[p2p-research] The Higher Educational Bubble Continues to Grow

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Fri Nov 6 17:01:59 CET 2009

Ryan Lanham wrote:
> On Thu, Nov 5, 2009 at 8:14 PM, Paul D. Fernhout <
> pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com> wrote:
>> Nobody (especially an unschooling parent) would have the time it would take
>> to visit all these links anytime soon.
> Division of labor is an odd concept under P2P economics.  The fundamentalist
> P2Pers tend to focus on individual autonomy...self does most or all.  One of
> the best justifications for division of labor is profit.  We specialize to
> achieve efficiency.  But under P2P, efficiency is less important than the
> commons.  So, we go back to something like autonomous frontier
> self-sufficiency.
> If pleasurists or ludists drive the discussion, I suppose specialization
> could arise from fascination.  But it is hard to find anyone who is truly
> fascinated and interested in something enough to do it continually.  If
> robots did all, then I suppose it doesn't matter.  But in the reality until
> that time, how does division of labor unfold or collapse without markets?
> And if markets are used, how does P2P stay wholesome?

All good questions.

Efficiency is less important than the commons in the sense that the p2p 
network is a parallel processing resource. And a voluntary one. So, the 
dynamics are different than a command hierarchy with some central resources 
that get doled out for some purpose. People have used the phrase "herding 
cats" which is an aspect of it, but even that is from a central management 
perspective that misses the scale of it all. There was recently a 
discussion/argument about something someone who maintains the Linux Kernel 
about how things looked from their perspective, where they were willing to 
waste the time of thousand of developers to save themselves time (and 
arguments about how that time might be better spent). So, that's an example 
of those kind of discussions in the free software arena. I can't find it 
just now again though.

I think cooperation can unfold stigmergically, like with Wikipedia, everyone 
adding a little bit. But it can also unfold as a "learning community" where 
everyone is learning from each other. But all these things interact -- we 
build a resource stigmergically through this mailing list that might be 
useful to others for years to come, and in the process learn things and 
interact with each other as a community (or communities).

The market is one way to "cooperate" in a stigmergic way. But not the only 
way. I'm convinced we probably could coordinate our entire society through 
email and mailing lists at this point, if we really wanted to. :-)

But in general, from a cybernetic view, we can break apart the layers of 
physical reality and the control systems we build on top of it:
Here is a sample meta-theoretical framework PU economists no doubt could 
vastly improve on if they turned their minds to it. Consider three levels of 
nested perspectives on the same economic reality -- physical items, decision 
makers, and emergent properties of decision maker interactions. (Three 
levels of being or consciousness is a common theme in philosophical 
writings, usually rock, plant, and animal, or plant, animal, and human.)
   At a first level of perspective, the world we live in at any point in 
time can be considered to have physical content like land or tools or fusion 
reactors like the sun, energy flows like photons from the sun or electrons 
from lightning or in circuits, informational patterns like web page content 
or distributed language knowledge, and active regulating processes 
(including triggers, amplifiers, and feedback loops) built on the previous 
three types of things (physicality, energy flow, and informational patterns) 
embodied in living creatures, bi-metallic strip thermostats, or computer 
programs running on computer hardware.
   One can think of a second perspective on the first comprehensive one by 
picking out only the decision makers like bi-metallic strips in thermostats, 
computer programs running on computers, and personalities embodied in people 
and maybe someday robots or supercomputers, and looking at their 
characteristics as individual decision makers.
   One can then think of a third level of perspective on the second where 
decision makers may invent theories about how to control each other using 
various approaches like internet communication standards, ration unit tokens 
like fiat dollars, physical kanban tokens, narratives in emails, and so on. 
What the most useful theories are for controlling groups of decision makers 
is an interesting question, but I will not explore it in depth. But I will 
pointing out that complex system dynamics at this third level of perspective 
can emerge whether control involves fiat dollars, "kanban" tokens, 
centralized or distributed optimization based on perceived or predicted 
demand patterns, human-to-human discussions, something else entirely, or a 
diverse collection of all these things. And I will also point out that one 
should never confuse the reality of the physical system being controlled for 
the control signals (money, spoken words, kanban cards, internet packet 
contents, etc.) being passed around in the control system.

As for people being fascinated or otherwise motivated, isn't Debian 
GNU/Linux enough of an example for you? :-)
   "Study Reports On Debian Governance, Social Organization "

They coordinate that entire venture mostly through email, and some IRC chat 
and such.

What if that free software ran the machinery of an automated economy?

Anyway, markets are just one more coordination mechanism. It is a pretty 
dysfunctional one if externalities are not accounted for, or systemic risks 
ignored, or other factors, but it is what we have and it can be used (up to 
a point) to "meet society's unmet needs" (as William C. Norris used to say). 
In fact, the whole reason companies exist (including universities) as 
creatures of the government is "to meet society's unmet needs".
"William Norris saw this coming: In business, greed isn't always good"
"Nevertheless, Norris proved his company could do well and do good at the 
same time as the Minneapolis-based firm grew into a $5 billion worldwide 
computer giant with more than 60,000 employees in the early 1980's. Norris's 
strategy of pursuing "unmet societal needs" launched dozens of ventures that 
sought to use computer technology to rehabilitate decaying inner cities and 
revitalize depressed rural areas, improve education and healthcare, reform 
the penal system, produce cleaner, less expensive energy, promote job 
creation through innovation, and help its employees improve their lives."

I think that works up to a point. You might enjoy reading more about his life.

--Paul Fernhout

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