Essay by gmoke, reposted by permission, from the European Tribune
November 6, 2012, the MIT Center for Civic Media and Department of Urban Planning had a conversation on "Peer to Peer Politics" with Steven Johnson, author of Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked World moderated by Aaron Naparstek, visiting scholar at MIT's DUSP, and featuring Harvard Law School's Yochai Benkler, Susan Crawford, and Lawrence Lessig. Video of the event online.
To my mind, the discussion was less about the electoral politics we usually associate with that word and more about how peer-to-peer [P2P] networks are already being used among diverse populations for civic activities and many other things. When Susan Crawford, founder of OneWebDay, paraphrased Kevin Kelly by saying "The internet was built by love. It's a gift," (The Web Runs on Love, Not Greed), I thought of the idea and the story behind the title of the book You Can't Steal a Gift about jazz players Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Milt Hinton, and Nat King Cole by Gene Lees (Lincoln, NE: Univ of NE Press, 2001 ISBN 0-8032-8034-3):
Phil Woods: "I was in Birdland, stoned, as I often was in those days. Dizzy and Art Blakey kidnapped me. Took me home to Dizzy's and sat me down and said, 'What are you moaning about? Why don't you get your own band?'...
"I asked them if a white guy could make it, considering the music was a black invention. I was getting a lot of flak about stealing not only Bird's music but his wife and family as well [Woods was married to Chan, Charlie Parker's widow]... And Dizzy said, 'You can't steal a gift. Bird gave the world his music, and if you can hear it you can have it.'"
Recent work in behavioral economics shows that we
"do things because we like it, because it's interesting, and because it serves a larger purpose."
(Source: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink NY: Penguin Group, 2009 ISBN 978-1-59448-884-9)
Peer to peer networks are already based upon a common purpose. A common, unifying purpose along with a measure of autonomy, and a chance for mastery seem to be stronger motivators than money or other extrinsic rewards.
Voluntary cooperation on common projects also fits into Gandhian economics as swadeshi, local production. Daily practice of swadeshi was the basis of both Gandhian nonviolence and economics. Can we think of Linux and Wikipedia and the other usual suspects examples of global/local P2P as swadeshi systems?
Mutual exchange within a system of voluntary cooperation was the heart of Kropotkin's proposed system of economics:
"He believed that should a society be socially, culturally, and industrially developed enough to produce all the goods and services required by it, then no obstacle, such as preferential distribution, pricing or monetary exchange will stand as an obstacle for all taking what they need from the social product."
Clay Shirky, in his book, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (NY: Penguin Press, 2010 ISBN 978-1-59420-253-7), wonders:
"But what if the contributors aren't workers? What if they really are contributors, quite specifically intending their contributions to be acts of sharing rather than production? What if their labors are labors of love?"
If work becomes sharing, then we might be approaching a gift economy in which reciprocity and fairness become more important. Anthropologist Marcel Mauss wrote that there is an obligation to give, an obligation to receive, and an obligation to repay in gift economies but that's only the beginning of complications. Economies, whether capitalist, Communist, socialist, anarchist, gift, or barter are more complex than any single human mind.
If we do want to talk about P2P and other kinds of networked politics, I would first examine why grassroots/netroots party politics has not yet generated grassroots/netroots governance despite being successful at electing Governors and Presidents. For example, Deval Patrick of MA won his first term in 2006 with a masterful grassroots/netroots campaign that bubbled up with as well as trickled down. The two way communication lasted through the transition when Patrick installed a business as usual staff and got into trouble about curtains and Cadillacs with the Boston press. When Obama ran in 2008 with Davids Alexrod and Plouffe, who both worked on the Patrick campaign, I wondered if the same thing would happen.
I do not know of any politicians who are currently trying to govern as well as campaign with a grassroots/netroots P2P network but, if P2P continues to be effective within the civic and business spheres, there will be.
Ethan Zuckerman's notes on "Peer to Peer Politics"
More from You Can't Steal a Gift: Dizzy, Clark, Milt, and Nat by Gene Lees
(Lincoln, NE: Univ of NE Press, 2001 ISBN 0-8032-8034-3)
Sonny Rollins: "Jazz has always been a music of integration. In other words, there were definitely lines where blacks would be and where whites would begin to mix a little. I mean, jazz was not just a music; it was a social force in this country, and it was talking about freedom and people enjoying things for what they are and not having to worry about whether they were supposed to white, black, and all this stuff. Jazz has always been the music that had this kind of spirit. Now I believe for that reason, the people that could push jazz have not pushed jazz because that's what jazz means. A lot of times, jazz means no barriers. Long before sports broke down its racial walls, jazz was bringing people together on both sides of the bandstand. Fifty-second Street, for all its shortcomings, was a place in which black and white musicians could interact in a way that led to natural bonds of friendship. The audience, or at least part of it, took a cue from this, leading to an unpretentious flow of social intercourse."