Peer to peer and its alliances

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)

Andy Robinson:

“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.”

1 Comment Peer to peer and its alliances

  1. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    Andy responded here to my query about explaining the paragraph on ‘axioms’:

    t’s from Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of capitalism.

    Roughly speaking, capitalism is in an ambiguous position in relation to creative forces (flows, flux, deterritorialisation) – it needs such forces as the engine of its own expansion and profit-generation (as the production it exploits), but it is threatened by them because they ultimately exceed constraint and hence representation (capitalism as axiomatic is a representational system – Deleuze and Guattari insist that it is an axiomatic composed of axioms, rather than a “code”). It can thus seek to manage the flows in two ways, by adding axioms for each flow which escapes – including, exploiting, recuperating – for instance by adding state support, niche markets, anti-discrimination provisions – hence gaining value from what would otherwise be excessive; or it can subtract axioms, refusing to recognise the flows because of the threat they pose, and taking from them by decomposing, accumulation-by-dispossession, prohibition, repression, etc. Hence it does not add the axioms but rather adds a prohibition on certain excesses over the axiomatic.

    Here’s the passage from my Deleuze notes, which might be in my forthcoming co-authored book.



    Axiomatisation, or the creation of axioms, is a more subtle process associated with capitalism, defined in opposition to codes (AOe 250), in which numbers, names and values are mapped onto existing flows so as to bring them into a countable, representable schema – for instance, by creating niche markets, minority representations and so on (ATP 462). It invents codes for decoded flows (AOe 221), and instead of blocking desire, tries to master its flows by adding new axioms for them (ATP 462, AOe 246). Capitalism operates mainly by adding axioms (AOe 253). Despite its affinities with emancipatory deterritorialisation, the capitalist deterritorialisation through axioms is not the same; capitalism requires that the flows remain ‘in a bound state’, that the non-salable be excluded, and that flows be flattened and put in the service of an overall social order (AOe 246). Hence, axiomatisation functions as the “radicle” reinscription of escaping rhizomes as the systems of roots and branches of an arborescent system (ATP 13-14).

    This leads to a situation of political ambiguity. The issue of adding or subtracting axioms is not simply about ‘recuperation’ since it is a matter of struggles beyond the technocracy (ATP 463). Axioms are always distinct from the living forces they contain, but it is necessary to struggle within as well as against the field of axioms, to fight the totalitarian subtraction of axioms and prevent technocratic control (ATP 464). Struggles at the level of axioms are important, but as an expression of underlying forces of another order – the difference between positing one’s own demands and the axiomatic which cannot tolerate this (470-1). Ultimately, however, the point is not to add axioms but to challenge axiomatisation. Capitalism deterritorialises only in order to reterritorialise in the alienated form of private property (AOe 303). ‘What condemns the capitalist value system is that it is characterized by general equivalence, which flattens out all other forms of value, alienating them in its hegemony’ (3Ecologies 65)

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