Michel Bauwens, Chiang Mai, August 16, 2015:
Commons-based peer production is a new way of value creation and distribution that was first defined by Yochai Benkler in The Wealth of Networks. In peer production, open and transparent technological platforms and technological infrastructures allow individuals to permissionlessly communicate, self-organize, and thus, to create value together. The first wave of peer production took place in the sphere of immaterial production, with open knowledge projects like the Wikipedia and free software (open source) projects like Linux. However, as it moves to open design, and is thus linked to the production of open hardware, it is now moving to also have a strong impact for physical production. Coupled with other trends towards ‘distribution’ in machinery (3D printing and other forms of miniaturization of the means of production), participatory financing, and coupled with possibilities for shared open accounting and open logistics, peer production is emerging as a prototype mode of production that will likely play a big role in a future economy and society.
But peer production is not just a change in the ‘mode of production’, but also involves new ‘relations of production’. Peer production is based first of all on open input, I.e.it is based not on the ‘division of labor’ but on ‘distribution of tasks’, it is not based on labor but on contributions! Indeed people can self-allocate their efforts and can see what needs to be done because the system is ‘holoptic’, i.e. everything is visible and so the needs of the system or joint project are visible. This allows for massive mutual coordination of such effort also called ‘stigmergy’. Because the system depends on such open contributions, the classic command systems cannot function and the production systems needs to be participatory in its governance; finally, because a private capture would undermine future contributions, the output must be a commons, a shared resource, usually governed by the so-called ‘copyleft’ licenses.
Peer production is also a anthropological revolution however, where the law of equivalence is replaced by the principle of equipotentiality. We would contend that it is as significant as the ‘First Human Revolution’ described by Christopher Boehm in his two books, The Hierarchy of the Forest, and Moral Origins, in which he shows how hunter-gatherers fundamentally broke with the genetic determinism of the primates and created egalitarian systems that lasted for thousands of years, and the means to maintain it. But social roles in such societies were relatively fixed, and they would remain fixed in the premodern class societies that overturned the hunter-gatherer egalitarianism (this could be called the second anthropological revolution). Capitalism arguable brings a big change, a third anthropological revolution, by extending the law of equivalence, (i.e. the capability to compare goods on a abstract value level through pricing, and some would argue, through labor value), to the human level as well. Indeed, under capitalism, people are systematically ranked as individuals and compared to other individuals, based on external criteria. The theoretical flexiblity of the ‘equality of opportunity’ is matched by the very real inequality that results from perpetual ranking that the law of equivalence imposes.
The key selection principle of peer production upends this law of equivalence however, constituting a fourth anthropological revolution, and this for the following reasons:
1) the self allocation of effort, is based on the self-judgment of the contributors regarding a particular task at hand, not a ‘job’
2) the subsequent communal validation processes of the quality of the work is based on the contribution, which is most often a collaborative effort, and not on the contributor.
Here is how the ‘relational transpersonal psychologist’ Jorge Ferrer, has defined epuipotentiality:
The quote by Jorge Ferrer is a good illustration of the underlying value behind equipotentiality.
Human beings, in equipotential situations are, he writes: “equals in the sense of their being both superior and inferior to themselves in varying skills and areas of endeavor (intellectually, emotionally, artistically, mechanically, interpersonally, and so forth), but with none of those skills being absolutely higher or better than others.”
To rephrase it, equipotentiality means that every person is no longer ranked ‘as a whole’ with other people according to some external criteria, but that it is recognized that we beings with various capabilities, in some of which we are better than others, regarding other capabilities, others are better than us. Thus, peer production creates a social system in which the need of the system are transparently avaiable, letting each individual judge whether he has the capacity to carry out a particular task. This of course also has a huge impact on subjectivity. Social role and recognition no longer comes from fixed roles and law-of-equivalence based ranking, but from a identity construction that is based on the engagements for common projects, and the social recognition that each of these communities provide.
It is important to note that equipotentiality does not by itself create equality. An unequal society will still produce people which vastly different changes to develop their skills and capabilities, but what is new is that at the heart of the productive system, a new logic has arisen that transcends the law of equivalence. The challenge therefore, is to create a society that enables and empowers individuals for their contributory roles. This as always, requires social and political struggle.