this basis, STWR argues that sharing should be more widely promoted as a common cause that can help connect civil society organisations and social movements under a united call for change.

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.

This report demonstrates how a call for sharing is central to the formation of this growing worldwide movement of global citizens. As more and more people begin to raise their voices for governments to put human needs and ecological preservation before corporate greed and profit, the call 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 mutual concern is generally understood and couched in tacit terms, without acknowledging the versatility, commonality and wide applicability of sharing as a solution to the world’s problems.

For illustrative purposes, the many causes, initiatives and movements highlighted in this report’s ‘mapping’ section are broadly grouped according to five main categories: social justice, environmental stewardship, global peace, participative democracy, and multi-issue movements. For each of the causes outlined that fall within these overarching themes, it is not difficult to see how most – if not all – are essentially founded on a demand for a more equitable sharing of wealth, power or resources either within countries or internationally. For this reason, we argue that sharing should be more widely promoted as a common cause that can potentially help connect the world’s peace, justice 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 the 0.001%). 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 fundamental 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 fairer sharing of political power and economic resources, as further outlined in the section of this 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 just 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 also 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 integrally based on a fair and sustainable distribution of resources. In this way, the principle of sharing represents a valuable advocacy and educational tool that could 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 policy outcomes 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.

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 eventual prospect of societal, 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.

Recommendations

This report seeks to demonstrate how a global movement for sharing is already in existence – even if it has yet to affirm its collective identity or purpose. 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, albeit in a disparate and as yet uncoordinated form. The following recommendations outline how we can build upon this recognition and play a part in further strengthening and scaling up a united, all-inclusive and worldwide movement for sharing.

1. Integrate the message of sharing into advocacy and campaigning activities

Based upon our recognition of the need to scale up diverse forms of sharing across the world, it is important to explore what sharing means to us personally and in relation to the issues we are working on. This will enable us to integrate the message of sharing into our campaigning efforts and activism, whenever it is appropriate to do so. We can all therefore help to build popular and persuasive frames around the need for greater sharing in our societies from the perspective of justice, sustainability, peace and democracy. See the full report for some example ideas of how to frame various progressive endeavours in terms of sharing, which also serves as a valuable ‘meme’ that can be adopted and creatively played with in relation to the four key themes outlined in the report.

2. Mobilise on collective platforms for sharing

Building effective people’s movements through collaborative processes is arguably the holy grail of civil society campaigning, and extremely difficult to achieve in practice and on a large scale. But as the crises of inequality, global conflict and environmental breakdown become ever more real and urgent, there is great scope for individuals and groups to mobilise for transformational change on collective platforms for sharing that bring together several campaign issues that may otherwise remain distinct and unconnected. The full report outlines some examples of how social movements, campaign groups and activists could coalesce their efforts in the creation of such a common cause for sharing.

3. Sign and promote STWR’s global call for sharing

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 social justice, environmental stewardship, participatory democracy or peaceful co-existence. If you agree with the need to catalyse a global movement of citizens that embrace sharing as a common cause, please sign and promote the campaign statement below. By joining the 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.

To sign the statement, visit:
www.sharing.org/global-call

To read or download the full report, click here.

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Posted in Campaigns, Collective Intelligence, Commons, Culture & Ideas, Ethical Economy, Guest Post, Open Models, P2P Action Items, P2P Collaboration, P2P Development, P2P Ecology, Sharing | No Comments »

Basic Income as a Minimum Claim to Basic Resources

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Michel Bauwens
14th December 2014


Republished from Scott Santens:

“A basic income is in a way a minimum claim to resources, with each person using this to claim the resources most important to them. The fact a basic income is given regardless of work, makes it that much more clear it exists as such a claim on resources based on the shared right to such resources.
This last point is important. No one of us created the Earth. We were all born here. Its resources therefore can be seen as belonging to all of us or none of us. To use its resources that are free, and transform it into something else using human labor, does not change the fact a portion of it always remains owned by none or all because that portion was never created and only transformed.

It is this lack of 100% full individual ownership over anything and everything we create, that provides the justification that every single one of us has a right to a percentage, however small, of everything created by humanity. Therefore a basic income exists as a highly efficient means of representing such a claim to this universally owned portion as well as the means to effect its universal access.

For those familiar with a resource-based economy, basic income is a step in that direction. Instead of saying every human should have a 100% equal claim to all globally available resources, a basic income says that every citizen of a nation or state should have an absolute minimum claim to the natural resources of that nation or state, sufficient to secure individual basic needs, such that there will continue to be humans with a much larger claim, but no one will have less claim than a hard minimum limit.

In the United States 1.1% of all labor is involved in food production. This is because of how far we’ve advanced with our food technology, where we can now create all our food (and even waste half of it), with relatively miniscule effort. So why do we still insist that everyone work in order to eat it? If it took 1.1% less total effort, such that it took 0% of our total effort to produce our food (perhaps being produced by automated Star Trek style food replicators?), would we still insist people work to obtain food? If so, why?

Cash is a very efficient means of resource distribution. It’s a distributed non-centralized system. Is it the best of all systems? Probably not, but it’s what we’ve got right now, and it can certainly exist as a means of allocating individual resource rights, and distributing the goods and services people want to use these resource rights to obtain.

As for the idea that all prices will rise so much, that any attempt to guarantee a minimum allotment will be eroded, that is a huge oversimplification of how massively complex interconnected markets actually work and purely exists as a fear of change.

Think of it this way, what if food stamps didn’t exist? Do you think we would hear people saying we can’t give out food stamps, because it would raise prices so much that there would effectively be no point in giving them out in the first place? I imagine we would. Would they be right? Of course not, because we have food stamps, and they actually do allow more people to eat than would be able to without them. Without food stamps, a lot of people would be far worse off. Has the existence of food stamps raised the price of food for everyone else? If yes, does that mean we are all worse off because of them?

The same can be said of Social Security. Does that cause the prices of everything to rise so much, it isn’t worth it to seniors to receive it? If we didn’t have Social Security, would some people argue that implementing it would drive price inflation? Can you think of anything else we have that if we didn’t already have, we’d hear having it would cause the sky to fall?

We have the infrastructure in place and the technological capability to increase the quality of life for everyone.
We just have to decide to actually do it.”

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Posted in Ethical Economy, P2P Public Policy, P2P Rights | 1 Comment »

Book of the Day: DIY Citizenship

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hartsellml
14th December 2014


Book: DIY Citizenship: Critical Making and Social Media. by Matt Ratto

URL = http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/diy-citizenship

“Today, DIY—do-it-yourself—describes more than self-taught carpentry. Social media enables DIY citizens to organize and protest in new ways (as in Egypt’s “Twitter revolution” of 2011) and to repurpose corporate content (or create new user-generated content) in order to offer political counternarratives. This book examines the usefulness and limits of DIY citizenship, exploring the diverse forms of political participation and “critical making” that have emerged in recent years. The authors and artists in this collection describe DIY citizens whose activities range from activist fan blogging and video production to knitting and the creation of community gardens.

Contributors examine DIY activism, describing new modes of civic engagement that include Harry Potter fan activism and the activities of the Yes Men. They consider DIY making in learning, culture, hacking, and the arts, including do-it-yourself media production and collaborative documentary making. They discuss DIY and design and how citizens can unlock the black box of technological infrastructures to engage and innovate open and participatory critical making. And they explore DIY and media, describing activists’ efforts to remake and reimagine media and the public sphere. As these chapters make clear, DIY is characterized by its emphasis on “doing” and making rather than passive consumption. DIY citizens assume active roles as interventionists, makers, hackers, modders, and tinkerers, in pursuit of new forms of engaged and participatory democracy.”

 

Review

Thomas Swann:

“provides the results of the OccupyMedia! Survey carried out at the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013. Fuchs makes use of the results of the survey elsewhere (in Social Media: A Critical Introduction) but this is the first time they have been presented and analysed in full. Based on online questionnaires, the survey aims to answer research questions such as ‘What do activists perceive as the role of social media in Occupy?’ and ‘How often to activists use certain media and communications forms for trying to mobilize people for protests and occupations?’. (38-9) It deals directly, therefore, with the claims that have been made about movements like Occupy, but also the Arab Spring, the Indignados and others, that social media are central to how these uprisings and protests were organised.

Crucially, and this is one of the many strengths of OccupyMedia! and what makes it essential reading for those interested in contemporary social movements, Fuchs argues that social media were less key than authors like Manuel Castells and Paul Mason make out. While they do play a role, Fuchs’ research is able to show, importantly going beyond anecdotal evidence, that traditional, face-to-face contact and physical space played a more central role in Occupy than did online communications and virtual platforms (this is reflected in other recent studies of Occupy including Mark Bray’s Translating Anarchy (2013) which doesn’t mention social media at all in its account of Occupy Wall Street and my own research on more established activist groups which similarly highlights a reliance on face-to-face, offline communication (Swann 2014a)). OccupyMedia!, however, goes beyond this conclusion to highlight the ways in which social media were used and how activists relate to them as protest tools.

At the outset, Fuchs states the aims of the OccupyMedia! project as to analyse ‘how corporate and alternative, non-commercial digital media enable and or/limit the movement’s communication and protest capacities.’ (4) Rather than discussing how the study sheds light on the use of corporate platforms like Facebook and Twitter, I want to here focus on what it shows in relation to alternative media, social media in particular, and how these are defined by activists and can be defined in relation to the goals of contemporary social movements. ” (http://www.heathwoodpress.com/demanding-defining-alternative-media/)

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