Whom should P2P movements ally with?
This question was discussed in our p2p research list, and below is the contribution by Andy Robinson.
It starts with an analysis of the U.S.-libertarian ethos, well represented amongst software professionals, then goes on to link the forces for ‘virtual peer production’, with the forces that defend the natural commons.
(I’m not sure the fully understand the ‘addition of axioms’ argument below, but will ask the author for more details)
“I think on close examination the capitalist/libertarian types don’t actually expect capitalism to realise “abundance” as such, since they assume insatiability of desires and constant emergence of new marginal utilities generating preferences, which ensure that scarcity is part of the “human condition”. Rather, they think that a free market leads to the closest approximation to abundance by optimising production of goods in relation to preferences, managing scarcity so as to generate a maximum (and increasing) standard of living. A small but important distinction.
On even closer examination (see Hirschman’s “The Passions and the Interests”), what they aim to “maximise” is actually not desire- or need-satisfaction but a subtly moralised version of these: the market is taken to maximise satisfaction of demands of agents of a particular morally-valued type, i.e. instrumental-calculative rational possessive-individualists, hence to maximise satisfaction of “interests” (not desires, needs, welfare, utility, etc), while requiring that everyone produce in response to market pressures. The resultant economic coercion of agency is taken as morally valuable because it helps to produce the correct – productive, civilised, hard-working, conformist, Victorian/Protestant – kind of human subject. This becomes clear when they seek to make a case for expropriation of indigenous peoples (or to defend the legacy of such expropriation), and when they seek to make a case for a right to appropriate primary natural “resources” – it becomes clear that the productive are given a special moralised privilege to possess for purposes of production, while the exclusion of the less-productive or unproductive (by their standards) is taken to be morally just, rather than simply economically optimal. Even the argument that the market benefits the poor by trickledown depends on the poor conforming to the required type of subjectivity to receive such benefits (for instance, by working for others).
As for alliances – as I’ve said before, I think the key division within capitalism is in terms of addition versus subtraction of axioms – and peer-production is aligned with the addition of axioms side, though its addition usually involves recuperation and domestication.
Paradoxically, addition of axioms appears both in the libertarian/propertarian opposition to tribute-extraction, and in the social-democratic regulation of capitalism through the addition of decommodified spaces and expansive inclusion. The closest alliances, however, should be with those groups which are pursuing similar strategies in different fields – in particular, between peer-production in the virtual and intellectual fields, and subsistence economies in relation to basic needs such as food, including rewilding, permaculture, indigenous cosmologies, etc. Difficult alliances given that the two are located on opposite sides of a quite antagonistic debate about the merits of technology, but necessary especially for the peer-production side – a peer-production economy isn’t going to work if everyone starves, or if there’s no way of looking after vulnerable non-producers such as children. The cutting-edge of peer-production is in fields of virtual and intellectual production, probably because of the peculiarly appropriate conditions, i.e. infinite (and for users, technically simple) reproducibility. The test of its expansivity as a social form is whether it can handle the complexities and problems of fields of social life where relations are more finite or at least take more nurturing to be abundant.”