Guilding the Lilly

Guild coat of arms of a smith

Guild coat of arms of a smith

Executive Peer-to-Peer Summary:

This essay is partially in response to Whither government regulation in a highly complex age? which questions the ability of a hollowed-out, privatized government to effectively cope with the increasing complexity of social and environmental crises such as global warming. What follows assumes some prior familiarity with the basic ideas of p2p culture.

Guild coat of arms of a shoemaker

Guild coat of arms of a shoemaker

I agree that the failure of government regulation to curb the destructive activity of large corporations is only likely to worsen with the increasing privatization of government and the increasing complexity of global problems. So what can p2p culture do about this?

1. Establish powerful, confederated P2P Guilds and Leagues based on various global commons of knowledge and expertise so that mitigations, adaptations, and other interventions can be crowd-sourced by massively distributed, parallel, and open networks of peers.

2. Establish many strong, self-reliant economies at the local geopolitical (or Eco-political) level by forming partnerships between the P2P guilds and progressive local communities. These partnerships would maximize economies of scope via peer production and  would also be strongly confederated with their peers bio-regionally, nationally, and globally.

3. One more maneuver that may be necessary to assist this process I will dub “castling”, a term borrowed from the game of chess. What I mean by this is a shifting of local populations between adjacent local geopolitical jurisdictions (such as cities and counties in the US) so as to create political, social, and economic majorities of p2p culture in the targeted locations. Those locations that are simultaneously abandoned by p2p culture are essentially “sacrificed” to the corporate predators. (Half a loaf saved is better than none.)

Guild coat of arms of a fisherman

Guild coat of arms of a fisherman

The resulting strongly confederated p2p cultural strongholds might stand the best chance of competing with the large corporate entities, excluding them from the “castled” commons, and limiting the scope of their environmental destruction.

How P2P Culture Might Save the Day

1. P2P Guilds and Leagues

Various authors have suggested the concept of “phyles” or “tribes” for characterizing horizontal organizational structures in p2p culture. See for example the Las Indias cooperative movement. (

I am not opposed to these , and in the end it is important for peer groups to self-identify with the descriptions they

Guild coat of arms of a tanner

Guild coat of arms of a tanner

prefer; but I think I prefer the idea of confederated GUILDS and LEAGUES, and perhaps I can make an argument for these terms that will be persuasive to some.

A guild can function just as envisioned for a phyle (from Greek phulē — tribe, clan) but does not carry the same connotation as a tribe, clan, or phyle of having a primary basis in familial kinship, nor the historical reputation (in certain cases) of rebellion against central authority. The subtle but important difference is that a guild is all about practical know-how and about taking care of business– not about ideology or revolution (eh, at least on the surface…).

The Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild by Rembrandt, 1662.

Typically a guild (German: Gilde) is an association of craftsmen in a particular trade. In the most general sense a guild is simply an organization of persons (peers) with related interests, goals, etc., especially one formed for mutual aid or protection. Historically guilds were any of various medieval associations, as of merchants or artisans, organized to maintain standards and to protect the interests of their members.

The Guildhall, London (engraving, ca 1805)

“The earliest types of guild were formed as confraternities of workers. They were organized in a manner something between a trade union, a cartel, and a secret society. They often depended on grants of letters patent by a monarch or other authority to enforce the flow of trade to their self-employed members, and to retain ownership of tools and the supply of materials. A lasting legacy of traditional guilds are the guildhalls constructed and used as meeting places.

“An important result of the guild framework was the emergence of universities at Bologna, Paris, and Oxford around the year 1200; they originated as guilds of students as at

Guild coat of arms of a mason

Guild coat of arms of a mason

Bologna, or of masters as at Paris.” (Wikipedia)

One point on which I think guilds differ from Las Indias’ conception of phyles (“In Phyles, Community precedes Enterprise” -David Uguarte) is that for guilds, community and enterprise are two sides of one coin. I think this fits well with p2p culture while also being relatively non-confrontational with mainstream corporate/capitalist norms. The ability of guilds and leagues (such as the League of Women Voters) to present a relatively “normal” outward face, may have occasional tactical advantages.

According to Phil Jones,

“One issue people have with the traditional Guild is that Guilds are demarcated by profession. They aren’t a grouping that implies a multidisciplinary team. Guilds are great for teaching, accrediting and providing a retirement policy but aren’t self-sufficient or “closed” economic loops.”

Guilds, phyles, tribes, etc. . . .each has extensive variation and we can pick and choose features of one or all and remix to

Guild coat of arms of a taylor

Guild coat of arms of a taylor

suit our purposes.  However, I think that overall, p2p relations have more to do with behavior and knowledge than with kinship. Guilds in the form of trade unions and academic institutions also have a rich history of confederation across multiple disciplines and locations, making the guild, IMO, a more appropriate basic raw material to further hack, improvise, and remix.

Michel Bauwens notes that “for lasindias, guilds can be phyles and are in fact the historical example for it .. the Venetian and Florentine guild councils, who originally ruled the cities, had international structures to support themselves, with halfway houses etc … The Hanseatic League is an interesting example. It never did have a constitution or formal membership as far as I know. Cities, guilds and towns just identified with it and co-operated in respect of matters of common interest, like suppressing piracy.”

Another interesting example is the Iroquois League:

“The Iroquois League, historically the Iroquois Confederacy, is a group of Native Americans (in what is now the United States) and First Nations (in what is now Canada) that consists of six nations: the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, the Seneca and the Tuscarora. The Iroquois (also known as the Haudenosaunee or the “People of the Longhouse) have a representative government known as the Grand Council. The Grand Council is the oldest governmental institution still maintaining its original form in North America. The League has been functioning since prior to major European contact. Each tribe sends chiefs to act as representatives and make decisions for the whole nation.” (Wikipedia)

Guild coat of arms of a carpenter

Guild coat of arms of a carpenter

Anyway, I like many (if not all) of the characteristics of leagues and guilds, and I like the anachronistic romance of the words. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Justice League of America. . . these could become the League of Extraordinary Peers and the P2P Justice League. Steal This Film is a film series documenting the movement against intellectual property that was produced by The League of Noble Peers.

We could also have P2P Makers Guilds, P2P Designers Guilds, P2P Programmers Guilds, and P2P Privacy Guilds. Such guilds would not be organizational stovepipes. Peers could affirm their interests and expertise by membership in as many guilds as they may qualify for.

Interestingly, many players of computer and video games have become familiar with guilds and their popularity continues to increase. “In computer and video gaming, a … guild is an organized group of players that regularly play together in a particular (or various) multiplayer games. These games range from groups of a few friends to 1000-person organizations, with a broad range of structures, goals and members… Numerous [guilds] exist for nearly every online game available today” (Wikipedia) In some cases the guilds are internal to the game play and sometimes they are external. Some gaming guilds have their own web sites. I don’t know if these gaming guilders are learning good guilding habits or bad ones from the perspective of p2p culture. My distance from the gaming community has obscured this information from me.

In any case, such guilds and leagues as may be created in the service of p2p culture will be able to confederate in any number of flexible ways. So too can those peer groups who, despite my valiant efforts of persuasion, prefer to call themselves phyles, tribes, clans, pods, schools, gaggles, or ganfaloons

In many cases peers will be able to join multiple guilds, leagues, phyles, etc. as appropriate to their interests and skills. In p2p culture most such groups, despite their other characteristics, will tend to be the peers of each other and will tend to practice the same cooperative individualism or cooperative autonomy that pertains amongst individual people peers. This will make a flexible and resilient network of peers and peer groups spanning local, regional, national and global topologies.

Occupy Wall Street Guilds

Numerous guilds have worked with OWS, including

  • National Lawyers Guild
  • Progressive Librarians Guild
  • Writers Guilds
  • The newspaper guild
  • Citizens Media Guild

The OWS NY City General Assembly ( has the following guilds in its Arts and Culture Network:

  • Architecture and Urbanism
  • Dance
  • Filmmaking
  • Graphic Arts/Design
  • Multi-Disciplinary Arts
  • Music
  • Painting and Drawing
  • Performance & Theater
  • Photography/Video
  • Poetry
  • Puppetry
  • Screen Printing Guild
  • Sculpture
  • Short Stories
  • Videogame

OWS General Assemblies (GAs) in each city already have committees or working groups with common themes. OWS guilds could be formed to help connect working groups in cities across nations and the world into networks of common skills and bodies of knowledge, such as:

  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Software Engineering
  • Banking and Finance
  • Education
  • Construction
  • Food and Agriculture
  • Transportation

2. Partnerships between P2P groups and local, regional, national, and international geopolitical (evolving into Eco-political) and non-state sovereign entities.

P2P culture will help to establish many strong, self-reliant economies at the local geopolitical (or Eco-political) level by forming partnerships between the P2P guilds, leagues, etc. and progressive local communities. These partnerships will maximize economies of scope via open, peer processes such as peer production and crowd-sourcing.  These p2p/geopolitical or p2p/eco-political  partners would also become increasingly confederated with their counterparts bio-regionally, nationally, and globally.

There may be cases where such partnerships fuse into indivisible p2p entities and cases where they do not. Regardless of that, the objective is to weave the influence of p2p culture into the geopolitical fabric of the planet, concentrating first at the  the local level, at the most receptive local geopolitical “nodes,” and then spreading outwards. The levers which p2p culture will employ in this effort will be open knowledge, expertise, and methodology that will enhance the comparative advantages and capabilities of the geopolitical partners in contrast with those geopolitical entities which do not embrace the p2p partnership. In effect, p2p culture will come to the rescue of local entities that give us access. At the same time, we will redirect the public policies and practices of our geopolitical partners towards open and sustainable operations.

This follows the axiom that the only way to save ourselves is by saving others.

3. The “Castling” Maneuver

This is a shifting of local populations between adjacent geopolitical jurisdictions (such as cities and counties in the US) so as to create political, social, and economic majorities of p2p culture in the targeted locations. Those locations that are simultaneously abandoned by p2p culture are essentially “sacrificed” to the corporate predators. (Half a loaf saved is better than none.)

This kind of effort will involve brokering a lot of property on favorable terms for all involved. It will involve massive relocation of homes, small and medium businesses, farms, and  personal revenue streams. We will need the ability to concentrate the efforts of our global human and financial resources on as many concurrent locales as possible.

Our ability to accomplish such maneuvers will depend heavily on the quality of the organizations and networks we build and our technology toolkit. Our social networks, alternative financial systems, and complementary currencies will need to operate very well and very securely at scale. We will need the ability to perform large volumes of complex social organizing activity and complex economic activity in a highly secure and efficient manner.

As Elinor Ostrom wrote in Green from the Grassroots, the last post before her death on June 12:

“The goal now must be to build sustainability into the DNA of our globally interconnected society. Time is the natural resource in shortest supply…

We don’t have forever. Hopefully we have a decade or two. But we may not have even another decade to prevent unprecedented suffering and practically irreversible ecosystem collapse.

Poor Richard



Primer on the Collaborative Economy

A Lucid New Primer on the Collaborative Economy | David Bollier.

“For anyone scratching their head about how to understand the deeper social and economic dynamics of online networks, a terrific new report has been released by Michel Bauwens called Synthetic Overview of the Collaborative Economy.  Michel, who directs the Foundation for Peer to Peer Alternatives and works with me at the Commons Strategies Group, is a leading thinker and curator of developments in the emerging P2P economy. “

Read more…

The Post-Apocalypse Survival Machine

via The Post-Apocalypse Survival Machine Nerd Farm – Businessweek.

Marcin Jakubowski sits cross-legged on the dirt floor of a round hut in Missouri farm country, carefully making an open-faced mayo and cheddar sandwich. Inside the hut there’s a bed, a small desk, a few plastic containers (including one for food), and, occasionally, mice and snakes. It’s 104F out and only slightly cooler inside. There’s no fridge, so just how the mayonnaise hasn’t spoiled is something of a mystery. Jakubowski, who’s of average height and extremely fit, wears khakis and a long-sleeve oxford shirt. “What we are doing here is conducting a civilization reboot experiment,” he says. He carefully places cheddar shreds on top of the mayo, squirts the works with Sriracha hot sauce in a precise cross-hatch pattern, bites, chews. “It’s about sustainable living and having open access to critical information and tools.”

“Jakubowski’s hut anchors a 30-acre compound near Maysville, Mo., full of wooden shacks, yurts, work sheds, flapping laundry, clucking chickens, and a collection of black and strange-looking machinery. A dozen or so people in their twenties, none of whom appears to have bathed in a while, wander around or fiddle with the machines. Jakubowski has named the place Factor e Farm, though the goal isn’t just the cultivation of crops. Rather, it’s to create a completely self-sufficient community that produces not only its own food, but also energy, tools, and raw materials for making those tools. Jakubowski’s ultimate purpose is both to live off the grid and to teach others—whether out of choice or necessity—how to do so too.”

Read more…

Video: Open Source Ecology Italia

Video: Open Source Ecology Italia

Sermon on the Land

Animal husbandry, 2300 BC

Animal husbandry, 2300 BC (Photo credit: Marcel Douwe Dekker)

At the risk of being labeled a communitarian fundamentalist, and preaching at you, I think that our first duty both to ourselves and to this world is to participate in a localized, sustainable, self-reliant (within a global system of balanced, recursive self-reliance and interdependence), community of peers. Without a community that achieves a certain threshold of economic self-reliance, security, and basic independence for its members, either in urban or rural settings (but without being too large to be personally intimate and nurturing), one tends to become a victim, a serf, or even a slave, caught in a trap; and thereafter to sink deeper and deeper into tragic compromises of ones values and actions. This can happen even to talented high achievers. It has been called the rat race.

And without a certain degree of geographic localization of such communities, even if not technically required for solidarity, production, or economic self-reliance, “unoccupied” parts of the commons tend to get robbed. Even if resources are considered common property or non-property, belonging to all, good stewardship is seldom an absentee role.
English: Private Property.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Husbandry is also not the work of strangers. I have seen this in many situations over the years. And that’s why I agree with Aristotle that private property (conditionally, within reason) can promote virtue. But this only applies to property that is occupied or tended in a way appropriate to its type and in a way that is responsible to society and to future generations. Abuse, neglect, and absentee ownership are anathema.

I understand of course that many people don’t want to be tied to a particular place–people are increasingly mobile and globally oriented– and I think that’s fine as long as the rest of us are enough in number to keep the local places–all the city blocks, the paddocks, and the wide-open wild spaces– looked after, tended to, and deeply cared for.

Poor Richard
Packard plant

Packard plant by Ashley Dinges, on Flickr

Related articles


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

Related PRA 2.0 posts:


[Note: This is a back-of-the-envelope first draft of top-level hardware and software design specifications. What you are now reading is not the latest version.   If you are interested in the latest version or you want to participate in editing the spec go to  the PeerPoint Open Design Specification, a Google Doc that can be collaboratively annotated and edited.]

PeerPoint = Peer-to-Peer Everything

PeerPoint is an evolving crowdsourced design specification for a suite of integrated peer-to-peer applications to include (but not limited to) social networking, real-time project collaboration, content management, database management, voting, trust/reputation metrics, complementary currency, crowd funding, etc. This design specification overlaps with several existing p2p infrastructure and social networking projects but also goes substantially beyond anything now existing or in progress. At the same time, PeerPoint can fairly be called “vaporware” because it is a a preliminary design document for a product that is not yet in development.

The PeerPoint Design Specification is not meant to replace or supersede existing software and technology development efforts. It is intended to help coordinate the work of the floss / hacker /p2p community towards a future point of convergence and interoperability. It is essentially a statement of user requirements and guidance on preferred technical solution sets. It describes what the progressive user community needs from the technical community in order to prevail in the social, political, and economic struggles that lie ahead. It is intended to be a “Next Net P2P Master Plan” collectively designed by all the stakeholders in a free, democratic future for the internet and its users.

Members of p2p projects, interested programmers and designers, power users, activists, and others are invited to participate in the collaborative development of the open PeerPoint specs and to freely adopt or adapt any part of the specs they can use in their own work.

PeerPoint is a design to Occupy the Internet.

internet moses

PeerPoint is intended to be much more than a user-owned social networking platform to replace Facebook, Twitter, etc. It is imagined as a peer-to-peer (p2p) social  collaboration suite, developer’s tool kit, and security appliance in one cheap plug-n-play box.

The social tools provided by Facebook, Twitter, etc. have been fun and fairly useful, but if we think about how much serious collaborative work lies ahead of us over the next decade in order to shift an entire civilization onto a more principled, democratic, and sustainable footing, we are going to need better,  more collaborative, more functional digital work tools. Those tools need to belong to us and they need to meet the social and political needs of our time, not the needs of a few self-serving corporations or their shareholders.

With the PeerPoint approach, each user will retain ownership and custody of all the data and content they create. PeerPoints will communicate directly with each other over secure, anonymous internet connections. PeerPoint users may still connect to the internet via commercial internet service providers (ISPs), but those ISP’s will only act as blind, passive carriers of PeerPoint encrypted data.

The PeerPoint will be connected between the user’s pc, home network, or mobile device and the ISP connection. It will support phone lines, mobile devices, wifi, ethernet, etc. for maximum flexibility. It may be accessed by your remote mobile devices either over commercial cellular networks or p2p wireless mesh networks like those used by Occupy Wall Street.

The need:

Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. are proprietary, for-profit platforms that exploit users to create content and value. But they provide value as well, so a “Facebook killer” must provide greater user value (functionality, privacy, etc.) than Facebook. For numerous reasons the services provided by the commercial companies do not adequately meet the creative, social, political, and financial needs of the 99%. They are not up to the tasks that participatory democracy, non-violent social change, and sustainable economic systems will demand of our internet communications and our evolving cooperative methods of creating, working, organizing, negotiating, and decision-making together, in groups large and small, regardless of the geographical distances between us. This new kind of group interaction over distances is what allows self-selected individuals to coalesce into powerful workgroups, forums, and movements. It is also what will enable direct participation in the legislative process to function at a large scale for the first time in human history.

The corporate internet business model is based on surveillance of our online activity, our thought, and our expression. By data mining the vast amounts of our information in their custody, they identify our patterns of thought and behavior. They do this ostensibly to sell us stuff and to make money, and so far we have accepted this as the cost of our “free” use of corporatized internet services. But what other, less benign uses can this surveillance and data mining be put to?

I have been hoping for somebody like the Linux community to create an appliance-like p2p node that provides all the apps needed for secure (and when desired, anonymous) social networking, voting, trust/reputation metrics, database, content collaboration and management, workflow, complementary currency, crowd funding, etc.  I’m talking about something that comes complete, out of the box, with the apps pre-installed; that connects easily to your personal computer, home network, or mobile device.

For developers:

If a FreedomBox were used as a starting platform, the PeerPoint application package would be added on top of the FreedomBox security stack.

The PeerPoint apps don’t yet exist as an integrated package, or even as individual apps that are adequate to replace Facebook, Twitter, Google Docs, Google Search, Google Earth, YouTube, Kick-Starter, etc. etc. All this functionality is envisioned for the PeerPoint eventually.

In the beginning it will be necessary to have interfaces/connectors to various proprietary client-server applications like Google until they can be re-engineered in  open source p2p versions.

Initially the project would consist of a first tier of essential apps that must be tightly integrated in their interfaces/connectors, protocols, and data structures. After deploying the first tier, development would continue on a second-tier of applications. Second tier development efforts could be much more distributed and parallel since the final specs for all the basic interfaces, protocols and data structures of the first tier modules would be available to all interested developers.

The common requirements for each PeerPoint app are:

  • world class, best-of-breed
  • open source
  • p2p architecture
  • consistent, granular, user-customizable security management and identity protection
  • integrated with other apps in the suite via a common distributed database and/or “data bus” architecture.
  • consistent, user-customizable large, medium, and small-screen (mobile device) user interfaces
  • ability to interface with its corresponding major-market-share service (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • GPS enabled

First tier applications:

  1. distributed database
  2. social networking: list of distributed projects, Wikipedia: distributed social network apps
  3. trust/reputation metrics
  4. crowdsourcing: content collaboration & management  (wiki, Google Docs, or better)
  5. project management/workflow
  6. data visualization (data sets, projects, networks, etc.)
  7. user-customizable complementary currency and barter exchange (Community Forge or better)
  8. crowd funding (
  9. voting (LiquidFeedback or better)
  10. universal search across all PeerPoint data/content and world wide web content

Digital Commons

One contribution the PeerPoint can make to the digital commons and the ethics of sharing is to incorporate a computing resource sharing capability into its system design. Every personal computer, tablet, smart phone, etc. is idle or operating far below its capacity most of the time. Added up, this unused capacity is equivalent to many supercomputers sitting idle. Those idle virtual supercomputers could be used in the public interest if the personal computing devices connected to the internet were designed to share their idle capacity for public purposes. Users might also be given the option to designate various percentages of their idle capacity to different uses, causes, groups, etc.

Peer Publica

Once PeerPoint is up and running with the first tier applications we may be able to organize the 99% well enough to begin rapid development of the more complex second-tier applications and to start building or buying alternative network infrastructure.

Our new public internet won’t be owned by corporations or by the state. It will be owned by the people, an instrument of the people to invoke the people’s will and help bring both government and corporations under civic control.


“We are not progressing from a primitive era of centralized social media to an emerging era of decentralized social media, the reverse is happening…. Surveillance and control of users is not some sort of unintended consequence of social media platforms, it is the reason they exist….Free, open systems, that neither surveil, nor control, nor exclude, will not be funded, as they do not provide the mechanisms required to capture profit….we do not have the social will nor capacity to bring these platforms to the masses, and given the dominance of capital in our society, it’s not clear where such capacity will come from. …Eliminating privilege is a political struggle, not a technical one.” (emphasis added) Dmytri Kleiner

I agree.

The integral tools I describe in PeerPoint are tools (maybe I should even call them weapons) that we need now to conduct our political struggle, not afterwards. The community that brought us Linux and Open Office (the integrated suite of open source applications that replaces Microsoft Office), is capable of bringing us a PeerPoint or something equivalent if it understands the need. If anyone doubts this, look at Wikipedia’s List of Open Source Software.

Free/open software development is largely self-motivated and idiosyncratic, with many islands of genius and inspiration separated by vast seas of  minutia and trivia. But the bulk of the hacker and FOSS community does not yet appear to perceive its enlightened self-interest in our existential struggle for open society and government. Maybe they feel they can outwit Big Brother better on their own terms as individuals.

Perhaps we need to help them open their “Doors of Perception” wider, even if that takes a little mescaline.

At the very least we need to offer something like an X-Prize and we need to be ready and willing to fund and provision projects that fall within PeerPoint’s conceptual scope. That should begin right now with FreedomBox, the most likely base on which a PeerPoint might be constructed. So pony up, folks.

Like the old auctioneer says, “What’s it worth? You tell me.”

Poor Richard

“All right, now, folks–what’s it worth? Com’on–you tell me!”


PeerPoint Google Doc Ongoing updates to the PeerPoint specifications will be found at this shared document.

PeerPoint discussion topic at The Next Net Google Group

P2P Infrastructure  ( An extensive list of peer-to-peer networks, platforms, applications, etc.

The Curious Case of Internet Privacy (MIT Technology Review) By Cory Doctorow, June 6, 2012. Free services in exchange for personal information. That’s the “privacy bargain” we all strike on the Web. It could be the worst deal ever.

Creating Sustainable Societies: The Rebirth of Democracy and Local Economies by John Boik, Ph.D. John Boik outlines a “Framework of a Principled Society” ( This is exactly the kind of “use case” that would be well-served by the PeerPoint platform:

“A Principled Society is envisioned as a local entity, but its core elements would be designed to overcome several major weaknesses seen at the national level. In this way, Principled Societies would be extensible to wider implementation in the future. The proposed framework consists of three core elements:

1. A new type of local currency system, called a Token Exchange System. Tokens are an electronic form of currency that circulates within a Society, in conjunction with the dollar. They are used by businesses and individuals to purchase goods and services, as well as fund local development and community services.

2. A new type of socially responsible corporation, called a Principled Business. A Principled Business is a cross between a nonprofit and a for-profit corporation. Like a nonprofit, it fulfills a social mission. Like a for-profit, it is self-sustaining and does not rely on donations. Principled Businesses compete with one another for interest-free loans offered by a Society. They coexist alongside standard businesses.

3. A new type of governance system based on collaborative direct democracy, called a Collaborative Governance System. Members collaborate in the creative problem-solving process of developing new rules. In a Principled Society, members are the legislature. For efficiency, councils would execute day-to-day operations and make minor decisions. Major issues would be decided by the entire membership in a user-friendly, efficient, online process.

The Internet application that would act as the infrastructure for a Principled Society is both practical and technologically achievable. It could be developed as a no-frills initial version perhaps with three to ten years of effort, given adequate funding and community interest. Each year thereafter, further enhancements could follow. From the beginning, the effort will be organic, and hopefully involve many thousands as momentum grows. Each interested person can contribute in small or large ways to move the project forward.

Framing the Market

Market failure diagram showing deadweight loss

Market failure diagram showing deadweight loss (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m tired of  the market hype from the right and the left. The 1% relentlessly pushes a free market (invisible hand) mythology without defining what they mean by it, all the while lobying for regulations that favor their own interests. And the Left has begun pushing a post-market (new-age invisible hand) mythology. Each form of market/anti-market fundamentalism will fail for the same reason: denial and wishful thinking (two sides of the same coin).

Is the market guilty as charged, or has it been falsely framed by both sides?

MYTH: The Free market.

FACT: There is no such thing as a free lunch or a free market. Every market is manipulated by the strongest players. The private sector cheats, steals, lies, and bullies. The state regulates according to a mixed set of public and private interests. If those interests get out of balance, either the public or private sector (or both) will suffer.

“Markets are not provided by nature. They are constructed — by laws, rules, and institutions. All of these have moral bases of one sort or another. Hence, all markets are moral, according to someone’s sense of morality. The only question is, Whose morality? In contemporary America, it is conservative versus progressive morality that governs forms of economic policy. The systems of morality behind economic policies need to be discussed.”    AlterNet / By George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling

MYTH: The Invisible Hand.

FACT: There is no such thing. There are only real, material “hands” that we either cannot or will not look at.

MYTH: Government is the problem, not the solution.

FACT: The solution is maximizing utility through appropriate checks and balances. Government has a role in 1) providing regulatory counter-balance to private concentrations of power which amplify the cheating, stealing, lying, and bullying; and 2) socializing some of the costs of education, R&D, infrastructure, public safety, national defense, etc.

MYTH: Markets are the problem, not the solution.

FACT: Ecosystems behave like economies with markets. Natural markets tolerate large amounts of power asymmetry (aggression) and information asymmetry (deception). What is not found in a natural ecosystem is an externality. They do not exist there. Externality in human economics is an entirely abstract fiction. An externality is where someone gets something for nothing and gets away with it indefinitely. That doesn’t happen in an ecological economy. If it did, all life would probably be extinct.  Instead, nature is stubbornly resisting and postponing its extermination at our hands. It actually doesn’t happen in the real human economy, either. It only happens in human economics, which is riddled with a variety of naive or intentional accounting errors which are generally explained by economists as externalities or market failures. Naturally, externalities and other accounting errors inevitably produce market failures.

Post-market theology

I won’t dwell on the myths of “economics as if only the 1%  mattered,” because they are now fairly well understood by many. We have given the invisible hand a very long trial. It’s had some episodic success but it is now failing badly. But there is lately a “new age” invisible hand that some are appealing to as an alternative.

I recently published a piece with the alternate title of  “Escape from the Planet of the Economists.” In that piece I made a case for “economics as if people mattered” and “economics as if the biosphere mattered.” I drew from writers like E. F. Schumacher who argue that the human economy is part of the ecosystem, not vice versa. This is currently being called sustainable or ecological economics. I completely agree with the particular arguments of the particular authors I cited. But some economic pundits are embracing this general framework without adequate understanding of what the ecosystem is or how it works, and without adequate understanding of what markets are or how they work. They seem fairly sure that you can’t shoehorn nature into a marketplace, and fairly sure that that one idea explains everything.

The premise seems to be that since the market has not historically conserved and enhanced the biosphere, the biosphere must work on non-market principles. The problem is that the second conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow from the first. It is a non sequitur. First, the nebulous thing we often call “THE market” doesn’t exist. Instead, the economy is an aggregate of many markets. Because many (or nearly all) of these markets are distorted or flat-out broken, it appears that markets per se are unworkable. Its as if someone in the middle of a vast junkyard of broken cars concluded that all cars were inoperable. In fact, with the right knowledge and tools, many of those cars could be fixed. But my imaginary character doesn’t have that knowledge. He doesn’t have the right tools, either.

If the first error is a false analysis of the problem, a second error inevitably follows–a false solution. The reason all the old cars (and old markets) in the economic junkyard are broken is that they were not maintained in a responsible fashion because they were only on temporary lease to their operators. Lets say all those irresponsible operators were just following the example, and sometimes the advice, or direction, of their betters, the 1%.

And now this two-faced 1% is getting caught in the act of green-washing their activities. They are pulling the strings of their politician manikins, sending them to international summits on hunger or the environment or global warming, campaigning for austerity or resource management schemes full of tricks and loopholes big enough to drive a fleet of deep-water drilling platforms through.

Many conclude that these amoral capitalists have nothing to offer but more waste, fraud, exploitation and abuse. Which is pretty much the case. So its only natural for a movement to gravitate around respect for the 99% and for the environment, and then go looking for post-market methods for shaping society and finding harmony with nature. They turn to gift economies and sacred economics drawn from mankind’s romanticized past, or imagine societies that function on harmony and good will instead of greed and accounting. They may be inclined to imagine bountiful commons that manage themselves the way nature manages itself. I’m sympathetic to the sentiments and the philosophy, but that doesn’t satisfy me. I want the skills and the tools to get broken markets and broken ecosystems back on the road to thriving.


GB.MEX.10.0143 (Photo credit: balazsgardi)

Of course what goes by the name green often isn’t (including some versions of “green economics“), and the only solution for that  is eternal vigilance against green-washing. “Big Green” would be dumb not to appropriate certain language from Natural Capitalism, for example–its just so easy.

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men, they create for themselves, in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it, and a moral code that glorifies it.” – Political economist Frederic Bastiat, The Law [1850]

We are well-advised to be wary of giant green snakes and wolves in green clothing sneaking into the people’s garden; but not to be prejudiced against all applications of  market thinking in ecological economics. Is there any reason the 99% cannot “occupy” and democratize markets?

I can believe that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) projects are (or are not) clever tricks to disguise continued exploitation. Either way, the effort to scientifically quantify natural systems, as in  approaches to sustainable or Natural Capitalism, is not in itself a sinister scheme. It is required for good management of any system, whether fishery, forest or farm. No doubt the language of pending high-level agreements may be obfuscating some ulterior motives. I’m very skeptical of trading permission-to-pollute credits. But what is often proposed as the alternative is not exactly transparent, either.

Here is a fairly typical example from a writer who rejects Natural Capitalism and similar approaches because he fears a slippery slope to green-washing. He proposes an economic system based on:
  • peace, harmony and balance among all and with all things;
  • complementarity, solidarity, equality and social and environmental justice;
  • collective well-being and the satisfaction of the basic necessities of all;
  • recognition of human beings for what they are, not what they own;
  • elimination of all forms of colonialism, imperialism and interventionism
There are lots of ambiguities there. Such ambiguities can easily morph into obscurities and obfuscations which can provide cover for abuse and exploitation of people or natural capital or both. Not even the ban on colonialism and interventionism really holds up to analysis unless we go back to being hunter-gatherers and stop colonizing or intervening in nature. As one of my peers pointed out to me recently, appeals to optimality are really arguments that we’re living (or will be)  in the best of all possible worlds; or would be if only we’d regulate or deregulate or something.
Inquisition 2.0?

How will we draw the lines between good-faith green economics and green-washing? No simple answer, but that’s the kind of thing that empirical science, at its best, can be good at. The alternative to science may be a kind of post-market fundamentalism whose dogma demands belief in a new-age invisible hand. I am already seeing omens of an Inquisition 2.0 which will torture disciples of sustainable capitalism until they confess to sins of  green-washing and recant their faith in science.

An ecological moral philosophy is useful, but a new version of the invisible hand (even a spiritual one) is not. A real science of sustainable economics is needed regardless. Such a science won’t be achieved just by good will and wishful thinking. It will require deep observation, painstaking metrics, statistics, and very complex accounting.

Confusion of tongues

The original Green Revolution was guilty of so many sins it may have cast a permanent cloud over the word “green”. Modern corporate and political green-washing darkens that cloud even more.

The battle for the soul of the word green reminds me of the confusion of tongues (confusio linguarum), the fragmentation of human languages described in the Book of Genesis 11:1–9, as a result of the construction of the Tower of Babel.  And George Orwell charicatured the authoritarian appropriation of language with  Newspeak in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. In the novel, it refers to the deliberately impoverished language promoted by the state. (Wikipedia)

I’m not convinced that the left is not impoverishing the conversation on sustainability in another way with its glittering generalities about sacred economics and effortless abundance.

In a nutshell, without the rhetoric, the  moral or spiritual approach to economics boils down to:

  • reducing the scale and scope of markets
  • expanding the scale and scope of the commons
  • putting more emphasis on the public sphere

All that really means to me is there is no unitary, all-encompassing market and certain things aren’t on the auction block. Markets shall have circumscribed scope or boundaries, including appropriate regulation and no more archaic, grandfathered externalities. But the notion that everything should evolve from markets toward something else is pure speculation. Well-regulated, democratically-managed markets might be natural and desirable even within many local commons. An agricultural land trust might want a big, bustling produce market, and why not?

What we must add to the moral philosophy is an ability to mimic the balance between steady-state and development in living systems.

We need to start seeing markets, commons, and ecosystems alike as complex adaptive systems requiring appropriate (e.g. transparent, dynamic, and democratic) constraints and regulatory mechanisms both internal and external. We need to see them as layered, overlapping, recursive, and locally differentiated by environemntal niches.

These systems are almost unfathomably complex and I wager that all our current models and subjective interpretations barely begin to scratch the surface of the objective reality. Any notion that we can re-engineer the whole market ecosystem from the top down is the height of hubris. Instead it will take a great deal of inspired trial and error from the bottom up and from the inside out.

In our efforts to upgrade our economic consciousness, plenty of kumbaya will be essential, but it won’t be sufficient. Humanity cannot live on love and peanut butter alone.  I think many of the innovators  who will fertilize the science and technology of sustainable markets may come from the highly experimental (and less theoretical) hacker, re-mix, peer-to-peer (p2p), and open source cultures.

Ecological economics can also be thought of as integral economics, a framework that includes but transcends existing fundamentalist market frameworks, integrating local econo-diversity with global interdependence–i.e. reinventing economics for people and place.”

Neither markets nor economic anarchy seem to scale well by themselves. But I think they might scale indefinitely in balanced proportions.

Poor Richard

“They want us to believe the choice is the “free market” or government, when in fact it’s one system because government sets the rules of the market. And the real choice is between a system that works for the many or the few.

They want us to think people are paid what they’re “worth,” when in fact people are paid according to how the moneyed interests have organized the market — to their benefit and against most of the rest of us.

They don’t want us to see the upward pre-distributions hidden inside the market that give them a big chunk of our paychecks, as we pay more than we should for everything from drugs to Internet service to food.

They don’t want us to know how much their pollution is sickening us, their devastation of our lands is imperiling us, their sacking of our communities is ruining us, and their takeover of our democracy is robbing us of our capacity to set things right.” 

~Robert Reich


Robert Ryan is a Graduate Student Assistant at the University of Pittsburgh. Class of 2013 · PhD · Structures and Foundations · Business Environment, Ethics, and Public Policy · Strategic Management

This is my online interview with Robert Ryan on 5/22/2012:

Poor Richard: Robert, I’m curious what you think of my very unscholarly take on markets and green economics in “Framing the Market.”

Robert Ryan: The simplest way to summarize this problem is “optimization under constraint”. In the same way that engineers perform constrained optimization problems, it is generally assumed in markets that individuals do the same, each using the same rationale as an engineer of their own personal consumption functions. Markets (here we are referring to idealized, perfect ones) are non-coordinated mechanisms for spot transactions to optimize utility under budget constraint. What this generally means is that the only two important variables are individual level preferences and budgets. As you have mentioned, this doesn’t hold true if you have more important variables like information, time, transaction costs, bargaining power, etc. Simply put, there is no “environment” in traditional market models, period, which is what separates them from evolutionary ecosystems. Ecosystems aren’t just individuals. There are group level dynamics where individuals interact with “BOUNDARIES” of the system. For example, consider how tides in a sandbar ecosystem is a boundary condition for the survival of a population of sandbar-dwelling animals. The very existence of tides shapes behavior. The list of natural system boundaries for markets include, but are not limited to: Rationality (what Herbert Simon called bounded rationality)…environmental entropy and finality (in the sense that some resources tend to be not only scarce, but decaying and non-renewable, and that some resources have critical inflection points where they pass between sustainable in supply and not……power (which is delineated by human institutions, including knowledge, law, etc.)…technology (which is the level of possible combinations of resources to create final goods)….etc…..notice that all of these constraints can be put into the economic system, but economists struggle to do so because of the complexity problem causing indeterminacy (the mathematics of chaos takes over, essentially, when everything ids dependent on everything else recursively). The simplest way to escape the problem of chaos is to hold some things constant over time. So, this is what people do to solve problems- hold things constant that may or may not BE constant. Their biggest error in the modern age occurs when hey hold constant essential SUPPLY SIDE problems, such as pollution externalities being ignored. An externality as you defined it is not quite right. An externality really is when one individual’s action that maximizes THEIR preferences impacts the entire economy negatively. For example, if a polluter pollutes, everyone else picks up the tab. The simple way to deal with externalities is to regulate against them, but that requires common agreement among everyone in the regulation.

Poor Richard: Robert. I appreciate and agree. Could I add your remarks as a comment to my blog post? (I was being a little flip with my definition of externalities. Maybe I should tweak it.)

Robert Ryan: Many people don’t know that economists indeed do solve such problems. The most popular field of economics for dealing with this problem is the economics of contracts. A market is a special case of contracts where all tricky bits are held constant. However, contract economics is generally specified so that you can account for ANYTHING. But, the math is really tricky for even the simplest of contracts. Contract economics presumes a bunch of agents are trying to negotiate a solution to an economic problem, and at least one of them is a principal. This is basically the mathematical representation of social contract problems: “we all get together before birth, or before the veil of ignorance, and devise a social contract to solve problems” – is how my professor Lawrence Ales puts it. For example, there may be some golden ratio of consumption of farmland that if you pass beyond you begin destroying future farm output. In order to prevent this, the principal is granted the ability to distribute to farmland (forming your constraint) and then the agents can auction for their slice of production. In this fashion you cap the use of farmland. Easier said than done, because it is hard to know exactly how this problem works in the real world–the chaotic inter-dependencies of the precise use of farmland and the precise use of other kinds of resources (water, air, etc…what technical combinations are employed in production, etc. ) are hard to know, and the equations of their interdependency are recursive. Carbon caps are an attempt to do exactly this, and the logic for it comes from contract economics, not market economics. To summarize again, you can solve these problems one at a time by holding other problems constant, but you get the “law of unintended consequences” even in contract economics in a complex world. Solving one problem can often pass the problem into another domain. Solving carbon problems can, for example, pass the problem on to other kinds of supply issues, rent-seeking behavior, arbitrage, etc. However, we can still do some of this with economic engineering (combinations of market and contract rules) if we use a kind of Pareto efficiency rule– start with the biggest problems first and work backward– permit the little inefficiencies to exist and simply engineer human solutions to the tough problems. When the problems of the world are explained thusly, then it becomes obvious that ethical solutions to market economic problems are certainly obtainable, and only ignorance or immoral behavior can explain why we don’t engineer problems of public goods of such nature. This means our real problem is NOT economic but political/social. Ironically, everyone keeps blaming economists when the real blame lies in the power structures of political reality.

AS a general rule, one would say that markets should only be the appropriate mechanism where externalities and supply side inter-dependencies are trivial. When they are major problems, markets will inevitably destroy whatever environment you are dealing with. They eat themselves. They are cancerous. However, if you can contain and isolate markets from the ecosystem so that they are in “remission” essentially, then they are optimal. Ecosystems do suffer from cancerous market-like problems, too. The main reason why ecosystems tend to survive in the long run is that the entire system adapts to starve the cancer. Human markets aren’t designed to adapt to starve the cancer efficiently. They will in the long run, but in the long run we’re all dead. A troublesome species like humans can simply write themselves out of existence. Well, if that’s not an acceptable endgame solution, then we have to constrain our own cancers before we eat ourselves. This is why we need social contracts, and if we cannot make adequate ones, we need to break into subspecies (tribes, etc.) and exterminate the cancerous subspecies that are indigenous to the problem in order to save the species. That sounds awful, but true.

Poor Richard: I agree with you about the difficulty of the math. Fortunately massive data collection and pattern detection may soon give us a new way of doing science, and replace a lot of difficult mathematical modeling. I think we should take about 10% of all scientists and mathematicians and put them on that critical path.

Robert Ryan: We are reaching a state of the world that definitely calls for a technocracy in the similar sense that Plato wanted us to have philosopher kings. Truly the smart people of this world could be put to work solving our problems in a fashion far superior than is currently being done, and this is a big part of my political platform I advance. I call it the Pragmatist party (or New Bull Moose).

Poor Richard: I like the sound of the Pragmatist party. How would it handle the 1%?

Robert Ryan: By appealing to the top 20% instead. One of the big fallacies is that the 1% can out-bully the entire middle class. They can’t. No middle class and there is no economy, no military, no institutions to exploit. The middle class has not really shrunk. Its the lower middle, or working class, that has been getting worse off and shrinking as more people are falling to the lower class. The real middle class is really the professionals, intellectuals, entrepreneurs, petite bourgeoisie. There is no political party designed to appeal to them directly. In fact, both American parties preserve power by going around them completely. Most of the real middle class are independent and non-extremists. The pragmatist party basically says: enough is enough. These are the real job creators, the innovators, the creatives of society. Without them there would be no economic growth. So, let’s appeal to them pragmatically and say they can deflate the 1%, and in exchange for gaining more representation, they must take better care of the lower classes than the 1% has. Our target audience is thus the people who truly dominate campaign donations, charity donations, and our communities, but have been so fractionalized and “suburbanized” so as to think of themselves as independent instead of a class. If they were to think of themselves as a class again of sane people of balanced reasoning, then the middle class could save us.

Poor Richard: How can you appeal to such a class without insulting or alienating the rest of the 99%? And isn’t there a good reason that the middle class doesn’t make waves?

Robert Ryan: Yeah– I’ve had this discussion many times before. Well, we are reaching a point where, for the first time in American history, their prospects are not looking to get better, and they all mostly know that their nation is crumbling slowly, and that there is no good reason for this to happen. There are already plenty of instances of these people getting together to get the job done on a smaller scale. Typically you see this in university/business/local govt. cooperation. Various entities have gotten together to plan to save Detroit, for example. And they’re already on the right track. These sorts of cooperative efforts to socially contract new, smarter solutions do happen, and when they do, they tend to be more localized. This is part of the sensibility of the authors out there writing about the urgent need to revitalize our cities– cities are the places where, historically, the top 20% collaborate to make great places to live for everyone. The 1% typically help finance everything and provide resources flowing into these cities. But the very history of the city is the history of the yeoman specialists and master tradespeople getting together and making economies tick. The role of the larger federal system is to provide resources to these self-organizing activities on a more local level– such as infrastructure banking, research grants, development money, etc…but the activities have to be more local and less centrally planned. There seems to be an optimal scale efficiency of central planning, and it is when you have diverse interests willing to throw their hat into a common state interest– in the US, this has never been the federal level because of a lack of common identity. Regions and states are more apropos. Richard Florida is one man who understands this and would be an ideal candidate for such a party.

Richard Florida | Creative Class Group

How Detroit Is Rising

You’ve heard the story of the city’s downfall. This is the story of its comeback.

Multimedia showcase | Creative Class Group

mimicking the balance between steady-state and development in living systems

The 99% Solution

Sidney Paget: Sherlock Holmes

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Sign of the Four opens with an alarming scene:

“Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantel-piece and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case.   With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate needle, and rolled back his left shirt-cuff. For some little time his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and wrist all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture-marks.  Finally he thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny piston, and sank back into the velvet-lined arm-chair with a long sigh of satisfaction.”

A little later in the story Holmes states, 

“It is cocaine,” he said, “a seven-per-cent solution.  Would you care to try it?”

Limitation of classical social movements

Classical social movements have often been limited by tunnel vision, cooptationastroturfing, diversion, attrition, intimidation, repression, legal injunction, corruption, constraints of philanthropy, etc. Meanwhile, today, the 1% (the looter elite), are attacking the 99% on every side,  capturing every institution of society, and privatizing every resource on the planet.

“America is in financial ruin. Europe and Asia are on the brink of self-annihilation. Chaos reigns. But like I’ve always said, there is opportunity in chaos.” (Xander Drax, The Phantom)

What cultural transformation has lacked is an organic form, an embodiment tailored to chaos: a stigmergic swarm, or a slime-mold for example.

“When food is abundant a slime mold exists as a single-celled organism, but when food is in short supply, slime molds congregate and start moving as a single body.” (Wikipedia)

A Slime mold growing on a beer can

A Slime mold growing on a beer can (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 99% Solution

  • The 99% Solution is not a “mob”. It is a self-organizing organism, a “complex adaptive system“.
  • The 99% Solution is an emergent cultural slime mold that can engulf countless separate islands of class, political identity, and single-issue activism.
  • The 99% Solution has the potential to initiate and sustain a fundamental cultural phase transition.
  • The 99% Solution can assimilate (but does not require) leaders, agendas, advisers, critics, and philanthropists. It only requires active participants.

“You will be assimilated. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile.”

(Star Trek)

Poor Richard

  • The Co-Intelligence Institute works to further the understanding and development of co-intelligence. It focuses on catalyzing co-intelligence in the realms of politics, governance, economics and conscious evolution of ourselves and our social systems. We research, network, advocate, and help organize leading-edge experiments and conversations in order to weave what is possible into new, wiser forms of civilization.


Bilogical analogs in the workplace

Statue of Marx and Engels from the Szoborpark,...

Image via Wikipedia

Response to The swarm as a method of work organisation (P2P Foundation blog)

Excerpted from Bob Cannell:
“A 2006 European study found the primary cause of degeneration of worker coops was capture by experts who come to dominate and control information. Creating controllers is not safe in worker owned or cooperative business.”

This is an interesting observation and I think there may be an important issue to explore.

Humans share many genes with other social animals. One thing we can observe in many social species is the way that “status” genes can be turned on by social circumstances. In many species when an “alpha” individual is lost by the pack or herd, a formerly subordinate individual will fill that role. Not only does the behavior of such an individual change, but in many cases there are physiological and morphological changes that can accompany such status changes even in fully developed adult individuals. This may be mediated by epigenetic mechanisms.

It may be that humans (perhaps some more than others) are similar in that respect. Put some people into a group of cooperating peers where there is no alpha individual and this may actually trigger something in them to assume an alpha role.

In humans it is especially difficult to distinguish between psychological, genetic, and environmental triggers for behavior, and my point is not to make a case for genetic determinism. I am only suggesting that the variety of unconscious and involuntary forces that might affect human competitiveness and status-related behavior can run very, very deep.

If leaders, controllers, experts, etc. are dangerous for cooperative peer groups, it may take a lot more than peer pressure or ideology to suppress the tendency of humans to express such phenotypes.

It occurs to me that we might try to incorporate environmental stimuli in the workplace that would somehow inhibit any tendency for alpha traits to emerge and drive individuals to fill status roles that are vacant by intent–if there were some kind of artificial “decoy” alpha in the room, for example. Perhaps a magnificent animated statue of Marx that would occasionally…

Poor Richard

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