Michel Bauwens-Interview with the Peer to Peer (P2P) Pioneer

Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam* Interview series

(Global Leaders who have Enlarged, Excelled and Evolved into Global Personal Brands)

Dr Amit Nagpal- What have been the recent achievements of P2P Foundation?
Michel Bauwens-That’s a tricky question, as we are an advocacy organization that wants to promote a new paradigm. Essentially we are an observatory of open, participatory, and commons-oriented practices in every social field, or, as we also call it: peer production, peer governance, and peer property. We’ve collected 16,000 articles in our wiki, divided over two dozen subject domains, including spirituality and politics, which is being viewed by 26,000 people a day and reaching about 18 million viewers overall. I participate in about 30-40 events all over the world, and I believe that each time I speak, I have an impact, and so have other members of our network. What we do is being the librarians and ‘collective intellectual’ of this emerging movement, and I believe we do this rather well, though our influence is still marginal and certainly not mainstream.

Dr Amit-Peter Fisk’s Triple P or People, Planet and Profits emphasizes on sustainability for corporates. How far the corporate world is implementing Triple P?
Michel-I believe it is fundamentally wrong-headed to expect for-profits to take a leading role in these matters. Progress is being made, but nowhere nearly enough to stave off major ecological catastrophies. Their DNA binds them to extracting profit and ignoring externalities. Of course, they are making efforts, sometimes out of conviction, most of the time out of pressure, if only to keep their more motivated ethical employees, and not infrequently, they practice greenwashing. The fundamental reason is that corporations need to maintain market scarcities and therefore structurally design for planned obsolescence, which is not a bug, but a feature of the existing system. A better option is to rely on the natural sustainability dynamics of open design communities and their ‘scaling from one’ microfactory models, and to connect them to the emerging ethical companies, who are not for-profits but a different sort of market entity, involved in the social and solidarity economies.

Dr Amit-In fact in my opinion it should be Planet, People and Profits. If there is no planet, of course there will be no people. But society is working on Profits, People and Planet, no wonder planet is going to hell.
Michel-I agree and as I argued above, the current system, which combines a belief in infinite natural resources, (i.e. pseudo-abundance), and believes human cooperation should be restricted by ever more severe intellectual property monopolies (i.e. artificial scarcity), is fundamentally wrong-headed and the logic should be reversed, i.e. we have to move towards shared innovation commons in science, culture and technology, combined with a new type of market (and other) entities which is structurally bound to respect natural limits. For this, the commons should be the primary organizational form, to protect both our immaterial and material resources, from which humans and their organisations can only use if they are also responsible for replenishing it. In my vision, a Partner State protects the overall balance between civil society and its now productive publics, their and nature’s commons, market entities, and for-benefit associations which exist to protect common infrastructures in multiple fields.

Dr Amit-What should be the role of an individual for saving our planet in your view?
Michel-Change can happen on three levels. On the level of individual lifestyles, by walking our talk; on the level of participating in the new ethical and ecological modes of production (essentially the p2p/commons mode of production), and through social mobilization to change our institutions through social movements.

Dr Amit-You keep shuttling between Belgium and Thailand. What is your opinion on the divide between developed and developing world on issues like Kyoto Protocol and ozone emissions? How do we find a balance?
Michel-I do have a sizeable carbon footprint myself, but the only reason I do this is because I believe that p2p is the essential leverage to change our society’s DNA and that a purely local and virtual activity cannot obtain the deep effects of mutual alignment that I can register by combining both physical and virtual contact. I do not travel for pleasure, but because I must, and often at significant personal cost. It’s not a lifestyle that I advocate, but a temporary exemption in order to help organize a global response. Let’s hope we can find some sustainable travel technologies, such as high-tech sailing boats and Zeppelin’s so that our young people can still travel in a resource-constricted era. As to your question, the game is over, for both the West and the South, and while these countries feel they have to continue their development for now (only possible to a great extent because the western elite has moved their industry to them), in maximum ten to fifteen years, they will have to change because of real resource constraints. Already the IMF is predicting a permanent doubling of the oil price within 8-10 years, the current model cannot survive such a constraint. But the nation-state model is in paralysis and so is the global system based on it. This means civil society itself has to move towards post-Westphalian solutions that can institute new models of global governance. It’s going to get worse before it gets better, and we have to prepare ourselves by building the new p2p industrial mode of production, based on shared innovation commons and global networks of microfactories, and build global action networks to tackle global issues, and to interface with the inadequate global structures existing today.

Dr Amit-Will technology save the planet from extinction? Will coming together of people through social and online media help in uniting for sustainable development model?
Michel-Technology by itself cannot save the planet, but socio-technologies are essential, i.e. how and to what ends a certain type of technology is used, will be crucial. In my opinion, the right use of green internet technologies (this presupposes a prior greening of the internet infrastructure itself) will be crucial in the global cooperation that is needed to solve global problems, as you indeed suggest, as well as for infusing relocalized physical production with the innovations that take place in any other place of the world. Doing ‘heavy’ things nearby, but while maintaining a global communications and cooperations infrastructure, will be essential for the future of humanity. We need to combine the shared innovation commons of global open design communities, with relocalized physical production through networks of microfactories, and distributed enterprises that are organized on a transnational basis, since they are using a common stock of knowledge and machine designs.

Dr Amit-Is P2P striving for a holistic model for sustainable development?
Michel-P2P refers to a particular type of human relational dynamic, in which the individual is relating and giving/getting from a whole, through contributions to a commons, from which he/she in turns receives use value, and  cognitive/reputational/relational capital, as well as the capacity to make a living. It should not be seen as a totalitarian alternative, but we believe it will be the core of the new pluralistic system which also includes gift economies, market exchange, and even state allocation when necessary. Such a major civilisational change cannot happen without a cultural revolution, which makes sharing and cooperation essential, and a shift to individual and collective identities that is based on contributions to commons and the common good. This is of course already happening, especially with the new generations that have been socialized through horizontal p2p communication formats. All of this has obvious spiritual implications as well, as it is a new relationship to the earth and the cosmos based on partnership. So the shift towards P2P is a ‘total social fact’, a phase of civilization which is not simply a carrying on of the past, but a fundamental rearrangement, such as we had a few times already in  human history. Individuals shift their concern from the primacy of competition, in which cooperation can occur, to a primacy of cooperation, in which competition may occur.

Dr Amit- Is UNO a failure as an international body for promoting sustainable development?
Michel-Yes, it is a failure, but also because it is a part of a state-based Westphalian system which can no longer cope with nation-transcending problems. But something like the UN is also necessary. What is needed is to expand global governance institutions so that they can also be based on civil society associations, not only the formal ones, but also the informal ‘productive publics’ that are constructing a multitude of commons. We need new democratic techniques, such as the one pioneered by the German Pirate Party, the so-called liquid feedback system, and lots of deliberative techniques for quality dialogue and decision-making that is freed from sole negotiations between lobbies, and I believe, even a revival of selection by lottery, as was practiced in Athens 2,000 years ago. The current model of democracy, really a choosing between various oligarchic power groups, is inadequate and has to be deepened, on a local, regional, national, continental and global basis.

Dr Amit-Sum up P2P in a sentence.
Michel-P2P is the relational dynamic whereby individuals share their contributions to a whole ( the commons) and can benefit from that whole. This creation of common value is called peer production and is the core of a new civilisational model. 

P2P Ideas on Al Jazeera

P2P Foundation


Brief Profile 
Michel Bauwens is the founder of the Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives and works in collaboration with a global group of researchers in the exploration of peer production, governance, and property. He has co-produced the 3-hour TV documentary Technocalyps with Frank Theys, and co-edited the two-volume book on anthropology of digital society with Salvino Salvaggio. Michel is currently Primavera Research Fellow at the University of Amsterdam and external expert at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (2008, 2012).

He is a member of the Board of the Union of International Associations (Brussels), advisor to Shareable magazine (San Francisco) and to Zumbara Time Bank (Istanbul). He functions as the Chair of the Technology/ICT working group, Hangwa Forum (Beijing, Sichuan), to develop economic policies for long-term resilience, including through distributed manufacturing. Michel writes editorials for Al Jazeera English [1] and is listed at #82, on the Post-Carbon Institute (En) Rich list, http://enrichlist.org/the-list/

He currently lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, has taught at Payap University and Dhurakij Pandit University's International College. He is a founding member of the Commons Strategies Group. In his first business career, Michel worked for USIA, British Petroleum, Riverland Publications, Belgacom, and created two internet start-ups."


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