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Jerry Michalski’s Global Brain of Contrarian Thinkers

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
9th January 2013


Gordon Cook‘s newsletter on technology infrastructures regularly devotes special issues to people he deems of special interest. In the latest issue, he discusses the work of Jerry Michalski and his “Brain”, an immense mindmap of leading contrarian thinkers and their concept.

In the introduction that we excerpt, he puts Michalsky’s work in relation to that of the P2P Foundation:

“A handful of thought leaders … are making it their calling to scan the horizon and think across the entire entire global range of technology: science, communication, medicine, agriculture, and urban rural living patterns. Readers will know many of these folk ranging from Doc Searls, Clay Shirky, David Weinberger, JP Ramaswami, to George and Esther Dyson, to Vint Cerf and the leaders at Google, and to Kevin Kelly and Chris Anderson of Wired.

But there are an even smaller handful of people who focus globally on curating the leading thinkers in every discipline are with their curation are describing positive potential outcomes from the best of these people’s work. Stewart Brand began the process decades ago with his Global Business Network and Whole Earth Catalog. Brand’s work nurtured Tim O’Reilly and the rise of the O’Reilly publishing company and his own curatorship of conferences that brought the leading visionaries in new technologies and new disciplines together to explore whether a common vision of an achievable future could be articulated.

Six or seven years ago Michel Bauwens began the Peer-to-Peer Foundation which is a coordinated group of people from several dozen of countries around the globe that has created and is sustaining an encyclopedic wiki of peer-to-peer technologies — technologies on which, according to John Robb, resilient communities can be based. Two years ago I reported across two different issues on what Michel Bauwens and his Peer-to-Peer Foundation allies were doing and how their wiki was built and structured.

Six years ago I took my first look at Jerry Michalski who worked for Esther Dyson in the late 80s and early 90s writing and editing Release 1.0. For this issue I have returned to Jerry to dive into a much deeper discussion of how his view of the world has changed since 2006 when we first talked in some depth. His thinking turns out to be very close to my own and that of Michel Bauwens. His approach is to found and develop a group of leaders in their respective fields that can range from government organizations, to corporations, to financial organizations and foundations and so on to spread the ideas that are necessary to overturn the 20th century way of thinking that had led to financialization of the global economy and to a race to the bottom with globalization and unlimited deregulated speculation and corporate control of nationstate systems that that, in the nearly 20 years since the fall of the Soviet bloc, has been making the world a more dangerous and less sustainable place.

Having examined the way that Michel Bauwens puts the peer-to-peer wiki to work and keeps it functioning as the platform for his people, in this issue I have asked Jerry to detail the workings of his “Brain” which is a very different kind of software from the wiki but has been used by Jerry for similar purposes to organize his own thoughts over the past 15 years. I then go on to 3 detailed interviews with Jerry that lasted a total of nearly 6 hours. During these discussions he shared with me how his thinking evolved into a much more interesting and sophisticated version of what some years earlier in the aftermath of the ClueTrain Manifesto he had referred to as the Relationship Economy.

Jerry has seriously expanded his definition of what the convergence of Internet technologies and globalism means to sustainable democratic societies and he has developed a series of ideas based on what he calls “contrarian thinkers” who became revolutionaries in their perspectives fields of endeavor by effectively saying that everyone in that field must be trusted and that their field must not build command-and-control hierarchies over the people that they sought to lead and that the Yang of scientific hierarchical top-down we know what’s best for the masses kind of leadership needed to be balanced with the much more soft, feminine, open and trusting Yin in the way that people dealt with each other

Jerry describes how he takes the visions of many of his contrarians and puts them in front of leaders from both corporate and government; nonprofit and research oriented organizations who have joined him in paying a monthly fee over a period of time that will presumably range across many years to develop a unified version of social political and economic leadership that will be better to ride and survive the waves of the tsunami of change that Jerry and many of his other compatriots see coming upon us.

Talking about the evolution of his thinking during the most recent years, Jerry will admit that he does not quite readily know how to solve the problem that the impact of evermore rapid technology change is bringing to the nation states involved in 21st-century global capitalism. I think it’s fair to say that he does believe that currant and predominant Yang-based more masculine hierarchical version of global capitalism needs to be considerably tempered by a more feminine, more Yin based kind of outlook on how one gets things done

Now Tim O’Reilly in September 2012 gave a very interesting talk on what he calls the global brain and he explained his philosophical cosmological approach to understanding the evolution that the Internet has brought upon the minds of people who use it to communicate and build parts of what can be seen to become a net of global consciousness. I have made my own transcription of Tim’s Long Now talk and will close this executive summary with some similar highlights of the points of view of Jerry Michalski and Tim O’Reilly. (The material that follows is taken from the interview with Jerry and the transcript of Tim’s Long Now talk.)”

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