Commons and Peer-to-Peer Alternatives for Planetary Survival and Justice

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* Article: The Seeds of The Commons: Peer-to-Peer Alternatives for Planetary Survival and Justice. Michel Bauwens & Petar Jandrić . Postdigital Science and Education (2021)



Commoning for Planetary Survival and Regeneration

"PJ: You recently published a report ‘P2P Accounting for Planetary Survival: Towards a P2P Infrastructure for a Socially-Just Circular Society’ (Bauwens and Pazaitis 2020). What is P2P accounting and how does it differ from traditional accounting?

MB: In the 1930s, there was this big debate between socialists and liberals called the ‘Socialist Calculation Debate’. On the one side, were Friedrich Hayek, Joseph Schumpeter, Ludwig von Mises, and others, who argued that centralised planning could not work. On the opposite side, were Karl Polanyi, and others, who claimed that socialist planning could work (and in ways superior to capitalism). For almost one century it seemed that the leftists had lost the socialist calculation debate. These days, however, things are changing.

There are three main levels of resource allocation. (1) We have the state, which represents planning – either full planning as in Soviet times, or regulatory planning, as in the capitalist system. (2) We have market pricing, which regulates the allocation of capital. (3) Finally, we have the emergence of mutual coordination or ‘stigmergy’, which brings open source commoning into the picture.

Our proposal, ‘P2P Accounting for Planetary Survival: Towards a P2P Infrastructure for a Socially-Just Circular Society’ (Bauwens and Pazaitis 2020), consists of an integrated vision that combines the three forms, with mutual coordination at the first level. We now have distributed ledgersFootnote10 so that we can move from sharing code and knowledge to sharing transaction data, shared accounting, shared logistics, and so on. We are moving from the Internet of Communications to the Internet of Transactions which enables the development of collaborative open ecosystems consisting of networks of producers. I think this is a very important shift.

PJ: And what about thermodynamic accounting?

MB: Thermodynamic accounting is the ability to see flows of matter and energy and have them integrated into your accounting system. This implies that we can create our own data commons, data trusts, data co-ops, and so on.

PJ: This is bound to be based on heaps of potentially sensitive data!

MB: Open collaborative ecosystems need a lot of data, but the problem is not with the data – the problem is who owns this data, and how they expropriate this data from the communities and individuals. At the moment, we are divested of our data all the way down to our desires and nervous systems. But if we switch to an attitude – ‘okay, we collected this data and now we need to decide how to share it in the best interest of our community’ – that fundamentally changes the debate.

PJ: Your report speaks of ‘P2P Accounting for Planetary Survival’ (Bauwens and Pazaitis 2020); with Jose Ramos, you are now preparing a Postdigital Science and Education commentary titled ‘Placing the Commons in a Temporal Framework: The Commons as Planetary Regeneration Mechanism’. How can the commons enable planetary survival and regeneration?

MB: This is based on the Wave Pulse theories of human history. The theoretical background of the Wave Pulse theory emanates from Karl Polanyi and his double movement theory (1944/2001), Peter Turchin’s cliodynamicsFootnote11 and his Seshat database,Footnote12 and so on. Wave Pulse theories emerged from various sources, yet they all agree that human civilisation is related to biophysical realities, and that class societies have a tendency to grow beyond their capacity.

‘Wave Pulse theories are cyclical theories of human history, which see societies evolving in a succession between more extractive/degradative phases, and more regenerative phases in which the commons operate as a key “healing” mechanism.’Footnote13 During the degradative phases of consumptive expansion, the ruling class pushes towards the use of more and more resources – they have to do this, because they are competing with others. When things start degrading (soil becomes depleted, or whatever else happens in a particular context), that degradation creates a counterreaction and opens up a regenerative phase needed for saving the region where it occurs. But as soon as the regenerative phase is over, humankind begins a new degradative phase.

According to Mark Whitaker’s Ecological Revolution: The Political Origins of Environmental Degradation and the Environmental Origins of Axial Religions; China, Japan, Europe (2010), these cycles are accompanied by a coalition between producing classes and spiritual reformation. This happened in tenth century Europe, when the monks of Cluny started the Peace and Truce of God movement followed by three centuries of growth – this was clearly a regenerative impulse. Another example is The Tokugawa Shogunate from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century Japan, which was a society that lived in balance with its environment for almost three centuries.

PJ: How did they manage to achieve such prolonged periods of regeneration?

MB: In regenerative phases, the key aspect of healing is commoning. When you say, ‘this is a pool for everybody’, and when you protect the pool for the long term, as a commons, then you actually have a healthy basis. But regenerative phases always end when people forget why they protect their commons, and a new elite starts a new degradative cycle. This cycle can clearly be seen in the history of agricultural civilisations, as shown in Peter Turchin’s and Sergey A. Nefedov’s book, Secular Cycles (2009).

For four centuries, capitalism has managed to maintain the degradative phase through developments in technology and productivity. But now that our reality has become global, there are no more frontiers – nature as a sink and nature as a tap are out of commission. To counter our degradative phase, we need commoning on a local and global scale. Of course, thermodynamic scientists rightly argue that the second law of thermodynamics can be reversed only locally so the environment can also heal only locally. At the same time, there are many issues that remain global. How do you deal with overfishing in international waters? You need a global institution for that. How do you deal with Fukushima-like accidentsFootnote14? The radioactive wave does not stop at your border.

This is why we develop the cosmo-local idea: to relocalize the tier of production, and to mutualize it in significant ways, while maintaining global cooperation and global open design depositories. Science and technology then become commons, but locally we have distributed manufacturing and all kinds of new solutions that reinvigorate the territory. This is neither national protectionism nor neoliberal globalization."