[p2p-research] Ethics and village development (was Re: Fwd: additions to Crottorf report)

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Tue Aug 4 04:22:47 CEST 2009

Michel Bauwens wrote:
 > Eric, this should be of interest
 > Sam, Rose: unrelated, but perhaps important in the context of your local
 > projects : Singapore (where I'm now) has just decided to put land aside so
 > that it can produce 25% of its own food,
 > Michel
 > ---------- Forwarded message ----------
 > From: Franz Nahrada <f.nahrada at reflex.at>
 > Date: Sun, Aug 2, 2009 at 1:10 PM
 > Subject: Re: additions to Crottorf report
 > David,
 > thank you for your invaluable work.
 > I dont actually know if this was said, but of course the consequence of
 > what you quoted about Global Villages Network is that we have to proceed
 > from farming to integrated "rural" life 2.0. The whole story of precision
 > farming that Michel brings up would be strangely abstract and utopian if
 > we were not able to connect this with a model of physical transformation
 > of landscape into attractive cohabitat invoking the connection of man and
 > land to life again. I believe this consequently means offer something more
 > than just liveable to urban people with urban needs to move in. Its about
 > miniaturisation and reinvention of the city as global villages that
 > combine all aspects of living with embeddedness and caring for natural
 > environments. Thats the only way to bring the mind back home and the
 > reason for the Global Villages Network. Its a very ambitious design task,
 > but we will see in the end that there is no really sound alternative.
 > Arcosanti and the ecovillage movement are early forerunners, but we have
 > not seen very much yet of well designed possibilities.
 > Some examples to have an idea are works of
 > Paolo Soleri   Arcosanti  Mini City for 5000 people within desert habitat
 > http://www.arcosanti.org/project/project/main.html
 > Vincent Callebaut     Sea Lillypad    Living and Caring for Ocean Commons
 >  http://www.vincent.callebaut.org/page1-img-lilypad.html
 > at a smaller scale but much more concrete the John T. Lyle center in
 > Pomona
 > http://www.csupomona.edu/~crs/demobuildings.html
 > http://www.csupomona.edu/~crs/demofood.html
 > Village Town by Claude Lewenz
 > actually that are just glimpses and I would rather like to see many more,
 > relieving us from city hybris and megalomania, but there is still lack of
 > good design and imagination on the side of those who care. As you know I
 > value design higher than politics, integrated design is metapolitics that
 > creates structure.

Two issues in relation to the original forwarded message (mostly in the 
context of Russian villages, but it could apply to any village):
* Different people may have different visions of the ideal village, and
current villagers may have little say in the design of their future, even if
asked to participate somehow;
* Super new villages with super new technology may put even more pressure on
existing villages, causing them to fail sooner.

There may be no way around the second (and cities are always an alternative 
draw now anyway), and the first is always a hazard on any new project where 
there is unequal access to resources (computing, free time, access to 
decision makers, money, knowledge, etc.).

I'm not saying either issue can be fixed (I don't know); I'm just pointing
them out as moral hazards. It's a complex ethical landscape when cultures
collide, and in a way, the culture of the internet (including peer-to-peer) 
is colliding with the culture of the village (or, rather, specific villages 
in the p2P symbolism :-). And the result may well be different than a 
"global village". It might be a globe of connected villages. Or a village of 
connected villages. Or a village of connected globes. Or something 
altogether different.

To the extent people are talking about designing *new* villages, in 
situations that don't compete with old villages (are there any?) these 
ethical questions don't arise.

I touched on this sort of issue in my blog post on the Global Villages Ning
site, (not public, but people can join)
where I talked at the end about two different ways forward for Russian
villages (symbiosis with cities mostly as-is and/or going hitech 
agricultural robotics).

I wrote:
Anyway, there are at least two ways forward, as far as technical support. 
One is to support the villagers in their current life, with minimal 
interventions, to make a sort of voluntary simplicity work better in a 
"Small is Beautiful" way, like Gleb Tyurin outlines here in this 
inspirational story:
   Even as I can wonder how many "Veterans Homes" one can imagine in rural 
areas to provide jobs. :-) Obviously the general idea is to get people in 
villages doing things that work for their own situation, which makes a lot 
of sense, but without larger changes across the social network of villages 
and cities, that may just lead to competition and another race to the bottom 
(as in, "Our village's Veterans Home is cheaper per veteran to run than 
theirs", same as happens when rural farmers compete over offering low grain 
prices). Still, there is nothing wrong, IMHO, for rural areas to make 
arrangements with cities to be the places joyful young people are raised or 
where old people go to have a happy retirement. That is in a way a 
rethinking of the notion of "suburb" in a more sustainable way, as an 
exchange between cities and the countryside, each doing what it does best.
   The other way, using automation and robotics like outlined above, is a 
very different path, requiring substantial investments of money and 
technology that would either be flowing out of cities as investments and 
would have its own expectations as to short-term returns, or would be 
flowing out of charities and governments with longer-term expectations or to 
honor long term social obligations. But a heavily automated countryside 
might look very different than those pictures of rural life. And it would 
need environmental regulation to keep from getting out of balance with 
intensive livestock operations or soil erosion from heavy farming and so on, 
or otherwise a general environmental consciousness resulting in a preference 
for sustainable organic agriculture and permaculture. It might be an 
exciting countryside to live in for many technically inclined young people 
though. Though issues of inequity may remain, perhaps requiring something 
like a basic income.

I've had that in the back of my mind, and a comment by Franz on that, and 
maybe it just bothers me more for some reason, especially seeing this 
reference to automation and "Rural Life 2.0".

Here is a post by an author of a story called "The Clinic Seed - Africa" 
(posted in a larger conversation I participated in) that relates to 
"helping" villages (but perhaps taking their souls in the process, or at 
least leaving the feeling ambivalent):

Still, maybe no matter what anyone does, the historic village as we know it
may soon be history. The depopulation of the Russian countryside does not
bode well for existing villages, and it is happening regardless of what we
do. And that is a little sad to me, to lose a way of life (even if I might
not choose the exact same thing myself, not having those particular roots). 
There are living history farms of course, and we might see living history 
villages perhaps. Documenting what is there now might help preserve that 
past for future generations, plus give information useful in future design work.

One general question I've been wondering about is, how much are the current
villagers who decide to stay put really wanting something different? 
Obviously, many are moving to the cities. But, of the ones that stay, is 
change really what they want? Maybe there are no easy answers.

The community I live in, a rural community, faces some of the same issues, 
for example, with big arguments about whether to put in cell phone towers. 
In that case, as a resident I mostly want them (for safety) but visitors 
don't want them (many like the promise of isolation). There are other 
arguments about unsightly towers and more RF, too, things that are then 
weighed against safety and convenience. One other solution, put in lots of 
cell phone access points along the road on telephone poles, is out for cost 
reasons, but is another option otherwise. Another recent issue was fightso 
over land development. So, while sci-fi often presents us with huge leaps, 
in practice, we end up with all these small decisions one by one.

But even cities, or city-states, like Singapore face these sorts of issues. 
Part of it is even the Manuel meshwork-hierarchy thing, that meshworks grow 
by drift, but may drift places we don't want them to go.

--Paul Fernhout

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