Someone asked me recently, if it was not naïve to expect such a major change as the one predicted and/or wished for by the P2P Foundation, as human nature does not change, and so we will have capitalism for another 50 generations.
A good question, which generates a number of responses from my side.
First of all, human nature has not, and will never be, a static given, it is rather a biological and social construct which is differentiated over time and space, and slowly evolves over time.
Certainly, human nature is not, and will never be, that construct of ideological capitalism which presumes a rational actor that is only acting out of self-interest. 30 years of social studies, have profoundly challenged any such claims. (see the cooperation commons of Howard Rheingold and friends, as one of the projects monitoring this shift)
The human being has always been paradoxical, and a combination of contradictory traits.
Human nature is furthermore strongly conditioned by social structures, and of course, this is the basis of the truthiness of the rational actor ideology, we now do have a society which is geared on promoting and developing a particular combination of traits, at the expense of others.
But there are several reasons to be hopeful.
The first is that, if “being determines consciousness”, then indeed, the proliferation of open infrastructures and practices based on sharing and collaboration, does affect human attitudes, both in the virtual and physical worlds (which in any case, cannot in practice be usually separated).
The second is that the mainstream system has reached the limits of its long-term survival, it is now actively destroying the biosphere we all depend on. So expecting 50 generations of this system is sheer lunacy.
Third, there is evidence that human attitudes are changing. I’m thinking of the human development studies of people like Susan-Cook Greuter, and the world values surveys by people like Ronald Inglehart. Most striking was a 2008 (or 2007), Edelman Trust Barometer report, which showed that in a mere four years, a majority of people had shifted their allegiances from instutitions to peers.
All the evidence that we are collecting via the P2P Foundation, and other initiatives such as Shareable, suggest that sharing and peer to peer practices, and the social demand for openness, transparency, and a commons-orientation, while still minoritarian, are proliferating and growing.
In conclusion, I would say that an active minority is constructing a new type of social infrastructure, which however causes changes in a much larger group of users, and that this combined effect is instrumental in creating deeper social shifts.
Undoubtedly, there are counter-trends, and in no way should we predict change on the basis of knowing how human nature is evolving, but nothing says we cannot be active actors ourselves, and be an active minority with real world influence. I remember reading that only a few thousand people were involved with the Renaissance, and yet it changed the whole course of European civilization.
So, even though ‘human nature’ evolves slowly and as a result of complex factors, nevertheless, the particular p2p sensibility is growing and important enough to cause a mid and long-term re-orientation of social values.
It’s a active bet on the future, and may be wrong, but neither is it naive, and neither can the other side claim that the present system is the result of a static and god-given human nature.