This interview appeared in the first issue of the ‘zine’ Radical Realities published by the Alternate (G8) Collective which also features a keynote on peer governance by Heather Marsh.
This issue selects transcripts of speakers from the AG8 Conference hosted by the Collective in Birmingham, UK on June 22nd 2013 (mine was a remote intervention through Google Hangout)
RR: One of the things I wanted to start with – you wrote an article recently in Al jazeera. In April, you were talking about Open Democracy, basically, and how the Pirate Party. they are having a huge influence on the debate around many aspects which touch on IP rights, and the effect it has on the economy. Could you explain something of your findings, please.
MB Well, there’s 3 different things. The first thing is of course, that the Pirate Parties, whatever you think of them and the first expression of this new culture.
They come straight from the file-sharing communities, and you know, I see a kind of a logic, whereby sub-cultures form [first] without caring much about the rest of society, they just do their thing and ignore the legacy systems and the interests that are threatened by them, [but then] their new behaviours [are attacked], – and that’s when the start politicising, and I think, in a way, that this stage has been reached, with the Pirate Party, who sociologically, you know, represent the young knowledge working class, the young precarious workers between 18-35, which are [an important part in the West of] the young population.
The second important feature is the use of of proxy voting and ‘liquid democracy’ in their internal deliberation, in the general discussion everybody has a voice, but once it gets discussed as a policy, you can delegate your vote in real time, to somebody you can trust, on that particular subject or proposal. And this is interesting, because in our representative democracy we have now, we choose every 4 years from our ruling class, and pretty much leave them to the influence of lobbyists and the money launderers.
But you prefer this party or person to the other that you only like 10%. But there is no way of fully expressing who you are and the complex choices that you would make. And this becomes possible through systems like the liquid feedback system and proxy voting, to this is an interesting innovation, and it is being tried now in Germany in some localities as well.
Another aspect of the article is infrastructural transformation; Knowledge helps you to make things, and software is executable and design is directly related to making, and to production, so we have to stress that, you know, knowledge is not just immaterial it is directly related to how we do things in our physical life.
And so, what I was proposing is that the notion of the ‘commons’ can serve as a basis of a new progressive majority, and I was saying that to have the Pirates representing the young knowledge working class – you have the Greens – who have a natural affinity with nature and for the physical world – and there is a new generation of radical left parties which are transformative in their intent, like Syriza in Greece. While the traditional Social Democrats that are just doing counter-reforms to please and maintain neo-liberalism – these are a new generation of parties that really want to change the structure of society.
Then I also argue that we should include progressive social entrepreneurs, like people, the people who make the fair phone, and fair trade electronics, because they are changing the productive system. And this is also important And a lot of young people today, you know, they are crafts people, they are producers, they are artists, and these people can work for an employer one year, create their own start- ups the next, go bankrupt after that, become a freelancer, and get a job again. So they are very flexible regarding their structural situation within the labour market, and they see entrepreneurship, not as a liberal vision, but as a striving for autonomy, so I want to include those people in a new type of alliance for infrastructural change.
RR: One of the big issues that is really not being properly brought to the fore as it should be at the G8 conference to me is the role that IP rights have had in causing financial problems, and that might seem very strange to many people, but so does the idea of what the commons is, and therefore any idea that it is free compared to IP rights. which are expensive and increasingly made longer and longer terms, beyond the life of the original author.
MB Well there are 2 things and one is a negative critique tabout patents, for example, research clearly shows that the more patents you have the slower the innovation, so that we know that these strong IP rights are negative for innovation, as they are basically to strengthen the patents, but it is basically, I suppose suicide, and there are studies both contemporary and from history, that show, for example, that regarding the UK in the 19th cy. , the British Empire was way ahead of Germany, and [as soon as] they introduced copyrights and patents, then innovation started going down, and Germany who didn’t have IP took them over, and there is a whole book showing this. But there are many contemporary studies showing IP not being innovative in their effects, on the contrary, it has been shown that more and more innovation comes from non-market collectives, eco systems, and this is increasing, and you know, there are charts showing how much of these are coming from these non-market environments (see for example in Steven Johson’s Where Good Ideas Come From).
You know personally, I am not an absolutist, that means I am not necessarily for an absolute abolition of IP, but to bring them back to reasonable levels – so that even people who are for them and see some merit in them, [can join the free culture movement]. The [current system] can only work by either putting people into jail, by legal repression, or by technological sabotage of DRM and things like that, so you understand that moderates can see that people don’t have a reason to sabotage and then we can have hyper-innovation. You know there is a revolution in urban farming, there’s even a revolution in rural farming, and the reason things are happening is because these people are now talking to each other [about their traditional practices], who may not be up to date, but they are being renewed, they are being profoundly transformed, [because] citizen scientists, and farmers are working [together] around networks, and improving their practices.
I just want to say that, as an example, and you may know this better that I, because I think you British, there is every Friday, the agrichats in twitter using the hashtag agrichat, which trends every Friday because the farmers are exchanging communication through twitter. It is just one example of how this is happening. And they don’t need copyright. They don’t need Patents. They just want to advance their own practices – all together.”