“Today we see networks everywhere we look- military organizations, social movements, business formations, migration patterns, communication systems, physiological structures, linguistic relations, neural transmitters, and even personal relationships". - Hardt and Negri, Multitdue- War and Democracy in the Age of Empire
January 13, 2013
For several weeks there was a rich discussion happening on the comment thread of the article Eight Perspectives On Integral Trans-Partisan Politics. In that mix Jeremy Johnson and I were voicing support for a decentralized, locally oriented way of life as an important way forward politically, economically and culturally. In his entry for the original article Jeremy writes:
It [integral trans-politics] argues for a political philosophy where the elite of society rule from the top-down. But everything that is going on today – with networks of social communication, experimental peer-to-peer economic systems, and decentralization of social power – suggests that human culture is undergoing revolutionary changes.
Later in a comment he added, "I think in the young generations of today, they will be developing wholly new economic and sociological structures. And I think these will be decentralized, rhizomatic, and built upon new ways of thinking and organizing society". Later on in a comment of my own I wrote, "I agree with Jeremy that a more localized decentralized form is what is generally emerging". In response to this Kaine DeBoer, also author of 1/8 of the perspectives in the original post, responded:
Trevor & Jeremy re: decentralization & localization -- I have heard these sentiments echoed elsewhere. But what evidence is there that there's a larger shift towards localization? Especially here in the United States, are we even capable of it at this point? Population density when combined with available, fertile land. Manufacturing infrastructure is either in decay or is simply non-existent...
This is a fair question, and in this post I want to offer a round-up of resources that I think show that these shifts are here and happening, and also why they might be important. What follows are a potpourri of lines of flight, a mashup sketch of what I see as the shapes of a future rapidly emerging.
Update- February 11, 2013
Since I started working on this piece a few weeks ago, a steady stream of new articles have come out on this topic, and there's also been a big public debate about the importance or non-importance of decentralization and peer networks between Stephen Johnson and Evgeny Morozov. I had already used Johnson's work in a section below, and I've been trying to keep track of all the new developments while writing this piece. I've come to realized that this article is only ever going to be a slice in time look at a dynamically unfolding topic, and moreover that I'm only going to be able to get to the networks and decentralization component. The first seven sections below were written in January. The final two I've just begun working on now, and I better click publish soon before something else happens! As I said in the article announcing the closing of Beams, a rhizome is always a middle, and it's high time I absorb this wisdom in this case, as I'll never be able to contain or capture the whole of this topic. So onwards into the essay. I'll speak to the debate between Johnson and Morozov in the concluding section.
Centralization and Modernity- Context
Before moving to a series of resources regarding a shift to decentralization and networks, I think it's important to first note that centralization was a key feature of the modern mind and of the organization of modern society.
First off, to begin with the modern mind. According to the historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin, one of the central doctrines of the Enlightenment (fountainhead for the modern world) was "that human nature was fundamentally the same in all times and places; that local and historical variations were unimportant…That there were universal human goals; that a logically connected structure of laws and generalizations susceptible of demonstration and verification could be constructed, and would replace superstition, ignorance and above all, the lies of rulers” (1). You might call this the centralization and consolidation of the mind; one universal logic and rationality, accessible to all, by which the world should be run.
The ordering of modern society, and in particular of industrial production, would take on a similar form as this mind went about constructing a world. This is how Karl Marx already describes the results in the The Communist Manifesto (1848):
The bourgeoisie keeps more and more doing away with the scattered state of the population, of the means of production, and of property. It has agglomerated population, centralized means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of this was political centralization. Independent, or but loosely connected, provinces with separate interests, laws, governments, and systems of taxation became lumped together into one nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class-interest, one frontier, one customs-tariff.
This ever increasingly universalized, centralized and eventually globalized mono-culture served the interests of industry and capital via its uniformity, efficiency and reach. Max Weber speaks to one aspect of this overarching matrix in his text Economy and Society (1922):
From a purely technical point of view, a bureaucracy is capable of attaining the highest degree of efficiency, and is in this sense formally the most rational known means of exercising authority over human beings. It is superior to any other form in precision, in stability, in the stringency of its discipline, and in its reliability. It thus makes possible a particularly high degree of calculability of results for the heads of the organization and for those acting in relation to it. It is finally superior both in intensive efficiency and in the scope of its operations and is formally capable of application to all kinds of administrative tasks (2).
Although for Weber the top down, modern form of rational bureaucratic organization would become an "iron cage", it was also extremely productive as Marx saw. He writes in the Manifesto- "The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarcely one hundred years, has created more massive and more productive forces than have all preceding generations together". In two hundred years, modern capitalist industrial society had produced more wealth than all of the rest of human history together! While it is eminently debateable to what extent the wealth generated by those forces was or was not distributed in a just manner (3), there's no question that this new mode of production and organization of society created a whole lot of it.
But this dominant consciousness and the lifeworld it created became (has become) very problematic on many fronts, including a destruction of diversity at multiple levels (and thus resiliency), increased rationalized control and discipline of society, disparities of wealth and crony capitalism, a consciousness separated from the Earth and cosmos, massive environmental degradation, widespread social dislocation, to name a few. I've explored these problems at length in Parts II and III of my essay What Is Modernity- A Sketch?, and in the first two sections of my essay on Instrumental Reason. These difficulties are in my view essentially the product of what Jean Gebser called "the deficient stage of the mental-rational structure of consciousness", which he thought had "reached its most radical extreme in the nineteenth century" and "was in the process of deconstructing itself" throughout the twentieth century (4). As it is this de-construction, this escape from the deteriorating worldview of a deficient modernity that's the primary focus of this piece, we can turn to that topic now.
“Withdraw allegiance from the old categories of the Negative (law, limit, castration, lack, lacuna), which Western thought has so long held sacred as a form of power and an access to reality. Prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems. Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic.” – Michel Foucault
The Meshworked Mind
As Jurgen Habermas has pointed out, "The emergence of new structures of consciousness can be explained with reference to the developmental logic of the pattern of previous structures and to an impulse given by problem generating events" (5). As humans we often evolve when we're forced to by "problem generating events" that we've often created ourselves. The deficiencies of the modern mind/worlview (referenced above) has prompted an immense amount of creative response in the past two hundred years, going back to the German Idealists and the Romantic movement, down into the many tributaries of postmodernism and beyond. Out of this has emerged a new kind of mind with new understandings of self, society and world. I attempted to outline and track this new cognitive realm across many disciplines in an article entitled The Rise of the Synthesizing Mind in the Planetary Age.
I'll let that piece stand as my evidence for such a growing networked type intelligence (6), but I want to highlight a point Molz and Benedikter make in their paper The Rise of Neointegrative Worldviews (quoted in the article). This is that there's a planetary context to this shift; an increasingly integrated globalized and quite often unstable world is creating a pressure cooker demanding cognitive responses that can adequately respond to the complexity of the situation. This is akin to the "heating up and intensification of consciousness" that Teilhard de Chardin saw happening, and that Jeremy Johnson suggests is escalating due to the internet and other communication technologies. The movement towards decentralization and the local is not happening in a vacuum but is a response to current life conditions, and I think this is an important context to keep in mind in when trying to grasp the overall situation.
I would add one more piece to the cognitive shift side of the story and that is a recent RSA Animate video called 'The Power of Networks' featuring Manuel Lima. In an article at Brain Pickings, Lima is quoted as saying- "Networks are really becoming a cultural meme in their own right. We could even argue, is this the birth of a new movement, is this the birth of‘networkism’"? Lima's lecture is a powerful distillation of the many contours of this gestalt shift in awareness.
Tossing the Ball Sideways- The Growth of Peer Progressives
The movement towards networks and decentralization is taking on many forms in the world, and the rest of the article will be a bric-a-brac collage of resources that I've collected on this front (please add others in the comments). Seeing as how none of these expressions are necessarily primary in terms of influence or causality (it is a network after all), we'll have to just go ahead and jump into the hermeneutic circle.
Peer-to-peer networks have grown over the past decade, and have been heavily influenced by the open source software movement. In an article entitled How Does the Idea of P2P and the Commons Differ From Communism?, the author writes:
Peer to peer is born from the generalization of the human experience of voluntary aggregation using the internet. It is the experience of creating digital commons of knowledge, code and designs, based largely on voluntary contributions, and on making these universally available, that has re-introduced the reality of communal shareholding to wide strata of the population.
It was the increasing growth of the information economy that "generalized the experience of social practices that are characterized by open and free input, participatory processes of production, and commons-oriented output". In other words, it was the creative, open, sharing nature of the information economy as a mode of production that spread this form beyond its hearth in the open-source software movement and into a much broader segment of the population. Michel Bauwens' website for his P2P Foundation is one of the best conglomeration of resources around for tracking and learning more about this rapidly expanding movement.
Author Stephen Johnson has identified a rising culture of people that he calls "peer progressives". Peer progressives "believe that “peer networks,” consisting of many people of roughly equal status freely swapping ideas and information, can accomplish things that top-down, centralized, hierarchical organizations can’t. Peer progressives “believe in social progress, and we believe the most powerful tool to advance the cause of progress is the peer network" (7). Here's a short video where Johnson discusses this notion:
From Egypt to Occupy to Idle No More- Centerless Protest Movements
One place that the decentralized networked form has really mushroomed over the past several years is in the ever expanding series of popular protest movements that have swept the globe. Many people looking at these movements through old paradigms often see them as jumbled messes and reject them as sort of juvenile mobs, asking typically modernist questions like "But what do they want? What are their demands?!". This is understandable enough given how new and emergent these social forms are (ie. the gestalt shift), and we can gain a better understanding of these things if we consult the thinkers and theorists who are actively tracking these forms. One of those is Douglas Rushkoff, and this is what he had to say in an article a couple of weeks after Occupy Wall St. broke out:
Occupy is anything but a protest movement...That's what makes Occupy so very scary and so very promising. It is not a protest, but a prototype for a new way of living...The urban survival camps they are setting up around the world are a bit more like showpieces, congresses and "beta" tests of ideas and behaviors the rest of us may soon be implementing in our communities, and in our own ways...
This is not a movement with a traditional narrative arc. As the product of the decentralized networked-era culture, it is less about victory than sustainability. It is not about one-pointedness, but inclusion and groping toward consensus. It is not like a book; it is like the Internet.
Another pair of thinkers that are (imo) eminently worth listening to in this area are the political theorists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. They are deeply versed in the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, the pair of French theorists who came up with the quintessential networked concept of the rhizome, and who are meshworked thinkers par excellence. Hardt and Negri have now written a trilogy of texts together over the past decade, and have endeavored to both give voice to and further develop a politics of the networked form. According to the title of a Globe and Mail article that came out shortly after Occupy began, Hardt and Negri's Empire was "the decade old book that lit the fire under Occupy Wall St." That book "both predicted and helped shape the current wave of radicalism". In an article in Adbusters in late 2011, Hardt and Negri write:
Although they emerge from very different conditions, these movements – from the insurrections of the Arab Spring to the union battles in Wisconsin, from the student protests in Chile to those in the US and Europe, from the UK riots to the occupations of the Spanish indignados and the Greeks in Syntagma Square, and from Occupy Wall Street to the innumerable local forms of refusal across the world – share, first of all, a negative demand: Enough with the structures of neoliberalism! This common cry is not only an economic protest but also immediately a political one, against the false claims of representation.
And in regards to the form of these protests:
Indeed the internal organization of the movements themselves has been constantly subjected to processes of democratization, striving to create horizontal participatory network structures. The revolts against the dominant political system, its professional politicians, and its illegitimate structures of representation are thus not aimed at restoring some imagined legitimate representational system of the past but rather at experimenting with new democratic forms of expression: democracia real ya.
Networked Politics and Fourth Generational Warfare
"Wherever we arrived, they disappeared, whenever we left, they arrived — they were everywhere and nowhere, they had no tangible center which could be attacked."- Prussian officer during the Peninsular War, while fighting with French regulars against Spanish guerrillas
There's a reason why smaller groups of people have utilized these guerrilla/4GW forms against what are usually much larger and highly organized and centralized military forces- because it often works (8). For instance, the Roman military was a very disciplined, organized and well armed war machine unparallelled in human history until the modern period, and more often than not it was victorious in battle. But not always. Many 'barbarian' tribes gave the Romans fits with their guerrilla tactics, and scored some series defeats against their colossal foes along the way. There are many more examples up and into modern times (such as the US war in Vietnam for instance) where the overwhelming power of much larger standing armies have been defeated by the asymmetrical, hit and run tactics of guerrilla/4G warfare.
There seems to be something about a big, highly centralized entity that hinders its ability to fend off the swift, swarm-like movements of the decentralized networked form. The ecologist Manfred Max-Neef sums this up nicely when, speaking about networked protest movements, he writes, "More powerful than a rhinoceros is a cloud of mosquitoes. It grows and grows, buzzes and buzzes". So it doesn't surprise me that today's social movements have also come to take on this shape, given what they're up against.
A recent Rolling Stone article about the online hacktivist group Anonymous describes it as "a leaderless, nonhierarchical federation of activists with varying agendas", and a recent book argues that it's these groups of decentralized "geeks" that are "building one of the most vibrant civil liberties movements we’ve ever seen". Here at Beams, Scott Payne wrote an article called The SOPA Blackouts and Our New Political Lingchi (lingchi being the Chinese term for "death by a thousand cuts"), where he discussed the success of the mass, networked protest form in defeating a pair of Internet censorship bills.
Joe Corbett raises a fair question in the comments to that piece when he writes, "I remain sceptical that a social meshwork without an alternative ideological core, or at least an institutionalized organization, can pose a serious and sustained challenge to the highly organized and ideological institutions of power and money". I'm not suggesting that networked resistance movements are the full panacea for the problems we face, and there are several other layers of conversation and strategy to be had for creating a successful way forward for sure. But I do think they're an important part of the puzzle, and that the more we come to fully recognize the powers they offer, and the more people come to embody these forms as a natural and enjoyable mode of being-in-the-world, the more rapidly a future will begin to emerge in ways we cannot even foresee.
As a recent Jacobin Magazine article on the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli situation reflects, "In the rebellions of 2011 [including the biggest in Israeli history], much has been made of the importance of new organizational forms based on the Internet. It is undeniable that the newly decentralized world of communications played an important part in the spread of news and revolutionary inspiration around the world in 2011". The further good news is that more and more people are getting connected to the global network. In a Foreign Affairs article entitled 'The Political Power of Social Media', internet specialist Clay Shirky writes:
Since the rise of the Internet in the early 1990s, the world's networked population has grown from the low millions to the low billions. Over the same period, social media have become a fact of life for civil society worldwide, involving many actors -- regular citizens, activists, nongovernmental organizations, telecommunications firms, software providers, governments.
The swarm is amassing, and as the philosopher Slavoj Zizek writes in a new book The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, it's an increasingly discontent one. "The subterranean work of dissatisfaction continues. Rage is building, and a new wave of revolts and disturbances will follow. Why? Because the events of 2011 augur a new political reality. These are limited, distorted—sometimes even perverted—fragments of a utopian future lying dormant in the present". What the results of all this energy will be is anyone's guess.
Intermezzo on Pirates and Enclosure
In a Beams article entitled Electric Fairytales, Jeremy Johnson argues that art is always a representation of what’s happening in the individual and collective unconscious. Whether the artist knows it or not, what they represent and we see depicted in art is always a message from an unconscious within. It relays our dreams, conflicts, anxieties, fears, goals and so on.
With that in mind, in a recent Homebrewed Christianity podcast Kester Brewin, author of Mutiny! Why We Love Pirates and How They Can Save Us, asks why there are so many pirates in the cultural imaginary these days. He was prompted to this question while taking his four year old son to a pirate dress up party. While there he wondered to himself, "We don't let our children dress up as armed bank robbers. So why are pirates so acceptable?" After researching his book Brewin concluded that, "Pirates always emerge when the commons is under threat". Anytime a small group with concentrated power tries to take over the common property of many, pirates emerge to reject this enclosure (9). They are a liberatory figure in that regard. But pirates also function on a personal level according to Brewin. Once again they represent figures that break the barrier of enclosure- whether it's parents, or social rules, or whatever has become restrictive- allowing for new growth and development. In Peter Pan, it's Captain Hook that breaks the circular spell of timelessness in Neverland, and breaks open the river of becoming once again.
So we can ask ourselves, if our collective unconscious is speaking to us through the widespread return of the pirate archetype, what are we trying to break free from? And what will happen if we make this desire more conscious?
(For a look at the history of actual pirates as "little mutual-aid societies operating outside the conventional bounds of State-sanctioned legitimacy", see Andrew Baxter's short piece Pirates and Democracy. Once again we see the theme of breaking free from a suffocating enclosure.)
The Mother of All Invention- The Spread of New Economic and Monetary Forms
The past decade has seen the slow growth of alternative currencies and economic forms, but the 2008 financial crisis really sparked this to another level as turmoil hit many countries and communities. In a recent article the sociologist Manuel Castells, author of The Rise of the Networked Society (2001), says that "People have decided not to wait for the revolution to start living differently. We're seeing barter networks, social currencies, co-operatives. Networks of providing services for free to others in the expectation people will do the same for you. This new sector in the economy is expanding throughout the world".
Heavily hit Greece in particular has been the site of much experimentation, including its famed 'potato revolution' and the return of bartering systems. Spain has also experienced a growth in an alternative economy, which has been linked to its Indignados protest movement. University of Liverpool geography professor Peter North says that "instead of just being a desperate way for people to survive a horrible economic crisis, this is part of the co-operatives, credit unions, community banks, organic farms and recovering factories – the alternate economy – that the Occupy movement is groping towards". Alternative (decentralized) currencies are also catching on in Germany, Brazil, the United States and many other places; in fact, they're growing so fast and robustly that one financial journalist recently sounded an alarm in the mainstream financial world announcing, “We might be reaching the point where virtual currencies start to pose a real challenge to the existing ones".
Current life conditions have also been prompting forth new types of economic forms, including a large revival of interest in the commons, the gift economy, bartering and sharing, and much more. There's also been a growing movement toward worker owned and/or directed enterprises, short circuiting one of the key distinctions (Owners/Workers) that constitutes a capitalist economy (10).
Here's a recent short Tedx talk where Shane Hughes talks about the 'Unstoppable Rise of a Collaborative Economy', and offers a pretty good summary of the spread of new economic and monetary forms at this moment in time.
Think Global, Act Local- The Rise of a Trans-national Solidarity
The last manifestation of networked culture that I want to draw attention to is the emergence of a rapidly growing global one, and the trans-national solidarity that's coming along with it. Jeremy Johnson caught wind of this early during the beginnings of the Egyptian Revolution, and wrote a piece that was his first for Beams called Egypt, Transformation and the Signs of a Planetary Culture. In it he writes:
Civilization itself is based upon a center (city) that controls the periphery (agriculture, resources, peasants), and so we can liken the very structure of civilization to a kind of "collective ego," whose nature is hierarchical.
Perhaps, spiritually speaking, the death of a controlling "center" is a kind of spiritual initiation for human kind; an invitation to transform to a new kind of human life in which the center is everywhere and nowhere, and the people of the world are united in a democratic culture that is far more complex than we can imagine now.
Almost two years down the road the overall gist of that piece is looking rather prescient. In a recent article entitled 'From Arab Spring to Global Revolution', author and Guardian columnist Paul Mason writes:
From Tahrir to Puerta del Sol, the most important thing about the slogans, images and gestures is not what they said in isolation but what they expressed cumulatively: the woman who walked naked through the riot outside the Spanish parliament, holding a sign saying "peace"; the video of Loukanikos, the Greek riot dog, which went globally viral in the summer of 2011; the "No Pasaran" T-shirt worn by Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova in the dock.
These were first of all signifiers of rejection: scorn not just for the elite world of yachts, diamond watches and bodyguards, but for the everyday world of corporate conformity. Through these signs and symbols, large parts of humanity were signalling their solidarity to one another; their belief that a kinder, more human system is possible; and that it would be born out of the chaotic, ironic, playful qualities of human life – not by pitting one cruel hierarchy against another.
As several commentators have noted, one of the effects of our globalized economic systsem has been to create universal life conditions, and thus the conditions for a new kind of global solidarity. As Hardt and Negri write in their book Commonwealth, "One primary effect of globalization is the creation of a common world, a world that, for better or worse, we all share, a world that has no "outside"" (11). And in a recent Tedx talk, former CEO of Integral Life Robb Smith notes one of the key results- "We often think of ourselves as living in the information age, but I would suggest that in the last five years something profound has shifted for us as a civilization, as a species worldwide. And that is that we've become an interconnected family for the very first time, on a single planetary biosphere". I think that this is all together a very positive development (despite the profound turbulence of the passage), especially when we consider something Freud wrote in his 1933 essay Why War?:
Anything that encourages the growth of emotional ties between men must operate against war…[One] kind of emotional tie is by means of identification. Whatever leads men to share important interests produces this community of feeling, these identifications. And the structure of human society is to a large extent based on them.
This growing global identity we're seeing is thus possibly a profound source of human unity, one that's emerging out of the ashes of disintegration that also so marks our time. But it also should be noted- in case that important postmodern voice in support of diversity is speaking up inside you too- that this overarching planetary identity does not mean the creation of a homogeneous global culture, one of the more insidious and heavily criticized outcomes of the modernist period. The French philosopher Edgar Morin speaks nicely to the paradox we must hold going forward in his 1999 book Homeland Earth:
The idea would be to move toward a universal society based on the genius of diversity (homogeneity lacks genius), which would lead us to a double imperative, inwardly contradictory but fruitful for that very reason: (a) everywhere to safeguard, propogate, cultivate, or develop unity; and (b) and everywhere to safeguard, propagate, cultivate or develop diversity. (12).
Critics and the Either/Or
As I mentioned in the introduction, the growing rise of decentralization and networks has also brought with it some critics too. I mentioned a recent back and forth between Future Perfect author Stephen Johnson and Net Delusion author Evgeny Morozov, which you can read here. There is also Greg Sharzer's new book No Local- Why Small Scale Alternative Won't Change the World. I don't have time to go into these critical perspectives in too much detail, but if I had to make one general statement it's that I find too many either/or type scenarios proposed by them, whereas I think (a la Morin's statement above) we're moving into a time where we more and more need to develop the capacity to hold paradoxes (or both/and situations). To put it another way, I find myself agreeing with much of these critiques, I just find them partial. It seems to me that both sides need to be held in a dynamic tension.
For instance, Morozov rightly points out the continued importance of centralization at times too, and Johnson repsonds that of course there will be need to be hybrids. I think it's the percentages that we should be concerned about, but either way I don't think anyone is advocating for a fully decentralized world, just the power and potential of a lot more movement in this direction (13). Sharzer, coming from a more left-socialist perspective, is concerned with the how a local-oriented decentralized culture will end up not recognizing or confronting the overarching power of global corporate capitalism (with its increasing hold on the governments of nations states). In a recent article at Open Democracy he writes:
The pan-European general strikes against austerity last November are a great example [of the power of directly confronting centralized power]. As workers connect local issues to the global crisis, we can create a new form of citizenship, confronting, not avoiding the strategic questions of how to take power from capital. Against the globalized age of austerity, we will create our own globalized age of resistance.
Again, I found myself in agreement with Sharzer's general analysis and his warnings regarding the reality of concentrated, centralized power, and I love his point that we can join together and find solidarity in our mutual battles with these forces. I just think that this needs to go hand in hand with the decentralized networked movement, and does not need to be pitted against it in this either/or way. As an alternative way of holding all this, I would offer Joanna Macy's model of the Three Pillars of the Great Turning, which contains Sherzer's concerns in her pillar called Holding Actions, as well as the thrust of the decentralized movement in her pillar Structual Change. (And it probably doesn't need pointing out, but this post is all about the third pillar, Shifts in Consciousness.)
Collaboration, Cooperation and Public Happiness
Morozov charges Johnson with being an "Internet-centrist", basically someone who thinks the Internet and its networks will save us all. Johnson rightly counters this charge by pointing out that the larger thrust of his work has been about the powers and potentials of collaboration, of which the Internet is only but one nexus or example. Johnson writes:
The point I tried to make explicit in Future Perfect is one that I’ve been implicitly making for more than a decade now: that peer collaboration is an ancient tradition, with a history as rich and illustrious as the more commonly celebrated histories of states or markets. The Internet happens to be the most visible recent achievement in that tradition, but it is hardly the basis of my worldview.
I agree with Johnson that collaboration and cooperation is an important element of our history that needs to be recaptured at this time. (I wrote more about this in the final section of the article Neotribal Zeitgest (+Companion Notes), entitled 'Retrieving Our Cooperative Past'). One of the key outcomes of the post/modern period has been an erosion of community and collective culture, replaced by extreme forms of individualism, hyper-competition and me-first attitudes. According to Marxist scholars such as David Harvey, Terry Eagleton, Pierre Bourdieu and others, this disintegration of the collective has been quickened under the neoliberal forms of capitalism of the last forty years. In a 1998 essay for La Monde, the sociologist Bourdieu argued that the 'Essense of Neoliberalism' is "a programme of the methodical destruction of collectives".
So among so many other positive things, one of the core things that the rise of networks, decentralization and peer-to-peer does is get us back in direct collaborative contact with one another. In this way we return to essential parts of ourselves and begin a healing process, one that covers over a lonely hole that consumer capitalism has been so ready and willing to fill in for us (creating a global explosion of addiction in the process).
In the comment section to original article in question, Eight Perspectives on Integral Trans-partisan Politics, Joe Corbett writes- "There needs to be a radical transformation of the social relations to accommodate or to be the new vessel, temple, or collective body of the underlying potentials that so desperately need to be developed". It's my view that a substantial and continued orientation towards networks and decentralization (as well as a simultaneous global solidarity and action) will create the conditions for these new social relations. It will help us to "form the new society within the shell of the old" as the old IWW slogan put it. It's through this mutual creation of a new planetary civilization together in common that we'll experience what Hannah Arendt called "public happiness", the deep joy that humans feel when we get to actively participate in co-creating our world (14).
When I discussed this notion of 'public happiness' with Joe Corbett in another thread, he had this to say in response, and I'll leave the last words of this mini-section to him:
trevor, i think you are right-on about the potential of fulfillment through public happiness in civic engagement for the greater good as an alternative to late capitalist consumer fulfillment and the modern pursuit of self-interest. communal connection and participation is precisely the post-postmodern antidote we need (in combination with the new cosmology and evolutionary theory) to modern and postmodern alienation, fragmentation, and disenfranchisement.
i would say that this is also the intersubjective (cultural) and interobjective (institutional) element of sangha that is needed to make us spiritually whole, and which others like cohen have termed the evolutionary spirituality of 'we', michel bauwens has phrased it as the 'collective buddha', and marx as communism. with any luck and a whole lotta lovin' socio-political work and sacrifice, perhaps the kingdom of heaven is near and the meek shall inherit the earth after all.
Beams and Struts 2009-2013- Fruits of a Temporary Network
And lastly is a point that might be so obvious that it doesn't need saying, but I'll go ahead anyway just in case. And that is that this whole conversation has been taking place within a decentralized, networked form. Kaine is in Michigan, Jeremy in New York, Joe in China, other authors of the 8 Perspective article are in Europe, and I've personally never met any of them in person! Yet we, and many other readers and commenters, have been able to collaborate here on the Internet and together envision (and try and locally enact) a future world that we'd all like to live in. As I've said before, Beams and Struts has been a conscious attempt to experiment with collective intelligence and the networked form. It's time as a unique assemblage has now come to a close, but there'll be many more rhizome shoots to surf down in the years to come to be sure. So thanks to all who've taken part on this tiny node in the wider growing network, and we'll see you on some other parts of the web real soon.
“We are under no illusion that we have all the answers. Instead we are encouraged by the fact that we are not alone asking the questions. We are confident, in fact, that those who are dissatisfied with the life offered by our contemporary neoliberal society, indignant about its injustices, rebellious against its powers of command and exploitation, and yearning for an alternative democratic form of life based on the common wealth we share – they, by posing these questions and pursuing their desires, will invent new solutions we cannot yet even imagine”. - Hardt and Negri, What to Expect in 2012
Steve Earle- The Revolution Starts Now
(1) Berlin, Isaiah. “The Counter Enlightenment”. Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas. New York: Viking Press, 1980. p.13.
(2) Weber, Max. Economy and Society. New York: Bedminster Press, 1968. p.223
(3) “It is true that capitalism works some of the time, in the sense that it has brought untold prosperity to some sectors of the world. But it has done so, as did Stalin and Mao, at a staggering human cost. This is not only a matter of genocide, famine, imperialism and the slave trade. The system has also proved incapable of breeding affluence without creating creating huge swaths of deprivation alongside it”. Eagleton, Terry. Why Marx Was Right. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011. p.15.
Also, for a Lower Right/systems corollary- "An important derivative of the Annales research is the work of the World Systems Analysis school, including Immanuel Wallerstein and Christopher Chase-Dunn, which similarly focuses on long-term structures: capitalism, in particular.
The “arc” of capitalism, according to this school, is about 600 years long, from 1500 to 2100. It is our particular (mis)fortune to be living through the beginning of the end, the disintegration of capitalism as a world system. It was mostly commercial capital in the sixteenth century, evolving into industrial capital in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and then moving on to financial capital—money created by money itself, and by speculation in currency—in the twentieth and twenty-first. In dialectical fashion, it will be the very success of the system that eventually does it in". http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/09/20/the-waning-of-the-modern-ages/
Also: "Evolutionarily important innovations mean not only a new level of learning but a new problem situation as well, that is, a new category of burdens that accompany the new social formation…Thus we can make an attempt to interpret social evolution taking as our guide those problems and needs that are first brought about by evolutionary advances". Habermas, Jurgen. Communication and the Evolution of Society. Boston: Beacon Press, 1979. p.164-5.
(6) Ken Wilber also described something he called "network-logic". He writes- "Vision-logic or network-logic is a type of synthesizing and integrating awareness...[It] adds up the parts and sees networks of interactions". Wilber, Ken. A Brief History of Everything. Boston: Shambala, 2000. p.174
(8) "Because insurgencies pit the weak against the strong, most still end up failing. Between 1775 and 1945 “only” about a quarter achieved most or all of their aims. But since 1945 that number has risen to 40%, according to Mr Boot. Part of the reason for the improving success rate is the rising importance of public opinion. Since 1945 the spread of democracy, education, mass media and the concept of international law have all conspired to sap the will of states engaged in protracted counter-insurgencies. In the battle over the narrative, insurgents have many more weapons at their disposal than before". http://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21569681-fighting-insurgency-requires-patience-restraint-and-good-public-relations
(9) For more on enclosure cf. the section entitled ‘Open and Closed Civilizations’ in the article Neotribal Zeitgeist (+Companion Notes).
(10) For more on the fundamental features of a capitalist economy, cf. David Harvey's free lecture series on Marx's Capital. http://davidharvey.org/reading-capital/
(13) "And there is nothing in Future Perfect (or any of these other works) that claims that decentralized, peer-network approaches will always outperform top-down approaches. It’s simply a question of emphasis. Liberals can still believe in the power and utility of markets, even if they tend to emphasize big government solutions; all but the most radical libertarians think that there are some important roles for government in our lives. Peer progressives are no different. We don’t think that everything in modern life should be re-engineered to follow the “logic of the Internet.” We just think that society has long benefited from non-market forms of open collaboration, and that they’re aren’t enough voices in the current political conversation reminding us of those benefits". Stephen Johnson. http://www.newrepublic.com/article/112336/future-perfects-steven-johnson-evgeny-morozov-debate-social-media#
(14) "What distinguished the United States at the time of its revolution was what Hannah Arendt called the experience of "Public Happiness." From town hall meetings in New England to citizen militias and civic organizations, Americans had the daily experience of self-government. In Arendt's words- "They knew that public freedom consisted in having a share in public business, and that the activities connected with this business by no means constituted a burden but gave those who discharged them in public a feeling of happiness they could acquire nowhere else".
Arendt was always alive to this sense of "public happiness" which she distinguished from the economic and social needs that comprised being well fed and comfortable. Public happiness was found neither in fighting for one's particular interests, nor in doing one's duty by voting or going to town-hall meetings. Rather, the seat of American democracy was the fact that Americans "enjoyed the discussions, the deliberations, and the making of decisions." It was this passion to be involved, to be seen and heard in matters of public importance, and to distinguish oneself before one's peers that Arendt points to as central to the experience of freedom in America". http://www.hannaharendtcenter.org/?tag=public-happiness