Peer to peer as the premise
of a new mode of civilization
Author: Michel Bauwens, [email protected]
The essay is an emanation of the Foundation for P2P Alternative, Draft 1.1, March 1, 2005; it was written after several months of collaboration with Remi Sussan.
An earlier draft version for the 'integral discourse community' is located at http://220.127.116.11/~wilber/bauwens2.html
The following essay describes the emergence, or expansion, of a specific type of relational dynamic, which I call peer to peer. It's a form of human network-based organisation which rests upon the free participation of equipotent partners, engaged in the production of common resources, without recourse to monetary compensation as key motivating factor, and not organized according to hierarchical methods of command and control. This format is emerging throughout the social field: as a format of technology (the point to point internet, filesharing, grid computing, the Writeable Web initiatives, blogs), as a third mode of production (neither centrally planned nor profit-driven), producing hardware, software and intellectual and cultural resources (wetware) that are of great value to humanity (Linux, Wikipedia), and as a general mode of knowledge exchange and collective learning which is massively practiced on the internet. It also emerges as new organizational formats in politics, spirituality; as a new 'culture of work'. This essay thus traces the expansion of this format, seen as a "isomorphism" (= having the same format), in as many fields as possible. But it does more than that: it tries to provide an explanatory framework of why it is emerging now, and how it fits in a wider evolutionary framework. Note that within the sections, the first subsection is descriptive, the second is explanatory, and the third is evolutionary. In the latter, I use the triune distinction premodernity/modernity/postmodernity, well aware that it is a simplification, and that it collapses many important distinctions, say between the tribal and the agrarian era. But as an orienting generalization that allows to contrast the changes occurring after the emergence of modernity, it remains useful. Thus, the concept of 'premodern', means the societies based on tradition, before the advent of industrial capitalism, with fixed social roles and a social organisation inspired by what it believes to be a divine order; modern means essentially the era of industrial capitalism; finally, the choice of the term postmodern does not denote any specific preference in the 'wars of interpretation' between concepts such as postmodernity, liquid modernity, reflexitive modernity, transmodernity etc.. It simple means the contermporary period, more or less starting after 1968, which is marked by the emergence of the informational mode of capitalism. I will use the term cognitive capitalism most frequently in my characterization of the current regime, as it corresponds to the interpretation, which is the most convincing in my view. The French magazine Multitude is my main source for such interpretations.
I will conclude my essay with the conclusion that P2P is nothing else than a premise of a new type of civilization that is not exclusively geared towards the profit motive. What I have to convince the user of is that 1) a particular type of human relational dynamic is growing very fast across the social fields, and that such combined occurrence is the result of a deep shift in ways of feeling and being. 2) That it has a coherent logic that cannot be fully contained within the present 'regime' of society. 3) As such, it is not an utopia, but, as 'an already existing social practice', the seed of a major transformation to come.
One word about my methodology. I use as heuristic device, and as such device only, the four quadrant system developed by Ken Wilber, so I want to state emphatically that I do not share the conclusions of his 'Theory of Everything', which I think is seriously flawed. But as a method for assembling, presenting and understanding my data, I find it to be extremely useful. The four quadrant system organizes reality in 'four aspects', which 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, i.e. the interobjective perspective of systems. The integral theory tradition tries to construct a narrative of the unfolding cosmic processes, in explanatory frameworks that 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.
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. In doing this it runs counter to the general tendency of modern objective science to focus on parts (to be analytical), of postmodernism to focus on difference, and hence to reject integrative narratives, and to systems theories and its follow-ups, which ignore subjectivity. It is this distinction from dominant epistemologies, which makes it particularly interesting to uncover new insights, missed by the other approaches. A key advantage of the integral framework is that it integrates both subjective and objective aspects of realities, refusing to reduce one to the other. In section 8, I briefly mention some of the reductionist traps of interpretation that can be avoided.
To conclude, generally speaking, an integral approach is one that:
- respects the relative autonomy of the different fields, and looks for field specific laws
- affirms that new levels of complexity causes the emergence of new properties and thus rejects reductionisms that try to explain the highly complex from the less complex
- always relates the objective and subjective aspects, refusing to see any one aspect as a mere epiphenomena of the other
- in general, attempts to correlate explanations emanating from the various fields, in order to arrive at an integrative understanding
My modified form of the four-quadrant system starts with the '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. In the fourth quadrant we will be discussing the interior-individual aspects, and we look at changes occurring within the sphere of the self. However, in practice, despite my stated intention, I have found it difficult to separate individual and collective aspects of subjectivity and they are provisionally treated in one section. That this is so is not surprising, since one of the aspects of peer to peer is it participative nature, which sees the individual always-already embedded in social processes.
Subjects and Objects
The subject / the self
Spirituality / Worldviews
Technological artifacts as extensions of the body
Natural Systems / Political, economic, organizational systems
The combined use of the four quadrants also has important advantages in avoiding various kinds of reductionisms:
1) the analytical-materialist reductionism (scientism), which attempts to totally explain the world of life and culture by the properties and processes of matter
2) the biological/Darwinistic reductionism, which attempts to totally explain the life of culture by the animalistic processes of survival of the fittest.
3) The reductionism of the system sciences, which deny the agency of the subject
4) The linguistic reductionism of extreme postmodernists, which tend to totally bypass materiality and reduce everything to language games
In conclusion: 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.
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 'digital' 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. We share an enthousiasm for understanding P2P, though we frequently differ in our interpretations. The current essay therefore reflects my own vision.
A first essay on P2P, essentially descriptive, but supported by many citations, is available on the internet on the Noosphere.cc site, and was written in 2003. In this current essay, which was written pretty much in a 'free flow of consciousness' mode, though I will mention quite a few names of social theorists, citations have been kept at a minimum, but I may add them in later version as footnotes.
Some acknowledgements about the sources used: 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. Particularly 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; 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.
What is peer to peer? Here's a first tentative definition: It is a specific form of relational dynamic, 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; it a specific form of network using distributive intelligence: intelligence is located at any center, but everywhere within 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. Though P2P is related to earlier social modes, those were most in evidence in the early tribal era, and it now emerges in an entirely new context, enabled by technologies which go beyond the barriers of time and space. After the dominance during the last several millennia, of centralized and hierarchical modes of social organisation, it is thus in many ways now a radically innovative emergence, and also reflects a very deep change in the epistemological and ontological paradigms that determine behaviour and worldviews.
But how does it apply to technology?
The Internet, as it was conceived by its founders, and evolved in its earliest format, 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’Ä¶ 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 key format of the technological infrastructure that supports 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.
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?
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, which allow for digital copying and distribution of any digital creation at marginal cost, 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. This makes them a lot less vulnerable than centralized systems to any kind of disruption, 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’Ä¶. 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 allow to an unprecendented degree.
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 (defined as the third phase of capitalism where immaterial processes are more important than the material production; where information 'as property' becomes the key asset), 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.
Starting our description with the emergence of P2P within the field of technology could be misconstrued as saying that P2P is a result of technology, in a 'technology-deterministic fashion'.
The precise role of technology in human evolution is subject to debate. A first group of positions sees technology as 'neutral'. Humans want more control over their environment, want to go beyond necessity,and in that quest, built better and better tools. But how we use these tools is up to us. Many inventors of technology and discoverers of scientific truths have argued this way, saying for example that atomic energy can be used for good (energy) or for bad (war), but that is entirely a political decision.
A different set of positions argues that on the contrary, technological development has a logic of its own, that as a system is goes beyond the intention of any participating individual, and in fact becomes their master. In such a reading, technological evolution is inevitable and has unforeseen consequences. In the pessimistic vision, it's in fact the ultimate form of alienation. This is so because technology is an expression of just a part of our humanity, instrumental reason, but when embedded in the technological systems and its machines, it then forces us to ressemble it, and we loose many parts of our full humanity. Think of the positions of Heidegger, Baudrillard, and Virilio as exemplars of such a type of analysis.
Technological determinism can also have a optimistic reading. In this view, for example represented by the progress ideology of the late 19th century, and currently by the technological transhumanists, such as Kurzweil, technology represents an increasing mastery and control over nature, a means of going beyond the limitations set to us by nature, and that is an entirely good thing.
The position I personally feel the closest to is the 'critical philosophy of technology' developed by Andrew Feenberg. In his analysis, technological artifacts are a social construction, reflecting the various social interests: those of capital, those of the engineering community conceiving it, but also, those of the critical voices within that community, and of the 'consumers' subverting the original aims of technology for entirely unforeseen usages. Feenberg comes very close to recognize the new form of power that we discuss in section four: i.e. the protocollary power which concerns the 'code'. The very form of the code, whether it is for the hardware or the software, reflects what usages can be made of technology.
It is in this sense that I see a first important relation between the emergence of P2P and its technological manifestations. The engineers who conceived the point to point internet already had a wholly new set of conceptions which they integrated in their design. It was in fact explicitely designed to enable peer-based scientific collaboration. Thus, the emergence of peer to peer as a phenomena spanning the whole social field is not 'caused' by technology; it is rather the opposite, the technology reflects a new way of being and feeling, which we will discuss in section 6A in particular.
But our argument is stronger than that. In a certain sense, peer to peer, understood as a form of participation in the commons, i.e. as communal shareholding, which we discuss in section 3.4.C, has 'always existed' as a particular relational dynamic. It was especially strong in the more egalitarian tribal era, with its very limited division of labor, before the advent of property and class division. But it was always limited to small bands. After the tribal era, as we enter the long era of class-based civilization, forms of communal shareholding and egalitarian participation have survived, but always subvervient, first to the authority structures of feudalism and similar 'land-based systems', then to the 'market pricing' system of capitalism. But the situation is now different, because the development of P2P technology is an extraordinary vector for its generalization as a social practice, beyond the limitations of time and space, i.e. geographically bounded small bands. What we now have for the first time is a densely interconnected network of affinity-based P2P networks. Thus, the technological format that is now becoming dominant, is an essential part of a new feedback loop, which strengthens the emergence of P2P to a degree not seen since the demise of tribal civilization. It is in this particular way that the current forms of P2P are a historical novelty, and not simply a repeat of the tolerated forms of egalitarian participation in essentially hierarchical and authoritarian social orders.
To repeat: it is not the technology that causes P2P. Rather, as technology, it is itself an expression of a deep shift in the epistemology and ontology occurring in our culture. But nevertheless, this technology, once created, becomes an extraordinary amplifier of the existing shift. It allows a originally minoritarian cultural shift to eventually affect larger and larger numbers of people. Finally, that shift in our culture, is itself a function of the emergence of a field of abundance, the informational field, which is itself strongly related to the technological base that has helped its creation.
In the economic sphere, P2P is emerging as nothing less than a 'third mode of production' (as first defined by Y. Benckler using the concept of 'Commons-based peer production). 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
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.
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 and argues that the key factor of the new era is 'information as property'. 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', the means of producing, storing 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.
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. In other words, the values and practices of the productive sphere, the sphere of the workweek including Friday, defined by efficiency, have taken over the private sphere, the sphere of the weekend, Sunday, which was supposed to be outside of that logic.
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.
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 number of people who identify with post-material values and who have moved up in the 'hierarchy of values' as defined by Abraham Maslow. For those people who feel relatively secure materially, and are not taken in by the infinite desires promoted by consumer society, it is inevitable that they will look to other means of fulfillment, in the area of creation, relationships, spirituality. The demand for free cooperation in a context of self-unfolding, is a corollary of this development.
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. In surveys of participants of FLOSS (=Free Libre Open Sources Software) projects, the most frequently cited motivation is 'learning'. 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.
Aaron Krowne, writing for Free Software magazine, has proposed a set of laws to explain the higher efficiency of CBPP (= Commons-based peer production) models:
(Law 1.) When positive contributions exceed negative contributions by a sufficient factor in a CBPP project, the project will be successful.
This means that for every contributor that can 'mess things up', there have to be at least 10 others who can correct these mistakes. But in most projects the ration is 1 to 100 or 1 to 1000, so that quality can be maintained and improved over time.
(Law 2.) Cohesion quality is the quality of the presentation of the concepts in a collaborative component (such as an encyclopedia entry). Assuming the success criterion of Law 1 is met, cohesion quality of a component will overall rise. However, it may temporarily decline. The declines are by small amounts and the rises are by large amounts.
Individual contributions which may be useful by themselves but diminish the overall balance of the project, will always be discovered, so that decline can only be temporary.
(Corollary.) Laws 1 and 2 explain why cohesion quality of the entire collection (or project) increases over time: the uncoordinated temporary declines in cohesion quality cancel out with small rises in other components, and the less frequent jumps in cohesion quality accumulate to nudge the bulk average upwards. This is without even taking into account coverage quality, which counts any conceptual addition as positive, regardless of the elegance of its integration.
Krowne has also done useful work to define the authority models at work in such projects. The models define access and the workflow, and whether there is any quality control. The free-form model, which Wikipedia employs, allows anyone to edit any entry at any time. But in the owner-centric model, entries can only be modified with the permission of a specific 'owner' who has to defend the integrity of his module.
He concludes that "These two models have different assumptions and effects. The free-form model connotes more of a sense that all users are on the "same level," and that expertise will be universally recognized and deferred to. As a result, the creator of an entry is spared the trouble of reviewing every change before it is integrated, as well as the need to perform the integration. By contrast, the owner-centric authority model assumes the owner is the de facto expert in the topic at hand, above all others, and all others must defer to them. Because of this arrangement, the owner must review all modification proposals, and take the time to integrate the good ones. However, no non-expert will ever be allowed to "damage" an entry, and therefore resorting to administrative powers is vanishingly rare." (x)
The owner-centric model is better for quality, but takes more time, while the free-form model increases scope of coverage and is very fast.
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.
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 internal armed 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.
Nature of cooperation
Nature of Game
Quality of Cooperation
Low, 1+1 < 2
Average, 1+1 = 2
High, 1=1 > 2
Observation of commons-based peer 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 constitutes 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 as an example, 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. If original copyright served to stimulate creation by balancing the rights of authors and the public, the recent strengthening of intellectual property rights can be more properly understood as an attempt at 'enclosure' of the information commons, 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 such mediating institutions. It is thoroughly de-institutionalized, which represents another major shift in our civilisational history.
A good example of P2P principles at work can be found in the complex of solutions instituted by the University of Openness. UO is a set of free-form 'universities', where anyone who wants to learn or to share his expertise can form teams with the explicit purpose of collective learning. There are no entry exams and no final exams. The constitution of teams is not determined by any prior disciplinary categorization. The library of UO is distributed, i.e. all participating individuals can contribute their own books to a collective distributed library. The categorization of the books is explicitely 'anti-systemic', i.e. any individual can build his own personal ontologies of information, and semantic web principles are set to work to uncover similarities between the various categorizations.
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 set of perspectives on things reflecting his own history and limitations. 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.
A third important aspect of P2P is the process of de-commodification. In traditional societes, commodification, and 'market pricing' was only a relative phenomenom. Economic exchange depended on a set of mutual obligations, and even were monetary equivalents were used, the price rarely reflected an open market. It is only with industrial capitalism that the core of the economic exchanges started to be determined by market pricing, and both products and labour became commodities. But still, there was a public culture and education system, and immaterial exchanges largely fell outside this system. With cognitive capitalism, the owners of information assets are no longer content to live any immaterial process outside the purview of commodification and market pricing, and there is a strong drive to 'privatize everything', education included, our love lives included Any immaterial process can be resold as commodities. Thus again, in the recent era the characteristics of capitalism are exacerbated, with P2P representing the counter-reaction. With 'commons-based peer production' or P2P-based knowledge exchange more generally, the production does not result in commodities sold to consumers, but in use value made for users. Because of the GPL license, no copyrighted monopoly can arise. GPL products can eventually be sold, but such sale is only a credible alternative (since it can always be downloaded for free), if it is associated with a service model. It is does in fact the services around it which are sold. Since the producers of commons-based products are rarely paid, their main motivation is not the exchange value for the eventually resulting commodity, but the increase in use value, their own learning and reputation. Motivation can be polyvalent, but will generally be anything but monetary.
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. In a gift economy if you give something, the receiving party has to return if not the gift, then something of at least comparable value. In a participative system such as communal shareholding, organized around a common resource, anyone can use or contribute according to his need and inclinations.
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. From the following description, one can deduce that P2P does not correspond to Equality Matching, which is the principle behind a gift economy, but to 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).
In Equality Matching relationships people keep track of the balance or difference among participants and know what would be required to restore balance. Common manifestations are turn-taking, one-person one-vote elections, equal share distributions, and vengeance based on an-eye-for-an-eye, a-tooth-for-a-tooth. Examples include sports and games (EM with respect to the rules, procedures, equipment and terrain), baby-sitting coops (EM with respect to the exchange of child care), and restitution in-kind (EM with respect to righting a wrong). Market Pricing relationships are oriented to socially meaningful ratios or rates such as prices, wages, interest, rents, tithes, or cost-benefit analyses. Money need not be the medium, and MP relationships need not be selfish, competitive, maximizing, or materialistic’Äîany of the four models may exhibit any of these features. MP relationships are not necessarily individualistic; a family may be the CS or AR unit running a business that operates in an MP mode with respect to other enterprises. Examples are property that can
be bought, sold, or treated as investment capital (land or objects as MP), marriages organized contractually or implicitly in terms of costs and benefits to the partners, prostitution (sex as MP), bureaucratic cost-effectiveness standards (resource allocation as MP), utilitarian judgments about the greatest good for the greatest number, or standards of equity in judging entitlements in proportion to contributions (two forms of morality as MP), considerations of "spending time" efficiently, and estimates of expected kill ratios (aggression as MP). " (source: Fiske website)
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. This is so because of the network effect, which makes resources more valuable the more they are used. Think about the example of the fax, which was relatively useless until a critical mass of users was reached.
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, which can be downloaded for free. 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' which compares different methodologies to produce software. Corporate software production methods are called 'the Cathedral', i.e. a big planned and bureaucratic project, while open source is coined a 'bazaar', a free process of cooperation involving many participants, but the concept also implies connotations with the free market idea. 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'.
Since the famous opinion storm generated by Bill Gates charge that copyright reformers were 'communists', it is important to stress specifically what we are talking about when we use the concept of communism as related to P2P. Let's therefore 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 for the control of scarce resources.
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.
The above argumentation that P2P is not a Equality Matching model, but Communal Shareholding, has an ideological subtext. The reason I am stressing this analysis is to counter neoliberal dogma that humans are only motivated by greed. Saying that P2P is a gift economy requires a strict accounting of the exchange. Or saying that such participation is motivated by the quest for reputation only, or that it is a game to obtain attention, correspond to this same ideology which cannot accept that humans also have a 'cooperative' nature, and that it can thrive in the right conditions.
The above does not mean that P2P is unrelated to the contemporary revival of gift economy applications. Local Exchange Trading Systems, which are springing up in many places, are forms of Equality Matching, and they may be preferable to Market Pricing mechanisms, since for them, any hour of labour has an equal value. Both P2P as 'Communal Shareholding', and contemporary expressions of the gift economy ethos, are part of the same 'spirit' of 'gifting'. Substantial numbers of participants to P2P projects freely give, as do participants in LETS systems and other schemes. The difference is in the expectation that they will receive something specific and of equal value in return.
I would feel it likely that in a future civilisational model, both models are complementary. P2P will function most easily where there is a sphere of abundance, while gift economy models may bean alternative model to manage scarcity.
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 <within> capitalism. CC theorists argue both against neoclassical economists, which fail to historize capitalism, and against postcapitalism information age interpretations, which declare capitalism dead. In fact, if anything, there is a move to a postmodern form of hypercapitalism, of which neoliberal ideology is a symptom.
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.
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 'manufacturing of consent' (as described by Noam Chomsky).
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.
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 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. The Hacker Manifesto is another important expression of this new ethos.
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’Ä¶).
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 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. As Mackenzie Wark eloquenty argues: the key to extracting a surplus is to convert information to a commodity. 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 given by 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).
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. The genius of the protocols devised in peer to peer initiatives, is that they avoid the creation of a collective individual with agency. Instead, 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 protocols of the blogosphere enable the economy of attention to operate, not through 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?
How do P2P processes integrate 'values' and 'social relation'-typologies such as equality, hierarchy, and freedom?
Cornelis Castoriadis gives an interpretation of Aristoteles on this issue: equality is actually present in all types of society, but it is always 'according to a criteria'. (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.
World-systems theorist Immanuel 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. Peer to peer partly reflects postmodernity, and partly transcends it.
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.
According to the French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault, 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'.
His contemporary Gilles 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.
Nature of Power
Control Society & Manufactured
Memetic Opinion Storms
Reputation-based De-monopolization vs. Attention Monopolies
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 in many situations participative distributed system functions more efficiently than command and control systems which create bottlenecks. In natural systems, true centralized and hierarchic command and control systems seem rather rare.
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.
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.
One of the key insights of psychologist Clare Graves' 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 the popularization of his research by the Spiral Dynamics systems, 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 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 been prefigured amongst social scientists and philosophers.
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’Ä¶ , 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’Ä¶. 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.
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.
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 who discuss 'participative spirituality' are Jorge Ferrer and John Hereon.
Ferrer's book , i.e. "Revisioning Transpersonal Psychology: towards a participative spirituality", not only is 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.
New Zealand-based John Heron expounds, in the book "Sacred Science", 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’Ä¶ 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.
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 extent 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.
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. Civilisational differences will not, in my opinion, preclude the development of cognitive capitalism and the emergence of P2P modes of social exchange.
Finally, let us put our findings in the context of some social 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 functionalization 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.
My interpretation of P2P is related to the interpretation of Stephan Merten and the Oekonux group in Germany, but whereas they see the principles behind Free Software as indicative as a new mode of social exchange, I have broadened their area of application. Free Software is, in my interpretation, one of the forms of the P2P form of social exchange. While Free Software appears important, especially when taken together with the more liberal Open Source format, it is still more marginal than P2P. When we look at the same phenomena through the P2P lens, the social changes appear much more profound, much more important, than Free Software taking alone. We are much further ahead of the curve if we follow the P2P interpretation.
Nevertheless, when I talk, in such an 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 ’Ä¶ 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 ’Ä¶
The question of timing is difficult to answer. Objectively, it could take centuries, if we take the historical examples of the transition from ancient slavery to feudalism, or from feudalism to capitalism. Similar to the current situation, both ancient slavery (in the form of the conatus system of production, which freed slaves but bound them to the land, as of the 2nd and 3rd century), and feudalism, had the germs of the new system already within them. However, the precipitation of climatic, economic, political crises affecting the current world system, as well as the general speeding up of cultural change processes, seem to point towards changes that could proceed on a much more faster scale. If I may allow myself a totally unscientific prediction, then I would say that a culmination of systemic crises, and the resulting reform of the global governance system, is about two to four decades away. But in another sense, such predictions are totally immaterial to the task at hand. We need P2P today, in order to make our lives more fulfilling, to realize our social imaginary in our own lifetime, and to develop the set of methodologies that will be needed, that are needed, to help solve the developing crisis. We do not have the luxury of waiting for a dawn to come. A good example of the maturity of the system for change is what happened in Argentina: when the economy totally collapsed, in a matter of months, the country's population had built a series of P2P-based barter and alternative money systems (the largest in the world to date), and the significant movement of the Piqueteros arose, which, demanded and got from the state a major concession: that state money for the unemployed would not go to individuals, but the movement as a whole to invest in cooperative projects. It all depends on the dialectic between the crises and what the system still can offer. But if the system fails to provide the hope and the realisation of a decent life, such an event precipitates the building of alternatives that have many of the aspects of P2P that we described.
Peer to peer has clearly a dual nature. As we have 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 knowledge workers living off on you, but you 'vectoralists' 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.
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. It has to be stressed that P2P is not the same as a totally collectivized system, and that it can co-exist with markets and aspects of capitalism. But it does not need the current monopolistic system, it can reduce 'market pricing mechanisms' to their rightful place, as part of the human exchange system.
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 <only> from the autonomous processes of civil society, and that attention to the state form is important. Thus politically, peer to peer advocates are interested in the transformation of the nation-state, to new forms open to the processes of globality, and participatory processes, such as the ones practiced with P2P formats.
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 and collectively stop feeding the Beast that we have ourselves created.
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:
- that technology reflects a change of consciousness towards participation, and in turn strengthens it
- that the networked format, expressed in the specific manner of peer to peer relations, is a new form of political organizing and subjectivity, and an alternative for the political/economic order, which though it does not offer solutions per se, points the way to a variety of dialogical and self-organizing formats to device different processes for arriving at such solutions; it ushers in a era of 'nonrepresentational democracy', where an increasing number of people are able to manage their social and productive life through the use of a variety of networks and peer circles
- that it creates a new public domain, an information commons, which should be protected and extended, especially in the domain of common knowledge creation; and that this domain, where the cost of reproducing knowledge is near zero, requires fundamental changes in the intellectual property regime, as reflected by new forms such as the free software movement
- that the principles developed by the free software movement, in particular the General Public License, provides for models that could be used in other areas of social and productive life
- that it reconnects with the older traditions and attempts for a more cooperative social order, but this time obviates the need for authoritarianism and centralization; it has the potential of showing that the new egalitarian digital culture, is connected to the older traditions of cooperation of the workers and peasants, and to the search for an engaged and meaningful life as expressed in one's work, which becomes an expression of individual and collective creativity, rather than as a salaried means of survival
- that it offers youth a vision of renewal and hope, to create a world that is more in tune with their values; that it creates a new language and discourse in tune with the new historical phase of 'cognitive capitalism'; P2P is a language which every 'digital youngster' can understand
- it combines subjectivity (new values), intersubjectivity (new relations), objectivity (an enabling technology) and interobjectivity (new forms of organization) that mutually strengthen each other in a positive feedback loop, and it is clearly on the offensive and growing, but lacking 'political self-consciousness'.
The Foundation for P2P Alternatives would address the following issues:
- P2P currently exists in discrete separate movements and projects but these different movements are often unaware of the common P2P ethos that binds them
- thus, there is a need for a common initiative, which 1) brings information together; 2) connects people and mutually informs them 3) strives for integrative insights coming from the many subfields; 4) can organize events for reflection and action; 5) can educate people about critical and creative tools for world-making
- the Foundation would be a matrix or womb which would inspire the creation and linking of other nodes active in the P2P field, organized around topics and common interests, locality, and any form of identity and organization which makes sense for the people involved
- the zero node website would have a website with directories, an electronic newsletter and blog, and a magazine.
This section is still a working draft. Very incomplete.
Aaron Krowne on CBPP 'authority models', in http://www.freesoftwaremagazine.com/free_issues/issue_02/fud_based_encyclopedia/
About the transition of one mode of production to another:
Venetian merchants, who had made their fortunes in the midst of feudalism by selling arms or luxury goods from Asia to European feudal seigniors, did not constitute the heart of social production. Even if they brought to the narrowness of feudal life - centered around the fief and its village church - an opening to world commerce (the courtesans of the European courts could wear robes made of Oriental products), the relations among the merchants and between them and the rest of the feudal world remained marginal, and would appear to be purely subsidiary. The production of essential, indispensable goods for the subsistence of men (agricultural goods and artisan ones, principally), was performed under feudal relations. This marginal, secondary aspect of capitalist relations in the midst of feudal society was so self-evident that even in the 18th century, the first bourgeois economists, the French Physiocrats, could, without laughing, pretend that merchants and manufacturers should not pay taxes because they do not create any true "net product": They do nothing but transport it or modify its form.
What do we want to deduce? That from their birth, in the midst of the old society, the superior relations of production, were not obligatorily born with a complete form, capable of managing the totality of social production, nor even its most vital part. The fact that, today, free software and, more generally, digitizable goods concern no more than a part, again, marginal, of social production and consumption, does not constitute any argument showing the impossibility that the economic relations that they induce will not one day become the dominant social relations.
That which has permitted capitalist relations to become dominant after centuries of existence is not only the ideological, military, and political victory of the bearers of the new capitalist values against the old feudal regime, even if they have played a determining role, but the material, concrete fact - which demonstrates daily and by methods more and more evident - that the new relations were the only ones that could permit the use of new productive forces engendered by the opening of commerce and the development of production techniques. "In the last instance," it is the economic imperative, the irreversible historical tendency to the development of labor productivity, that finishes by imposing its own law.
That which today permits one to envision the possibility that relations of production founded on the principles of free software (production with a view toward satisfying the needs of the community, sharing, cooperation, the elimination of market exchange) could become socially dominant is the fact that these relations are the most able to employ the new techniques of information and communication, and that the recourse to these techniques, their place in the social process of production, can only grow, ineluctably.
Source: Raoul Victor, Free Software and the Market Society, http://www.oekonux.org
"The meme business is, in its upper levels, a contemporary pseudo-structure, built on ancient, authoritarian, entirely individualistic notions of spiritual development. So the yellow and turquoise memes are filled with holistic ideological rhetoric devoid of any real psycho-socio-politico-economico-methodology, i.e. forms of practice. The rhetoric is presumably advice for the deliberations and policy-making of second-tier-savvy philosopher-sage-kings (e.g. Andrew Cohen!) guiding integral societies into being. By relegating relational practices to the green meme, falsely relating them to relativism, and by failing to grasp their potential for relational forms of spiritual practice which supersedes old individualistic forms, meme theory is headed into a sterile and autocratic and deeply incoherent transcendental cul-de-sac." ’Äì John Heron, personal communication, February 2005)