Extensive Survey of the FLOK Society Project in Ecuador

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* Report: The FLOK Society Project in Ecuador - an Extensive Survey. By Gordon Cook. COOK Report for May - June 2014

URL = http://www.cookreport.com/newsletter-sp-542240406/current-issues/287-cook-report-for-may-june-2014


Gordon Cook writes:

"At the end of last summer Michel Bauwens accepted an assignment in Ecuador. It is one that we all have reason to hope might address what perhaps is the major unanswered question that underlies the content of the massive P2P foundation wiki of movements around the world -- scattered and isolated -- but all designed in an attempt to mitigate the excesses of uncontrolled, unregulated, financialized global capitalism. The clients of the P2P foundation are people everywhere who were trying to stand up against the centralized juggernaut of 21st century cognitive capitalism. The message certainly is that this cannot last that this is not sustainable that it is driving more and more people into misery while it continues to massive redistribution of wealth into the hands of a tiny minority. Could it be possible not just in a single aspect of society at a very local level to create comprehensive change that would affect the entire society of the nationstate?

This is the hope of the project that Michel calls “the third way.” A way that need not entail a radical left-wing revolution of massive nationalization and redistribution of property. Also a way that need not entail continuation of the current unsustainable process of doing anything, at any cost, to maintain predatory neo-liberal state. Ecuador has a populist president elected in 2006 in a backlash against the Washington consensus and it has an education minister who helped author to national plans one in 2009 the second 2013 for what he called building a society of good living built in turn on what he defined as a social knowledge economy.

Yet by current Western standards is definitely quite radical. It was founded on the idea that a just government that insured basic minimal standards for human decency, education, healthcare and housing might be possible. It was very much reminiscent of the great Society espoused a half-century ago by Lyndon Johnson before he allowed our country to be socked into the neo-colonialist disaster of Vietnam. Michel, it seemed, had an invitation from Ecuador to bring in a research team and the fill over a period of about six months a very ambitious research plan that would show why it made sense to try to build such a society as well as give some understanding of what such a society might look like. It was an idealized utopian goal and it barely got off the ground before it began to crash into some on the anticipated obstacles.

Still the team that he put together has persevered and on the flock society wiki the research plan and associated documents are now being posted and the five-day meeting in Quito originally scheduled for early March is now scheduled to take place over the last days of May. This issue informs its readers of how the project got started – a bottom-up hack of an entire nation state and how against overwhelming odds it is moving forward. It deserves serious contemplation and study because the alternative is likely to be massive societal breakdown eliciting violent oppression by the 1% who have already co-opted the powers of the American national security state to destroy the privacy of all of its citizens and build electronic dossiers to engage local police departments militarized by the post-9/11 largess on behalf of the so-called security. This is a security not against terrorists but one designed to keep the ruling classes in the positions of power that they enjoy. I have included a transcript of a 20 minute session at a conference in Amsterdam at the end of last October where Michel lays out the ideas and goals underlining the FLOK society project in Ecuador. While intellectual property rights per se are not evil, the research developed shows how the rampant excess of patents recently granted is allowing the barons of corporate capitalism to impose arbitrary and predatory taxes to ensure continued financial dominance of what Minister Ramirez describes as the wealthy north over subjects living in the the neo-colonialist South.

They are attempting to use income from the sale of their natural resources to educate their brightest youth at foreign universities and bring them back to develop Ecuadorian ideas and, using free and open source knowledge and tools develop a local Ecuadorian economy where while no one will live as a plutocrat, Ordinary citizens may enjoy a decent standard of living based on the idea of community rather than dominance and power that the aggregation of wealth can give one control over the lives of those who have chosen loyalty to local community and fellow citizens and neighbors rather than worship self-aggrandizement. This issue also offers a translation of Ramirez’s January 2014 essay: “towards intellectual independence” where he outlines what a society based on a social knowledge economy would look like and how it could take advantage of the revolution in the availability of decentralized, digital, open -source tools that would allow the development of an open-source society based on peer to peer contributions toward building common futures tied together by affordable broadband Internet connectivity. It also looks at the government’s plans to build a small group of world-class universities while fueled by Chinese loans for local hydropower projects that, if things go amiss, could turn out badly.

This issue shows also some of the unpleasant things that we’ve discovered about the current government. It is not as nice as the warm and fuzzy ideas February Ramirez might lead us to think. But as Michel points out regardless of what happens in Ecuador it is the first step ever undertaken in the world to attempt to develop a comprehensive mapping of what a change might look like from the currently unsustainable madness of neoliberalism held together in a race to the bottom by extractive capitalism is dragging humanity.

I was asked very late in the day by the project to study Ecuador’s telecommunications and its approach to the Internet by taking the point of view that a very basic grassroots communications infrastructure was integral part of the social knowledge economy that Ramirez’s claim to want to build. They say they want to develop a telecommunications infrastructure that would enable the best minds of their young people to participate and open global collaborative scientific research in the generation and development of new knowledge. They then intend to put into use at home in developing their own intellectual capital by means of which they can become more independent of the extractive economic policies of the wealthy North. What I found out is that unfortunately they do not seem to understand either the function of global research and education networks or the function of a well protected grassroots Internet.

I learned a great deal none of which bodes especially well for the desired and hoped for outcome. Because while the government owns two out of the three companies that have substantial fiber networks extending over the entire country, the policies of the electric utility network and the national phone company were developed at both companies by the boyhood friend of the current president Jorge Glas. This is also the man who negotiated nearly $8 billion in loans four hydropower from China. It appears as though the policies are based on using both companies as profit centers rather than seeking an understanding as to how they could be used in the national interest to attain the lofty vision on behalf of the good life of the Ecuadorian people as enunciated by René Ramirez.

Still not all is negative. The very fact that on March 26 in Quito the group managed to hold a several hour press conference that publicly introduced the project to Ecuadorians and did so by very explicitly criticizing how the government. although it says it wants civil society to bloom, takes a paternalistic stance designed to insinuate its control of all such groups at every level. FLOK advocates what it calls a partner state for developing a role of government is not paternalistic but nurturing and balancing.

In a section called the FLOK project origins and processes we dip into what Michel calls the Full Research plan. It is here that he attempts do do what neither he nor anyone else in the P2P movement has ever done before namely describe current forms of capitalism and of transition movements and depict what has to be done to get from here to there. A critical paragraph written by Michel is found in the FLOK wiki in the section headed The Socio-Economic Implications of a Social Knowledge Economy.

He writes: “Just as cognitive capitalism depends on the manifold institutional supports supplied by government policy, legislation, free market ideology, and the collective power of firms and the institutions that serve them, even more so does a social knowledge economy require the corresponding civic and economic institutions that can support and safeguard the value of commons, of collective benefit, of open and accessible markets, and of social control over capital. These civic institutions are embodied in the structure of democratic enterprises, of peer-to-peer networks, of non-profits and community service organizations, of mutually supporting small and medium firms, and of civil society and the social economy itself. It is these social and economic structures, based on the principles of reciprocity and service to community, that can best utilize knowledge as a commons and safeguard its future as an indispensable resource for the common good and the wellbeing of humanity as a whole.”

“The identification of these institutions and of the public policies needed for their development and growth is the overarching aim of this research.”

A few paragraphs later he continues: …”In a mature social knowledge economy, the state will still exist, but will have a radically different nature. Much of its functions will have been taken over by commons institutions, but since these institutions care primarily about their own commons, and not the general common good, we will still need public authorities that are the guarantor of the system as a whole, and can regulate the various commons, and protect the commoners against possible abuses. So in our scenario, the state does not disappear, but is transformed, though it may greatly diminish in scope, and with its remaining functions thoroughly democratized and based on citizen participation. In our vision, it is civil-society based peer production, through the Commons, which is the guarantor of value creation by the private sector, and the role of the state, as Partner State, is to enable and empower the creation of common value. The new peer to peer state then, though some may see that as a contradictio in terminis, is a state which is subsumed under the Commons, just as it is now under the private sector.”

Where does all tis wind up? Under what circumstances? Hard to say. Perhaps in the midst of constituent assemblies that may be held after the next global crash? And in Ecuador by design at the “summit” scheduled for May 26.

The issue includes a translation of Renee Ramirez’s important January 2014 essay “Towards Intellectual Independence.” It was done via google translate, my own attempts to edit and final clean up by Emilio Velis a fab labs engineer from El Salvador. I offer as well a summary of an interview of Jose Andrade and Ecuadoran who went to the US for his university education and is now full professor of Mechanical Engineering at Caltech. The conversation with Jose is intended to offer insight into government plans for Yachay University, for which an R&E connection will be critical, if Yachay is to have any chance of fulling government hopes to become an Andean Silicon Valley.

The final part of the section on Ecuador is my “connectivity” policy study. Despite three companies of national stature that possess extensive fiber infrastructures, no one involved in any policy making seems to understand ether fiber optic technology or its fundamental role in creating a national telecom infrastructure that could become the basic foundation for its Plan for Good Living. The nation has a small R and E network but the politician appear to regard the networks existence as unwanted competition for the newly united national carrier CNT. Levels of awareness of the potential of the internet for building the knowledge society that Minister Ramirez wants are so low that it seems the best immediate course of action would be to create as a part of Civil Society an internet steering committee like that of Brazil that would spread awareness of the internet way of dong things as opposed to the telco way." (http://www.cookreport.com/newsletter-sp-542240406/current-issues/287-cook-report-for-may-june-2014)