Dear Pope Francis,
I write to you as a cultural Catholic moved by admiration for the Christian values and how they have been embodied by social change activists such as Ivan Illich, E.F. Schumacher, Paulo Freire, and profound and provocative thinkers such as Marshall McLuhan and Bruno Latour.
I write to you as someone who has been honoured twice by invitations from the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, where I learned about the beautiful and balanced set of ideas that are the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church and could interact with many interesting Catholic-inspired thinkers, from different sides of the political spectrum, yet open to each other’s ideas in a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood.
I write to you as well as an admirer of the cooperativism that is inspired by the social doctrine, such as the cooperative network of Mondragon, the ideas of Stefano Zamagni and many others.
I write to you as the founder of the Foundation for Peer to Peer Alternatives, and one of the founding partners of the Commons Strategies group, as someone who is deeply connected with emerging new productive practices based on peer to peer relationships, the creation of common pools of knowledge for the benefit of the whole of humanity, and of sharing economy practices that are based on the re-use of many idle resources that could benefit more citizens while lightening the load of humanity on our planet.
Finally, I write to you as the research coordinator of an ambitious transition project in Ecuador, which is advising the public authorities on moving towards a society and economy that is fully based on shared knowledge (floksociety.org).
In this context, I am of course very, very heartened by the recent statements of your Holiness about the need to care for the poor and weak, and to be mindful of the excesses of capitalism, but also from authoritarian collectivism.
I am aware of the key role that the Catholic Church has played in the moral economy of the Middle Ages, and how many Catholics, individually or collectively as members of Congregations and Catholic social movements, are engaged for the Common Good. I am inspired by historical examples such as the Banks of Piety of the Dominicans, which lend money without interest to the poor, and drove out usury-driven banking from their territories.
Yet, as many humans, I am also concerned about our human future. We presently live in a system which believes natural resources are infinite, and we are destroying the very eco-systems on which we depend; and the same system believes that knowledge that could benefit humanity should be restricted and kept artificially scarce, through Intellectual Property restrictions that slow down innovation, hide solutions until they are believed to be profitable, and sell vital medicines at inflated prices, amongst many other issues.
But I am also heartened by the emergence of new modes of creating and distributing value, and on the many peer-based and commons-oriented communities that are mutualizing knowledge, so that it can benefit all; and mutualizing physical infrastructures and resources, so that we may step lighter on the planet. These emergent movements and practices are vital for the future of our planet, and I strongly believe they need Your help! At the end of the era of the Roman Empire, it was the Catholic monks, who mutualized both material infrastructure and knowledge, and functioned as European-wide open design communities, and were crucial in reviving European societies.
The Catholic Church, despite the difficulties due to secularization in Western countries, still has many vital resources. Sometimes, these resources are sold to the marketplace, which may use these in inappropriate ways, such as for examples using abandoned Churches and Monasteries for commercial purposes, for hotels and entertainment venues, but also including sometimes directly related to real-estate speculation.
At the same time, the younger generations of people, and I believe we have a beautiful generation that is concerned and engaged with the Common Good, are willing to create a new type of community, where work and resources are mutualized, and where they use their personal skills and resources, to work for the Common Good, through projects associated with social entrepreneurship, fair trade, peer production and the creation of vital commons of knowledge, code and design which are made universally available for all who need them. There are already quite a number of makerspaces, hackerspaces, co-working spaces and open manufacturing centers for open and sustainable technologies, but we need many more of them, and the reality of real-estate speculation makes many projects unnecessarily difficult to realize.
Indeed, this vital movement of humanity’s young (and not so young) is in search of common places where they can engage in meaningful activities for the common good, yet, the reality of the current economy often means they are precarious, they cannot afford urban rents that are driven by real estate speculation, and often real estate prices make the mutualization of the workplace a very difficult endeavour.
Some of our friends want to go further and have already taken on monastery projects to revitalize our world with ecumenical projects such as the ‘unMonastery’ project in Matera, Italy.
The Gorton Monastery, previously a Franciscan church and friary, in a deprived neighbourhood of Manchester, England. Deconsecrated and left by the Church, it was abandoned and devastated by the weather, theft and vandalism. It has since been restored by the Monastery of St. Francis and Gorton Trust, and once again brings Franciscan values to its community. The recently established Monastery Foundation is leading in thought and action to support personal and organisational transition: the move from old ways of working and living to those required for today and tomorrow.”
Another one is the Uniting Church’s congregation known as the ‘Augustine Centre’, which has been active for many years in the personal development and creative expression fields; it is now known as the Habitat Centre for Spirituality and has hosted the Borderlands Cooperative for the last 12 years. Together they have created a holistic post-graduate course of education, called the ‘oases Graduate School’, offering a Master’s Degree in Sustainability and Social Change, based on the understanding that education needs to be integrative of many disciplines and that it needs to lead to the transformation of all our ways of living and being. An accompanying range of other events, short courses and activities have been created, the place now becoming known for its ecological and social engagement.
These new practices are recreating the moral economy of the future, and could learn from the moral economy of the past, when the Church played such a vital role. On the other hand, by engaging with these vital forces that are changing our society and civilization, the Church would also learn about the new spiritual needs that are co-emerging from these practices.
So the new movement would benefit from Your Assistance, and I am therefore making this proposal and appeal.
Why not think about the repurposing of unused Church property, for precisely the recreation of a moral and ethical economy? Why not create mechanisms for the creation of common hackerspaces, makerspaces, co-working spaces, where the common endeavours can take place in a meaningful and spiritualized space?
My hope is that the forces of the Catholic Church, may start thinking about using resources to assist the Great and necessary Transformation that is starting to take place today.
As my Catholic friend and ethical investor Dr. Johnny Spangenberg writes, warning of humanity’s mistaken admiration for false Gods:
“We create catastrophic climate risk and trigger natural disaster by destroying the very ecosystems on which we depend – All in the name of the worldly Gods of GDP & EBITDA growth and with disregard for the needs of the poor or vulnerable ecosystems. KeyStone XL Pipeline is a recent example of such a controversial megaproject in which the long-run welfare of the human race is sacrificed for short-term economic interest. …”
Dr. Spangenberg also mentions a way forward which is similar to the proposed approach of mutualized working spaces, but expanded to the scale of a village:
“The Regen-Villages – an innovative collaboration between Stanford University, Danish Technical University and the University of Malaysia Pahang (amongst others) aim to rapidly create modern and comfortable integrated villages around the world that can feed and power themselves. As an urgent call to action to combat economic inequality, RV focus is on thriving rural and sub-urban villages that will run on renewable energy and high-yield organic food production, creating a surplus for thriving, self-sustaining communities. RV also brings curriculum into these villages, while fostering the export of innovation and ingenuity out of these villages.”
Therefore, we believe that the transformation discussed above, which requires spaces for meaningful and sustainable work, is vital to save our planet and humanity, and vital for the future of the Church.
We are, of course, not in the position to demand anything, this is not our purpose, but we humbly suggest starting a dialogue on how the Church can support the forces for practical and moral regeneration of our failing economic system. One of our key concerns and proposals would be to find a proper purpose for the religious buildings that are presently unused, and we believe that creating meaning collective workplaces is one of these.”
We are very thankful for any attention that this letter may generate,
Michel Bauwens, Commons Strategies Group and P2P Foundation
The general idea and proposition in this letter are endorsed by the following groups and individuals:
- David Bollier and Silke Helfrich, Commons Strategies Group, co-editors of ‘The Wealth of the Commons”
- Hasnah Ismail – Senior Consultant Fellow, Putra Business School & Director, Might-Meteor Advanced Manufacturing, Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia.
- James Ehrlich – Senior Technologist, Stanford University – Human Sciences Technologies Advanced Research Institute (H-STAR), Stanford: USA.
- Giovanni Luchetti – Representative of Harvard Business Review – World Investment News, New York: USA.
- Marco Fioretti – Founder of the Catholic free software / digital rights movt Eeleutheros *
- Francois Houtart – Fundacion Indigena / IAEN – Quito, Ecuador.
- Johnny Spangenberg – CEO & Founder, GeoSayang ClimateRiskBonds, New York: USA.