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May 22, 2005

"Personal Democracy Forum 2005: Power to the Edge"

I posted an account of the Personal Democracy Forum at WorldChanging.com. [Link]

Network-centric systems are associated with the phrase power to the edge, a peer-to-peer concept. Traditional activist organizations were centralized, which means that power and authority for decision was held by some central entity, and whatever staff/members/chapters were at the edges of the organization acted only according to direction from the center. With a network-centric approach to advocacy (what I used to call nodal politics), members of the activist network connect as peers, and they all have authority to act and make decisions relevant to their context. This is resonant with the thinking behind Extreme Democracy: participation is through smaller, active organizations and teams that are part of larger activist networks.

Posted by Jon Lebkowsky at May 22, 2005 7:00 AM


Dear friends, I'm posting the following comments at the invitation of Jon Lebowsky,

Michel Bauwens
Foundation for Peer to Peer Alternatives

I really appreciated Extreme Democracy, especially some essays, but at
the same time, I hoped for a theoretization of a new form of democracy,
something like the 'absolute democracy' concept of Negri in Multitudes,
and did not really find it.
>As I'm writing on peer to peer theory, I have the same unresolved
difficulty still in how majority-based democracy, corrupted as it is today,
and the affinity-based peer to peer networks and commons, can and will
function together.
>Here's an excerpt from a short dialogue I had Anthony Judge of the
Union of International Assocations, and my answer had to be vague as well,
but I do hope to resolve it in the future.
>The above URL does not have the extensive endnotes, with quotes
defining a lot of new terms, such as multitudes, absolute democracy and the
like, so do not hesitate to ask the last version by email.
>Michel Bauwens, Foundation for P2P Alternatives
>EXCERPT from newsletter, P/I 71:
>4. a. Judge: Whilst I value your comment regarding the openness
engendered by Porto Alegre as characterisic of P2P, you do not provide an
opening to the challenges of governance from which P2P backs off. This
has been the problem of networking -- it cannot respond to bad internal
stuff except by acting under the table. It is left to nasty hierarchies
to deal with such stuff -- peers have to move into fascist mode! What
is the interface between P2P and other modes of governance?
>Michel Bauwens: I find it difficult to answer this one, without
experience in such a process, which I haven't seen first hand. But it is my
conviction that P2P processes are better in handling difficulties than
their authoritarian counterparts, at least in most cases. The question
is, would you rather have a conflict amidst a group of peers trying to
find solutions on a consensual basis, or have them resolved by a
authoritarian hierarchy? Very often, so called egalitarian processes fail,
because they are a front for something else. For example, many team
projects in corporations fail because the participants have hidden agendas as
unacknowledged representatives of their divisional bosses. They come
to the team meeting without any true intent to cooperate. Obviously
those forms of 'fake P2P' can only fail. I suspect that Porto Alegre like
meetings are rife with rivalry between groups, some intent on gaining
dominance through manipulation, and themselves characteristed by int!
> ernal authoritarian rule. The solution then is not to turn to
fascistic or authoritarian models of rule, but to deepen the consensual
processes and expose the manipulation. P2P is the least likely to act in such
denial. P2P does not do away with conflict, but deals with it
>What is the interface between P2P and other modes of governance? That
is still difficult for me to answer at this stage, so just some general
remarks. P2P is a new layer of governance, that comes on top, as it
were, the other modes a result of the abundance and holoptism created by
the networks and the growing collective intelligence of society. In
democracy, you have to unify people living in a same terrority and you have
to deal with difference and conflict; P2P creates affinity groups based
on a prior consensus around the goal or object of the cooperation. At
this stage, I do not see how it can replace democracy, only how
democracy can create room for P2P processes everywhere that majority rule is
not appropriate. P2P either works through consensus, i.e. integrating the
minority viewpoints, or if that fails, by creating room for 'forking
off'. For example, concerning governance on a world scale, is majority
rule of a world government really appropriate, or would it be bet!
> ter to find a system of interlocking networks, functioning according
to P2P processes, as advocated in the book Extreme Democrary?
>5. Perhaps of less relevance to you is the concern in which P2P
networks fragment into gated communities -- cf my Dynamically Gated
Conceptual Communities: emergent patterns of isolation within knowledge society
>That is indeed one of the dark sides of networks and P2P. I recall the
notions of cyberocracy, defined by David Ronfelds as power mediated by
access to networks, and Alexander's Bard notion of netocracy, who sees
power as determined by a hierarchy of networks. But as John Heron put
it, in peer to peer, authority, hierarchy and centralization, are at the
service of participation; while the opposite can occur, using network
modes in the service of inequality or domination. Obviously the P2P
ethos is about promoting the former, not the latter, and I suspect that in
the coming 'distributed civlisation', the conflict will be exactly
that, between the forces of Empire using meshworks for domination, and the
forces of the multitudes, fighting for democratic participation. This
is not the say that there is no dark side to participative processes,
but these are the kinds of problems that we welcome, just as in a family,
you expect to have challenges with your children and spouse. Fo!
> r true peer to peer, Gated Communities are only acceptable if they
favour greater participation. Does a gated community of expert (say
doctors) operate to increase their efficiency in healing (in which case
though they would also adapt participative practices), or is it a club to
maintain privileges? If they are truly dynamic in a bottom-up sense, I
see no problem with it, as this is precisely what P2P is about. The
equipotency rule creates by definition layers of interlocking networks.

Posted by: Michel Bauwens at May 23, 2005 3:24 AM

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