Crisis at the Factor E Farm

Readers of this blog will know that we have consistently supported the Open Source Ecology project, which consists of creating a full set of open source technologies for resilient communities.

We have not written this anywhere, but in conversations at the Oekonux conference we also suggested to Marcin Jacubowski that this was not yet in any way a true global open design project, since it all dependent on the leadership of one person in a particular locale. My own vision suggests that what should happen is that OSE should work through a ‘sourceforge’, where people in the whole world can contribute to the designs, while different locales try it out. And therefore NOT one locale trying to control and funnel all energies to itself under the control of one person. Such change has not happened and instead we have a long series of personal conflicts unfolding at Factor E Farm.

So to be clear, my take is that this is not a local leadership issue, as that affects only one locale, but rather the design of the project itself, which should be globally centered as a true open commons with different locales collaborating, and Marcin Jacubowski’s Factor E Farm as just one project, working with those who can accept this type of leadership.

So, here’s the documentation on the latest crisis.

“Inga” describes the last, more serious, conflict here and it is followed by interesting comments from which we select some material below. You probably want to read the official account first, before reading the comments here below.

Molly offers the following analysis:

“I was at Factor E Farm for the month of March when it was just Marcin and Jeremy at the Farm. I checked the blog because my boyfriend got a distressed message from Ben about leaving the site, otherwise I don’t like to follow the project anymore.

I left the Factor E Farm project because I do not believe that one dictator (Marcin) can save the world. The idea of creating an open source tool kit for building a global village is excellent, but it will take much more than one person to lead the project.

Inga I am very sorry to hear you have thoroughly absorbed Marcin’s dogma. In regard to the failure of the vegetable garden, have you ever wondered why a garden was created in such a lousy site? Why was a garden put on a slope towards the flood plain? Why are all the houses placed in the flood plain where mud is a perpetual problem? It was put there because Marcin decided to put it there without considering whether it was appropriate under the belief that there was “no time to waste, just gotta get going!” Marcin has been claiming there is “no time to debate” as a method of ending discussion, which effectively creates a dictatorship.

As for Jeremy and Ben, I don’t know Ben but Jeremy is a hard working guy who has put all of his energy into Factory E Farm since he arrived last November. I don’t know why he’s stayed at the farm, but I don’t think anyone should question his significant contributions. Jeremy did consistent and quality work on the MicroTrac, the website, the lathe and many other projects on the Farm while I was there.

I am sorry that Jeremy has had to learn first hand, like I did, that Marcin does not care for any one who helps him. Everyone who has ever worked with Marcin has now left. He’s been working on this for about 3 years in Maysville. Has anyone stayed with him? I’m not sure how many people have visited Factor E Farm since it started. There were 4 visitors the month I was there so at that rate he’s had 144 visitors. Many of the visitors wanted to contribute to the project in some way, but none have been able to stand his style of leadership.

Ben is exactly right in saying that this event shows much more about Marcin’s psychopathic behavior than anything else.

Inga you will be the next person to realize that Marcin does not care about you. He is only interested in using you to complete his dream. A vision as complex and ambitious as Open Source Ecology can only be achieved through debate, rigorous experimentation, genuine collaboration and a little love.

It’s interesting that Marcin has the power to attract new people which allows him a new pawn as the old pawns leave.

Jeremy and Ben- I am so sorry that Marcin and Inga treated you this way. The pipe problem would be solved if Marcin stored equipment properly. The airport problem (Mat and I had the same problem when we arrived), could of been solved with radios or cellphone communication.

Marcin- You’re right, one dictator can change the world, but it’s not always a good thing.

Inga- Remember that Marcin set up the environment physically and emotionally at FeF. His craftsmanship is poor, just check out his brazing technique, his writing is terrible but his charisma is amazing. He tells people what to do, but he blames them when he sets them up to fail (by providing poor quality supplies, tools or discouraging them from spending enough time on research) and takes credit in any successes. Watch out for yourself and pay attention to the physical details out there, they’ll tell you about Marcin.

I’m sorry to hear the equipment issues have caused so much drama and disrespect.

This project is officially discredited.”

Our friend Sam Rose also pitches in, offering the following assessment:

“When Marcin came to visit me here in the winter of 2007, I spent some time talking to him about the work of Clare W Graves. and Graves’s finding that people will not change in ways that they are not ready to change. Nor will people readily accept a paradigm being foisted upon them, that they see as being left behind for them in solving problems of existence.

Instead, Graves found that people will either “circle the wagons”, or they will regress back to earlier ways of solving problems, when people are confronted with change in ways that they are not resonant with.

I do not know all of the facts and circumstances. But, I do know 100% from watching this video that Ben and Jeremy are not resonant with total Hierarchical leadership over them. I can also tell from reading the exchanges over the last 6+ months, plus my own knowledge of open source software development, that a huge amount of the people who are attracted to “open source”, voluntary development efforts are people who are generally averse to hierarchies in social structures. Averse to being controlled. This, I think is the source of tension and problems(not just in this project, but around the world). Different worldviews are colliding. Different ways of solving problems of existence.

In simpler terms, if you try to control people who do not want to be controlled, this is what will happen. Clare W Graves observed this in hundreds of people over 15+ years.

However, by the same token, the secret to “Open Source” is that it is open. This means that you have the right to fork, the right to leave, the right to start a new branch with different rules and approaches. If you disagree with Marcin to the point that you feel you cannot work with him, I would contend that it is better to fork, to leave, than to spend time railing against him. If you believed in the ideals behind “Open Source Ecology”, the best thing you could do is work on what you were interested in wherever you are at, and under your own rules, and share that with the world.”

Franz Nahrada pitches in on the same leadership topic:

“In Open Source Development, there is the saying of the “benevolent dictator”. I think it is correct to say that in the development of a piece of software it is better to have one person finally decide. The consequences for the others are not grave. But the more we center our lives in Open Source circumstances (and people who decide to move to FeF do!), the more it is about a whole environment that is shaped by the collective action, the more a real commons emerges that requires responsible and caring leadership that seeks consensus and creative solutions.

I know this phenomenon from Arcosanti, a fantastic experiment that has fallen prey to the “lonely leader syndrome”. Lots of people there have had tons of creative ideas, and I met some of them. Instead of considering and incorporating them into the design, this way making it richer and more interesting, or instead of finding consensual ways to at least appreciate them, the stereotypical answer of Paolo Soleri and his people was: Go to the next mesa and do your own thing.”

12 Comments Crisis at the Factor E Farm

  1. AvatarVinay Gupta

    I joke that open source is best done by autistic sociopaths. Let me flesh out that joke a little.

    I’ve talked to Marcin at length. He’s very. very, very smart. He’s smarter than you. How do I know that? Because he’s the second or third smartest person I’ve met, and I’ve spent time with people like Amory Lovins.

    At that point, and not to put too fine a point on it, not all opinions about how a project should be run are created equal. Being smart is not a license to tell people what to do, but if a smart person stands up and says “I’m going to change the world by doing X, Y and Z – do you want to help me?” then, if you show up to help, you better actually be willing to help.

    This is pretty simple: Marcin’s published a roadmap about what he wants to do on the farm. It’s huge, big, complex but all the bits I have the expertise to check look great. If people are showing up to help get that roadmap built – and it’s the only thing Marcin is interested in, and he’s completely explicit about that – and then not actually getting things done, I think that Marcin is perfectly within his rights and correct in asking them to leave.

    Let me say that again: Marcin’s published a roadmap and asked for people to help. He’s one of the smartest people in the world. If you want to help get that roadmap built, that’s what’s happening on the farm.

    Consensus decision making has destroyed the commune movement in America. It is the absolute plague of the Left and of organized Anarchism. It brings the decision-making of groups down to the level which can make it past the group-think and status-based herd psychology of social groups.

    The open source world does not run on that kind of consensus. It runs on capable individuals spending their lives building things for the common good. Consensus, where it is used, is not about universal agreement in the way that the commune movement has used it, but about a rough agreement between independent actors – a subtle but vital distinction.

    The problem here is a clash of cultures: hard-edged performance-oriented engineering culture, and values-oriented political culture.

    Value politics have produced nothing of substance since the 1960s. Let me repeat that: value politics have produced nothing of substance since the 1960s. It is not working. People sink their lives into political organizing, and it amounts to no real change in global living conditions at the end of the day.

    It is time for value politics, and the crap decision-making methodologies which accompany it, to get out of the way and make room for the engineers to actually fix the problem.

    If you don’t like Marcin’s management style, don’t work with him. But, as a professional engineer, he’s about average for the people who are just really, really good. This isn’t about a group hug, this is about solving the world’s problems with technology.

    Vinay Gupta

  2. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    Hi Vinay,

    Undoubtedly Marcin is smart, he has a sound plan, and it is legitimate for any individual to seek followers. You also ‘jokingly’ suggest this may be accompanied by personal issues, which would explain why so many volunteers feel treated in the way they do.

    1) a few comments, peer production has never been about consensus decision-making, but it does recognize that no individual, no matter how smart, is smart enough to lead all other experts in a project. This is why peer production allows any input, and control of excellence is put at the end, done by ‘experts’ who are recognized for their input and judgment. Most of the time it works very well, sometimes, as in the Wikipedia, the experts are less able than their contributors. Obviously, when you replace voluntary knowledge contributions by full-time physical work, such ‘a priori’ abundance may not work (though it seems to work in open hardware actually), and that is the choice of Marcin. In that case, you have to be very explicit about the social contract, and I think this is a very important lesson from this crisis. Nevertheless, if you rely on volunteers, you must clearly treat them well. Chefs and movie directors pay their staff well, if you don’t do that and you still wish absolute authority, you must find something equally valuable. One solution is to create an artificial scarcity, like enlightenment cults do, but this will not work for the farm. So, fair treatment of volunteers, thinking about long-term sustainability, and not creating systematic burnouts is very important. Has this lesson be learnt?

    2) the second most important, I insist, is to liberate the project from their local and personal limitations, and make it into a global open hardware and design project

    I have to disagree much more fundamentally though with the technological determinism you express. Technology alone, embedded as it is in social structures and struggles, can NEVER solve any issues, as it will be used to benefit the few, and other choices will be filtered away. If history teaches ANYTHING, it is the contrary of what you say, i.e. all important social advances, like personal rights, democracy, the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, the green cleaning of the U .S. only came about, because the value orientation of social movements. So it is never really either or, you must both have strong social movements and value politics, and good engineering practices.

    This is in fact exactly what peer production is, good engineering in the service of values. And this means that your practice must be prefigurative. You can’t be a Mao Tse Tung of peer production, your social practice must reflect the values that you intend to institute and generalize.

    This is why free software is successfull. And free software, and open hardware are based on free self-directed contributions, for a substantial part. It is legitimate to deviate from that, but demanding volunteering and denying them input is a difficult proposition.

    The characteristic you jokingly suggest at the beginning is not-problematic in case of self-direction, since contributors will route around it, and more problematic in case you deny that freedom.

    I’m sure though it can be done, and that the reported crises can be a learning experience.

    But clearly, this is not about engineering at all, but about management, social contracts, and fair treatment of volunteers.


  3. AvatarMarcin

    Michel, you are basing your conclusions on peer production on existing open source projects. Our project is unique, and probably the only existing implementation – where there is a facility populated by its members. Moreover, in our facility, people are living together, working together, and using the products of their work. The most important difference between our project and other OS projects are the considerable hardware/capitalization requirements – beyond the world of software – which require much more stringent accountability for decisions, because capital is involved. It is difficult to extrapolate the dynamics/patterns shown in the open source software world, and even in the open source hardware world, given the additional features or integrated nature of our project – which combine to a high level of complexity and interaction. People are quick to make judgments on our strategy, however, I maintain that there are additional complexities that may not be readily visible. I think ours is a novel experiment. As a consequence, we are attempting novel means and strategies. We are not saying that our strategy will work, but we will not know until we try.

    Regarding your second point, ‘to liberate the project from their local and personal limitations, and make it into a global open hardware and design project’ – who is this question addressed to?

  4. AvatarVinay Gupta

    Technology is how we solve our problems in the West, Michel. It’s where your water and your electricity come from. Those are more or less exclusively technical fixes, and that’s what our infrastructure looks like. Nobody asks about the personalities of the engineers who make your power stations function, and it’s not a popularity contest.

    Same is true for open source software, the one truly successful, world-changing example we have of peer production. Hans Reiser apparently murdered his wife – but his code is still there, being used, being built upon. There’s a lesson here: everybody can contribute, whether we like them or not. Open source enabled people who were not personally skilled, and perhaps lacked confidence or other fundamental social capabilities, to work together and change the world.

    Politics is irrelevant to the engineering work which will enable real change. Stallman’s approach to politics is vital, but it’s vital *because* it protects the engineering, not for other reasons.

    Complex, and subtle that point is, but vital.

  5. AvatarHee Haw!

    >This isn’t about a group hug, this is about solving the world’s problems with technology.

    The problem with solving the world’s problems with technology is that all of these billions of stupid people, and their dumb touchy-feel-y needs keep getting in the way.

    If people would just shut the hell up and do what they are told, like machines, then those of us who are smartest machine experts could engineer us out of all of these problems. First, we need you people to act and work like machines. We don’t want a bunch of back talk, and opinions. If we want your opinion, we’ll ask for it.

    There’s no time for all of this talk, and human emotional garbage. There are scant few real experts who really know exactly what the rest of us need. And, it’s time to just shut the fuck up, and march in lockstep with those very few people, and learn to do what they say, or get out of the goddamn way. There aren’t any other people as smart as the people that I am telling you are the most qualified to lead us all. And believe me, if *I* tell you this, you better damn well believe it, because *I* know everything.

    Let me repeat that…

    Hello, are you still there? Huh, I wonder where everyone went to…

  6. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    Hi Vinay, I’m really surprised that you seem to adhere to what looks like simple technological determinism. Technology is social. The way water and electricity is engineered and owned, never simply reflects engineering choices. Politics is not just what happens in congress, but about the choices we make about how to engineer and implement things. It’s never simply about efficiency, but efficiency for whom, and at the cost of what. Those are very relevant things, that can’t be wished away. Have you never worked for a formal institution and experienced for yourself how technology is driven by all these choices and social/economic/political priorities?


  7. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    I agree Marcin, that your project is indeed different and more ambitious, and as you say, we don’t know if it will work but it is crucial to try. The second point for me is the insurance policy, if your model were to fail, how would we make sure that the progress you make is not lost for further movements and experiments? Source-forging it to make it available to a global movement of similarly minded but different experimentation, would guarantee that more patterns can be tried out and preserved,


  8. AvatarMarcin

    I’m not opposed to Source-forging. With that said, once again I ask, who’s going to do that, because I am stretched with hardware implementation. And, once again I ask, where are the other experimenters?

  9. Pingback: The New Transhumanists | Pittsburgh Alpha to Omega

  10. Avatarandrew

    Hi everybody,

    I am a part of *similar* experiment that has been going on for about 30 years. An experiment to bring together the components necessary to build a self-reliant village in deep country, on margina land.

    our project involves generating the food, fibers, forage, fuel, energy and decisino making structures necessary to stabalize a group of people for the long haul.

    there are many ways in which I coul dgo about describing what it is we do. But I believe it is simlar in nature to FeF.

    Although we are not in a position to want to directly copy FeF’s appraoch, we have independently come to some of the exact same technological conclusions as FeF. which to me is quite telling.

    But one thing which I will put out there, is that Windward has been around for thirty years. which is an order of magnitude longer than FeF. the primary reason for our lasting this long, through all manner of catastrophe, is the social and dicision making component of what we do.

    If i had to break it down into pecentages, I would split our work 50/50 technological/social.

    I bear witness to the reality of, “those necessary things which you do not account for, will end up destroying you”. and, the social/sexual component of humans runs deep, and can be the most powerful motivating factors in a persons creative life. If people are not getting their social/emotional needs met they are likely to leave. just as if they are not getting their material needs met. to an engineer based mindset this can seem silly-bad-wrong-etc, but it is a reality that will bite any project aiming for sustainability in the butt.

    so, in my humble opinion, it is (to some degree) about hugs and good feelings.

    the very thing which we are trying to preserve through technology, is the ability for people to live a good life. the reason why we endeavor to preserve and develop technology is so people are not laboring away, and so we have more time to pursue our personal bliss.

    one final thought, we have a saying here that “technology should always be in service of community” not the other way around. because our communal history has shown that in hard times, the best thing to hold onto is eachother.

    marcin, your project is truly and inspiration.
    thanks for all the work you do,

  11. AvatarPhil jergenson

    We have created an open source building but can get no traction.we also own 60 acres with a passenger train service. also vast techno library,shop, miles of trails and its all solar powered. We are launching at maker fair. No big egos here. Shop phone is707 459 3959. Phil

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