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Dale Carrico on Obama as P2P President

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
16th March 2009


To what degree does p2p change traditional organisations, and to what degree do traditional forces change p2p, to the point of corrupting its promise, is the broad quesdtion addressed here, by one of my favourite political commentators.

Can partisan organization and actual governance be democratized via the internalization of p2p formations and thereby be rendered more essentially progressive in their work, or are professional campaign apparatuses and administrative functionaries an inherently conservative force in society with the consequence that proper p2p democratization should remain a kind of abiding external check on their susceptibility to rationalization, corruption, incumbency, inertia?

Dale Carrico, reproduced in full:

It is a commonplace to point out the ways in which the Obama Presidential campaign depended on p2p formations for much of its success. It is customary — and quite correct — to say that Obama depended on the extraordinary fundraising of millions of aggregated small donations as well as the circulation of images and excitement about his vast rallies to acquire and parlay the early momentum without which he would likely scarcely have seemed a viable candidate as compared to Clinton or Edwards according to Establishment media pundits and incumbent partisan figures and so on.

We can only wonder how many millions more were inspired by the words of Obama’s “Yes We Can” speech through their contact with its transformation by will.i.am into the now iconic song and video that proliferated deliriously via YouTube and hundreds of thousands of large and small blogs like this one, rather than by their direct or broadcast contact with the original speech itself.

And it is also true that Obama’s Presidential ethos took on the coloration of p2p in ways that spectacularly amplified its force, from his insistence that his campaign was not about him but about us all, that change is a collective and participatory process, that we are the change we are looking for, to his pragmatic insistence that Washington must be made more transparent, responsive, collaborative.

But it is also quite striking to observe the ways in which the Obama Administration continues to mobilize peer-to-peer formations to implement its agenda as well now that it is in power, especially given Obama’s spectacular popularity as compared with the Congress that must partner with the Administration to materialize Obama’s policy goals.

Take a look at this page from Obama’s Organizing for America: Take the Pledge.

Notice that signing the pledge provokes a series of ever more specific solicitations of effort, weaves you ever more deeply into a distributed organizational effort to facilitate the Administration’s agenda.

It’s fairly breathtaking, actually, not only in its sophistication, but also — at least as a possibility worth contemplating — as a diversion of Netroots energy and intelligence directly into the Obama apparatus.

I signed the Pledge and would urge sympathetic readers to follow the link and sign as well, but I will admit that my excitement was tempered by a few questions.

Even if you agree with Obama’s agenda, or at any rate agree that fighting for his agenda is the best way we can apply the lion’s share of our energies right now the better to open up possibilities for even more radical changes that the center-left Obama himself might not approve (which is my own position), there are real questions about what it means for the Executive branch to take up and to some extent appropriate the forms and also the energies of Netroots agitation and organizing in this way.

Does this amount to a powerful democratization of the American Executive? Does this render the Executive more beholden and accountable to the people, more directly expressive of popular will? Does this threaten a domestication of the insurgent and critical force of p2p democratization? Is there a worry that we might be MovingOn from MoveOn, peer to peer, in ways we might later come to regret?

Consider the ways in which Organizing for America differs from Accountability Now, a conspicuously more familiar Netroots campaign, conjoining figures from Daily Kos, Firedoglake, OpenLeft, ColorOfChange, Blog PAC and MoveOn.org together with figures from Netroots congenial forces like SEIU and the United Steelworkers to recruit and support progressive leaders and candidates for primary challenges to those Democratic and other incumbents who fail to reflect the progressive aspirations of their constituencies.

To what extent are these two formations complementary and to what extent competitive? Do they represent different faces for ongoing p2p democratization (in the United States at any rate)?

For me these questions take us into deeper perplexities and provocations. Can partisan organization and actual governance be democratized via the internalization of p2p formations and thereby be rendered more essentially progressive in their work, or are professional campaign apparatuses and administrative functionaries an inherently conservative force in society with the consequence that proper p2p democratization should remain a kind of abiding external check on their susceptibility to rationalization, corruption, incumbency, inertia?

Notice that we might decide that these professional formations are indeed in some important measure inherently inertial and conservative and yet still view them as indispensable to the maintenance of legitimate rule of law and the accomplishment of social justice on which the scene of informed nonduressed consent depends for its legibility and force and on which, in turn, democracy itself depends.

The ongoing and emerging forces of p2p-democratization seem to me to exacerbate the paradoxical inter-dependence of disruptive progress, diverse democratic expressivity, and legitimate equitable governance on one another while at once they endlessly undermine and co-construct one another in various measures in their play in the ongoing social struggle of, by, and for peers in public of which democracy actually consists in its substance.

As I said, I did sign the pledge over at Organizing for America, and I do cheerfully urge my readers to do the same. And I am also excited by the Accountability Now project and suspect I’ll be giving them money and drawing attention to their issues here and elsewhere. It remains to be seen just how and how easily these ramifications of the Netroots expression of p2p-democratization will reconcile in theory, however, for now at least, they are managing nicely enough, so far, in practice.”

And also, from another post by Dale Carrico, a wonderful quote on the ‘times-they-are-a-changing':

“Right about now, a proliferation of peer-to-peer formations, collaborative citizen expressivity, problem-solving, criticism, agitation, and organizing, together with the transformational Obama Administration that peer-to-peer democratization has birthed and now facilitates and pushes on has unleashed a rising wave of reasonable workable progressive intelligence and imagination into this moment of history. No theology of transcensional new age singularity babble. No would-be priestly authorities or gurus claiming to dictate the “will” of History or Reason to acquiescent consumers. No, it is democracy that is taking up the real work of technodevelopmental social struggle to solve humanity’s shared problems, to enable informed, nonduressed prosthetic self-determination (where “prosthetics” equally encompass what pass for medical therapies and what pass for “lifestyle” choices), driven by and accountable to ever more of the stakeholders to change, demanding ever more forcefully that the costs, risks, and benefits of change reflect the stakes of the diversity of peers with whom we are making the world we share. We are well rid of the self-appointed “smartest guys in the room,” the boys-with-their-toys, the futurological fraudsters, the ponzi schemers, the wired digirati and superficial self-help salesmen and design gurus, the superlative ideologues with the Keys to History in their hands and dollar signs in their eyes.”

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2 Responses to “Dale Carrico on Obama as P2P President”

  1. Kevin Carson Says:

    I suspect Obama’s use of network organization is analogous to Corporate America’s use of Web 2.0.

    A certain part of big business, going all the way back to Bill Gates in the ’90s, has been enthusing about “flattening hierarchies” and the networked organization, and all the rest of it. That doesn’t alter the fact that some of these people, like Gates, are also the most authoritarian Copyright Nazis and enemies of p2p/foss around.

    Likewise, Obama has been extremely innovative in making use of the organizing potential of social networking sites and the Internet in general. But he’s also reached a new high of authoritarianism and control-freakishness, if you look at his policy for vetting White House staff (if you’ve ever had a blog or a Facebook page, you can dump your resume in the can on the way out).

    Given the Democratic Party’s close ties to Bill Gates, the late Jack Valenti, etc., I expect Obama will be friendly to network organization precisely to the extent it can be domesticated for the service of hierarchy.

    While I’m still getting spammed by Plouffe, btw, the communication only seems to run one way.

  2. P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » The Obama backlash: are his policies ‘hooverite’? Says:

    […] Kevin Carson: I suspect Obama’s use of network organization is analogous to Corporate… […]

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