Wednesday, November 23, 2011

#occupy Montreal, our first big crisis

Occupiers in Montreal, Canada are now going through their first serious crisis. This is unfolding under tremendous pressures from local city officials, and under a climate of total insecurity, with other #occupy encampments in different cities all over Canada and the US getting shot down by their local authorities.

We see a mix of infightings, power-struggles, a few cases of burnout, and other interpersonal problems. In my opinion, these are only manifestations, symptoms of deeper issues.

One of the problems is an overload created by a large number of problematic individuals who are not participating directly to the movement but consume the camp's resources, who abuse of illicit substances, and some times exhibit a violent behavior. In other words, the city's problems are concentrating within the encampment because word got around that there one can find food, shelter, and tolerant and respectful people. This puts a lot of pressure on the security and the sanitation teams, and exposes the movement to harsh, but unjust criticism, adding even more stress to the mix.

But in my opinion there are other problems even deeper that that, which are of informational and economical nature. First, let's remember the Facebook thread of Nina "An adress to Occupy Montreal and reason why I left the camp", who, among other things, complains about having to work too much. Others like Nina complained about poor involvement/active participation, saying that members of the camp could show more initiative and do more. I see two problems here.

1) Poor communication of needs to camp members and even to the general population.
Some individuals might be willing to help but they aren't aware that help is needed. During a meeting I made a survey and I realized that there were enough individuals present who did not have an accurate understanding of our problems.
2) Lack of formal economical processes.
Without a formal value, reputation, and role system in place to capture who's doing what, how and how much, there is no visibility into the system, there are no powerful incentives to participate...
The unfortunate results are that some compassionate members of the movement with initiative find themselves taking on too much load and get burned out. This causes all sorts of social problems, which can in fact destabilize the entire micro-society we are building.

But there is more than that. We also have problems arising from cultural differences. In fact, not everyone in the camp realizes that we are in fact building an open society. Not everyone understands the grammar within such society. If we put a lot of good willing individuals together in one place, in harsh conditions, they will NOT necessarily spontaneously self-organize into a perfect society! In order to have self-organization within an open and decentralized setting the group needs to follow a certain set of rules, to adopt a specific collective behavior. Culture is an important factor. The inspiration comes from the open source movement, we need to go back to these sources and try to understand what it really means to evolve within an open society. And, as we saw above, it goes beyond culture. Formal processes and tools are needed in order to scale this society. One needs sound reputation, role, and value systems which are based on the same principles of openness, transparency, equipotentiality, etc.

The conflict around the press release and the third phase arises from cultural misalignment. Actions need to be planed in the open. We need to be inclusive.

This whole crisis was to be expected even without the environmental pressure. After the honeymoon, the level of excitment decreases and everyone defaults to his/her normal state, which is, on average, to get as much as possible for as little as possible, or at least not to make great efforts to figure out how to contribute if that information doesn't miraculously come by itself. Only a minority of individuals will actually have the initiative to drive processes, and if they don't communicate well, if they don't ask for help, or delegate, they will eventually burn themselves out. I also heard around the camp that some individuals were specifically asked to participate and in the end they found ways to avoid responsibilities. Therefore, we need mechanisms in place to regulate behavior, to incentivize involvement. At its roots most camp's problems are economical in nature.

Once formal systems are in place, one still needs to understand the rules underlying an open society, which is to share and to collaborate rather than compete, to plan things in the open, to facilitate rather than lead, to attract rather than constrain and force, to politely ask for help rather than give commands, to seek to be respected/appreciated rather then be feared by others, etc...

We are learning, and this post is an effort to help the process. Every one of these crisis if it doesn't destroy the movement it will make it stronger, because during these periods members will put in place more structure and will better integrate the open culture needed to harmonize the group, much needed to place this micro-society into a more stable dynamic equilibrium.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

We need to transcend the socialism/capitalism dichotomy!

For the first time in history, hierarchical institutions with easy access to resources like corporations and governments have lost their monopoly on the creation and distribution of value. The new technology enables the emergence of powerful decentralized economical entities. Hard evidence shows that open and decentralized collaborative organizations can be more creative and more productive than their hierarchical counterparts. How can we explain this?

First, we need to realize that hierarchy is NOT necessary. In a world deprived of effective means of communication hierarchy is the organizational answer to coordination and decision-making, for a large group of individuals. The Internet enables peer-to-peer, one to many and many to many exchanges with no geographical barriers. This makes decentralization of value systems not only possible, but also preferable.

The new technology offers individuals and independent organizations very effective and affordable tools for communication, collaboration, coordination and logistics. Skilled individuals who are also keen on sharing and collaborating can dynamically form global networks, capable of gathering tremendous amounts of resources and to channel them towards a narrow goal. On the other side, individualistic behavior is incompatible with the social aspects of the new technology. All other things being equal, it seams that the new digital technology creates an environment in which openness, sharing, and collaboration are rewarded more than closeness, selfishness and competition. GNU/Linux and Wikipedia are now classic examples. Windows, produced by the most successful corporation on the planet, a hierarchical organization, is competing with Linux.

Some say that Wikipedia and Linux have no economical relevance, hence they cannot instantiate an economical revolution. They state that Wikipedia, for example, doesn't produce jobs, nor profits. Wikipedia produces value, it is widely used, hence it adds to the economy. The very fact that value can be produced within open environments, through collaboration, should make us pause and think if we can turn these models into for-revenue operations, to allow people who contribute to them to get something more tangible in return, other than just satisfaction or reputation. I don't see an impediment to that. New modes of innovation, production and distribution are actually emerging, and have the potential to transform our society. See the SENSORICA open enterprise.

Michel is one of our collaborators

Aside from the emergence of open, decentralized and self-structuring value networks as important economical agents, we are also witnessing the opening and decentralization of hierarchies. Outsourcing is in fact part of this same tendency, although in some cases it leads to centralized networks, dominated by a large entity, like General Motors for example, surrounded by a constellation of suppliers/contractors more or less dependent on GM. In the past, in order to keep the assembly line moving, almost everything had to be done under the same roof. The digital technology makes possible tight coordination between many entities, therefore large organizations can separate into many smaller ones, which can become super specialized, increasing the efficiency of the group once reassembled again as a network. With the advent of the Internet, which brings powerful and affordable tools for communication, collaboration and coordination in the hands of every person, this tendency can be extended in some cases to its ultimate limit, the individual. Wikipedia is a form of encyclopedia produced by individuals.

Smaller organizations have access to logistical tools which enable them to grow fast, to rapidly expand their activities and handle very complex processes. A very small company today can handle more materials, coordinate the assembly of very complex products, and sell on the international markets. Economical expansion is not limited anymore by the capacity of structures that support logistics. Before the computer era and the Internet, size was an undeniable advantage of large vertical organizations, which could support logistically complex operations. But today, the costs associated with logistics are dropping through the floor. Small organizations can rapidly reach the advantages of the economy of scale, with very little resources needed. Moreover, these same small organizations can now get together to form highly complex collaborative networks. We can now understand why large established corporation are threatened.

In short, the new technology introduces new possibilities (communication, coordination, etc.) which lead to the expansion, at massive scales, of collaboration and commons-based peer production. Values like openness, sharing, and collaboration are replacing secrecy, individualism, and competition. Commons-based peer production is a third mode of production that is growing more important than the capitalist and the socialist modes. It is not entirely new, just amplified by the new technology. Moreover, the moral/social value system that supports massive collaboration and commons-based peer production is on a path to become mainstream, because of the socio-economical advantages provided by massive collaboration and commons-based peer production, which will shortly offset classical means of production, creating a new culture, which will further put pressure on other institutions, and will accelerate the transformation of our global economy.

Original text from Multitude Project

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Reprogram our food system

We are collaborating with a group based in Ohio USA on local food systems. The goal is to reprogram our food systems to primarily address local needs, to better manage resources and to respect the environment. At this moment we are designing the infrastructure of this very important part of the new economy.

WeLive is an application built for times of crisis. We are looking for resources! If you are interested we can organize a meeting/presentation at the green shelter on the #occupy Montreal camp.

WeLive presentation (which was also discussed at Contact summit in NYC, 20 Oct 2011)

Contact us, Greener Acres or Multitude Project if you want to get involved.

The new economy in Montreal

Did you know that Montreal is the home of the most ambitious project for the new economy? We are building here a new institution suited for the future, an open enterprise, an open, decentralized, and self-organizing value network.

SENSORICA is a high tech open enterprise specialized in optical sensing, designing new solutions in the biomedical field and beyond.

Presenting SENSORICA at Contact summit in NYC, 20 Oct 2011

Presentation used for SENSORICA at Contact

Seen also SENSORICA presented for MIX Management Innovation Contest.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Rebranding the #occupy movement

First draft. Text will evolve according to feedback...

What do we hear when we listen to the forgotten U.S. nation-wide End the Fed movement in 2008, which sparked the TeaParty movement, or to the so-called Twitter revolution in 2009 in the Republic of Moldova, or to the 2009-2010 Green Revolution in Iran, or to the Arab Spring, or to the 15-M movement in Spain, and now to Occupy Wall Street and to Occupy Everywhere? We hear a desire for change. Not any change, people want a PROFOUND structural change.

The multitude is now awakened thanks to the new media. We are now conscious of our situation and we are starting to imagine a better world. Moreover, the multitude becomes increasingly aware of the potential of the new democratic digital technology. As we experiment with it in various creative ways we grow confident, we grow empowered, we get this feeling that change IS indeed possible and that WE can make it happen.

There is this general feeling floating around that we are on the brink of a major social transformation. We anticipate important change, even thought not everyone agrees on the promised land or on the path towards it. There is this feeling that everything must be revised, our decision making processes, our economy, including our value exchange system. But changing all that at once is definitely not an easy task. First, it is not an acceptable thing for the 1%, because this would undermine their power. Second, it is not an easy thing for us, the 99%, because this implies a change in the way we do things. There are costs associated with this kind of change, some jobs will disappear, people will need to learn how to reintegrate new systems of value production and distribution, some of us will lose our positions of influence, our social status, etc.

Whatever the change process, it needs to overcome these two barriers: One raised by the 1%, which can mount a fierce opposition. The other one imposed by us, because not everyone can bare the uncertainty underlying a radical change and the insecurity that comes with it.

So if you ask for a big change, what is your model of change?

Social systems are not static. A socio-economic mode of production that appears on a certain stage of evolution to replace one that became a hindrance to further evolution, can itself become such hindrance when it gets established and the development of new forces of production challenges it.

Social systems are not good nor bad in essence. They are dynamically stable social patterns, they are attractors of behaviour. They are stable as long as the conditions allow. Once the conditions change society can migrate into a different attractor, which means to undergo deep structural transformations until it reaches another dynamically stable equilibrium. What can induce these changes? Among other things, technology can. Technology introduces new possibilities, which, once actualized, can modify relations between individuals. Some relations are very important and determine large scale social patterns, like the relations of property, the relations of production and exchange of value, etc. The new digital technology alters a set of these important relations and, in doing so, it induces major structural transformations. We are now witnessing a shift as important as the industrial revolution, the passage from feudalism to capitalism and socialism, which was also caused by a technological advancement, the invention of the engine, the introduction of the possibility to produce and transport a large volume of material goods with only very few workers.

Metaphorically speaking, our model of change is a process of metamorphosis. The time has come for a new social structure to emerge. The social substrate is ready to receive it. The old structure is disintegrating, living space for the new to form, feeding on it. The butterfly is already taking shape within the decomposing caterpillar. The caterpillar is the present-old world. The butterfly is the new world we are building. We are the agents of change. #occupy camps are the initial centers from which this transformation spreads, from which the new structure emanates.

Rebranding of #occupy

#occupy camps are embryos of new cities within cities. Participatory democracy is our new form of governance. #occupy camps are embryos of new societies.

#occupy camps are NOT just sites of protest. They are not just new political spaces. We, the occupiers need to go beyond that. Most of us apply an old model of social engagement to understand/explain what is happening now, and that model is reaction-based. The #occupy movement in NOT a reactionary movement. It is a CONSTRUCTIVE movement. Reacting to government wrongdoing by protesting and formulating demands can only produce cosmetic changes to the system, and some times it even reinforces the tyranny. This movement should NOT formulate demands, IT SHOULD BUILD NEW ALTERNATIVES.

This distinction between a reactionary movement and a constructive one is crucial. Our focus should NOT be on some external entity, on the government, but on the inside, on becoming sustainable, on the development of our own processes, which will expand outwards, which will diffuse into society, to the extent at which the new social practices demonstrate evolutionary advantages over the old ones (e.g. less wasteful of resources.)

We are not protesters, we are “indignadosand WE ARE BUILDERS.

What should we build?

There is no universal consensus around this question, but there are a lot of ideas on the table. First, we need to explore what is possible. Second, we think that we’ll build a variety of new systems, each one adapted to its context, connected to the local past, to the local culture.

I recently attended Contact summit where I saw a good portion of this spectrum of possibilities introduced by the new digital technology. There is a whole new infrastructure emerging which allows us, individuals, to communicate securely on a network that belongs to us, to coordinate and to collaborate. It also allows us to better manage our vast commons and to filter and structure our individual contributions. It allows us to create value and to exchange it without the need to go through established channels, which are controlled to different degrees. The new infrastructure for the new world is being built, it is coming together. It’s up to us to start using it in the best possible way, in context.

Occupiers everywhere, take this spectrum of new possibilities and imagine a world for yourselves.

Occupiers everywhere let’s start building this new world. Let’s start building a new economy, alternative currencies, new governance systems, a new media, a new educational system...

Let’s build our parallel world without attacking to destroy the present-old world. We’re not destroyers, we’re builders. We don’t need to destroy what’s already crumbling down. Don’t sweat on it. If we succeed in building a better place people will populate it. Talent and resources will gradually start flowing from the present-old system to the new, until the new replaces the old. This is our model of change and we are fully engaged in making it happen.

By AllOfUs