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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Michel Bauwens (born 21 March 1958) is a Belgian integral philosopher and Peer-to-Peer theorist. He has worked as an internet consultant, information analyst for the United States Information Agency, information manager for British Petroleum, and is former editor-in-chief of the first European digital convergence magazine, the Dutch language Wave. Bauwens currently lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand
P2P and Human Evolution
Placing Peer to Peer Theory in an Integral Framework
I hope to have convinced the reader of this essay that Peer to Peer is a fundamental trend, a new and emergent form of social exchange.
The following essay was prompted by Russ Volckman, editor of the Integral Leadership Review. After reading a previous mini-essay of mine, entitled P2P and the Corporation, he wondered why it was that the Integral Theories that he was familiar with, such as those by Ken Wilber and the Spiral Dynamics system, did not seem to talk at P2P at all, while for me, P2P is nothing less that the most likely next civilisational stage (i.e. either that or a return to barbarism).
Thus, this is a first tentative attempt to see how P2P fits within the Integral framework, but in fact, since it is not destined solely for the 'integral discourse community', but for any interested lay(wo)men, let me say that this essay thus tackles the all-important issue of how the emergence of peer to peer processes fits within an overall view of human evolution.
This essay will therefore not be essentially descriptive, I have given overviews of the phenomenology of P2P in earlier essays, but this time I intend it to be explanatory, to define P2P as precisely as possible, to explain its emergence, and to place it in a number of evolutionary lines of development, as far as possible. This essay has been written in a free flow of consciousness, based on my own personal understanding to date. Therefore, unlike the previous essay which is based on the use of quotes by others, in this case, though I am still writing 'on the shoulders of giants', I will only occasionally mention names. Amongst the contemporary and near-contemporary thinkers that I have been reading most recently in preparing this essay are Norbert Elias, Louis Dumont, and Cornelis Castoriadis; the Italian-French school of thought around Multitude magazine, especially Toni Negri, Michael Hardt, Maurizio Lazzarato, Philippe Zafirian. Particulary useful has been “Les Formes de l'Echange: controle sociale et modeles de subjectivation”, by Claude Macquet and Didier Vranken. Amongst the specific P2P pioneers I have read, are Pekka Himanen, for his study of work culture, and John Heron and Jorge Ferrer, for their work on participative spirituality. Timothy Wilken of Synearth.org was instrumental in the discovery of the theories of Edward Haskell and Arthur Coulter, on synergetics and cooperation.
As I was finishing this draft, I just in time received the formidable Hacker Manifesto from McKenzie Wark, and I have made a last-minute attempt to integrate his profound analysis into the essay as well.
This essay is part of a larger project, the writing of a French-language book, which I'm undertaking with Remi Sussan, a Paris-based free-lance journalist working for magazines like TechnikArt. Hence, the continuing dialogue with him has been a great source of inspiration and clarification in terms of the ideas expressed in this essay.
For the uninitiated, here's a short overview of what Integral Theory is. IT sees the world as in constant development, from the existence of simple material, and living, and mental systems, to more and more complexity, with thresholds being reached that means that a new higher and more complex system is able to enfold earlier system of less complexity. And it does this, unlike standard scientific accounts, by attempting to encompass the largest number of perspectives, or aspects of reality, as possible. As defined by Ken Wilber, one of the latest incarnations of integral theory, these aspects encompass the subjective (evolution of self and subjectivity), the materiality of the single organism (objectivity), the intersubjective (the interaction of groups of subjectivities and the worldviews and cultures they so create), and the behavior of groups of objects, the interobjective perspective of systems. IT tries to construct a narrative of the unfolding cosmic processes, which enfolds them all. It also does this historically, trying to make sense of an evolutionary logic, trying to enfold the different historical phases into a unified human understanding. Eventually, from all this, it tries to develop hypotheses about the future. If you'd place explanatory theories about the evolution of matter/life/consciousness into 2 axis define by the 'relative attention given to either the parts or to the whole', and another one 'relative attention given to difference or to similarities', integral theory would be that kind of hermeneutical system that pays most attention to the whole, and to structural similarities, rather than to the parts and to difference. It does run counter to the general tendency of modern objective science to focus on parts (to be analytical), and of postmodernism to focus on difference, and reject integrative narratives. It is this distinction from dominant epistemologies, which makes it particularly interesting to uncover new insights, possibly missed by the other traditions.
So far I have described the most general aim and method, but IT is also a number of conclusions, but the actual explanatory framework may differ between different integral author and systems: Teilhard de Chardin, Sri Aurobindo, Jean Gebser, Ken Wilber, the Spiral Dynamics system, the theories of Lonergan and Roy Bhaskar, etc… Russ Volckman, mentioned above, is particularly familiar with the specific systems as developed by Ken Wilber and also of Spiral Dynamics, which seemingly have no 'specific' account of peer to peer, though SD's description of the green, yellow and turquoise value constellations all describe aspects of P2P. However if we consider Toni Negri's post-Marxist and poststructuralist synthesis in Empire and Multitude, then we do see the premises of an integral critical theory that deals with P2P processes, through his concepts of non-representationality and multitude especially. I call Negri's theory 'integral', because it integrates in its explanatory framework both objective and subjective components, and has a long-term historical view, not shying away from offering a 'grand narrative'. (Negri himself, as far as I know, has no acquaintance at all with the integral tradition and might disagree with my characterisation). On the other hand, the system-confirming integral theories of Wilber and Beck, with their respective support of the policies of Blair and Bush, lack any specific attention to this alternative development.
Let me state for clarity therefore, that though I am familiar by Wilber's system, and have long been inspired by it, I now reject both his specific methodology (of 'orienting generalizations'), and many of his conclusions (specifically that it is the psycho-genesis and evolution of consciousness, as exemplified by the mystics, that can explains socio-genesis and social evolution). In section 8, I will deal specifically with how peer to peer fits in the schemes developed by Beck and Wilber.
Nevertheless, I do believe that Wilber's quadrant system, which describes reality through 2 axes, the individual vs. collective one, and the internal-subjective vs. external-objective one, is a very powerful heuristic method for describing reality. I will therefore use a modified form of Wilber's framework to organize my thoughts. We will start with the quadrant 'exterior-individual', i.e. single objects in space and time, i.e. the evolution of the material basis of the universe, life, and mind (the evolution from atoms to molecules to cells etc.), but in my personal modification, this quadrant includes technological evolution, as I (and others such as McLuhan) can legitimately see technology as an extension of the human body. Second, we will look at the systems (exterior-collective) quadrant: the evolution of natural, political, economic, social and organizational systems. Third, we will look at the exterior-collective quadrant: human culture, spiritualities, philosophies, worldviews. Finally, in the fourth quadrant that we will be discussing, the interior-individual, we look at changes occurring within the sphere of the self.
To conclude, generally speaking, an integral approach is one that:
Not being an academic scientist, it has been written in the tradition of 'prospectivism' or 'future studies', based on my professional experience in corporate forecasting.
2. P2P as the Technological Framework of Cognitive Capitalism
2.1. The emergence of peer to peer as technological infrastructure
What is peer to peer? Here's a first tentative definition: It is a specific form of network that is based on the assumed equipotency of its participants, organized through the free cooperation of equals in view of the performance of a common task, for the creation of a common good. P2P is a network, not a hierarchy; it is decentralized, not centralized; it a specific form of network using distributive intelligence: intelligence is located not at any center, but everywhere, at the periphery of the system. Assumed equipotency means that P2P systems start from the premise that 'it doesn't know where the needed resource will be located', it assumes that 'everybody' can cooperate, and does not use formal rules in advance to determine its participating members. Equipotency, i.e. the capacity to cooperate, is verified in the process of cooperation itself. Validation of knowledge, acceptance of processes, are determined by the collective. Cooperation must be free, not forced, and not based on neutrality (i.e. the buying of cooperation in a monetary system). It exists to produce something. These are a number of characteristics that we can use to describe P2P systems 'in general', and in particular as it emerges in the human lifeworld. To have a good understanding of P2P, I suggest the following mental exercise, think about these characteristics, then about their opposites. So doing, the radical innovative nature of P2P springs to mind. P2P is radically new, it did not exist before. It is not a gift economy, not a swarm of insects, and not similar to earlier forms of cooperation. Though it is inspired by existing processes in nature, it is a true evolutionary emergence.
But how does it apply to technology?
The internet, as it was conceived by its founders, and evolved in its earliest incarnations, was a point to point network, consisting of equal networks, and the travel of data uses different sets of resources as necessary. It is only later, after the rise of stronger and weaker networks, of open, semi-closed and closed networks, that the internet became hybrid, but it still in essence functions as a decentralized network, having no central core to manage the system.
The web similarly was seen as a many-to-many publishing medium, even though it follows a semi-hierarchical client-server model. However, it is still and will remain a essentially participative medium allowing anyone to publish his own webpages. Because of its incomplete P2P nature, it is in the process of becoming a true P2P publishing medium in the form of the Writeable Web projects, that allow anyone to publish from his own or any other computer,in the form of blogging etc… Other P2P media are instant messaging, chat, IP telephony systems, etc.. For the internet and the web, P2P was not yet explicitly theorized (though the idea of a network of networks was), they are weak P2P system in that they only recognize 'strong' members, DNS-addressed computers in the internet, servers in the case of the web. In the systems developed afterwards, P2P was explicitly theorized: they are 'strong' P2P systems, in which all members, also the weak members (without fixed DNS address for the internet, blogs with permalinks in case of the web) can participate.
Filesharing systems were the first to be explicitly tagged with the P2P label, and this is probably the origin of the concept in the world of technology. In such systems, all voluntary computers on the internet are mobilized to share files amongst all participating systems, whether that be documents, audiofiles, or audiovisual materials. In June 2003, videostreaming became the internet application using the largest bandwidth, and some time before, online music distribution had already surpassed the physical distribution of CD's (in the U.S.). Though the earliest incarnations of these P2P systems still used centralized databases, they are now, largely thanks to the efforts of the music industry, mostly true P2P systems, in particular Bittorrent and the planned development of Exeem.
Finally, grid computing uses the P2P concept to create 'participative supercomputers', where resources, spaces, computing cycles can be used from any participant in the system, on the basis of need. It is the next paradigm for computing.
In terms of media, the broadband internet is rapidly mutating to enhance the capacities to create online publishing (blogging), internet radio systems, and the distribution of audiovisual programming. In physical terms of the evolving telecommunications infrastructure, the broadcast model is being replaced by the 'meshwork system', which is already used by the Wireless Commons movement to create a worldwide wireless communications network that will totally bypass the Telco infrastructure. In such a system a wide array of local networks is created at very low cost, while they are interlinked with 'bridges'. Communication on these networks follows a P2P model, just like the internet. Mark Pesce has already developed a realistic proposal to build an integrated alternative network within then years, based on similar premises. And think about the potential of 'file-serving television' models as pioneered by TiVo. Telephony using the Internet Protocol, recently popularized by Skype, is similarly destined to change the nature of the hitherto centralized telephone system.
While mobile telephony is strongly centralized and controlled, it will have to compete with wireless broadband networks, and users are busily turning it into yet another participative medium, as described by Howard Rheingold in Smart Mobs.
I could go on, but what should emerge in your mind, is not a picture of a series of marginal developments, but the awareness that P2P networks are the very infrastructure of the current economic, political and social systems. Companies have used these technologies to integrate their processes with those of partners, suppliers, consumers, and each other, using a combination of intranets, extranets, and the public internet, and it has become the absolutely essential tool for international communication and business, and to enable the cooperative, internationally coordinated projects carried out by teams. P2P is the very infrastructure of cognitive capitalism.
In the above phenomenology of P2P, notice that I have taken an extreme literal definition of P2P, as many hybrid forms exist, but the important and deciding factor is: does it enable the participation of equipotent members?
2.2. Explaining the Emergence of P2P technology
Why this emergence? The short answer is: P2P is a consequence of abundance (in fact it is both cause and consequence). With the advent of the 'Information Age' that started with mass media and unintegrated private networks for multinationals, but especially with the advent of the internet and the web itself, information abundance is created. For business processes, the keyword becomes 'flow', and the integration of these endless flows. Production of material goods is predicated on the management of immaterial flows. In such a context, centralized systems inevitably create bottlenecks holding up the flow. In a P2P system, any node can contact any other node, without passing through such bottlenecks. Hierarchy only works with scarcity, and in a situation where the control of scarce resources determines the end result of the zero-sum power games being conducted. In a situation of abundance, centralized nodes cannot possible cope. Information, I probably do not need to remind the reader of this, is different from material goods, in that its sharing does not diminish its value, but on the contrary augments it.
Second, P2P systems are predicated on redundancy, several resources are always available to conduct any process. It's failproof, unlike the vulnerability of centralized systems (P2P systems are extraordinarily robust). One cannot, in terms of resources, compare any centralized system, to the extraordinary combination of millions of peripheral systems with the billions and trillions of unused memory, computing cycles, etc…. These are only unlocked in a P2P system.
Abundance is again both a cause and a consequence of complexity. In a situation of a multiplication of flows, flows that no longer follow predetermined routes, it cannot possible be predicted, where the 'solution' for any problem lies. Expertise comes out of a precise combination of experience, which is unpredictable in advance. Thus, systems are needed that allow expertise to unexpectedly announce itself, when it learns that it is needed. This is precisely what P2P systems do.
Technological use of P2P is of course not solely linked to a technological logic, but also to the human logic of cooperation, to the individual logic of motivation, and to economic logics, but we will tackle those in the appropriate quadrants.
2.3. Placing P2P in the context of the evolution of technology
Premodern technology was participative, but not differentiated. The instruments of artisans were extensions of their bodies, with which they 'cooperated'. But the lifeworld, was not differentiated into different spheres or into subject/object distinctions, since they saw themselves, not as separate and autonomous individuals, but as parts of a whole, following the dictates of the whole, moving in a world dominated by spirits, the spirits of men (the ancestors), of the natural world (with no distinction natural/supernatural), and of the objects they used.
Modern technology could be said to be differentiated, but is no longer participative. The subject-object dichotomy means that nature becomes a resource to be used (objects used by subjects). But the object, the technological instrument, also becomes autonomous, and in the factory system typical of modernity, a dramatic reversal takes place: it is the human who becomes a 'dumb' extension of the machine. The intelligence is not so much located in the machine, but in the organization of the production, of which both humans and machines are mere cogs. Modern machines are not by itself intelligent, and are organized in hierarchical frameworks. Modern humans think themselves as autonomous agents using objects, but become themselves objects of the systems of their own creation. This is the drama of modernity, the key to its alienation.
In post-modernity, machines become intelligent (though not in the same way as humans, they can only use the intelligence put in them by the humans, and lack the creativity). While the old paradigm of humans as objects in a system certainly persists, a new paradigm is being born. The intelligent machines become computers, extensions now of the human brain and nervous system (instead of being extensions of the external limbs and internal functions of the body in the industrial system). Humans again start cooperating with the computers, seen as extensions of their selves, their memories, their logical processes, but also and this is crucial: it enables affective communication amongst a much wider global community of humans. Of course, within the context of cognitive capitalism, all this still operates in a wider context of exploitation and domination, but the potential is there for a new model which allies both differentiation (the autonomous individual retains his freedom and prerogatives), and participation. Within the information paradigm, the world of matter (nanotech), life (biotech) and mind (AI) are reduced to their informational basis, which can be manipulated, and this opens up nightmarish possibilities of the extension of the resource-manipulation paradigm, now involving our very own bodies and psyches. However, because of the equally important paradigm of participation, the possibility arises of a totally new, subjective-objective, cooperative way of looking at this, and this is an element of hope.
3. P2P in the Economic Sphere
3.1.A. The third mode of production
In the economic sphere, P2P is emerging as nothing less than a 'third mode of production' (as first defined by Y. Benckler). Worldwide, groups of programmers and other experts are engaging in the cooperative production of immaterial goods with tremendous use value, such as new software systems. The new software, hardware and 'wetware' thus being created are at the same time new means of production, since the computer is now a universal machine 'in charge of everything'. This takes the form of either the Free Software Movement ethos, as defined by Richard Stallman, or in the form of Open Source projects, as defined by Eric Raymond. In the latter more flexible form, it is only required that the 'source code' is free for the sharing of all; in the first form, no economic gain may result from using the freely supplied code. Open Sources is admittedly less radical and even being embraced by corporate interests such as IBM and other Microsoft rivals, but the creation of an open infrastructure is crucial and in everyone's interest. Open-source based computers are already the mainstay of the internet's infrastructure (Apache servers); Linux is an alternative operating system that is taking the world by storm. It is now a practical possibility to create an Open Source personal computer that exclusively uses OS software products for the desktop, including database, accounting, graphical programs, including browsers such as Firefox. Wikipedia is an alternative encyclopedia produced by the internet community which is rapidly gaining in quantity, quality, and number of users. And there are several thousands of such projects, involving at least several millions of cooperating individuals. If we consider blogging as a form of journalistic production, then it must be noted that it already involves between and 10 million bloggers, with the most popular ones achieving several hundred thousands of visitors. We are pretty much in an era of 'open source everything', with musicians and other artists using it as well for collaborative online productions. In general it can be said that this mode of production achieves 'products' that are at least as good, and sometimes better than their commercial counterparts. In addition, there are solid reasons to accept that, if the open source methodology is consistently used over time, the end result can only be better alternatives, since they involved mobilization of vastly most resources than commercial products.
It is called 'a third mode of production', because it produces effective use values, without resort to either the centralized public ownership model typified by the now failed Soviet model, nor the theoretically decentralized (but in fact monopolized and working through companies with feudal-era authority structures) but for-profit based capitalist system. In contrast, the open source production is based on free cooperation of equipotent individuals and has the characteristics described in para 2.1. It has a lot of added characteristics needed to explain its functioning, and we will come back to this later.
Open source production operates in a wider economic context, of which we would like to describe 'the communism of capital', with 'the hacker ethic' functioning as the basis of it's new work culture.
3.1.B. The Communism of Capital, or, the cooperative nature of cognitive capitalism
In modernity, the economic ideology sees autonomous individuals entering into contracts with each other, selling labor in exchange for wages, exchanging commodities for fair value, in a free market where the 'invisible hand' makes sure that the private selfish economic aims of such individuals, finally contribute to the common good. The 'self' or subject of economic action is the company, led by entrepreneurs, who are the locus of innovation. Thus we have the familiar subject/object split operating in the economic sphere, with an autonomous subject using and manipulating resources.
This view is hardly defensible today. The autonomous enterprise has entered a widely participative field that blurs clear distinctions and identities. It is linked with its consumers through the internet, today facing less a militant labor movement than a 'political consumer' who can withhold his/her buying power with an internet and blogosphere able to destroy corporate images and branding in the very short term through viral explosions of critique and discontent. It is linked through extranets with partners and suppliers. Processes are no longer internally integrated, as in the business process re-engineering of the eighties, but externally integrated in vast webs of inter-company cooperation. Intranets enable widespread horizontal cooperation not only for the workers within the company, but also without. Thus, the employee, is in constant contact with the outside, part of numerous innovation and exchange networks, constantly learning in formal but mostly informal ways. Because of the high degree of education and the changing nature of work which has become a series of short-term contracts, a typical worker has not in any real sense gained his skills within the company, but expands on his skill and experience throughout his working life. Because the complexity, time-based, innovation-dependent nature of contemporary work, for all practical terms, work is organized as a series of teams, using mostly P2P work processes. The smarter companies are consciously breaking down the barriers between production and consumption, producers and consumers, by involving consumers, in an open-source inspired manner, into value creation. Think of how the success of eBay and Amazon are linked to their successful mobilization of their user communities. There are of course important factors, inherent in the functioning of capitalism and the format of the enterprise, which cause structural tensions around this participative nature, and the use of P2P models, which we will cover in our explanatory section.
Why do we speak of 'cognitive capitalism'? For a number of important reasons. The relative number of workers involved in material production is dwindling rather rapidly, with a majority of workers in the West involved in either symbolic (knowledge workers) or affective processing (service sector) and creation (entertainment industry). The value of any product is mostly determined, not by the value of the material resources, but by its level of integration of intelligence, and of other immaterial factors (design, creativity, experiential intensity, access to lifeworlds and identities created by brands). The immaterial nature of contemporary production is reconfiguring the material production of agricultural produce and industrial goods. In terms of professional 'experience', more and more workers are not directly manipulating matter, but the process is mediated through computers that manage machine-based processes. Cognitive capitalism is therefore a hypothesis that the current phase of capitalism is distinct in its operations and logic from earlier forms such as merchant and industrial capitalism.
McKenzie Wark's Hacker Manifesto goes one step further in this analysis. According to him, we have a new class configuration altogether. While the capitalist class owned factories and machinery, once capital was abstracted in the form of stocks and information, a new class has arisen which controls the 'vectors of information', which includes stocks and financial capital, the means of producing and distributing information, the means to transform use value in exchange value. This is the 'vectoralist' class. The class who actually produces the value (as distinct from the class that can 'realise'it and thus captures the surplus value), he calls the hacker class. It is distinguished from the former because it actually creates new means of production: hardware, software, new knowledge (wetware). See 3.3.D. for a fuller explanation of the different interpretations of the current political economy, of which P2P is a crucial element.
3.1.C. The Hacker Ethic or 'work as play'
In section 3.2 we will attempt to show the contradictory nature of the relationship between capitalism and peer to peer processes. It needs P2P to thrive, but is at the same threatened by it. A similar contradiction takes place in the sphere of work. We said before how in the industrial, 'Fordist' model, the worker was considered an extension of the machine. Another way of saying this, is that intelligence was located in the process, but that the worker himself was deskilled, he was required to be a 'dumb body', following instructions. The worker had to sell his labor in order to survive, and meaning could only be found in the activity of working itself, as a means of survival for the family, as a way of social integration, as a means of obtaining identity through one's social role. But finding meaning in the content of the work itself was exceptional. In post-Fordism important changes and reversals occur. Today, the worker is supposed to communicate and cooperate, to have a capacity to solve problems. He is required not only to use his intelligence, but also has to engage his full subjectivity. Certainly this increases the possibility to find fulfillment and meaning through work, but that would be to point a too rosy picture. Inside the company, the quest for fulfillment is often contradicted by the empty purpose of the company itself, especially as efficiency thinking, short termism and a sole focus on profit, are taking hold as the main priorities. Peer to peer processes characteristic of the project teams are in tension with the hierarchical, feudal-like nature of the management by objectives models. Psychological pressure and stress levels are very high, since the worker has now full responsibility and very high targets. One could say that instead of exploiting the body of the worker, as was the case in industrial capitalism, it is now the psyche being exploited, and stress-related diseases have replaced industrial accidents. But this is not all: the productivity model and modes of efficiency thinking have left the factory to diffuse throughout society. It is not uncommon to manage one's family and children and household according to that model. Human relations (dating) and creative activities have been commoditized and monetized. As the pressure within the corporate timesphere intensifies through the hypercompetition based model of neoliberalism, learning and other necessary activities to remain creative and efficient at work have been exported to private time. Thus paradoxically, the Protestant work ethic has been exacerbated, or as Pekka Himanen would have it in his Hacker Ethic, there has been a 'Friday-isation of Sunday' going on.
Yet at the same time, new subjectivities and intersubjectivities (which we will discuss later), are creating a counter-movement in the form of a new work ethic: the hacker ethic. As mass intellectuality increases through formal and informal education, and due to the very requirements of the new types of immaterial work, meaning is no longer sought in the sphere of salaried work, but in life generally, and not through entertainment alone, but through creative expression, through 'work', but outside of the monetary sphere. Occasionally, and it was especially the case during the new economy boom, companies try to integrate such methods, the so-called 'Bohemian' model. This explains to a large part the rise of the Open Sources production method. In the interstices of the system, between jobs, on the job when there is free time, in academic circles, or supported by social welfare, new use value is being created. And it is done through a totally new work ethic, which is opposed to the exacerbation of the Protestant work ethic. And as it was first pioneered by the community of 'passionate programmers, the so-called hackers, it is called 'the hacker ethic'. Himanen explains a few of its characteristics:
time is not rigidly separated into work and non-work; intensive work periods are followed by extensive leave taking, the latter necessary for intellectual and creative renewal; there is a logic of self-unfolding at work, workers look for projects at which they feel energized and that expands their learning and experience in desired directions; participation is voluntary; learning is informal and continuous; the value of pleasure and play are crucial; the project has to have social value and be of use to a wider community; there is total transparency, no secrets; there is an ethic that values activity and caring; creativity, the continuous surpassing of oneself in solving problems and creating new use value, is paramount.
In open source projects, these characteristics are full present; in a for-profit environment they may be partly present but enter into conflict with the different logic of a for-profit enterprise.
3.2 Explaining the Emergence of P2P Economics
3.2.A. The superiority of the free software/open sources production model
I am not as yet familiar enough with the literature on Free Software and Open Sources to fully explain the emergence of the model, but the following set of explanations seem to be valid:
Part of the explanation is cultural, located in a changing set of values affecting large parts of the population, mostly in the Western world. The World Values research by R. Inglehart has shown that there is a large swat of people who identify with post-material values and who have moved up in the 'hierarchy of values' as defined by Abraham Maslow. One people feel relatively secure materially, they will look to other means of fulfillment, in the area of creation, relationships, spirituality. As the level of intrapersonal and interpersonal awareness raises, a typical feature of reflexive modernity, the demand for free cooperation also raises. Again we see how the concept of 'abundance' is important.
By abolishing distinctions between producer and consumer, open source processes dramatically increase their access to expertise, to a global arena networked through the internet. No commercial entity can afford such a large army of volunteers. Any user can participate, at least through a bug report, or by offering his comments. Because the cooperation is free, participants function passionately and optimally without coercion. The 'Wisdom Game', which means that social influence is gained through reputation, augments the motivation to participate with high quality interventions. Because a self-unfolding logic is followed which looks for optimal feeling of flow, the participants are collaborating when they feel most energized. Open source availability of the source code and documentation means that the products can be continuously improved. Because of the social control and the reputation game, abusive behavior can be controlled and abuse of power is similarly dependent on collective approval.
In the sphere of immaterial production and distribution, such as for example the distribution of music, the advantages of online distribution through P2P processes are unmatched. In the sphere of material production, through essentially the contributions of knowledge workers, similarly P2P processes are more efficient than centralized hierarchical control.
Yochai Benkler, in a famous essay, 'Coase's Penguin', has given a rationale for the emergence of P2P production methodologies, based on the ideas of 'transcaction cost'. In the physical world, the cost of bringing together thousands of participants may be very high, and so it may be cheaper to have centralized firms than an open market. This is why earlier experiences with collectivized economies could not work. But in the immaterial sphere used for the production of informational goods, the transaction goods are near-zero and therefore, open source production methods are cheaper and more efficient.
Given that open source is predicated on abundance, how far can it be extended into the material economy, and leave its confinement in the field of pure immaterial production, such as software? The logical answer is: it can be extended whenever there is perceived abundance. If we look at material production, there are two facets. Material production itself requires large resources and capital, it seems at first antithetical to P2P. But the other facet is that the whole process of design is immaterial and by definition in the sphere of abundance. Making a car today is highly, essentially dependent on the immaterial factors such as design, cooperation of dispersed international teams, marketing and communication. After that, the production of the cars through standardized parts in outsourced production companies, is -- despite the capital requirement -- more of an epiphenomenom. It is therefore not extremely difficult to expect an extension of OS production models, at least in the design and conception phase of even material production. We can envisage a future form of society, as described in the GPL (General Public License) Society scenario of Oekonux.de, where the intellectual production and design of any material product, is done through P2P processes.
We should also see that scarcity is in many ways a social construction. Nature was abundant to the tribal peoples, but when it was transformed into land that counted as property, land became scarce and a resource to be fought for. The enclosures movement in England was designed to to precisely that. Out of land, previously plentiful resources were taken, and transformed into the form of property known as capital. Capital became scarce and to be fought for. Similarly today, the plentiful information commons that we produce, is being fought, so that it can turn into intellectual property, that can artificially be rendered scarce. Thus the whole dialectic between abundance and scarcity is not a given objective fact, as for example, when we say that the immaterial is by definition abundant, and the material by definition scarce. As McKenzie Wark explains, information might be abundant, but in order for it to be accessed and distributed, we need vectors, i.e. the means of production and distribution of information. And these are not in the hands of the producers themselves, but in the hands of a vectoral class. Use value cannot be transformed into exchange value, without their intervention. At the same time, through intellectual property laws, this vectoral class is in the process of trying to make information scarce. For Wark, the key issue is the property form, as it is the property form, and nothing else, which renders resources scarce. However, the natural abundance of information, the peer to peer nature of vectors such as the internet, makes this a particularly hard task for the vectoral class. Unlike the working class in industrial capitalism, knowledge workers can resist and create to numerous interstices, which is where true P2P is thriving. Their natural task is to extend free access to information, to have a commons of vectoral resources; while the natural task of the vectoral class, is to control the vectors, and change the information commons into tightly controlled properties. But at the same time, the vectoral class needs the knowledge workers (or the hacker class, as McKenzie Wark puts it), to produce innovation, and in the present regime, in many cases, the knowledge workers need the vectors to distribute its work.
This is the reason that relations between P2P and the for-profit model of the enterprise are highly contradictory and rife with tensions. P2P-inspired project teams have to co-exist with a hierarchical framework that seeks only to serve the profit of the shareholders. The authority model of a corporation is essentially a top-down hierarchical even 'feudal' model. Since traditionally corporate power was a scarce resource predicated on information control, very few companies are ready to actually implement coherent P2P models and their inherent demand for an information sharing culture, as it threatens the core power structure. By their own nature, companies seek to exploit external resources, at the lowest possible cost, and seek to dump waste products to the environment. They seek to give the lowest possible socially-accepted wage, which is sufficient to attract workers. Mitigating factors are the demands and regulations of the democratic polity, and today in particular the demands of the political consumer; and the strength and scarcity of labor. But essentially, the corporation will be reactive to these demands, not pro-active.
We will argue elsewhere that P2P is both 'within' and 'beyond' the present system. It is within because it is the condition for the functioning of the present system of 'cognitive capitalism'. But P2P, if it follows its own logic, demands to be extended to the full sphere of material and social life, and demands its transformation from a scarce resource, predicated on private property to an abundant resource. Therefore, ultimately, the answer to the question: can P2P be extended to the material sphere, should have the following reply: only if the material sphere is liberated from its connection to scarce capital, and instead starts functioning on the predicate of over-abundant and non-mediated labour, will it effectively function outside the immaterial sphere. Thus P2P points to the eventual overcoming of the present system of political economy.
3.3.A. The evolution of cooperation: from neutrality to synergetics
If we take a wider view of economic evolution, with the breakdown of the tribal 'gift economy', which operated in a context of abundance (this counter-intuitive analysis is well explained by anthropologists such as Marshall Sahlins, who showed that tribal peoples only needed to work a few hours per day for their survival), we can see that premodern imperial and feudal forms of human cooperation where based on the use of force. Using Edward Haskell's triune categorization of human cooperation (adversarial, neutral, synergetic): It was a win-lose game, which inevitably led to the monopolization of power (either in land and military forces in precapitalist formations, or in the commercial sphere, as in capitalism). Tribute was exacted from losers in a battle (or freely offered by the weak seeking protection), labor and produce from slaves and serfs. In forced, adversarial cooperation, in this win-loose game, cooperative surplus is less than optimal, it is in fact negative: 1 + 1 is less than two. Productivity and motivation are low.
In capitalist society, neutral cooperation is introduced. As we said above, in theory, free workers exchange their labor for a fair salary and products for a 'fair' amount of money. In neutral cooperation, the result of the cooperation is average. Participants give just their money's worth. Neither participant in a neutral exchange gets better, 1 plus 1 equals 2. We can interpret this negatively or positively. Negatively, capitalist theory is rarely matched in practice, where fair exchange is always predicated on monopolization and power relationships. The situation is therefore much darker, more adversarial and less neutral, than the theory would suggest. Nevertheless, compared to the earlier feudal models, marked by constant warfare, the monopoly of violence exercised by the capitalist state model, limits conflicts, and adversarial relationships are relegated to the sphere of commerce. The system has proven very productive, and coupled with the distributive nature of the welfare state which was imposed on it, has dramatically expanded living standards in certain areas of the world. Seen in the most positive light, a positive feedback loop may be created in which both partners feel they are winning, thus it can sometimes be seen as a win-win model. But what it cannot do, due to its inherent competitive nature, is transform itself into a win-win-win model. A capitalist relationship cannot care for the wider environment, only forced to care.
Here peer to peer can be again defined as a clear evolutionary breakthrough. It is based on free cooperation. Parties to the process all get better from it: 1 plus 1 gives a lot more than 2. By definition, peer to peer processes are mobilized for common projects that are of greater use value to the wider community (since monetized exchange value falls away). True and authentic P2P therefore logically transforms into a win-win-win model, whereby not only the parties gain, but the wider community and social field as well. It is, in Edward Haskell's definition, a true synergetic cooperation. It is very important to see the 'energetic' effects of these different forms of cooperation, as I indicated above: 1) forced cooperation yields very low quality contributions; 2) the neutral cooperation format of the marketplace generates average quality contributions; 3) but freely given synergistic cooperation generates passion. Participants are automatically drawn to what they do best, at the moments at which they are most passionate and energetic about it. This is one of the fundamental reasons of the superior quality which is eventually, over time, created through open source projects
Arthur Coulter, author of a book on synergetics, adds a further twist explaining the superiority of P2P. He adds to the objective definition of Haskell, the subjective definition of 'rapport' based on the attitudes of the participants. Rapport is the state of a persons who are in full agreement, and is determined by synergy, empathy, and communication. Synergy refers to to interactions that promote the goals and efforts of the participants; empathy to the mutual understanding of the goals; and communication to the effective interchange of the data. His “Principle of Equivalence” states that the flow of S + E + C are optimal when they have equivalent status to each other. If we distinguish Acting Superior, Acting Inferior on one axis and Acting Supportively and Acting with Hostility on another axis, then the optimal flow arises when one treats the other as 'somewhat superior' and with 'some support'. Thus an egalitarian-supportive attitude is congenial to the success of P2P.
3.4.B. Beyond Formalization and Institutionalization
Observation of open source and P2P processes of production and knowledge exchange, unveils a further number of important elements, which can be added to our earlier definition.
In premodern societies, knowledge is 'guarded', it is part of what founds power. Guilds are based on secrets, the Church does not translate the Bible, and it guards its monopoly of interpretation.
With the advent of modernity, and let's think about Diderot's project of the Encyclopedia, knowledge is from now on regarded as a public resource which should flow freely. But at the same time, modernity, as described by Foucault in particular, starts a process of regulating the flow of knowledge through a series of formal rules, which aim to distinguish valid knowledge from invalid one. The academic peer review method, the setting up of universities which regulate discourse, the birth of professional bodies as guardians of expertise, the scientific method, are but a few of such regulations. An intellectual property rights regime also regulates the legitimate use one can make of such knowledge, and which is responsible for a re-privatization of knowledge, which has to serve to create monopolies based on rent obtained through licenses. Thus at the end of modernity, in a similar process to what we described in the field of work culture, there is an exacerbation of the most negative aspects of the privatization of knowledge: IP legislation is incredibly tightened, information sharing becomes punishable, the market invades the public sphere of universities and academic peer review and the scientific commons are being severely damaged.
Again, peer to peer appears as a radical shift. In the new emergent practices of knowledge exchange, equipotency is assumed from the start. There are no formal rules to engage in participation (unlike academic peer review, where formal degrees are required). Validation is a communal intersubjective process. If there are formal rules, they have to be accepted by the community, and they are ad hoc for particular projects. There is a move away from public categorization, such as the bibliographic formats (Dewey, UDC, etc..) to informal communal 'tagging', what some people have termed folksonomies. In blogging, news and commentary are democratized and open to any participant, and it is the reputation of trustworthiness, acquired over time, by the individual in question, which will lead to the viral diffusion of particular 'memes'. Power and influence are determined by the quality of the contribution, and have to be accepted and constantly renewed by the community of participants. All this can be termed the de-formalization of knowledge.
A second important aspect is de-institutionalization. In premodernity, knowledge is transmitted through tradition, through initiation by experienced masters to those who are validated to participate in the chain mostly through birth. In modernity, as we said, validation and the legitimation of knowledge is processed through institutions. It is assumed that the autonomous individual needs socialization, 'disciplining', through such institutions. Knowledge has to be mediated. Thus, whether a news item is trustworthy is determined largely by its source, say the Wall Street Journal, or the Encyclopedia Brittanica, who are supposed to have formal methodologies and expertise. How different it is in the P2P arena, where there are no mediating institutions. It is thoroughly de-institutionalized, which represents another major shift in our civilisational history.
All this prefigures a profound shift in our epistemologies. In modernity, with the subject-object dichotomy, the autonomous individual is supposed to gaze objectively at the external world, and to use formalized methodologies, which will be intersubjectively verified through academic peer review. Post-modernity has caused strong doubts about this scenario. The individual is no longer considered autonomous, but always-already part of various fields, of power, of psychic forces, of social relations, molded by ideologies, etc.. Rather than in need of socialization, the presumption of modernity, he is seen to be in need of individuation. But he is no longer an 'indivisible atom', but rather a singularity, a unique and ever-evolving composite. His gaze cannot be truly objective, but is always partial, as part of a system can never comprehend the system as a whole. The individual has a single perspective on things. Truth can therefore only be apprehended collectively by combining a multiplicity of other perspectives, from other singularities, other unique points of integration, which are put in 'common'. It is this profound change in epistemologies which P2P-based knowledge exchange reflects.
3.4.C. Not a Gift Economy, but a new form of Communal Shareholding
There is a profound misconception regarding peer to peer, expressed by the various authors who call it a gift economy, such as Richard Barbrook, or Steven Webber. But, as Stephan Merten of Oekonux.de has already argued, P2P production methods are not a gift economy based on equal sharing, but a form of communal shareholding based on participation. Let me give a context to this claim by introducing the typology of intersubjective relations, as defined by anthropologist Alan Page Fiske. There are he says, historically and across all cultures, only four basic types of relating to one another, which form a grammar of human relationships, these are Authority Ranking, Equality Matching, Market Pricing, and Communal Shareholding.
“People use just four fundamental models for organizing most aspects of sociality most of the time in all cultures . These models are Communal Sharing, Authority Ranking, Equality Matching, and Market Pricing. Communal Sharing (CS) is a relationship in which people treat some dyad or group as equivalent and undifferentiated with respect to the social domain in question. Examples are people using a commons (CS with respect to utilization of the particular resource), people intensely in love (CS with respect to their social selves), people who "ask not for whom the bell tolls, for it tolls for thee" (CS with respect to shared suffering and common well-being), or people who kill any member of an enemy group indiscriminately in retaliation for an attack (CS with respect to collective responsibility). In Authority Ranking (AR) people have asymmetric positions in a linear hierarchy in which subordinates defer, respect, and (perhaps) obey, while superiors take precedence and take pastoral responsibility for subordinates. Examples are military hierarchies (AR in decisions, control, and many other matters), ancestor worship (AR in offerings of filial piety and expectations of protection and enforcement of norms), monotheistic religious moralities (AR for the definition of right and wrong by commandments or will of God), social status systems such as class or ethnic rankings (AR with respect to social value of identities), and rankings such as sports team standings (AR with respect to prestige). AR relationships are based on perceptions of legitimate asymmetries, not coercive power; they are not inherently exploitative (although they may involve power or cause harm).
From the above description, it should be clear that the tribal gift economy is a form of sharing, based on 'equal' parts, according to a specific criteria of 'what it is that functions as common standard for comparison'. Thus in the tribal economy, when a clan or tribe gives away its surplus, the recipient group is forced to eventually give back, say the next year, at least as much, or they will loose relative prestige. Similarly, in the feudal social redistribution mechanism, the powerful compete in the gift giving to Church or Sangha, as a matter of prestige. This is not at all how it functions in the sphere of knowledge exchange on the internet. In open source production, filesharing, or knowledge exchange communities, I freely contribute, what I can, what I want, without obligation; on the recipient side, one simply takes what one needs. It is common for any web-based project to have let's say 10% active contributing members, and 90% passive lurkers. This can be an annoyance, but is never a 'fundamental problem', for the very reason that P2P operates in a sphere of abundance, where a tragedy of the commons, an abuse of common property, cannot occur. In the concept of Tragedy of the Commons, communal holdings are depleted and abused, because they belong to no one. But in the Information Commons created through P2P processes, the value of the collective knowledge base is not diminished by use, but on the contrary enhanced by it.
What the better P2P systems do however, is to make participation 'automatic', so that even passive use becomes useful participation for the system as a whole. Think of how BitTorrent makes any user who downloads a resource, in his/her turn a resource for others to use, unbeknownst and independent of any conscious action of the user. Say I have a team working on a software project, and it creates a special email system to communicate around development issues. This communication is considered a common resource and archived, and thus, without any conscious effort of the participating members, automatically augments the common resource base. One of the key elements in the success of P2P projects, and the key to overcoming any 'free rider' problem, is therefore to develop technologies of “Participation Capture”.
The social logic of information and resource sharing is a cultural reversal vis a vis the information retention logic of hierarchical social systems. Participation is assumed, and non-participation has to be justified. Information sharing, the public good status of your information, is assumed, and it is secrecy which has to be justified.
So what people are doing in P2P systems, is participating, and doing so they are creating a 'commons'. Unlike traditional Communal Shareholding, which starts from already existing physical resources, in peer to peer, the knowledge commons is created through participation, and does not exist 'ex ante'.
One more clarification, some American authors, especially libertarians such as Eric Raymond, but also 'common-ists' such as Lawrence Lessig, say that P2P processes are market-based, but this is misleading, although in the American context, it is a clever use of memetic warfare.
A market is based on the exchange of scarce goods, through a monetary mechanism. This is not the case for P2P products, they can, because of the General Public License or the Creative Commons License, not be sold. They are not made for the profit obtained from the exchange value, but for their use value and acceptance by a user community. So what Lessig means by with his notion of a market-based solution is simply to say that users are free to use them or not.
Eric Raymond has written a book, the 'Cathedral and the Bazaar' that is, despite its value as a description of open source principles and practices, has a very misleading title, showing its libertarian bias.
Corporate software production methods are called 'the Cathedral', i.e. a big planned and bureaucratic project, while open source is coined a 'bazaar', implying a free market. But in fact, the internet and many open source projects own their existence to the public sector, which financed internet research and the salaries of participating scientists. And the so-called 'bazaar' does in fact not make any money! Moreover, in actual practice, the building of Cathedrals were massive collective projects, initiated by the Church but drawing on popular fervor, a competition in gift giving, and lots of volunteer labor!!! When we define P2P processes as a form of Communal Shareholding, the process is a lot less confused. What people are doing is voluntarily and cooperatively constructing a commons, according to the 'communist principle' (described by Marx in his definition of the last phase of history): from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs'. Let's not confuse the utopian definition of Marx, with the actual practices of the Soviet Union, which were centralized, authoritarian and totalitarian, one of the more pernicious forms of social domination. Using Fiske's grammar of relationships, we could say that the Soviet system or 'really existing socialism', consisted of the following combination: 1) property belonged to the state, but was in fact controlled by an elite social fraction, the nomenclatura, and did not function as common property; 2) the economic practices were a combined form of equality matching and market pricing, though the monetary prices were most frequently determined not by an open market, but by political and planning authorities; 3) there was no free participation but obligatory hierarchical cooperation; 4) socially, there was a very strong element of authoritary ranking,with one's status largely determined by one's function in the nomenclatura. The reason of course is that these systems arose in a context of social and material scarcity and deprivation, inevitable given rise to a process of monopolization of power and scarce resource.
In contrast, Marx's definition was predicated on abundance in the material world. If P2P emerges according to this very definition, it is because of a sufficient material base, which allows the types of volunteer labor P2P thrives on, as well as the abundance inherent in the informational sphere.
But since peer to peer is not a ideology nor utopian project, but an actual social practice which responds to true social needs, it can be practiced by anyone, despite one's formal personal philosophy and ideological blinders. Thus the paradox is that American libertarians call it a market, while the European digital left calls it a 'really existing anarcho-communist practice' (Andre Gorz), though they are speaking of the same process. I actually find Lawrence Lessig's tongue-in-cheek suggestion (in reply to the red-baiting Cnet interview which led to an opinion storm about Bill Gates equating copyright reforms with communists), to call the P2P movement's advocates 'Common-ists', not a bad concept at all.
3.3.D. Who rules: cognitive capitalists, the vectoral class, or netocrats?
We already mentioned the analysis of both the school of 'cognitive capitalism' and the theories of McKenzie Wark. They are part of a larger debate on the nature of the new regime of economic exchange.
According to the school of cognitive capitalism, capitalism needs to be historicized. This because the main logic of economic exchange is different. In a first phase, we have an agrarian- or merchant-based capitalism. Land is turned into capital, and commerce, especially on the basis of the triangular trade involving slavery, is the basis for producing a surplus. Non-machine assets are the key to producing the surplus, i.e. land and people. At some point, industrial capitalism arises based on capital assets in industry. The capitalists are the owners of the factories, machinery, and forges. But as these assets are abstracted into stocks, they start having their own life, both financial and informational, and industry processes are transformed into processes based on the flows of finance and information. So, according to the cognitive capitalism hypothesis, we have a third stage, cognitive capitalism, based on the predominance of immaterial flows, which in turn reconfigure industrial and agriculture modes of production to its own image. But according to the main CC theorists, such as Yann-Moulier Boutang, M. Lazzarato, C. Vercellone and others, it is a change
If modernity (aka industrial capitalism) still has to compromise with a strong legacy of traditional elements, which muted its virulence (what possible use could the learning of Latin and the classics have for business!), in postmodernity, the instrumental logic reigns supreme. The interest, and in my opinion the strength of the CC hypothesis is that it can account for both radical change (the dominance of the immaterial) and for continuity (the capitalist mode), and can then start looking at the different changes taking place, such as new modes of regulation, social control, etc.. In such a scenario, the working class is also transformed, becoming involved in knowledge production, affect-based services, and other 'immaterial forms'. But the knowledge workers clearly become the key sector of the multitudes.
McKenzie Wark, adds a twist, since he insists a new class is now in power. Unlike capitalists, who based their control on capital assets, a vectoral class has arisen that owes it power to the control of stocks, information (which it owns through patents and copyrights) and the control of the vectors through which the information must flow. Thus, they own not only the media which manipulate our mindsets, but also achieve dominance over industrial capitalists, because they own and trade the stocks based on information, and the latter need the information flows and vectors to run the process flows. It is now no longer a matter of making profits through material industry production, but of making margins in the trading of stocks, and of the development of new monopolistic rents based on the ownership of information.
And the mirror image of the vector class is the hacker class, those that 'produce difference' (unlike the workers which produced standard products, and yearned to achieve unity), i.e. new value expressed through innovation. A crucial distinction between the more general concept of knowledge workers, and the more specific class concept of the hacker class, is that the latter produce new means of production, i.e. hardware, software, wetware, and they are correspondingly stronger than farmers or workers could ever have been. Therefore, what McKenzie Wark explains perhaps more cogently and starkly that CC-theorists is the new nature of the class struggle, centered around the ownership of information, and the ownership of the vectors. Thus the key issue is the property form, responsible for creating the scarcity that sustains a marketplace. Another advantage is the clear distinction between the hacker class, which produces use value, and the vectoral value, i.e. the entrepreneurs, who transform it into exchange value. The predominance of financial capital is explained by the ownership of stocks, which replaces ownership of capital, a less abstract form, and unlike industrial capitalists, who were happy to leave a common and socialized culture, education, and science to the state, vectoral capitalists differ in that they want to turn everything into a commodity. The latter is a cogent explanation of the logic behind neoliberal 'hyperca;italism'.
Much less satisfactory is the netocratic thesis of Alexander Bard in his book Netocracy. He also insists of the postcapitalist nature of the new configuration, but the new class is described as 'in control' of networked information, and as operating in a hierarchy of networks. Here, we get no idea of a distinction between knowledge workers and information entrepreneurs. Similarly in Pekka Himanen's very useful Hacker Ethic, though we get a very interesting insight into the new culture of work, no distinction is made between knowledge workers and entrepreneurs, between the hacker class and the vectoral class.
4. P2P in the Political Sphere
4.1.A. The Alterglobalisation Movement
The alterglobalisation movement is a well-known example of the P2P ethos at work in the political field. The movement sees itself as a network of networks that combines players from a wide variety of fields and opinions, who, despite the fact that they do no see eye to eye on every aspect, manage to unite around a common platform of action around certain key events. They are able to mobilize vast numbers of people from every continent, without having at their disposal any of the traditional newsmedia, such as televisions, radios or newspapers. Rather, they rely almost exclusively on the P2P technologies described above. Thus internet media are used for communication and learning on a continuous basis, prior to the mobilizations, but also during the mobilizations, where independent internet media platforms such as Indymedia, as well as the skillful use of mobile phones are used for real-time response management, undertaken by small groups that use buddy-list technologies, sometimes open source programs that have been explicitly designed for political activism such as TextMob. The network model allows for a more fluid organization that does not fix any group in permanent adversarial positions, but various temporary coalitions are created on a ad hoc basis depending on the issues. A key underlying philosophy of the movement is the paradigm of non-representationality. In classic modern political ideology, participating members elect representatives, and delegate their authority to them. Decisions taken by councils of such representatives then can take binding decisions, and are allowed to speak 'for the movement'. But such a feature is totally absent from the alterglobalisation movement. No one, not even the celebrities, can speak for anyone else, though they can speak in their own name. Another distinguishing feature, is that we can no longer speak of 'permanent organizations'. While unions, political movements, and international environmental and human rights NGO's do participate, and have an important role, the movement innovates by mobilizing many unaffiliated individuals, as well as all kinds of temporary ad hoc groups created within or without the internet. Thus we can add to the de-formalization and de-institutionalization principles explained above, another one that we could call the process of de-organization, as long as we are clear on its meaning, which refers to the transcendence of 'fixed' organizational formats which allows power to consolidate.
A commonly heard criticism is that 'they have no alternative', but this in fact reflects their new approach to politics. The main demand is not for specifics, though that can occasionally be part of a consensus platform (such as 'abandoning the debt for developing countries'), more importantly is the underlying philosophy, that 'another world is possible', but that what is most important is not asking for specific alternative, but rather for an open process of world governance that is not governed by the power politics and private interests of the elite, but determined by all the people in an autonomous fashion that recognized the wide diversity of desired futures.
An important aspect of the alterglobalisation movement is the above-mentioned reliance on alternative independent internet media. Despite the overriding influence of corporate-owned mass media, groups such as the alterglobalisation movement have succeeded in created a vast number of alternative news outlets, in written, audio, and audiovisual formats. Those are used for a permanent process of learning and exchange, outside of the sphere of the 'manipulation of consent' (as described by Noam Chomsky).
4.1.B. The 'Coordination' format
Since the mid-eighties, observers have noticed that social struggles have taken a new format as well, that of the coordination. In France for example, all the important struggles of the recent decade, by nurses, by the educational workers, and most recently by the part-time art workers, have been led by such coordinations. Again, such coordinations are a radical innovation. They are also based on the principle of non-representationality: no one is elected to represent anybody else, anyone can participate, their decisions are based on consensus, while participants retain every freedom in their actions. Note how the coordination thus differs from the earlier hyperdemocratic form of worker's councils, which were still based on the idea of representation.
The latest struggle of the artistic 'intermittents' was particularly significative. These are creative knowledge workers who move from artistic project to artistic project, and who are therefore, unlike earlier industrial workers, not in permanent contact with each others. Yet their 'network sociality', which means they keep in touch with a variety of subgroups of friends and associates to keep informed of opportunities and for permanent collective learning and exchange, meant that, when confronted with a reform they found intolerable, they were able to mount one of the most effective mass social movements in a very short time, through the use of viral diffusion techniques. Traditional power plays by established left political parties and unions are not tolerated in the coordinations, when they happen, people simply leave and set up shop elsewhere. Thus authoritarian political organizations are seriously restrained by this format.
4.1.C. New conceptions of social and political struggle
The change in political practices has been reflected by new thinking in the field of political theory. Among the thinkers that come to mind are Toni Negri and Michael Hardt, with their books Empire and Multitude, Miguel Benasayag with his book “Le Contre-Pouvoir”, and John Holloway with 'Revolution Without Power'.
Negri/Hardt have introduced the concept of Multitude. Unlike the earlier concept of People or proletariat, multitudes do not have a synthetic unity. They exist in their differences. What is rejected is abstract human identity in favor of the organization for common goals of concrete humanity in its differences. The principle of non-representationality is reflected in their concept of transcendence. Modernity, while rejecting divine power, thought that the anarchic multitudes (Hobbes), should unify in a People, which then allowed its power to be exercised by the national sovereign. This transcendence of power is totally rejected in favor of 'absolute democracy', i.e. the immanent life and desires of the multitudes. Unlike the concept of People, which unifies but also rejects the non-People, the multitude is totally open and global from the outset. In terms of political strategy, they develop concepts like 'Exodus', which means, if I understand it correctly, no longer facing the enemy directly (in a network configuration of social movements, there is no direct enemy and in Empire 'there is no there there', i.e. the enemy cannot be precisely located as it is a network itself), but to route around obstacles and more importantly to refuse to give consent and legitimation by constructing alternatives in real-time, through networks. It is only when the multitudes are under direct attack, through reforms that are experienced as 'intolerable', that the network is galvanized into struggle, and that the very format of organizing prefigures already the society to come.
Essential components of the multitude are the knowledge workers, affective 'service' workers, and other forms of immaterial labor. Miguel Benasayag similarly argues that 'to resist is to create', and that political struggle is essentially about the construction of alternatives, here and now. Current practice has to reflect the desired future, and has to emerge, not from the 'sad passions' of hate and anger, but from the joys of producing a commons.
Though none of these authors explicitly use the peer to peer concept, their own concepts reflect its philosophy and practice, and they are generally in tune with the themes of the peer to peer advocates (such as favoring an information commons, support for free software and open source methodologies, etc…).
4.1.D. New lines of contention
Next to new forms of political organization, new conceptions regarding the tactics and strategies of struggle, the emergence of peer to peer also generates new conflicts, which are different from those of the industrial age.
In my opinion, the key conflict is about the freedom to construct the Information Commons, vs. the private appropriation of knowledge by for-profit firms, which is not to say that an accommodation cannot eventually be found. In filesharing, it is now possible to share digital music and video. A process that always existed amongst groups of friends, is now extended in scope by technology. This endangers the intellectual property system. But the P2P system of music distribution is inherently more productive and versatile, and more pleasing to the listener of music than the older system of physically distributing CD's. But instead of building a common pool for the world's music, and finding an adequate funding mechanism for the artists, the industry is intent to destroy this more productive system, and wants to criminalize sharing by punishing the users, and even by attempting to render the very technology illegal. Another strategy is to incorporate control mechanisms either in software (where it can be hacked and circumvented), or in the hardware (digital rights management schemes).
Another example is biopiracy. The age-old experience and knowledge of tribal groups concerning the herbal and healing properties is studied by pharmaceutical multinationals, who then patent the findings and expropriate the native peoples.
The problem for capitalism is that it has always been dependent on the private appropriation of common resources, as indicated for example by the Enclosures movement (the privatization of common land) that generated the first 'primitive accumulation' of capital. In a situation where the extensive growth period typical of imperialism has to be replaced by intensive growth on existing territories, the immaterial field of knowledge exchange and digital creativity is very important. Hence a drive to strengthen the Intellectual Property system, to extend copyrights in time, but also in scope, inventing new areas of application such as software and university-based research. While such a policy can stimulate specific areas through the profit motive, it is also responsible for a structural decay of the scientific commons, that used to be based on the free sharing of scientific findings, and academic peer review. With software and even ideas being patented, there are more and more impediments to the free flow of scientific exchange, and it has become a strain on innovation. The strategy is that since knowledge products can be reproduced and distributed at marginal cost, IP protection can create temporary, but extendable monopolies, thereby creating monopolistic rents in the forms of licenses to use. The whole strategy and reason for growth of a company like Microsoft is based on that idea. At the same time, the industry as a whole has an interest in open standards that can be improved upon, seen as a necessary infrastructure for growth and innovation. Hence, the support of certain sectors of industry for Open Sources and the use of Linux. We see, at the same time, scientists advocating a renewal of the scientific commons, for example in the biotechnology industry. In Europe, a struggle is going on to impeach the advent of software patents, while South Asia and Latin America are concerned about biopiracy.
Also the forces arrayed start from diametrically opposed paradigms. For the entertainment industry, IP is essential to promote creativity, even though the current system is a 'winner-take-all' system that serves only a minority of artists. For them, without IP protection, there would be no creativity. But as P2P processes demonstrate, which are extraordinarily innovative outside the profit system, creativity is what people do when they can freely cooperate and share, and hence IP is seen as an impediment, impeding the free use what should be a common resource. Between the more radical positions on either side, it is likely that compromise (reform) positions can be found, but in the meantime, in true P2P fashion, the forces using peer to peer are devising their own solutions. It started with a legal infrastructure for the free software movement, the General Public License, which prohibits the commercial exploitation of such software. It continued with the very important Creative Commons initiative initiated by Lawrence Lessig, who also supported the creation of a Free Culture advocacy movement.
Another important line of conflict concerns the nature of the protocols incorporated in the digital systems that can be used for P2P. We will discuss this later, when we examine the evolution of power.
According to the Hacker Manifesto by McKenzie Wark, the deeper reason and underlying common logic between these different struggles is the struggle for control of both information (as intellectual property) and the vectors of information (needed for distribution), between those that produce information, knowledge and innovation (the hacker class, knowledge workers), and the groups that own the vectors (the vector class).
4.2.A. De-Monopolization of Power
How to explain the emergence of such P2P networks in the political field?
It reflects new cultural values, the desire that authority grows from engagement and expertise, and that it is temporary to the task at hand. It reflects the refusal to give away autonomy, i.e. the rejection of the transcendence of power as defined by Toni Negri. It reflects the desire for self-unfolding of creative potential.
Networks are incredibly efficient: they can operate globally in real-time, react and mobilize around events in the very short term, and offers access to alternative civic information that has not been massaged by corporate-owned mega-media. In a political network configuration, the participating individual retains his full autonomy.
Politically, P2P processes reflect a de-monopolization of power. Power, in the form of reputation that generates influence, is given by the community, is time-bound to the participation of the individual (when he no longer participates, influence declines again), and can thus be taken back by the participating individuals. In the case where monopolization should occur, participants simply leave or create a 'forking' of the project, a new path is formed to avoid the power grab.
There is an important counter-trend however, and it concerns the scarcity of attention. Because our time and attention are indeed scarce in a context of information abundance, mediating portals are created, who collate and digest this mass of information. Think about Yahoo, Google, Amazon, eBay who exemplify the process of monopolization in the 'attention economy'. But the user community is not without power to affect these processes: collective reaction through opinion storms are activated by abusive monopolistic behavior, and can quickly damage the reputation of the perpetrator, thereby forcing a change in behavior in the monopolistic ambitions. Competing resources are almost always available, or can be built by the open source community. But more fundamentally, the blogosphere practice shows that it is possible to route around such problems, by creating mediating processes using the community as a whole. Thus techniques such as folksonomies, i.e. communal tagging, or reputation ranking, such as the 'Karma' points used by the Slashdot community, avoid the emergence of autonomous mediating agents. The blogosphere itself, in the form of the Technorati ranking system for example, has found ways to calculate the interlinking done by countless individuals, thereby enabling itself to filter out the most used contributions. Again, monopolization is excluded. What is the mechanism behind this?
For this we have to turn again to the concept of non-representationality, or what Negri calls immanence. In modernity, the concept is that autonomous individuals cannot create a peaceful order, and therefore they defer their power to a sovereign, whether it be the king of the nation. In becoming a people, they become a 'collective individual'. They loose out as individuals, while the unified people or nation behaves 'as if' it was an individual, i.e. with ambition for power. It is 'transcendent' vis a vis its parts. In non-representationality however, nothing of the sort is given away. This means that the collective hereby created, is not a 'collective individual', it cannot act with ambition apart from its members. This is thus the genius of the protocols devised in peer to peer initiatives, they avoid the creation of a collective individual with agency, it is the communion of the collective which filters value. The ethical implication is important as well. Not having given anything up of their full power, the participants in fact voluntarily take up the concern not only for the whole in terms of the project, but for the social field in which its operates.
Anticipating our 'evolutionary' remarks in section 4.3, we can see the above examples as illustrating the new form of protocollary power, which is becoming all-important in a network. The very manner in which we devise our social technologies, implies possible and likely social relationships. The genius of the blogosphere is that it enables the economy of attention to operate, not by individual actors that can become monopolistic, but by protocols that enable communal filtering. But when used by private firms such as Yahoo and Google, they may have a vested interest in skewing the protocol and the objectivity of the algorhythms used. In the blogosphere, protocols are also important since they imply a vision: should everyone be able to judge, and in that case, would that not lead to a lowest common denominator, or should equipotency be defined in such a way that a certain level of expertise is required, to allow higher quality entries to be filtered upwards?
4.2.B. Equality, Hierarchy, Freedom
How do P2P processes integrate 'values' and 'social relation'-typologies such as equality, hierarchy, and freedom?
From a reading of Cornelis Castoriadis, who gives an interpretation of Aristoteles on this issue, I understand that equality is actually present in all types of society, but it is always 'according to a criteria'. (and this is so because a society is implicitly a form of exchange, and thus in need of comparative standards for such exchange). It is over the criteria of exchange that social and political forces are fighting. Is power to be distributed according to the merit accorded to birth, according to military exploits, according to commercial savvy shown in economic life, to intelligence?
In the modern sense, equality is defined mostly as an equal right to participation in the political process, and as an 'equality of opportunity', based on merit, in the economic sphere.
Similarly, hierarchy was based in premodern societies based on 'authority ranking' which depended on fixed social roles, and on the competition within these narrowly defined spheres (warriors competing amongst themselves, Brahmins competing through their knowledge of sacred scripture). The command and control hierarchy is fixed amongst the levels, somewhat flexible within the levels. In modern society, theoretically, hierarchy in power is derived from electoral choice in case of political power, through economic success in case of economic power. In theory, it is extremely flexible, based on 'merit', but in practice various processes of monopolization prohibit the full flowering of such meritocracy.
Walllerstein defines three important political traditions according to their position regarding equality/hierarchy. Conservatives want to conserve existing hierarchical relations, as they were at a certain point in time; liberals are in favor of a selective meritocracy and stress the formalized and institutionalized selection criteria; democrats are in favor of maximum inclusion, without formal testing. Thus, in the early modern system, conservatives were against elections, liberals were for selective census-based elections, democrats for general suffrage.
How does peer to peer fit in this scheme? P2P is a democratic process of full inclusion based on the idea of equipotency. It believes that expertise cannot be located beforehand, and thus general and open participation is the rule. But selection immediately sets in as well, since the equipotency is immediately verified by the work on the project. Thus there is a selection before the project, and a hierarchy of networks is created, where everyone finds his place according to demonstrated potential. Within the project, a hierarchy is also immediately created depending on expertise, engagement, and the capacity to generate trust. But in both cases the hierarchies are fluid, not fixed, and always depend on concrete context, the precise task at hand. It's the model of the improvising jazz band, where everyone can in turn be the solo-ist or the trendsetter. Reputation is generated, but constantly on the move. Peer to peer is not anti-hierarchy or even anti-authority, but it is against fixed hierarchies and 'authoritarianism', the latter defined as the tendency to monopolize power, with a will to perpetuate itself and deprive others of resources that it wants for itself. P2P is for equality of participation, for a natural and flexible hierarchy based on real merit and communal consensus. That P2P recognizes differences in potential, and thus natural hierarchy, does not preclude it from treating participating partners as equal persons. In fact research from within the synergistic tradition, which studies the practicalities of cooperation, has verified a remarkable fact. In free and synergistic cooperation, those groups function best, which treats its members 'as if' they were equals. Therefore, the recognized hierarchy in reputation, talent, engagement, etc.. does not preclude, but if requires an egalitarian environment to blossom.
Some authors, like David Ronfeldt and John Arquila of the Rand Corporation, claim we are moving to a 'cyberocracy', where power is determined by the access to the networks. While there is indeed a digital divide that can exclude participation, it is important to stress the flexibility inherent in P2P networks, which undermines the idea of 'fixed and monopolistic cyberocracies'. Another author, Alexander Bard in Netocracy, argues that capitalism is already dead, and that we are already rules by a hierarchy of knowledge-based networks. At this stage, these are not very convincing arguments, but there is one scenario in which they can become possible. It has been described by Jeremy Rifkin in 'The Age of Access'. But this scenario of 'information feudalism' is predicated on the destruction of P2P networks. Cognitive capitalism in indeed in the process of trying to increase its monopolistic rents on patented digital materials, a strategy which is undermined by the filesharing and information sharing on the P2P networks. If the industry succeeds in its civil war against its consumers, by integrating Digital Rights Management hardware in our very computers, and outlaws sharing through legal attacks and imprisonment, then such a scenario is possible. At that time we would have only private networks for which a license has to be paid, with heavily restrictive usage rules, and no ownership what so ever for the consumer. This is indeed a scenario of exclusion for all those who will not be able to afford access to the networks. But we are far from that situation still, and personally, I do not think it is a likely scenario. At this moment, P2P is winning because its solutions are inherently more productive and democratic, and it is hard to see any social force, be it the large corporations, permanently sabotaging the very technological developments that it needs to survive. More likely, barring a scenario of a collapse of civilization and a return to barbarity, it is more likely to see a social system evolve that incorporates this new level of complexity and participation.
One element I have yet to mention is the freedom aspect, which seems obvious. P2P is predicated on the maximum freedom. The freedom to join and participate, to fully express oneself and one's potential, the freedom to change course at any point in time, the freedom to quit. Within the common projects, freedom is constrained through communal validation and consensus (i.e. the freedom of others). But individuals can always leave, fork to a new project, create their own. The challenge is to find affinities, to create a common sphere with at least a few others and to create effective use value. Unlike in representative democracy, it is not a model based on a majority imposing its will on a minority.
Despite the fact that Peer to Peer reverses a number of value hierarchies introduced by the Enlightenment, in particular the epistemologies and ontologies of modernity, it is a continuation and partial realization of the emancipatory project. It is in the definition of Wallerstein, an eminently democratic project. In my opinion, peer to peer partly reflects postmodernity, and partly transcends it, but we will return to this theme later.
4.3. Evolutionary Conceptions of Power
Japanese scholar Shumpei Kumon has given the following evolutionary account of power. In premodernity, he says, power is derived from military force. The strong conquer the weak and exact tribute, part of the produce of the land, labor (the corvee system). Rome was rich because it was strong. In modernity, military force eventually looses its primary place and monetary power takes over. Or in other words, the U.S. is strong because it is rich. It is commercial and financial power, which is the main criterion. In late modernity, a new form of power is born, through the power of the mass media. The U.S. lost the war, not because the Vietnamese were stronger militarily, or had more financial clout, but because the U.S. lost the war for the hearts and minds, and lost social support for the war effort. With the emergence of the internet and peer to peer processes, yet a new form of power emerges, and Kumon calls it the Wisdom Game. In order to have influence, one must give quality knowledge away, and thus build reputation, through the demonstration of one's 'Wisdom'. The more one shares, the more this material is used by others, the higher one's reputation, the bigger one's influence. This process is true for individuals within groups, and for the process among groups, thus creating a hierarchy of influence amongst networks. But as I have argued, in a true P2P environment, this process is flexible and permanently reversible.
Yet another account of the evolution of power has been made by the French philosophers Michel Foucault, and Gilles Deleuze. Premodern systems are characterized by the motto 'make die or let live': the sovereign has the power of life and death, but does not greatly interfere in the life of his subjects, which is ruled by custom and the divine precepts of the spiritual power. In modernity, Foucault sees two new forms of power arising: disciplinary power and biopower. Disciplinary power starts from the point of view that society consists of autonomous individuals, which are in need of socialization and 'discipline', so that they can be integrated in the normative framework of capitalist society. Biopower is the start of the total management of life, from birth to death, of the great mass of the people. The new motto is 'make live, let die'.
Deleuze noted a change though. In mass-media dominated postmodern society, which became dominant after 1968, disciplinary institutions enter in crisis. What is used is the internalization of social requirements through the use of the mass media, advertising and PR, with control mechanisms in place, which focus on making sure the right results are attained. But the individual is now himself in charge of making it happen.
The P2P era adds a new twist, a new form of power, which we have called Protocollary Power. We have already given some examples. One is the fact that the blogosphere has devised mechanisms to avoid the emergence of individual and collective monopolies, through rules that are incorporated in the software itself. Another was whether the entertainment industry would succeed in incorporating software or hardware-based restrictions to enforce their version of copyright. There are many other similarly important evolutions to monitor: Will the internet remain a point to point structure? Will the web evolve to a true P2P medium through Writeable Web developments? The common point is this: social values are incorporated, integrated in the very architecture of our technical systems, either in the software code or the hardwired machinery, and these then enable/allow or prohibit/discourage certain usages, thereby becoming a determinant factor in the type of social relations that are possible. Are the algorhythms that determine search results objective, or manipulated for commercial and ideological reasons? Is parental control software driven by censorship rules that serve a fundamentalist agenda? Many issues are dependent on hidden protocols, which the user community has to learn to see, so that it can become an object of conscious development, favoring peer to peer processes, rather than the restrictive and manipulative command and control systems.
5. The Discovery of P2P principles in the Cosmic Sphere
Note the difference in the above section title. Here we are not speaking of emergence, but rather the recognition or discovery of principles within the natural world, which obey P2P principles. They were always-already there, but we have only recently learned to see them. Technology reflects, to a certain extent, humanity's growing knowledge of the natural world. Technological artifacts and processes integrate and embed in their protocols, this growing knowledge. And lately, we have learned to see the natural (physical, biological, cognitive) world quite differently. The fact that engineers, software architects, and social network managers are devising and implementing more and more P2P systems also reflects this new understanding. Studies of distributed intelligence in physical systems, of the swarming behavior of social insects, of the 'wisdom of crowds' and collective intelligence in the human field, show that participative distributed system functions more efficiently than command and control systems which create bottlenecks. There is an evolution in the logic of such systems from the swarming of the social insects, where individuals are not aware of the global entity, to mammals which congregate around a common object of action in the present, and humans which, through feedback mechanisms, can know the situation of the whole (inclusionality or holoptism), but whereas it was previously only possible in small tribal groups (the original format of collective intelligence), it is now possible to extend the practice through the new possibilities created by technology to go beyond space and time limitations.
Though there can be said to exist hierarchies in nature, such as a succession of progressively more enfolding systems, actual command and control systems are actually quite rare. More common is the existing of multiple agents, which through their interaction, create emergent coherent orders and behavior. The brain for example, has been shown to be connectionist, and there is no evidence of a command center. And there are of course multiple scientific fields where this is now shown to be the case. Network theory is therefore focused on the interrelationships of equipotent, and distributed agents, and how complex systems arise from them. Historians are starting to look at the world in terms of flows, social science are increasingly looking at their objects of study in terms of social network analysis.
An area that I have still have to investigate, for incorporation in later versions of this essay, is to what extent network theorists are effectively paying attention to the specific type of network represented by P2P systems. Is there a specific P2P 'network logic', different from other types of networks? In my own essay, by comparing the emergence of P2P across social fields, and defining a number of general principles, I am of course suggesting that it is effectively so, but my conclusions are born from observations as a prospectivist, not from a direct inquiry into the logic itself. Some conclusions of this inquiry await a further version of this essay.
6. P2P in the Sphere of Culture and Self
I am here tackling the remainder of the two quadrants relating to intersubjectivity and subjectivity, considered in their basic linkage: the individual vs. the collective.
6.1.A. A new articulation between the individual and the collective
One of the key insights of the Spiral Dynamics system of interpretation of human cultural evolution, is the idea of the changing balance, over time, between the two poles of the individual and the collective. In SD terms, they see the tribal era as characterized by collective harmony, but also as a culture of stagnation. Out of this harmony, strong individuals are born, heroes and conquerors, which will their people and others into the creation of larger entities. These leaders are considered divinities themselves and thus in certain senses are 'beyond the law', which they have themselves constituted through their conquest. It is against this 'divine individualism' that a religious reaction is born, very evident in the monotheistic religions, that stresses the existence of a transcendent divine order (rather than the immanent order of paganism), to which even the sovereign must obey. Thus a more communal/collective order is created. But again, this situation is overturned when a new individual ethos is created, which will be reflected in the growth of capitalism. It is based on individuals, and collective individuals, which think strategically in terms of their own interest. In the words of anthropologist Louis Dumont, we moved from a situation of wholism, in which the empirical individuals saw themselves foremost as part of a whole, towards individualism as an ideology, positing atomistic individuals, in need of socialization. They transferred their powers to collective individuals, such as the king, the people, the nation, which could act in their name, and created a sacrificial unity through the institutions of modernity.
This articulation, based on a autonomous self in a society which he himself creates through the social contract, has been changing in postmodernity. The individual is now seen as always-already part of various social fields, as a singular composite being, no longer in need of socialization, but rather in need of individuation. Atomistic individualism is rejected.
Thus the balance is again moving towards the collective, but as we explained in section, the new forms of collective are not individualist in nature, meaning: they are not collective individuals, rather, the new collective expresses itself in the creation of the common. The collective is no longer the local 'wholistic' and 'oppressive' community, and it is no longer the contractually based society with its institutions, now also seen as oppressive. The new commons is not a unified and transcendent collective individual, but a collection of large number of singular projects, constituting a multitude.
This whole change in ontology and epistemology, in ways of feeling and being, in ways of knowing and apprehending the world, has of course been prefigured in the world of thought.
An important change has been the overthrow of the Cartesian subject-object split. No longer is the 'individual self' looking at the world as an object. Since postmodernity has established that the individual is composed and traversed by numerous social fields (of power, of the unconscious, class relations, gender, etc… , and since he/she has become aware of this, the subject is now seen (after his death as an 'essence' and a historical construct had been announced by Foucault), as a perpetual process of becoming (“subjectivation”). His knowing is now subjective-objective and truth-building has been transformed from objective and mono-perspectival to multiperspectival. This individual operates not in a dead space of objects, but in a network of flows. Space is dynamical, perpetually co-created by the actions of the individuals and in peer to peer processes, where the digital noosphere is an extraordinary medium for generating signals emanating from this dynamical space, the individuals in peer groups, which are thus not 'transcendent' collective individuals, are in a constant adaptive behavior. Thus peer to peer is global from the start, it is incorporated in its practice. It is an expression not of globalization, the worldwide system of domination, but of globality, the growing interconnected of human relationships.
Peer to peer is to be regarded as a new form of social exchange, creating its equivalent form of subjectivation, and itself reflecting the new forms of subjectivation. P2P, interpreted here as a positive and normative ethos that is implicit in the logic of its practice, though it rejects the ideology of individualism, does not in any way endanger the achievements of the modern individual, in terms of the desire and achievement of personal autonomy, authenticity, etc…. It is no transcendent power that demands sacrifice of self: in Negrian terms, it is fully immanent, participants are not given anything up, and unlike the contractual vision, which is fictitious in any case, the participation is entirely voluntary. Thus what it reflects is an expansion of ethics: the desire to create and share, to produce something useful. The individual who joins a P2P project, puts his being, unadulterated, in the service of the construction of a common resource. Implicit is not just a concern for the narrow group, not just intersubjective relations, but the whole social field surrounding it.
Imagine a successful meeting of minds: individual ideas are confronted, but also changed in the process, through the free association born of the encounter with other intelligences. Thus eventually a common idea emerges, that has integrated the differences, not subsumed them. The participants do not feel they have made concessions or compromises, but feel that the new common integration is based on their ideas. There has been no minority, which has succumbed to the majority. There has been no 'representation', or loss of difference. Such is the true process of peer to peer.
An important philosophical change has been the abandonment of the unifying universalism of the Enlightenment project. Universality was to be attained by striving to unity, by the transcendence of representation of political power. But this unity meant sacrifice of difference. Today, the new epistemological and ontological requirement that P2P reflects, is not abstract universalism, but the concrete universality of a commons which has not sacrificed difference. This is the truth that the new concept of multitude, developed by Toni Negri and inspired by Spinoza, expresses. P2P is not predicated on representation and unity, but of the full expression of difference.
6.1.B. Towards 'contributory' dialogues of civilizations and religions
One of the more global expressions of the peer to peer ethic, is the equipotency it creates between civilizations and religions. These have to be seen as unique responses, temporally and spatially defined, of specific sections of humanity, but directed towards similar challenges. Thus we arrive at the concept of 'contributory worldviews' or 'contributory theologies'. Humanity as a whole, or more precisely, its individual members, have now access to the whole of human civilization as a common resource. Individuals, now being considered 'composites' made up of various influences, belongings and identities, in constant becoming, are embarked in a meaning-making process that is coupled to an expansion of awareness to the well-being of the planet as a whole, and of its concrete community of inhabitants. In order to become more cosmopolitan they will encounter the various answers given by other civilizations, but since they cannot fully comprehend a totally different historical experience, this is mediated through dialogue. And thus a process of global dialogue is created, not a synthesis or world religion, but a mosaic of millions of personal integrations that grows out of multiple dialogues. Rather than the concept of multiculturalism, which implies fixed social and cultural identities, peer to peer suggests cultural and spiritual hybridity, and which no two members of a community have the same composite understanding and way of thinking.
One of the recent examples that came to my attention are the annual SEED conferences in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They bring together, native elders, quantum physicists, philosophers, and linguists, none of them assuming superiority over one another, but collectively 'building truth' through their encounter.
P2P dialogues are not reprensentative dialogues, in which the participants represent their various religions, rather, they are encounters of composite and hybrid experiences, in which each full expresses his different understanding, building a spiritual commons.
6.1.C. Participative Spirituality and the Critique of Spiritual Authoritarianism
Traditional mystical and religious paths are exclusionary, based on strong divisions between the in and the out group. Internally, they reflect the social values and organizational models of the civilizations in which they were born. Thus they are premodern in authoritarian manner, patriarchal, sexist, subsuming the individual to the whole. Or, in their latter manifestations they are run as corporations and bureaucracies, reflecting the early emergence of capitalism as in the case of Protestantism, and in the case of the new age, operating explicitly as a spiritual marketplace reflecting the capitalist monetary ethos. When traditional religions of the East move to the West, they bring with them their authoritarian and feudal formats and mentalities. Epistemologically, in their spiritual methodologies, they are authoritarian as well, far from an open process, traditional paths start from the idea that there is one world, one truth, one divine order, and that some privileged individuals, saints, bishops, sages, gurus, have been privileged to know this truth, and that this can be taught to followers. The seventies and eighties have been characterized by the emergence of new religions and cults with a particularly authoritarian character, and by the appearance of a number of fallen gurus, characterized by abuses in terms of finance, sexuality, and power. If one decides to follow an experiental path, it is always the case that the experience is only validated if it follows the pregiven doctrine of the group in question.
It is clear that such a situation, such a spiritual offering is antithetical to the P2P ethos. Thus, in the emergence of a new participatory spirituality, two moments can be recognized, a critical one, focused on the critique of spiritual authoritarianism, and with books like those of June Campbell, J. Kripal, the Trimondi's, the Kramer's, and many others who have been advocating reform within the Churches and spiritual movements, and the more constructive approaches which aim to construct a new approach to spiritual inquiry altogether, those that explicitly integrate P2P practices in their mode of spiritual inquiry. The two pioneering authors here are Jorge Ferrer -- in his book Revisioning Transpersonal Psychology: towards a participative spirituality. It is not only a strong critique of spiritual authoritarianism, which integrates the poststructuralist arguments about absolute knowledge, but also a first description of an alternative view. In it, a spiritual practice is advocated, which operates as an open process, in which spiritual knowledge is co-created, and thus cannot fully rely on old 'maps', which have to be considered as testimonies of earlier creations, not as absolute truth. Spirituality is defined as the present relation with the Cosmos (the concrete Totality), accessible to everyone here and now. Instead of the perennialist vision of many paths leading to the same truth, Ferrer advocates an 'ocean of emancipation' with the many moving shores representing the different and ever-evolving approaches to the spiritual. Ferrer also records new practices that reflect this, such as the ones pioneered by Romero in Spain: open processes of self and group discovery that are no longer even cognicentric, but instead fully integral approaches of the instinctual, emotional, mental and transmental domains. Even more practical in his approach is New Zealand-based John Heron, who expounds, in the book Sacred Science and others, the specific peer to peer practice that he has created, called Cooperative Inquiry. In such a process, individuals agree on a methodology of inquiry, then compare their experiences, adapting their inquiry to their findings, etc… thus creating a collective intelligence, which is totally open and periodically renewed, experimenting both with the 'transcendent' practices of eastern nondual religions (transmental 'witnessing') as well as with the immanent grounding methods of the nature religions, thus creating a innovative dipolar approach which does not reject any practice, but attempts to integrate them. Peer circles (check the concept in a web search engine) have sprung up worldwide. My friend Remi Sussan stresses that the chaos magick groups on the internet, explicitly see themselves as self-created religions adopting open peer-based processes.
6.1.D. Partnering with nature and the cosmos
Throughout this essay, I have defined P2P as communal shareholding based on participation in a common resource (with the twist that in P2P it is we ourselves who are building that resource, which did not previously exist), whereby other partners are considered as equipotent. We also mentioned the co-existence within P2P groups of both natural hierarchy, and egalitarian treatment.
There are very good reasons to believe that we can and should extend this ethos to non-human forces, be they natural or cosmic, and if you have this kind of faith or experience, with spiritual forces as well. Thus in a sense, spiritually, the P2P or 'participative ethos' harks back to premodern animistic attitudes, which can also be found in Chinese Taoism for example. Instead of considering nature in a Cartesian fashion as 'dead matter' or a collection of objects to be manipulated, we recognize that throughout nature there is a scale of consciousness or awareness, and that natural agents and collectives have their natural propensities, and that, giving up our need for domination in the same way that we are able to practice in P2P processes, we 'cooperate', as partners, with such propensities, acting as midwives rather than dominators. French sociologists like Michel Maffesioli and Philippe Zafirian have analyzed a change in our culture, particularly in the new generations of young people, which go precisely in that direction, and it is of course specifically reflected in sections of green movement. Again, this is not a regression to an utopian and lost past, but a re-enactment of a potential, but this time, with fully differentiated individuals.
There is a natural progression in scope, from P2P groups, to the global partnership-based dialogues between religions and civilizations, to the new partnership with natural and cosmic forces, that forms a continuum, and that is equally expressive of the deep changes in ontology and epistemology that P2P represents.
7. P2P and Social Change
7.1.A. Marginal trend or premise of new civilization?
I hope to have convinced the reader of this essay that Peer to Peer is a fundamental trend, a new and emergent form of social exchange, of the same form, an 'isomorphism', that is occurring throughout the human lifeworld, in all areas of social and cultural life, where it operates under a set of similar characteristics. In other words, it has coherence.
How important is it, and what are its political implications? Can it really be said, as I claim, that it is the premise of a new civilizational order? I want to bring out a few historical analogies to illustrate my point.
The first concerns the historical development of capitalism. At some point in the Middle Ages, starting in the 11th to 13th cy. period, cities start to appear again, and commerce takes up. A new class of people specialize in that commerce, and finding some aspects of medieval culture antithetic to their pursuits, start inventing new instruments to create trust across great distances: early forms of contracts, early banking systems etc.. In turn, these new forms of social exchange create new processes of subjectivation, which not only influence the people involved, but in fact the whole culture at large, eventually leading to massive cultural changes such as the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the great social revolutions (English, French, American, etc..). In this scenario, though the emergent bourgeois class was not directly political, what it did, i.e. its primary business of conducting commerce, inevitably created a political and civilisational chain reaction. This class also had a resource, capital (money), which was greatly needed by the other leading sectors of the population, especially the feudal class and the kings. Even today, for capital, politics is a secondary effect, their enormous power is an effect of what they do in the economic sphere: trading currency and shares, international capital flows, investments of multinational companies, the results of a myriad of small decisions by economic regularity bodies such as the IMF, etc..
Today, I would argue, we witness a similar phenomena. A new class of knowledge workers, in its broad sense already the majority of the working population in the West, and poised to be in the same situation elsewhere in a few decades, are creating new practices and tools that enable them to do what they need to do, i.e. knowledge exchange. As they create these new tools, bringing into being a new format of social exchange, they enable new types of subjectivation, which in turn not only changes themselves, but the world around them. When Marx wrote his Manifesto, there were only 100,000 industrial workers, yet he saw that this new social model was the essence of the new society being born. Similarly, even if today only a few million knowledge workers consciously practice P2P, one can see the birth of a new model of a much larger social consequence. This new model is inherently more productive in creating the new immaterial use value, just as the merchants and capitalists were more effective in the material economy. Thus, they have something of value, i.e. knowledge and innovation, which is needed by the whole society, as even agricultural and industrial production can no longer proceed without their intervention. As this feedback loop is reinforcing itself, the political consequences are equally secondary. By creating new social forms, they, we, are doing politics, in the sense of creating new realities. This does not mean that civil society alone can create a full civilisational change, as, inevitably, political conflicts and new lines of contention arise, that will draw in the adepts of the new modes of being into the political world. And the great issue will be the reform of the state and the global governance system. But they come prepared, with highly efficient modes of organization and knowledge building.
Another analogy I like is the one exposed by Negri in Empire, where he refers to the Christians. The Roman Empire, in a structural course of decline, could not be reformed, but at the same time, within it, the Christians were creating new forms of consciousness and organization, which, when the imperial structure collapsed, was ready to merge with the invading Barbarians and created the new European civilization of the Middle Ages. There are no Barbarians today, only other rising capitalist blocks such as the East Asian one, but they are in the process of creating the very same social configuration, which has created P2P in the West, though it will take a little more time.
Finally, let us put our findings in the context of some scientists.
First, Marcel Mauss, and his notion of 'total social fact'; second, to the notion of Cornelis Castoriadis, that societies are coherent wholes and systems, otherwise they would collapse, animated by a particular kind of 'social spirit' that is the result of our social imaginary. Democratic capitalism was prepared by such an imaginary, the result of the religious civil wars and the strong desire to go beyond the feudal adversarial model. But today, even as it is being globalized, its premises are dying at the same time they are being exacerbated. The emergence of P2P is therefore to be considered both as a total social fact, and as the birth of a new social imaginary. P2P is a revolt of the social imaginary about the total fictionalization of our society, about its near-total and growing determination by instrumental reason and efficiency thinking, that is now even infecting our social and personal lives. It is a vivid protest, a longing for a different life, not solely dictated by calculation and the overriding concern for profit and productivity. It is not just protest against the intolerable facets of postmodern life, but always already also a construction of alternatives. Not an utopia, but really existing social practice. And a practice founded on a still unconscious, but coherent set of principles, i.e. a new social imaginary. It is totally coherent, a total social fact.
Habermas has another important notion, which is the 'principle of organization' of society, and he distinguishes the primitive, traditional and liberal-capitalist principles of organization. He defines it as the innovations that become possible through 'new levels of societal learning'. Such a level determines the the learning mechanism on which the development of productive forces depend, the range of variation for the interpretative systems that secure identity, amongst others key factors. It would seem clear that P2P is precisely such a new learning mechanism, described in most detail in the book by Pekka Himanen, as well as in the new rules I have identified in this essay. Thus in Habermassian terms, we would have to conclude that P2P is a fourth principle of organization, emerging at this stage, but which could become dominant at a later stage.
We'll leave the latter open as a hypothesis, since history is an open process, and indeed different logics can co-exist. For example, in democratic capitalism, the two logics of democracy and capitalism are co-existing together, forming a coherent whole, even though its fabric is now in crisis.
So, when I talk, in a optimistic and visionary fashion, about the emergence of P2P and it being the premise of a coming fundamental civilisational change, I can of course also see the terrible trends that are affecting our world: fossil energy depletion, global warming, increased inequality inside and between countries, the tearing apart of the social fabric, the increased psychic insecurity affecting the whole world population, the imposition of a permanent war regime that is dismantling civil rights and re-introducing the systematic use of torture and lifelong imprisonment without trial in the heart of the West, the great extinction affecting biodiversity … All these things are happening, and disheartening, even though counter-trends from civil society are also sometimes hopeful. Certainly, it seems that the power structure of Empire, the new form of global sovereignty, is beyond reform, that it just routs around protest and democracy, making dissent marginal and inconsequential, even as 25 million people were protesting an illegimate war in one single day. Corporate media machines will devote days on end on the trial of a celebrity, but totally ignore massive literacy campaigns in Venezuela, and millions of people demonstrating will deserve just a few seconds of coverage. But historically, it is also when change 'inside' the system becomes impossible, that the greatest revolutions occur. The evening before the momentous events of May 68, the columnist Bernard Poirot-Delpech wrote in Le Monde: nothing ever changes, we are bored in this country …
7.1.B. P2P, Postmodernity, Cognitive Capitalism: within and beyond
Peer to peer has clearly a dual nature. On the one hand, as we showed, it is the very technological infrastructure of cognitive capitalism, the very organizational mode it needs to implement in its global teams. P2P exemplifies many of the flexible and fluid aspects characteristic of fluid modernity (or postmodernity): it disintegrates boundaries and binary oppositions, blurs the inside and the outside. Just as post- or late feudal society and its absolutist kings needed the bourgeoisie, late capitalist society cannot survive without knowledge workers and their P2P practices. At the same time, it cannot cope with it very well. The entertainment industry wishes to destroy P2P technology, corporations are in constant tension between the logic of self-unfolding peer groups and the profit-driven logic of the feudally-structured management-by-objectives system, and by the tension between the cooperative production of innovation and its private appropriation. The dot.com crisis of 2001 showed how difficult it is for the present system to convert the new use value into exchange value, and created an important rift between the affected knowledge workers and the financial capital, which had taken them on that ride. After the short-term flourishing of greed, they massively turned to the social sphere, where internet-based innovation not only continued, but it thrived even more, but now based on explicit P2P modes of cooperation.
Thus, while being part and parcel of the capitalist and postmodern logics, it also already points beyond it. From the point of view of capital, it annoys it, but it also needs it to thrive and survive itself. From the point of view of its practitioners, they like it above all else, they know it is more productive and creates more value, as well as meaning in their life and a dense interconnected social life, but at the same time, they have to make a living and feed their families. The not-for-profit nature of P2P is at the heart of its paradox.
This is the great difficulty, and is why its opponents will not fail to point out the so-called parasitical nature of P2P. P2P creates massive use-value, but no exchange value, and thus, it cannot fund itself. It exists on the basis of the vast material wealth created by the presently existing system. Peer to peer practitioners generally thrive in the interstices of the system: programmers in between jobs, workers in bureaucratic organizations with time on their hand; students and recipients of social aid; private sector professionals during paid for sabbaticals, academics who integrate it into their research projects, …
But P2P advocacy turns the tables around, it says: it is us knowledge workers who are creating the value in the monetary system; the present system privately appropriates the results of a vast cooperative network of value creation, as we argued in our section about the cooperative nature of cognitive capitalism. Most value is not created in the formal procedures of the enterprise, but despite it, because, despite impediments, we remain creative and cooperative against all odds. We come to the job, no longer as workers renting our bodies, but as total subjectivities, with all we have learned in our lives, through our myriad social interactions, and solve present problems through our personal social networks. It is not us living off on you, but you living off on us. We are the ones creating infinite use value, which you want to render scarce to transform it into tradable intellectual property, but you cannot do it without us. Even as we struggle to create a commons of information, in the meantime, while we lack the strength to totally transform the system, we will be strong enough to impose important transitory demands. Therefore, in your own interest, if you want innovation to continue, instead of ever larger number of us collapsing from stress-related diseases due to your short-sightedness, you have to give us time and money. You cannot just use the information commons as an externality, you have to pay for it. Establishing such a system, culminating in the instauration of a universal wage divorced from work, is in fact the very condition of your survival as an economic system, and at the same time, allows us to thrive as knowledge workers, by creating use value, meaning in our lives, time for learning and renewal, that we will bring back to your money-making enterprise.
This is the next great reform of the system, the wise course of action, awaiting its P2P “neo-Keynes”, a collective able to translate the needs of the cooperative ethos in a set of political and ethical measures. Paradoxically, it will strengthen cognitive capitalism, and strengthen cooperation, allowing the two logics to co-exist, in cooperation, and in relative independence from one another, installing a true competition in solving world problems.
The world system undoubtedly needs a number of important reforms. Amongst those I can think of is 1) the shift of the monopoly of violence from the nation-state, to an international cooperative body in charge of protecting human rights and avoid genocides and ethnic cleansings; it is no longer acceptable that any nation-state exerts illegitimate violence; 2) the setting up of regulatory bodies for the world economy, so that a through world society can emerge, in the sense of those proposed by George Soros, David Held and others; 3) changes in the nature of the system of capital in the sense described by Paul Hawken, David Korten, Hazel Henderson, i.e. a form of natural capitalism that can no longer appropriate the commons and externalize its environmental costs; 4) a new integral 'international account' systems no longer focused on the endless growth of material production, but on well-being indicators; 5) changes in the structures of corporations so that it no longer exclusively reflects the interests of the shareholders, but of all the stakeholders affected by its operations.
Of course, since a just said that Empire is beyond reform, the above scenario may seem farfetched. But historically, such a series of fundamental changes are only to be expected after major structural crises, and a reconfiguration of the balance of social power towards the multitudes so that the ruling oligarchy understands the inevitability of such reforms to save the system; they are probably still 20 to 50 years away.
Such a course of action may be disappointing to those desiring more radical change, a revolution, but it is inevitable that any system in crisis first tries to reform itself, it is only after its failure, that the need for more radical change is on the agenda, and we are not there yet.
7.1.C. Three scenarios of co-existence
In our earlier descriptive essay, we already described three possible scenarios concerning the entanglement of cognitive capitalism with P2P.
The first scenario is peaceful co-existence. There are a lot of historical precedents for that. In the Middle Ages and other agriculture-based systems, the system of authority ranking (feudalism), co-existed with the religious order, organized in a form of Communal Shareholding (the Church and the Sangha), which was the pillar of a redistributive gift economy. In South-East Asia, which accepts temporary spiritual engagement, people would move from one sector to the other. Similarly, we can envision a continuation of the present system, with knowledge workers making money in the private sector, but regularly escaping, as much as they possibly can, to participate in the edification of the Commons. This is of course the present scenario.
The second scenario is the dark one. Cognitive capitalism succeeds in partly incorporating, partly destroying the P2P ethos, and an era of information feudalism ensues, a netocratic oligarchy based on access to resources and networks, living on rent monopolies from intellectual property licenses, and dis-appropriating any form of property from the consuming classes (the consumtariat, as Alexander Bard has coined them). It will co-exist with a total control society based on biometric identification, and will use highly advanced cognitive manipulation. But this scenario is predicated on the social defeat of the knowledge workers, and we are not there yet.
The third scenario is, from the point of view of P2P advocates, the hopeful one. After a deep structural crisis, the universal wage is implemented, and the P2P sphere can operate with increasing autonomy, creating more and more use value, slowly creating a cohesive system within the system. At such moment, the new civilization is already born.
7.1.D. Possible political strategies
In the meantime, while the three scenarios are competing to come into being, what are we to do. “What is to be done?”
A first step is to become aware of the isomorphism, the commonality, of peer to peer processes in the various fields. That people devising and using P2P sharing programs, start realizing that they are somehow doing the same thing than the alterglobalisation movement, and that both are related to the production of Linux, and to participative epistemologies. Thus what we must do first is building bridges of cooperation and understanding across the social fields. Amazingly, it has already started, as the last Porto Alegre forum showed an extraordinary enthusiastic reaction to the Open Source event, something that would have been unimaginable even a few years ago. I hope that my own essay plays a role in augmenting that awareness. We should also start to realize our basic commonality with earlier forms of the cooperative ethos: the communal shareholding of the tribal peoples, the solidarity movements of the workers, the environmental and other protectors of our physical commons. Following the analysis of Mckenzie Wark we should say that both knowledge workers (the hacker class for MW), workers, and farmers as producing classes share a similar interest in achieving first, a fairer share of the distribution of the surplus (the reformist agenda), and second, achieving control of the means of production (the more radical agenda).
The second step is to furiously build the commons. When we develop Linux, it is there, cannot be destroyed, and by its very existence and use, builds another reality, based on another social logic, the P2P logic. Adopting a network sociality and building dense interconnections as we participate in knowledge creation and exchange is enormously politically significant. By feeding our immaterial and spiritual needs outside of the consumption system, we stop feeding the Beast. It hates opposition, but even more does it fear indifference, because it can feed on the energy of strife, but starts dying when it is shunted. To resist is in the first place to create. The world we want is the world we are creating through our cooperative P2P ethos, it is visible in what we do today, not an utopian creation for the future. Building the commons has a crucial ingredient: the building of a dense alternative media network, for permanent and collective self-education in human culture, away from the drivel of the corporate media, and for mobilization if need be. Thus, our offensive strategy is this: to build the commons, day after day, the creation of a society within society. Within Empire, the counter-Empire is being born. In this context, the emergence of the internet and the web, is a tremendous step forward. Unlike in earlier social formations, knowledge workers and others now have access to an important “vector of information”, to a means for creating, producing, and distributing immaterial products that was not available in earlier ages. Part of the struggle to build the information commons is the struggle for the control of the code (achieving protocollary power) and the creation of a 'friendly' legal framework, continuing the efforts pioneered by Richard Stallman and the General Public License and Lawrence Lessig's Copyleft.
The third step is our defensive strategy. When the commons is attacked, we defend ourselves and mobilize. We do not accept the intolerable. Above all what we need is a society that allows the building of the commons, and cannot accept one that would foreclose this development. Hence the importance of the intellectual property regime, which imperatively needs to be reformed to avoid a 'Enclosure of the Digital Commons”, and also, we have to develop an awareness of the intricacies of protocollary power. Since we have no idea about the time span needed for a fuller transition to a P2P civilization, what me must do in the meantime is to protect the seed, so that it can grow unimpeded, until such time as it is called for a greater role.
And finally, we have a few demands. A decent life for all, through the universal living wage. So that no one dies from hunger, poverty and exclusion from the world of culture. So than an increasing number of us can start working on the creation of real use value, instead of catering to the artificial desires concocted by the global advertising system.
We also demand the creation of peer to peer processes that we know can contribute to solving some of the crucial issues facing the world. This is why the demands of the alterglobalisation movement are sometimes considered vague. It is because, in this complex world, we know that we do not have all the answers. But we also know, that through a community of peers, through open processes, answers and solutions can emerge, in a way that they cannot if private interests and domination structures are not transcended. Thus we demand above all a reform of the global governance system, so that every human being voice can be heard. This is why we pay so much attention to the IMF, World Bank, UN, WTO, and other instruments of global domination. As they are organized today, they impede the finding of solutions. It is thus not just a matter of an alternative political program, but of alternative processes to arrive at the best solutions. I do not personally believe, that change can come
Peer to peer also demands self-transformation. As we said, P2P is predicated on abundance, on transcending the animal impulse based on win-lose games. But abundance is not just objective, i.e. also, and perhaps most importantly, subjective. This is why tribal economies considered themselves to live in abundance, and were egalitarian in nature, although we call them poor. This is why happiness researchers show that it is not poverty that makes us unhappy, but inequality. Thus, the P2P ethos demands a conversion, to a point of view, to a set of skills, which allow us to focus ourselves to fulfilling our immaterial and spiritual needs directly, and not through a perverted mechanism of consumption. As we focus on friendships, connections, love, knowledge exchange, the cooperative search for wisdom, the construction of common resources and use value, we direct our attention away from the artificial needs that are currently promoted, and this time we personally stop feeding the Beast.
8. The Integral Framework
8.1.A. Avoiding reductionisms in explaining P2P
We started by explaining how this current essay was prompted by a query by Russ Volckman, on how to square peer to peer theory in an integral framework. We are now already a lot further on that path.
In the above sense, we use integral in the very general sense of an approach that focuses on the whole rather than the parts, and on structural unity rather than on difference. This is the advantage of the system, this wholistic-structural perspective, and at the same time its weakness, since it is insufficiently analytical and tends to forget and gloss over difference. But it is, in our opinion, a valid approach within those parameters.
The combined use of the four quadrants also has important advantages in avoiding various kinds of reductionisms:
But the integral approach allows us to use these various partial perspectives and to use them as heuristic devices, so that we can obtain a fuller picture combining them.
My own hunch is that the manifestations of P2P are all expressions of deeper changes in epistemology and ontology, but these in turn need to be explained by complex changes across the quadrants, so it is a very complex matter.
8.1.B. P2P, Clare Graves, Beck and Wilber
An important insight from the psychological system of Clare Graves, which is at the basis of the Spiral Dynamics system, and sees evolution as a succession of cognitive value-constellations, is the difference between first and second tier thinking.
First tier constellations are not aware of the historical development of these value constellations, and tend to believe that their perspective is the only valid one, rejecting all previous formats. Hence modernity, 'the orange' value constellation in SD terms, radically rejects premodernity. Constructive postmodernity (which, in Robert Kegan's definition, contrasts with the earlier deconstructive phase), based on the yellow-turquoise modes of thinking as defined by SD (see figure below), does not reject earlier modes, and respects them and sees them as common resources for humanity, to be used as appropriate. The last first tier constellation, called Green in the SD system, though it is based on egalitarian modes and yearns for the common, rejects both the orange-modern and premodern modes. As SD describes it, there is a sacrificial tendency within Green, which means that the individual can be subsumed to the whole, as if often the case in activist circles, and it has a strong ideological nature as well (“we have the right perspective, you have not”).
The problem with P2P is that it does not fit 'neatly' in the SD categories. As an exercise, I have put an asterix on the characteristics that ring true to me, see the figure below. The people who design the programs, and the people using them, and the differences amongst the users, preclude easy identification. P2P is not a value constellation, but a form of social exchange, emerging in various different fields. The idealism that it generates could very well be of green origin. But the use of it on the internet seems mostly to be yellow, and it is indeed focused on efficiency, competency, etc.. not on any fuzzy consensus, described as green by Beck. Most of the items listed in yellow ring true for peer to peer.
In Turquoise we read the characteristic, 'blending together and harmonizing a strong collective of individuals'. There is little conscious effort in open source production, though it is implicit since it is based on the thousands of individuals who have to work together. On the other hand, in the peer circles I have described, and in the many dialogical tools being developed, it is explicitly focused on this.
So in my view, it is a mix, there is a kind of center of gravity, which draws together green/yellow/turquoise types, while making it uninteresting for orange 'capitalist' types, and difficult to adhere to for blue 'fundamentalist' types. But that does not preclude IBM from supporting Open Sources and fundamentalists from enthusiastically using blogs. Life is clearly more complex than any totalizing system's efforts to bring it into neat categories. And as John Heron, one of the pioneers of participative spirituality notes below, the problem might be with the nature of Spiral Dynamics theorizing itself, which is based on a individualist notion of spiritual development.
So in my opinion, though the above comparison may bring some additional insights, the difficulty in clearly identifying P2P in that scheme, is also a warning against any 'psychological reductionisms', as practiced in the SD system.
Ken Wilber's system is useful in the sense that the four quadrant system is a useful heuristic tool, and the combined use of perspectives allows us to avoid various forms of reductionism. But in its predictive nature, I find little that is of concrete use and I have found no references to P2P in his writings. Clearly the whole ethos of P2P is at odds with the totalizing nature of his interpretations, his closed system of predicting future social stages by reference to an imposed and closed structure of mystical development. His support for the most abusive manifestations of spiritual authoritarianism (first Da Free John and now Andrew Cohen), is completely at odds with the requirements of a participative spirituality. In his work, we generally find an emphasis on the individual seeker and his stage of awareness, and a important disregard for the communal aspects of spirituality. In fact, the pioneers of participative spirituality, have explicitly directed their writings against the Wilberian system, this is true for both John Heron and Jorge Ferrer.
Source: Spiral Dynamics: mastering values, leadership, and change. Don Edward Beck and Christopher C. Cowan. Blackwell, 1999
9. Launch of The Foundation for P2P Alternatives
We are now reaching the conclusion of our essay. If I have been successful the reader has a descriptive, explanatory, and historical view of its emergence and potential.
Of course my purpose is also political. I believe that a P2P-based civilization, or at least one that has much stronger elements of it compared with today, would be a better civilization, more apt to tackle the global challenges that we are facing. This is why I propose that this essay is not just part of a process of understanding, but that it can be a guide to an active participation in the transformation of our world, into something better, more participative, more free, more creative.
I therefore announce the creation of a Foundation for P2P Alternatives. It would be centered around the following conclusions, the support for which you can find in the essay:
The Foundation for P2P Alternatives would address the following issues:
If you are interested in this initiative, or better yet, want to support it, write the author of the essay at [email protected]