Open Stewardship and the Commons
Open Stewardship and the Commons
- Declaration and Invitation:
- Fields and Open Stewardship
- Invitation to leadership/participation
- Leadership by Declaration and Acknowledgement
- Scarcity, Abundance and Control
- The Myth of Progress
- Signals and Systems
- Comprehensive Doctrines and Public Reason
- The Limits of the Reasonable
- The Middle Way
- Money and Currencies
- Markets and Anti-Markets
- Scarce Currency and the Architecture of Control
- Architecting Currencies of the Commons
- Acting CIO of the Commons
- Community Technology Centers and Husbandry
- Libraries as Hubs for Literacy and Digital Excellence
- Language Acts and the Creation of Worlds
- Semiotics as the Foundational field (as the site for the other main branches of knowledge):
- Process Architecture and a Pattern Language of Vesselling
We begin an exploration in Process Architecture. As with any exploration, we don't know as much as we would like about the territory we enter, and we are driven by vision and opportunity. Even naming the territory we set out for can be problematic; Columbus set out to find a shorter route to the Orient and found the New World. The territory is human possibility. If we are at all successful, we will end up naming many of the important waypoints and territories that we will discovered along the way.
Little of what we discover will be new. What is new is the intention to bring humanity as a whole to a higher level of being. When we survey human knowledge deeply, we find that explorers have been there before. Human wisdom is present, if fragile, throughout human history and no doubt pre-history as well. What is far more uncommon is collective wisdom. If we set out to explore Collective Intelligence, Wisdom and Consciousness, we can find a different path into a more open and generative future for ourselves and all of the co-inhabitants of our world. Some explorers suggest that these collective phenomena may have first emerged naturally at the small group level, and that this is part our genetic and cultural heritage. We must first gather about us the best of these practices from human experience, and form into exploratory bands well equipped for the open territory ahead.
Civilization's structures are cracking and failing under the weight of modern material culture, and post modern culture cannot lift itself out of the mire of 20th century celebrations of grotesque horrors and banalities alike. This is not the place for explaining how things will devolve if we don't wise up soon, and other things obvious to anyone looking ahead in even the simplest ways. The old ways of addressing problems with solutions of "more, better and different" ways of doing things aren't going to save us. Yes, life is resilient and the planet will survive, but will we? Humility is realizing that humanity doesn't have to survive for life to go on; what's better is to recover the resilience we share with all of life.
The riches that we seek are of this world, but they are not things that are easy to capture and hold. The last few decades have seen accelerating technological change, particularly information systems for processing and communicating in signs and symbols, which have gone from zero to everything in a not yet complete century. Technology will not save us, but it is part of the difference we need. We are all new to the phenomena of being digital. Our technology never just alters what we can do; it changes who we are. Cities and written texts arise together, such that we cannot tell which came first. Writing emerges from counting and then accounting for the many complex transactions of increasingly complex urban and inter-urban life. Not that the scope of writing is limited by useful purpose. In evolving systems, capacities can emerge that don't have a clear purpose initially, or emerge to fill a role and then be put into service of new ends. Language itself likely emerged similarly, with immediate survival benefits in the coordination of collective action of social animals, but take on a much greater role in enabling new domains of action. Spirituality and art as well as science and philosophy. It makes possible new domains of evolution in the social space in the evolution of social structures and collective processes.
Notice that human history is a blink of the eye in the larger scope of history, and that the modern digital revolution is but another stage of a longer unfolding. For humans, we have been continually been extending our phenotype with technology and culture. This is definitive of the Neolithic Age, and just maybe we are experiencing the final shifts of this massive development. To survive we need to become different. We cannot just go back to more pleasant times in a fit of reactionary modernism, romantic nationalizm or forward with a californian ideology. We've tried that, and it is the source of much of the worst of the 20th century. Let us declare a new age for humanity. Let us invite an open future founded on compassion and care. Let us declare an end to scarcity.
We will need to become Jedi Knights of the new age, mastering both the technological and the social forces that are even more critical in finding a path forward. We will develop new technologies that serves us in our individual and collective quests to heal our world. To be sure, the technological change is also driving the old systems to the brink of failure. We cannot shed our technological cloaks, we must use them to become even more fully human. That means being even more in touch with our animalistic roots, while at the same time growing in wisdom and compassion. We invite all humanity to stand up for all living beings.
Distinguishing the field of Open Stewardship is an opportunity to call into question stewardship in general. Where we see something more like open stewardship is in fields where the merrit of the idea is primary, and there is an absense of centrallized authority. In most scientific fields, there are well known communities who are reading each other's work and gathering regularly in small subgroups to present ideas and contest them until something recognizable as truth for the group is acheived. The truth is always provisional as the work is never completed, but well known results become the stable bedrock of current understanding, even if it is later overturned in a paradigm shift that ushers the field into a new age. The best work of humanity is always anarchistic in this way.
Unfortunately, some of our most critical fields of practice have been captured by a parasitic system. Much money and power is concentrated in just a couple of financial capitals where global power is also concetrated. There is a long history, short in relative terms, of how things came to be this way, and it is also clear that most of the people of the world suffer under this system that is run for the few, by the few. The money created by this system is scarce, it is designed that way for the benefit of the few, and fear keeps it in place. This isn't meant to be critical of the people who put this system in place and evolved it to where we find ourselves now. There were structural and historical reason why things went this way. Scarcity is the means of control in all of the large collectives that had emerged, but these large collectives have wills of their own, and it is now time to move to new, organically organized structures. It turns out that money scarcity is largely an illusion created by thinking about central banks as if they are the same as ordinary businesses or households. They aren't, and a more expansive and generative system of money would fix much of this.
It is pretty obvious that these systems cannot stand. Like the game of Monopoly, the end game is always with all the money in one pot, and the system is effectively dead.
Fortunately, we are not the only ones concerned with technology and the way it impacts people's lives:
As we started to bring together these scientists and technologists and engineers and designers and people working in fields so new they had no name. One of the highest compliments we can give someone is to call him a weirdo. The reality is the future often belongs to the weirdos. Something really amazing started to happen, which is that all these collaborations started to occur. People started to do stuff, we could barely stop them. What's going on here, all of these people saying are going to start this project or start this company and we decided to work on this problem together. And so, we began to put in place the infrastructure to identify, train, refine, scale, those collaborations. Today we run fellows programs where we identify and train some of the world's next best generation of talent in social and ecological change. We train working scientists to become better communicators and collaborators and leaders. That network works in more than 100 countries, and serves the lives 300 billion people. And, once a year they come back to this little village in Maine. Part of what makes it work is that we are in someone's home.
This book is organized as an initial exploration of new territories to be explored. We name and describe them as we go, and leave much to be explored by those who might follow. Open Stewardship is an idea that emerged from community dialog and the desire to create a kind of open space for leadership that is rare and precious when it occurs. First we will explore how common space is created in declaration of fields of practice. Open Stewardship is this same type of declared common space, and we would naturally self-apply its own principles. Next follows the invitation to participation and the process arts of building passionate and engaged communites.
This is also a digital book, written on a Wagn, and as such, you are invited to sign-up, sign-in and even help write chapters in the book. For that you would need to be added to some circles of engagement in recognition of contributions.
Declaration and Invitation
We arrive at a certain time and place, and we enter into a stream of history that is already flowing, obscuring the contingent origins of historical fact. It all seems so solid and given. This therefore makes it hard to see just how we can impact history in a meaningful way. But there was a time when it was not so, when any given cherished truism that lends stability to our world was unknown to all human beings.
When the Greeks established the foundations of Western Civiliization, Socrates, Aristotle and Plato were not working from established texts; they were part of a dialog that was still new and vibrant. Aristotle so captured and extended that dialog and the episteme they were embedded in that it became the foundation for what followed. Medieval thought condensed this and the teachings of the rabbi Jesus into a dogma suitable for impiralists to build upon, but their work in its day was deeply anarchistic. Punishable by death if not cloaked well enough.
These prophetic voices made a novel declaration and invited others to share and extend their visions. We imagine that these and all prophets drew from the archetypal myths that had been handed down through oral traditions from generations before. People were able to adjust oral tradition in each generation to reflect changes in language and material culture. Storytellers and historians were able to provide a kind of collective wisdom over time for an evolving culture. In our time, the machinery of oppression has moved decisively into the linguistic domains, and the powers of the state hegemonic. It is no longer sufficient to articulate such a prophetic vision, and transform a band of followers; it is necessary to act with collective leadership and passion; to weave a network; to build a coalition of the willing
The pace of change has accelerated, increasing our desire to expand the scale and scope of our collective capacities and work. We have never really moved beyond the level of an original collective intelligence as embodied in actual physical small working teams. All past institutional scaling has been pyramidal organizations of small teams, and has been regulated by different kinds of scarcity. We understand that this kind of control system and structure is incapable of generating the range and diversity of responses that are necessary for emergence of collective wisdom and consciousness.
As we move beyond hierarchical power based relationships, we begin to organize based on declared interests and purposes. We invite others to share in our declarations, and to collaborate on shared goals. Seems simple enough until we find that our declarations aren't always taken up by others. I can declare what I will do and do it, but if I intend to achieve large scale change then I will need an attractive invitation and declaration that others will want to join in on.
Our Declaration of Independence needed to be defended from an empire's claim of sovereignty vested in a monarchy to make it stick. This brings up the question of authority. Who has the authority to make such declarations of political sovereignty? What is clear is that the American system of government is founded on individual and collective sovereignty. The actual form of government and the law follow after. Anarchy and our inalieanble rights as living beings are the only just foundations for the rule of law. We must choose what law we will abide by for it to be just.
Fields and Open Stewardship
When initially declaring a field, talking about fields and their institutional norms, practices and authority is an unneeded complexity. We simply begin and allow the structure for fields and institutions to evolve naturally as needed. But we are not at the beginning, even if we may think we are inventing something entirely new, we will likely find that others have been there before us. They probably developed their own language and structures; they may be embedded in other cultures with different histories and concerns. Even if we discover them we will have a task of learning and translation just to have any basis of comparison. These cultures may develop into dogmatic institutions where political power and influence now narrows the scope of inquiry making them closed to further serious inquiry.
To keep the inquiry open to innovation, to new contributions and maintain the supporting institutions as living collective enterprises, we will need the right priniciples, processes and leadership in these institutions. By declaring Open Stewardship (OS) as a Field of inquiry in its own right we are making a place to do the work common to all living collectives and their leadership. Clearly the principles and processes that support open institutions are deep concerns for OS and all such institutions. We clearly cannot just declare some defining principles and processes and be done with it. We instead create an invitation to the work and allow processes that lead to effective open leadership to emerge. It won't remain open just because we declare it so in naming it. We will need to work on it, and even fight for it.
Scarcity, Abundance and Control
Which is more natural, scarcity or abundance? Nature is abundant in so many ways that it is hard to argue the opposite point, yet we are often told that it's the competition for resources that drives evolution and progress. When we examine these issues more deeply, we discover that scarcity disappears as a driving issue. In the book Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics and Life, the authors argue that life and evolution aren't so much processes of competition and scarcity, but of maximizing the use of available energy (and resource) flows in complex interactions. The classical picture of thermodynamics in a closed system running down towards equilibrium is a false picture. Our system isn't closed; we are situated in a massive flow of solar energy that pulses on daily and yearly rhythms. Furthermore, the classical picture doesn't really account for information flows and symbol processing.
According to conventional wisdom, evolution maximizes some fitness in a ruthless competition for resources. Nature just doesn't work that way, and evolution is about the emergence of intelligence in systems of signs (semiotics). The evidence for all of this isn't fully developed as a distinct field of knowledge. In fact it spans many fields, and emerges as a kind of meta-field of systems and complexity. Evolution can occur in any system that can accumulate information in physical symbols, and lead to complex and intelligent behaviors without any reference to conscious intentions or design. I would argue that conscious intent is a late emerging characteristic of more highly evolved symbol systems.
Most physical scientists are still too distracted by their time symetrical mathematical models to understand the fundamental role of signs as active principles in the world. You can't run a computation backwards unless you carefully select unconventional computation structures, and similarly, irreversibility of physical processes has its roots in information theory. Maybe this is the wrong way around since thermodynamics came first as a mathematical theory, but math is a timeless domain of relationships, so the question of roots is based in relationship.
I am much encouraged by Lee Smolin's recent work that pretty much rejects the time reversible models of the physical world. It brings the ideas of evolution and novelty into the philosophical bedrock of physical theory, and this is very refreshing.
The Myth of Progress
Backing up a little to look at why or how evolution might be directed, we need to examine the idea of progress in some depth:
Some scholars consider the idea of progress that was affirmed with the Enlightenment, as a secularization of ideas from early Christianity, and a rework of ideas from ancient Greece. The theory of evolution in the nineteenth century made progress a necessary law of nature and gave the doctrine its first conscious scientific form. The idea was challenged by many in the 20th century who argued that that destruction, as in the two world wars, could grow out of technical progress and belie the basic premise of the Idea of Progress. It remains a matter of debate among intellectuals.
It seems that many are interested in hitching their wagons to this idea, but if we are to exercise some intellectual rigor, we certainly have to question the idea that evolving systems, living or otherwise, are exhibiting goal directed behavior. If they do this at all, it will be hard to find the bottom. It will be turtles all the way down.
Before turning to the emergence of systems and how they can and do evolve, we need to acknowledge that the mythology of continual progress cannot be sustained. The idea that we can do better, that there is progress to be made in social and political systems, in knowledge about the world is a positive force, but the more common form of this myth leads to some of the worst collective expressions in history. The destruction of indigenous societies as a result of Manifest Destiny can be traced, in a certain sense, all the way back to the special covenants of the Hebrew Bible. Did not the Third Reich also come about as a development of this myth? Any story of continuous progress in the sense of growth is impossible in a natural system. History is filled with failed societies that grew beyond the limits of their local environments and paid no heed to the signs of a coming collapse.
History unfolds like an infinite story. Natural history is so large that to put limits on it seems out of place. Yes, our sun changes and will eventually use up its nuclear fuel in some spectacular way, and the universe as a whole will become so cold and sparse that it may no longer be able to support living systems, but the scope of this history is so vast in human terms that it may as well be infinite. If humanity does not destroy itself by playing out our heroic myths on a grand scale, we will survive to write ourselves into the Book of Life for a long time to come.
Signals and Systems
A comprehensive development of the field of Semiotics is a necessary ground to this work. Seen rightly, this field is a master field like Science, Philosophy, Politics, Mathematics, History and Evolution. These master fields are not just fields of inquiry in their own right, but necessary tools for conducting any inquiry at sufficient depth. This master science of sign and signification has not yet sufficiently penetrated common consciousness to be sufficiently considered common sense in more than a handful of communities, but it holds a solution to the mind/body problem as well as ancient differences between realist and idealist philosophies.
As an EECS student at MIT in the late 70s and early 80s and in lively discussions on the Internet before it broke onto the mainstream in the late 90s, I observed and participated in the dialog of Artificial Intelligence around agency and system that can reason about beliefs, desires and intentions. Had I understood the broad claims for semitotics and the action or signs (semiosis) at that time, I would have had a different response to both the physical symbol systems hypothesis, as well as claims based on autopeotic systems theorys that symbol processing is not sufficient to form intentions.
If we cannot refer to goals (teleology), what then is the force that drives evolution? We don't need to answer every question; we don't need a true comprehensive doctrine to find common ground. What we need for Open Stewardship is some rules of engagement, and we will explore some of these below with reference to Rawls on public reason liberal democracy.
Although symbolic representation may not be a sufficient condition, it is a necessary one. The processing of signs, semiosis, pervade the universe to its very core. Although Pierce himself dispared ever being understood on his deepest hopes for semiotics, that the world is made from signs, recent work of Deely and others has shown just how broadly this work can be interpreted.
I interpret the work of Flores and Winograd to be a critique of AI as it has been practiced, not for the ultimate possibilities. The current paradigm is really only capable of delivering systems that enhance human intelligence, and do not lead directly to not human reasoners. For that, these artificial systems would need to be independent autopoetic networks not ultimately dependant on human systems for their internal networks of signification. On the other hand, autonomous artificial systems may hold this possibility and science fiction is filled with at least plausible descriptions of them. I suspect we are a lot further from such possibilities than people think, but I would also suggest that fictional explorations are the synchronistic fodder for the eventual occurrence.
As stewards of the commons, there are innumerable tasks ahead of us, so why are we digging into these abstract subjects? The answer is simple. We have to first create a foundation to act from and ways of working that bring us to a new and different future. There are many systems impacting on the commons that threaten the long-term viability of the system as a whole. I speculate that in naturally evolved systems that it is possible for some form of runaway growth to favor the growth and persistence of autopoetic systems and processes that are parasitic to the whole, but that in the long scope of evolutionary history, these systems will eventually burn themselves out. The human cultural commons holds the wisdom born of multiple expansions and collapses where the myth of progress has run its course to the ruin of the societies taken up in this sort of mythology.
When Rawls discusses public reason and the role of the comprehensive doctrines of various religious traditions, he introduces the idea of the reasonable comprehensive doctrine. Those with a minority of their tradition may support a liberal respect for religious freedom, but the same tradition supports the establishment of a state religion when it is their own. The unreasonable seek to impose their tradition on the whole in the moment that they achieve power whether that power is rooted in majority rule in a democracy or the autocratic rule of other political systems. He introduces the idea of public reason as a practice of developing wisdom within democracy.
Comprehensive Doctrines and Public Reason
In the public sphere, it is necessary to find a way to resolve conflicts that inevitably arise between competing comprehensive doctrines. The space of OS is broad, but in a different way than Rawls' concern for governance of the public sphere. It includes the governance of open religious institutions, and does not have to resolve all possible conflicts in the public sphere. Public reason is a response to the need to create a common ground for all, where OS is also concerned with the right architecture for a diversity of fields with different needs and structures. Democratic ideals are a natural match with the broad concerns of public reason, but unless the people have the will and qualities to achieve justice for all, democracy devolves to a mob rule and a tyranny of the majority.
Is it even appropriate for an open field to have a comprehensive doctrine? Ultimately open fields must be open to a paradigm shift, but between such shifts it is the task of stewards to describe a comprehensive understanding of the current state of affairs. History shows that, whenever such an understanding becomes a doctrine to be accepted on faith, the authorities and institutions responsible will likely empower themselves politically to take retribution on those with the temerity to think differently. If sanctions are limited to the ability to include or exclude persons and ideas from a particular circle of faith, so be it. On the other hand, if members of that faith will not subject themselves to legitimate laws composed by reasonable agreement and public reason, they may seek other retributions outside the law on those they deem dangerous to their comprehensive doctrine. We recognize the right of individuals and groups to decide for themselves what their limits of action and thinking will be. Inappropriate limits may slow down the work and limit possibilities, but the laws of a just and reasonable society do not allow for one to choose the limits for another except in the interest of the common good.
What emerges is the idea that many, perhaps most fields, will have long standing commonly held understandings that may be considered as a comprehensive doctrine, but that in an open field these are not doctrinal. They are not an enforced conformity, but mearly a common understanding of the current state of knowledge. It is ironic that the Protestant Calvin is possibly responsible for the emergence of the idea of the separation of church and state in his persecution and the eventual execution of the genius Michael Servetus for heresy.
We are justified in concluding that resorting to such extreme measures in order to propagate ones doctrines demonstrates a moral weakness, and that any tradition embodied of wisdom will not resort to such measures. Socrates, perhaps the greatest historical advocate of secularism, demonstrates the idea of turning the other cheek and eternally mocks those who passed judgement on him. Public Reason and Open Stewardship are ways of thinking that oppose with all their strength and purpose the possibility of the mob rule from a majority.
It is also ironic that those who in their actions most oppose these developments in American politics often employ individualistic and libertarian rhetoric to achieve what is essentially mob rule of an unreasonable and vocal minority. They unwittingly serve the powerful elites who now dominate the field with economic hegemony. They are seduced into thinking they are standing up to the liberals who want the state to dominate their lives while failing to recognize that it is not liberalism that they oppose. Something else is missing in both parties that dominate in a duopoly, and that something is respect for free individuals.
Many who call themselves liberals only want to quiet dissent by handing out alms rather than righting injustice, and others who take the name conservative only seek to maintain the current balance of injustice. The chattering class in politics and media work to gin up the debate to levels of unreason to prevent any possibility of a dialog where public reason might emerge. We may forgive them their desire to control the masses they have deeply wronged for so long as they are driven by fear of scarcity. What we cannot allow is for them to continue to control through the use of fear and artificial scarcity. If the promise of the liberal vision of the founders and giants of political philosophy who, like Rawls, have faith in this vision is allowed to unfold, then we will truly live in an open and abundant future.
The Limits of the Reasonable
As an ideal to be strived for, Rawls cannot be beat. The trouble is that some few who hold power, often power that is not legitimate by the standards of public reason will continue to wage politics in an effort to defeat all attempts at reasonable reflective equilibrium. Not that we should abandon the ideal of liberal democracy founded in public reason, but we should realize that first it must be won by defeating the forces of unreason. Man as a reasoning animal is a construction of modernity, and doesn't hold up to much scrutiny, but we do have powerful brains that are programmed for survival.
The violent and the unreasonable have some advantages in a conflict as they do not care if others are harmed or if reason survives the battles, but the peaceful and the truthful have other strengths that are harder to recognize. It is often observed that the difference be the so-called left and right in politics is whether they believe that people are by nature good or evil. Until some relatively recent work in sociology and game theory, we have had to rely on anecdote and subjective reasoning to decide this issue. I would also argue that there is much accumulated human wisdom that is embodied in human culture. Rawls' term of comprehensive doctrine refers to a number of different types of cultural traditions, and, to the extent that they are also pragmatic philosophies and ways of living, they are the main carriers of evolved human wisdom as culture. This goes for religious and secular traditions alike.
There is a lot of work that suggests that humans as a species are generally more cooperative than animals and that we have a built in sense of justice that we are predisposed to act on. The work in game theory is suggestive of how evolution might select for altruistic traits because cooperating groups are much better at building shared wealth, and group selection can explain how these traits can survive and increase in populations. Is it not reasonable to assume that similar selection processes would be engaged within and between social groups? Over time more cooperative cultures would be advantaged in terms of shared wealth building and survival over ruthless, uncooperative and unreasonable cultures.
The deeper goal of this entire project, taking the form of book writing but more importantly a call to action and invitation to join in unconventional leadership and design of new social form, is to call into question the reasonableness of the liberal project. Both sides claim this mantle of reason when it suits them, even as they use it as a cloak for corruption and violence. In my long career as a systems engineer, I have noticed the it is rare that sufficient attention is paid to error and failure. When corruption is so common in our political systems that we often cannot tell the difference between truth and satire, then all calls to be reasonable must be suspect.
When the laws are enforced with vengence on the weak while the powerful remain unpunnished, and the law itself is twisted into a tool of oppression and we find that what any reasonable person would call corrupt is perfectly legal as long as you are careful to avoid a few well placed legal traps, how can we expect any citizen to respect the law except out of fear of the potential of arbitrary punnishment? We also note the strong potential that these traps are more often used as a tool of blackmail than of justice, and that prosecutions for corruption are often just another aspect of that systemic corruption. Architects of legal systems need to go beyond the reasonableness called for by political philosophers like Rawls and take into account from the outset the possibility of error, failure and parasitism.
The Middle Way
We are not arguing that people are universally good, but neither are they universally bad. In any polarity, both extremes are related through a deeper concept. People can be and often are reasonable just as they are predisposed to be good. On the other hand, just because a doctrine declares itself to be good and reasonable does not mean those declarations are to be trusted. By their fruits you will know them.
The idea of scarcity is complemetary to the myth of progress. Actual scarcity is a tool to create fear and to control the many in pyramidal power structures. Between scarcity and abundance are the limitations of the actual. Between the ideal and the real, the mind and the body are physical symbols and the processes of semiosis.
Acting CIO of the Commons
This thought experiment starts in the metaphors of business. How do we structure organizations and construct authority? Businesses are structured for top down control as are most of our modern institutions, but the commons is different and we need to be aware when we reach the limits of our metaphors and need to create something new. We need to imagine our way to the structure or a Global Wisdom Driven Organization. When you don't have ways to force or push people into imposed structures, you need to pull them together by some other means. That means is vision. The best corporations are led by vision. Emerging leadership thinking realizes that it is ineffective to use force to get people to cooperate with collective goals. The blatant unfairness of sharply stratified incomes and wealth as wealth collectively created with large inputs from the commons make the whole process into a collective psychological game. Why should anyone cooperate with a class that contemptuously treats them as raw materials, just another factor of production.
I propose that the commons needs a CIO. The commons being multiple in itself, there is no reason to think this should be a singular position where competing visionaries have to engage until one emerges victorious. It is the vision that needs to be singular in the way it constitutes a shared space of engagement, an open field. I become an acting CIO by participating in the construction of a vision of what can be done now and in the near future. This field is inclusive of all open source software and the peer produced resouces like Wikipedia, Open Street Maps and many many more. The scope is so vast and constantly growing that it will always be difficult to know the boundaries. In this chapter, the author puts on the hat of acting CIO and begins to articulate a vision. If you're like me, you'll have strong opinions about what is important and what needs to be done next, and if you do, then put on a hat and join the fun. There's plenty of work to go around. We will need to keep up with each other and to work to construct collective understandings.
Multiple centers can and do emerge, and sometimes they later merge and sometimes not. In the open source world, we also have a word for when a singular project becomes two. We call that a fork, and it doesn't happen very often. In the commons, it is very resource intensive to fork projects. It splits the attentions of one community of users and developers into two smaller groups and makes confusion and headaches for those spanning groups, and other projects that depend on them or provide support to them. There is a kind of marketplace functioning, but it isn't much like markets that operate primarily in terms of scarcity and rivalry.
If we want to understand why, we have to look directly at how information and knowledge is fundamentally different than material goods, and how their respective marketplaces might differ. The raw material here is data, information in it's raw form, and this kind of information is always too abundant. But this raw form is completely contextual. In semiotic terms, it is signs without objects or interpretants. When we load the data into information processing networks, and some of the data is interpreted as programs, then those programs can construct interpretations of the actual signs and objects. Ultimately, information systems are supporting sign systems for human intelligence so the signs that are important and in the commons of human language and interpretations. When we talk about rival and non-rival goods, we are refering to this distinction. Physical objects like a car, a house or food to eat are consumed in their use, but information is not. You body copies billions of bits of DNA every time a cell divides, and computers can make exact copies of any binary data with almost no cost. Just like with our cells, making copies is fundamental to how they work.
Imagine a map of all the open source projects, both in the original code sharing sense, and now in the sense of creating crowd sourced and collectively produces information resources of all sorts. It could never be complete as projects come and go continuously. If I had to be CIO of the whole thing, I'd never be able to know what all my people are doing. That's ok in a large organization, even moreso when its structure is a decentrallized network. The component technologies of kernels, networks, file systems, languages and much much more are actually very mature technologies, if you can call five to ten years mature. The entire space of wiki platforms is maybe fifteen years old, so the its cards all the way down that I am writing this on isn't a newcomer at seven or so years in the making. On the other hand, it incorporates innovations that make it something quite new in the history of wiki that are not entirely built.
I focus on the data platform because that is what will best support the most needed developments to support the producers of the information commons. The Decko platform is what you would build to support Wikipedia if you hadn't already invested many man-years of development in your current platform. It is what a team is building Wikirate site with, a cloud-sourced platform where contributors build an database of corporate performance ratings based on the measurements valued by the knowledge producers. It is what we can build a platform for the peer production of democracy with.
We will need many tools to support the processes of our networked organizations of peer production, and they all can be well supported by the card based data platform. Let's list some of the main processes necessary to acheive and maintain the structure necessary for us to continue to do the work:
- We need sustain ourselves. We need to produce value and realize it in currencies that we we can exchange for the necessities of living. Dignified work and a fair participation in the common wealth.
- We need to produce and reproduce the skills necessary to do the work. Produce a skilled labor force.
- We depend on and support the institutions that produce a healthy, educated and independent population. Produce an available labor force. Produce citizens committed to maintaining the common weal.
- We need to see what we are doing together. Produce an active collective vision of the work.
A corporation implements information systems to support different aspects of its operations, and it is the same with the commons. The list above can be made to roughly correspond to the departments of a typical organizational structure, but there are fundamental differences. A corporate structure has the purpose of excluding, and in the commons we are structuring and designing for inclusion. The only thing a corporations wants to include is profits, and the revenues that make for profitable operations, and any costs that can be excluded register the same way in the production of profit. We create and enhance a commons by including objects, by including more of those objects and including them in more ways. The commons of human knowledge and wisdom is greater by inclusion. In this context, sharing knowledge grows this commons and makes it of greater value to all.
When software developers created the principles of open source software, it was because they wanted this value of sharing code held in commons. The corporate instinct is to exclude and to want to make any line of code developed on their nickle into exclusive property. Sometimes on the theory that they will profit from it, but more often in a simple self-protective reflex. In developing information tools and assets for the commons, we don't have that problem. The Gnu Public License was designed first to include code into a space of shared code and second to prevent anyone from excluding derivitive works from the commons. For someone acting in a CIO role for any knowledge commons, or wanting to provide tools for any such commons, the open source software movement is our labor force.
What we don't have yet is a financial system that matches our productions systems. We have to exist in a finantial environment dominated by mono-culture currencies that are more suited to rivalry and scarcity. We have abundance and attention. We don't want to sell our attention to the highest bidder so they can pummel us with marketting pitches; we want to engage with passion in what really matters to us and our families.
We need to take social media back from the corporations. We need tools like Facebook, but without exposing ourselves to the privacy invasion and push ads. Tools like Twitter are more adaptable to these concerns, and the key will be in how the tools are used. The core app of peer-to-peer democracy is a massive voter contact/registration support tool, but to the worker in a neighborhood polling citizens and getting them registered and to the polls this application connects all such workers in a social production network. If I'm also involved in particular social causes and groups, I'm going to want one tool for managing my connections whether we are working on voter engagement or cleaning up the regional environment. That's why we need any tools we develop to be maximally interoperable and networkable. There will be many legacy tools already in use by groups actively engaged in the work. There are institutions that support some tools, but they tend to exclude on some boundary (for example the academic digital libraries of peer reviewed papers are only available through pay-walls to intitutional members).
This diversity of existing practices is both a wealth and a burden. The burden is in the massive effort needed to connect them into a coherent whole. Fortunately, current practice in software design and implementation has come a long way. We have some really good abstractions for networked computing and sharing object representations. We use agile development methods to rapidly prototype applications that can be easily converted into networked resources. In It's Cards all the Way Down, I write about a platform that I have contributed to in design and code. This platform is a good candidate for a networked data abstraction that is needed to implement all of the other tools. It doesn't have to be this tool or implementation, but the it needs to share the core of this data design. Named networked data objects with structured relationships. As I write this, Decko 1.0 is being planned and worked on, and we'll need to get to Decko Systems for the full networked model.
Another very helpful movement is the development of coding bootcamps. This is a great way to develop skills in the community, but as a CIO, I'm even more interested in leadership development. If I bring raw talent to a bootcamp and give them skills, the only path is into the corporate world. You can follow up with incubators to teach entreprenuership, and that is all good as far as it goes. I want to inspire them with my vision for what we can build in the Commons. The invitation and opportunity isn't just to learn to code, but to find a path into leadership where we construct our vision for the future and implement it. I want to draw a much broader spectum of talent into a program that will start with a basic technological grounding in coding websites, but has different tracks that concentrate on each aspect of the overall process of creating collaborative knowledge works. Potential stewards of the commons might find work in product/project management after getting a background in current practices, or they might appentice on open source projects. These are skill sets recognized in industry, and open source development is a bit of an industry in itself as corporate systems.
This is to say, these skills will offer opportunities for support by working in industry, academia or non-profits. The bigger opportunity for support is in commons based industry. Instead of getting a jobs, we can produce services in a peer-to-peer network. Our member-based social media tools might be add-free, but say a company wants to sponsor an access portal that is branded and linked to company sponsored content. We can sell that. If the peer-to-peer network of precinct workers wants to sell voting lists or election day services to get out the vote, they can do that. It is more likely that this network would fund-forward with their collective assets to support grass-roots candidates who represent their values. When these candidates win, they are in a position to raise funds to pay back that debt and more to help fund-forward for other good candidates. Again, some people in the network will get paid directly by getting jobs with representatives, advocacy organizations or parties, but that isn't the big opportunity here.
We need to create a new kind of currency system. That also will mean new kinds of markets that are based on principles of inclusion and abundance in contrast to the only kind of money we have now that is based in exclusion and scarcitly. This has been called a flowspace, and maybe others have their own name for something similar. This step on its own has the potential to revolutionize economies and lead to much more balanced prosperity at a much higher median level.
We need to re-create social media so that it empowers people in collaborative networks. We are tired of having our attention managed by others and want to take ownership of how information gets filtered. We need to protect privacy when information is shared and agreggated so that it can't function to spy on and market to us. Any value that can be gained with this aggregated data is reserved to the producers of that data and their common interests. This can be realized by integrating flowspace/meta-currency based systems with the new social media tools.
The Commons co-exists with exclusivity and ownership, and it needs to be defended. When something is rejected as waste, it is given to the Commons to care for. Whether what is given is gift or burden is determined in the exchange. Polution is a violence done to the commons when it becomes global in scale. In that case, the only signal that industry understands is cost, and therefore we must find a way to price it into the market. It is helpful to note here that the global financial markets are in-themselves a commons, and by the logic of the free-market industry should not be allowed to externalize these costs. In other words, the market is thereby broken and doesn't function to fairly distrubute costs and benefites. What is needed is a logic by which industry pays for what it takes and for the burden placed on the commons in rejecting waste.