Person over Peer

Much of current “P2P” theory and practice centers around groups, cooperative and collaborative tools, platforms, and alternative economic mechanisms on the group scale. These perspectives are valuable and fruitful, for sure. However, what is sometimes becoming lost in this perspective is the value and importance of the individual.

There is very little work or thinking around how an individual arrives at being a genuinely effective participant in a “P2P” economy. Effective ongoing cooperation, participation in a commons, collaborative output all require that an individual understand fundamental concepts about how to be an effective participant. “P2P” activity will grind to a halt when participants lack basic needs (food, energy, culture, access) on the individual scale.

In any economy: if you invest in the existing assets, you raise the chances that the economy will prosper. The asset of “P2P” systems is the person (not the system, model, software, knowledge. Therefore, to catalyze “P2P” systems, the focus of investment is most effective when directed towards improving the conditions of each person. Systems, models, theories are only really important insomuch as they further the fundamental goal of improving conditions of participants.

We are decidedly not all “Peers”: we do not all share an even playing field. It is practically inevitable, in part due to the reality that we do not all achieve the actual status of being true “peers”, that some will “win” at the expense of others. However, in every system, we are all “persons” with identities and struggles on the individual and immediate family scale.  I think the mistake being made now among at least some people and institutions exploring real-world “P2P” economies is to focus so much around the group scale. This approach is actually force – fitting “P2P” economies into 20th century industrial paradigm containers.  The greatest asset of mass-systems is the mass of people as a collection, and the system that makes controlling the mass possible. The mass system is optimized by trying to control the mass with more effective systems of control.

The hard work of evolving peer-to-peer economies is rising to the challenge of investing in the asset of the system: people as individuals who elect to co-invest in one another. How do people as individuals and small family units start producing what they need  on the individual scale? How can we start to support more people in being truly self-sufficient participants of many-to-many systems? The only way that I can see is to invest in the individual.

2 Comments Person over Peer

  1. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    Peer to Peer systems do not assume that people are peers in the sense of all of them being equally good, but actually as persons who all have “something” to contribute , i.e. they are based on the principle of Equipotentiality. ( P2P social systems are motivation agnostic (they do not rely exclusively on altruism) and consciously align, through their design individual interest and motivations, and the collective interest, i.e. the object of the group’s cooperation. P2P systems are integratively interested both in developing persons, and in developing the capacities of groups. But of course, it is much more difficult to directly work on the ‘betterment’ of participating individuals, on the growth of their capabilities, education, spirituality, including the capacity for cooperation. Ideally, P2P systems should include both subjective and objective systems, for both individuals and groups.

  2. AvatarTiberius

    Right on Sam! I can see that within and I am constantly working on establishing a culture. People who engage in p2p need to understand the p2p game. If they don’t, they can upset the p2p ecosystem. I can’t describe all the complexity in this post, but I can identify a few important issues.
    # For example, people need to have a natural tendency to share, and be transparent. In more concrete terms, to use online collaborative tools like Google docs, or Hackpads and not to be territorial, to invite others to co-edit and/or provide feedback, while respecting some basic rules. But this comes with other issues attached to it: to go over the need to control, to surpass the fear of being criticized or the fear of becoming replaceable,…
    # Another example is to be able to accept difference, to be inclusive. It takes some special skills and a special attitude NOT to say no to propositions that don’t fit your model, or to exclude a person who doesn’t please you. #occupy was the best thing that happen to me, because it thought me exactly that, to be inclusive, but not in a stupid, way. Being inclusive requires some patience and moderation sometimes…
    # Learn to deal with complexity. p2p systems are NOT simple systems, but a lot of good things can come out of them, and sometimes even surprise us. This is not just saying “let it go and good things will emerge”. There is an art behind managing complexity, guiding it towards positive outcomes. Most of us don’t have it…
    # Here’s another one that I find important and I am fighting hard to have people integrate it: THINK LARGE SCALE. People are used to think small, within their immediate environment. We need to realize that some p2p games are very large-scale, and can ONLY become stable, creative, productive, i.e. can only exist at large scale. Wikipedia cannot function at small scale, content would become unstable. Some p2p systems have a threshold critical mass, above which they become statistically stabilized. These systems rely on large scale effects. Players in these systems need to think large scale. Small social dynamics is different than large-scale social dynamics. the effects of our actions within small settings are different than in large settings, when our actions can easily propagate to the entire network. I have A LOT of problems with this issue, making people think large scale, while acting small AND large scale.

    That’s the time I have for this… Thank you Sam for stimulating this reflection!

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