Global Brain as Mechanism for the Global Commons

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Cadell Last:

"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.

Cadell Last:

Concept Definitions/examples

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."