In my writings on P2P Theory, I have a rather simple, but I believe true, formula to describe the crisis of the global system of neoliberal capitalism.
– i.e. based on a false belief that nature is infinitely abundant as a resource to be used by humanity, without regard for the finitude of our planet, the necessary cycles of renewal in nature, etc… Nature is an object to be depleted, and for waste to be dumped in. This is what I call ‘pseudo-abundance’
– i.e. based on the false belief, disproved again and again by studies, that the exchange of knowledge regarding innovation, culture and science have to be restricted artificially, in an exaggerated manner that protects monopolies and their rent-based income. This is what I call artificial scarcity.
Hence a sustainable civilization or political economy needs to reverse both polarities. It needs to recognize the limits of the natural world and respect its cycles of regeneration, and it needs to relax its artificial scarcities to that knowledge and innovation can flow more freely to the whole of humanity. In fact, we cannot really solve the first problem, without tackling the second.
However, we could imagine solutions to the above, that would take place without regard for the welfare of humanity itself, i.e. that would not include the equally important requirement for social justice. Hence the need for a third leg for our stool.
We can translate these three tasks, reversing pseudo-abundance and artificial scarcity in the context of social justice, by looking at existing and emerging social movements.
The environmental movement, and all those other forces which are starting the integrate the demands for sustainability of our physical production, are the necessary allies for the protection of our biosphere.
The social justice movement is represented by the many social forces defending the interests of workers and farmers and for socially just structures, on the local, national, and global levels.
The peer to peer moment in history brings one more emerging social movement in this potential grand alliance: the movement for the free flow of knowledge, culture and innovation. This is the contribution of the free culture movement, of the open access movement, of computer hackers, and many other actors tackling artificial scarcity.
Each of these moments has its own related but complementary vision of a world centered around the commons and civil society. For the environmental movement, the earth and its resources are a commons whose sustainability has to be protected; the social justice movements wants to make sure that the fruits of the physical commons are distributed in a fair manner so that no part of humanity is excluded from the basic demands of well-being; and the free culture movements protects the digital commons of education, knowledge, science and innovation.
This is what the grand alliance of the commons is about: recognizing the joint interest of these grand social movements in the resilience, sustainability and thrivability of natural and human commons.
The creation of this grand alliance is the task of 21st century politics.
Terrific post, Michel. I’ve taken the liberty of quoting it, in the context of related ideas from Marko Ulvila and Gus Speth, at Common action: synthesis of progressive forces.
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Excellent post. For a detailed elaboration of all this, see Peter Barnes’ book “Capitalism 3.0,” which has among its many virtues the fact that its author is a person of achievement and innovation in both the progressive and business communities: a rare mix of talents. The work that my wife Deborah Popper and I have done on the Buffalo Commons as a likely future theme of much of land-use planning in the Great Plains is also relevant here. For more information on the Buffalo Commons, which Barnes cites, see my Rutgers website, policy/rutgers.edu/faculty/popper. The only national organization that explicitly aims at creating the Buffalo Commons is the Texas-based Great Plains Restoration Council. gprc.org, where Jarid Manos, great [email protected] is president and i chair the board. Another important group is the New Mexico-based National Center for Frontier Communities, frontierus.org, whose executive director is Charlie Alfero, [email protected] and where Deborah and I are on its board. The group advocates and doe research on small remote isolated communities not just in the West or the Great Plains, but throughout the country. Best wishes,
Rutgers and Princeton Universities
[email protected], [email protected]
Michel, I agree, but it’s important to mention that pseudo-abundance and artificial scarcity are not simply passive “errors”. They are actively imposed regimes, constantly being extended and reinforced by those who benefit from them. Educating unwitting victims (and perhaps unwitting perpetrators) may be the easiest stage of what is surely an existential struggle.