[iDC] Learning from 1967

Michel Bauwens michelsub2004 at gmail.com
Mon Jun 22 07:32:43 UTC 2009

Hi Trebor,

Thanks for that very interesting challenge.

I believe that in the end, it all comes down to a matter of balance, but
slightly tipped over to the side of 'empowering hope'.

I haven't read Fred's book, but heard many echoes,  and though I came just
after the boomers, I started the game of life in 1958, but I still lived
through most of the post-sixties period from a position of awareness.

The sixties were a mixed affair, yes the back to landers are one particular
example, but was it really a total failure? I don't think so.

I think at the root of it, it's a question of psychological make-up. Either
you are a gnostic, with a dualistic vision, and the kingdom of God is out
there, perfect but unattainable, and this world is beyond repair, the domain
of a false and ultimately evil God.

Or you see the universe as one, and your dreams and activism is part of it,
and you are constantly incarnated, repairing it and improving it.

So my view of the sixties is that is failed in some areas, not in others,
and many things we take for granted today, are rooted in the struggles and
creations of that generation. Was  the back to land movement not connected
to deep experiences of those that lived it, was it not connected to the
birth of environmentalism and of organic agricultural, both strong realities
today. The thing is, that struggle, that creation, that incarnation never
stops, as you improve some part, another part starts decaying. As you do
something good, some other force incorporates it; as you intent something
good, you actually obtain the opposite result.

The real question is: what happens if you don't do it? My answer is: it
would be immeasurably worse, as we can see whenever progressive social
forces are really defeated (think of Nazism).

So in the case of peer to peer, sharing and producing, it is simply
happening, under the mixed and hybrid conditions that we are discussing.

So the options are not rocket science: where we can we develop autonomy,
where we cannot we establish social contracts that are maximally to our
advantage. The role of critique is to show us where we have to be active,
but if it is merely to stand on the sidelines, to say how bad things are,
and that "there is no autonomy possible", or "that we shouldn't fight the
platform owners" (christian fuchs), then it is ultimately disempowering, and
worse than the disease itself.

The key I think, is to be integrative, because let's face it, we don't know
in advance whether and how things will work out and change.

This means sustaining and integrating all the different efforts that go in
right direction, to closely observes what seems to work in order to
potentially emulate it. Capitalism emerged out of feudalism because several
successful subpatterns, like the invention of double entry book-keeping, the
spiritual Lutheran reforms, the acceptance of interest by Calvin, etc...
etc...  started coalescing into a new way of being in the world, which at
the end of a long process, found the old organization of the world inimical
and therefore changed it. I suspect that the peer to peer transition will
function in much the same way. As we coalesce different successful patterns,
and we already know a lot about what works and not, (for example, I would
suggest that "we know that sharing communities are generally too weak to
produce their own infrastructures"), we become stronger and I would suggest,
at one point, perhaps strong enough to become the organizational framework
for a future political economy.

This is not 100% related to the debate, but here is a little analysis of the
new age movement. I choose it as a topic because I'm sure this community of
I suppose mostly staunch secularists would find it a rather distateful
movement. Well, I would argue that a lot of good came out of it, and I offer
it as a type of analysis that embraces positive developments, whereever they
occur, as long as they bring something useful on the table.

So to answer your question:

1) we won some of the things that we wanted, i.e. the ability to produce and
distribute our own content

2) but we did so in mostly hybrid realities, such as corporate platforms etc


3) while we celebrate our gains, we critically engage with platform owners,
and where we can, we build our own distributed infrastructures that work on
principles that are different from the present political economy, and are
the seed forms of what we want to establish as the core logic of society




P2P, spiritual narcissism, and post “new age”
Douglas Rushkoff wrote:

“What we think of as “spirituality” today is not at all a departure from the
narcissistic culture of consumption, but its truest expression. Consumer
materialism and spirituality coevolved as ongoing reactions against the
seemingly repressive institutions of both state and church.”

I’m a big fan of Douglas Rushkoff, author of the above quote, which comes
from a provocative article in the Reality
However, I believe the analysis in this article is too one sided a
condemnation of contemporary spiritual forms.

Just below, I’m republishing my own analysis, published here in March 2006,
which is a evaluation of the ‘new age’ movement from a peer to peer point of

*Michel Bauwens:*

*Despite the many misgivings about this broad phenomena that was once called
the “new age” movement, I think that overall it played a very necessary role
in the evolution of human culture of the late 20th century, as necessary as
the Romantic movement a century before.*

*Defining the new age is of course a very difficult thing, since to many
different people it means different things, it has been appropriated by all
kind of cults, and has of course become a permanent marketing concept in
bookshops, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world.*

*Essential to the new age is in my view that it was a corrective reaction
against an excessive rationalization and mechanization of western life, a
reaction on the dissociation between desire and reason that is at the basis
of Western civilization. As a reaction it was both necessary, and contained
many exaggerated features. I would define it first of all as a general kind
of sensibility that one can find in: alternative and complementary medicine,
ecological sensibility, an openness to non-traditional spiritual paths be it
Eastern or Western esoteric, alternative methods and lifestyles in the
fields of education, architecture, communal living; an attention to both
healing of the self and an attempt to re-enchant the world through
connections with both the natural world and the world of subtle-spiritual

*The flowering of the new age coincided with the political defeat of the
1968 movements, that resulted in a turning inward of many people who felt at
the same time obliged to adapt to a world in which they could not recognize
themselves, while attempting to nevertheless live their values, and change
their life concretely, on a smaller scale, as individuals, families, or
communities. The time in which it arose, the end of a long boom, coincided
with the continuation of the mechanization and commodification of life in a
global capitalist system, a loss of efficiency of the traditional social
technologies of control (the institutional framework of school, army,
prison, and the like), but especially in the traditional Western Christian
traditions which were becoming empty shelves.*

*One of the first tangible benefits of the new age was to reintroduce the
consciousness in the Western world, that spirituality was not a matter of
belief, but one of personal experience, that the various traditions
contained a vast array of psychotechnologies that could open up new vistas
of being and experiencing. It created a possibility for many people to
re-integrate this vast body of knowledge and experience, and in a way that
individuals could experiment and choose their own combination, rather than
following a conventional tradition.*

*It was also a vehicle to rediscover the dissociated aspects of Western man
prior to 1968: the integration of the body, the use of groups with
techniques to facilitate authentic communication without the social mask. It
was in many ways what Freud would term a “regression in service of the ego”,
a return to the repressed areas of the soma (bodily energies), the instinct,
emotions, mind and consciousness. Unfortunately, because it proceeded from a
total lack of experience, as well as had no grounding in tradition, it
frequently stayed in that regressive mode, as a reaction, it was too
anti-mind, and disdainful of the critical subjectivity that was one of the
hard won features of the western tradition. But to paraphrase Lenin, it
probably was a necessary infantile stage of development. In any case, for
many it offered many avenues of integrative work on their selves, a positive
orientation of self-work and change, in a otherwise dark period of negative
social change.*

*In other ways, it was an heir to Utopian Socialism, given the seeming
inability to change society as a whole, countless individuals starting
changing their life concretely: first of all by abandoning a blind trust in
the mechanistic approaches to the human body espoused by Western medicine;
through leaving aside the knowledge-stuffing rote learning in education in
view of regarding the child as a whole; and these kind of changes have made
the world unrecognizable from what it was 30 years ago. Whatever the
negative features of the neoliberal age, many institutions have become more
humane, more egalitarian, more respectful, more attuned to the whole person.
Individuals changed, institutions evolved, and many small scale communal
experiments, even if many failed, yielded valuable learning experiences. To
those who fear irrationality, I would answer that most of the people
involved were from the top layers in terms of intelligence and education. In
a time frame where the left disintegrated and many social acquisitions were
undone, the new age sensibility was a guarantee that millions of individuals
were continuing concrete efforts. In another important contribution, I see
the new age sensibility as also responsible for having forged a new kind of
human being that was more apt to survive in a knowledge-based network

*Of course, now that we have seen the glass half full, it is necessary to
attend the glass half empty. As we have said, the new age was reactionary in
its exaggerated rejection of cognicentrism, it went often too far in
rejecting the role of the mind and of critical intelligence. Instead of
integrative, it was often regressive, a “liberation from below”, where
selfish desire could reign unchecked.*

*It fell prey in many instances to cultism, mindless anti-modern reactions,
extreme radicalism in food and medical matters that could not recognize
anything positive in western science. Spiritually, it had often a rosy
outlook, that served as a compensation for living through a dreary reality
in which hyper-competition was in many ways degrading the quality of life.*

*Finally, being born itself in an age of hypercommerce, it didn’t take on
the feudal trappings of the earlier spiritual movements, but the trappings
of the market, and started functioning in many ways as a series of
capitalist enterprises, following a market and a marketing logic, and from
the point of view of the users, generating a consumerist attitude of pick
and choose. It stayed into an interiorist mode of changing individuals,
neglecting social change processes, and got recuperated by cognitive
capitalism. Many of these trappings, which sometimes verged on extreme
exploitation by scumbag gurus and cults, are now in my view incompatible
with a authentic spirituality, which now must be open-ended and
participative, and not based on a market model of for-paid experiences. In
addition, we must now both reject cognicentrism, but also the regressions of
the new age to pre-cognitive levels, and instead opt for an integrative
understanding and development of soma-instinct-body-mind-consciousness,
where each layer can develop transparently following its own logic, with
critical subjectivity intact, but also without any dictatorship of the mind
which supposes it already knows where we are heading in these processes of
individual, organizational, and societal change. Following Ferrer’s critique
in his book Revisioning Transpersonal Psychology, we must also reject
viewing the spiritual in terms of individual experience and rather see it as
a function of relationality*

*In conclusion, while we are now definitely beyond a positive role for the
new age, it has outlived its usefulness, and its many sub areas are now
integrated in the fabric of self, organization, and society, it was a
historically important neo-Romantic movement, which served to balance the
excessive rationalization and/or mechanization of society, and despite its
own excesses, it was a vehicle of change for individuals, communities, and
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