[iDC] The Ethics of Participation

Michel Bauwens michelsub2004 at gmail.com
Thu Jan 4 20:01:00 EST 2007


I completely agree with this. In my own work, and following the relational
grammar of Alan Page Fiske, I distinguish between the reciprocity-based gift
economy (Equality Matching), the tributary economies based on hierarchy
(Authority Ranking), Market Pricing exchange, and finally, non-reciprocal
Communal Shareholding, of which contemporaty peer production is an

Viewing peer production as such is much more productive than what is in my
opinion the misguided equation of it with the gift economy. There is no
direct reciprocity in Linux or Wikipedia, only an indirect exchange of
different value streams (use value, expression, reputation, sharing
pleasure, etc...)

But that doesn't mean that it has to be monopolistic or totalitarian either,
rather, the 3 other modes will co-exist. However, it can be argued that
non-reciprocal sharing is in many senses ethically superior. Instead of tit
for tat neutral exchange of the market, and the obligation-creating gift,
both of which involve direct calculations of mutual benefit, there is the
natural tendency to share, and an open return on that sharing, where
calculation of direct benefit is secondary. Instead of the win-loose context
of tributary economies, or the win-win (theoretically neutral) context of
market exchange, you have a context, where the very act of giving/sharing,
implies already the return, where the needs of the individual and the
community are not seen as different or opposed, but as co-existing in the
same act.

The call for revenue-sharing, as mechanism for reciprocity, can therefore be
misguided. Better solution is to keep the non-reciprocal logicl of peer
production, and to reserve the revenue-sharing aspects for the derivate
scarce services, and to use part of that revenue, to create an ecology of
support for the non-reciprocal sharing, as is done by the free software


On 1/5/07, keith at thememorybank.co.uk <keith at thememorybank.co.uk> wrote:
> Trebor,
> I opened your message thinking that it would be about the ethics of
> participation on this list. After all it is not long since you sent one
> lamenting that conversation seemed to have died here. As it is, I am
> grateful for the numerous links, but your positive recommendations for an
> e of p could be summarized in a paragraph or less. I wonder how many
> readers would persevere long enough to discover your conclusion: we should
> keep lists like this one going rather than sell out to the forces of
> capital concentration.
> I can't help connect this contribution to the energetic thread on
> 'continuous partial attention' which I followed with great interest, not
> least as proof that conversation has not died on the list. Your
> introduction of the idea of ethics has nudged me into mentioning something
> that seemed relevant to that thread, but somewhat marginal. I have been
> considering for some time an essay with the title, 'The death of
> reciprocity'. In my time as moderator of a list, one of the most common
> complaints was from members who posted a comment and had no reply. They
> wondered if they had been cut off. I used to say, 'If you stood up in a
> bar and made an uninvited speech of that length, how many people do you
> think would still be listening by the time you reached the end?'
> Techniques of launching a conversation are quite subtle, in this medium or
> any other.
> Levi-Strauss said that reciprocity is a human universal. But my bet is
> that it was invented by agricultural societies and lasted only into the
> first stage of industrialization. The age of the internet has more in
> common with foraging societies for whom sharing is an active principle,
> but reciprocity generally is not. So one question might be, Is an ethics
> possible without reciprocity? For surely granting ones attention is not
> usually an ethical matter.
> Returning to ethics of lists like this one, my experience as an organizer
> of networks is that people will participate as long as the network gives
> them a chance to do something they can' t do anywhere else. When it fails
> to do so, they leave or just become passive. I gave up berating lapsed
> members with their unethical behaviour in failing to reciprocate the
> opportunity I had given them and learned to live with their temporary
> loyalty.
> Fortunately for the list, a number of people have come out of the woodwork
> since New Year to say it does something for them. I guess I must be one of
> them or I wouldn't be here.
> Keith
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