Back at the end of May, we introduced Yochai Benkler ( A Harvard Law Professor ) who is a specialist in open source economics and its' facilitation by the communication network provided by the internet. In his TED talk he uses this diagram to illustrate the principle types of economic transaction that are possible.
The current global capitalist system largely occupies the right hand side of this space. There is an interesting paradox in the mixture of processes that are currently in use. The typical dominant company or corporation structure is quite rigidly centralised or hierarchical, but these entities compete with each other in a decentralised, loosely regulated manner in the market place.
The rise of cheap fast global communication is, however allowing expansion of economics into the top left corner of this space. Yochais' book "Wealth of Networks" which we referenced earlier, deals with the mechanics of this in some detail.
In Cynapse, we found this diagram very interesting, and realised it can be re-drawn to describe the range of political systems which we use to manage our civilisation.
The options offered by the full range of political philosophies are usually presented linearly, as the "political spectrum" with the right typically being used to present competitive societies and the left collaborative ones. When this possibility space is stretched out into a second dimension, by considering whether political power is held in a centralised manner or distributed throughout the society, a much clearer picture emerges.
We've attempted to position some well known and widely tested philosphies on this landscape. Their precise positions and the extent to whch they overlap is highly subjective and open to debate. We'd love to hear your comments on whether you agree with this distribution.
What's clear is that three of the four regions have been well explored in the last couple of centuries. Bottom left (communism) has been tried and is generally accepted as having failed in a wide variety of countries.
The whole world went to war when bottom right was attempted.
We are currently hovering in the top right as a global society and the failings of this system (environmental and social) are now apparent.
The only region that has not been explored in any depth is the top left. Brief forays were made into it during the Spanish Civil War, but as Yochai shows, very advanced and ubiquitous communication is required to make it feasible. We now have this communication capacity, so if you are looking for an alternative political philosophy, Cynapse suggests you look top left!
We've spoken about how the internet potentially allows a shift in political power from top down governments and global institutions, to bottom up, peer-to-peer networks. We're not alone in recognising this. Here is an interesting TED by Gordon Brown, ex British Prime Minister.
This talk was given in 2009 and generated quite a lot of controversy in the TED community. Was it a sincere presentation of Gordons' opinions and beliefs, or was it a cynical attempt to win hearts and votes?
Whichever is true, it is significant for us that the potential power of a connected public is recognised by people at the top of hierarchical governments. Unfortunately, Gordon goes on to say that what the world needs is more top down global institutions to solve its' problems! That's the problem with ingrained socialism. 4 years later, what progress has been made by the global institutions? The recent United Nations Rio +20 Earth Summit
is widely held to have been a failure
. The change will not come from the top down. It must be grown from the bottom up.
We've had a look at how we could try to measure the magnitude of an alternative societies' economic and societal activity. We've had a look at how we can track the types of activities that are working towards the new civilisation. So how do we measure how empathic society is becoming. Well how about asking people who are prepared to try to live by empathic guidelines to sign up to a petition so that we can count them?
Karen Armstrong has proposed a similar thing with her "Charter for Compassion". Her objective was to find a common thread in different religions to begin to break down sectarian barriers. She proposes that this common thread can be found in the Golden Rule, which says that we shouldn't do anything to other people, that we wouldn't want them to do to us. She won the 2008 TED
prize, which funded some of the initial work in setting up the charter.
The charter is basically an undertaking that people of all religions should be able to sign, to commit to living their life by the Golden Rule. But this rule could also be said to form a foundation for secular morality systems. We feel that the charter is a basis to unite atheists, agnostics and those with religous faith.
We've signed the charter, along with 88,389 other people. So could you sign it? If not, we'd like to hear what prevents you from doing so. What is your objection to it? How should it be changed for you to commit to joining an empathic lifestyle?
Please read the charter and see if you agree with it.THE CHARTER FOR COMPASSION
Here's Karen talking about the charter.
All over the world, there are people working towards the new economy, but the evidence is scattered all over the place. It's very difficult to judge the full scale of all this activity. We've looked at measures of the size of beneficial economic activity, but how can we see its' diversity?
We met the New Economics Foundation
when we had a look at the Happy Planet Index.
Another project they've collaborated in is the Global Transition to a New Economy
website. This is a directory of specific projects working towards the new economy. It includes alternative funding and investment organisations, social businesses, local democracy movements, local currencies. it's well worth a look.
There are other similar directories emerging as well. But still, all of these signposts to the new economy are hidden in the noise of the web.
At Cynapse, we believe that there needs to be a common marker for all of this transitional activity. Not only in economics, and politics, but also in the research supporting the development of cooperative, empathic, emergent civiliation from the diverse projects. We see Cynapse as a form of tagging system to help people and identify the growing and coalescing parts of the new civilisation. We need to label and flag up what's happening to help those who feel the need for the change and want to be a part of it.
Yesterday, we looked at whether GDP was a good way to measure a societys' happiness.
Time for a bit of John again, from the early days this time. As usual, he's on the case!
People are now looking to see if there are other ways in which the success of a society can be measured.
Nic Marks is a statistician with the New Economics Foundation
. He has helped to develop the Happy Planet Index
. This is a measure of the average quality and length of life in the society, divided by the resources required to achieve this. Using this as a criteria to assess countries, he comes up with some interesting findings in this TED
So Costa Rica appears to be where it's at! A number of other similar metrics are being developed and we'll return to look at these later. They may seem of academic interest, but there is one country in the world which already measures its' activity in terms of "Gross National Happiness
". That's the Kingdom of Bhutan
A short time ago, we had a look at peer to peer lending, to fund projects in developing countries. However, peer to peer lending is also making a splash in more established economies, by-passing the centralised banking system. It was announced in the UK this week, that the total amount of funds that have changed hands by this process had reached £250 million
We've seen that all sorts of "economic" activity is now moving out of the mainstream economic system and into the alternative networked system, from peer to peer lending and commerce, to non-profit open source projects. How do we measure the size of this activity and the effect that it is having on the mainstream economic system.
Traditional economics measures the activity in a country in terms of Gross Domestic Product
(GDP). This is the value of all the products and services changing hands in a country (or other community) over a given period of time. The size of the GDP and it's rate of growth is taken to be a measure of that communities Standard of Living or in other words, level of happiness for the citizens or members.
GDP will only include peer to peer trading where accounts are submitted and non-profit activity will not feature in it at all.
The basic premise that the size of GDP measures the amount of "happiness" is pretty flawed. Imagine a factory producing goods, and contributing to GDP by buying materials and selling them on. Now imagine that the factory produces a lot of pollution into the environment, that someone else has to pick up the bill for clearing up. The cost to that third party is also added to GDP, but I don't think they will agree that the overall level of happiness is increased by having to do it.
The assumption that GDP growth correctly prioritises economic activity to increase human happiness is questioned in this TED
talk by Tim Jackson.
Tim serves as the economics commissioner on the UK government's Sustainable Development Commission.
Britta Riley coined the phrase "R&DIY" for the open source development philosophy that enabled here to bring Windowfarms
A window farm is a small, product that is not very capital resource intensive product. Does this development process scale up to larger scale, more industrial projects? How about developing a tractor or a car this way?
In our next TED
talk, Marcin Jaubowski is giving this a go.
Some of these early projects look fairly primitive, but we need to remember, not only are they prototypes of the hardware early in the development process, but also, they are the result of a prototype of a new development process in itself. We will watch Marcins' project in more detail to see what lessons can be learnt.
We're starting to hear hints that humans are naturally empathic, social creatures. What is it in our biology that makes this the case? We need to look at research in neuroscience and psychology to see if we can find any evidence emerging. As usual, our starting place is TED
Here we can hear Paul Zak talk about some work he's been doing on the effects of the hormone Oxytocin, on peoples' behaviour.
This talk generated a lot of controversy in the TED forums when it was posted. There was dicussion over the the scientific rigour and conclusions achieved by Pauls' work. We'd love to hear your input on this, particular if you are working in a similar field of research. We'd also welcome an introduction to any other research that you know of, into human empathy.
One thing that we did find interesting was his findings on the levels of oxytocin generated at a wedding ceremony. This gives a pointer to the role that tradition and ritual play in bringing people together. We saw this a few posts ago when we looked at Alain de Bottons investigation into the lessons to be learned from organised religion.
Here in the UK, we've just had quite an astonishing demonstration of the levels of empathy achieved when the majority of a country comes together in the cause of common celebration. We've just had several days of public holiday devoted to celebrating the 60th year of our Queens' reign. We're not going to discuss justification for the role and mandates associated with monarchy, but it was impressive how people seemed to yearn for an opportunity to come together for a massive party. There were neighbourhood and street parties all over the country. We saw 10,000 people march down The Mall to cheer the Queens appearance on the balcony at Buckingham Palace. There were even examples of Republicans not wanting to be left out, and holding "Not the Jubilee" parties.
So just what has gone on in the brains of all those people? Why do we have this need to come together and do we need cultural traditions and rituals to act as a catalyst to this need?
What might the traditions and rituals of the future look like. It's interesting to note how Christianity took over the Pagan midwinter festival to create Christmas and how capitalism subsequently took over the same festival to create a celebration of consumption.
We've seen a number of ways in which online collaboration has produced open source software and information products. Linux being the prime example of a sophisticated collaborative project producing a product to rival that produced by one of the worlds' largest market-based institutions.
Could the same open source development philosophy be used to produce hardware? We can see that the entry barriers to the initial design process for hardware could be relatively low, similar to that for software. But the amount of commitment required from people to make something physical is much higher. In this transitional period where a collaborative society has to coexist with a market society, do people have sufficent surplus resource in time and materials to make prototypes and final production models, whilst simultaneously having to earn a living in the market society?
Let's look a case study. Britta Riley has coordinated the development of WindowFarms
. This is a collaborative project to design and develop hydroponic growings that allow people who don't have access to land, such as inner city dwellers, to grow small amounts of food in their windows. The design and development of these systems has been carried out by an unpaid, part-time network of around 20,000 people all around the globe. Britta calls this process R&DIY, and it is based around a wikki type organisation.
The project is open-source and the window farm plans are available for anyone to copy and build their own farms, or even modify and adapt to their own requirements. For people who want to buy a finished product, they are just starting to commission production of windowfarm kits. The money raised is ploughed back into financing the development process. This demonstrates the pragmatic coexistence required between open source and market societies during a transitional period from one to the other.
Let's hear what Britta had to say at TED
As always, we seem to be returning to the issue of intellectual property. Windowfarms are applying for commons patents to protect the windowfarm concept from commercial exploitation. On their website, they are trying to recruit lawyers to assist with this process. It is interesting to consider how large an open-source society or civilisation would need to be before it could ignore the laws produced by (and for the benefit of) the market society, and work to its' own collaborative, mutully accepted codes of practice. What would the "Laws" of a collaborative society look like and how would they be arrived at. Would there be laws at all, or could we develop peoples' empathic intelligence to the level where laws were not required at all?
We’ve heard that a peer-to-peer (p2p) network can be more efficient than a
hierarchical institution at delivering a complex solution to a problem, but how can this be? It sounds counter-intuitive.
Clay Shirky has given a TED
talk looking in some detail at what it is about the dynamics of a p2p network, that enables it to utilise its’ resources so
What’s interesting here is the vastly different amounts of work and commitment that different members of a network give to any given project. Clay makes the point that the vast majority of the network give very little input, but within this small amount of input the critical factor for the success of the project can often be found. Perhaps one expert gives a small piece of vital advice or information at a crucial stage, and then has nothing else to do with the project from then on. They’re not doing nothing for the rest of the time, they’re simply working on other different projects, probably using different skills.
An institution or corporation cannot afford to have all of the less productive
people on its’books all the time, just for the possibility that they might have
a valuable contribution to make. In fact, market capitalists frequently argue
for it to be easier to hire and fire people on a casual and short-notice basis,
to limit their overheads in maintaining staff who aren’t producing 100% of the time. It’s a limitation of their system that they recognise.
In a market economy, getting rid of someone gives them causes them a lot of harm in terms of security. It is argued that they can then get another job when the demand emerges elsewhere. But what if that demand doesn’t emerge quickly enough. Perhaps people will refuse to become proficient in extremely specialised roles because of the risk of poor demand. The work force as a whole has “dumbed down” and some skills may be lost, or need to be re-learned at cost later on when their need is identified again.
The market model assumes that skills can simply be switched on and off to meet demand. In reality these skills need to be learned, maintained and passed on. In non-market Cynapse, people can retain their skills, perhaps part-time, without having to use them all the time to support themselves. They have the flexibility to jump easily into and out of projects for as much or as little input as they need to give.
Also of note is that, as with Yochai Benkler from yesterday, Clay identifies
intellectual property laws and copyright as a potential threat to the p2p
network method of organisation. Here is a TED talk he has given on that subject, primarily on cultural and entertainment media. We still need to investigate if IP laws stifle creativity and human potential in other areas of