Co-Evolution

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Co-Evolution as Alternative Globalisation

A discourse on ‘co-evolution’ can be discerned through literature on world futures (which preceded alternative globalisation research by decades (Jungk, 1969)), and futures studies, with associated aspects of the evolutionary sciences. This emerging co-evolutionary vision incorporates somewhat eclectic and wide-ranging influences. The evolutionary discourse is valuable because it dramatically transforms of the ontological and temporal frames which are generally used to make sense of human life (and as contrasted with other discourses in this study). Unlike other discourses, it situates humanity outside of history, as part of millions / billions of years of biological evolution, and thousands / millions of years of cultural evolution.

In conceptualising the dynamics of change, Laszlo and Raskin use concepts like ‘punctuated equilibrium’ to describe movements from dynamic equilibrium states, turbulence and bi-furcation points to new system states (Laszlo, 2001, p. 172; Raskin, 2002). Their frameworks correspond with systems theories, complex adaptive systems, and complexity research, where the evolutionary branching model is used (Gunderson, 2002). Agency in this respect can be seen as humanity’s wise intervention and skilful action when faced with planetary (tipping) points of turbulence, ‘bifurcation points’, and critical thresholds (Raskin, 2006). Such authors argue for requisite consciousness toward planetary sensitivity in understanding potential tipping points in the planetary system we live in as a species, for example Spratt and Sutton’s discussion on potential climate change induced tipping points (Spratt, 2008 ). In this context, agency implies co-evolution (Hubbard, 1983), expressed as wise or unwise co-evolution within the ecological contexts of the species. The future is expressed as a vision of human co-evolution in and with an evolving Earth (transcending anthropocentrism) and the development of planetary consciousness.

One metaphor often used is the Earth as ‘spaceship’ signifying humankind’s dependence and unity with Earth (Boulding, 1966 / 1995; Fuller, 1978; Ward, 1966). A less mechanistic metaphor is ‘Gaia’, popularised by Lovelock (1979), in which Earth (as a totality) displays self regulating and homeostatic qualities, in which ‘life maintains conditions favourable to the existence of life on Earth’ (Jones, 1997, p. 152). The Gaia hypothesis is ‘a holistic theory of our planet as a living organism’ (Jones, 1997, p. 157).

Viewed through these metaphors, the planet and its biosphere are considered absolute. This position began to emerge in the early 70’s as a number of reports projected near future resource depletion coupled with population growth, which would push the limit of the planets’ capacity to sustain life (Meadows, 1972). Alternative world futures modelling efforts, in particular the Bariloche team’s (1976) Catastrophe or New Society? suggested that Western over-consumption was as foundational as population factors which were emphasised in the Club of Rome’s thesis (Hughes, 1985, pp. 12-25). Nevertheless, both studies shared the ontological orientation that offered the planet as a unit of analysis, or as Raskin writes: ‘Thought and action must rise to the level of this emergent totality, as well as to its separate manifestations, ontologically, epistemologically, and politically’ (Raskin, 2006, p. 2).

However, ‘planet’ is not just an exterior and material reality, it is also a mode of consciousness brought forth by human beings; planetary consciousness itself is foundational. Thompson argues we are undergoing ‘planetization’ – a shift toward a planetary culture involving the capacity to cognize a global reality of mutual interconnectedness, and charts the evolution of human culture and perspective, from antiquity to the present and future (Thompson, 1974, 1987b).

Harman also makes consciousness foundational by charting the paradigmatic shifts of three metaphysical trends in human culture: from a sensate and matter based worldview, to a dualistic mind-matter based worldview, and to an emerging creative-consciousness based worldview (Harman, 1998). Likewise, Sahtouris articulates the need to rebalance indigenous inner knowledge with industrial outer knowledge (Sahtouris, 2000). Hubbard argued for the need to add a spiritual futures outlooks to the evolutionary and ecological crisis perspectives, to arrive at a holistic view of human-planetary co-evolution (Hubbard, 1983). Weinstein argues that we are experiencing a movement toward ‘creative altruism’ (as the ideational transformation which will enable the self realisation of humanity) (Weinstein, 2004). Humanity’s evolving consciousness, therefore, is seen as coupled to our emerging planetary predicament, as Henderson writes:

This is the birth time of planetary human awareness and global citizenship. The planet is our vast programmed learning environment – which faithfully mirrors back to us all our errors and behavioral shortcomings. As we’ve learned – planetary citizenship as part of the six billion member human family is a cooperative affair. (Henderson, 2005)

The evolutionary and planetary view locates human beings as a species among species. In Avadhuta’s vision of ‘Neohumanism’, all living beings have intrinsic or existential value, regardless of their utility to human beings’ (Avadhuta, 2006). Neo-humanist discourse shifts focus from inter-cultural categories (culture nationalism) to trans-cultural ones (species). Yet, the anthropological view equally emphasises a cultural maturation. As Kapoor writes:

Human intelligence has been highly successful in relating to and mastering nature, but, by the same yardstick, it has failed miserably in coming to terms with the plural representations of its own self! It is in correcting this imbalance that a wise path to the future lies. (Kapoor, 2006, p. 127)

The past is not seen through the lens of history so much as through evolutionary science (corresponding with the fields of biology, anthropology, and geology). Biological and cultural evolution are seen as foundational processes (with their correspondingly long time frames). Laszlo, for example, argues humanity is shifting from a 10,000 year phase of ‘extensive evolution’ where the species moved in physical space to inhabit and conquer the entire planet, with ecological limits triggering an ‘intensive’ phase of evolution typified by the ‘development of mind and consciousness and greater depth in the grounding of community life and inter-community relations’ (Laszlo, 2001, p. 111). He argues we have experienced transformations of human culture from mythos (mythic consciousness), to theos (theistic consciousness), logos (rational consciousness) and now to an emerging holos (holistic consciousness) (Laszlo, 2001). Generally, the evolutionary view of time is grand. In considering human sustainability, Tonn writes:

Humans ought to believe and behave as if they and their descendants will inhabit this earth many millions of years into the future. Humans ought to believe that it is important to protect the environment and behave accordingly because we know today that we are unlikely to survive into the distant future if we fail on this point. (Tonn, 2005)

Such an evolutionary view also reminds us that 99% of the species that have emerged on this planet have also become extinct. From this grand evolutionary view, a sensitivity to humanity’s tenuous place on the planet must emerge. In this vein, Lowe writes:

As to whether we will survive the twenty first century, if you were a gambler, you wouldn't back us with stolen money. We show no sign as a species or as a civilisation of even recognising the scale of the problem, let alone developing solutions... In ecological terms, I don't think there's any doubt that we're booked on the Titanic and steaming towards the icebergs. (Lowe, 2005)

Yet Elgin argues we must do more than just survive: ‘To be sustainable, a civilisation must maintain the integrity of the physical, social and spiritual foundations upon which it is established. To seek only to survive – to do no more than simply exist – is not a sufficient foundation for long-term sustainability’(Elgin, 2005). In this respect, Elgin uses the metaphor of human life cycle, arguing that humanity is undergoing a ‘growing up’ process. He argues we are an adolescent species out of control, and must mature, so that we can create a ‘‘species-civilisation’ on a planetary scale which lives in harmony with the rest of the web of life’ (Elgin, 2005, pp. 16-29). This species wide growing up process can be considered from the point of view of the leadership within civil society. Civil society is conceived as a new force for planetary change. For Boulding it was key in building a culture of global citizenship (Boulding, 1988). Other authors argue the coping capacity required for humanity to deal with the mega-challenges of the 21st century will depend on the quickening of a Global Citizen Movement (GCM) (Kriegman, 2006; Raskin, 2006). As Raskin argues:

We are drawn to the judgment, then, that the development of global coping capacity will be highly correlated to the parallel development of a GCM. One sees a harbinger of such a movement in the explosion of international civil society efforts on a host of global issues, conducted by spontaneous citizens campaigns and tens of thousands of international non-governmental organizations. The annual gatherings of the World Social Forum draw over 100,000 people in a week of celebration, education, and networking, an early suggestion of the immense popular energy that might propel a GCM. (Raskin, 2006, p. 16)


Response by Michel Bauwens

I am overall very sympathetic to approaches which take the long view, insert the human in the material realities it depends on, and take the temporal aspects, i.e. evolutionary aspects, into account. Especially important is that co-evolutionary approaches neither deny materiality, nor deny human agency, but see them in a mutual feedback loop. It puts human freedom in a realistic context, by bringing deterministic factors into awareness. These approaches also generally recognize emergence, i.e. that the new complexified layers of reality, bring with them new capabilities.

In an article for Integral Review [1], I explain my own research and heuristic methodology, inspired by Ken Wilber’s “integral”, “AQAL” evolutionary framework; and you can also find a similar explanation in my original 2006 manuscript, P2P and Human Evolution. Briefly, this integrative methodology posits that ‘reality’ always has both subjective and objective aspects, and also always individual and collective aspects. This means that individually, we have a psyche with subjective intentionality which has real effects on the world; and we have a body that has an objective material reality. These are not separate realities, but aspects of a same complex reality. Similary, every individual being belongs to a collective system, a intersubjective cultural system, which co-determines our ways of thinking/feeling; and various inter-objective systems (like the economy, etc..) that similarly co-determine our realities. Each aspect or sphere is marked not just by simple determinisms, but also by emergent properties. Thus, chemistry brings a new logic to physics, biology brings a new logic to chemistry, the psychic brings yet a new level of relative autonomy, i..e. they have downwards causation just as much as they are co-determined through the upward causation of the more fundamental layers. This approach allows us to avoid both ‘gross deterministic approaches’, such as vulgar materialism, but also the more subtle reductionisms that are now in vogue, such as those coming from the system sciences, and which may reduce intentional beings, to dots in a network.

The P2P approach also uses the relational grammar of Alan Page Fiske, which recognizes four types of intersubjective dynamics, which exist in all cultures and temporal realities, but as I understand it, change in their relative dominance. So Fiske recognizes Equality Matching, the gift economoy logic that is dominant in the tribal context; Authority Ranking, the allocation mechanisms based on power and rank; Market Pricing, dominant in our current political economy; and Communal Shareholding, where the individual exchanges with the whole. Our thesis is that Peer to Peer is communal shareholding, and the the internet creates the global capability to scale this dynamic and make it the dominant one.

Hence, I believe it is possible to map peer to peer in the co-evolutionary understandings, not in a monological and deterministic way, but as a common factor which is changing our different social systems, both (inter)objective and (inter)subjective, in feedback loops that strenghten each other. This creates new 'potential' capabilities and affordances, but which are subject both to material determinisms, and social conflict. Hence the need to work with potential scenarios, in which the p2p dynamics can take different form. My conclusion is that P2P is eminently compatible with co-evolutionary viewpoints.


Response by Jose Ramos

the multidimensional approach you describe is helpful and consistent with a planetary frame, we need both views into individual and communal consciousness and organization / action, as well as macro scale views that allow us to nest humans in a larger system. But I would like to try and provoke some responses that push the boundaries of an emerging p2p discourse:

1 - co-evolution implies a new form of consciousness, and I propose that this means humans see how they interact at a civilizational / planetary scale. in p2p, are their value commitments toward this scale shift in awareness / identification? If so, where and what does it mean for a nascent p2p movement?

in particular I'm thinking about your comments re: Communal Shareholding, and by way of dialogue the idea of trans-national phyles. For as you argue here and elsewhere, the network era provides a scale shift that allows to p2p community to form trans-national / trans-ethnic affiliation. Are phyles co-evolutionary, or simply scale shifting? Mining companies are trans-national, but I would be hard pressed to argue that they embody planetary consciousness and a co-evolutionary commitment. Alternatively, the 350.org initiative is in a way a perfect example of a co-evolutionary phyle.

Thus, what are the value commitments that exist in the p2p community, or that you feel need to be developed in the p2p movement? How do they connect with co-evolutionary modes of thinking and action?


2 - I would also like to ask about the p2p commons orientation in light of co-evolutionary commitments. Open source / GNU / copy left etc modes are global / planetary resources. They seem to fit into co-evolutionary potentials, both in terms of provisioning globally, but also enabling planetary response capacities. What is the p2p movements role in the practical co-evolutionary response process?

For example, I do not necessarily see Airbnb as enabling a co-evolutionary response. Great that I can stay in someones bungalow, but this hardly helps me collaborate on any planetary challenge. And yet, other initiatives in the p2p movement do exactly enable planetary/ civilizational response.

In this sense where does p2p need to develop to enable planetary capacity to co-visualize and co-create in the face of shared opportunities and challenges?


Second Reply by Michel Bauwens

I'm responding to the two related questions concurrently. I do indeed think that "p2p dynamics" fully correspond to a revolution in consciousness, and this in so many multiple ways. It is a full value revolution, as important as that of the christians vis a vis the values of the Roman Empire, or liberalism and socialism vs the feudal value system. Through its linkage with the global network, many p2p communities are "born global". By their very nature, the digital commons operate on a global scale, despite limits of language etc .. If you participate in a knowledge commons (which is not restricted to the immaterial realm since knowledge commons are linked to 'physical' practices such as 'making things', or an engagement in eco-agriculture or what have you), you are inherently working on a global scale. While the link between human activity and consciousness if of course not direct, you cannot avoid that this has, in time, effects on human consciousness, and in the creation of globa-local subjectivities. Peer production is also a synergestic process, i.e. it is not limited on the theoretical win-win dynamics of capitalism, and its structural denial of externalities, but it is a 'four-win' process, since it is a conscious cooperation around a commons social object (the third win), which benefits human society in general (the fourth win). Peer production integrates the common good in the very design of the human cooperation. It shifts the core of value creation to the commons, it shifts many practices from owning to sharing, etc ... What this does is set the stage for a new 'capacity', a 'affordance' which facilitates a shift to normalizing more global forms of human awareness. Again, we're not arguing a automatic link, but a strong potential that facilitates such a shift. Another aspect is that, without a direct link with the scarcity-dynamics of production for the market, sustainable designs are inherently more sustainable. The key question is therefore, how do we shift from this naturalized practice which "predisposes" towards a planetary, co-evolutionary point of view with care for the whole, to its actualisation and manifestation as a dominant form of human consciousness. This in my view is a social and political project, i.e. the active work of co-evolutionary minorities, individuals and groups, to enable this shift to take place, comforted in the view that greater masses of human beings are becoming more receptive for this phase transition. An integrative strategy that combines microscale prefigurative practices (which include ownership and governance), the building of social and political movements, and an active orientation towards changing human consciousness, have to be developed to facilitate and quicken such transformations. This is one of the goals of the P2P Foundation, and many other groups. As the decomposition of the decaying world system proceeds, the alternatives must be ready for uptake, as must the conceptual apparatus which can serve the phase transition. It is of course important to distinguish through commoning practices, from mere peer to peer marketplaces which transpose for-profit mentalities. Hence the importance to work with scenarios.

If you take two axes, one which distinguishes the global scale from the local; and another which distinguishes a commons orientation from a for-profit one, you get at least for potential realities. Each of these are already emerging, the question is: which one do we want to be dominant.

The first orientation combines a for-profit orientation with a global scale, but using p2p dynamics and technologies. This is the scenario of netarchical capitalism, in which shareholders control the global networks, which are instrumentalized for profit creation. Think Facebook.

The second maintains the profit orientation, but wants to avoid monopolies, and uses network affordances to achieve this. This is the scenario of distributed capitalism, exemplified by Bitcoin, the p2p currency, which is nevertheless designed on the basis of scarcity dynamics.

The third scenario is community oriented, but focuses on a local scale. This is the scenario of localized resilient communities and is growing tremendously. This approach however, lacks the global orientation necessary for planetary co-evolution.

Thus we are driven to opt preferentially to a scenario in which a commons, 'for-benefit' orientation coincides with a global commons. It is the forces in favour of this latter option, that are most apt to drive a transition to a co-evolutionary consciousness.