Article: P2P in the anthropocene, with the Convergence gathering as a case study. Victor MacGill. ISSS paper. 2015

For excerpts, see below after the abstract.

From the Abstract:

“There are many threats as we move deeper into the anthropocene age. The dominance based hierarchies that have become an unquestioned part of 21st century life are a reflection of the linear profit driven paradigm that fails to see the interconnectedness between us, and between us and the world we inhabit. In order to find a pathway out of the looming dystopic futures that appear to be unfolding, a new paradigm that recognises the connectedness within nature and the social world is necessary to generate new social structures that can lead to more sustainable, thriving futures.

One weak signal on the horizon that might foreshadow a change in paradigm towards a more healthy way of seeing the world and interacting in it is the peer to peer movement. The peer to peer movement creates ways for people to interact without intervening controlling hierarchies that build value for those involved. There are a number of forms from digitally based platforms like Wikipedia, Linux, couch surfing and ride sharing through to the Arab Spring and occupy Wall Street. There are also links to the co-operative movement and community initiatives like transition towns and permacultural living.

A case study is presented examining one type of peer to peer group in more detail to reveal practical issues of operating within this new paradigm. The Convergence gathering is a group of people interested in alternative lifestyles that has met for five or six days over the New Year in North Canterbury, New Zealand for almost thirty years. It has developed an organisational style with no ongoing structured leadership.”

Excerpt 1: P2P in the anthropocene, by Victor MacGill:

“In this anthropocene age (Steffen, Grinevald, Crutzen, & McNeill, 2011) we have moved from coping in our environment to changing the environment to suit our purposes. We live within a predominant worldview that sees the earth as something to exploit as we please. The predominant paradigm of our world today is a neo-liberal worldview that has lost sight of the interconnectedness between each other and between us and our environment. It prioritises economic profit to the detriment of our planet (Korten, 2000; Piketty, 2014). The term anthropocene is a geological term formulated to describe our present age following after the Holocene, and is proposed to have begun with the industrial revolution (Steffen et al., 2011) when the human impact on the environment started to become a significant factor in the physical state of the planet . As such, discussions on the anthropocene tend to be focused more on aspects of climate change, but we face many more threats to our existence through the next century such as peak oil, collapse of the banking system, nuclear threat or conventional war, and terrorism (Laszlo, 2006).
A systems perspective that recognises the complexity of the issues involved and the importance of working with the interconnectedness between people (Vickers, 1970) is likely to be fruitful in developing alternative, preferred futures (Bussey, 2014).

The principles behind peer production are centred on our connectedness as people and communities and the environment in which we live. Bauwens (2005) defined peer production as:

A form of human network-based organisation that rests upon the free participation of equipotent partners, engaged in the production of common resources, without recourse to monetary compensation as the key motivating factor, and organised according to hierarchical methods of command and control. It creates a commons rather than a market or a state and relies on social relations to allocate resources rather than pricing mechanisms or managerial commands.

Bauwens (2006) outlines the three main qualities of a P2P group:

1. Free co-operation of equipotent users who have use of distributed capital

2. The users are self-governing. Governing processes are open and transparent

3. Free access to users of what is produced.

Peer production is not just sharing between people, it includes collaboration to produce something of value for those involved. He further notes that each contributes according to their capacity and willingness and each received according to needs. If a hierarchy does form it is bottom up rather than top down.
Peer production is best known through internet based networks that are becoming increasingly widespread. Who would have ever believed that an internet based encyclopaedia that invited anyone to contribute or modify other people’s work could be viable? Now with Wikipedia (Ciffolilli, 2003) having been available for nearly fifteen years, the only place you could buy a hard copy encyclopaedia is in a second hand bookshop. Further examples include Project Gutenberg (Hart, 1992), Linux (Lee & Cole, 2014), Bitcoin (Grinberg, 2014), couch surfing (Rosen, Lafontaine, & Hendrickson, 2011) and crowd funding (Ordanini, Miceli, Pizzetti, & Parasuraman, 2011). Political movements like the Arab Spring (Howard & Duffy, 2011) and the Occupy Movement (Caren & Gaby, 2011) used the internet and peer production methods (Castells, 2012). P2P is also unfortunately also effective for groups like Al Qaeda (Sageman, 2008).

Many other organisations use some elements of P2P. Amazon and eBay, for example, include user ratings as a guide to reputation. As well as internet based P2P projects there are other groups like the co-operative movement, where groups of people come together for mutual benefit typically financial, so the owners are also those involved in the work. These can range from a small group of craft workers combining their efforts to run a shop to sell their wares through to an entire city of interlinked co-operatives as in Mondragon in northern Spain (Whyte & Whyte K., 1991), which includes co-operative universities, hospitals and banks. Intentional communities and eco-villages are growing around the world (Christian, 2007), transition towns (Hopkins, 2008) is invigorating local communities, and many transformational festivals embrace P2P principles, including Convergence (MacGill, 2014), which will be discussed in more detail later.

Bauwens describes P2P as post-capitalist and post-democratic, but is careful to point out that P2P organisations are not intended to replace the existing system but rather to augmenting and enhancing capitalist and democratic structures. He points out that many P2P elements are already embedded within the capitalist system to the point that it could not function without them.”

2. Myth/Metaphor and worldview of peer production

“If the deepest layer is that of metaphor then identifying key metaphors of the mainstream, which are the fundamental cornerstones of the predominant paradigm is useful. They would include: dominion over the earth and its creatures, survival of the fittest, battle, competition, chain of command, pyramid, king of the castle, elite, linear, focus, conquering hero.

The new P2P based metaphors stress connectedness, equality and interaction. The type of metaphors that would fit this are: network, rhizome, circle, cycles, spiral, Gaia, playing my part, co-operate, non-linear – complex, overview. Community, all is in the one, the one is in the many, all for one and one for all.

Many of these metaphors that fit for the P2P movement resonate with systems metaphors. The new metaphors need to be woven into a new worldview. New stories and narratives shift the focus from the actions of the one hero to ones that demonstrate how people working together can achieve much. The stories will bring our interconnectedness to the fore and suggest wholesome community based ways of working together with each other in harmony with nature. The focus now shifts to look at how systems concepts help understand the fundamentally different nature of P2P organisations. After a discussion of natural and social systems, the next section examines some of the concepts used in systems theory that might be applicable to P2P networks.”

3. P2P and systems theory: Natural and social systems

The systems movement has always had a strong emphasis on using the understandings of the operations of systems in our world in a way that is humane and supportive of positive human endeavour (Boulding, 1968; Davidson, 1983; Vickers, 1968b). Isomorphisms that link the natural world and the social world are also central to systems thinking (Bertalanffy, 1969). For example, Beer’s Viable Systems Model (Beer, 1984) accurately describes a company business, but is equally valid for describing biological systems at differing scales.

Nature abounds with non-hierarchical networks or bottom up hierarchies (Ahl & Allen, 1996)that are not command and control based and have much in common with P2P networks. An ecology is a perfect example of a system without a structured hierarchy or command and control centre (Levin, 1998). Ecological systems are replete with creatures living by devouring other creatures and yet they can maintain their coherence over millennia. Food chains are not simple top-down chains; they have complex interconnections between all the levels.

The advantage and the curse of being human is our awareness of ourselves in our environment. It enables us to consciously intervene in a system to adapt it to our needs or desires (Vickers, 1968a, 1984). Any effective complex adaptive system (Stacey, 2011), such as any social system, needs effective autonomy and connectivity. The neo-liberal agenda has swing too far towards autonomy and has lost sight of our connectedness. We can thus intervene for the good or the bad of the whole system and the conventional system is generating unintended consequences that threaten our very existence. P2P is an attempt to create systems that are more harmonious and people centred. Peer to peer networks are very flat.”

Photo by dsearls

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.