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.