We need an Outquisition

As Gerrit Visser reminds us of this most wonderful website, service, and movement:

Worldchanging was founded on the idea that real solutions already exist for building the future we want. it’s just a matter of grabbing hold and getting moving.”

This is very much inline with the spirit of the age and our own philosophy at the P2P Foundation.

Similarly inspired initiatives are: 1) Attainable Utopias; 2) Open Sustainability; 3) Appropedia

But in a recent conversation, Alex Steffen of Worldchanging and Cory Doctorow hit on the key paradox of the age:

abandoned people and places are sometimes the ones who most need radical innovation; that, these days, new tools and models are practically scattered all over the ground, just waiting for people to pick them up; but that those who most need them are those who least know how to find them.

What is needed, they propose, is an Outquisition movement, of ‘sustainability heroes’ leaving their bright green cities to go to where there work is really needed:

What would it be like, we wondered, if folks who knew tools and innovation left the comfy bright green cities and traveled to the dead mall suburban slums, rustbelt browntowns and climate-smacked farm communities and started helping the locals get the tools they needed. We imagined that it would need an almost missionary fervor, something like the Inquisition (which largely destroyed knowledge) in reverse, a crusade of open sharing, or as Cory promptly dubbed it, the Outquisition.

Imagine these folks like this passing out free textbooks, running holistic programs for kids, creating local knowledge management systems, launching microfinance projects, mobilebanking and complementary currencies. Helping rural landowners apply climate foresight and farm biodiversity. Building cheap, smart, quality housing for displaced people (not to mention better refugee camps), or an Open Architecture Network for cheap informal rehabs of run-down suburban housing. Hacking together DIY windmills and ad hoc smart grids, communication systems, water treatment systems — and getting really good atadaptive reuses of outdated infrastructure. In other words, these folks would be redistributing the future at a furious clip.”

Noting the christian analogies the authors are using, it reminds me of my current interest in the transition from the slave-based Roman empire to the new feudal order. (See video below)

In a recent email conversation, I made a note of the analogy between the role of the christian monks in the early middle ages, and what open design communities are emerging to do in this new temporal landscape:

“you have to remember that in slave based society, manual work was frowned upon, and there was no impetus for productivity, but christianity turned it around, as a sociological religion, it carries the idea of incarnation and of making the world a better place (the edenic impulse)

the monasteries were communities that choose the most difficult outlaying lands, and worked incessantly to improve it, they had therefore a key role in increasing the surplus in medieval society, and they were also the learned class, as the others were (until the first medieval renaissance and the reappearance of thriving cities) either illiterate farmers or the warriors class. The church in general represented cultural and intellectual ‘globalization’ in the context of a material re-regionalisation after the fall of the Empire.

This is why I often compare the role of open design communities, with the historical role of christian monks

Furthermore, they also represent a model for social organization around non-productive work (I’m contradicting myself a little bit, but their role was to work on salvation, and therefore ‘outside’ of both the warrior function of the nobles and tribute function of ordinary farmers), and this shows society supporting one quarter of the population to work outside its core productive logic of producing feudal surplus for the ruling class”

There is a vision emerging that aims to empower/enable villages worldwide with access to knowledge networks to achieve the same effect. (this is what the Global Villages and Global Swadeshi movements are trying to achieve)

Alex Steffen’s similar vision:

it’d be a network of places where people were engaged in ingenious development of elegant solutions to the problems of life where living is hard and money is short might well be a vital necessity for a certain portion of the population. It’s really not hard for me to imagine a certain kind of person eagerly embracing the role of being facilitators of that network, sort of like barefoot solar engineers for the forgotten parts of the developed world.”

I only have one recurring problem with Alec’s vision. He is convinced that local agrarian people voluntarily escape the land and their communities, instead of being forced away by the lack of survivability and opportunities of landed life. I think this is both historically incorrect (it required the destruction of local life through enclosures to motivate mass migration to the cities), and I think, from my experience here in Thailand, that most people in the world actually prefer to live in their native communities, given a true choice.

Alec has a very nice citation summarizing the necessities of the age:

“Our ideas of what’s normal, or even what’s possible, will not outlast the next decade, and it’ll be the people who think in (what are by today’s standards) abnormal, impossible ways who may just do the most good.”

2 Comments We need an Outquisition

  1. AvatarCurt Beckmann

    Great post, Michel! I love the parallel between open design workers and Christian monks!

    Couple of notes: The Open Sustainability Network (OSN) now has its own site (shockingly) http://www.OpenSustainabilityNetwork.org

    It’s worth mentioning that the first annual OSN conference is in the works for October in San Francisco. Visit the above link for the latest info.

    I would have made change directly on the p2p wiki, but requires login and apparently registration is by invitation only? That is, I could not figure out how to create an account.

    (Also, some typos: Alex’s name morphed to Alec in the last two paragraphs… or are there two different people?)

  2. AvatarDante-Gabryell Monson

    I could very well imagine currently forming intentional networks of festivalist nomads playing such social entredoneurship and boundary spanning facilitator lifestyles and roles ( http://www.p2pfoundation.net/Festivalism ; http://nomadology.com/ ) , without control by organizations
    ( yet open to any unconditional support to shared intentions by individuals , groups , institutions and organizations )
    completely based on rhizomatic networked collaboration – fully transparent , open , participative and inclusive , reputation based , …

    a related brainstorming of mine ( dating back to northern summer 2005 ) :


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