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Greece: Insular Environments, Empowering Technogenesis for a Global Continent

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
23rd November 2014


EFS highres STS034 STS034-86-96

On the 7th of November 2014, the Greek Society of Regional Scientists (SEP) and the Social Lab of Greek Engineers (KEP) co-organised a round table discussion with subject «Insular environments, empowering technogenesis for a global continent».

Michel Bauwens, invited guest, provided an introductory presentation concerning the similarities between P2P communities and insular regions or islands.

The key arguments discussed are:

  1. The insular approach in development shows how production and innovation may emerge without central control. Characteristics such as common language, shared values, goals and incentives, common value creation and mutuality, along with the inherited value of sustainability, can help us to understand the relevant transitions in the production and innovation models.

  2. P2P resembles the concept of insularity and thus has the potential to gain from the parallelism with islands.

  3. P2P and distributed commons-motivated activity is changing the way we produce as it:

    1. substantiates accessibility to knowledge;

    2. makes smaller markets more attractive for their members;

    3. allows for domestic production.

  4. Classic dependencies on space, physical resources and scale can be challenged on a new distributed world thanks to new capabilities offered by ICT networks.

Following a vivid discussion on the mentioned arguments, the following remarks were made:

With focus on the global agenda:

  1. In a resource constrained world, it’s now necessary to decouple growth from more energy and materials use. P2P models can offer such an approach as they focus more on the dynamism of the unlimited intellectual, immaterial co-operation that is evolving rather than on the scaling up of the physical means of production.

  2. Frameworks that are based on knowledge and creativity mutualisation are highly technogenetic. They seem to extend the capacity for research and development and suggest radical and long lasting innovation. Such frameworks can be considered for a discussion against the present material dependent models, which are controlled and determined by short, incremental innovations or even opportunistic ideas’ replications though allied to profits maximisation and rapid growth.

  3. Such alternative frameworks involve forms of mutual accommodation between central and distributed, interconnected productive nodes, making possible economies of co-ordination and transaction, thus broadly achieving economies of scope.

  4. In the sphere of physical production, smart electricity grids organised in aggregated micro-grids are representatives of forms in which system operation is shared between central and distributed generators. Prescribing a promising future, a unique feature of micro-grids is that they can be automatically transferred to islanded mode and resynchronised. The emergence of smart grids may be critically attributed to the world-class innovativeness of the Greek islands’ electricity system.

  5. The idea, however, that “economies of scope” exclusively lay with mutually aggregated distributed production rather than large scale corporations as “ray economies of scale” is challenged in economic terms. Namely, evidence of productivity growth due to this shift (P2P, commons-centred production) is required. Undoubtedly, distributed production is a contested terrain with the risk that these same platforms enable large corporations to become increasingly powerful while at the same time minimising their costs.

With focus on Greece and the islands:

  1. Greece is under necessity. Innovation pessimism is apparent, with the notion that economic growth has been ground to a halt despite the world rapidly advancing technologies and hyperconnected economies. In itself is an island, extremely in need of communication with outside world.

  2. Bridging the communication gap is a matter of knowledge and creativity. Knowledge institutions have to uncover extroversion, creativity and collaboration and to infuse them into youth which demonstrate an inherent flexibility, mobility and willingness to drive change. Greek State and society have to give youth a dominant role to play in leading the shift into a decentralised, globally distributed and interconnected productive platform. Institutions have to adapt to the rules and norms of such productive communities. All available resources have to be focused on a youth-inclusive high-employment sharing economy, globally connected.

  3. In order to capture the development paradigm discussed thereby, we should express innovations and the new concepts in a comprehensive language.

  4. Radical change out of necessity should not be confused with uniform rapid growth. Growth was worldwide slow during the periods of major technological changes. Slow growth, however, may be a long lasting and better distributed (in terms of equality), stable growth.

  5. Greek islands exhibit a world-class innovativeness as far their electricity system and a remarkable resources and quality balance. Mutual exchanges with collaborative platforms in a global context are envisaged.

Further, the discussion proceeded with recommendations addressing the following:

  1. Better understanding of the new evolving paradigm from a conceptual standpoint. A comprehensive communication platform should be elaborated.

  2. Provision of explicit economic documentation of all alternatives.

  3. Provision of physical experimentation with islands and insular regions.

Participants:

Michel Bauwens – P2P Foundation, Commons Strategies Group, FLOK project

Costas Bissas – Independent researcher, ???

Theodor Goumas – Energy professional, KEM

Nikolaos Hatziargyriou – Professor NTUA

Stamatis Kalligeros – Lecturer Hellenic Naval Academy

Ilias Kontakos - Policy and Investment Advisor

Ioannis Margaris – Researcher NTUA, FLOK project

Stavros Messinis – Business initiator

Dimitris Papalexopoulos – Professor NTUA, Fab Lab Athens

George Papanikolaou – Lecturer Harokopio University, P2P Foundation

Gregory Papanikos – ATINER, Honorary Professor University of Stirling

Lampros Pyrgiotis – Independent researcher, ???, ???, Fab Lab Athens

Michalis Vrachopoulos – Professor TEI Sterea Ellada, KEM

Themistoklis Xanthopoulos – Professor Emeritus NTUA, ???

Rapporteurs: Ilias Kontakos and Lampros Pyrgiotis

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Posted in Events, P2P Movements, Politics | No Comments »

Digital Security Guide for Environmental Rights Defenders in Africa

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
23rd November 2014


Written by Samuel Maina for Global Voices

A new digital security guide seeks to help environmental rights defenders in Sub-Saharan Africa protect themselves and their communities. Developed by Tactical Technology Collective, a Berlin-based info-activism organization, the guide was developed through a collaborative process with groups working in this field across the region.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 1.09.57 PMThe fight to save the environment and natural resources that impoverished communities depend on is intensifying as oil and gas are discovered in more and more places throughout Africa. The loss of land to agricultural multinationals and the building of mega-dams is increasing. Extraction of myriad other resources and poaching are all at an all-time high. In the middle of all this, environmental rights defenders (ERDs) are struggling to make corporations and governments accountable to the people and to defend the integrity of ecosystems.

Reports released by such organizations as Global Witness, particularly the “Dangerous Environment“ report, show a sharp increase in known killings of environmental and land defenders by their adversaries worldwide. The report shows that three times as many people were killed in 2012 than 10 years before.

With the growth of technology and increasing use of digital advocacy and communication tools to do their work, ERDs in Africa are increasingly becoming vulnerable to cyber-attacks and harassment. Governments and corporations are targeting ERDs through loopholes left in their digital life.

In response to these trends, Tactical Technology Collective launched a digital security guide targeted specifically for environmental rights defenders.

Continue to Read the Full Article on Global Voices -

http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/2014/11/20/digital-security-guide-for-african-environmental-rights-defenders/

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Posted in Activism | No Comments »

Knowledge as a Common – Communities of production and sharing in Greece

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
22nd November 2014


Vasilis Kostakis -

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

For English subtitles, go to “settings” on youtube and press ‘cc’

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Posted in Activism, Culture & Ideas, Featured Movement, Featured Video, Videos | No Comments »

From Renewable Energy to Renewable Matter

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
21st November 2014


From the Post-War Era we have inherited a thriving society that is now threatened by pollution and a diminishing social cohesion. These problems cannot be solved by erecting defensive walls to stop innovation but by building bridges towards an engaging future. Renewing energies, materials and relations is the way forward.

From the Renewable Matter magazine launch editorial:

” Today, the march towards renewable energy can only be slowed down, but not reversed. Therefore, time has come to add a second pillar: that of renewable matter. It is a considerable conceptual leap implying an overturn of the current dominant viewpoint. Up until now, the industrial production generated a one-way material flow, turning part of nature into a mine and another into a dump, passing off pollution and environmental degradation as unavoidable collateral damage. On the other hand, the renewable matter approach views the environment as a key resource – the major asset for all possible exploitations and whose yield can be smartly utilised – and considers the materials involved in production as a continuous flow, in which single commodities are just the transitory steps matters goes through.

Such conceptual leap requires a change in language. Terms such as “virgin material”, “raw material”, “secondary raw material”, “waste”, “products and by-products” entail a values scales in which matter is progressively degraded (from virgin to raw material, from raw material to secondary raw material and so on and so forth). The concept of renewable matter ousts this old hierarchy by going beyond the idea of recycling as the only phase of reutilization, almost the exception that confirms the rule of a linear process.

Within the “cradle to cradle” vision, transformation becomes crucial, a model that has passed the test of time with flying colours over three billion years of evolution of life on the planet. After use, matter breaks down into parts that get back into the cycle becoming what they were at the beginning or acting as input for other products and for industrial, energy or craft systems. Such perspective would be worth enhancing by creating “Tables of renewability” (inspired by Mendeleev’s Periodic Table) classifying the ability of each material to regenerate and to be reutilized according to its structure and the technological and environmental abilities available.

Although different, there are three fields sharing this new way of thinking. They are deeply interconnected (commodities, biomaterials, waste) and share one common factor: the environment.

Commodities. Raw materials represent the core of the problem. Their flow influences economic trends and income distribution. Current market globalization and the growing importance of financial activities in economic systems make it all the more complex. It is an ever-changing scenario that can be transformed radically by the recent trend of replacing goods with services (i.e. cars and photocopiers are loaned for use rather than owned).

Biomaterials. They are materials coming from the organic realm (produce and waste from organic production chains) and as such they can be regenerated in a relatively short time so they can be considered renewable. Overall, they represent an inexhaustible mine of environmentally low-impact materials that, thanks to technological innovation, can become sources of supply for many industries, thus creating an alternative to conventional raw materials.

Biofuels, nowadays used even for aircrafts, or bioplastics, whose range of uses spans from packaging to medical surgical technology, are a case in point.
Waste. As it has become clear over recent years, waste is no longer a price to pay for the production system but it rather represents an efficiency deficiency that we are trying to fix. In a period of economic crisis, the fact that waste is just “a misplaced resource” becomes more and more measurable in monetary terms. It is evident how the huge flow of materials transformed into waste cannot be discarded and must be exploited in some way. But how? There are several possible approaches depending on the level of innovation in the making of a product. If the manufacturer, inevitably generating waste, does not take care of the possible uses of that “waste”, then its exploitation and reutilization becomes difficult. On the other hand, if the maker of a product has devised an efficient reutilizing strategy, the quantity of wasted materials becomes minimal, amounting only to the entropy inherent in any transformation process. Nowadays there are already some materials that go through the “waste” stage with minimal loss of value. Thanks to suitable treatment, they can offer the same performance they had at the beginning of the production cycle. But the majority of materials is partially reutilized or dumped into landfills.

The Environment. The environment is involved in all the flows outlined so far. Raw materials, both organic and inorganic, are taken from the soil. Biomaterial and biofuels derive from crops that inevitably prevent other uses of the same land. Waste has an impact on the environment or causes climate-changing emissions that, in turn, affect soil’s quality and yields. In order to harmonize a different industrial strategies, two essential elements are needed. A systemic approach without which there is a risk of becoming inefficient, namely you gain with one hand while losing with the other. And, secondly, the ability to create common interests capable of steering such transformation.”

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Posted in P2P Ecology, P2P Manufacturing | No Comments »

Ethereum: Freenet or Skynet

photo of Primavera De Filippi

Primavera De Filippi
19th November 2014


What is Ethereum? Can this technology actually support the establishment of a utopian, free, and decentralized society? Or could it instead promote a more dystopian vision of society – or even a Skynet? Before we can understand anything about Ethereum, we must first understand Bitcoin: what it is, and how it works.

The Bitcoin story begins in 2009, when Satoshi Nakamoto (whose identity is still unknown, in spite of recent rumors published in Newsweek) released the first implementation of Bitcoin, which he described as a “a decentralized currency based on a cryptographic ledger” – but what does that mean, exactly?

  • First, there is the notion of a decentralized database, known as the blockchain. To understand the concept of the blockchain, imagine a public ledger that records every transaction made on the Bitcoin network, and that a copy of this ledger is distributed to every user connected to the network. These users all agree that once a transaction has been recorded, it can never be deleted.
  • Second, there is the concept of digital tokens, which are the basic unit of transaction. Combining this with a transaction system on the decentralized database creates a decentralized currency or payment system.
  • Finally, there is encryption, which serves to ensure the integrity and security of the overall system by preventing anyone from performing a transaction unless they have the proper authority to do so.

And so, we have Bitcoin: a decentralized cryptocurrency that operates on a peer-to-peer network, which is not regulated by any central bank or other governmental institution but only – and exclusively – by code.

I will not go into the technical (and actually quite complex) details of the Bitcoin protocol, but it is important to know that its code is entirely open source, so anyone may examine it and try to find flaws in the implementation.

After a few years of struggle, testing, and experimentation, Bitcoin’s value rose from less than a dollar in 2009 to over $1,000  in recent months. Nowadays, it is accepted by many commercial actors, such as Foodler or Eurostock, and a growing number of ATMs are being deployed all over the world. Bitcoin has proven that it is possible to have a working decentralized currency system. However, the really interesting point about Bitcoin is not the currency itself, but rather the fact that its protocol – the blockchain – can be used to implement many other applications which have nothing to do with money.

Now let us consider Ethereum, which builds upon the technology of Bitcoin in order to create a next generation “Smart Contract and Decentralized Application” platform. What does that mean, exactly? Well, if Bitcoin is a decentralized cryptocurrency, Ethereum is the platform upon which a decentralized cryptocurrency can be built. Some have defined it as “cryptocurrency 2.0”,  but actually, it is much more than that.

Just like Bitcoin, Ethereum implements a decentralized database, a system of digital tokens, and an encryption scheme. But it also implements a Turing-complete scripting language, which makes it possible for anyone to deploy an application directly on the blockchain. So, instead of adding new features to the Bitcoin protocol, Ethereum took a step back and actually removed all features from the blockchain, in order to make it easier for users to build their own applications by implementing only the features they need as an extra layer on top of the blockchain.

Therefore, just as Bitcoin marked the establishment of a decentralized cryptocurrency that subsists independently of any government or financial institution, Ethereum could potentially lead to the deployment of decentralized applications that operate autonomously on the blockchain.

In fact, Ethereum not only makes it very easy to deploy alternative cryptocurrencies, but also to set up decentralized communications systems (like BitMessage),  alternative social media (like Twister), or online storage (like Dropbox) in a completely decentralized way, therefore not controlled by any third party. Given that there is no centralized third party to interact with, the interactions between applications and users are regulated by the code of these applications. In Ethereum lingo, this code is actually a “smart contract”, which establishes the rules and procedures that everyone must abide by.

So, what’s a smart contract? Well, a contract is an agreement between two or more individuals who agree to do something, in exchange for receiving something else. The problem is that each party has to trust that the other party will, in fact, fulfill its side of the contract. Smart contracts eliminate the need for trust between parties to the extent that they are self-enforceable. In fact, the code and the contract have been merged into one, given that the contract is both defined and enforced in the same way –  by the code.

In the analog world, the most common example we could use is that of a vending machine.

You put money into the machine, and – assuming you inserted the correct amount of money – the machine will deliver the product you ordered. You don’t need to trust the machine, and the machine doesn’t need to trust you, either. But what’s even more interesting is that in Ethereum, you can also have decentralized applications interacting directly with other decentralized applications, essentially eliminating the need for any human interaction.

Ethereum 2

This leads to the most interesting aspect of Ethereum, which is the concept of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations. Basically, these are a more sophisticated kind of smart contract, with a constitution that stipulates the rules of governance for the organization, and with a system of equity allowing users to invest in the organization by purchasing shares.

Take ICANN, for example. Instead of trusting an organization to operate according to a certain set of principles, we can encode these principles into the protocol of a decentralized application (like Namecoin), or even incorporate them into the constitution of a decentralized autonomous organisation.

But, to come back to the legal issues: what’s so special about Distributed Autonomous Organisations? And why do they raise so many interesting legal challenges?

  • First of all, they are autonomous in the sense that once they’ve been created on the blockchain, they no longer need their creators, nor are they under any obligation to respond to, or be responsible of any requests made by them.
  • Secondly, they are self-sufficient in that they charge users for the services they provide in order to pay others for the resources they need (such as bandwidth and processing power).
  • Finally, they are decentralized, since they do not subsist on a specific server, but instead are encoded into the blockchain (which is distributed to the entire network), and their code is executed in a decentralized manner by every node of the network.

These characteristics make them extremely difficult to regulate because there is no single entity which has control over them. In addition, given the self-enforcing properties of their code, they might actually challenge some of the most basic principles of our legal system. In fact, there are many legal challenges raised by Ethereum, but I will focus here only on the three that seem most interesting to me.

Let’s begin with Contract Law. As previously stated, the particularities of smart contracts are that they are transparent (their code is open source; anyone can examine them) and self-enforcing (trust between parties is unnecessary; contracts are executed automatically, independent of their will).

In traditional contracts, each party is free to decide whether to fulfill the contract, whether to only partially implement the contract (by leaving out some obligations), or whether to breach the contract (and pay instead for damages or compensation). By contrast, in the case of smart contracts, parties have no choice but to implement the contract, because the contract has been encoded, written into the code. It cannot be breached unless one actually manages to break into the code.

This raises the question of what is legally binding vs. what is technically binding.

For instance, there are many situations in contract law that might either invalidate the contract (if it was agreed to under undue influence, for example) or limit its enforceability (to the extent that it goes against the interests of consumers). But smart contracts are not affected by these provisions as they operate within their own closed technological framework, which does not necessarily implement any of these legal safeguards. In this sense, smart contracts could effectively bypass the legal framework of contract law.

When it comes property law, the situation is quite similar, in that Ethereum implements its own technical framework which operates outside of the legal framework of property law. In particular, Ethereum introduces two important features that significantly differ from traditional property rights.

The first is the concept of smart property, which relies on smart contracts and digital tokens to establish a decentralised and trust-free asset management system. The idea is that ownership of something can be transferred directly via the blockchain, through the transfer of specifically designed coins which are linked to a particular item. This allows for the creation of “cryptographically-activated” assets, such as a smartphone that can only be used by spending a particular token, or a car that can only be driven by the person who owns that token. Instead of transferring the ownership of the car, transferring the token associated with that car is sufficient to achieve the same result.

And the other is the concept of crypto-property. This is extremely interesting in that it allows for algorithmical entities, which are neither moral persons nor legal persons, to own currency or particular assets as if they were their own property. So, as opposed to standard property rights – which have been defined by the law and can therefore, in certain situations, also be taken away by the law – crypto-property rights are both defined and automatically enforced by code! This means that they cannot be seized, but that also, once they have been stolen, there is no possibility of recourse.

Returning to Ethereum, this essentially means that Distributed Autonomous Organizations have absolute sovereignty over their own resources, which cannot be seized by anyone unless this is specifically provided for by the code of these organizations. That brings us back to what Lawrence Lessig had already identified over 10 years ago: basically, that in cyberspace, code is law. I think we all understand that by now.

So the question is: if code is law, how can the law regulate the code so that it actually regulates our behaviors in a way that remains compliant with the law? This brings up some more fundamental questions: how do we want to regulate Distributed Autonomous Organizations? Should they be regulated in the same way as standard corporations or organizations, or do we need a distinct body of law that would better account for their specificities?

As I was researching these questions, most of the material I found was related to the question of the regulation of intelligent robots. This was surprising at first, but in fact it makes complete sense since they both share this commonality of being autonomous and self-sufficient.

This bring us to the third point, which is the issue of liability and responsibility. Let’s take the example of a Distributed Autonomous Organisation designed to send a copyrighted song to everyone who transfers the equivalent of $1.00. Here, the main challenge is to determine who is in charge of, and responsible for, this kind of activity?

It could be the creator of the Distributed Organization, but then we run into two problems. First, the creator might be difficult to identify if the distributed organization was created anonymously. Second, even if the creator could be identified, it would be possible that the creator would no longer have the power to control the organisation – which will continue to operate as long as there are sufficient funds for it to operate on its own.

Or, should the users be held vicariously liable for the services for which they’ve paid? This would only apply to the extent that they knew or had good reason to believe that the Decentralized Organization was doing something wrong (but, in this case, users might actually not be unaware that they are purchasing an infringing song).

Perhaps the Distributed Autonomous Organization itself should be held liable for its own actions. But then we encounter an ever bigger problem in terms of law enforcement. It is virtually impossible to recover damages or to obtain an injunction unless these measures have been specifically encoded into the contract/constitution of the organization.

So, we find ourselves in a state of legal limbo, as we cannot rely on traditional legal means to regulate the code of this technology. The question is: do we actually need to?

The supporters of Ethereum would argue that we don’t. In fact, if Bitcoin was designed as a decentralized alternative to counteract the corruption and inefficiency of the financial system, then Ethereum constitutes a decentralized alternative to the legal system as a whole! This refers to the somewhat anarchic idea of decentralized law, where everyone is free to implement their own rules within their own contracts, creating an interconnected system of rules interacting with each other in a reliably predictable way and not dependent on trust between parties.

Of course, the flipside is that Ethereum could potentially be taken over by big corporations, financial institutions, or even by the State, in an attempt to recreate the same economic system and political order that we have today – except that this time, it would be much more difficult to escape from that system.  This could lead to the establishment of a totalitarian society that is (almost exclusively) regulated by self-enforcing contracts, which establish the rules that everyone must abide by, without any constitutional constraints.

I would like to conclude with a quote from Yochai Benkler, which says that there are, in fact, no perfect freedoms, just different sets of constraints. What we have to ask ourselves is whether we would rather live in a world where we are constrained by the rules of law – which are universal, but also more democratic, more flexible and not perfectly enforceable – or the rules dictated by code – which, once they have been agreed upon, will be automatically enforced without any possibility of recourse.


Transcribed from a conference held at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society on April 15, 2014. You can find the video of the conference here.

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Posted in Collective Intelligence, Culture & Ideas, Open Innovation, Original Content, P2P Business Models, P2P Infrastructures, P2P Legal Dev., P2P Technology | No Comments »

Our Generation of Hackers by Nathan Schneider

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
17th November 2014


Belgian futurist Michel Bauwens in his rented apartment in Quito, Ecuador, where he helped lead FLOK, a project to develop open-knowledge policies for the country. Image by Nathan Schneider

Over the summer of 2014 Nathan Schneider embarked on a journey with the Wisdom Hackers—a group of artists, writers, entrepreneurs, and activists exploring elemental questions together. Travelling to Paris, Berlin, southern Italy, to Ecuador, and Silicon Valley, and a hacker congress in New York. This week he presents insights from that journey as a chapter in a serial digital book.

The following article “Our Generation of Hackers” originally featured on Vice is a short teaser from Nathan Schneider’s contribution. The book features writing by Anna Stothard in defense of hoarding objects, Brett Scott on the creepy ecology of smart cities, Tom Kenning on festival temporality, Lee-Sean Huang on the thinking body, Alnoor Ladha on mystic anarchism, and our instigator Alexa Clay on being the Amish Futurist. And more.

If you enjoy the writing please show your support for these young writers by subscribing to the book today. Spread the word about it if you can, too.

By Nathan Schneider. Source – http://www.vice.com/read/our-generation-of-hackers-111

We are all hackers now, apparently—or are trying to be. Guilty as charged. I am writing these words, as I write most things, not with a pen and paper, or a commercial word processor, but on Emacs, a command-line text editor first developed in the 1970s for that early generation of free-software hackers. I had to hack it, so to speak, with a few crude lines of scripting code in order that it would properly serve my purposes as a writer. And it does so extremely well, with only simple text files, an integrated interpreter for the Markdown markup language, and as many split screens as I want. I get to feel clever and devious every time I sit down to use it.

Thus it seemed fitting that when I was asked to join a “philosophy incubator” with a few fellow restless young souls, I was told the group’s name—and that of the book we’d be publishing w?ith an internet startup—was Wisdom Hackers. Hacking is what this generation does, after all, or at least what we aspire to. The hacker archetype both celebrates the mythology of the dominant high-tech class and nods toward the specter of an unsettling and shifty subculture lurking in the dark. Edward Snowden is a hacker hero, but so is Bill Gates. The criminals and the CEOs occupied the same rungs on the high school social ladder, lurked in the same listservs, and now share our adulation.

To hack is to approach a problem as an outsider, to be unconfined by law or decorum, to find whatever back doors might lead the way to a solution or a fix. To hack is to seek simplicity, elegance, and coherence, but also to display one’s non-attachment—by way of gratuitous lulz, if necessary. Wisdom is not normally a feature of the hacker’s arsenal (they prefer cleverness), but evidently some of us have come to sense that even this generation of hackers will need to pick up some wisdom along the way.

But why hack in the first place? That is, why we should always need to use a back door?

For me this line of questioning began in 2011, the year of leaderless uprisings, starting with Tunis and Cairo and ending with police raids on Occupy camps, a civil war in Syria and a seemingly endless series of revelations spawned by Wikileaks. I followed these happenings as much as I could. I happened to be the first reporter allowed to? cover the planning meetings that led to Occupy Wall Street, and I stayed close to those early organizers as their illicit occupation became a global media fixation, then long after the fixation passed. Through them—and their sudden and surprising success—I tried to obtain some grasp of the spirit of 2011, which was elusive enough that it couldn’t be organized in some simple list of demands, but also intuitive enough that protesters around the world, in hugely different kinds of societies, found themselves saying and doing a lot of the same things.

I keep coming back to the slogan of Spain’s homegrown occupation movement of that year: “Real democracy now!” This had uncanny explanatory power from Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park. Whether under Mubarak or Bush and Obama, young people around the world have grown up in societies they were always told were democracies despite repeated and undeniable signals that it was not: police brutality as a fact of life (whether by secret police or militarized regular ones), an unrelenting state of exception (whether by emergency law or the war on terror), and corruption (whether by outright graft or the mechanisms of campaign financing). When a system is broken, we resort to improvised solutions, jury-rigged workarounds, hacks. No wonder, then, that the mask of the amorphous hacktivist collective Anonymous became a symbol of the uprisings.

For 2011’s movements, however, the initial virality and the rhetoric of direct democracy turned out to mask a generation unprepared to deal with power—either wielding it or confronting it effectively. The young liberals in Tahrir may have created Facebook pages, but it was the Muslim Brotherhood’s decades of dangerous, underground, person-to-person organizing that won the country’s first fair elections. Even the Brotherhood would soon be massacred after a coup unseated them in favor of the military. “The army and the people are one hand,” Egyptians had chanted in Tahrir. With similar historical irony, the same might have been chanted about the internet.

In the Arab world, the 2011 endgame has included the rise of the Islamic State. Hacking every bit of social media it can get its hands on, the militants formerly known as ISIS emerged as a potent remix of al Qaeda’s guerrilla anti-colonialism and Tahrir Square’s utopian confidence, of Saudi-funded fundamentalism and hardened generals left over from Saddam’s secular regime. These disparate apps have been hacked together into one thanks to hashtags, an elusive leader, a black flag, and gruesome vigilantism.

I reject the often-uttered claim that the 2011 movements lacked purpose, or reason, or demands. Their fascination with hacking, and the vital fecundity that enchanted them, attest to the widely felt longing for a deeper, somehow realer global democracy. But what they share also had a hand in bringing them down. The allure of certain hacker delusions, I believe, played a part in keeping the noble aspirations of that year from taking hold, from meaningfully confronting the powers that now pretend to rule the world.

Ours is a generation of hackers because we sense that we aren’t being allowed in the front door. Most of us have never had the feeling that our supposed democracies are really listening to us; we spend our lives working for organizations that gobble up most of the value we produce for those at the top. We have to hack to get by. Maybe we can at least hack better than whoever is in charge—though that is increasingly doubtful. We become so used to hacking our way into the back door that we forget that there could be any other way.

I don’t want to hack forever. I want to open up the front door—to a society where “democracy” actually means democracy and technology does its part to help, where we can spend less time hacking and hustling and more time getting better at being human. Tech won’t do it for us, because it can’t. Hacking isn’t an end in itself—wisdom is.

Bio: Nathan Schneider is the author of God in Proof and Thank You, Anarchy. His website is The?RowBoat.com, and he tweets at @nathanairplane.

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Posted in Featured Book, P2P Movements | 2 Comments »

Pablo Iglesias of Podemos on going for the win

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
16th November 2014


The “secret” of Podemos according to Pablo Iglesias:

“I have defeat tattooed on my DNA. My great-uncle was shot dead. My grandfather was given the death sentence and spent 5 years in jail. My grandmothers suffered the humiliation of those defeated in the Civil War. My father was put in jail. My mother was politically active in the underground. My first experience of political socialisation as a child was in the mobilisations against NATO [in the 1980s], which was the last time that the Left in this country thought we could win. It bothers me enormously to lose. … And I’ve spent many years, with colleagues, devoting almost all of our political activity to thinking how we can win … The things I say in the mass media and how I say them require a great many hours’ work where we think about how to move through an absolutely hostile terrain. … We were in Latin America and we watched and watched how they did things there to win. And here is the secret. The first thing is not to feel any fear …. [Second] I know that all Left activists want the whole of the Left to be united. … If all of the Left organisations were, then we can beat the rogues in charge. Rubalcaba and Rajoy love it that we don’t think like that because they know that then we would be limited to 15 or 20 per cent [of the vote]. … I don’t want to be the 20 or 15 per cent. I don’t want my biggest political aspiration to be taking three regional ministries from the Socialist Party. I don’t want to be a “hinge”. I want to win. And in a context of complete ideological defeat in which they have insulted and criminalised us, where they control all of the media, to win the Left needs to stop being a religion and become a tool in the hands of the people. It needs to become the people … I know that this pisses off people on the Left. We like our slogans, symbols and anthems. We like getting together as a group. We think that if we get several party initials on a poster this means we are going to win. No way. [Winning] is about people’s anger and hopes. It is about reaching people who otherwise would see us as aliens because the Left has been defeated. … What should democrats do? Democracy is taking power off those that monopolise it and sharing it out among everyone, and anyone can understand that. … 15-M sent a damned message — firstly to the Left and there were left-wingers that took it badly. I remember Left leaders saying “I’ve been ‘indignado’ [outraged] for 30 years. Are these kids going to come and tell me what being outraged is all about?” OK, but it wasn’t you that brought together hundreds of thousands in the Puerta del Sol. The fact that [15-M] held the largest mobilisation since the NATO referendum and that this has been able to change this country’s political agenda to put the demand for democracy first, does that reveal [the Left’s] strength? No, it shows our damned weakness. If the unions and social organisations were organised, we wouldn’t need things like [Podemos]. The problem is that in times of defeat so you don’t get defeated again, …. you have to think and say “we can be the majority”.

— Iglesias, speaking in February during a debate with Alberto Garzón of Izquierda Unida (IU; United Left)

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Dr Paul Cockshott on Cybersocialism Nov 18th Dublin

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
14th November 2014


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Left Forum Public Meeting: “Cybersocialism”

Left Forum public meeting on the subject of “Cybersocialism”, by Dr Paul Cockshott of University of Glasgow.

The talk will explore questions around how a centrally planned socialist economy could be realised using mathematical techniques supported by advanced information technology.

For anyone who read the novel “Red Plenty” this should be right up your street.

Time: 7:30pm, Tuesday 18 November

Place: Unite Hall, Middle Abbey St., Dublin 1

Facebook event notice

You might also be interested in – Towards a New Cybernetic Socialism

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The ‘Medicine’ of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
14th November 2014


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by Pete Dolack at CounterPunch.org

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is as dangerous as ever. Denying access to medicines, increased surveillance of Internet usage and mandatory patents at the behest of multi-national corporations are some of the corporate goodies stashed in the TPP’s intellectual property chapter, revealed by WikiLeaks this month. Journalism could even be criminalized.

The more we know about the TPP, the worse it gets, which is why the governments of the 12 countries involved, led by the Obama administration, continue to negotiate in unprecedented secrecy. The latest text of the TPP’s intellectual property chapter shows very little change from an earlier draft also published by WikiLeaks. In a press release accompanying this month’s publication of the revised text, WikiLeaks says:

“[T]here are significant industry-favouring additions within the areas of pharmaceuticals and patents. These additions are likely to affect access to important medicines such as cancer drugs and will also weaken the requirements needed to patent genes in plants, which will impact small farmers and boost the dominance of large agricultural corporations like Monsanto.”

An analysis by Public Citizen explains:

“A rule [would] require the patenting of plant-related inventions, such as the genes inserted into genetically modified plants, putting farmers in developing countries at the mercy of the agriculture industry, including seed manufacturers such as Monsanto, and threatening food security in these countries more broadly.”

Monsanto, already attempting to gain a stranglehold over the world’s food supply, is hardly in need of yet more favorable treatment. Proprietary seeds and genetically modified organisms are Monsanto’s routes to control what you eat and what farmers grow. Once under contract, farmers are required to buy new genetically engineered seeds from the company every year and the Monsanto herbicide to which the seed has been engineered to be resistant.

Stealth ‘fast-track’ process needed to sneak TPP through Congress

Concomitant to the secrecy shrouding the TPP is the stealth needed to pass the “free trade” treaty. The Obama administration is seeking to be given “fast-track” authority by Congress. Under the fast-track process, Congress cedes its right to make any changes, limits its time to debate, and must schedule a straight yes-or-no vote (no amendments allowed) in a short period of time. Some of the worst “free trade” deals have been approved in this manner, and the importance of fast-track is shown in that the last U.S. trade pact approved, with South Korea, was approved in 2007 — literally one minutebefore fast-track authority expired!

A fast-track bill, known as Camp-Baucus for its two sponsors, was essentially dead on arrival early this year due to widespread opposition in Congress, mostly by Democrats but also some Republicans. That this arose was because of organized activist work by groups across the United States. But Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, last April, signaled his intention to introduce a new fast-track bill, which he rebranded “smart track.” U.S. activists widely speculate that either Senator Wyden’s thinly disguised “smart track” bill or a more openly fast-track bill, perhaps written by Republicans in the House of Representatives, will be introduced in Congress following the November election with the intention of ramming it through a lame-duck session.

U.S. activists for the past year and a half have focused on stopping fast-track in Congress because it will be virtually impossible to pass the TPP otherwise. Other countries have signaled their reluctance to agree to a final TPP text unless Congress grants the Obama administration fast-track authority. Without such authority, Congress would retain the right to make changes to an agreed-upon treaty, potentially unraveling any deal. The Canadian government, in late September, made this reluctance explicit.

Washington Trade Daily recently reported that the Canadian ambassador to the U.S., Gary Doer, said Canada and other negotiating countries won’t conclude negotiations until the Obama administration has the “political muscle” of trade-promotion authority (the formal name for fast-track). Thus, activists advocate no lessening of vigilance against new attempts to introduce fast-track legislation. A Week of Action Against Fast Track is being organized for November 8 to 14 in the U.S. In Australia, a series of rallies opposing the TPP are taking place this week in Sydney and Canberra.

These efforts come against a renewed push for a completed deal; negotiators are meeting this week, to be immediately followed on October 25 by a ministerial-level meeting in Sydney.

Criminalizing your right to know

There is much to oppose in the Trans-Pacific Partnership itself. A trade-secrets provision in the leaked intellectual property chapter is written in a way that makes it possible for reporting the contents of a future trade deal to be prosecuted. The article in questionstates:

“In the course of ensuring effective protection against unfair competition … each Party shall ensure that natural and legal persons have the legal means to prevent trade secrets lawfully in their control from being disclosed to, acquired by, or used by others (including state commercial enterprises) without their consent in a manner contrary to honest commercial practices.”

Criminal penalties would be mandatory for:

“the unauthorized, willful access to a trade secret held in a computer system; the unauthorized, willful misappropriation of a trade secret, including by means of a computer system; or the fraudulent (or unauthorized) disclosure of a trade secret, including by means of a computer system.”

WikiLeaks’ publication of this text would be a criminal matter under this provision. This provision would make it mandatory for signatory governments to enact strict laws protecting undefined “trade secrets.” The text of the TPP itself is classified as a secret! Legislators and the public are excluded from seeing the text. In the United States, the only people other than negotiators to have access to the text are 605 “advisers,” who are almost all executives of multi-national corporations or corporate lobbyists.

The Age newspaper of Melbourne summarizes the threat to journalism this way:

“The leaked treaty text shows that in an effort to deal with ‘unfair competition,’ largely from Chinese industrial espionage, the United States has pushed ahead with proposals to criminalise disclosure of trade secrets across the Pacific Rim. The draft text provides that TPP countries will introduce criminal penalties for unauthorised access to, misappropriation or disclosure of trade secrets, defined as information that has commercial value because it is secret, by any person using a computer system.  …

There are no public interest or free speech exemptions. Criminalisation of disclosure would apply to journalists working for commercial media organisations or wherever the leak was considered harmful to the ‘economic interests’ of any TPP country.”

Barriers to cheaper generic medications

Other rules in the TPP intellectual property text would raise barriers to generic medications becoming available and mandating that the terms of patents be extended on demand by patent holders. The United States and Japan even propose language that would require intellectual property enforcement to be elevated above any other legal consideration! The U.S. is also seeking the criminalization of copyright infringement, even in cases where there is no attempt to gain financially, such as a fan posting a work, and would also mandate that Internet service providers remove content upon a corporation’s demand to avoid legal penalties.

The linchpin to enforcement of draconian rules — the worst of which are put forth by the United States with Japan often seconding — is the “investor-state dispute mechanism.” That is a requirement that governments submit to binding arbitration in secret tribunals when an “investor” wants a law changed; the judges in these tribunals are corporate lawyers.

The dispute mechanism is not directly mentioned in the intellectual property chapter, but the one article that purports to uphold national sovereignty is contradicted by another article that mandates that multi-national corporations be given the same rights as national corporations. That clause, standard in “free trade” agreements, is a battering ram used by the secret tribunals to order the withdrawal of laws safeguarding environmental, safety, health or labor standards. These rulings, in turn, become precedents that are used to hand down future harsher decisions.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, however, is far from the only danger to working people. There is also the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the U.S. and the E.U.; the Trade In Services Agreement that would eliminate the ability of governments to regulate the financial industry (50 countries are in on this one); and the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. Each of these are designed to elevate corporations to the level of a country, although in practice, because of tribunal precedents, they would elevate corporations above national governments.

“Free trade” agreements have little to do with trade, and much to do with imposing the domination of capital in as many spheres of life as possible. They are massive failures for working people in all countries. They offer, and can offer, nothing but a race to the bottom. Attempting to reform a race to the bottom is a fool’s errand. The TPP and its equally vile cousins must be defeated, and a complete re-conceptualization of trade and who should benefit from trade, substituted. That in turn requires directly challenging prevailing economic systems, otherwise we will be shoveling against the tide.

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Sharing a (not so) living planet

photo of Rajesh Makwana

Rajesh Makwana
13th November 2014


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As further evidence comes to light of how our economic systems are decimating the natural world, sharing is fast emerging as the central theme in the discourse on how to ensure prosperity for all within planetary boundaries.


Barely a week after more than half a million people marched for decisive action on climate change, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) released their latest Living Planet report, which serves as a timely reminder that the environmental crises we face extend far beyond the popular discourse on global warming. As ever, this year’s report makes for grim reading, with updated facts that illustrate the devastating impact of human activity on the biosphere and point to the urgent need for a revolutionary shift in the way we use, manage and share the earth’s natural resources.

According to the report’s Living Planet Index, vertebrate wildlife – including birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and mammals – have declined by 52 percent over the past 40 years. This inconceivable loss of biodiversity comes as no surprise at a time when ecosystems are subjected to increasing demands from human activity, mainly due to our ubiquitous pursuit of consumption-driven economic growth. As the report’s ‘Ecological Footprint’ metric demonstrates, our collective use of available resources is highly unsustainable and clearly responsible for this dramatic loss of animal life. Echoing the findings of the WWF’s previous Living Planet report, the headline Footprint statistic reiterates the often-quoted fact that the world as a whole consumes natural resources 50 percent faster than they can be replenished.

This sizable ‘global ecological overshoot’ means humanity currently needs 1.5 planets to sustain itself on earth – resources that we simply do not possess. However, this stark illustration masks the even more worrying reality that we would require the equivalent of 4.8 planets worth of resources if everyone had the same Footprint as residents of Qatar, or 3.9 Planet Earths if we lived the lifestyle of a typical American. Moreover, even though consumption levels have long transgressed globally sustainable thresholds, our combined demand on nature is on the rise as the consumer class relentlessly expands throughout the world. According to WWF’s projections, by 2030 even three planets might not be enough to sustain our consumerist lifestyles.

At a time when the pursuit of economic growth and short-term corporate profit remains the number one priority for almost all governments, the implications of this latest report on the state of the world are clear: our economic and ecological systems are dangerously incompatible. If we continue on our current trajectory, the economic, financial and political implications are likely to be severe -especially as competition over scarce resources intensifies and exacerbates intrastate and international conflict. The report is therefore yet another reminder that, now more than ever, governments must adopt a very different economic model that enables nations to share the planet’s finite resources sustainably and far more equitably than is currently possible.

Tracking ecological footprints

While the authors of the report do not propose specific recommendations to redress the accumulated failures of government policy, they do outline a number of measures that could guide efforts to reverse biodiversity loss and establish a more ecologically viable economy. In addition to producing and consuming goods and services more sensibly, these proposals include diverting investment “away from the causes of environmental problems and toward the solutions”, and making “fair, far-sighted and ecologically informed choices about how we manage the resources we share”. Another key pillar of their broad suggestions focusses on ‘equitable resource governance’ and the need to “share available resources, make fair and ecologically informed choices, [and] measure success beyond GDP” – although none of these recommendations are fully explored in the document.

Of particular interest to proponents of sharing, however, is the concept of ‘one planet living’, which is based on a calculation of what a ‘globally sustainable Ecological Footprint’ would be in tangible terms. Simply put, this measure represents how big our Footprint can grow before we are using more than our fair share of the world’s natural resources. WWF estimate the total ‘biocapacity’ available for humanity to share by calculating how much biologically productive land is needed to provide all the ecological services that people demand. This includes, for example, the land needed for growing crops and grazing animals, as well as the amount of forest required to absorb carbon dioxide emissions – the dominant component of our ecological footprint for more than half a century.

According to the report, the total amount of available productive land in 2010 was 12 billion global hectares (gha) – which amounts to 1.7 gha for every person on the planet. This figure, 1.7 gha, represents the equal share of resources available to every person if they live a one planet lifestyle. If a nation’s demand on biocapacity exceeds this per capita average (as it currently does for all the world’s high-income countries and approximately half all middle- and low-income countries), then the country as a whole is using more than its fair share of global resources.

Pursuing one planet living is clearly an objective way to measure how sustainable a person’s life is. In recent years, there has been a surge in the number of people voluntarily downshifting their lifestyles by reducing their consumption levels and sharing personal resources, even though these efforts still remain fringe activities that occur mainly in high-income countries. By placing greater emphasis on living within the 1.7 gha Footprint, these grassroots efforts could demonstrate how to achieve sustainable lifestyles in a measureable way that governments could then support, replicate and even scale-up. The WWF’s footprint calculator is an accessible and informative tool that could help facilitate such efforts.

Moreover, a nation’s Ecological Footprint indicates the shift in consumption patterns policymakers need to aspire to in order to ensure that planetary resources are managed sustainably and shared equitably across the globe. Although many would regard such calculations as merely theoretical and impracticable, the concept is nonetheless an important framework for quantifying what it would really mean to share the world’s resources. Of course, unless governments integrate the Ecological Footprint or similar models into their policy frameworks, any significant change in consumption patterns will remain impossible to achieve on a national scale, let alone globally.

The sustainable development nexus

Although one planet living could be an extremely useful concept if it was more widely adopted by governments, it only addresses one aspect of a more complex picture. The report tacitly acknowledges this by advocating for the Ecological Footprint to be combined with the UNDP’s inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI), in order to link it to critical issues around standards of living and sustainable development. As the report’s authors admit, the overarching challenge the international community currently faces is “how to reduce consumption by design while improving human development”.

Without this connection to human development, the Footprint provides little indication of whether basic needs are being met in the countries being assessed. For example, a number of developing countries have per capita Ecological Footprints well below the 1.7 gha threshold, but this is usually the result of high levels of poverty and a lack of access to basic resources rather than the pursuit of sustainable lifestyles. It is revealing to note, however, that not a single country currently exceeds a minimum IHDI threshold of 0.71 whilst maintaining a globally sustainable Footprint. In other words, by the time a country has achieved a basic standard of human development, it has already exceeded the one planet ceiling – which says much about the resource-intensive model of economic development that countries pursue.

In light of the ongoing negotiations to agree a new set of sustainable development goals in 2015, it is no surprise that this year’s Living Planet report embraces the broader vision of development within ecological limits. Together, the IHDI and Ecological Footprint help to illustrate what the principle of sharing means in relation to sustainable development, as they are concerned with ensuring that all people have access to the resources needed to live dignified lives without transgressing planetary boundaries.

This emphasis on equality is also wholly in line with Oxfam’s ‘doughnut’ proposal, which combines Rockstrom’s planetary boundaries model with the concept of social boundaries in exploring a conceptual framework for eradicating poverty and achieving prosperity for all. Alex Evans has also put forward an equity-based ‘fair shares’ approach to resource security in an attempt to map out a new agenda for international development. Other examples of this evolving focus on equity can be found in relation to climate change, including the Contraction and Convergence model for reducing and equalising carbon emissions across the world, as well as the ongoing calls from developing countries for an equitable sharing of responsibilities and rights in climate change negotiations.

As most campaigners are acutely aware, however, the crucial notion that all people have an equal right to share the global commons has yet to be firmly embedded in supranational governance structures or agreed in climate change negotiations, which remain highly biased in favour of a small elite of powerful nations. Nor is there any appetite among world leaders to reduce domestic per capita consumption to one planet levels, largely due to a highly competitive global economic framework in which each country fiercely defends its own interests even when this is patently harmful to the needs of the world as a whole.

But the Living Planet Index and Ecological Footprint make it plain that the ecological crisis has already reached unprecedented levels, and time is fast running out for governments to facilitate a shift towards one planet lifestyles. To achieve this critical goal, a dramatic transformation of national and global consumption patterns is necessary – and it will remain impossible to achieve until our elected officials truly seek to protect the planet and represent the needs of the majority, rather than yield to corporate influence and advance outmoded political ideologies. Logically, the only hope for the political transformation that is now long overdue is through the engagement of millions more concerned citizens in a united demand to end this consumerist ‘war against the living world’. The latest Living Planet report is yet another reminder that the call for sharing is central to this urgent cause, and must therefore be strengthened and scaled up at every opportunity.

Photo credit: Shutterstock – all rights reserved

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Posted in Activism, Commons, Culture & Ideas, Ethical Economy, Original Content, P2P Collaboration, P2P Ecology, P2P Foundation | No Comments »