A reply to ideas about the loss of credibility and viability of “the movement”

This is a blog post in reply to http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/marcin-jakubowski-on-a-policy-to-expand-material-peer-production-through-land/2008/06/25, and the quote therein from James Edwards:

“I feel that if the movement doesn’t free itself from its dependence on corporate support it can’t legitimately claim to be a viable and credible alternative to the current system.”

Problem is not that p2p production is or is not a viable or credible alternative.

The problem is whether enough people *see* it as a viable alternative. I am not ready to write it off quite yet, as the conditions for change have only just begun to emerge.

I think land is important. But, I already have land. I already own land. And, I am beginning to build ways to produce on that land. It’s not enough to own land. You have to find people who are willing to work with you to change the way you live on that land (which is exactly what Marcin Jakubowski is doing trying very hard to do with http://openfarmtech.org). I fully support what Marcin is exploring, but I am focused on applying work with Marcin to helping people find better ways to live in Urban/Suburban systems, because that is where I am physically located, and it is also where most of the people are.

I think even more than land, property, means of production, etc, while they are all very important, it is the way that people see and regard land, property, etc that will be the fundamental, deep core pattern from which everything else will unfold. That being said, I think part of what will help people see will be to experience hands-on the democratization of design and production of physical technologies, and the immediate/local production of foods.

For instance, the only way for a group of people to take advantage of p2p network dynamics around physical resources like land, is for them to *see* and use the resource, and co-govern the resource, as a commons. This is the *infrastructure* that is needed to replace existing. Not everyone is willing to do this right now.

Therefore, it is my theory that, if you desire to co-govern property, knowledge, land, etc as a commons, that you collaborate directly with those who agree with you. But, you also make room in your plans for those that don’t. Figure out how you will make your alternative systems survive and grow within existing systems.

Also, the people who agree with you, in this day and age, are not going to fall in line lock-step and all do the same thing. The people who are immediately ready to see a change are actually a “Long tail” of people with many different interests. How can you work with all of them? If collaboration really does require social negotiation, then give people space and time to negotiate socially. Don’t sit them all in chairs and make them listen to what you have to say. Turn control over to them, and become an enabler. Remove obstacles and get out of the way. I have seen this work enough, to be thoroughly convinced that bringing people together who resonate with the idea of treating common pool resources as an ongoing “commons”, and letting them hash out how they will create an ecology, will be the route to plausible alternative “peer to peer” infrastructures.

It won’t come from academics, other than some on the fringe of academia, who are already working to change academia. It won’t come from business, other than from people now on the fringe of business who are bypassing traditional business notions and systems.

But wait a minute, let’s rewind back through everything I just wrote here for a minute, because if I am right, and the people who are most ready to change and explore alternative infrastructure systems are part of a “long tail”, that means there are more of us in total than people who want to keep things the same. I think that I could actually find some convincing proof that what I am asserting here is correct, in existing work of different types. At this point, I am just taking it for granted that people like me, who do not like things the way they are, and have insight and desire for change that is workable, outnumber those that want to keep everything the same. If someone reading this would like to challenge me on this assertion, I will do the work of proving it and then we can move on.

The important point is that, if you buy what I am saying (and I do buy what I am saying), the majority who want and are ready for change are fractured by way of their scope and area of interest.

In my opinion, the next thing to do is to start bringing together diverse groups of these people. But don’t try to force them into doing specific tasks. Instead, give them ready and free, unfettered space, time, tools, infrastructure, and they will start to realize the possibilities beyond their current narrow scope of interest. They will start to realize that the building blocks for alternative infrastructure already exist. This “magic, pie in the sky” emergence of realization will happen just as soon as all of the people reading this, all of the people concerned with seeing this type of change, clear paths and get out of the way enough for it to happen. So long as we are foisting our narrow focus upon the great, diverse masses of people who are hungry and excited for change, we’ll just confuse and muddle their genuine progress further.

6 Comments A reply to ideas about the loss of credibility and viability of “the movement”

  1. AvatarSean FitzGerald

    there are more of us in total than people who want to keep things the same

    This reminds me of the work by Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson on what they call “Cultural Creatives” – the 50 million Americans (quarter of the population when they wrote the book) who are progressive and left leaning but are unaware that there are more people out there like themselves because the mainstream media is owned and run by those don’t represent their interests.

    You may want to take a look – http://www.culturalcreatives.org/

    I think the Net is providing a great opportunity by delivering the tools required to network, communicate and share that are needed to form bottom-up, self-organising communities that can bypass the mainstream institutions, including the media.

  2. AvatarSepp Hasslberger

    Good Sam,

    I buy your proposition that those who want to change things are part of a “long tail” and that there may be many more of us 😉 than we tend to believe. Inherently, the long tail is fractured and one knows little or nothing of the other.

    One group of people, for instance, who would definitely be part of this long tail are the about 700 or so members of the “Soil and Health” Yahoo group started by Steve Solomon who is American but now lives in Tasmania. They are all homesteaders who are into a non-traditional kind of agriculture, growing things on their own land for their own use – and sometimes for sale.

    I like your imperative of “getting out of the way”. We must learn to do that.

  3. AvatarPatrick Anderson

    Two open-ended questions to all peers:

    Does the notion of give them ready and free, unfettered space, time, tools, infrastructure mean those things must be available at absolutely ZERO cost, or will it be ok (as far as sustaining the ‘movement’) to charge enough for cost recovery?

    Raoul Victor at http://Oekonux.org/list-en/archive/msg04638.html says “Open raw material”, “universal availability”, “no exchange”, “commons and possession, not property” require free/gratis access to material means of production and consumption. “Voluntary free aggregation” and “free cooperation” require (if universalized) free/gratis access to material means of consumption.

    If it is ok to charge ‘cost’, then is it also ok (as far as growing the ‘movement’) to charge more than cost during times of true rivalry? Or in other words, does profit have a meaningful place in P2P? If so, what is the purpose (goal, destination) of charging price above cost? Who should receive that surplus, or how should it be distributed?

    Franz Nahrada at http://Oekonux.org/list-en/archive/msg04615.html says Do you think the world is truly better if price equals cost? I just can say for the moment: I dont.

  4. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    Thanks for this brilliant intervention Sam. Do you think the P2P Foundation is in tune with such a strategy and values? I’d like think so, and feel it is designed as an internetworking platform that offers information on all kinds of initiatves already ‘out there’. But of course, I also offer my own ideas, as you offer yours, but leaving room for others to do the same.


  5. AvatarSam Rose

    Patrick wrote:

    “Does the notion of give them ready and free, unfettered space, time, tools, infrastructure mean those things must be available at absolutely ZERO cost, or will it be ok (as far as sustaining the ‘movement’) to charge enough for cost recovery?”

    I have grown to have a lot of respect for your point of view Patrick, because I am convinced that it is genuine and that you are really trying to puzzle your way through how to get people to understand the perspective you bring, and insight and solutions you have discovered.

    For your question above, I think to myself “what is it that people in question themselves might want?” If you offer them tools and infrastructure, what are they telling you they want? When you start asking this question, you often get different answers depending on the people you are talking to. The important thing is to start the conversation and let it be driven by the people who would be doing whatever it is you are trying to convince them to do.

  6. AvatarSam Rose

    Michel, I think that p2p foundation definitely brings together people with many different/diverse viewpoints, and tries to facilitate starting the discussions that lead to collaborations, and also thinking hard and carefully how to engage and work with people who don’t want to do things in a deliberative/collaborative way.

    I think you are right that you, and pretty much everyone involved in p2pfoundation have strove to accomplish “clearing paths and getting out of the way” in quite a few different ways. So, this blog post was not a critique of p2pfoundation, or the greater network of people associated with us. In fact, if someone asked me what p2pfoundation does, and what it is about, I might use the post I made above to describe in part what it does. We have created a commons, and we’re trying very hard to start the conversations among all of the fractured people focusing on little areas here and there.

    This post above was really just a way for people to think about how to ground their ideas about social change. This was about just coming right out and saying what I think in http://communitywiki.org/PlainTalk

    I think that this could also be a clue for how to think about attracting funds to p2pfoundation. We have a great formula for starting conversations among diverse people, and giving them some useful background/theory-building, some channels for discussion, debate, and a commons of knowledge that connects people. To branch out past theorists, activists, and leading thinkers (but still include them as an integral part) I think we can think about how basically extend this connecting and community-driven discussion, and also apply what we are learning about cooperation, collaboration, and p2p/collective intelligence towards helping people solve problems, with very little overhead cost, and extremely high value. Our whole network of diverse experts could be part of this extension of it’s own self. We are already a highly decentralized network of people, connected mostly through communication, and stigmergic collaboration. I am starting to see how some of us could also work together with people from the “world at large” to apply our expertise and help solve problems, help people understand how to succeed in cooperation, collaboration, community fostering, employment of collective intelligence and emerging alternative economy models.

    There will be no “plan” to do this, so this is really an offer to see how we might all cooperate, collaborate, and coordinate in this way when possible. I have ideas, some of which come from agile development, extreme programming, and pattern theory, and some that come from all of our work in p2p foundation, for thinking about how we could start to create supporting infrastructure, and working through existing emerging channels, to create an evolving ecology of people who can help others apply the knowledge we are crafting and collecting. There is a desperate need out there for knowledge about how to help people work better together, and how to change/retrofit systems from the bottom-up from the outside in, to become more self-sustaining, and less of a liability for the people who depend on them.

    So, in this message, what I am proposing is that over time, a new growth within p2pfoundation could be fostered towards application, problem solving, working with existing conditions, using the commons we have created as a basis/foundation.

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