Do you know your "commons-based peer production" from your "cosmo-localism"? A jargon test on our discourse here

One of the great challenges of being a citizen now - where it’s obvious that momentous shifts between one way of living and another are under way, under planetary and technological pressures - is to find the usable practices and ideas that could help us make that shift.

Between the screaming headlines of a reactive and profit-oriented media, and the often arcane languages of academia and research, there’s a huge translation job to be done. How do you get brilliant ideas out of scholarship, and into peoples hands? How do you match the popular appetite for change and “taking back control”, with theory and statistics that can open up new possibilities?

We face that challenge a lot in A/UK - and we don’t think we always do it as well as we could. It’s partly to do with person-power - we have a very small team pushing out these daily blogs, and at times the content is simply too much to process. We want to expand and improve how we do this in 2019 - if you’d like to support us (either with your talents and/or your funds), please don’t hesitate.

But here’s a prime example of the challenge to hand. Michel Bauwens (who has been mentioned in the D.A. a few times) is an amazing “activist-scholar” - as he describes himself - in the field of “commons-based peer production” (CBPP). Even to hear that implies quite a few levels of unpacking…

“Peer-production” essentially comes from how the internet has allowed people to cooperate, post content, share out work together, in ways that are “horizontal” (or that don’t imply that you have a position in the pecking-order of an organisation). You’re not in a boss/worker relationship, but working with “peers” or equals (at least in principle).

“Commons-based” is opposed to “property-based”. That is, your work isn’t for someone who already owns the building, or the tools, or the outputs you produce. Instead, it’s production on behalf of, and with, a “commons” - a shared resource that communities actively and consciously manage and nurture themselves (as opposed to letting them be directed and shaped by commerce or the public sector). That can be land, carpools, energy, software, housing, food production…

Already, in one four letter phrase, a world of explanation (which is only the tip of the iceberg). The video at the top of this post is a lecture that Michel gave a few months ago in Hong Kong, titled “Sowing The Seeds: Platform Cooperativism in Asia”.

[Again, explanation immediately required. Platform capitalism is the general term that covers Facebook, YouTube, Google, Twitter, Uber, Airbnb, Netflix and all - that is, they are all “platforms” (digital networks) that host and coordinate various kinds of content and resources. The capitalist part is, they take a cut of the transactions on the site - or sell your behaviour to companies that then advertise at you.

So Platform Cooperativism implies the same digital structures - except that those whose efforts and resources are being used by the platform, also have a stake, say or even ownership of those digital structures (which is what a cooperative does). Like a Fairbnb, or a People’s Uber, or a WeTube. Is that clear?]

So we’ve watched it - and with the help of the paper it’s based on (see PDF), we’re going to attempt to set out just a few of the big ideas in it. But as an experiment, we’d like you to watch it too - and tell us if it makes any, much or complete sense to you. The comments page is open below:

We need economies that don’t despoil the planet. And they despoil it most when they don’t properly account for, or measure, the waste and pollution that happens when we produce and consume commodities.

Do we have to give up on societies that are physically mobile, that provide high-quality services to us, that don’t just replace consumerism with a hairshirt? Or can we find better systems that respond to our needs and desires to a sufficient degree (and not as frantic, manic consumers)?

Bauwens suggests that we have the elements of such a better system - but we have to have a socio-political vision that can argue for them. Here are a few slogans that might plug into such a vision:

The Cosmo-Local (or DGML- “Design Global, Make Local”). Bauwens puts it simply as “all the heavy stuff gets made locally - buildings, food, cars, clothes. But all the ‘light stuff’ is available globally - meaning the software, the designs, the instructions: a digital commons of great ideas and practices”. So the wastefulness of global supply chains is reduced - but not the sophistication or utility of the product. How we build these local manufactories, connected up to a global resources of designs, is a major political task.

A new form of money - that measures environmental and human impact. The new kinds of independent and encrypted digital money systems known as “blockchain” will help us monitor much more tightly how our economies use finite natural resources. Blockchains are vast “ledgers” - systems that indelibly record what happens within them, enabled by “tokens” or “coins” that can theoretically be traced back to their point of origins. Standard or national currencies are simply a floating indicator of monetary value at any moment.

What if a currency could be digitally tied to real-world actions and events that we value - and what if those were, say, natural resources that we wanted to use in a responsible and sustainable way? (As Bauwens puts it, the “Fish Coin” or the “Solar Coin”). And what if our community could come together and decide what that coin should value, then programme those values automatically into their digital currency system?

We’d like you to watch the video, and see what other nuggets you can extract. Please fill in the comments box below.