Obama and the high road to the peer to peer society

This then is the first ‘high road’ scenario in a nutshell: that the enlightened part of the current establishment, concerned with its systemic survival, ushers in a global compact for sustainability, in the form of green capitalism, and that this allows peer to peer dynamics, or in other words ‘participation’, to move from an emergent seed form into a co-evolving characteristic of the new green capitalist global compact.

Is there any relationship between the election of Obama, and the prospect for a more ‘peer to peer’ oriented society?

I believe there is, and I would like to outline a possible scenario.

I want to start with acknowledging the deep crisis in which humanity finds itself. On the one hand, the meltdown of the financial system will have very serious effects on the real economy, which will play out in the coming years. Because many ‘fundamentals’ are already so skewed, I believe this will be a rather long systemic crisis for the existing world system, although it can pave the way for a new long wave of growth later on.

What of course complicated the matter is the underlying crisis affecting the biosphere, in the form of global warming.

All in all, we are facing a crisis of the extensive growth of world capitalism, in the current format which is highly destructive for the biosphere, and with a deep impossibility for the rest of the aspiring nations, such as China and India, to reach Western levels.

How does Obama as agent of change play into this?

I think there are three main factors that will determine how radical the impact of Obama will be:

– His personal characteristics: Obama is not a radical, but a center-right politician, with a lot of conservative instincts, not a particularly impressive record, and his early choices of neoliberal Clintonite appointees do not augur a particularly radical agenda. Of course, compared to the lunacy of the alternative, the election is still very significative. It is also not entirely clear how much of such appointments are tactical maneuvers to make himself acceptable.

– The second factor will be the objective social, economic and political situation however. If the crisis is as serious as we expect it to be, then it would be increasingly unwise to govern from the center and preserve a status quo. Indeed, being in the center in a radical situation, is like taking responsibility for all things that go wrong. Such a situation may indicate that, independently of any personal predilections, an Obama administration would be forced into the direction of more radical reform.

– And here’s where the third factor comes in: political and social pressure for change. Though political and social movements are weak institutionally, his election has unleashed a deep wave of hope, and networked sociality may yet provide an avenue for the rapid reorganization of pressures for social change.

So I believe that the situation is more open than we may at first sight expect.

In any case, I do believe that with Obama, we have an intelligent, multiculturally formed personality at the head of the American state; a man who is politically astute, able to handle and understand complex problems; and who has shown he can mobilize vast enthusiasm and self-organized political initiatives in his favour.

I think that we can consider him, despite any limitations, to be part of the enlightened sector of the establishment, a person that understands the systemic risks and problems that the world and America is facing.

It is now time to present two scenarios, i.e. to contrast a ‘high road’ transition to a low road transition.

The high road transition and the low road transition to peer to peer.

I do believe that Obama can be the agent of change towards a new phase of ‘green’ capitalism, a substantial effort to gear the economy towards an effort to solve global warming through the development of alternative energy and other solutions.

I also believe that such a transition, if it wants to be successful, cannot but integrate a substantial dosis of participation.

As a reminder, the argument for the link between sustainability and participation is made by Daniel Christian Wahl and Seaton Baxter, in the magazine Design Issues:

‘”Sustainability is rapidly becoming an issue of critical importance for designers and society as a whole. A complexity of dynamically interrelated ecological, social, cultural economic and psychological (awareness) problems interact and converge in the current crisis of our unsustainable civilization.

However, in a constantly changing environment, sustainability is not some ultimate endpoint but is better conceived as a continuous process of learning and adaptation. Designing for sustainability not only requires the re-design of our habits, lifestyles and practices, but also, the way we think about design. Sustainability is a process of co-evolution and co-design that involves diverse communities in making flexible and adaptable design decisions at local, regional and global scales. The transition towards sustainability is about co-creating a human civilization that flourishes within the ecological limits of the planetary life support system.

Since sustainability requires widespread participation, communities everywhere need to begin to shape local, regional and global visions of sustainability and to offer strategies to engage humanity collectively in cooperative processes that will turn visions (designs) into reality. However, rather, than believing that we can design universally applicable blueprints to bring about sustainability by prediction and control-based top-down engineering, it may be more useful and appropriate to think of the outcome(s) as an emergent property of the complex dynamic system in which we all participate, co-create and adapt to interdependent bio-physical and psycho-social processes.”

Such a social dynamic is partly independent of politics and Obama, but if indeed a powerful Administration recenters itself around a policy of sustainability, we can clearly expect such processes to be strengthened, especially if other countries choose a similar path.

This then is the first ‘high road’ scenario in a nutshell: that the enlightened part of the current establishment, concerned with its systemic survival, ushers in a global compact for sustainability, in the form of green capitalism, and that this allows peer to peer dynamics, or in other words ‘participation’, to move from an emergent seed form into a co-evolving characteristic of the green capitalist compact.

Since our own belief however is that an infinite growth system, a characteristic capitalism would retain even in a green format, then such a high road transition to co-existence would ultimately still need for be transformed ultimately to a new type of society where peer to peer dynamics are the very core of social evolution.

The low road scenario

But what happens if such expectations are too rosy?

Then, we have to expect the ‘Roman Empire ‘long descent into hell’ scenario’, a long descent into disorganization of the global system, with the prospects of the peer to peer and sustainability transition moving towards the local field, in the form of Resilient Communities, as described by John Robb. I won’t go into that one for now, so see here for more details.

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