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November 6, 2012, the MIT Center for Civic Media and Department of Urban Planning had a conversation on "Peer to Peer Politics" with Steven Johnson, author of Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked World moderated by Aaron Naparstek, visiting scholar at MIT's DUSP, and featuring Harvard Law School's Yochai Benkler, Susan Crawford, and Lawrence Lessig.  Video of the event online at

To my mind, the discussion was less about the electoral politics we usually associate with that word and more about how peer-to-peer [P2P] networks are already being used among diverse populations for civic activities and many other things.  When Susan Crawford, founder of OneWebDay, paraphrased Kevin Kelly by saying "The internet was built by love. It's a gift," (The Web Runs on Love, Not Greed), I thought  of the idea and the story behind the title of the book You Can't Steal a Gift about jazz players Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Milt Hinton, and Nat King Cole by Gene Lees (Lincoln, NE:  Univ of NE Press, 2001 ISBN 0-8032-8034-3):

Phil Woods:  "I was in Birdland, stoned, as I often was in those days.  Dizzy and Art Blakey kidnapped me.  Took me home to Dizzy's and sat me down and said, 'What are you moaning about?  Why don't you get your own band?'...

"I asked them if a white guy could make it, considering the music was a black invention.  I was getting a lot of flak about stealing not only Bird's music but his wife and family as well [Woods was married to Chan, Charlie Parker's widow]...  And Dizzy said, 'You can't steal a gift. Bird gave the world his music, and if you can hear it you can have it.'"

Recent work in behavioral economics shows that we

"do things because we like it, because it's interesting, and because it serves a larger purpose."
Source:  Drive:  The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink  NY:  Penguin Group, 2009  ISBN 978-1-59448-884-9
Peer to peer networks are already based upon a common purpose.   A common, unifying purpose along with a measure of autonomy, and a chance for mastery seem to be stronger motivators than money or other extrinsic rewards.    

Voluntary cooperation on common projects also fits into Gandhian economics as swadeshi, local production.  Daily practice of swadeshi was  the basis of both Gandhian nonviolence and economics.  Can we think of Linux and Wikipedia and the other usual suspects examples of global/local P2P as swadeshi systems?

Mutual exchange within a system of voluntary cooperation was the heart of Kropotkin's  proposed system of economics:

He believed that should a society be socially, culturally, and industrially developed enough to produce all the goods and services required by it, then no obstacle, such as preferential distribution, pricing or monetary exchange will stand as an obstacle for all taking what they need from the social product.
Clay Shirky, in his book, Cognitive Surplus:  Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (NY:  Penguin Press, 2010 ISBN 978-1-59420-253-7), wonders:
"But what if the contributors aren't workers?  What if they really are contributors, quite specifically intending their contributions to be acts of sharing rather than production?  What if their labors are labors of love?"
If work becomes sharing, then we might be approaching a gift economy in which reciprocity and fairness become more important.  Anthropologist Marcel Mauss wrote that there is an obligation to give, an obligation to receive, and an obligation to repay in gift economies but that's only the beginning of complications.  Economies, whether capitalist, Communist, socialist, anarchist, gift, or barter are more complex than any single human mind.

If we do want to talk about P2P and other kinds of networked politics, I would first examine why grassroots/netroots party politics has not yet generated grassroots/netroots governance despite being successful at electing Governors and Presidents.  For example, Deval Patrick of MA won his first term in 2006 with a masterful grassroots/netroots campaign that bubbled up with as well as trickled down.  The two way communication lasted through the transition when Patrick installed a business as usual staff and got into trouble about curtains and Cadillacs with the Boston press.  When Obama ran in 2008 with Davids Alexrod and Plouffe, who both worked on the Patrick campaign, I wondered if the same thing would happen.  

I do not know of any politicians who are currently trying to govern as well as campaign with a grassroots/netroots P2P network but, if P2P continues to be effective within the civic and business spheres, there will be.

Ethan Zuckerman's notes on "Peer to Peer Politics"

More from You Can't Steal a Gift:  Dizzy, Clark, Milt, and Nat by Gene Lees
(Lincoln, NE:  Univ of NE Press, 2001  ISBN 0-8032-8034-3)

(106)  Sonny Rollins:  "Jazz has always been a music of integration.  In other words, there were definitely lines where blacks would be and where whites would begin to mix a little.  I mean, jazz was not just a music;  it was a social force in this country, and it was talking about freedom and people enjoying things for what they are and not having to worry about whether they were supposed to white, black, and all this stuff.  Jazz has always been the music that had this kind of spirit.  Now I believe for that reason, the people that could push jazz have not pushed jazz because that's what jazz means.  A lot of times, jazz means no barriers.  Long before sports broke down its racial walls, jazz was bringing people together on both sides of the bandstand.  Fifty-second Street, for all its shortcomings, was a place in which black and white musicians could interact in a way that led to natural bonds of friendship.  The audience, or at least part of it, took a cue from this, leading to an unpretentious flow of social intercourse."

Originally posted to gmoke on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 03:42 PM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets , Community Spotlight, and Changing the Scrip.


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Comment Preferences

  •  The article accompanying the video link (11+ / 0-)

    is well worth a read if you don't have time for an hour long video right now.

    In the past, the ideas behind peer networks could have been derided as communal hippie utopian dreams. But the Internet has served as a powerful example that this method of organizing people can actually be much more effective than traditional approaches.
    I'll take that communal hippie utopian dream.
    Thanks for the diary gmoke.
  •  The problem is people of little practical talent. (6+ / 0-)

    They have nothing to contribute that anyone else wants. They try to imitate productive behavior but there is something missing in their brains and they just can't complete or compete. So, they are dependent on others and that makes them feel really insecure. Or perhaps it's just repeated failures that frustrate and make them insecure. In any event, the insecurity prompts denial on their part and, if they are at all verbally adept, bluster. They get what they need via bluster and demand and by projecting a sense of entitlement.
    What they don't understand is that productive people actually produce more than they can use themselves. So, they've got stuff to give and are actually glad to have it shared, rather than going to waste.
    What we have here is a failure not to communicate, but a failure to comprehend. Willard is a good example of the clueless. His accumulation of money wasn't evidence of some skill; at best it was evidence of an ability to steal legally. Sharing and caring people do know when someone has stolen from them. The clueless don't know that they could get what they need by just asking. So, they steal and they don't give up anything to anyone. Greed is an obsession-- instinct gone 'round the bend.

    We organize governments to provide benefits and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 04:29:30 PM PST

    •  Practical Talent (6+ / 0-)

      P2P thus far works on an opt-in basis, you like the project and therefore you contribute.  Dkos is an example.  The ones who participate are the ones who want to participate.  There are ways to deal with trolls and deadbeats online and offline that such communities develop, to greater and lesser efficacy.

      In a polity, where the social contract includes all, the free riders and those who wish to game the system for their own benefit may be a more difficult problem.  Luckily, or not, the idea of a P2P government is just an idea at the moment and any experiments in that direction have been small-bore at best.

      Rmoney had a talent for making money.  As Bernstein the accountant says in "Citizen Kane, "Well, it's no trick to make a lot of money...if all you want is to make a lot of money."  All the Mittster wanted to do was make a lot of money.  All he wants to do now is keep it.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

      by gmoke on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 05:30:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  We need p2p Economics, too. (4+ / 0-)

    I can't think of a better place to get that launched than right here on the Great Orange Satan.

    •  P2P Economics (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Renee, winkk

      That was the title of another event that happened recently, the annual EF Schumacher lecture with Lawrence Lessig of Harvard and Bob Massie of the New Economics Institute.

      For all things P2P, there is the P2P Foundation.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

      by gmoke on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 12:59:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Here's how I propose the Get Out (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        of Debt part....
        Team up with at least one other person you know and trust. Preferably two others you know and trust.  With your Team of Three put all of your debt on the table, from the $10 you owe Aunt Martha to the $300,000 mortgage you hold.  Put it all on the table.  Pay it off - collectively - from smallest to largest.  Doesn't matter who "owns" the debt.  Pay it off smallest to largest using the collective funds of your Team.  With the small debt eliminated, that's more money in somebody's pocket.  Money that can go toward paying off the larger debts.  The more debts paid off the more money there is freed up to pay off the larger debts.
        Rinse and repeat.

  •  This is great. Thanks for writing it. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I travel in the world of unschooling and the world of Maker Faires and the world of watching people stumble their way into work that matters to them.

    I have often wanted to write about the junction of these worlds, but as often as I try I end in failure. There are a lot of unchallenged assumptions about the way it works now and the way it works in those marginalized groups and I just haven't been able to find a way to talk about it. But your diary is in the ballpark. It was great to read it.

    Poverty = politics.

    by Renee on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 01:18:31 PM PST

    •  Thanks (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Maker culture is another part of the equation that fits into the future that can be built.  I haven't participated much in it but follow it as closely as I can.  Open source hardware and hacking  locked boxes is another step toward freedom.

      If you are interested, everything I know about small scale solar is available at

      Love for some Makers to hack and mod these ideas into something more practical and widespread.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

      by gmoke on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 07:21:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  My boy and I will sit down and look at those. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        We aren't Makers with a big m, meaning we love the culture but haven't found our way into it yet. But my boy is a tinkerer and hacker at heart. I am keeping my eyes out for someone in my area who can mentor him. In the meantime we look at things and talk about them and think about them.

        Poverty = politics.

        by Renee on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 11:02:17 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Maker Resources (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Make Magazine and Cory Doctorow's sf novel Makers are good places to start.  Doctorow is also one of the editors of which covers Maker culture and many other things.

          Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

          by gmoke on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 01:23:01 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yeah, boingboing is how I originally discovered (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            the Makers. I dragged my kids to the first Maker Faire and every one afterward. My boy was 6 I think. Shy and overstimulated by the crowds and yet so many kind hearted makers took the time to explain their exhibit to him. It made me love them.

            This past Faire I asked one of the people in the bike hacking area about welding. He looked at my kid and said Oh hell, buy a welder. They only cost about $80 and if you are lucky and you know your neighbors there is probably one sitting in a garage you are welcome to have. Let him experiment. I loved that guy too. :)

            Poverty = politics.

            by Renee on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 04:36:22 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Maker Community (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              People are doing things they love and want to share that love.  It's part of the definition of amateur, although Makers do professional level work.

              Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

              by gmoke on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 05:19:29 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

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