The essence of spirituality

The next buddha will be a collective

Michel Bauwens writes in The Next Buddha Will Be a Collective, “As society evolves towards distributed networks, with peer to peer based social relations, it will affect spiritual expression in fundamental ways.”

He concludes, “The outcome of that process will be a co-created reality that is unpredictable and will create new, as yet unpredictable spiritual formats. But one thing is sure: it will be an open, participatory, approach leading to a commons of spiritual knowledge, from which all humanity can draw.”

This reminded me of something:

“Men are free when they belong to a living, organic, believing community, active in fulfilling some unfulfilled, perhaps unrealized purpose.” ― D.H. Lawrence

Personally, I am increasingly persuaded that neuroscience and psychology promise progressively materialistic explanations of the vast majority of spiritual and mystical experiences. The sciences are teasing out a lot of what goes on in creative processes like music and art, and now for spiritual practices and experiences as well. But every individual instance of creative and spiritual experience recursively combines two things in a complex and unique, one-time-only mixture: 1) the influence of environment (especially cultural context and personal history), and 2) the original contribution (or value added) of the individual in the moment-by-moment process. This is both a social and a personal reality, swirling and intermixing as in fluid dynamics.

What spirituality means to me is something separate from either the creative process or what is usually considered the spiritual practice, process, or experience per se. In my view, the essence of spirituality consists in the affirmation of, openness to, and respect for the uniqueness of every subjective creative and spiritual experience, regardless of its probably deterministic and natural correlates or causes.

Causality (no matter how natural, material, and deterministic we may reasonably infer it to be) is also irreducibly complex and thus in some measure forever beyond the scope of complete human scrutiny and interpretation. In other words–ultimately mysterious. And thus, in effect, sacred.  The positive affirmation of that practical “cloud of unknowing” at both the personal and the social level is the essence of spirituality for me.

On the other hand, relatively few people (even among scientists and naturalists) will agree with me that the weight of evidence supports a default assumption that everything is material until proved otherwise.

For example, can we really explain love through its material correlates (hormones and stuff like that)?

In my opinion that’s the only credible explanation we have at this point. The rest is speculation. I encourage everyone to convert their speculations into hypotheses that can be tested, and to think about designing experiments for that purpose. The experimental paradigm can be used with any evidentiary regime we choose, including the subjective and anecdotal. But all the rest is simply creative fiction and armchair philosophy.

Ultimately, everyone will and should have their own private definitions of spirituality. One thing I hope that all personal definitions might agree on is that spirituality should not be a euphemism for magical thinking.

Poor Richard

Cloud of Unknowing, Copyright © Dan Hillier (


Photo copyright Ian McCalister

What is peer-to-peer (P2P)  culture?

P2P culture is a post-capitalist socioeconomic framework which includes but transcends capitalism. It encompasses many varieties of open and closed, public and private, for-profit and not-for-profit, hierarchical and egalitarian associations (and hybrids of these).

I call P2P a “post-capitalist framework” because many of us are quite happy to abandon capitalism’s euphemisms and reductio ad absurdum altogether. However, other 99%-ers still consider it a major factor in lifting millions from poverty. They would rather reform and adapt it to humanitarian and ecological ends than to abandon it for something novel. I think it is entirely possible to craft forms of capitalism which “do no harm”, and I think there is ample room in the p2p community for such “diversity of tactics.”

Early P2P theory drew from experience gained in creating distributed computer networks and distributed organizations that developed open source computer software. These distributed systems of computers and programmers emphasized the role of individual peers–network nodes or people of roughly similar capability–which coordinated or negotiated their activity among themselves with little or no central authority or control. From those information system origins the application of P2P principles expanded to include many other kinds of distributed teams, organizations and activities.

P2P principles emphasize cooperation, openness, fairness, transparency, information symmetry, sustainability, subsidiarity, accountability, quality, and innovation motivated by a variety of human needs and values negotiated among peers.

IMO P2P principles and relations can operate in almost any economic or political theater if two specific rules are respected. P2P Capitalism, P2P Marxism, P2P Anarchy, or P2P whatever, must make every effort to respect:

  1. the moral and legal equity of every peer
  2. the fully informed consent of every peer

The relative degree to which these fundamental principles are followed is the relative degree of P2P-correctness, regardless of any other characteristics of a P2P model.

However, the simplicity of these two rules is deceptive because they have many corollaries and implications. And they don’t solve the problem of competing or conflicting rights and interests among peers–we must still have some form of contract, due process, conflict resolution, etc. for that.

In an ideology-agnostic nutshell, you might say the P2P framework is about cooperative individualism (this is precisely how Michel Bauwens describes peerism in “The Political Economy of Peer Production“).

Along with Thomas Jefferson, “I have sworn … eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Peers are interdependent but retain a self-identity, dignity, and an intellectual and moral agency. Any system which diminishes that diminishes itself.

A P2P peer is a self-directed individual, voluntarily consenting to various cooperative social contracts or arrangements. Whether cooperation is one to one, one to many, many to one, or many to many, all cooperators are peers. If they are not peers, the enterprise probably should not be called cooperation. Instead it would be some variety of coercion, manipulation, or exploitation.

A person’s success at being a peer and engaging with others as peers may depend largely on how well they absorb the ideas of intersubjectivity and enlightened self-interest.

individual -v- group

individual -v- group (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

The mixture of individuality (selfishness) and sociality (cooperation) in each person reflects the multilevel interaction of individual and group selection in evolution. This often carries a level of social conflict and cognitive dissonance that each peer and peer group must grapple with.

Be sure to check out our Facebook P2P GroupMichel Bauwens’ Facebook page, and the Foundation for P2P Alternatives website for many more P2P related topics.

Poor Richard

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Old wine in new bottles: Analyzing mixed socio-economic systems

Michel Bauwens.

Michel Bauwens –Image via Wikipedia

This is a response to “Should we worry about capitalist commons?” by Michel Bauwens of the The Foundation for P2P Alternatives. What follows won’t make as much sense if you don’t read that article first.

Avoiding the language trap

As Michel Bauwens acknowledged in an article about theories of property rights subtitled “The Ubiquity of Mixed Systems”, when we try to superimpose political and economic theories, doctrines, and ideologies on actual human society we nearly always end up needing to think in terms of mixed or hybrid systems. As he importantly noted in that article, an “arrangement that works in practice can work in theory.” (Ostrom’s Law) It is vital that in developing new economic and social theory we work from actual examples, cases, and histories as Elinor Ostrom did, and as Michel did  in “Should we worry about capitalist commons? by basing his discussion on the case of the free software movement.

Michel’s post also takes important steps in describing the relation between the socio-economic status quo at any given time and emergent relations and phase transitions. Michel writes:

It is simply inconceivable that a slave-based empire could undergo a phase transition towards the feudal mode of production, without the existence of proto-feudal modalities within that system; it is equally inconceivable that the feudal mode of production could have a phase transition towards the capitalist mode of production, without proto-capitalist modalities existing within that feudal system. It is the ultimate strengthening and intermeshing of these proto-capitalist modalities, which creates the basis for a political and social revolution that ultimately guarantees the phase transition.

This reminds me of the “include and transcend” trope in the Integral Theory of Ken Wilber and the Spiral Dynamics theory of  psychology professor Clare W. Graves.

Relationships between a status quo and an emerging transition state are often reflected in their respective linguistic and rhetorical idioms. Terminology can include and transcend or it can be provocative and divisive. Often a particular terminology is chosen precisely to signify affinity with one group and/or distinction from another, as in the case of “capitalist” terminology and “anti-capitalist” terminology.

I have learned as a computer programmer that I can take a flow chart depicting the logical relations between a set of inputs, outputs, and algorithms and I can code that sucker in any one of a dozen computer “languages”. What’s more, in any one of those languages I may have alternative choices of data structures, methods, etc. for accomplishing the same ends. Likewise a crafter of detective stories can tell the same story in many different styles and structures. Then that book can be translated into any number of languages.

The underlying logic, values, relations, and specifications of the computer program or novel are in many ways more important or fundamental than the language in which they are embodied. The latter becomes important only in relation to the environment in which the program must run or the book must sell. The same is true when it comes to expressing socio-economic models and theories with language.

One of my personal rhetorical preferences is to use terminology that is familiar and comfortable to people in the center in mainstream culture, especially when I am discussing ideas that may be culturally unfamiliar or uncomfortable to many. By choosing “business” terminology that is native to the mainstream, and even native to my political opponents, I sometimes alienate my own friends on the left. But my intent is a kind of rhetorical “Jujutsu” (a Japanese martial art for defeating an armed and armored opponent in which one uses no weapon).

Wikipedia says: “‘Ju’ can be translated to mean gentle, supple, flexible, pliable, or yielding. “Jutsu” can be translated to mean “art” or “technique” and represents manipulating the opponent’s force against him rather than confronting it with one’s own force.”

Or maybe I just take a perverse pleasure in being provocative towards my own philosophical and political community. Or both.

Actually, there is a good reason for stepping on liberal corns and tipping our radical sacred cows. All too often we liberals (and especially we “mavericks”) have emotional attachments to our chosen doctrines and jargon that are not justified by actual technical utility.  If we are students of history we may have observed how often old intellectual “wine” is simply repackaged in new bottles. How often does the re-bottling really accomplish anything, and how often does it cause unintended consequences such as the wine getting spilt or going sour? Occasionally the new package actually does something new like dispense single servings while keeping the rest fresh. But often it turns out the new bottle does little or nothing more than the old one did. Its the old “distinction without a difference”. (Or is it the other way around?)

In stark contrast, to actually improve the wine itself might require a long, laborious apprenticeship under a master vintner to acquire a thorough and pragmatic knowledge of soils, vines, cultivation practices, harvesting, pressing, blending, fermenting, racking, bottling, and cellaring. Within and between each subsystem there are many elemental, functional, or essential values and relations. The bottle is vital, but it is perhaps the most uncomplicated piece in all of this (less problematic than even the lowly cork), and for a wide range of bottle designs one kind may do just as well as another.

Another analogy that bears on the subject of “sustainable terminology” is a recycling and re-purposing analogy. We can conserve intellectual capital and labor by recycling our “bottles” rather than tossing the old, used terminology in the linguistic landfill and manufacturing new ones from scratch. Perhaps only a small number of cracked or chipped bottles need to be discarded and replaced with new ones. Our new, improved intellectual wine might just as well be re-packaged in the same old bottles as the the old wine once they have been well cleaned and inspected.

I may have belabored these analogies a bit but I have demonstrated how ideas about one thing, such as terminology, can be repackaged in other terminology as foreign to that subject as  enology, or wine making. It is far less a stretch to repackage some new socio-economic understanding or sensibility in old soci-economic terminology with a minimal number of pragmatic tweaks and hacks.

One example I have recently seen is “copy-far-left”. I’m not sure if this term is technically a neologism, a portmanteau, or something else, so I’m just going to call it a “hack” of the familiar word “copyright” and the familiar expression “far-left” which signifies an ultra-liberal or radical political orientation. (The expression comes from the seating arrangements in the French National Assembly during the French Revolution. The most radical members were seated on the far left of the chamber.) But this expression and others such as copyleft, copywrong, and copy-just-right are somewhat subjective and come with various degrees of emotional, philosophical, political, and historical baggage.

I prefer instead the conventional term “conditional copyright” which signifies a copyright that is a bundle of individual and severable rights– any, all, or none of which may be explicitly retained or waived by an author. An author is anyone who has created a work or “added value” to an existing work. It can be argued that all works are derivatives of previous work but that does no harm to the notion of an author as someone who has added value either to a particular work or to the general body of  creative human expression. The latter generalization is perfectly consistent with a conventional conditional copyright, which can serve the same purposes as any of the other copy-whatever hacks. The conditional copyright is simply any copyright that has a specification which explicitly spells out the rights that are (or are not) either retained by the copyright holder or granted to others with or without other special conditions. This has always been the nature of the conventional copyright. The familiar specification “all rights reserved” is simply a special case of the conditional copyright where the entire bundle of rights is retained unconditionally by the specified copyright holder. This is by no means (and never has been) the only legal species of the conventional copyright.

A similar conditionality has long been established in the common law of real and personal property through the same bundle of rights metaphor.

I challenge any of my liberal or radical friends to define a form of property ownership, non-ownership, anti-ownership, enclosure, non-enclosure, or commons that I cannot model with a conditional property or copyright specification without the need for any new terminology whatsoever, proving that new terminology is unnecessary for a full and fair technical or legal discourse. If new terminology is still desired it should be admitted that it serves a poetic, rhetorical, emotional, or ideological need rather than a technical or analytical one.

(Disclaimer:  the only case to which I will not try to apply conditional copyright principles is the proposition that there is no value created or added; or that any value which may be added does not require any formal or legal means of protection because  some other, informal means is sufficient. Also, I’m not a copyright attorney–these conditional copyright principles may or may not be compatible with current national statutes and international agreements.)

“The map is not the territory” (Alfred Korzybski)

Regardless of what terminology we use to discuss socio-economic theories such as “commons-based peer-production” or “capitalist commons“, we should remember that “the word is not the thing” (Alfred Korzybski). We are discussing actual social and economic relations in vivo and in situ.

In our lives we have one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-one, and many-to many relations–relations between people and people, people and groups, people and objects, groups and objects, groups and the environment, etc. You can find many of the same, identical relations across many cultures, past and present, spoken of via many different metaphors and ritualized/institutionalized in many different ways.

Our choice of terminology and metaphor should be audience-appropriate, but analytically and technically we need to focus on functional relations, values and criteria. We can call something public, private, civic, social, or common. We can call something a group, a partnership, an association, a corporation, a collective, or a community. But people can differ wildly about what any of those terms mean. Any distinctions we attribute to those terms really arise from a more basic and fundamental class of issues: power, rank, consent, transparency, accountability, democracy, inclusion, opportunity, sustainability, reciprocity, symmetry, justice, fairness, dignity, & etc., etc., etc. Too often when we argue at the level of public vs private or common vs corporate we are arguing about the “bottles” and fail to ever connect with those underlying assumptions, values, and relations that really make the wine what it is.

At the academic level there are heroic efforts to put economics on an empirical, scientific footing. Those efforts are largely thwarted by the influence of money and power. But at the level of public discourse economics is almost entirely a vehicle for ideology (a disease of the mind).

Michel Bauwens is taking important strides towards an interdisciplinary, non-ideological, doctrine-neutral analysis of social, political, and economic relationships and I really dig it. That is the kind of framework  I want to build on. That is the kind of framework we can all build upon collectively and cooperatively no matter what our personal biases may be.

Poor Richard

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