Michel Bauwens, peer-to-peer activist and founder of the Peer-to-Peer Foundation, has a new book out, in French, entitled Saving the World: Towards a post-capitialist society with peer-to-peer. In the book Michel, with his collaborator Jean Lievens, argues that a new distributed and de-centralised economic model is necessary to shake up the world and drive us towards a post-capitalist society. In a wide-ranging, impassioned and ambitious, perhaps idealistic, diagramming of a new mode of living and working Bauwens reaches for a different way of performing economics and the political.
The book has a preface by Bernard Stiegler that has been shared on the Peer-to-Peer Foundation website and so I have translated it. I have offered this to the foundation and I would be pleased if it is of use to them or to anyone else. The copyright of the text remains under the license attributed to the original book.
To Bauwens, M. and Lievens, J. 2015. Sauver le monde. Vers une société post-capitaliste avec le peer-to-peer, Editions Les Liens Qui Libèrent. [Saving the World: Towards a post-capitalist society with peer-to-peer]
Over the course of the next twenty years, automation will instigate the decline of a society founded on salaried jobs: 49% of jobs will disappear in the United States, 43% in Great Britain, 50% in Belgium, 56% in Italy and Poland. This huge transformation, resulting from the integration of digital automation, constitutes the horizon for the argument put forward here by Michel Bauwens. He has studied and promoted the new model of production made possible by digital technologies and founded in peer-to-peer relations, which thereby surpasses the proletarianisation that has hitherto been the basis for industrial capitalism – here, proletarianisation principally signifies the loss of knowledge.
Like Ars Industrialis and the Institute for Research and Innovation, the P2P Foundation sets out the principle that digital reticulation is no longer a model based on the functional opposition between production and consumption. Rather it is based on the constitution of communities of knowledge developed through relations between peers – that is to say, on the reconstitution of knowledge (of life skills [savoir vivre], know how [savoir faire], and theoretical knowledge [savoir théoriser]) which have been systematically dismantled over the last 250 years. This discourse affirms the possibility of salvation: it attempts to save the world. Such claims will no doubt be scoffed at by sceptics of all persuasions – they are deniers, who, like climate sceptics, are still trying to ‘convince the Marquise that everything is fine’ … against all available evidence.
The evidence is the profound collapse of social cohesion in every industrial society on Earth and the devastating effects on those societies on the margins of industrialisation. Nothing is being done in the short period of time we have available in the near-future to address these issues, and this damage will only cascade like an uncontrollable chain reaction. This situation arises through what we have called, since the beginning of the 21st Century, the Anthropocene.
The Anthropocene constitutes an unsustainable acceleration of entropic becoming–to the extent to which it perturbs the meteorological, oceanographic, atmospheric, hydrological and demographic equilibriums while depleting fuel as well as social, psychic and physical or cultural energies–which threatens a world which it should, in fact, be saving.
A real salvation implies a radical change in the organization of work, of social and economic relations, which take into account the changes already accomplished by digitisation beginning with the emergence of the World Wide Web and which goes beyond the state of affairs that these relations have installed, to understand the global domination of the increasingly sprawling reticular industries, stemming from the California model of Silicon Valley, so well described by Evgeny Morozov in “the rise of data and the death of politics” .
The present model of voluntary or involuntary contribution imposed by the data economy exploited by the “Big Four”, and by those prospering within their ecosystem, is not only unjust but also bankrupt and hyper-proletarianising: Far from deproletarianising individuals it remotely controls them, as they increasingly rely on mimetic technologies driven by an intensive calculation through algorithms, processing massive data sources in real-time, which form a new kind of “crowds”, in the sense that Freud discusses the crowd psychology of Gustave Le Bon .
This is possible because bottom-up networks capture value and hyper-standardise behaviour (they hyper-proleterianise in this sense) storing and monopolising them through top-down processing of data produced by the crowds, mobs and other reticulated masses sublimated by intensive computing. I believe, like Gert Lovinck, that in this respect the emergence of social networks in the first decade of the 21st century constitutes a dangerous turn as the dynamics of peer to peer submit to statistical models that perpetuate herding behaviour through user profiling and our many algorithmic doubles.
The transition to a true peer-to-peer economy, however, is, in time, inevitable for four reasons:
1. In the current system based upon wage labour, stemming from Fordism and regulated by the Keynsian belief in the redistribution of purchasing power through employment (despite neoliberalism first weakening the system by reducing wage redistribution and now through speculative devices) a massive process of automation will engender a systematic insolvency and lead to a collapse of consumer capitalism.
2. On top of the destructive effects of the macroeconomic system, the anthropocene will itself generate telluric toxic effects that may only be countered by the promotion and maintenance of new forms of negentropic potential.
3. Thales, “the first geometrician”, initiated the canon of rational thought (logos) in the peer to peer model, which Socrates furthered through dialogic practices, and as the principle of development for the Greek city, as a process of collective individuation based on the maximum expression of the possibilities of psychic individuation for every citizen – this installing knowledge and the culture of knoweldge at the heart of collective being, exactly the opposite of the decomposition of knowledge that is today pushing towards what some have called the functional stupidity  of cognitive capitalism.
4. Only knowledge has the capacity to produce new negentropic potential, and only social organisations based on systemic enhancement and culture made possible through reticular parity will enable a move beyond the anthropocene, to “save the world”, and enter into what would therefore be called the “neganthropocene”.
At Ars Industrialis and IRI, we think that this requires a new model for the redistribution of the extraordinary gains in production made possible by a full and widespread automation, which must be taken as a template for new ways of organising work amongst peers.
This is why we advocate a [citizens’] contributory income, granted to everyone, in order to cultivate their abilities (as suggested by Amartya Sen) and provided that they regularly use those abilities in contributory projects, themselves supported by mutual credit granted by contributory banks, and within the most diverse forms of socialisation: associations, public services and businesses. The modalities of realising such approaches should be experimented within the areas which will make the choice [of which economic system to pursue], in particular in order to maximally expose their younger generations to the consequences of automation, and the possibility of producing capacities to exceed it.
Automation, with the failure to appropriate free time in order to increase knowledge in all its forms (life skills [savoir vivre], know how [savoir faire], and theoretical knowledge [savoir théoriser]), can only drive through a mortifying acceleration of entropy. By contrast, deproletarianisation is a reconstruction of knowledges, which are individual and collective capacities and which transform any time saved through negentropic possibilities.
This is why, for us, it seems essential to confirm and realise the opportunities created by Michel Bauwens through his extraordinary practical and theoretical knowledge of the dynamics of peer to peer, and respond to the “Web We Want” initiative  launched by Tim Berners-Lee in March 2014, by proposing a new model of architecture based on the valorisation of interpretable and incalculable singularities – calculation being the entropic reduction of the singular into the particular.
1. These figures have been suggested by Jeremy Bowles (Bruegel Institute), as a part of a study conducted by the Oxford Martin School by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, and featured in the Belgian newspaper Le Soir on 19th July 2014: http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf
2. I am fairly sure this refers to a comical jazz song, “Tout va très bien, Madame la Marquise“, recorded in 1936 by Ray Ventura’s band The Collegiate Five, in which the Marquise is told over the phone by various servants that everything is fine at home, excepts for a series of disasters. It has been suggested the song is a metaphor for France’s lack of concern for the approach of WWII —Trans.
3. Evgeny Morozov, “The rise of data and the death of politics”, The Observer, 20th July 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jul/20/rise-of-data-death-of-politics-evgeny-morozov-algorithmic-regulation
4. This has been demonstrated by Thomas Berns and Antoinette Rouvroy in “Gouvernementalité algorithmique et perspectives d’émancipation: le disparate comme condition d’individuation par la relation?” [Algorthimic governmentality and perspectives on emancipation: disparity as a condition of individuation by relation?] Reseaux v.31 n.177: pp. 163-196 (2013) [ http://works.bepress.com/antoinette_rouvroy/47/ ]. I am developing, myself, this analysis in The Automatic Society, to be published by Fayard.
5. Mats Alvesson and André Spicer “A stupidity-based theory of organizations”, Journal of Management Studies v.49 n.7: pp. 1194-1220 (2014) [ http://jourhavandesociolog.se/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/joms1072.pdf ].
6. For information on the Web We Want initiative see: https://webwewant.org/ —Trans.