Spiritual expression in the peer to peer era (1)

I posted the draft of an essay entitled “The Next Buddha will be a collective: spiritual expression in the peer to peer era”

This is what is is about:

Religious and spiritual expression is always embedded in societal structures. If social structures are moving towards the form of distributed networks, what kind of evolution of spiritual expression can we expect? In this essay, we will first describe the general societal changes that we see emerging, and expect to become more prevalent in the future, then examine to what degree these changes will have an impact on individual and collective spiritual expression. The reader has to bear with us in the first general part, which explains the peer to peer dynamic, in order to understand its application to spirituality, which is the subject of the second part of the essay. Finally, in the third and final part, we will discuss a few concrete examples.

The first part is therefore introductory, and will be familiar to readers of this blog.

We conclude it thus:

Unlike the industrial mode of production, which basically applies feudal-hierarchical modes to organization, and is mostly fit for producing economic value; and unlike the democratic mode of governance, which only applies to the political realm, we have here a mode of production and governance which can be applied to every human domain, and this is a radical advance in terms of participation. It is now possible to have self-governed communities, not just in economic and political projects, but also for example in the construction of collective spiritual knowledge.

Elaborating on this theme is the subject of the second part of this essay.

Today, we publish two of these sections in this blog entry, setting the stage for additional contributions later. (we are not reproducing the notes and references)

1. New Value Constellations

Before we elaborate more concretely on how the peer production characteristics apply in the spiritual realm, we should stress that a new peer to peer spirituality would not just be the result of some objective new way of doing things (a new spiritual outgrowth of a new material basis), but is itself the result of deep changes in human consciousness, some of which have already taken place, some of which are still in the process of taking place, all of them affecting many different people. Some of these changes occurred before the emergence of the new peer to peer logic, some as a result of its emergence, and others the result of the continued use of P2P tools, which inevitable change the form of human consciousness in some ways, as does every tool. Broadly speaking, we would argue that peer to peer is the outgrowth of deep changes in ontology (ways of being), epistemology (ways of knowing) and axiology (value constellations).

In terms of ontology, there is a deep change concerning the vision of the human, which has been prepared by a long string of contemporary thinkers. In a nutshell, and despite the current neoliberal dominance in establishment politics and economics, the old idea, at the basis of the market capitalist society, and of the democratic liberal order, has been profoundly challenged. This conception that we were all separate individuals, needing to be socialized through institutions, and acting out of personal utility, is being replaced by visions which stress the connectedness of the human. We are always already connected, with peers, and this is how we mediate our relationships with institutions. It is no longer a matter of institutions and corporations broadcasting and/or managing masses of isolated individuals. It is partly a matter of a change of consciousness, but itself of course also a result of having a communication technology which can indeed connect. The annual trust barometer of the PR firm Edelman confirms a dramatic change from trust in institutions to trust in ‘people just like you’, i.e. peers. This new vision of connectedness gives rise not to a generalized altruism, but to a vision that social systems have to be designed so that personal interest can converge with collective interests, and these principles are in turn embedded in the new generation of social software and social networks. Cooperative individualism seems an apt description of this new mentality, which is most pervasive in the newest generation of young adults, the so-called digital natives or Millenial Generation (those who became 20 in the year 2,000 and after, who grew up with the internet and collective gaming, and for whom sharing is said to be a default state, as described in the recent Dutch-language book, Generatie Einstein.

In terms of epistemology, conceptions of an objective material universe which can be known from a single objective framework or perspective, have systematically been undermined by postmodern philosophers (but even before, with Marx noting the deformations through the social unconscious, and Freud noting that the personal unconscious meant that we were not the masters of our own house). They have argued that there is no absolute framework, only elements in a system which can only be defined in relation to one another. The hierarchical card catalog, which implies that there is one way of knowing the world (the hierarchical tree of knowledge), first made way for the decentralized databases which could be queried through different ‘facets’, to the now totally distributed folksonomies and tagging systems. In these new distributed systems of knowledge, every individual frames his own world, but he has access to how other individuals have framed the same and other knowledge objects, and all other objects in their own accessible tagging systems. Independent researchers and scholars are now able to peer in each other minds and frameworks, implying that there is not one way to interpret reality, but an infinite number of singular worldviews. Truth then, becomes a matter of integrating, encountering, and exchanging with others and their worldviews, so as to look at the world and its subjects and objects from a variety of viewpoints, each illuminating reality in a different way. Tensions and paradoxes that arise can be confronted through dialogue. Of course, certain types of knowledge, such as physical sciences, still use traditional methodologies, but the human and social sciences are certainly influenced by these new attitudes, which govern how many individuals now make sense of their world.

In terms of axiology, or new value systems, I have already described the new emerging cooperative individualism, but the world of peer production and governance itself gives rise to new types of social movements, which adhere to 3 different but interrelated paradigms, which are also value systems . The open and free paradigm, which desires that human knowledge be freely sharable and modifiable; the participatory paradigm, which asks for a maximum extension of the number of contributors, each according to his ability; and the commons oriented paradigm, which wants to produce directly for use value (not exchange value) and wants the results to be shared by all. It would be hard to say how many people share the full scala of these new values, but certainly, their number is growing, and the number of movements and initiatives which can be catalogued in this way is growing almost exponentially. Note how these new values and movements correspond to the reproduction cycle of the new social system of peer production, governance and property. Namely, no peer production is possible without the availability of open and free raw material to work with (input side); this raw material is then used participatively (process side); and the result of the common work is then protected through the use of commons-oriented institutions and legal forms (the output side). The output side then effectively creates new open and free material which can be used to perpetuate the cycle.

2. General Characteristics of a Participatory Spirituality

What does this all mean for the emergence of new forms of spirituality, both in terms of personal experiencing and in terms of new social formats for organizing spiritual life?

What it means for the evolution of human consciousness is very well expressed here:

“There is overwhelming evidence that the evolution of consciousness is marching on, moving from collective living, where the individual was totally embedded in the life patterns of the collective; through a gradual, often painful, process of individuation, with the emphasis on the will and sovereignty of the individual; to what is emerging in our time: a conscious return to collectivism where individuated, or self-actualised, individuals voluntarily – and temporarily – pool their consciousness in a search for the elusive collective intelligence which can help us to overcome the stupendous challenges now facing us as a species as a consequence of how our developmental trajectory has manifested on the physical plane thus far .. . So human evolution has something to do with human consciousness awakening first to itself, then to its own evolution and to a recognition and finally an embodied experience of the ways in which we are organically part of a larger whole. As we enter this new stage of individual/collective awakening, individuals are being increasingly called to practice the new life-form composed of groups of individuated individuals merging their collective intelligence.”

Let us quickly review the changes resulting from the changing ontological, epistemological, and axiological positioning, and then review the principles of peer production that we described above, and see how it can be applied to the production of spiritual knowledge.

If we accept the new ontological and epistemological convictions that there are no absolute reference points or frameworks, no objective reality out there on their own, can we still accept fixed cosmologies and religions? If we accept that knowing is a matter of co-creation with other humans, holding different frameworks, and that approaching truth is a matter of confronting those differences in frameworks, and how they illuminate realities in different ways, can we still accept fixed methodologies and pathways, leading to inevitable conclusions about the truth? Or would we expect co-created truth to be open-ended? If we want to act and live according to the peer principle of equal worth of all persons, can we accept the deep-seated rankism that is part and parcel of traditional approaches to religion? The questions are suggesting the answer, and the answer is that in all likelihood, the forms of spirituality that we are striving will have the open and free, participatory, and commons-oriented aspects which the emerging p2p forms of consciousness are desiring to appear in the world.

An open and free approach to spirituality would not likely accept proprietary approaches to spiritual knowledge. It would expect that the code and texts are freely approachable, even modifiable. It will not accept the copyright protections of spiritual texts, nor their unavailability. The pathways to spiritual experiencing would not be hidden from sight, but publicly available. The methodologies would be available for trial and experimentation.

A participatory approach would mean that everyone would be invited to participate in the spiritual search, without a priori selection, and that the threshold of such participation would be kept as low as possible. Appropriate methodologies would be available for different levels of experience.

A commons-oriented approach would lead to co-created knowledge to be available in a common pool, for others to build on and to be confronted with.

Let us know quickly survey how the concrete principles of peer production, which we outlined above, would apply to the production of spiritual knowledge. As a reminder, we listed the following principles: equipotentiality, self-selection, communal validation, and holoptism.

Equipotentiality suggests that we should not judge a person according to one purported essence, say, as a spiritual master or an enlightened being, but as a wide mixture of different skills and abilities, none of which by itself elevates that person to a higher human status. Rather, the skill of any social system is to draw out the best out of each individual, so that he can engage his skills and passion to a task of his own choosing. One of the possible interpretations of this principle is that enlightenment or spiritual mastery is just one particular skill, a particular technique of consciousness. It is important, it deserves respect, others can learn from it. However, just as a great sportsperson or great artist is not necessarily overall a better human being, neither is a spiritual master, as the history of the last view decades has elaborately shown. Furthermore, guidance from such a master must be specific, an invitation for practice and experience, a witnessing on his part, but not in any way a fixed authority on the lives of any followers. Individuals are free to explore this guidance, but the individual, and the communities, are still in charge of building collective spiritual freedom, without a priori fixed path. The corollary of self-selection and communal validation are also clear. No spiritual path can be imposed, the individual freely chooses the particular injunctions he wants to follow or experiment with. Nor are individuals or communities bound to any particular tradition, though they can still choose to work with such a particular framework. In a globalized context, conscious of the various frameworks available, the search for spiritual truth may entail aspects of a contributory spirituality, in which the individual, informed about the specific frameworks, can choose between a wide variety of psycho-technologies, in a particular quest to find which combination of practices and insights is the most befitting of his needs and capabilities. As Jorge Ferrer has already argued, not only is there no single path, not only are there no multiple paths to a similar goal or achievement, but the goal itself is the fruit of the co-creation of searchers and their communities. It would seem that it is precisely in such a way, that individuals have approached their quest in the last few decades, particularly those termed cultural creatives by the sociologist Paul Ray. In fact when there is no coercion, this seems the natural way that people choose to approach their spiritual life. The principle of communal validation suggests that persons may unite in groups or peer circles, decide in common on certain exploratory paths, and exchange their experiences with it. Finally, holoptism suggests a new openness in terms of the contents and practices of the different systems, as well as their goals, and it suggests that esoteric wil no longer mean secrecy or unavailibity, only different equipotential capacities to reach certain levels of experience and skill. Again, this does not seem to be farfetched given that most esoteric material is now available either in print or online.

3 Comments Spiritual expression in the peer to peer era (1)

  1. Pingback: Podcast: Interview with Michel Bauwens, P2P and spirituality » P2P Foundation

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