Global Commons in the Global Brain
* Article: Last, C., Global Commons in the Global Brain, Technol. Forecast. Soc. Change (2016), doi
URL = https://cadelllast.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/last-c-2016-global-commons-in-the-global-brain.pdf
- 1 Abstract
- 2 Discussion
- 3 Excerpts
- 3.1 The primary features of the technological shift
- 3.2 Piketty's Global State as Global Keynesianism
- 3.3 Technological Singularity Theory
- 3.4 Global Brain Technological Singularity
- 3.5 Superintelligence for a Global State ?
- 3.6 The Commons Institutional Gap
- 3.7 The Global Brain as Mechanism for the Global Commons
From Cadell Last:
"The next decade (present to ~2020–2025) could be characterized by large-scale labour disruption and further acceleration of income and wealth inequality due to the widespread introduction of general-purpose robotics, machine-learning software/artificial intelligence (AI) and their various interconnections within the emerging infrastructure of the ‘Internet of Things’(IoT). In this paper I argue that such technological changes and their socio-economic consequences signal the emergence of a global metasystem (i.e. control organization beyond markets and nation-states) and may require a qualitatively new level of political organization to guide a process of self- organization. Consequently, this paper proposes and attempts to develop a conceptual framework with the potential to aid an international political transition towards a ‘post-capitalist’ ‘post-nation state’ global world.
This conceptual framework is grounded within socio-technological theory of the ‘Global Brain’(GB), which describes a potential future planetary organizational structure founded on distributed and open-ended intelligence; and the socioeconomic theory of the ‘Commons’, which is a paradigm describing distributed modes of organization founded upon principles of democratic management and open access. In the integration of GB theory and Commons theory this paper ultimately argues that an appropriate international response to the emerging technological revolution should include the creation of networks with both automated and collaborative components that function on ‘Global Commons’(GC) logic (i.e. beyond both state and market logic)."
From the conclusion:
"In this article I first addressed the emerging technological possibility space as possessing the latent potential for both a positive revolutionary dimension and a negative disruptive dimension dependent on whether or not humans can think new large-scale geopolitical collectives capable of guiding/mediating the inevitable and overwhelming changes that will occur within the socioeconomic sphere. Second, I posited that the processual totality of this technological possibility space was best understood within the framework of the Global Brain (GB) variant of Technological Singularity (TS) theory because GB TS theory focuses its attention on the Internet as universal coordination medium capable of generating a higher level of human organization (as opposed to a focus on AGI post-humanity). Third, I identified the crucial lack in both contemporary large-scale geopolitical visions and GB TS theory as an absence of understanding how to discuss the end of capitalism and the potential emergence of a Global Commons. And finally, I argued that the Global Brain was a mechanism ultimately capable of situating an understanding of the emergence and stabilization of a total field change from capitalism to commonism.
In this sense GB TS theory has revolutionary political and economic potential, but only if it can think the dimension of the Global Commons and thus orient contemporary discussions of the emerging technological possibility space towards collective freedom. Considering that GB theory has at its foundation an emphasis on actualizing distributed organizations (as coordination problem) and open-ended organizations (as self-becoming problem), we can thus invite and approach the guided dissolution of hierarchical-centralized organizations that close the human mind to its own extimate potentiality, a potentiality which is each individuals own free space."
The primary features of the technological shift
"The primary features of the technological shift in relation to social, economic, and political processes, which is (likely) to include the following:
A) The transition will blur the lines between the ‘physical’(actual-existential) and the ‘digital’(virtual) worlds challenging the logical and conceptual foundations of primarily or purely physical institutions that are constrained by geography, maintenance costs, and centralized intelligence structures; but also primarily or purely digital networks that are often isolated or disconnected from directly impacting the physical world,
B) will lead to the disruption of fundamental socioeconomic notions and organizing principles of location, production, labour, and property as many organizational forms will communicate and co- ordinate multi-locally/globally and include large-scale automated production components with advanced materials,
C) will change the human relation to public (state) and private (market) spheres of socioeconomic organization and coordination as the state constructs rigid local boundaries based on control of property and labour, whereas the market operates purely on profit-driven monetary logic without consideration for the complex and multi-dimensional spheres of human value unrelated to profit or commodity exchange,
D) will require an open, active, pluralistic, and meta-reflective dialogue between a wide diversity of actors (in all spheres of human life) about the meaning and direction of this emerging world beyond the dominant state and capitalist forms (state-capital nexus), in the hopes of finding a new level of (commons) coherence and integration, and most probably a new type of social contract (focused on a new relation between the individual's rights within the totality of the sociopolitical sphere)."
Piketty's Global State as Global Keynesianism
"Piketty's now well-known ‘utopian solution’ would be to erect some idealized form of ‘Global State’ capable of regulating global markets with a progressive global tax (2014, p. 515):
- “To regulate the globalized patrimonial capitalism of the twenty- first century, rethinking the twentieth century fiscal and social model and adapting it to today's world will not be enough. To be sure, appropriate updating of the last century's social-democratic and fiscal-liberal program is essential, which focused on two fundamental institutions that were invented in the twentieth century and must continue to play a central role in the future: the social state and the progressive income tax. But if democracy is to regain control over the globalized financial capitalism of this century, it must also invent new tools, adapted to today's challenges. The ideal tool would be a progressive global tax on capital, coupled with a very high level of international financial transparency. Such a tax would provide a way to avoid an endless inegalitarian spiral and to control the worrisome dynamics of global capital concentration. Whatever tools and regulations are actually decided on need to be measured against this ideal.”
Consequently, Piketty's ultimate solution for ‘Capitalism in the 21st Century’ is essentially a form of ‘Global Keynesianism in the 21st Century’, where we re-invent the nature of the social state and the progressive in- come tax, but this time instead of just reinventing these dynamics at the multi-local nation-state level, we reinvent these same dynamics for the higher global whole. Although Piketty admits that such an approach is ‘utopian’ in the sense of being an ‘ideal’ projection and thus unrealistic in the ‘material’ domain, he also suggests that, as the end of the above quote suggests, all attempts to solve the problem of global capitalism should be ‘measured against this ideal’ of what essentially amounts to a ‘Global State’. The philosophical logic here is the relation between ‘materialism’ and ‘idealism’, where the ‘ideal’(for Piketty) functions as an attractor state or pole for grounding materialist political construction projects. The economic logic here is that, in the same way that the inhumane consequences of free market capitalism (labour instability, socioeconomic inequality, etc.) were reduced by nation-state interventionism in the second half of the 20th century (‘New Deal’), this same dynamic can be erected for global civilization in the 21st century, and ultimately save both capitalism and the state form itself, albeit at a new global level (‘New New Deal’).
From the perspective of the challenges posed by the emerging technological revolution (i.e. of an exponentially emerging self-organized global world founded on automated smart systems and distributed networks), these problems identified by Piketty (i.e. of global capital and its global control problem) simply accelerate the necessity of large-scale political action (~2020–2025) in order to prevent the eruption of fundamental antagonisms which are now clearly stressing the structural foundations of the world as it is."
Technological Singularity Theory
"Contemporary practical (elite) discourse regarding an emerging technological revolution has started to revolve around notions of a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’(WEF,2016),but in the general futures literature, discourse about a future technological revolution has, for some time, revolved around notions of ‘Technological Singularity’(TS) (Last, 2015c, Section 3.2). The notion of TS attempts to articulate the notion that technological progress is inherently evolving via an exponential trajectory and will eventually change the human world beyond individual human comprehension and understanding. The metaphor of ‘Singularity’ in ‘TS’ theory is used in specific reference to the astrophysical properties of a black hole's ‘event-horizon’. The ‘event-horizon’ of a black hole represents a break in spatiotemporal continuity rendering it impossible for any external observer to know the internal properties of the object in question (i.e. ‘the impossible beyond’ that is the ‘black hole’). In the same way, in TS literature the ‘Singularity’ represents ‘the impossible beyond’ for human comprehension and understanding (i.e. the ‘external (human) observer’ attempting to discern the (beyond human) future properties of a super-technological world that is a ‘black hole’). In these general futures notions the primary catalyst for future exponential change (the agent-cause of ‘Singularity’) is typically envisioned to be artificial general intelligence (AGI), i.e. a form of ma- chine intelligence that vastly overpowers human intelligence, leading to essentially a ‘post-human’ ‘future’(if such words even make discursive sense at that point).
This general AGI-TS vision, although always presented as human eschatology (i.e. end of human comprehension and understanding of the world, or end of human existence in the world), can take the form of either a utopian and dystopian variant. Both utopian and dystopian variants were explored in the first official introduction of the term ‘Technological Singularity’ in Vernor Vinge's ‘The Coming Technological Singularity’, where he posited that (1993, p. 88):
- “Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human race will be ended.”
Thus, the introductory overview of TS ultimately concluded that, in either the utopian or dystopian scenarios, humanity was approaching an eschatological horizon (as transcendence or extinction), which set the general ‘end times’ tone for the literature that followed. The most popular and influential ‘utopian’ ‘transcendence’ variant is inarguably Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near (2005), which argues that humanity will merge with technological intelligence and ‘transcend biology’ for a ‘super-human’ or ‘post-human’ state of being characterized by higher love, knowledge, and organizational form. The most popular and influential ‘dystopian’ ‘extinction’ variant (at least recently) is Nick Bostrom's Superintelligence (2014), which argues that the further development of machine intelligence will lead humanity towards an existential ‘control problem’ where human beings will become eradicated by our own technological creations.
The history of this futures discourse is problematic in many dimensions. Firstly, if this literature is not totally out of touch with our future reality, i.e. AGI is either impossible (an idea with fundamentally problematic presuppositions) or will itself not lead to humanity's phenomenological transcendence/extinction (because the human brain cannot be simulated by a digital supercomputer); then secondly, it is most certainly out of touch with our approach to Singularity –the ‘here to there’ of exponential global technological revolution –in many crucial ways.
The most important reason for this is that the theoretical emphasis in TS literature (i.e. emergence of AGI) almost completely ignores the systemic dynamics of technological revolution in relation to the emerging socio-technological sphere mediated by the totality of the Internet as universal medium. In missing this systemic dynamic the TS literature fails to even confront basic issues of systemic transitions in relation to control, power, and hierarchy, and thus basic issues of systemic transitions in terms of social, economic, and political life. In short, the TS literature to date has jumped far too quickly towards an eschatological horizon (in all honesty a repressed repetition of Christian thinking and Christian notions of historical time emerging in the scientific worldview) without thinking through deeply the systemic implications of technological revolution for the foundations of human life and civilization as a total sphere.
However, in contrast to this briefly introduced and problematic notion of an ‘AGI TS’, the general futures literature has also been characterized by discussions of an emerging collective superintelligence in the form of a ‘Global Brain (GB) Technological Singularity (TS)’, where ‘Global Brain’ refers specifically to the totality of the Internet as universal coordination medium."
Global Brain Technological Singularity
"The general futures literature has also been characterized by discussions of an emerging collective superintelligence in the form of a ‘Global Brain (GB) Technological Singularity (TS)’, where ‘Global Brain’ refers specifically to the totality of the Internet as universal coordination medium. This GB notion, founded on the metaphorical homology between global neuronal network action in the brain and global human-computer networks on earth, includes both a spatial and temporal dimension. The spatial dimension of the GB is characterized by distributed superintelligence, i.e. multi-agent problem solving and opportunity exploitation that occurs through horizontal communication channels (and consequently does not result in any permanent/hierarchical ‘centering’ phenomena) (Heylighen, 2016a). The temporal dimension of the GB is characterized by open-ended superintelligence, i.e. multi-agent problem solving that focuses on exploring possibility spaces and guiding immanent processual dynamics (and consequently does not rely on specifically predicting and controlling civilization development) (Weinbaum and Veitas, 2015). Thus, at its foundation, the GB as phenomenon can be seen to consist of A) a problem of global coordination (distributed organizations), and B) a problem of global self- becoming (open-ended organizations).
In this GB TS frame humanity does not face an immanent AGI apocalypse (in either a utopian or dystopian interpretation), but rather an immanent global metasystem transition founded on distributed (spatial) and open-ended (temporal) superintelligence mediated by the fu- ture Internet: of a world that self-organizes towards a planetary level via peer-to-peer platforms with no specific centers of power and of a human life that opens up towards an increasingly mysterious horizon of possibility.
Here the essence of the GB TS vision:
A) Totality of the Internet as universal coordination medium
B) Environment characterized by distributed open-ended super-intelligence
C) Societal self-organization towards planetary system level Proposed maxim for GB vision: Freedom on this socio-technological pathway is to recognize our necessity as the beings guiding history to- wards the full actualization of human desire (the indestructible hard core of human becoming).
This GB TS vision can be compared and contrasted with the traditional AGI TS vision. In the AGI TS vision humanity's attention becomes focused on individual machine-learning programs that enter ‘self-recursive cycles’ of exponential intellect improvement towards ‘post-humanity’. However, in the GB TS vision humanity's attention becomes focused on collective global issues and meta-systemic transitions related to power, control, and hierarchy. This is not to say that the GB TS vision totally negates the possibility of the emergence of AGI or even post-humanity, but rather approaches the emerging technological revolution as a phenomenon that must be grounded in the totality of socio-technological process (a conceptual shift that AGI TS cannot theoretically handle, and a conceptual shift that even GB theorists have not yet fully appreciated). Consequently, we may not be proposing too much with the above maxim to state that the GB TS theory's specific ontological function is to be a guiding tool towards a ‘positive’ Singularity –not as traditionally conceived AGI apocalypse (utopian/dystopian) –but as opening the possibility for the full actualization of the historical process itself as driven by humanity's (transcendent) desires (and the inherent, yet potentially immanent, adventure and mystery that will entail).
Thus, and said in a different way, GB TS theory can –instead of focusing on the exponential emergence of ‘post-human AGI’ as an ‘event-horizon-like’ discontinuous break with individual human comprehension and understanding (e.g. Kurzweil, 2005; Bostrom, 2014) –make the important ‘Singularity shift’ and focus on the way in which distributed and open-ended intelligence can potentially self-organize from the development of automated smart systems and social networks (Goertzel, 2016a). This would, in a different way, lead to an ‘event-horizon-like’ discontinuous break with individual human comprehension and understanding, but only in the sense that the totality of the global socio-technological sphere (Internet as universal coordination medium) would acquire coherent collective properties alien (qualitatively different) from any historical local socio-technological sphere. Thus, other than the obvious local/global size difference of form between historical states and future GB, the important qualitative difference would be in the totally different qualitative organizational difference, i.e. a future GB ‘state’ would be distributed and open to maximizing individual becoming, as opposed to historical states, which have been (and still are) hierarchical and generally closed to maximizing individual becoming (unless it explicitly serves ‘their’ ends, i.e. sublimates individual minds within its substanceless (empty) virtual structure –e.g. monarchies, states, religions, corporations, and so forth).
What is missing here? In the conceptual vision of the GB, I would argue, we can see the contours of a TS theory that can make a practical contribution to the development of international institutional reforms within the context of an emerging technological revolution that has radical consequences for social, economic, and political life. However, GB TS theory has not made specific geopolitical recommendations for navigating this new world. In other words, what is missing from GB TS theory are the specific political consequences of this exponential-global socio-technological process, in the actual capability of humanity to develop qualitatively new large-scale political forms capable of intelligent-ly guiding the development of (already existent) human-computer networks that coordinate on a planetary level via distributed/open-ended mechanisms (i.e. horizontal communication/interaction and open-access). Thus, GB TS theory, in its identification of the possibility for totally different organizational forms within the totality of the Internet's developing structure, we gain the ability to develop an alter- native political and socioeconomic solution to Piketty's ‘Global Keynes- ianism/Global State’.
In other words, can GB theorists think Commonism in the 21st Century?
The ground for this opening has already been presented. For example, in GB theorist Francis Heylighen's paper ‘Accelerating Socio- Technological Evolution: From Ephemeralization and Stigmergy to the Global Brain’."
Superintelligence for a Global State ?
"Besides this ‘Kurzweilian variant’(i.e. free markets will take care of everything as the invisible vital agent of cosmic evolution leading us towards our ‘post-human’ ‘utopia’), there is another emerging AGI TS grounded theory of large political collectives that is problematic in a different dimension, i.e. the ‘State dimension’ instead of the ‘Market dimension’.
To give a specific example, philosopher and AGI TS theorist Nick Bostrom (the aforementioned author of Superintelligence (2014), addressed issues of collective political development in relation to advanced superintelligence at the United Nations (UN). In this presentation Bostrom gave an overview of the “challenges” posed by the emergence of machine learning software (see: UN WEB TV, 2015) that focused exclusively on the existential risks of machine learning technologies future development and, as a result, a focus on how such advanced technological development needs to be rigidly controlled. The practical result is that we get the offer of an approach to large- scale political collectives founded, not on distributed mechanisms (post-state) and open-access (post-capital), but instead on tightly con- trolled and hierarchically centralized elite groups (the emergence of some form of Global State that develops advanced technology in secret and actively attempts to prevent it from being developed openly).
Indeed, this was explicitly the view developed by Bostrom in Superintelligence (2014, p. 253):
- “[A]n international project to develop safe superintelligence would... have to be constituted not as an open academic collaboration but as an extremely tightly controlled joint enterprise. Perhaps the scientists involved would have to be physically isolated and prevented from communicating with the rest of the world for the duration of the pro- ject, except through a single carefully vetted communication channel. The required level of security might be nearly unattainable at present, but advances in lie detection and surveillance technology could make it feasible later this century.”
Ben Goertzel, a researcher with expertise in both AGI and GB TS theory, noted the massively problematic sociopolitical dimension of Bostrom's AGI TS theory that develops in this direction (2016a, p. 65): “What [Bostrom] is advocating here, in his dry professional style, is ac- tually quite dramatic: For the UN and all governments of the world to come together to control AGI research and development, protecting and fostering an elite AGI R&D effort carried out under the auspices by a small group, potentially even just by one person.”
Thus, Bostrom's view here, although only focused on how to handle the future of AGI (and not concerned (yet) with the totality of the development of the socio-technological sphere), is nevertheless directly anti-thetical to the potential GB TS vision of future large-scale political forms based on distributed mechanisms and open-access as it is possible to be. Bostrom's view, ultimately, stems from a hierarchical and closed under- standing of collective intelligence (as opposed to a distributed and open-ended understanding of collective intelligence). As a consequence, Bostrom proposes an (impossible) attempt to rigidly control and predict precisely what will happen with the future development of the socio-technological sphere in regards to AGI with the erection of a new global elite guiding technological development and implementation (which could ultimately be a more problematic ‘governance control problem ’than the ‘AGI control problem’ Bostrom intends to solve. In other words, in contrast to the Kurzweilian ‘neoliberalism to the end of humanity’ formula, Bostrom is starting to articulate a view that comes pretty close to ‘Big Brother to the end of humanity’formula.4 Here we can see that AGI TS theorists, like theorists in practically every other domain, have trouble thinking outside of the binary of state/market, and thus cannot think the radical third of the commons.
Of course, directing focus either to the productive ‘utopian’ potentialities of free market capitalism (Kurzweil) or the existential risks associated with the emergence of AGI ‘post-humans’(Bostrom) in general is not totally unwarranted. On the one hand, free market capitalism is obviously the most productive mechanism for technological development in the history of humanity, and on the other hand, the future of AGI does indeed present us with important existential questions. Are capitalism and science –our contemporary Masters5 –ultimately leading us to- wards, not the End of History, but the End of Humanity? That, at least, is contemporary Singularity ideology. However, grounding a practical geopolitical approach to Singularity in either foundation biases the conversation towards extreme positions disconnected from the realities of contemporary global evolution in relation to the totality of revolution- ary technologies emerging in our socio-technological sphere and their practical social, economic, and political consequences. In other words, from the Kurzweilian perspective we cannot simply have faith that free market capitalism will erect an all-inclusive abundant utopia when the total sphere of capitalism appears to be inherently exclusive and built on scarcity producing class antagonisms that structure the en- tire universal space. And, from the Bostromian perspective we cannot simply posit the paranoiac view that an AGI takeover is immanent in order to justify a reactionary position that we need a central elite group to monitor its development in secret (and the same goes for other technologies that are presupposed as eschatological).
Moreover, and more importantly, as a consequence of these AGI TS positions there is a de-emphasis on the potential of this emerging exponential-global technological revolution to lead us towards large-scale automation (automated smart systems), radically distributed organizations (distributed social networks), and consequently, a de-emphasis on the type of conversation that would help us understand what types of large-scale political collectives would allow for large- scale human emancipation from labour insecurity and hierarchical control. In other words we have a de-emphasis on a type of conversation that would focus all of its attention on the traditional humanist attractor of (collective) ‘Freedom’, perhaps most articulately represented in the perfectly reasonable maxim of: ‘th efree development of each is the condition for the free development of all’(Marx and Engels, 2004, p. 82).
Here the GB TS theoretical view can, and indeed has already, produced a much more nuanced understanding of human becoming within a world of revolutionary technologies that can organize via distributed and open-ended coordination mechanisms in relation to social (see: Veitas and Weinbaum, 2016), economic (see: Heylighen, 2016b), and political domains (see: Goertzel et al., 2016b).
The step that needs to be taken now is to integrate GB TS theoretic view within the emerging discourse of the Commons. Can we imagine a Singularity in the Commons? "
The Commons Institutional Gap
"The specific identification of a lack of ‘global institution’ formation capable of managing the common sphere I will introduce the notion of the ‘Commons Gap’(i.e. the gap from ‘here to there’). In the other words, the deepest presence in our contemporary world is the absence of a universal common space: it is the lack that is present and the dominant phenomena structuring global antagonisms (Table 1).
Thus, the ‘Commons Gap’ is a notion meant to identify that, in terms of geopolitics, we currently have no coherent common approach for navigating/guiding the emerging socio-technological revolution. First, what is the commons? The commons, in its most general formulation, can be defined as the natural (land, forests, air, water, minerals, etc.) and cultural (ideas, languages, labour, creativity) resources and spaces that all humankind shares as a result of being human and existing on planet earth (Hardt, 2010). Consequently, the commons has multiple dimensions: ecology, economy, social, political, technological, and even biological. Second, what is the gap? The gap is in the lack of common action and coordination (lack of a coherent universal common space) related to confronting problems of commons and developing common solutions.
Thus, to develop ‘commons institutions’(in direct contrast with our contemporary reality of neoliberal institutions), is not to ‘cross the gap’/ ‘fill the lack’via hoping free market mechanisms are sufficient, nor developing a ‘global state’(arguably: ‘Keynesian institutions’), but rather to attempt to ‘cross the gap’/‘fill the lack’ by developing mechanisms of common action and coordination beyond both state and market forces (introduction of a ‘radical third’) founded in opening a commons/building a commonwealth via GB-like organizational forms, i.e. automated smart systems and distributed social networks (Table 2).7
Here, following social theorist Michael Hardt I would posit that the foundation of ‘opening a commons’/‘building a commonwealth’ is most fundamentally about our relation to property, i.e. “what private property is to capitalism, and what state property is to socialism, the common is to commonism”(2010, p. 144).
To posit a ‘Commons Gap’ is simultaneously to posit that the structure of our contemporary international environment is the direct cause of a ‘tragedy of the commons’ that will only grow worse given the inherent dynamics of the emerging technological revolution. Ecologist Garrett Hardin first proposed the idea of the ‘tragedy of the commons’(1968) to refer to the paradoxical problem that when a collective of individuals follow their own rational self-interest, this collective rational self-interested activity can destroy the common whole. Is this not the only way to understand the contemporary state of the common whole in the age of global neoliberalism? After all, neoliberalism is foundationally structured on a belief that everyone following their own self-interest on a ‘free market’ will lead to harmonious and stable planetary whole and that any form of state intervention will lead to totalitarianism (Springer, 2015). However, this fantasy of inclusive capitalist utopia is now encountering the reality of common whole dissolution (Table 1), and thus, at the very least, some new form of socialist state management will be necessary, as explored by Piketty (2014) among others. Can we not say that neoliberalism is now facing the ultimate consequences of the ‘tragedy of the commons’?
Consequently, in order to confront and solve ‘commons problems’ (‘jumping ’the ‘commons gap’ and averting an actual ‘tragedy of the commons’) we need to once again figure out a way to discuss common development in direct confrontation with neoliberal globalization
(1) without falling into the traps of planetary state intervention (which presents us with hierarchical and closed large-scale political forms) (2) and anarchist local self-organization (which does not offer any coherent formula for solving problems of the common sphere) (4) (Table 2).
Historically the political language of (authentic) common development was expressed in the (now ineffective) language of Marxism and Communism ( Badiou, 2010a,b).8 Consequently, after the 2008inancial collapse (an obviously crucial event in the failure of neoliberal international structure) there was a conference and edited works specifically focused on reassessing ‘The Idea of Communism’ in the ‘post-Communist’ ‘post-Cold War’ ‘post-ideological’ neoliberal age.
There were several general conclusions and shared premises that united the social theorists at the conference as a whole (Douzinas and Žižek, 2010, p. ix):
A) Recent politics (1990-present) has attempted to ban/foreclose conflict by de-politicizing the idea of communism and common development
B) ‘Communism’ is the idea of radical philosophy and politics, but must distance itself from statism and economism, and become informed by political experiences of the twenty-first century
C) Neoliberal capitalist exploitation and domination forms new en- closures of the commons (communication, intellectual property, natural resources, forms of governance), thus necessitating a re- turn to the concept of the ‘common’
D) Communism aims at both freedom and equality, as freedom can- not flourish without equality, and equality does not exist without freedom
However, to properly explain the shift from communism to commonism as concept we must first confront and engage the monstrous super-organism of capitalism directly. In the theory of capitalism the foundational (spiritual) belief is that there is an ‘invisible hand’ moving through the world as the higher vital agent of self-organization that in-and-for-itself regulates individual self-interest related to the buying and selling of commodities in the free market. Thus, individual humans need only pursue their own material self-interest in economic exchange with others and the whole will take care of itself, i.e. market competition will solve all problems of the total sphere. And it is indeed this higher vital agent of self-organization that Kurzweil envisions as leading towards an immanent utopian Singularity as post-human transcendence (2005). But Kurzweil is not the first to have such visions of capitalist utopia. The theoretical founder of modern economics –Adam Smith – was the first to envision the ‘invisible hand’as a force capable of con- structing an inclusive utopian world (although he, of course, did not en- vision technologically-mediated transcendence).
What these capitalist utopian visions miss (post-human or not) is the obvious fact that although capitalism is indeed a universal sphere (constantly attempting to totalize the field of human relations irrespective of local cultures with the universal equivalence of money) it is not an inclusive humanist universal sphere (and it never can be) (i.e. it is not on ‘our’ side). In other words, the capitalist field is inherently structured on the exclusion of a certain exploited class of peoples (as Karl Marx first identified, class is an inherent structural antagonism of capitalist production), i.e. the ‘others’ in the ‘invisible dystopian world’ that, in their state of exploitation, stabilize the utopian and transcendent future visions. Here we can generally imagine the person who finds capitalist production's ability to produce iPhones (for example) as ‘amaz- ing’without realizing and/or conveniently ignoring that the materials for the phone were produced by slave labourers in Congo and then assembled by slave labourers in China (i.e. the ‘others’ in the ‘invisible dystopian world’).
Nonetheless, as real (existentially) as the ‘invisible dystopian world’ is, it is anyway invisible to most economists (who are comfortably nested in the arms of a nation-state controlled by market forces).
Thus, the idea of the invisible hand of the market coordinating individual human behaviour to holistic inclusive utopia (somehow overcoming the inherent structural class antagonisms necessary for capitalism to function) has proven to be the foundation for capitalist theory (to this very day). This logic is theoretically justified with the microeconomic modeling paradigm of ‘Homo economicus’(i.e. the rational human being pursuing individual material self-interest) (Helbing, 2013). Here directly from Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations (2005, p. 286): “Every individual is continually exerting himself to find out the most advantageous employment for whatever capital he can command. It is his own advantage, indeed, and not that of the society, which he has in view. But the study of his own advantage naturally, or rather necessarily leads him to prefer that employment which is most advantageous to the society.”
However, even a moments reflection on your own behaviour and drives (especially a reflection on your behaviour and drives before adulthood) will lead you to the conclusion that such a microeconomic foundation is a pretty pathetic foundation for a universal explanation of ‘natural’ human social life. It is only in an environment of ‘elite experts ’presenting ‘sophisticated’ ‘mathematical models’ of ‘socio-economic reality’ where anyone could be convinced otherwise. At best the foundation of self-interested commodity exchange is a weak approximation/mapping of human activity in certain very specific and historically contextual socioeconomic conditions. From the purely theoretical perspective in modern economics, the idea that Homo economicus represents a ‘universal explanation’ of human behaviour is more a distorted projection of the subjective desires of economics professionals who would ‘enjoy’ the respect of ‘hard scientists’ like physicists and chemists, both of whom can formulate their subjects ‘object of study’ around controlled experiments that (appear to) produce ‘accurate predictions’ and ‘general laws’.
The truth is that economics can never be formulated in the same way as physics and chemistry for the simple fact that human history is a process of subject-object (+virtual excess) becoming, and socioeconomic context changes (quantitatively and qualitatively) over time and space, especially in relation to processes of technological evolution. Indeed, it is a fact of history that subjective valuation and technological evolution affects the foundational dynamics of socioeconomic activity, which of course includes capitalism and capitalist modes of production. This is merely pointing out the obvious fact that human beings and human society cannot be understood in the same way as atoms and molecules, i.e. unconscious elements that have formed predictable con- figurations for millions and billions of years"
Table: Identifying the Commons Gap
"Ecology Global warming (ocean acidification, disappearance of glaciers/ice sheets, sea-level rise, extreme weather events), mass extinctions (flora, fauna, diverse ecologies), resource exploitation/depletion
Economy Income and wealth inequality, privatization of public/social goods, monopoly control of production, youth unemployment, unsustainable energy production Social New apartheids/State divisions, refugee crises, human rights, health and education infrastructure/access, food and water infrastructure/access, demographic divide
Political Centralization of power, disintegration of representative democracy, State war, lone-wolf terrorism, rise of multi-local radicalism, State-corporate relations (i.e. corporate ownership of State activity)
Technological Automation of labour from general purpose robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and big data applications, disproportionate access to advanced technology, socioeconomic unpredictability due to emergent technology
Biological Novel and quickly spreading epidemics/pandemics, active exploration of transhumanism (genetics, nanotechnology, robotics)."
Typology of Global Commons-Lacking or Commons-Centric Institutions
"Potential political forms of global institutions.
Global institutions Definitions/examples
(1) Neoliberal institutions: Contemporary globalization is guided via neoliberal institutions that were originally created under patronage of United States of America, and include structures like the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organization which have formed/are forming a global bureaucratic structure that is essentially anti-democratic,
- A) enabling monopoly control of an international finance system designed to protect
- B) sublimating all human activity into market activity,
- C) creating barriers to access of basic necessities and
- D) failing to address issues of economy-ecology sustainability.
(2) Keynesian institutions: One potential solution to the dominance of neoliberal institutions (1) would include a ‘Keynesian’ institutional construction project where a global state, presumably with top-down mechanisms characteristic of nation-states at the planetary level, would form enabling the democratic election of state officials, the regulation of global market activity, creation of a common monetary union, redistribution of income and wealth, and the organization of international state projects related to social and ecological welfare.
(3) Commons institutions: Another alternative potential solution to the dominance of neoliberal institutions (1) would be the creation of ‘commons institutions’, which, instead of forming a ‘top-down’ global state bureaucracy (2), would include the creation of ‘bottom-up’ distributed multi-level organizational forms that operated on A) various common property regimes (essentially striving for post-property regimes), B) functioned on principles of universal access (post-monetary), and C) multiple context-specific egalitarian-democratic management organizations related to resources and services that are inherently rival (i.e. scarce), and thus need management due to ‘tragedy of the commons’ problems. (Further exploration of the potential nature of ‘commons institutions’, see: Table 3)
(4) Anarchism (no global institutional forms)
Yet another potential solution to the dominance of neoliberal institutions (1) would simply be to negate the entire notion of the need for qualitatively novel large-scale political collectives (‘global institutions’in either a Keynesian or Commons form) (2, 3) and instead direct focus towards the creation and management of locally self-organized egalitarian communities. However, such an approach leaves massive questions of how to approach the real existence of neoliberal institutions, as well as how to approach planetary problems of the common sphere."
The Global Brain as Mechanism for the Global Commons
"In contrast to the commune, the common does not place the same level of pressure on idealizing human social nature. On the contrary, the common places no real burden on human social nature at all in the sense that the ‘common’ does not necessarily rely on the formation of new ‘communal’ units as such (like the Paris Commune of 1871). Rather, as stated, the common places emphasis on natural (land, forests, air, water, minerals, etc.) and cultural (ideas, languages, labour, creativity) resources that are, as a social fact, part of the common heritage of humankind. This commons can, instead of being privatized for the benefit of a few self-interested parts (neoliberal institutions and the multi-national corporations that thrive under their reign), become part of a universal commonwealth that ensures the process of globalization works for the planetary whole (commons institutions) (Table 2). The commons as concept can recapture the positive sociopolitical value once possessed by communism, and in the process, perhaps, provide real substance to the contemporary lack of a universal common sphere (i.e. the most salient presence in contemporary geopolitical landscape is the absence of a commons) (Table 2).
Moreover, the commons could accomplish this without relying on the emergence of a planetary socialist state or local anarchist self- organization, and commons institutions could emerge gradually from A) democratic discursive processual mediation and B) willingness to transform the basic structural coordinates of the contemporary international sphere. In other words, in the same way that the foundations of the ‘commune’ were posted as ‘direct democracy’ and ‘common ownership of property’, we should precisely think the emergence of commons institutions via a similar pathway: the transformation of the international sphere towards transparent democratic engagement (i.e. castration of corporate involvement in international political sphere) and the transformation of international productive forces towards common property regimes (i.e. transforming multinational corporations into commons institutions). This could be a serious approach towards re- solving the global dimension of neoliberalism in the information age/ neoliberalism in the age of intelligent machines.
Thus, if neoliberalism is a problem of the ‘commodification of –insert everything –’(water, food, education, health, and so on) the counter-movement proposed here is the ‘commonification of –insert everything –’. The crucial switch for ‘communists’ and the crucial positivization for ‘post-capitalists’ is consequently a focus on common resources and spaces: to combat institutions facilitating the dominance of rational self-interested behaviour that destroys the common whole (i.e. international neoliberalism as ‘tragedy of the commons’) with institutions capable of specifically organizing for the common whole. In the commons paradigm this can happen in part by dissolving the distinction between property rights and state power, and consequently opening up the space for a commonwealth based on access. To establish a commonwealth based on access would be to accept that the emerging techno- logical revolution presents us with an immanent transition in our sociopolitical life, a transition we cannot prevent or control, but nonetheless a transition that can be guided towards a higher a level of planetary self-organization (or not, and likely suffer further complications related to the ‘tragedy of the commons’).
To repeat the maxim for the GB TS: Freedom on this socio- technological pathway is to recognize our necessity as the beings guiding history towards the full actualization of human desire. In other words, in overcoming neoliberalism for the commons we necessarily change our conception of freedom: freedom in the neoliberal age is the (juvenile) ‘freedom to do whatever I want ’(destroy planetary ecology, generate insane inequalities, and so forth), but free- dom in the commons age could be the (mature) ‘recognition of necessity’, the necessity to grow up and organize as a species (actual international cooperation). Consequently, the commons here could present GB theorists with a political category needed to compliment the ‘growing connectivity between people and nations’ with the ‘emergence of global institutions’ if we apply to the commons the notion of ‘guided self-organization’ towards a ‘commons in the infor- mation age’(Heylighen, 2013, p. 906):
- “[Guided self-organization means] developing schemes, programs, institutions or environments that stimulate facilitate and to some degree steer the self-organization of the Global Brain towards what appear to be the most fruitful directions, while leaving enough free- dom for the system to explore a variety of unforeseen approaches.”
From this perspective GB TS theory can use the commons as political category in regards to supplementing the notion of ‘guided self-organization’ because one of the most problematic dimensions of ‘guiding the self-organization of the Global Brain’–as GB theorist Francis Heylighen has noted –is figuring out “what we want to do” (Heylighen, 2013, p. 906) with the totality of revolutionary techno- logical processes that appear to present us with an immanent metasystem transition. The commons speaks to this dimension of human desire: to use the novel technological possibility space to build a common world of access where social processes dominated by substance overcome financial processes dominated by profit. In this sense the commons introduces a ‘difference that makes a (meaningful) difference’ because it posits that the ‘self-organization of the market’ is not enough (i.e. the market is not satisfying human desire towards a utopian transcendence (Smith-Kurzweil)). Thus, what we call ‘utopia ’as immanent ‘future attractor’ must be mediated/guided, but at the same time, this guided mediation must proceed without (an ultimately futile) attempt to ‘close’ the socio-technological sphere with a hierarchical-centralized ‘Global State’. Consequently, it is here, precisely, where the notions of guided-self-organization and the commons seem to fit together quite perfectly.
Here I would like to position two concepts that I feel can help in guiding the democratic mediation of a ‘commons in the information age’or, as in the headline of this section: to use the ‘Global Brain as a Mechanism for Global Commons’. These concepts include the automated commons and the collaborative commons to be positioned specifically in the aforementioned ‘Marxist blind spot’ that failed to conceptualize the necessity of consciously mediating a commons in the ‘post-industrial’ ‘information age’(i.e. capitalism would not just be spontaneously surpassed with the rise of automated technologies and social productive forces taking a central economic position). In other words, the ‘Marxist blind spot’ was failing to understand the necessary mediation of the dis- solution of the proletariat/bourgeoisie (controlled/controllers; Slaves/ Masters) dialectic that in somesense imprisons its analytic thought process. I would propose that the ‘automated commons’ be specifically positioned with the Marxist concept of ‘objective knowledge’(knowledge directly embodied and repetitively enacted in machines) and the ‘col- laborative commons’ be specifically positioned with the Marxist con- cept of ‘general intellect’(human social and intellectual knowledge/ labour). To construct a ‘commons’ with automated and collaborative components would be to set our sights on gradually working towards a ‘commons in the information age’ or a ‘commons in the age of intel- ligent machines’ without relying on the traditional Marxist notion of the ‘commune’ as a fundamental organizing unit, and without relying on the traditional Marxist notion of the ‘proletariat revolution’ as universal event. Thus, both the concepts of automated and collaborative commons seek to function to ‘revive the Left’(if that language even makes sense anymore) by specifically enabling progressive politics to entertain a qualitatively new approach to universality given the new technological possibility space (to overtake the political field of neoliberalism with the political field of the com- mons). The old Marxist concepts related to a higher political universality, both the ‘commune’ and the ‘proletariat revolution’ rely too much on an unrealistic a priori notion of a universal class of humans capable of overcoming their ‘self’ while simultaneously coordinating and sustaining a global solidarity movement. In other words, the traditional Marxist notions prematurely expect the emergence of a human ‘species-being’(an expectations that still lingers, for exam- ple, in Badiou's The Communist Hypothesis). But if humanity is to achieve ‘species-being’ we first need a proper materialist foundation, which means a commons must be democratically mediated, which in turn means that a commons as presupposition must be posited as necessary (this is our freedom today).
First, the automated commons is a sociopolitical concept that is rendered possible because of the emergence of general-purpose robotics, machine learning/artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and their interconnection with the Internet of Things (i.e. ‘objective knowledge’ directly embodied and repetitively enacted in machines) to compose globally networked ‘automated smart systems’. Consequently, the purpose of the automated commons concept would be to establish net- works with these emerging technologies related to the foundational operations of civilization (i.e. ‘commons institutions ’related to education, health care, transportation, farming/agriculture, energy, etc.) de- signed around ‘commons principles’ of universal access, abolition of property, and phasing out of labour (where contextually desirable) (Table 3). In other words, the function of the automated commons is two-fold: 1) to systematically prevent automated machinery/objective knowledge from being privatized and owned by small elite groups, and 2) to replace the foundational baseline of civilization functioning as ‘alienated humans’ with the foundational baseline of civilization functioning as ‘alienated machinery’. The ‘ideal-material’ result of establishing an automated commons would be to free humans (universally) from basic material constraints and towards the potential for higher-levels of cognitive and social exploration (i.e. to eliminate the external-centralized institutional coercion of individual actualization potential that characterizes the historical process as such). This ‘socialization/collectivization’ of ‘objective knowledge’ with an automated commons would open up thedoor for the ‘freedom’ of the ‘general intellect’ in a ‘collaborative commons’.
Thus secondly, the collaborative commons (as general intellect) (built ‘on top of’ and/or ‘in parallel with’ the automated commons as objectified knowledge) is a sociopolitical concept that is rendered possible because of the emergence of social networks that can effectively build trust between people based on social reputation mechanisms enabling the sharing of skills, knowledge, and resources (i.e. general intellect of human social knowledge/labour bonded by social reputation instead of money). Consequently, the purpose of the collaborative commons concept is to establish social sharing networks capable of overcoming or subordinating financial transaction processes related to humanity's basic socio-creative activities. This process can be conceptualized as replacing ‘market mechanisms’ (buying and selling commodities) with ‘offer mechanisms’ (i.e. disconnecting the general intellect from money/prevent commodification of cognitive/social labour, etc.).
For the concepts of automated and collaborative commons it is important to note that both aspects of these potential future commons domains are in their earliest stages of development, and thus far from full maturation, i.e. we are obviously still at a distance from a real ‘Global Commons in the Global Brain’. However, we can already see the emergence of automated commons-like infrastructures with ‘automated factories’ ‘automated farms’, or even the beginnings of ‘automated transportation grids’. These are ‘automated smart systems’ with no need (or severely reduced need) for labour, which consequently opens up the opportunity for the establishment of ‘post-property/common-property’ regimes and a ‘de-commodification’ of the products/services they can produce. Likewise, with the collaborative commons as social ‘offer mechanisms’ capable of overcoming ‘market mechanisms’ we already see the development of sites in hospitality, transportation, energy, health care, education, goods/community services, where people can offer skills, knowledge, or resources as (beyond monetary) ‘offers’ bonded by a digital social community regulated by reputation (Heylighen, 2016b).
Of course, for both the automated and collaborative commons, their full maturation will be dependent on how technologies related to the Internet of Things, digital currencies, machine learning soft- ware, semantic web applications, and so forth, are socioeconomically inscribed by our international institutions (Tables 2, 3). In other words, can the Global Brain as a ‘universal coordination medium’ that ‘self-organizes on a planetary level’ function to inscribe a world that operates on ‘Global Commons’ logic (systems of access and democratic management) over and above both market and state logic? Would this not be a world where ‘automated smart systems’ and ‘distributed social/offer networks’ become universalized towards serving humanist-ecological use value? (see in this issue: Heylighen, 2016b). Furthermore, would this not be a ‘Global Brain’ aiming at the reasonable maxim of: ‘the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’?
Here we come full circle vis-à-vis ‘Global State’ and ‘Global Commons’ as ‘ideal virtual attractor’(see Section 1: Technological revolution/disruption is near (but what about our response?)) If indeed ‘de-commodification’ and ‘opening a commonwealth’(the ideal of the ‘Global Commons’ as opposed to ‘Global State’) is the key: a commonwealth of basic human necessities: water, food, shelter, education, health, and so forth; then the focus of building commons institutions capable of ‘guiding the self-organization of the Global Brain’ should be on the simple yet problematic dimension of ‘how?’i.e. ‘how do you organize a world of access where social substantive processes overcome financial profit processes?’ In other words, the problematic ‘how’ question is not ‘how do we establish a Global State capable of regulating multinational corporations’(i.e. Piketty's ideal ground for materialist solutions), but rather ‘how do we establish and manage a commons?’(the crucial shift in ‘ideal pole’ for ‘materialist solutions’).
Here a ‘common’ as a unit to overcome the ‘commodity’ as a ‘system of access’ (beyond money) sounds great, i.e. of access to/de-commodification of basic necessities for survival and growth:
•‘because you are a human’, etc. •‘basic necessities’ are ‘basic rights’(not commodities) etc. •of the solidification of ‘universal virtual/idealist rhetoric’(‘universal human rights’) with a proper ‘universal materialist foundation’(you have a ‘right ’to food, water, shelter) etc.
But then we encounter the practical-actual dimension (the symbolic-imaginary encounters reality):
•there are scarce resources (rendering them ‘rival’), •these systems of access need to be established and maintained within some institutional framework, •there are entrenched interests whose goals not only do not include the establishment and maintenance of a universal commons but whose goals are antithetical to such a phenomenon, and so forth. Or, if ‘systems of access’ is the first step (automated/collaborative commons where objectified knowledge lays foundation for a society directed by the general intellect), figuring out how to practically ‘establish’ and ‘manage’ ‘systems of access’ is the second step.
In order to approach this crucial ‘second step’(which cannot be fully articulated and solved in this paper, of course), GB theorists interested in ‘guiding the self-organization of the Global Brain towards a Global Commons’ should pay particular attention to the commons literature established by Elinor Ostrom (1990, 2009) for a potentially important starting point. In Governing the Commons (1990) Ostrom set out to articulate how the ‘state/market’ could be broken with a ‘radical third’ of a commons as ‘institutions for collective action’ with a specific focus on their establishment and management. In other words, instead of systems controlling property and labour (nation-states), or systems producing and consuming commodities (markets), the commons are systems for managing and distributing shared resources and spaces with a core of direct democracy (as opposed to representative democracy). For Ostrom, one of the key notions for the successful establishment and maintenance of a commons based on access is how these systems identify and properly manage “Common Pool Resources”(CPR), which she identifies as resources and spaces that are inherently ‘common’ but also ‘scarce’ and thus ‘rival’. In other words, overcoming the problem of establishing and managing CPRs in a commons is the foundation for ‘de-com- modification’ and ‘opening a commonwealth’, and perhaps, the key shift in transforming neoliberal institutions (and the multinational corporations that thrive under their reign) into commons institutions capable of establishing an automated and collaborative commons."
Conceptual Components of Global Commons.
Automated commons Networks related to foundational operations of civilization (i.e. education, health care, transportation, farming/agriculture, energy) built utilizing the ‘objective knowledge’of automated machinery and designed around principles of universal access, abolition of property, and phasing out of labour (where contextually desirable)
Collaborative commons Networks of social exchange mediated by “offers”and “demands”(i.e. offer networks) facilitating the self-organization of good/services built on the foundation of social trust and reputation as primary bonding mechanism enabling the general intellect to disconnect from monetary transactions."