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Guilding the Lilly? (using p2p guilds for public regulation)

photo of Poor Richard

Poor Richard
22nd November 2012


Guild coat of arms of a smith

Guild coat of arms of a smith

Executive Peer-to-Peer Summary:

This essay is partially in response to Whither government regulation in a highly complex age? which questions the ability of a hollowed-out, privatized government to effectively cope with the increasing complexity of social and environmental crises such as global warming. What follows assumes some prior familiarity with the basic ideas of p2p culture.

Guild coat of arms of a shoemaker

Guild coat of arms of a shoemaker

I agree that the failure of government regulation to curb the destructive activity of large corporations is only likely to worsen with the increasing privatization of government and the increasing complexity of global problems. So what can p2p culture do about this?

1. Establish powerful, confederated P2P Guilds and Leagues based on various global commons of knowledge and expertise so that mitigations, adaptations, and other interventions can be crowd-sourced by massively distributed, parallel, and open networks of peers.

2. Establish many strong, self-reliant economies at the local geopolitical (or Eco-political) level by forming partnerships between the P2P guilds and progressive local communities. These partnerships would maximize economies of scope via peer production and would also be strongly confederated with their peers bio-regionally, nationally, and globally.

3. One more maneuver that may be necessary to assist this process I will dub “castling”, a term borrowed from the game of chess. What I mean by this is a shifting of local populations between adjacent local geopolitical jurisdictions (such as cities and counties in the US) so as to create political, social, and economic majorities of p2p culture in the targeted locations. Those locations that are simultaneously abandoned by p2p culture are essentially “sacrificed” to the corporate predators. (Half a loaf saved is better than none.)

Guild coat of arms of a fisherman

Guild coat of arms of a fisherman

The resulting strongly confederated p2p cultural strongholds might stand the best chance of competing with the large corporate entities, excluding them from the “castled” commons, and limiting the scope of their environmental destruction.

How P2P Culture Might Save the Day

1. P2P Guilds and Leagues

Various authors have suggested the concept of “phyles” or “tribes” for characterizing horizontal organizational structures in p2p culture. See for example the Las Indias cooperative movement. (p2pfoundation.net)

I am not opposed to these , and in the end it is important for peer groups to self-identify with the descriptions they

Guild coat of arms of a tanner

Guild coat of arms of a tanner

prefer; but I think I prefer the idea of confederated GUILDS and LEAGUES, and perhaps I can make an argument for these terms that will be persuasive to some.

A guild can function just as envisioned for a phyle (from Greek phul? — tribe, clan) but does not carry the same connotation as a tribe, clan, or phyle of having a primary basis in familial kinship, nor the historical reputation (in certain cases) of rebellion against central authority. The subtle but important difference is that a guild is all about practical know-how and about taking care of business– not about ideology or revolution (eh, at least on the surface…).

The Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild by Rembrandt, 1662.

Typically a guild (German: Gilde) is an association of craftsmen in a particular trade. In the most general sense a guild is simply an organization of persons (peers) with related interests, goals, etc., especially one formed for mutual aid or protection. Historically guilds were any of various medieval associations, as of merchants or artisans, organized to maintain standards and to protect the interests of their members.

The Guildhall, London (engraving, ca 1805)

“The earliest types of guild were formed as confraternities of workers. They were organized in a manner something between a trade union, a cartel, and a secret society. They often depended on grants of letters patent by a monarch or other authority to enforce the flow of trade to their self-employed members, and to retain ownership of tools and the supply of materials. A lasting legacy of traditional guilds are the guildhalls constructed and used as meeting places.

Guild coat of arms of a mason

Guild coat of arms of a mason

“An important result of the guild framework was the emergence of universities at Bologna, Paris, and Oxford around the year 1200; they originated as guilds of students as at Bologna, or of masters as at Paris.” (Wikipedia)

One point on which I think guilds differ from Las Indias’ conception of phyles (“In Phyles, Community precedes Enterprise” -David Uguarte) is that for guilds, community and enterprise are two sides of one coin. I think this fits well with p2p culture while also being relatively non-confrontational with mainstream corporate/capitalist norms. The ability of guilds and leagues (such as the League of Women Voters) to present a relatively “normal” outward face, may have occasional tactical advantages.

According to Phil Jones,

“One issue people have with the traditional Guild is that Guilds are demarcated by profession. They aren’t a grouping that implies a multidisciplinary team. Guilds are great for teaching, accrediting and providing a retirement policy but aren’t self-sufficient or “closed” economic loops.”

Guilds, phyles, tribes, etc. . . .each has extensive variation and we can pick and choose features of one or all and remix to

Guild coat of arms of a taylor

Guild coat of arms of a taylor

suit our purposes. However, I think that overall, p2p relations have more to do with behavior and knowledge than with kinship. Guilds in the form of trade unions and academic institutions also have a rich history of confederation across multiple disciplines and locations, making the guild, IMO, a more appropriate basic raw material to further hack, improvise, and remix.

Michel Bauwens notes that “for lasindias, guilds can be phyles and are in fact the historical example for it .. the Venetian and Florentine guild councils, who originally ruled the cities, had international structures to support themselves, with halfway houses etc … The Hanseatic League is an interesting example. It never did have a constitution or formal membership as far as I know. Cities, guilds and towns just identified with it and co-operated in respect of matters of common interest, like suppressing piracy.”

Another interesting example is the Iroquois League:

“The Iroquois League, historically the Iroquois Confederacy, is a group of Native Americans (in what is now the United States) and First Nations (in what is now Canada) that consists of six nations: the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, the Seneca and the Tuscarora. The Iroquois (also known as the Haudenosaunee or the “People of the Longhouse) have a representative government known as the Grand Council. The Grand Council is the oldest governmental institution still maintaining its original form in North America. The League has been functioning since prior to major European contact. Each tribe sends chiefs to act as representatives and make decisions for the whole nation.” (Wikipedia)

Guild coat of arms of a carpenter

Guild coat of arms of a carpenter

Anyway, I like many (if not all) of the characteristics of leagues and guilds, and I like the anachronistic romance of the words. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Justice League of America. . . these could become the League of Extraordinary Peers and the P2P Justice League. Steal This Film is a film series documenting the movement against intellectual property that was produced by The League of Noble Peers.

We could also have P2P Makers Guilds, P2P Designers Guilds, P2P Programmers Guilds, and P2P Privacy Guilds. Such guilds would not be organizational stovepipes. Peers could affirm their interests and expertise by membership in as many guilds as they may qualify for.

Interestingly, many players of computer and video games have become familiar with guilds and their popularity continues to increase. “In computer and video gaming, a … guild is an organized group of players that regularly play together in a particular (or various) multiplayer games. These games range from groups of a few friends to 1000-person organizations, with a broad range of structures, goals and members… Numerous [guilds] exist for nearly every online game available today” (Wikipedia) In some cases the guilds are internal to the game play and sometimes they are external. Some gaming guilds have their own web sites. I don’t know if these gaming guilders are learning good guilding habits or bad ones from the perspective of p2p culture. My distance from the gaming community has obscured this information from me.

In any case, such guilds and leagues as may be created in the service of p2p culture will be able to confederate in any number of flexible ways. So too can those peer groups who, despite my valiant efforts of persuasion, prefer to call themselves phyles, tribes, clans, pods, schools, gaggles, or ganfaloons

In many cases peers will be able to join multiple guilds, leagues, phyles, etc. as appropriate to their interests and skills. In p2p culture most such groups, despite their other characteristics, will tend to be the peers of each other and will tend to practice the same cooperative individualism or cooperative autonomy that pertains amongst individual people peers. This will make a flexible and resilient network of peers and peer groups spanning local, regional, national and global topologies.

2. Partnerships between P2P groups and local, regional, national, and international geopolitical (evolving into Eco-political) and non-state sovereign entities.

P2P culture will help to establish many strong, self-reliant economies at the local geopolitical (or Eco-political) level by forming partnerships between the P2P guilds, leagues, etc. and progressive local communities. These partnerships will maximize economies of scope via open, peer processes such as peer production and crowd-sourcing. These p2p/geopolitical or p2p/eco-political partners would also become increasingly confederated with their counterparts bio-regionally, nationally, and globally.

There may be cases where such partnerships fuse into indivisible p2p entities and cases where they do not. Regardless of that, the objective is to weave the influence of p2p culture into the geopolitical fabric of the planet, concentrating first at the the local level, at the most receptive local geopolitical “nodes,” and then spreading outwards. The levers which p2p culture will employ in this effort will be open knowledge, expertise, and methodology that will enhance the comparative advantages and capabilities of the geopolitical partners in contrast with those geopolitical entities which do not embrace the p2p partnership. In effect, p2p culture will come to the rescue of local entities that give us access. At the same time, we will redirect the public policies and practices of our geopolitical partners towards open and sustainable operations.

This follows the axiom that the only way to save ourselves is by saving others.

3. The “Castling” Maneuver

This is a shifting of local populations between adjacent geopolitical jurisdictions (such as cities and counties in the US) so as to create political, social, and economic majorities of p2p culture in the targeted locations. Those locations that are simultaneously abandoned by p2p culture are essentially “sacrificed” to the corporate predators. (Half a loaf saved is better than none.)

This kind of effort will involve brokering a lot of property on favorable terms for all involved. It will involve massive relocation of homes, small and medium businesses, farms, and personal revenue streams. We will need the ability to concentrate the efforts of our global human and financial resources on as many concurrent locales as possible.

Our ability to accomplish such maneuvers will depend heavily on the quality of the organizations and networks we build and our technology toolkit. Our social networks, alternative financial systems, and complementary currencies will need to operate very well and very securely at scale. We will need the ability to perform large volumes of complex social organizing activity and complex economic activity in a highly secure and efficient manner.

As Elinor Ostrom wrote in Green from the Grassroots, the last post before her death on June 12:

“The goal now must be to build sustainability into the DNA of our globally interconnected society. Time is the natural resource in shortest supply…

We don’t have forever. Hopefully we have a decade or two. But we may not have even another decade to prevent unprecedented suffering and practically irreversible ecosystem collapse.

Poor Richard

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