Saturday, November 30, 2013

A New System of Values is being Born

How does deep social change and a phase transition from one system to another start? It starts with a cultural revolution. It starts with a new system of values being born, a “transvaluation”. The feudals and the Christians did not have the same values as the elite of the Roman Empire. If you were a member of the Roman Empire work was bad, it was for the slaves, but if you were a Christian monk work was good. You were supposed to work, you were creating God’s word on earth. So feudalism was not just a continuation of the Roman empire, it was a value revolution, of course it took something over but it was really another system. This new system of common production, the commons-based peer production, is not just a continuation of capitalism, it is not just a marginal rearrangement of the furniture, it is basically a revolution in values. For us openness, sharing and commons are the core of our value system. We are still entrepreneurs but we are a different type of entrepreneurs.

What do you do if you have a bunch of people with new values?
Let us go back to the end of the feudal system: the serfs escape the countryside and go to Florence and Venice where they meet up with the merchants and because they do not fit in the guild system they have to work for the merchants. What happens in that situation? This new segment of population demands new things and new social charters are established (the Magna Charta, the free city charters). What is a GPL, a General Public Licence? It is a social charter that says: we, the community, tell you, entrepreneurial coalition (of course it is often the same people, the developers working for Linux are the same that work for IBM or that own small companies developing Linux services), that if you want to collaborate with us you have to abide by five rules and if you don’t you do not play.

Next step: we are embedding those new values and those social charters in new open infrastructures. Think about BarCamps, a new way of meeting where the people collectively decide how the meeting will go. It is a new way and it has a new value embedded in the infrastructure of meetings. These are co-working spaces, hackers’ spaces, new infrastructures of cooperation based on different values.

Open manufacturing like Arduino is another example. Or the eCars project in Finland … if you are interested I have on p2pfoundation.net a list of over 300 project that are emerging among which about 25 open-source cars being planned and developed. The first one, Local Motors, based on crowdsourced design, is already on the road in the United States. ECars in Finland has made its own first shared design to transform Corolla into eCorolla, the “common” car in the Netherlands is headed for production in 2011. This is not a utopia. We are talking about real projects that are advancing at a pretty fast speed, faster than open software. These open charters, open infrastructures become new practices. You are doing open designs, you are doing open currencies, open funding, crowd funding which you apply in your own domain, so now we have open science, open education, open politics which create products. Then you have people like me who think that this is exciting and we talk about it and try to put a little grease in the system.

This is what I am trying to say: the old system is obviously crumbling and the alternative is not going to be centralised state planning, I think most people today agree on that. So what are the new alternatives? I would argue the alternative is being built. You may not see it; it depends on where you are in the system. I have a good friend who has been working for IBM for 3 years and it was really frustrating because I was excited, I am an evangelist so I always see the good side of things but he would say: “Michel, I do not see these things happening, I do not know what you are talking about”.

Well, luckily his wife got a really nice job and now he is not working but being a house-dad, he is in Alicante and I just skyped with him yesterday and he said: “Michel, for the first time in 3 years I am starting to think that you were right”. He is no longer working for IBM so he sees things differently, he is starting to see that young people today have no future, there is generalised insecurity. So if you are faced with a crumbling mainstream system, what do you do? You look for alternatives.

A little anecdote and then I close. The chairman has been very kind to give me some more time. I was in Tampere in Finland one month ago. There was in the audience a lady who is a start-up entrepreneur. There is a new subjectivity being born. Young people are building their identity based on their contribution to this common projects. So more and more identity is going away from “I am working for IBM” to “I am doing Linux”. It is the combination of their engagements which creates a reputation, association networks and their happiness in life. I have seen that many times, for example in Amsterdam. What the lady said was: “I am creating this company and I want to hire people. Finland is in crisis, you know, there is unemployment also in Finland. And you know what? I cannot find anybody who wants to work more than 3 days a week for me”. Now, why is that? According to a study in the city of Malmö, 52% of the population is engaged in peer production. 52%! And this is why Google did it, Google is a pioneer in leaving one day a week for people to engage in their own projects. This has become the reality for young people in Finland. They are not just victims of job insecurity, they also need it in a way because they want to be engaged in their passionate projects. This is what gives meaning to their lives and this is why we have a new culture and why we are building all these new alternatives. - Michel Bauwens

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