[iDC] Re:From Counter Culture to Cyber Culture

Michel Bauwens michelsub2004 at gmail.com
Sat May 12 00:26:37 EDT 2007


Wonderful synthetic post.

As you mention the concrete utopia strategy implicit in peer to peer theory,
I would like to share my reply to a recent question I got, on how this
approach is related to anarchism and Marxism:

Here it is:

Question: Do you believe that Peer-to-Peer in its political interpretation
share more views with traditional Anarchism than with Communism or
which both aspire a central authority?



Some general remark first. Egalitarian ideals are both perennial and
historically bound. The whole idea of treating every human being as a peer,
is obviously related to other historical attempts and formulations. But on
the other hand, peer to peer is also something new.

First of all, I consider both Marxism and anarchism, to be historical
expressions of the egalitarian ideal in the industrial era. Peer to peer is
one of the expressions of this ideal for the "cognitive era".

My own efforts to formulate a theory of social change attempted to start
from 'scratch' as it where. Of course, nobody starts really from scratch but
what I mean is that I wanted to start from observations of really happening
trends, and not from an ideal of how things should be. So it is not an
abstract utopia that aims to describe how things should be, with a design
for large scale social change, but rather a 'concrete utopia', that
describes initiatives in various domains of life, but aims to interconnect
them so that they can strengthen each other and learn from each other.

Marxism and anarchism were both forms of paradigmatic thinking, I consider
peer to peer theory to be an attempt at meta-paradigmatic thinking. This
means that you take ideas and practices wherever they come from, i.e. from
different competing paradigms, integrating them as you go along, without a
priori bias. In this way, peer to peer can find common ground between the
ideals of some on the freedom-loving left but also on the equality-loving
right. I have no a priori hostility to ideas coming from the liberal or
christian traditions or whatever.

Marxism and anarchism are also strongly adversarial. This partly stemmed
from the historical ascendency of capitalism, and their need to formulate an
alternative. But today, we know that capitalism, as a system of infinite
growth in a finite environment, are numbered. Many players in the system
know and realize this, and hence, we see attempts at change and new social
practices in every domain, both within and without the sytem, if there is
such a thing as the latter. Peer to peer theory simply notes that there are
transgressive, world-constructing and reformist/revolutionary new practices,
both adversarial and non-adversarial, and it is by itself pluralist. It
admits that nobody knows exactly how the world is going to change, but that
those that agree on the goal, can at least exchange experiences. More
importantly, peer to peer is not the 'solution' to anything, but rather, a
set of social processes that are better able to find such solutions in
different domains.

Most forms of Marxism and anarchism were strongly opposed to the market. We
now know that we can divorce the idea of the market from the practice of
capitalism, and that we can go for a steady state economy (we put back in
what we got out of the world system), and that a market for scarce physical
goods can co-exist with other modes of production, such as the peer to peer
production of immaterial goods and social innovation. Peer to peer is not so
much anti-capitalist (there is no need to beat a dead horse), but

Anarchism chooses to focus its hostility more on the state, and my own
conception of peer to peer shares no such a priori hostitlity to the state
form. It believes that both the market and the state can evolve through

Peer to peer certainly does not share though an exclusive orientation to the
state, and state solutions, as expressed by the mainstream socialist and
marxist traditions. But of course, starting from what exists right now, it
certainly prefers a state form which redistributes from the rich to the poor
(welfare statism), from a system which redistributes from the poor to the
rich (neoliberal statism). But it is more focused on using the state form to
enable and empower the direct social production of value, and to transform
the state by systematically introducing multi-stakeholdership of governance,
including all those impacted by decisions; and it sees many opportunities
for the co-creation of policy between civil society and the state form,
while also predicting that the state form will gradually loose its central
role, as more and more human communities choose direct peer governance.

I'm interested in the reformulation of traditions, both premodern and
modern, for their fit with the cognitive era; and as long as they aim to
reinforce the dignity of the human being, and the enabling of authentic peer
to peer dynamics, they can be embraced and extended in an integrative peer
to peer theory.

So to conclude: obviously peer to peer shares a number of ideals, such as
expressed by Murray Bookchin, but I hope the reader can also appreciate the
altogether different space peer to peer theory is coming from.

On 5/12/07, Trebor Scholz <trebor at thing.net> wrote:
> Bernie Roddy's defensive post lacks arguments but sure shows affect.
> While some people feel more morally entitled than others, Bernie,
> Michael and many of us on this list have something in common-- a strong
> desire for collective action. We can listen, work together, and learn
> from one another.
> Michel Bauwens "favors the tactic/strategy of 'concrete utopias', i.e.
> identifying which existing innovative social practices have a
> productive/ethical surplus, and supporting platforms where such
> initiatives can learn from each other." Fred Turner is curious about
> ways of connecting networks and brick and mortar institutions. Chantal
> Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau argue for temporary coalitions of people from
> different walks of life around a specific short-term goal such as
> founding a kindergarten. They come together, make it happen and
> disperse.
> As a pragmatic utopian I write about (and lead teams building) specific
> participatory technologies. Descriptions of contemporary technological
> phenomena, for me, need to lead to a critique of the social, cultural
> and political forces that push them into existence.
> In Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins describes himself as a critical
> utopian. "As a utopian, I want to identify possibilities within our
> culture that might lead toward a better, more just society. My
> experiences as a fan have changed how I think about media politics,
> helping me look for and promote unrealized potentials rather than reject
> out of hand anything that does not rise to my standards." (p247)
> Jenkins first lays out detailed case studies of fan communities of the
> TV series Survivor and American Idol, Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars, The
> Matrix Trilogy, and Harry Potter. He describes in detail how these fan
> communities formed, how they steered the content production of unfolding
> media narratives, and how they migrated across media, convergence
> culture. Convergence means that content flows across multiple media
> platforms, between old and new media.
> Consumers appearing as fan communities, Jenkins elaborates, have a
> bargaining power that they never had before and this collective action
> can force capitalists to change, he says. Instead of simply thinking of
> the vote of the pocketbook, he is interested in possibilities of
> collective intelligence and participatory culture. Collectively, fan
> communities can make demands to corporate media producers. They can show
> us new ways of thinking about citizenship and collaboration, Jenkins
> says.
> I agree that consumer collectives can be sites of empowerment. Their
> feedback and co-creations will indeed be listened to by corporate CEOs
> who try to improve their products and services in this new "economy of
> affect." This collective consumer action, however, has nothing (or very
> little) to do with civic participation.
> "Too many critical pessimists are still locked into the old politics of
> culture jamming. Resistance becomes an end in and of itself rather than
> a tool to ensure cultural diversity and corporate responsibility. The
> debate is getting framed as if the only true alternative were to opt out
> of media altogether and live in the woods, eating acorns and lizards and
> reading only books published on recycled paper by small alternative
> presses. But what would it mean to tap media power for our own purposes?
> Is ideological and aesthetic purity really more valuable than
> transforming our culture?"
> (p249)
> This speaks to the hybridity that I proposed earlier, a position that
> goes beyond imagined ideological purity and autonomy, and yes, ... faux
> radicality. Are there other, perhaps more truly transformative examples
> that tap power for our own purposes?
> Trebor Scholz
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The P2P Foundation researches, documents and promotes peer to peer

Wiki and Encyclopedia, at http://p2pfoundation.net; Blog, at
http://blog.p2pfoundation.net; Newsletter, at

Basic essay at http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=499; interview at
video interview, at

The work of the P2P Foundation is supported by
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