The northern and southern roads to post-industrial development

Very insightful commentary by Eric Hunting.

The context is the following: following our presentation of the work of John Robb on Resilient Communities, Vinay Gupta commented that he sees only potential amongst the poor people in the South.

This view is challenged by Eric who things that open production will be developed concurrently but separately, in the more industrially advanced Western countries, vs. the rest of the world.

I really recommend you take the time to read this strategic insight.

Eric Hunting:

No question, the developing world and the urban poor are going to benefit more sooner from Post-Industrial technology and community systems than western people. So, yes, this stuff does seem to indeed make far more immediate sense to pursue elsewhere. There it is an immediate matter of life or death. But the knowledge and skill pool that must be tapped into to cultivate these technologies, designs, and systems is largely here in the west, embodied by middle-class technical professionals. So, in fact, these things do have practical importance here. We’re learning the necessary skill set to move beyond an increasingly decrepit model of civilization into a new one as well as re-learning the skill set we need to effectively interact with the rest of the world in a viable way -to stop the knuckle-headed patterns of relating to the world that produce perpetually ineffectual relief efforts. That may not be a matter of life or death in the here and now for western people, but it’s still a practical pursuit in that it is necessary for the purpose of harnessing the knowledge pool of the middle-class for the purpose of developing those technologies we wish to deploy elsewhere.

To put it another way, Post-Industrial technology means different things to people in the west and to people in the rest of the world. In the west this about re-asserting control of our own lives through the assertion of control over the basis of our standard of living and re-establishing the lost skills and culture of community in the process. As a dividend, we potentially recover huge amounts of personal time sacrificed to other people’s profit we can re-invest in amplifying this pursuit. Elsewhere, this is about establishing a means to, at first, survival, and ultimately an entirely new standard of living. And even between the urban and rural poor in industrialized countries and in the rest of the world there are great differences in the context of the situations people are subject to and so, again, these technologies will have different meanings in each situation. People are not poor for the same reasons everywhere. If subscription farming works somewhere else besides middle-class towns in Europe it will work for very different reasons and probably not exactly the same way. This will be the case for most Post-Industrial tech.

We cannot create a model Post-Industrial community that works in the west that also works in the rest of the world too. We can’t engineer this like a tin can lunar habitat to be mass produced and dropped by spaceship all over the world. All we can do is cultivate a collection of technologies that are relatively adaptable and modular and can thus be repurposed in local contexts. (and we can’t always control how that’s going to turn out. OScars WILL be turned into ‘technicals’. All we can do is hope that, collectively, the technology we disseminate precludes the compulsion to do that most of the time)

So the pursuit of Post-Industrial community development in the west and for the rest are -at least- two completely different, if related, pursuits with different purposes. They may share common technology but that’s about it. Very different strategies must be employed in each context. Post-Industrial technology is nascent. We’ve barely started on the means to replicating our tools. It can do a lot of good right now and that’s worth pursuing, but it’s nowhere near enough. There are too few of us to matter. So what’s important now is accelerating the pace of the technology development so it can be disseminated to the rest and be independently perpetuated there, and right now that’s a job we have to start predominately in the west, were the knowledge is. This will be more two-way in the future as outreach efforts have impact, but right now the flow of technology is still predominately west-to-the-rest. So the logical purpose of the western Post-Industrial demonstration community is creating an environment optimized for recruitment and innovation -NOT creating a model to replicate in Africa- to encourage as many people as possible to participate in this tech development. Such a community may specifically pursue technology appropriate to the developing world as part of its agenda. But you won’t get that many middle-class technical professional participants willing to trade their own standard of living for the privilege of participating in that. To harness these minds to their fullest potential means providing the largest number of them possible with an environment that frees them from squandering their time on mere subsistence -or turns their activity into a means, and incentive, to realize that freedom. And THAT’s why creating these infrastructures in the west is just as important as doing it elsewhere. (this, of course, is the very same reason TMP2 pursues the cultivation of a Post-Industrial society. It’s that productivity dividend it banks on for eliminating the drag of Earth’s chronic problems and for freeing society to pursue space. Spaceship Earth has no ejector seats or lifeboats. We get our act together here or we never get anywhere else. This is a surprisingly radical point of view in the space advocacy community)

Develop here. Deploy there. Two very different tasks in two very different environments. They can be pursued concurrently, but the technology remains under-developed and flows predominately from the former to the latter right now and so optimizing that is the immediate priority.”

3 Comments The northern and southern roads to post-industrial development

  1. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    A contribution from Jeff Buderer, via email:

    “how to work together effectively to move forward geninue social transformation in how societies operate and how these kinds of systems can be economically and socially competitive with existing models. I see it as about developing a alternative process of living and seeing the world that is contagious so that people gravitate towards the highest common denominator rather than the lowest common denomonator of today corporate and commercial culture.

    So then the bottom line of all this discussion is how do translate these ideas and thoughts into a concrete reality that is globally transformative?

    What are the key organizational considerations for developing an effective global movement that is reflective of these values and aspirations we are talking about here?

    1. Media communications and outreach
    2. Financing
    3. Technology and systems integration both virtually and in the field deployments
    4. Political coordination
    5. Evaluation of technologies and process associated with the deployment and dissesination of integrated P2P solutions
    6. Education and recruitment


    I like Michel’s point about seeing the P2P revolution being developed most effectively in the perepherial regions. So there is a need to more succinctly explain this. Michel do you have anything in the wiki that does this? because in my view this is key. What is enabling more distributed solutions to manufacturing, power production, culture and even idea and political governance in our global society and is there a case for a more synergistic and integrated approach to constructing human habitats to better connect those parts together? Is the human habitat equation the vital glue that can enable these P2P solutions to be rapidly scaled? What role does the internet play in this process by creating complementary virtual networks? In this process it is also worth consider how the idea of community can be extended away from traditional notions of that wording which traditionally was geographically specific because of communications constraints.

    The reason for leapfrogging is simple from my perspective. Disruptive technology development has undercut the competitive advantage of industries that are reluctant to find effective and empowering solutions for communities because they are afraid of losing control and power of the global economy. The notion that large scale corporate level economies of scale are needed to produce products and services is being challenged in this process. The notion of the modern more self-reliant community is emerging (as part of the process of developing a strategy to create a globally sustainable society/civilization). Developing regions may have the advantage because the economics of stranded costs (as well as related social factors that inhibit real innovation and change at the community level in developed regions) is keeping the developed nations from effectively retooling their economies and societies to take advantage of the potential P2P revolution.) as competitive alterantives to existing top down approaches.

    A country which has limited infrastucuture is like a empty slate and thus there is less need to deal with entrenched vested interests that are seeking to preserve the status quo at least in terms of modern economic sectors in terms of the allocation of the resources. For example the phone industry while often monopolistic in these regions, usually has not developed a mature set of services such as in the case of telecoms; extensive land line coverage for internet and phone service. One of the positive aspects of neoliberalism has been pressure put on these countries to encourage more innovation and competitiveness in the economic sector. For P2P and Open Source solutions in these regions to be utilized and effectively deployed they have to be enabled by a free market/open society social-political-economic infrastructure that is not hobbled by the law of vested interests/corruption. If that structure for “free and open play” is not in place then, economic vested interests will continue to dominate with the support of the political elites in these regions and it be business as usual.

    We are dealing with this very reality in Ghana where wireless broadband is maturing and is becoming more competitive with fixed wired broadband solutions there is an emerging battle between small scale wireless networks and the large dominant telecoms.

    Similar battles are emerging in every sector of the economy in every part of the world, a reversal of open society processes in societies around the world could put that process in jeopardy. Because for P2P technologies to emerge (and for the leapfrogging model Michel outlined in the beginning of this thread) as competitive alterantives to existing top down approaches we need a free market. Another we need to consider is the political realignment that will complement this process and the need to better organize that process by seeking third way political parties that overcome to tired and worn out us verses them zero sum thinking that typified the modern mind whether at the institutional or the personal and individual level. The two are indeed interconnected and symbiotic in creating a dysfunctional world.

    Regarding (I think it was Dave’s comment…) The questioning of appropriate and disruptive technologies is to some degreee appropriate as we cannot be sure that technologies developed in this way will not be coopted and used to further cement corporate and top down domination and also to genuinely create a more sustainable society. We have to constantly challenge ourselves and to ask the tough questions: are we really part of the solution or just putting forward more of the same flawed thinking that got our societies to the point where they are now.

    Vinay is right to a point in terms of seeing the urgency and potential of emerging markets and yet as one from a developed region I cannot give up on my own region in terms of adapting these technologies.”

  2. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    Dear Jeff,

    I have only briefly addressed the issue of leapfrogging in this short book review:

    (excerpt from

    “Taub has written the type of book you may find many details wrong with, but which overall, sets you thinking, and its immense value lies in generating so many questions. In short, as we will return on this book as Book of the Week later, he argues that rather than see the world as an evolution of class, we should look at it as an evolution of caste, with caste referring to deep seated preferences for a particular way of doing things and of conceiving the world. In short, he claims, as the Hindus would agree, we moved from the prevalence of the spiritual caste, to an evolution towards the subsequent dominance of warriors, merchants, and workers (the bureaucratic-technocratic structures of today), with a coming return of the spiritually-inclined.

    An interesting points he makes is the following. In any transition, three phases can be recognized: 1) the pioneering phase which takes place in the dominant countries of the old sphere (example: emergent of merchants in feudal/imperial Spain and Portugal); 2) a revolutionary/evolutionary phase: the revolution takes place at the periphery (i.e. the merchants take power in Holland and England), while in the former dominant countries, an evolutionary caste merger takes place. But the countries where the revolution takes place, become the new dominant power centers. Example: the workers revolution’s took place at the periphery in Russia and China, but in the West,the elite of the worker’s caste merged with the merchant class to form social-welfare with technocratic capitalism.

    Now to my own point. Think of the new OSCAR open source solar car project. Who in the West would be interested? It seems unlikely as workers would take a pay cut, and capital would be weary of operating without the IP projection that guarantees state-protected extra profits. But what of the Asian capital owners, who are in any case already illegaly copying many IP-protected designs. Why would they not be interested in taking up such copyright free designs? I see such an evolution as a distinct possibility.

    A recent study of the Asian blogosphere pinpoints another important trend. It shows the enormous growth of blogs, but also that they are taken up by youth and women, and disdained by the older masculine elites which are still so dominant in the more authoritarian post-feudal cultures of Asia. The youth, already educated in the new ways, with access to the internet, are using blogs for expression and to bypass social limits, creating a new culture that is in headlong conflict with the older culture. Such an evolution could be a seed for a generation gap, and resulting social revolution, a kind of Asian 1960’s, that would enormously speed-up the uptake of the open/free, participatory and commons-oriented paradigms. Following Taub though, we should acknowledge that China for example, as an expression of the worker caste dominance, would be unlikely places for such radical change, and that we should look more to the Asian periphery, see Iran, or Malaysia?

    What the future will bring is unknown, but I think it is important to open our minds to the possibilities that the major P2P evolutions, after the pioneering phase in the West and East Asia, may in fact emerge in full force elsewhere.”

  3. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    From Jeff Vail, via email:

    Just briefly, I think one of the keys here is to stop looking at “periphery” in a purely geographic sense. Geographic periphery still exists and is important, as we see in the development of cell-phone driven economies in rural Africa, for example, but there is also the age-periphery, which was a driving force in the tech/dot-com revolution in America (and to a lesser extent Europe) in the 1990s to present, and is now starting to have profound effects elsewhere–as you noted in Asia in particular as a means of rebellion against entrenched age-delineated systems. I think we need to start looking beyond Cartesian notions of conceptual space all together–ad hoc affinity, interest, and ideological groups, brought together by impersonal modes of telecommunications is the perfect example. I’m currently in Sacramento for the annual conference of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO), and had dinner with a 60 year old actuary from Atlanta, a 60 year old geology professor from Missouri (by way of England), and 45 year old chemical engineer from Dallas (by way of the Netherlands)–all people I would never have met face to face under the “old system,” but whom I’ve been working intensively with (via over the past two years exclusively over the internet. I’m sure this comes as a surprise to absolutely no one here, but I still think we fail to comprehend the ground-breaking shift away from Cartesian conceptions of “space.” It’s a new world, much more so than when we’ve used that phrase in the past…

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