Response to Kevin Carson's Statement of Disassociation
Dear friends of the commons and of the P2P Foundation
The following is a personal statement of Michel Bauwens, not discussed or endorsed by the P2P Foundation, but written on request of a third party, as a necessary reaction to the statement by Kevin Carson on August 2019 announcing a break with the P2P Foundation, see https://c4ss.org/content/52344?
Kevin Carson calls himself a ‘anticapitalist pro-free-market anarchist’, and we are familiar with his work on localized and cooperative productive systems, which we always found valuable. However, his announcement contains a large number of erroneous statements that Kevin Carson has, by his own admission, received by hearsay, and has not verified his accusations, neither through a dialogue with us, nor by going directly to the sources. This statement aims to rectify the record.
For those who do not know who we are; we are a collective who aim for societal transformation through a focus on the commons, i.e. shared resources that are managed by a community or stakeholder alliance, according to their own rules and norms, as studied originally by Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom. It includes open knowledge, free software and shared design communities, but also open cooperative models engaged in material production, for example around renewable energy or open agriculture. Our initiative is naturally aligned to social forces promoting freedom of choice by individuals and collectives, generative non-exploitative market mechanisms, and a supportive and facilitating forms of administration and public services.
In order to achieve these goals we are engaged in research (the P2P Lab), communication through publications, etc … In addition, in my personal capacity, I am a very active digital curator, moderating and curating various social media communities with several thousand members. Our strategy has always been to focus on commonalities, and while our own work is undoubtedly anchored in the progressive tradition, cooperation around the commons requires collaboration across the political spectrum. So asked about my own politics I have always responded, “I am on the left, but we need to work with all human beings who support the development of commons”. If you are an open source free software developer for example, we must work with all other free software developers, and put our partisan political preferences ‘between brackets’, if we want our project to be successful. This means we have worked with distributionists (who may be conservative Catholics), social credit reformers, co-working and makerspaces, social-entrepreneurial and cooperative startup incubators, as well as a large number of progressive groups, cultural initiatives. All our events have been rigorously following rules of gender parity, and where possible geographical diversity for example. We have undertaken special projects like ‘100 Women for P2P’, interviewing female leaders in the commons movement; and one of our associated projects, Guerilla Translation, which is an autonomous activity from our communications team, has probably the only constitution in the world, that includes redistribution for care work, in its profit and benefit sharing practices. The P2P Foundation is an anti-racist and anti-sexist organization, and this criteria is used to moderate our discussions.
So with this being said, we would like to rectify some of the untruths communicated in the Statement by Kevin Carson.
First of all, we are of course not aligned to Jordan Peterson or Quilette, which are in my opinion, like the Intellectual Dark Web, mostly center-right sources, that are in opposition to the alt-right but also count a number of progressive authors. We have on occasion shared critical videos on Jordan Peterson, because he engages directly with issues of horizontality and hierarchy, which are our core concerns, and critiques by Quilette and Aero magazine on group identity theory. The criteria for selection is that these articles are sufficiently well argued, supported by evidence, and can help us think more clearly about a topic by confronting different perspectives.
Sharing a plurality of sources has always been part of my work, not just in my current role as digital curator, but my whole life. In the 80s I produced a newsletter that would both cite In These Times, the Progressive and the New Republic, but also the National Review. The problem here is that the polarisation inherent of the culture wars, in which sources from the other side are exclusively interpreted in the context of propaganda wars. But it is very important to continue to understand the various expressions on the political spectrum, and not to see them as exclusively expressions of propaganda. While we have to know the material interests and ideological alignments of our sources, as well as any reputation for quality or lack of it, we cannot reduce all dissenting sources to mere expressions of an ideological war. These outlets are also sense-making exercises that need to be understood, beyond any disagreement. Today, we have evolved from organic filter bubbles, to a growing mentality that dissenting sources must be actively prohibited. I am opposed to this trend of self-imposed censorship, as it goes against the capacity for cooperation across the political spectrum, but even within the respective sides of one side of the spectrum, where plurality of perspectives is reduced.
Kevin Carson also claims that we say that Black Lives Matters and Metoo promote reverse hierarchy. In fact, I broadly see these movements as positive, as providing a necessary correction to social inequities. This means I broadly am supportive of them. This of course, does not mean that criticism may not be levelled against them since any social movement may also generate exaggerations. However, I have personally not engaged with these topics directly, since our focus is on promoting commons-based collaboration.
However, at a personal level, and this is probably at the root of the conflict, I am very opposed to Group Identity Theory and associated practices such as those that were evident in the Evergreen State College crisis in 2017, an attitude that I insist is personal, and has not been discussed within the P2P Foundation. I honour some of the ideas behind it, I honour some of the intentions behind it, but I also critique them. There are a huge number of issues around this, but I personally reject the judging of participants on their biological markers, notions of collective guilt, the reduction of individuality to group membership, the obligation of group members to align to the positions of a particular group. I am a partisan of the alliance building that was undertaken by the black civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the Gay rights and pride movements, which have given us many beautiful victories. I remind my younger friends that even the Black Panthers, embedded their ‘communautarian federalism’ in the broader ideals of human brotherhood. Group Identity Theory has reversed most of the principles of these earlier movements, and I claim the right to have open discussions about this. Following Mark Fisher, the author of Capitalist Realism, I claim we need a progressive critique of the new trend. I fundamentally disagree with Kevin Carson, that this particular brand of ‘identitarian politics’, which is entirely different from the positive identity movements of the last decades, has no negative effects on the political landscape and on the potential achievements of progressive reform. I claim space for a large progressive movement that does not go along with Group Identity Theory, and that has the right to discuss political theory and practice, without being demonized. So the conflict that erupted on the moderated forums was really about this right of open curation and pluralistic debate, in which people of good will, across the political spectrum, can discuss the way forward for peer to peer and commons practices. A very small group of people believe that those who do not adhere to Group Identity Theory, but they are very radicalized, noisy, and frankly, intent on suppressing dissent: they believe that those who disagree with any tenet of their political theory, are their enemies and that even any critique of their enemies is a sign of support. You are expected to align to a politics of demonization, without seeing or thinking about the evidence. It is part of the very well known, ‘narcissism of small differences’ that has always plagued the left, and undoubtedly, other similar groups at the other extreme of the spectrum. And this explains why they are targeting, rather systematically I have heard from other progressive curators, online discussions groups that want to maintain a certain diversity of dialogue across the political spectrum. Unlike Carson, I do believe that these tactics have negative consequences not only for progressive unity and alliance building, but are also pushing away ‘moderate’ sections to the other side. There are actually a substantial number of studies showing this. But whether right or wrong in these assessment, we need to preserve the right to discuss divergent strategies, without demonizing the other party, especially if they broadly share the same goals, which is advancing towards a more equitable and environmentally balanced world. In a time of climate emergency, efforts to divide activist communities around ‘negative’ identity issues (I’m for the positive ones) , is counterproductive. Mutualization is actually one of the key strategies to drastically lessen the human footprint, while maintaining complex social and public services. We have to keep our eyes on this goalpost, find common ground through our joint love for our shared projects, and see ourselves as participating human beings, of all genders, colours and orientations. We have to learn to respect the expressions and critiques of those human beings who do not share our own perspectives, and maintain these types of dialogues. Open and pluralistic curation is absolutely vital for this, and I will not accept the pressures of Kevin Carson’s new friends, to end this decades-long practice of dialogue.
Note that Kevin Carson attacks sources of both left and right. His basic message is that it is wrong to critique Group Identity Theory, which is what unites his collection of sources. I think it is important that people know this alignment. There is of course nothing wrong with this alignment, but one can legitimately expect that a public statement like this would be actually based on verified facts, and not of hearsay. I am very disappointed that Kevin Carson has not done the necessary homework. I contacted him privately before writing this public statement, and he showed no interest at all to hear the other side of the story, nor to examine the evidence. Instead he chose to publicly harm the P2P Foundation, even though he also knows that my work in the social media forums are personal projects, and that we are a pluralistic organization with various viewpoints on these matters. It will increase division, whereas what we need is more cooperation around concrete projects.
I would urge anyone to read this, to actually read our scientific publications about the commons,and how it relates to human justice and the environment, to see for yourself what we represent.
Our latest report is here below, I am very confident that an open minded reader will immediately see that this is an expression of a worthy emancipatory effort. Do not be distracted by unfounded accusations intent on creating even more division amongst ourselves. Critique us, if you will, on what we actually do, not on what others are fantasising that we have done. Look at the evidence and make your own interpretations based on that evidence. Thanks for your attention and good will.
But this is not just about us, but about you. If we don’t talk to each other across our differences, if we cannot share other perspectives, then conflictuality goes underground and hardens into hate (to a large degree, we are already there); after the Reformation, this gave us 300 years of civil war. So we need to bring conflictuality into the open, through lived testimony, peer exchanges, but also old-fashioned reasoned debate and the sharing of evidence, we need to humanize the ‘enemies’ in our ‘own’ camps and in the camp of the other. Then, and then only, does it become a peaceable conflict between citizens. In order to achieve this, we need open and pluralistic curation of evidence and opinions, as long as we are respectful of each other’s humanity. By giving in to the demands for self-censorship, to the reduction of allowed opinion to a that of a single political sect, we make such mature conflictuality actively impossible, and we prepare the ground for something much more darker. I will therefore, withstand the pressure, and continue to do my work.
I am open to any public debate about these differences of opinion, and to explain my side of the story.