P2P and #OccupyWallStreet: It’s not just technology, it’s the people

While the great egalitarian backlash against 30 years of neoliberalism has begun through #occupywallstreet, more especially as a response against the post-2008 capture of our democracies by financial speculators, a lot of the analysis invariably goes to the crucial role of social media, not only to inform people outside of the control of corporate media, but also as a tool for mobilization. At the same time, we are seeing a worrying trend of governmental and corporate counter-measures, with the shutting down of the internet in Egypt as paradigmatic event. It has led to the creation of a global movement, driven by the hacker class, to recreate a ‘free and autonomous internet’.

ContactCon, organized by Douglas rushkoff on October 20 in New York City, is one of the gathering points for these efforts.

There is no doubt that the internet and social media are important tools, that favor especially those that did not have access to media production capabilities before, and that it changes the social balance of power.

However, I would like to make a plea to guard against any exaggerated technological determinism. Indeed what is crucial in the story is not the purity of the network technologies as true ‘peer-to-peer’ tools, but the socialization process that it engenders.

Not surpisingly, during the anti-Mubarak uprising in Egypt, it was Facebook that was used, not exactly a p2p network in the hands of the masses. Yet, it was used because, despite the corporate ownership and control, it still largely allows for the social p2p logic to occur. Indeed, that is what peer-to-peer really is about: the capacity of citizens to freely aggregate, share and create common value together. It this ability to share, to learn together, to construct social artifacts together, outside the bonds of kinship, salary and commodity, which undermines both the conventional and neoliberal narratives about the logic of our lifeworld. What I’m suggesting is that people find the mainstream story about a lifeworld driven by the invisible hand of universal self-interest believable, until they experience it otherwise on a daily basis, through the peer-to-peer logic of their online interactions and cooperations.

This is what we saw happening in Egypt, amongst the youth first, but also through the unprecedented socialization that could occur between the Muslim Brotherhood and human rights advocates. This is what we saw happening in Spain through the emergence of the general assemblies and at #OccupyWallStreet with the human microphone system.

People have discovered that the values they longed for, the visible hand of human cooperation, that is enhanced through their networked socialization, is just as natural and realistic in the concrete world of materiality. Of course, the social movement and its practices have many other convergent causes, but the powerful reminder of the power of sharing and cooperation that has been learned ‘online’, is an equally powerful determinant. Social being determines consciousness, and in this case, our social being has been powerfully shaped by the communal shareholding taking shape online and offline.

The universal hold of the Smithean master narrative, that started with the Scottish Enlightenment, and became the cornerstone of Western and the global civilisation, has been broken, and a new narrative is being awakened and concretized by our youth at #OccupyWallStreet.

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