FLOK Society Project
= commons-transition research and proposals for Ecuador
URL = http://floksociety.org
Full text of the research plan and project by Michel Bauwens: Commons Transition Plan (FLOK version)
The full report with subdomain papers on commons-based health infrastructures, mobility, industry, etc: https://commonstransition.org/flok-society/, with wiki-based guide: http://wiki.commonstransition.org/wiki/Category:FLOK
"FLOK Society is, at its core, a research project occurring within a university: Ecuador’s post-graduate-focused state school the IAEN. But the parameters of the project push us to seek as many partnerships with any other schools, entities, social organizations, and communities with a stake in the project. Which is to say, there is an open invitation, and there soon will be proactive attempts to court, input and collaboration from all Ecuadorians and any international group that shares the values of FLOK and is interested in the theory that by creating and empowering peer networks a country can create a new economic matrix.
There are so many hackers involved, even at this early stage, because FLOK (which stands for “Free/Libre Open Knowledge”) proposes a fundamental disruption of society. FLOK’s reason-to-be is to create a legal, economic and social framework for an entire country (Ecuador) that is consistent with principles that are the basic foundations of the Internet: peer-to-peer collaboration and shared knowledge."
A note on 7/24/2014 from Gordon Cook the author of what Bethany excerpts below. This is from my earlier issue which I published on about April 1 2014. It was based on a mistaken faith that what Michel and "Flok Management" said could be trusted. On June 1 I issued another report that reflected my own findings. If anyone is interested in a view of unvarnished reality I urge them to down load this URL = http://www.cookreport.com/pdfs/July-augCRecuadorfinal.pdf.
Source: The FLOK Society Project in Ecuador - an Extensive Survey. 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 nation-state?
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)
Evaluation by Michel Bauwens
An assessment of the FLOK process and why the P2P Foundation will not use the FLOK brand in the future
(note: this version was originally written at the request of Jay Wallsjasper of On the Commons, slightly expanded and updated on July 13; it’s a little more elaborate than the first informal assessment shared here before)
Michel Bauwens, 19th July 2014:
We’re nearing the end of June, the day of my departure from Quito and my direct involvement in the FLOK process, where I have been director of the research team. Many people have asked about my assessment of the results of the process. The FLOK process was a complex process and the assessment can only be complex as well.
One of the first questions, and critiques, is about the relationship with the government itself.
Let us start with the general statement that there are only very imperfect governments in the world, and that power politics are everywhere difficult and rather unpleasant processes. Nevertheless, if we compare the achievements and workings of the government here, then Ecuador has made significant achievements since the advent of power of the Correa administration. The control over the state and the government by private business has been significantly reduced; state-led redistribution and infrastructure building has significantly improved the economic situation of most of its citizens. There have been significant improvements in poverty, literacy, education, crime, etc .. Political stability and popular endorsement of government policies are significantly higher than in the very unstable neoliberal period that preceded it. The state and many institutions have been modernized. The new press legislation has reduced corporate control and created a whole new sector of community-based radios and media outlets.
On the other hand, there seems to be a growing schism between civil society actors and a government that was originally derived from it. The government has embarked on an extractivist policy against its own promises and plans (Yasuni), disbanded oppositional civil organisations like the Pachamama Foundation, and exerted pressures against critics in the press. There is a growing schism between the beautiful and enthusing political programs and principles as expressed in the Constitution and the National Plan, and the actual policies that are often contrary to it, and many of those that believed in these ideas are increasingly isolated in institutions like Senplades and Senescyt. They are losing power and influence. The radical sounding ‘neo-socialist’ language of the government is not matched by structural reforms that go into the direction of anything that is beyond capitalism. On the contrary, the real policies, even though to the left of European social-democracy, are essentially redistributionist and actually aim to create better conditions for capitalist development. The poor are less poor, a middle class is being created, but the economic policies do not fundamentally challenge the global political economy. The current direction seems to be towards more adaptation to the demands of the global system. But there is no doubt that the situation of the country and its people has improved.
When we started the FLOK process, it was presented to us as a project that was strategic for the Ecuadorian government, as supported by the Ministry of Knowledge and the Secretariat of Innovation and would systematically move the country to a social knowledge economy, and that would be enthusiastically received by civil organisations. The reality we encountered was quite different. First of all, despite an intensive effort at participation, and many meetings with local groups, the general attitude of civic organisations was, though sympathetic for the aims of FLOK, at the same time distrustful of it as a government-sponsored project. The pressure for participation came from us, not from civil society.
Our experience with the government was very problematic from the start. First of all, because of factional fighting within and without the institution we were formally working for (IAEN), the staff of the project remained unpaid for 3-5 months, until the end of March, with an active and successful campaign to defund the FLOK. At one point, we were prepared to leave at the end of March because the funding had been cut, and we were all facing extremely challenging material situations. Once the factional fight was concluded with the departure of the rector who had initiated FLOK (Carlos Prieto), we were refunded, and funds were also liberated for the Buen Conocer Summit at the end of May. Our personal and collective situation dramatically improved from that point onwards.
Nevertheless, as research director of the FLOK team, in charge of a theoretically strategic project, I was at no time able to meet with any of our sponsoring ministers. All planned meetings (more than a dozen) between myself and Rene Ramirez and Guillaume Long, were systematically cancelled. The very day before the launch of the Buen Conocer Summit on May 27th, it transpired that the Minister of Knowledge had forbidden his staff to participate in the summit (he reversed this decision on that very last day); and that President Correa had not been aware of the FLOK process at all (I have this info from a person in the Communications Dept. of the President and several other witnesses).
Whatever the reasons for this state of affairs, the only realistic conclusion is that this was not considered as a strategic project. To this day, because we were unable to have conversations with our nominal sponsors, we can only speculate as to the real motivations.
Nevertheless, we have to look at the positive aspects of the government’s involvement as well. First of all, the project was indeed funded, and nowhere else in the world could it have taken place at this stage. Second, we operated in total freedom: the research team was entirely free in its research and proposals, with zero interference. Third, and this is very important for the future of our recommendations, there has been distinct enthusiasm for the aims and process of the FLOK from lower level officials in several governmental institutions, with concrete efforts to fund and carry out important pilot projects.
And, even though the pressure and social basis of the FLOK process was weak in civil society, there was nevertheless a quite intense participatory process. 24 provincial workshops were held with actors from civil society; several multi-day visits to poorer communities were organized with intense mutual exchanges; participatory lectures were held in different institutions with high interest and attendance; workshops were held in various universities. All this input was integrated in the first drafts of our proposals. (An open letter to global commoners also yielded several dozen proposals). The highlight was a stay in Sigchos, the country’s third poorest district, where we met an enthusiastic mayor (Mario Andino) and a supportive local assembly of the people eager to apply open agricultural projects. This gave us a clear indication that with dynamic leadership, the local people that matter (mostly indigenous and farmers), where totally behind the key ideas of a transition to a commons-based society, and endorsed its logic and potential. The second phase of the participatory process entailed open commentary on digital comments, yielding many useful suggestions. But finally, what was very important was the success of the Buen Conocer summit May 27 to 30. The combination of local civic invitees, committed pubic officials, and foreign guests led to a very enthusiastic social dynamic in which the FLOK proposals were substantially improved.
One of the key lessons though is that we have to abandon the romantic idea that we can ‘hack a country’. A country, and its people, are not an executable program. For future projects, it will be necessary to ascertain with more due diligence, the maturity of both the political will and the social basis of such a transition. Commons transition programs should be embarked upon as a more clear co-production process, and not undertaken as political gamble. Commons transition should be bottom-up supported processes, enabled and facilitated by supportive public authorities (or without them if that support is not forthcoming).
One of the important lessons of the project is how not to administer it in the future. The administrative process was a purely hierarchical one, with personalistic and secretive control of the budget and decisions. The research team was entirely shut out of the design and organisation of the Summit for example. Simple requests for information were not looked kindly upon and were seen as interference. People who disagreed with management did not just have to arbitrarily and unilaterally leave the project, without any due process, but were maligned and subject to active disinformation campaigns involving charges of spying etc … I was subjected to public threats to publish private emails in order to discourage any independent evaluation, which is what prompted to add this specific paragraph about the internal workings of the FLOK process. Engagements to third parties were routinely changed and unilaterally adapted created all kinds of embarrassments towards those parties and endangering our trust and reputational capital. There was a regular use of private and public intimidation, including a threat of physical intimidation during the very summit, including against members of the research team to discourage them from sharing their point of view on the public discussion list. Strategically mistaken decisions, such as the defunding of the Spanish translation of the Commons Transition Plan, were made from narrow political reasons. Such practices clearly should not have a place in future projects and are one of the reasons the P2P Foundation will not use the FLOK moniker and ‘brand’ in future Commons Transition projects. We believe our internal practices should be prefigurative of the kind of society we are aiming for and not in contradiction to it. This is how the research team functioned, and in the future, it is how a whole project should function. Our aim here therefore is not to inflame conflicts, but rather to warn third parties of a potential systemic flaw in the approach to such projects: authoritarianism can have no place in open and participatory transition projects.
Nevertheless, despite the problems and failures in Ecuador, along with the relative success we tried to describe above, we can hope that seeds of new thinking about transformation have been sown, and that some pilot projects will be successfully carried out.
Indeed, the FLOK project also has a global impact, and I am quite optimistic about this. First of all, this is the first time that an integrated Commons Transition Plan has been crafted, representing a new political and policy orientation towards achieving a post-capitalist society based on shared knowledge, that has both a theoretical underpinning, and fifteen concrete legislative frameworks. This means that from now on, a concrete third way that is different from both statism and neoliberalism, does exist and can be discussed. Despite the local difficulties of the process, we believe that because of the relative legitimacy and credibility involved in a national project, the commons transition is now a geo-political fact, it’s a historical pivot. This assessment is confirmed by the consistent interest that is expressed towards the project, with inquiries of cities and regions as to the possibility of other transition projects. The FLOK is now both a participatory and scientific research process, and a already existing body of work, that can be creatively adapted (and changed, or abandoned altogether), in other locales. The emerging commons, sharing, and p2p movements can now be more than concrete local practice of grassroots communities, they can become a force for social change at the political and policy level.
The value of the experience in Ecuador, with all the people that contributed to it, is that it signifies a new beginning, the creation of a new social imaginary about commons oriented transition towards a sustainable and more just society. The clock is now ticking, and the arrow of time cannot be reversed. We are beginning to find a politics and policy for the 21st century. This is not a minor achievement and I am proud I have been able to contribute to it.
I urge people to have a serious look at the Commons Transition Plan, and to think about the new political concepts that are the expression of the nascent and growing global commons movement.
The proposals are here at http://en.wiki.floksociety.org/w/Research_Plan and http://wiki.commonstransition.org/wiki/FLOK_Research_Plan .
Let’s improve them continuously and produce a pattern language for successful social change.
An Account of the FLOK Summit and the Role of Michel Bauwens by Nathan Schneider
"My travels next took me to Ecuador, where I was to meet another person Joel had known during his sojourn hacking in Europe, a freelance futurist named Michel Bauwens. Bauwens was involved in another kind of highly ambitious endeavour that I needed to see for myself: an attempt to hack the economy of a country.
The scheme turned out to be the invention of a handful of hacktivists from Spain who had been part of the 15M movement’s encampments in 2011. They’d convinced a ministry of the Ecuadorian government to fund a process by which they’d develop open-knowledge policies for the country; rather than relying on natural-resource exploitation, perhaps Ecuador could compete by sharing knowledge more openly and freely than anyplace else, leapfrogging from the Third World to the digital world. The organisers drew jointly on language from Ecuador’s constitution, global tech culture, and Quechua-speaking natives.
“We will all meet in Quito for a ‘crater-like summit,’” their website said. “We will ascend the sides of the volcano together in order to go down to the crater and work.” Alongside those words was a picture of Quilotoa, a caldera in the Ecuadorian Andes where a blue-green lake has accumulated in the hole left by a cataclysmic eruption seven hundred years ago, nestled in the volcano’s two-mile-wide rim. The project was called FLOK Society—free, libre, open knowledge. Its main event, a conference in late May, was being referred to as a summit, but the nod to Quilotoa’s crater was a way of saying this wasn’t the usual elite policy meeting. Geeks, activists, and bureaucrats from around Ecuador and around the world would climb the metaphorical volcano from all sides and practice democracy in the middle.
The Spaniards chose Bauwens, as a widely respected and well-connected figure in the global open-culture scene, to lead the project’s research group. It was a chance for him to spell out the world’s first nation-sized proposal for transitioning to a commons-based social contract. “This is not really a top-down project, not really a bottom-up project—it’s a sideways hack,” he told me as he was getting started in late 2013. “It’s taking advantage of a historic opportunity to do something innovative and transformative in Ecuador.” But by the time I met him in the gaudy apartment he was renting in Quito, a few days before the summit began, he looked exhausted from infighting with the Spaniards and wresting his staff’s salaries from the government. “It’s going to be a much harder fight than I anticipated,” he said.
Bauwens, 56 at the time, had a knack for seeking out potent knowledge. He grew up in Belgium as the only child of two orphan parents. As a young teenager, he was a convinced Trotskyite, rooting for the Viet Cong and Che Guevara. In his twenties he worked for the United States Information Agency in Brussels, and later made his way into business riding the wave of the early Internet. His seeking started to take a more metaphysical turn as well; he experimented with various Californian spiritualities, and then Asian ones. He waded into Western esoteric sects like Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry. He became a follower of New Age theorist Ken Wilber’s Integral philosophy, a synthesis of all these traditions and more.
Bauwens found himself a top executive at Belgacom, Belgium’s largest telecommunications company; his specialty was trend-watching, turning the jargon and novelty of the emerging tech world into money-making strategies. And then, in 2002, he’d had enough. He quit, and moved with his second wife to her family’s home in Thailand.
“Capitalism is a paradoxical system, where even the ruling class has a crappy life,” he said, remembering that period. “It’s not producing happiness.”
For two years in Thailand Bauwens read history. He studied the fall of Rome and the rise of feudalism—a “phase transition,” as he puts it. It was an age when the previous civilization was in crisis, and he concluded that what led the way forward was a shift in the primary modes of production. The Roman slave system transformed into an interplay of peasantry, guilds, and free cities. Networks of monasteries spread innovations across Europe, helping to sow the seeds of the new order.
In the Internet Bauwens sees a crisis of comparable scale for industrial civilization, and also the germ of what could come next. Rather than liberating us, the Internet economy has become dominated by what he calls “netarchical capitalism,” in which the surplus value created by peer producers gets swallowed up by powerful corporations. “This is a fundamentally parasitical model,” Bauwens believes. “People at the bottom had better take care that the new social contract is better than the old one.” Rather than around corporate platforms, he believes every aspect of the economy should revolve around a democratic, cooperatively managed commons—a Wikipedia not an Encarta, a Linux not a Mac OS.
Bauwens’ life’s work itself takes the form of a commons. The bulk of his oeuvre lives on the collaborative wiki that constitutes the website of his Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives—the P2P Foundation, for short. He tends to talk about his vision in the royal (or communal) “we,” speaking not just for himself but for a movement in formation. He borrows a lot of the terms he relies on from others, then slyly fits them into a grander scheme than the originators envisioned. Put another way: “I steal from everyone.” Nevertheless, one is hard-pressed to locate his enemies; rather than criticising others, he tends to figure out a place for them somewhere in his system—in this, Bauwens remains true to the omnivorous spirit of Ken Wilber’s Integral theory, though he became disenchanted with Wilber’s emphasis on the individual over the collective, the spiritual over the material. Bauwens had been leaning back toward the central dogma of old Europe’s religion, incarnation, and wanted to incarnate this integration in Ecuador.
The summit’s opening event included some bold pronouncements. “This is not just an abstract dream,” puffed Guillaume Long, Ecuador’s dashing minister of knowledge and human talent. “Many of the things we talk about these days will become a reality.” Rather than tax havens, added Rina Pazos, an equally fashionable subsecretary with an even longer title, “we need to establish havens of open and common knowledge.”
By the end of three days, the fourteen working groups had amassed a variety of proposals, some more concrete than others: the downfall of copyright laws, open textbooks and free software in schools, open government data, new licenses for indigenous knowledge, community seed banks, a decentralized university. But there were no promises. Throughout, participants whispered to me their doubts that the national government would take any of this seriously. Bauwens watched it all unfold, already resigned.
Over the course of his life, Plato made several journeys from Athens to Syracuse, in Sicily, with the hope of making it a model of the kind of society he described in his Republic. The rulers there, however, fell far short of being the philosopher-kings he needed; he returned home to retire and compose a more cynical kind of political theory.
If not quite so discouraged, Bauwens was a bit adrift after the summit ended. It at least led him to question the usefulness of his earlier metaphor. “We have to abandon the idea that we can hack a country,” Bauwens told me just before I left Ecuador. “A country and its people are not an executable program.”
I flew home and wrote articles about these stories and haggled with editors. I was also about to turn thirty and had a wedding to prepare for. Right after that was a gigantic march against climate change in New York, and networks formed during Occupy Wall Street reappeared to help organise it. I watched the speculation about Ethereum bounce around in tweets. The price of Bitcoin plummeted.
Bauwens sent me occasional updates on his progress: he was reaching out to the new Internet-savvy political parties emerging in Europe and had crafted an alliance with an association of cooperatives in Spain. He attended more ordinary kinds of conferences and set off on another speaking tour. Old-fashioned stuff—more wisdom, maybe, and less hacking."
Conducted by Bethany Horne for Shareable magazine :
"I recently had the pleasure of interviewing my colleagues Carlos Prieto del Campo, Xabier Barandiaran, and Daniel Vazquez from the FLOK Society, a project in Ecuador that aims to create a “free, libre, open knowledge” society. Read on to learn about our plan for influencing structural changes within the country’s economic model using the commons paradigm.
Bethany Horne: What inspired the FLOK Society project? Can you describe its connection to the Ecuadorian government’s decision to embrace open knowledge?
Daniel Vazquez: The idea for the FLOK Society—a “free, libre, open knowledge” society—comes straight from Ecuador’s five-year strategic plan called the Plan of Good Living, which was first published in 2009 (a second version was published this year, but is not yet available in English). The plan itself provides a path for transitioning away from Ecuador’s extractive, oil-reliant economic model toward one that is based on open and shared knowledge.
More specifically, in 2012 a few members of aLabs, a free software company, were in Quito, Ecuador when Julian Assange solicited asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. When the government responded positively, those individuals contacted The National Institute of Higher Education (IAEN by its Spanish initials), which is in charge of the collaborative academic investigation that will inform the transition I just described. Carlos Prieto, the director of IAEN, shared with them the Secretary of Science, Technology and Higher Education’s vision for changing Ecuador’s productive matrix and his strong belief that Ecuador needs to become a "paradise of knowledge.”
That was the starting point for FLOK. We created a proposal for an investigative process that would be carried out in conversation with the Ecuadorian public and the local, regional, and international scientific communities. At the end of the process, our goal is to create ten “base” documents from which policies can be drafted to enable Ecuador’s transition to a shared and free knowledge society for industry, education, scientific research, public institutions, infrastructure, etc.
I should also note that together with the government, civil society initiatives and social movements in Ecuador have a long history of contributing to a common, open knowledge society. This aspiration positions Ecuador within a global community of Internet activists, researchers, hackers, and commoners of all kinds who have long been waiting to join a political, social, and institutional commitment to designing a new economy and society based on the principles of a free knowledge commons.
Bethany Horne: Can you tell us more about the concept of good living and how it relates to the FLOK Society?
Daniel Vazquez: The concept of good living means harmony, equality, fairness, and solidarity. It’s antithetical to the accumulation of wealth or infinite economic growth that isn't shared in common. The Plan of Good Living defines "good living" as a way of life that allows for happiness and cultural and environmental diversity. Good living is also an indigenous concept, known in Ecuador and other Andean countries as Sumak Kawsay, a Kichwa phrase. For us, Sumak Kawsay is a product of Sumak Yachay, which means good knowledge. Shared economic prosperity comes from the sharing of knowledge, effort, and technology. The Plan of Good Living establishes a clear framework for the creation of a peer-to-peer, knowledge-based economy in Ecuador.
The Plan of Good Living also explicitly discusses the knowledge revolution and our need to develop an open knowledge commons. What the FLOK Society aims to develop is a detailed design that will make this knowledge revolution socially, ecologically, and economically sustainable following the principles of good living.
Bethany Horne: What’s the connection between the FLOK Society project and the commons approach? Is there also a connection Ecuadorians and global commoners?
Xabier Barandiaran: Only a political/economical approach built around the commons can open the necessary political space for designing a set of public policies that will accomplish the political pact underwritten in the Ecuadorian Constitution of 2008. The commons provides a pragmatic approach for the structural transformation we need to accomplish in the next twenty-five years from the capitalist model to the post-capitalist world-system.
The Ecuadorian society and economy are a perfect match for the commons paradigm. It won’t be possible to transform our current power structure, to build a fair and sustainable societal model, or to design a new model for integrating with the global market using a neoliberal, social-democratic, or “developmentist” approach. But it will be possible using the commons approach, which provides post-capitalist logic for transformation.
There is also a unique convergence between the goals of the Ecuadorian people, their struggles, and our latest political history, and the aspirations and experience of global commoners. The FLOK Society project takes advantage of this extraordinary convergence. For example, we are bringing the hacker and indigenous communities together to do what they do best: share knowledge. We’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time.
Bethany Horne: What’s the next milestone for the FLOK Society project?
Carlos Prieto: In the immediate future, we need to integrate FLOK within the council that is guiding Ecuador's productive matrix restructuring. Michel Bauwens from the P2P Foundation has joined us in Quito as lead researcher, and he is forming a research team with top academics from all over the world. The team includes Vasilis Kostakis, a peer production researcher who received his PhD with Carlota Perez; Daniel Araya, an editor of several academic books on open education and peer learning; Janice Figueredo, a commons activist in Brazil who was formerly with the IADB in Washington and Paris; and John Restakis, former leader of the British Vancouver cooperative association who has studied the most advanced and emerging neo-cooperative forms.
These people will arrive in the country soon to start their research. By March, the research process will have advanced enough that we can hold our planned summit.
Bethany Horne: What’s your end goal?
Carlos Prieto: After more than thirty years of neoliberalism, we need to demonstrate that the commons paradigm can help us create and implement a new set of productive and distributive monetary circuits and flows. We hope the FLOK Society project will impact the possibility for structural change and demonstrate that the scope of the political economy is much wider than the mainstream paradigms want us to believe.
We plan to create a global, peer-to-peer network of researchers that produces a comprehensive body of knowledge. Even if the results of this process of collaborative research and participatory design cannot be fully or immediately accommodated within the Ecuadorian institutional framework the results will become part of the commons as a carefully designed plan to open up new forms of social economy—one that breaks the enclosures of cognitive capitalism in an effort to create a sustainable future." (http://newsle.com/article/0/99054267/)
- Post-Flok Seminar in France, http://wiki.remixthecommons.org/index.php/Seminaire_FLOK_Society
- FLOK’s base document roughly translated into English, http://aperturaradical.org/FLOK-society_source_document_v_1_5_EN.pdf
- FLOK’s website, http://floksociety.org/
- FLOK on Twitter and on Facebook (bilingual)
- Video: Michel Bauwens Explains the FLOK Transition Project to an Integral Theory Conference