Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Reading with STA in mind: Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space (1st of 3)


The framework I’d like to see developed about people's space-time-action orientations (aka STA) continues to have plenty of potential. I’ve written a few posts about it — after all, STA is one of this blog’s two themes. But STA’s potential remains largely unrealized, mainly because I’ve lagged in working on it.

In order to keep STA on track and add a bit of momentum, here is a series of posts (possibly followed by more) built around selected literature reviews. This first post reviews a classic book about social space. Second will be a book about social time. Third will be a book or other writings about the action/agency orientation.

These posts are not so much about the books themselves as about a particular purpose that serves STA: to show that each writing, besides dwelling on its avowed focus (be that space, time, or action), turns to say something about all three STA orientations. Indeed, there is no way for major writings to avoid doing so.

I don’t claim that these writings would be better if they had gone in comprehensive STA-like directions. But I do claim these writings help confirm that space, time, and action orientations operate as a bundle — a set of interrelated cognitive-knowledge elements that no mind and no culture can do without. And I want to urge that you too begin to see so too.

As for this review about Lefebvre’s book, once again I’ve set out to do a single post, and it has morphed into a multi-parter, laden with long quotes. This Part 1 provides a general overview. Part 2 will lay out how Lefebvre analyzes space, and how he includes time and action orientations. Part 3 will be a serendipitous post; it will collate and comment on items I just happened to notice around the blogosphere and elsewhere while I had Lefebvre in mind.

Highlights of this Part-1 post include his analytical concepts about spatiology, spatial codes, spatial chaos, and trial by space, plus his proposition that the creation and control of social space is the crucial stake in today’s revolutionary struggles and evolutionary transitions.

The book’s significance and argument


French philosopher/sociologist Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space ([1974] 1991) remains a seminal landmark text among postmodern social and literary theorists, philosophers, and sociologists who are caught up in the “spatial turn” in theorizing that began a few decades ago. The book has been a favorite especially among Marxists and anarchists looking for postmodern ways to analyze and strategize about the world. Though he was a controversial and marginal figure during much of his life, his stature and influence have grown hugely since his death in 1991. Those influenced by this book include not only social theorists like Michel Foucault and Manuel Castells, but also young activists who supported Occupy and other pro-democracy movements a few years ago (as discussed here).

As I understand the book, Lefebvre proposes that “space” — particularly “social space” — is not only a cardinal concept that merits far more attention from theorists and strategists, but also that “the production of space” — all kinds of spaces — has become a paramount activity in (and of) advanced societies. Indeed, says he, producing spaces is now a more defining activity of capitalism than producing commodities. Thus Lefebvre is not merely advocating space as a grand analytical concept; he’s forecasting that societies are moving into an era when producing and dominating space is a strategic purpose. Accordingly, a spatial revolution is underway that will subsume the urban revolution, just as it subsumed the earlier industrial and agrarian revolutions (p. 419).

To make his case, Lefebvre maintains that all across history — and now more than before — every work, thing, product, institution, society, market, whatever, operates to generate a social space. This applies to bodies, buildings, companies, towns, cities, states, and markets, as well as to nationalism, capitalism, and other ideologies. Accordingly,
“[E]very society — and hence every mode of production with its subvariants (i.e. all those societies which exemplify the general concept — produces a space, it's own space.” (p. 31)
“The ‘object’ of interest must be expected to shift from things in space to the actual production of space.” (p. 37)
“It is impossible, in fact, to avoid the conclusion that space is assuming an increasingly important role in supposedly 'modern' societies, and that if this role is not already preponderant it very soon will be. Space's hegemony does not operate solely on the 'micro' level, effecting the arrangement of surfaces in a supermarket, for instance, or in a 'neighbourhood' of housing-units; nor does it apply only on the 'macro' level, as though it were responsible merely for the ordering of 'flows' within nations or continents. On the contrary, its effects may be observed on all planes and in all the interconnections between them.” (p. 412)
In this view, space is not simply an empty container, an area or a volume. Social spaces are themselves works, products, and tools, as well as means of production — all at the same time. Thus, what's needed is “an approach which would analyse not things in space but space itself, with a view to uncovering the social relationships embedded in it.” (p. 89).
“(Social) space is not a thing among other things, nor a product among other products: rather, it subsumes things produced, and encompasses their interrelationships in their coexistence and simultaneity — their (relative) order and/or (relative) disorder. It is the outcome of a sequence and set of operations, and thus cannot be reduced to the rank of a simple object. … Itself the outcome of past actions, social space is what permits fresh actions to occur, while suggesting others and prohibiting yet others.” (p. 73)
“Is space indeed a medium? A milieu? An intermediary? It is doubtless all of these, but its role is less and less neutral, more and more active, both as instrument and as goal, as means and as end.” (p. 411)
Lefebvre is thus precociously network-oriented for 1974. For he is keen to show that networks and flows that link and embed things (objects, subjects) are generally more significant than the things themselves:
“Social space contains a great diversity of objects, both natural and social, including the networks and pathways which facilitate the exchange of material things and information. Such 'objects' are thus not only things but also relations.” (p 77)
“[A] space is not a thing but rather a set of relations between things (objects and products).” (p. 83)
“The state and each of its constituent institutions call for spaces — but spaces which they can then organize according to their specific requirements; … Though a product to be used, to be consumed, it is also a means of production; networks of exchange and flows of raw materials and energy fashion space and are determined by it.” (p. 85)
“As it develops, then, the concept of social space becomes broader. It infiltrates, even invades, the concept of production, becoming part — perhaps the essential part — of its content.” (p. 85)
Much of his writing is imbued with the language of Marxist concepts and objectives. I try to slide over it, in order to get at points I like regarding how to analyze spatial orientations, and where he fits time and action orientations into his framework. Yet he notes that his emphasis on space implies ways of thinking and strategizing that pose a serious conceptual challenge for classical Marxism:
“Ideology per se might well be said to consist primarily in a discourse upon social space.” (p. 44)
“If the production of space does indeed correspond to a leap forward in the productive forces (in technology, in knowledge, in the domination of nature), and if therefore this tendency, when pushed to its limit — or, better, when it has overcome its limits — must eventually give rise to a new mode of production which is neither state capitalism nor state socialism, but the collective management of space, the social management of nature, and the transcendence of the contradiction between nature and anti-nature, then clearly we cannot rely solely on the application of the 'classical' categories of Marxist thought.” (pp. 102–103)
“Meanwhile, it is thanks only to the notion of a conflict-laden transition from one mode of production (that of things) to another (that of space) that it is possible to preserve the Marxist thesis of the fundamental role of the forces of production while at the same time liberating this thesis from the ideology of productivity and from the dogma of (quantitative) growth. …
“Space is becoming the principal stake of goal-directed actions and struggles.” (p. 410)

From theory to practice: spatial codes, spatial chaos, trial by space, and ultimately the collective management of space


Against this background, Lefebvre clarifies that his concern is not only with how to analyze space (as discussed further in Part 2), but also how to think about radical change and discern a new “project” for achieving it:
“This book has been informed from beginning to end by a project, though this may at times have been discernible only by reading between the lines. I refer to the project of a different society, a different mode of production, where social practice would be governed by different conceptual determinations.” (p. 419)
Thus Lefebvre focuses on how knowledge and power may serve “hegemony” and how it then utilizes space. Indeed, he says, “The state is consolidating on a world scale” to a degree that “weighs down on society” and “crushes time” (p. 23). Accordingly, the production of space has become a means of control, if not domination, particularly for state capitalism — yet in contradictory ways that may create possibilities for eventual revolutionary change from below:
“[T]his state, born of the hegemony of a class, has as one of its functions — and a more and more significant function — the organization of space, the regularization of its flows, the control of its networks.” (p. 383)
(Social) space is a (social) product. … Many people, finding this claim paradoxical, will want proof. The more so in view of the further claim that the space thus produced also serves as a tool of thought and of action; that in addition to being a means of production it is also a means of control, and hence of domination, of power; yet that, as such, it escapes in part from those who would make use of it.” (p. 26)
What’s important, then, for both analytical and strategic purposes, is to figure out how to read space — how to “decode” space and identify the “spatial codes” that actors use. In particular, he observes that “The ideologically dominant tendency divides space up into parts and parcels” (p. 89); it works to separate all sorts of spaces from each other (e.g., public and private) and treats each as a “passive receptacle” (p. 90).

The way to counter this tendency is to construct a contrary code that will “recapture the unity of dissociated elements”:
“The reconstruction of a spatial 'code' — that is, of a language common to practice and theory, as also to inhabitants, architects and scientists — may be considered from the practical point of view to be an immediate task. The first thing such a code would do is recapture the unity of dissociated elements, breaking down such barriers as that between private and public, and identifying both confluences and oppositions in space that are at present indiscernible. It would thus bring together levels and terms which are isolated by existing spatial practice and by the ideologies underpinning it: … .” (p. 64)
Thus he shows that space is stake both for “the oppressors” who would impose their spatial codes, and for radicals who seek reform or revolution. And what’s emerging, as a result of state behavior is “a spatial chaos” — quite a concept!— from local to global levels:
“The combined result of a very strong political hegemony, a surge in the forces of production, and an inadequate control of markets, is a spatial chaos experienced at the most parochial level just as on a worldwide scale. The bourgeoisie and the capitalist system thus experience great difficulty in mastering what is at once their product and the tool of their mastery, namely space. They find themselves unable to reduce practice (the practicosensory realm, the body, social-spatial practice) to their abstract space, and hence new, spatial, contradictions arise and make themselves felt. Might not the spatial chaos engendered by capitalism, despite the power and rationality of the state, turn out to be the system's Achilles' heel?” (p.63)
To oppose this system and benefit from spatial chaos, Lefebvre recommends a new “strategic hypothesis based on space” that, he reiterates again, would bring “disassociated aspects” back together, in both theory and practice:
“[I]ts basic principle and objective is the bringing-together of dissociated aspects, the unification of disparate tendencies and factors. Inasmuch as it tries to take the planetary experiment in which humanity is engaged for what it is - that is to say, a series of separate and distinct assays of the world's space - this hypothesis sets itself up in clear opposition to the homogenizing efforts of the state, of political power, of the world market, and of the commodity world … It implies the mobilization of differences in a single movement”. (p. 64)
Where all this strategizing eventually leads is to “trial by space” — a powerful point that verges on being apocalyptic, because “no one can avoid trial by space - an ordeal which is the modern world's answer to the judgement of God or the classical conception of fate.” Or, as he elaborates more fully, in a passage I consider poetically articulate and insightful,
“Today everything that derives from history and from historical time must undergo a test. Neither 'cultures' nor the 'consciousness' of peoples, groups or even individuals can escape the loss of identity that is now added to all other besetting terrors. Points and systems of reference inherited from the past are in dissolution. Values, whether or not they have been organized into more or less coherent 'systems', crumble and clash. Sooner or later, the cultivated elites find themselves in the same situation as peoples dispossessed (alienated) through conquest and colonization. These elites find that they have lost their bearings. Why? Because nothing and no one can avoid trial by space - an ordeal which is the modern world's answer to the judgement of God or the classical conception of fate. It is in space, on a worldwide scale, that each idea of 'value' acquires or loses its distinctiveness through confrontation with the other values and ideas that it encounters there. Moreover - and more importantly - groups, classes or fractions of classes cannot constitute themselves, or recognize one another, as 'subjects' unless they generate (or produce) a space. Ideas, representations or values which do not succeed in making their mark on space, and thus generating (or producing) an appropriate morphology, will lose all pith and become mere signs, resolve themselves into abstract descriptions, or mutate into fantasies.” (pp. 416–417)
As Lefebvre keeps pushing on his two key strategic points — reuniting disassociated spaces and generating bottom-up pluralism — he notes the advisability of creating local self-managed autonomous zones outside the control of the state and its attendant networks:
“The only possibility of so altering the operation of the centralized state as to introduce (or reintroduce) a measure of pluralism lies in a challenge to central power from the 'local powers', in the capacity for action of municipal or regional forces linked directly to the territory in question. Inevitably such resistance or counter-action will tend to strengthen or create independent territorial entities capable to some degree of self-management.” (p. 382)
Finally, he addresses “the first and last question”: “How does the theory of space relate to the revolutionary movement as it exists today?” To answer, he contrasts the Soviet and Chinese approaches to space under communism — showing the former to be deeply centralized, the latter more distributed.From this he concludes that “the theory of space is capable of accounting for revolutionary experience worldwide.” And what he hopes for ideally is “The creation (or production) of a planet-wide space as the social foundation of a transformed everyday life open to myriad possibilities — such is the dawn now beginning to break on the far horizon.” (pp. 420-422)

That’s an ambitious agenda. But it’s consistent with a proposition he poses early in his book: “A revolution that does not produce a new space has not realized its full potential” (p. 54). And what he wants from such a revolution is a new system — a new space — characterized not by state capitalism or state socialism but by the “collective management of space” (pp. 102-103). It’s far from clear what he means by that phrase, but it’s not what Marxists have usually sought:
“Revolution was long defined either in terms of a political change at the level of the state or else in terms of the collective or state ownership of the means of production as such (plant, equipment, industrial or agricultural entities). Under either of these definitions, revolution was understood to imply the rational organization of production and the equally rationalized management of society as a whole. In fact, however, both the theory and the project involved here have degenerated into an ideology of growth which, if it is not actually aligned with bourgeois ideology, is closely akin to it.
“Today such limited definitions of revolution no longer suffice. The transformation of society presupposes a collective ownership and management of space founded on the permanent participation of the 'interested parties', with their multiple, varied and even contradictory interests.(p. 422)
That sounds a bit like P2P theory (but not TIMN).

Closing comment


What Lefebvre theorized about social space is illuminating and impressive. It even appears to prefigure much that I read today in complexity theory, social network analysis, actor-network theory, and general systems theory, not to mention global interdependence and world systems theories — all quite remarkable given that he wrote the book in 1974. This will become more evident in Parts 2 and 3.

Building on what’s discussed above, Lefebvre proposes to develop a history and a science of space. Along the way, he also says a lot about time, and a little about action — all apropos my STA interests. That’s what Part 2 will be about.

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Side notes

The book contains several notions that look interesting, but that I do not understand. One is his concept of “abstract space” — I noted my difficulty with it above. Another is his point that “Every space is already in place before the appearance in it of actors” (p. 57). I don’t get that at all, not even after re-reading the passage.

Lefebvre offers a fascinating discussion (pp. 152–158) between an Asian/Buddhist and a Westerner about their contrasting approaches to form, structure, and function — with the Buddhist seeming more attuned to network perspectives. I mention this because the next book I’ll review — Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd’s The Time Paradox (2008) — contains a discussion between an Asian and an American about their contrasting approaches to time. Comparing the two discussions is more than I can do at this point; but it’d be illuminating for somebody to do, if it hasn’t already been done. A further reference point to include might be Richard Nisbett’s The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently ... and Why (2004).

Main sources for this post

This post is based on reading Lefebvre’s book, but not in its entirety. I found what I wanted mostly by reading Chapters 1, 2, and 7. I barely browsed Chapters 3–6 (and hope I didn’t miss anything crucial). The text is online here. The Wikipedia article about Lefebvre is here.




Updates about missing posts (5th of 5): “TIMN in 20 minutes” (7th of 7): toward a mathematics of TIMN?”


This is the fifth and final post in this pesky series about five missing posts from years gone by. It ends my travail to revisit the prospects for finishing those posts. See the first post in this series for context and explanation.

Of all the five missing posts discussed in this series, this is the one that I will surely finish, for it is too central to TIMN’s potential to keep setting aside.

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What this post — “Q’s & A’s about “TIMN in 20 minutes” (7th of 7): toward a mathematics of TIMN” — was going to say (and probably still will)


Comments on the video TIMN in 20 Minutes led to a series of Q’s-&-A’s posts during 2012. This prospective Part-7 post has been next-in-line for over a year, but I keep getting re-prioritized by one matter or another. Today this prospective post is still almost nearly next in line again.

What I have in mind will require new work in order to succeed in elaborating TIMN in a durable way. I plan to revisit old briefing slides and notions concocted years ago about how to lay out a mathematical model and identify indicators for TIMN. The post will discuss the pertinence of other models and indexes (e.g., the Index of Failed States and Index of Economic Freedom), along with Ian Morris’s book The Measure of Civilization (2013), and writings by Peter Turchin about cliodynamics. My approach will differ from theirs; it will not look so mathematically sophisticated, but it will be guided by TIMN’s organizational view of social evolution.

For the interim, I offer a screen-grab from a briefing slide I made during 2001-2002 in a draft effort to pose the possibility of modeling TIMN mathematically and visually:




The slide barely conveys what a TIMN “formula” should look like. I’ll offer more explanation later. I’ve long yearned to see TIMN developed into a practical model, with clear indices, for diagnosing and strategizing about what’s going on in any society.

[I’ve deleted two earlier versions of this post.]

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Updates about missing posts (4th of 5): “What the Occupy Protests Mean: A TIMN Interpretation (Part IV) — Consequences and Implications”


This is the fourth in a retrospective series about five missing posts from years gone by. It continues my balky effort to revisit the prospects for finishing those posts. See the first post in this series for context and explanation here.

Perhaps a highlight of this post is the implication that Occupy and related movements serve to strengthen trends toward “monitory democracy” and “commonism” — hopefully in ways that will help stem America’s apparent drift toward patrimonial corporatism. Another highlight may be the concept of “sedimentary networks” that operate in the background.

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What this post — “What the Occupy Protests Mean: A TIMN Interpretation (Part IV) — Consequences and Implications” — was going to say


Initially, my 2011 series about Occupy and related movements was going to have only two parts: the first one about causes, and a second one about consequences and implications. But then I spotted lots of commentaries about network organization, strategy, and tactics, including swarming — so that became the focus of the second post. And then I found myriad remarks about the space-time-action orientations of the activists — so that became the focus of the third post, with a nod to STA (this blog’s other theme). As a result, I kept postponing turning to consider Occupy’s potential long-range consequences and implications.

Even so, I started a draft for Part IV before my momentum dissipated for reasons at the time and I turned to other matters. My remarks here are drawn from that draft. Whether or not I ever write more than this update, the topic itself is far from finito.

My lead-off paragraph from early 2012 still looks good; indeed, it’d make a good lead-off for all the unfinished posts in this series that focus on TIMN:
TIMN points behind this series remain as follows: The network (+N) form is on the rise. Thus the advanced societies are beginning to move from having market-oriented triform (T+I+M) systems, toward crafting network-oriented quadriform (T+I+M+N) systems. As this evolution proceeds, a new sector will take shape and gain sway around the +N form, alongside the existing public (+I) and private (+M) sectors. Indeed, maturation of the +N form depends on its capacity to define a new realm, not just its capacity to affect other TIMN forms. As this happens, new political philosophies and ideologies will evolve as well; and whether one leans Left or Right will matter less than whether one becomes a quadriformist or stays a triformist.
Thus this unfinished post was going to affirm that,
The pro-democracy protests of 2011–2012 fit into this framework. A TIMN thesis guiding this series of posts is that the emergence of the +N form of organization lies behind the worldwide upheavals — it is one of the causes. The Occupy-type movements [are serving to] express and propel the rise of the network form; and they will succeed to the extent that they continue to do so, presuming it’s in a constructive manner.
In my TIMN view, these pro-democracy upheavals — notably, Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street — were occurring in societies where the protestors wanted to replace decades of patrimonial corporatism with something more democratic (as in Egypt); or to stem a slippage away from liberal democracy toward patrimonial corporatism, in order to create a newer better kind of democracy (as in the U.S.). In TIMN terms, the activists were out to rectify the downsides of what had happened to both patrimonial corporatism and liberal democracy — the 20th century’s winningest T+I+M systems — and move in directions that would begin to add +N.

The young cutting-edge protestors lacked clarity (and still lack it) about how to do so. They were convinced that their countries’ aging triformist systems were too far gone — too compromised, grid-locked, polarized, unjust, unable to self-correct or be corrected — to continue tolerating. They typically blamed arrogant corrupt capitalism (but not necessarily the market system per se) for much of this. They were also very wary of trying to work through established institutions, particularly political parties and labor unions. And many were hungry for new ideologies to arise around the network form. They hoped to achieve radical change by affecting civil society, more than state or market conditions.

(I may have over-generalized when I drafted that back then. In some cases (e.g., Egypt?) further analysis may reveal that anti-democratic forces helped mobilize and manipulate the pro-democracy protests for ulterior purposes, including to bolster their kind of patrimonial corporatism. Moreover, a documentary I recently watched on Aljazeera America (what an informative station!) narrated by Hernando de Soto claimed that most Arab-Spring protesters were driven by poor economics, not political idealism — they were small struggling vendors fed up with being compelled to operate in the informal economy, battered by corruption and blocked from opportunities, like credit, that existed in the formal economy.)

The series’ first three parts had already made such points. The key challenge for this post was/is to identify more specific consequences and implications that reflect TIMN. The series’ main theme was that these movements (or whatever they were) substantiated the unfolding of the +N form. Looking ahead, two sub-themes — the growth of monitory democracy, and the rise of pro-commons views — seemed particularly ripe for emphasis regarding long-range consequences and implications.

As a background point, I assumed that Occupy-related activism settles into a “background network”, or what I now see should be termed a “sedimentary network” — a fragmented bedrock network. As Andrew Chadwick, writing in Political Communication (2007) explains,
“Sedimentary networks are important because they make it much more likely that older organizations will be revived or existing ones reconfigured on the fly, in response to new demands or a perceived desire to shift focus to new issue areas. They are characterized by an absence of centralized control and relatively autonomous but highly connected subunits.” (p. 294)
This is an important point. It certainly applies to how our old RAND study once explained the speedy ease with which the pro-Zapatista networks arose; they were latent in pre-existing networks that had formed to oppose NAFTA as well as U.S. policy in Central America. Then later on, sediments from the pro-Zapatista networks morphed into the pro-democracy NGO networks that helped open up Mexican elections during the 1994-2000 period. Not to mention a lot of other effects later and abroad, including the “Battle of Seattle.” (source)

The recent interesting paper that caught my eye on this was by Daniel Kreiss and Zeynep Tufekci in Cultural Studies <=> Critical Methodologies (2013). It offers further points about sedimentary networks:
“The Occupy movement may now be melting into a sedimentary network (Chadwick, 2007) of activists that will hang together through new media technologies and reconstitute itself around symbolic events in the coming years ― as it did in protest events at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.” (p. 166)
“After the initial flare of the movement’s mediated publicity, the political context in the United States has changed to one that requires political organization able to engage and challenge institutional politics to advance an agenda forward. If Occupy is deeply divided about its engagement with pragmatic, institutional politics and fails to build meaningful ties to unions and civil society and advocacy organizations during the president’s second term it will be a wasted opportunity. Occupy’s redemptive energy, for instance, would be well directed towards the organization of a progressive, “Occupy Congress” voting block inside Congress that can hold Democrats to account for its aims.” (p. 166)
What I most like about this concept — sedimentary network — is that it is an organizational concept, not just a social one. The +N part of TIMN is about organizational networks, more than social networks.

Now, As for John Keane’s concept of monitory democracy, my earlier Part II post had indicated its potential significance for Occupy et al. Accordingly, Occupy activists, full of criticism for representative democracy, tried to promote direct democracy in their assemblies. But from a TIMN perspective, the results looked more like a problematic recursion to tribal/T forms than a promising advance toward network/+N forms of democracy. As Part II argued,
“[A] key to the next phase transition may be “monitory democracy” … If Occupy’s background network (or set of networks) is headed in this direction, it could make a significant contribution to the emergence of the +N phase.”
It’d still make sense for Part IV to make this point. Few activists have ever explicitly called for monitory democracy. And today, with Occupy-like efforts on hold, evidence is sparse that its activists or sympathizers are working to develop new sensory and organizational apparatuses for scrutinizing and appraising what is going on in our society — à la Keane’s concept — in order to generate policy inputs that require better accountability and responsibility from state, market, and civil-society actors. But while I lack a good sense of the data, and of the extent to which such developments may extend even from the spirit if not the fact of Occupy, more may be going on than I presently sense. The promotion of sousveillance and coveillance is certainly gathering momentum, whether or not as a consequence of Occupy. In any case, the possible rise of monitory democracy will surely be a slow-moving process, fraught with fits and starts deep into the future.

As for pro-commons ideas, they’d begun to take hold around the edges of Occupy and related movements, but too late to have widespread effects at the time. Since then, over the past year or two, pro-commons efforts have grown significantly, as seen in the number and variety of websites, blogs, conferences, speeches, books, and articles advocating pro-commons views and activities, including for the eventual organization of a commons sector. This rise of the commons, like that of monitory democracy, will surely be a slow-unfolding process. I gather it would have begun without Occupy ever occurring, but the experience of Occupy has added to its momentum.

While it shouldn’t be difficult to be in favor of both monitory democracy and “commonism” to some degree, the two endeavors also seem at odds, even somewhat contradictory. Developing monitory democracy requires engaging with “the system” so as to change it and add a new layer. But for Leftist proponents of the commons, building a commons sector is more a way to work outside “the system” — to break with old dialogues about states and markets, globalization and capitalism, and create a rather separate new existence, for example through cooperative business endeavors, until such time as “the system” falls and can be supplanted. Thus, whereas monitory democracy may assume that the fabled “1%” are reachable, commons proponents seem to regard the “1%” as utterly unreachable. The contradiction resembles that between “Tocquevillian associationalism” and “Marxist autonomism” — or so I read (here).

Beyond monitory democracy and pro-commons innovation, I hadn’t settled on a third implication. But my notes indicate I was going to forecast a prolonged sharper struggle between the forces behind America’s drift into patrimonial corporatism, versus forces across the spectrum that wanted deep change, be that to revitalize our aging triformist democracy or to develop +N and thus a quadriformist democracy. Perhaps as a fourth implication, I’d also have forecast a greater usage of swarming and counter-swarming strategies and tactics if protest movements grew anew (e.g., see this 2013 interview with Paul de Armond, by David Solnit). The likelihood of this may increase if, as I once forecast (1991, pp. 77-78), people continue to become more oriented to the networks than to the nations to which they belong. These still remain viable themes about the future from a TIMN perspective.

Finally, my notes indicate that I meant to close Part IV with a speculation that the time was nigh for a Quadriformist Manifesto. Since all sorts of other manifestos were cropping up in connection with Occupy, I was starting to think TIMN might as well have one too — but I’m not there yet.

However much I wanted to finish this Part IV, I soon turned instead to write separate posts about Keane’s monitory-democracy writings (here and here), and later a post about the concept of the commons (here), without saying much about Occupy and related movements in them. Even so, these posts, including this missing one, were all oriented toward mutual themes: that +N’s rise depends on the capacity of the network form to define a distinct realm, and not just on its capacity to combine with or counter other TIMN forms; that much will depend on the extents to which the old forms feed into shaping the new, or the new reshapes the old; and that the new +N form may well revolve partly around old values, such as equity or freedom, but it will add new meanings and possibilities.

So at least I got something done in the interim about Occupy’s implications, even though this specific post has remained unfinished. To do much better than this update I’d have to do a lot of new background reading, including in what look to be interesting publications about Occupy (e.g., Nathan Schneider’s Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse (2013)).


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My first three posts in this series about Occupy had huge addenda containing scores of quotes, mostly from activists, that helped substantiate points made in the main text. This Part-IV post, if finished, would surely have a huge addendum as well. Some of the dozens of quotes I saved for it are illuminating. Here, for the interim, is a brief sampling, hastily selected and trimmed:

Kevin Carson:
“Far more important than anything Occupy Wall Street achieves as a pressure movement, is what it will achieve as an education movement, teaching people ways to sustain themselves through peaceful production, cooperation, sharing and trade with other producers — all outside the corporate system. Far more important than what the demonstrators brought with them to Zuccotti Park will be what they take back home with them — a toolkit for fighting the system from where they live. Or as I put it in my previous column, “a general strike producing for ourselves.”
“So the real significance of OWS is not as a political movement to pressure anyone else to do anything, but that itself is the nucleus of a new society …” (source)
Alpha Lo:
“The Occupy network is a set of experiments … in many different locales. Each locale can test out different techniques, ideas, and facilitation processes. The best practices can then spread to other locales or nodes. The whole nodal network is thus tapping into its distributed collective intelligence to evolve new forms of socio-economic-political systems that are more horizontal, self-organizing, participatory, democratic, and sharing based.” (source)
Jules Lobel:
Five main attributes of OWS have contributed to its massive success and provide the basis for its continuation as a radical alternative in the future. …
“5. Creating Alternative Models of What a Democratic Egalitarian Society Might Look Like …
“Hopefully OWS can create organizational forms that combine its democratic, egalitarian origins with audacious, ongoing direct action, an overall narrative that continues to express values of solidarity, equality and democracy, and political independence and survive as a model of how a just society would operate. If OWS can do so over the long term, it will have made a major contribution, not simply to transforming the public dialogue, but to birthing a new society.” (source)
David Bollier:
“The Occupy movement is beginning to discover the commons, and the result could be a rich and productive collaboration. …
“Like the Occupy protests last year, this gathering did not focus on what government might do for the American people. That is considered a lost cause for now, or at least, a secondary focal point. It is clear that the market/state duopoly is so entrenched and collusive that “working within the system” will yield only piecemeal, marginal gains. As the fights on climate change, finance reform, food, energy and countless other issues have shown, the only way to really meet people’s needs and save the planet is to strive for systemic change: …
“[T]he commons can help Occupy expand from its stance of resistance and protest to one of building positive, constructive alternatives.” (source)
Tim Rayner:
“OccupyWallStreet is not a political movement in the traditional sense. It is a countercultural swarm. We need to see it as a swarm to understand why people are drawn to it, and what makes it the most important political force on the planet today.” (source)

[This post replaces an earlier version from several months ago, now deleted.]

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Updates about missing posts (3rd of 5): “Bauwens’ “partner state” (part 2 of 3) … vis à vis TIMN”


This is the third in a series about five missing posts from years gone by. It continues my retrospective effort to revisit the prospects for those posts, and to convey some of the interesting materials I had collected for them. See the first in this series for context and explanation.

Perhaps a highlight of this post is a reaffirmation of the overlaps between P2P theory and TIMN, as I found them a few years ago.

* * * *

What this post — “Bauwens’ “partner state” (part 2 of 3) … vis à vis TIMN” — was going to say


In 2010, I began a series of similarly-titled posts about the future of the state vis à vis TIMN. The first was on Philip Bobbitt’s concept of the “market state,” the second on Phillip Blond’s “civic state.” The third was a three-parter about Michel Bauwens’ concept of the “partner state” and other aspects of his P2P (peer-to-peer network) theory.

In 2011 I posted Parts 1 and 3 about Bauwens’ concept. Part 1 outlined his partner-state concept and the broader P2P theory in which he nests it, describing what P2P networks are like as a form of organization and what other forms his vision entails. Part 3 examined P2P as a theory about social evolution, and concluded with a comparison to TIMN, noting similarities as well as differences.

The middle part in that series — Part 2 — is still missing, though I put up a faux post as a place-holder. Part 2 was to be about P2P theory’s “tri-modal” architecture, including its vision about the empowerment of civil society, the rise of the commons as a new (third) sector, and P2P as a new (third) mode of governance.

One reason for not completing it was that I felt swamped by the voluminous reading I faced in order to feel sure I understood his articulation of P2P theory and was selecting the best quotes from his myriad writings. I’m sorry to say that’s still the case. Even so, I can convey a better sense of what Part 2 was going to cover according to my old draft notes, as follows.

According to Bauwens, P2P dynamics will transform the nature of states, markets, and civil societies. Of course, many theorists now accept that information-age network forms of organization will have extensive transforming effects. But Bauwens has advanced a new view as to how this may transpire — a view, I say again, that is broadly in harmony with TIMN.

According to the draft I still have, Part 2 was going to focus on three linked forecasts that pervade Bauwens’ writings about P2P theory and his partner-state concept:
  • While P2P will alter all sectors of society, it will empower civil society more than state and market actors — obliging the latter to heed the views of civil-society actors more than ever before. (TIMN says so as well.)
  • On behalf of civil society, P2P will favor the rise of a new (third) sector — the commons sector — alongside and ultimately above the old public (first) and private (second) sectors. (TIMN augurs the rise of a new sector as well, but I haven’t tied it to the commons.)
  • Via the commons sector, P2P will create a new “third” mode of production, property, and governance — one that calls for doing, holding, and managing things “in common” rather than via history’s “first” (public /state) or its “second” (private /market) modes. (This resembles TIMN in regard to governance; but the +N mode is not so preoccupied with production and property matters, or with political economy.)
Thus P2P theory upholds what Bauwens terms a “new triarchy” — a “tri-modal architecture” — that overlaps quite well with much of TIMN (though that needs clarification, which I present in Part 3).

Evidently, I was going to discuss each of the bulleted points in the missing post, at length and with extensive quotes that I never fully sorted out. So, what I offer here for this update is a partial selection of notes and quotes. Again, I’m not sure I’ve selected the best quotes from that period, but it would be too daunting a task to do better at this time. (Let me know via email if I err in my selection or interpretation.)

• Empowerment of civil society:

In P2P theory, as in TIMN, the rise of new network forms of organization, propelled by the new information technologies, will strengthen civil-society actors, far more than state and market actors. As this alters relations among the three sectors — the state, private enterprise, and civil society — the former two will become evermore beholden and responsive to civil society. According to Bauwens,
“It is customary to divide society into three sectors, and what we want to show is how the new peer to peer dynamic unleashed by networked infrastructures, changes the inter-relationship between these three sectors.” (source)
“Yes, peer to peer practices are a sign of the rebirth, and the coming to prominence, of civil society as the primary actor of social life. … Peer production is the mode of production, governance and property arising out of civil society, and it has to be clearly distinguished, from the private or public alternatives.” (source)
In P2P, much as in TIMN, civil society is defined in ways that do not include state or market actors. This differs from traditional definitions of civil society that enfold almost everything civil that is outside the state, including political parties and private businesses. Not so in the definition that P2P (or TIMN) favors. To insist on this, Bauwens would even prefer the term “civic society” over civil society. He would also like to move beyond the widespread tendency to characterize civil-society actors in negative terms, as being “non-governmental” or “non-profit” — he’d rather define them positively, as “for-benefit” associations.
“I think we can adapt two changes to the concept, so that it retains its value, as I think we need a concept that describes what does not belong … to the collective state nor to private profit maximisation, but describes activities that directly benefit the common good. The first is to use the concept of civiC, rather than civil society, as this clearly links it with equal citizenship and popular sovereignty.
“The second change is that we have to imperatively exclude activities for private gain from the realm of civic society.” (source)
From such considerations, he lays out “the triarchy” as he sees it today: the state and its public sector, the market and its private sector, and civil society as harbinger of a coming commons sector:
“This then gives us the triarchy:
“1) of the state, as representative institution (at least in democracies), that is formally in charge of the overall collective good, though of course in reality we know that it carries out this function for the benefit of ruling oligarchies, which means this function must be reclaimed (and transformed) in the interest of the citizens.
“2) that of the private sector, which contains profit-maximising enterprises only concerned with their own private advancement, and therefore, not acting as citizens; these activities need to be transformed, so that they can no longer ignore positive and negative social externalities.
“3) civic society then, is reserved for all those individual and collective entities which act directly from a perspective of the common good, through self-action and self-expression instead of representation (which distinguishes it from the state), and this can include market actions, on the very important condition that these are subsumed under the common good, i.e. undertaken by mission-oriented entities, for which the market activity is a means to an end, and not an end in itself or a means for profit maximisation.” (source)
It’s advisable to always keep “the triarchy” in mind when thinking about P2P; for it remains constantly significant in one form or another.

• Rise of the commons as a new (third) sector

P2P theory, much like TIMN, claims that, as new network forms take hold, a new sector will emerge from civil society that is distinct from the established public and private sectors. But whereas TIMN still has a wait-and-see stance about this inchoate prospect, P2P theory is sure that the new sector will be about the commons — it will be a commons sector constructed by “commoners” who believe in “commonism.” It will enable civil society to counter-balance state and market actors, and it is needed because today’s public and private sectors do not operate adequately in the public interest or for the common good.
“We need to strengthen the commons as a distinct sphere of activity beyond the state and the market, in a manner that complements both.” (source)
Bauwens often discusses what resources and activities should belong in and to the commons. I was going to describe that in this post back in 2011. But I’ll skip over it now, since I did a 2012 post about the rise of the concept of the commons (here).

However, it is important to note a few key points he makes about how/where the commons fits into the bigger vision he has in mind. In short, the commons sector should sit at the center of a new P2P-oriented society — with for-profit and for-benefit enterprises ringed around the commons:
“At the P2P Foundation, our central concept is peer to peer, i.e. the ability to freely associate with others around the creation of common value. More specifically, we call this, according to the structural anthropology of Alan Page Fiske, communal shareholding, i.e. the non-reciprocal exchange of an individual with a totality. It is [a] totality that we call the commons. …
“Peer production gives us an advance picture of how a commons-oriented society would look like. At its core is a commons and a community contributing to it, either voluntarily, or as paid entrepreneurial employees. It does this through collaborative platforms using open standards. Around the commons emerges enterprises that create added value to operate on the marketplace, but also help the maintenance and the expansion of the commons they rely on. A third partner are the for-benefit associations that maintain the infrastructure of cooperation. Public authorities could play a role if they wanted to support existing commons or the creation of new commons, for the value they bring to society.” (source)
“In the new social arrangement of the successor civilization, the central institution becomes the Commons, which protects vital resources for the next generations, and can rent out its usage to market-based entities. At the core of the new system of peer production is a commons, a community and a collaborative platform, surrounded by an entrepreneurial ecology, and managed through a new type of for-benefit foundations, which protects, sustains and expands the necessary infrastructure of cooperation.” (source)
While my focus is on Bauwens’ partner-state concept, the rise of the commons is more central to and important for P2P theory than is the partner state. A P2P society would be organized around a commons sector, more than around a partner state; and such a state would be an expression of the commons. In a metaphorical sense, I’d say, the commons corresponds to the heart and soul of P2P theory; the partner state to aspects of its governing mentality and nervous system. At least the state continues to exist, performing positive functions in P2P theory, in contrast to Left theories that seek its veritable elimination.
“The state will still exist, but will have a radically different nature. Much of its functions will have been taken over by commons institutions, but since these institutions care primarily about their commons, and not the general common good, we will still need public authorities that are the guarantor of the system as a whole, and can regulate the various commons, and protect the commoners against possible abuses. So in our scenario, the state does not disappear, but is transformed, though it may greatly diminish in scope, and with its remaining functions thoroughly democratized and based on citizen participation.
“In our vision, it is civil-society based peer production, through the Commons, which is the guarantor of value creation by the private sector, and the role of the state, as Partner State, is to enable and empower the creation of common value. The new peer to peer state then, though some may see that as a contradiction in terms, is a state which is subsumed under the Commons, just as it is now under the private sector. Such a peer to peer state, if we are correct, will have a much more modest role than the state under a classic state society, with many of its functions taken over by civil society associations, interlinked in processes of global governance.” (source)
Bauwens’ view is from the Left, but he insists that P2P theory is not classic Leftism. Indeed, P2P “commonism” differs from communism and socialism, in that it does not seek to create a classless or stateless society, and it opposes totalitarianisms of all types. In this vision, states and markets still exist, but in newly limited ways.
“Peer to peer is therefore not a continuation of the socialist/communist tradition, but a re-elaboration of emancipatory practice and theory under new historical and social conditions. …
“It is around the issue of the commons that the differences with the previous emancipatory tradition comes to the fore. …
“Peer to peer and the commons are about the direct value creation through civil society, and are about new forms of governance and property that apply directly to civil society groups creating this value. ...
The commons, not the state, becomes the core institution of the new political economy. Both digital and material commons have their own institutional formats, the latter managed by democratically governed trusts. …
“The p2p/commons approach does neither abolish the state nor makes it the sole proprietor in charge of central planning, but limits the role of the state as a institution for the meta-governance of the common good, looking at the equilibrium between public functions, the commons and civil society, and private entrepreneurs. The new Partner State becomes the guarantor of the new commons-based peer production, until that time as it can hypothetically ‘whither away’ as more and more of its functions are taken over by an increasingly egalitarian and autonomous civil society.” (source)
The rise and defense of the commons is so crucial a development that Bauwens wants it to become the uniting theme for social movements around the world. He deems it a more important and effective theme for threading diverse movements together than are themes like globalization and the environment. It’s the best way to achieve an historic phase transition in the nature of social evolution.
“This is what the grand alliance of the commons is about: recognizing the joint interest of these grand social movements in the resilience, sustainability and thrivability of natural and human commons.
The creation of this grand alliance is the task of 21st century politics.” (source)
“[F]or the p2p phase transition to occur, i.e. for the common or commons to be the core of social organisation, no amount of tinkering will be sufficient, but rather it will be a transformation that goes at the heart of the philosophical turn that Europe took to go into modernity and capitalism.” (source)
At the time I originally meant to write this post, Bauwens and his colleagues (e.g., David Bollier) were already doing a lot to promote the commons, notably via The P2P Foundation and the Commons Strategies Group. Other organizations — e.g., On the Commons, Shareable — were also growing and helping to spread P2P concepts. Apart from them, the concept of the commons was also gaining some mainstream momentum through the writings of scholars that Bauwens and his colleagues often referenced, notably Yochai Benkler and Elinor Ostrom.

• P2P as a new (third) mode of governance

As I noted at the beginning of this post, P2P is supposed to generate a new “third” mode of production, property, and governance — one that calls for doing, holding, and managing things “in common” rather than via history’s “first” (public /state) or its “second” (private /market) modes.

In general, Bauwens is keen on replacing the established binary distinctions — e.g., public vs. private, hierarchy vs. market, state vs. market, government vs. business — with new trifold distinctions more in keeping with the information age. His view is thus very much in keeping with emerging views (including TIMN) that networks be recognized alongside hierarchies and markets as the most basic forms of organization.

There are growing literatures on this which I have covered in other posts (especially here). For Bauwens, a key reference point to mention is Bob Jessop’s work on “metagovernance” as it involves the orchestration of governing by using all three forms.

In Bauwens’ vision, P2P dynamics, by strengthening civil society and fostering a commons sector, will serve to consolidate the new (third) mode of governance, as well as those new (third) modes of property and production:
“The key characteristic of our new technological infrastructure, i.e. distributed networks, is that they allow individuals to freely engage and relate to each other around common projects. This has a multitude of important effects. By dramatically lowering the thresholds of participation in such common projects, a much wider range of motivations, instead of just monetary ones, have become productive. …
“In short, we now have commons-based peer production as a third mode of production, self-organization of such peer projects as a third mode of peer governance, and peer property as new mode of protecting that common from private appropriation. …
“ … Peer production is the mode of production, governance and property arising out of civil society, and it has to be clearly distinguished, from the private or public alternatives. Peer production is not state production, peer governance is neither bureaucracy nor representative democracy, and peer property is inclusive common property, not collective public property. The key concern of peer governance is to eliminate permission seeking, to abolish credentialism, to avoid democratic negotiation where possible, to forego market pricing but most of all: to avoid the emergence of a collective individual which arises out of the community, crystallizes, and then turns against it or appropriates the common resources to its own benefit.” (source)
Accordingly, Bauwens expects the commons sector (and associated Trusts) to become as much a factor as the public and private sectors; peer (P2P) governance as much an option as the standard hierarchy and market options; and civil (or civic) society actors as much a factor as government and market actors. In this view, the old public-private and hierarchy-market distinctions have become false dichotomies that lie behind much of the gridlock and artificiality that characterize today’s societies. Development of the commons is the best way to re-affirm equity and justice on behalf of civil society.

This way of thinking about peer production, peer property, and peer governance — all three — as features of the commons sector is essential to the P2P paradigm. But the peer-governance part is of most interest for this post. Frankly, I have difficulty grasping exactly what it is and how it would work, though in outline terms it seems in harmony with the +N part of TIMN (but with elements of the T form appearing at times too).

It’s clear, at least conceptually, that peer governance is supposed to provide a way for people to “govern themselves and deal with their conflicts in participatory ways” across all areas of society (source). It means direct, bottom-up, freely motivated, distributed, “permissionless” participation to address an issue (apparently, by whoever shows up and gains recognition?):
“Peer to peer social processes are bottom-up processes whereby agents in a distributed network can freely engage in common pursuits, without external coercion, i.e. permissionlessly undertake actions and relations. This requires not just ‘decentralized’ systems, but ‘distributed’ systems, through which individuals can cooperate.
“Similarly, peer governance could be said to be post-democratic, because it is a form of governance that does not rely on representation, but where participants directly co-decide; and because it is not limited to the political field, but can be used in any social field.” (source)
From a governmental standpoint, it’s also clear that “peer governance is neither bureaucracy nor representative democracy” (source). Moreover, Bauwens aims for a future when “peer governance transcends both the authority of the market and the state” and, borrowing a catchy phrase, there will be a politics of “less government, less market, more commons” (source).

Bauwens also has much to say regarding how peer governance may shape the operation of a partner state. Much of it has to do with how the state will be embedded in P2P relationships (but that still leaves me wondering how decisions may actually be made at office and agency levels):
“How then will the state be molded by peer to peer? Peer governance is characterized by the relational paradigm. Rather than seeing itself as sovereign master, the state must be seen as embedded in relationships, and as in need of respecting these multiple relationships. This is probably best translated by the concept of multistakeholdership. We can probably expect that the nation-state, along with the newly emerging sub- and supraregional structures will continue to exist, but that their policies will be set through a dialogue with stakeholders. The key will be to disembed the state from its primary reliance of the private sector, and to make it beholden to civil society, i.e. the commons, so that it can act as a center of arbitrage. …
“But peer governance remains a clear alternative. If market allocation and corporate hierarchy are the governance model of the market, associated with private property; and if bureaucracy is associated with the state model of governance, then peer governance is clearly the alternative being forged by civil society. It will emerge in its pure form in P2P groups, but its associated values such as relationality (and transparency) will clearly force an adaptation of both market and the state. This is why we will say elsewhere in the text that one of the key goals of a P2P movement will be, or should be, ‘For a Commons-based Society with a reformed market and state’.” (source)
One thing this means is that peer governance differs from traditional democracy, particularly representative democracy:
“It is important to distinguish the peer governance of a multitude of small but coordinated global groups, which choose non-representational processes in which participants co-decide on the projects, from representative democracy. The latter is a decentralized form of power-sharing based on elections and representatives. Since society is not a peer group with an a priori consensus, but rather a decentralized structure of competing groups, representative democracy cannot be replaced by peer governance.” (source)

Peer governance, then, should lead to a new kind of state — the partner state, as successor to the welfare state — that serves as a pro-commons arbiter within the new triarchy:
“The role of the state must evolve from the protector of dominant interests and arbiter between public regulation and privatized corporate modes (an eternal and improductive binary choice), towards being the arbiter between a triarchy of public regulation, private markets, and the direct social production of value. In the latter capacity, it must evolve from the welfare state model, to the partner state model, as involved in enabling and empowering the direct social creation of value. …
“The state becomes a at least neutral (or better yet: commons-favorable) arbiter, i.e. the meta-regulator of the 3 realms, and retreats from the binary state/privatisation dilemma to the triarchical choice for an optimal mix between government regulation, private market freedom, and autonomous civil society projects.” (source)
• Wrap-up comment

The above conveys most of the notes and quotes from my old draft for this post. This may be all I can do to fill out the old Part-2 post. If I ever do more on these themes, it’ll surely be as a new separate post. And I may well do more, for Bauwens has done other very interesting writings back then, and since, that I’ve not fully explored so far for the sake of TIMN.

My old notes indicate one other matter I meant to cover in this missing post: Bauwens’ ideas about the future of competition and cooperation. I no longer know where I was going to fit it under the above headings, but it’s too significant to just leave out of this update, even though my Part 1 and 3 posts about Bauwens' work did discuss it a bit.

Basically, P2P theory and its implications — notably for the topics of this post: civil society, the commons, and peer governance — reflect a view of cooperation whereby P2P social values and organizational designs spread throughout society. In his own words, Bauwens looks forward to societies where people value sharing, solidarity, self-reliance, self-management, and voluntarism — where they believe in community, are not driven by power and profit, and have stakes in benefiting society.

In short, P2P theory anticipates the evolution of future societies in which cooperation is as important as competition, where “cooperative individualism” is valued (source), and  where “out-competing may depend on out-cooperating” (source). The T and +N parts of TIMN are not much different in such regards, as further discussed in Part 3.


- - - - -

Note: I slightly edited some quotes in spots to correct what appeared to be minor typos and orthographic slips in the original.

Note: I made an effort to see that notes and quotes I used in this post were not already used in the Part-1 and Part-3 posts about Bauwens’ partner-state concept. But I may have missed some overlaps.

Note: A few quotes refer to work by two of Bauwens’ favorite reference-points: Alan Fiske (on communal shareholding) and Bob Jessop (on metagovernance). I offer brief discussions of their frameworks in a separate post (here).



Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Updates about missing posts (2nd of 5): “TIMN: some implications for thinking about political philosophy and ideology, cont. (3rd of 3 parts)”


This is the second post in a series that revisits the prospects for finishing five missing posts from years gone by. It continues my hesitant effort to revisit the prospects for those posts. See the first post in this series for context and explanation (here).

As highlights of this post, I’d point to the insightful forward-looking quotes from writings by Michael Sandel, Steven Hayward, Michel Bauwens, and David Bollier.

* * * * *

What this post — “TIMN: some implications for thinking about political philosophy and ideology, cont. (3rd of 3 parts)” — was going to say


TIMN provides as good an optic as any other out there for trying to discern future political philosophies and ideologies. So I’d like to finish this post someday. But whether or not I do, I’ve already done numerous posts in recent years, identified later, that amount to spin-offs about this theme.

This 2009 series was supposed to have three parts. Part 1 was about the past. It showed that history’s major political “isms” and “ocracies” can be analyzed — deconstructed, interpreted — as expressions of particular combinations of TIMN. Part 2 was about the recent present. It claimed that America’s two dominant ideologies — liberalism and conservatism — are now too triformist (T+I+M) and too exhausted to be suited to the emerging quadriformist (T+I+M+N) era. Most partisans of both liberalism and conservatism remain stuck in narrow government-vs.-market (I vs. M) debates, while other partisans seem inclined to backslide into parochial T-type tribalism. Whatever the case, few seem to see a way beyond their aging triformist views.

This Part 3 was going to be about the future, by scanning for new political philosophies and ideologies that may be emerging across the spectrum to express +N. TIMN itself has its own implications for fashioning future philosophies and ideologies, but the purpose of this post was to use TIMN to assess what was emerging elsewhere. TIMN is not inherently ideological; it is not inherently Leftist or Rightist. But it can be pointed in Left or Right directions, within limits. I regard these attributes as strengths of TIMN.

I made preliminary points about much of this in my 1996 paper about TIMN. So I initially figured I’d write this Part-3 post by revising and updating text from that 1996 paper (P-7967, pp. 30-35). But that approach kept bogging me down, and before I could concoct a better approach, I moved on to other matters.

My old notes for this prospective post are sketchy. But it was set to emphasize two search criteria about future-oriented views from a TIMN perspective:
  • Presence of +N: What matters most for future political philosophies and ideologies is that they have a strong +N element — that they give it a distinct purpose and role, and not just bandy the term “network” in loose ways. The rise of +N depends on its capacity to shape a new realm, not just its capacity to reshape older TIMN forms and their realms.
  • A sense of balance: What also matters is that future philosophies and ideologies express some kind of balance among the TIMN forms — preferably by recognizing the significance of all four forms, their strengths as well as limits for creating desirable societies.
As a result, this post was going to tackle Francis Fukuyama’s forward-looking “end of history” argument. If TIMN is correct, then this “end of history” argument can’t be true. His famed thesis held (1992, p. xi) that “liberal democracy may constitute the “end point of man’s ideological evolution” and the “final form of human government,” … the “end of history.”” And he has persisted with this view, saying (2002), “The basic point — that liberal democracy is the final form of government — is still basically right.”

From a TIMN perspective, Fukuyama’s thesis is thoroughly triformist (T+I+M). It does not grasp that the network form of organization is on the rise and will reinvigorate history by generating quadriformist (T+I+M+N) societies. Liberal democracy may well endure, but not in the conventional end-of-history sense. A new beginning is emerging.

This post was also going to be critical of market-mad — i.e., excessively +M — arguments, mostly espoused by conservative libertarians, which claim that future progress depends on inserting market principles into evermore areas of society. TIMN is fully pro-market, but only to a proper extent that is kept in balance and within limits vis à vis the other forms.

The critique I intended to emphasize back then was Michael Sandel’s, as expressed in four Reith Lectures in 2009. I saved them for the missing post, and they’re worth recalling for his argument that America has evolved from having a market economy into becoming a “market society”:
“[T]he better kind of politics we need is a politics oriented less to the pursuit of individual self-interest and more to the pursuit of the common good. That at least is the case I shall try to make in these lectures. …
“One way of understanding what’s happened is to see that we’re at the end of an era, an era of market triumphalism. The last three decades were a heady, reckless time of market mania and deregulation. We had the free market fundamentalism of the Reagan-Thatcher years and then we had the market friendly Neo-Liberalism of the Clinton and Blair years, which moderated but also consolidated the faith that markets are the primary mechanism for achieving the public good. Today that faith is in doubt. The alternative is to re-think the reach of markets into spheres of life where they don’t belong. We need a public debate about what it means to keep markets in their place. …
“My general point is this. Some of the good things in life are corrupted or degraded if turned into commodities, so to decide when to use markets, it’s not enough to think about efficiency; we have also to decide how to value the goods in question. Health, education, national defence, criminal justice, environmental protection and so on - these are moral and political questions, not merely economic ones. To decide them democratically, we have to debate case by case the moral meaning of these goods in the proper way of valuing. This is the debate we didn’t have during the age of market triumphalism. As a result, without quite realising it, without ever deciding to do so, we drifted from having a market economy to being a market society.” (source)
Sandel makes a vigorous case against taking +M to an extreme. That is consistent with TIMN. Yet his laudable communitarian call for rebalancing via “a new politics of the common good” does not make him a proponent of +N. Indeed, he never mentions networks as a useful form of organization. The closest he comes in what I’ve read is in a comment about civil society:
“What I think we need to try to do is to try to build institutions of civil society that cut across national boundaries and provide ways of debating questions that spill across borders. And also to build up those forms of civil society that may be closer to citizens than national assemblies are, or national newspapers, so that more local particular sites within civil society can contribute to a rejuvenation of democratic discourse.” (source)
In short, Sandel’s views are in line with my understanding of TIMN — but sparingly, for there’s not much +N in them.

Somewhat in the same vein, but from a conservative angle, is the following quote I expected to include by Steven Hayward:
“The single largest defect of modern conservatism, in my mind, is its insufficient ability to challenge liberalism at the intellectual level, in particular over the meaning and nature of progress. In response to the left's belief in political solutions for everything, the right must do better than merely invoking "markets" and "liberty."” (Hayward, 2009)
He’s right — it’s certainly important for TIMN how the “meaning and nature of progress” get treated. Indeed, most of this post was to be about new visions of progress.

Above all, then, I intended to call attention to the most fully +N formulation that I could find at the time anywhere on the political spectrum: the P2P (peer-to-peer) theory proposed by Michel Bauwens. It bothered me not a bit that his approach was well to the Left. Rather, it helped confirm my sense that theorists on the Left were coming to grips with network/+N implications far more than were theorists on the Right. At the time I couldn’t find anything comparable on the Right (and still can’t), where the most forward-looking thinking was (and still is) mainly about heightening the +M part of TIMN, while also constraining the state (the +I part) and reviving family and cultural foundations à la the T part of TIMN.

I won’t reiterate what I might have said about Bauwens’ P2P orientation back then, because, while I never finished this post, I have covered his work in later posts (see below for clarification). What I do want to mention here is that his work, along with others’, pointed to the emergence of a new philosophy/ideology that emphasized a looming renascence of the commons (sometimes called “commonism”). Here are three apropos quotes that I saved to use in this post (and they still make for instructive reading):
“The question is therefore indeed whether [p2p is] just a subsystem, easily integrated in capitalism, as most analysts think, such as Benkler and Lessig say, or whether the post-capitalist logic inherent in the p2p dynamic, will go from seed form to parity to dominance. The latter evolution is the ‘bet’ of the P2P Foundation, but of course, we can’t prove that future, and I fully accept a different scenario, i.e. a different post-capitalist scenario that is oppressive and possible worse than capitalism. However, my insistence of p2p ‘transcendence’ in no way obviates the need for political action and for a unified political movement. If you read our statement of principles, this is one of the key goals, a unifying of social forces that support more equality and justice, and hence, an interconnection of the free culture movements, worker and farmers movements, and “socialized entrepreneurs” that help sustain our commons.” (Bauwens, 2010)
“[T]he new peer to peer left is, will be, not focused on the state, but on the Commons. The core of peer to peer is the autonomous development of civil society, to which the market and the state become servants. Peer to peer is about ‘absolute democracy’, i.e. about extending autonomous and democratic governance (peer governance) to the largest extent possible, beyond politics, into the realms of production (peer production) , co-created culture and participative spirituality. The state, still serves the common good where necessary, but has to provide at least neutral arbitrage between the market and civil society.
“The peer to peer left is a direct emanation of civil society, and not of sections of the state apparatus. … The Commons is primary, the State and the Market are secondary.” (Bauwens, 2010)
“Most ideological debates tend to focus on the relative merits of the state versus markets. I consider that a false choice. They ignore the commons. The commons is an intermediate form of governance and collective provisioning that has its own advantages over large government bureaucracies and impersonal, sometimes-predatory markets. The commons is a voluntary, self-organized political economy that provides important services and goods. It builds social capital. It promotes civic participation. And it often commands greater personal loyalty and moral legitimacy than either governments or markets.” (Bollier, 2009)
From a TIMN perspective, this is a significant development that relates to the rise of +N, the search for making it influential and effective, and the prospects for a new “war of ideas” about how societies should be organized and how progress should be achieved. But I didn’t manage to write any of this up at the time.

Even so, during the ensuing months and years I did go on to write various new posts that expressed many of the themes touched on above:
  • First, in a series of reviews about the future of the state: Phillip Bobbitt’s “market state”, Phillip Blond’s “civic state”, and Michel Bauwens’ “partner state” vis à vis TIMN.
  • Later, in reviews about John Keane’s concept of “monitory democracy”, Steven Johnson’s concept of “peer progressivism”, and James Bennett and Michael Lotus’s concept of “America 3.0”.
  • Along the way, in posts about the likely nature of a +N sector, and related to that, about the rise of the commons and a proposal to create a U.S. Chamber of Commons.
  • I also tried to identify and refer readers to blogs where these and related matters are discussed in TIMN-like ways: notably, the blogs of David Brin and Michel Bauwens.

Thus I’ve continued to pursue the theme of this missing post, even though it per se may never advance beyond this update.

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My notes for this missing post indicate that I was also going to include some TIMN analysis about emerging philosophies / ideologies that were oriented to regress rather than progress: e.g., collapsitarianism and dystopianism; warnings that communism and fascism may be revived in new guises; forecasts of “neo-feudalism” and “neo-medievalism”; tracts decrying modernity and progress; and adaptive ideas for “resilient communities” and “transition towns” as ways to defend against the dawn of dark times. As John Robb noted in a quote I saved: “I suspect that without fallback positions like resilient communities, much worse would happen. It prevents the mob.” And I also figured a well-known quote from Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks would fit into the post: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

Including a section on this would have helped re-affirm that TIMN is useful for understanding regress as well as progress. Particularly relevant is a TIMN observation that visions of despair about civilization, modernity, and progress normally begin and end by lamenting a demise of communal life and a yearning for its renewal. What becomes important in such views, then, is the tribal/T form. People want to re-unite around it anew, the more so when they claim that the +I and +M forms have failed them. And of course today this often gets tied to hopes for the +N form, and hence for T+M combinations. Reflections in this vein, according to my old notes, include Robb’s notions of “networked tribes” and “global guerrillas” as well as Jay Taber’s views about “how tribal institutions and networks can lead the way in democratizing capital ownership — what I consider the most vital of human projects for a sustainable future.”

While I didn’t get far with researching this theme at the time, at least I nodded to it in a subsequent post which noted that “collapsitarians and dystopians across the ideological spectrum argue that many states and other big hierarchies are goners, markets have become too ruinous, and thus the future belongs to whoever can best cluster together around tribal and network modalities.” I still hope to do a full separate post about this someday.

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[EDITED — April 3, 2014: To reduce bulk, I deleted two appendices and references to them in the text. If any reader is curious, what was Appendix A came from my 1992 RAND paper on TIMN (P-7967, pp. 30-35), and what was Appendix B came from my 1991 journal article on cyberocracy (RP-222, pp. 282-283). I also deleted a closing afterthought, based on Appendix B, that did not reflect my original notes for this post (but might make for a good post on its own some other time).]




Sunday, March 23, 2014

Updates about missing posts (1st of 5): “Millenarian terrorism — an STA perspective (4 of 4): implications for policy and strategy”

Months ago, I was reminded of five past series of posts that I never finished — each is missing one post. The missing five, listed chronologically with oldest last, are:
  • Q’s & A’s about “TIMN in 20 minutes” (7th of 7): toward a mathematics of TIMN
  • What the Occupy Protests Mean: A TIMN Interpretation (Part IV) — Consequences and Implications
  • Bauwens’ “partner state” (part 2 of 3) … vis à vis TIMN
  • TIMN: some implications for thinking about political philosophy and ideology, cont. (3rd of 3 parts)
  • Millenarian terrorism — an STA perspective (4 of 4): implications for policy and strategy
This series reviews what those missing posts might have said, and what might yet be done about them. While this series may interest few readers, it enables me to do a little house-keeping: revisiting what’s up with those missing five, and nodding at what they may yet offer for filling out bigger pictures about TIMN and STA. I’ll go through them in chronological order, starting with the oldest.

By now, months after first deciding to do this update, I don’t regard this series as particularly interesting or helpful. I even made two false starts, now deleted, at posting this series. I’ve also wished I’d never started it — that I’d used my time and energy differently. But I’ve sunk so much effort into perusing old notes and drafting this series that I might as well post it. Otherwise I end up with an unfinished (even unpublished) series that is supposed to be about previously unfinished series — how ironic and disheartening that would be. So, I’m hesitantly posting this series despite my qualms. Yet, these posts are not entirely lacking in new content about STA and TIMN. In time, I may even become more glad than grumpy that I did this series.

One highlight of this post is advice that millenarianism, especially as found among terrorists, amounts to an apocalyptic religiosity overlaying an extreme tribalism; thus ways should be found to separate tribalized recruits who are “accidental millenarians” from the true-believer types.

* * * * *

What this post — “Millenarian terrorism — an STA perspective (4 of 4): implications for policy and strategy” — was going to say

Of the five missing posts, this is the one I’m least likely to finish. Even so, I’ve done, and will continue doing, new posts that reflect some of its themes — they’re too gripping and timely to let go of.

I meant to finish this post in 2009, after issuing the first three parts in March 2009. Their purpose was to offer a look at millenarianism, especially millenarian terrorism, from an STA perspective — that is, in terms of the underlying space-time-action orientations that mold and motivate people’s mindsets as well as cultures.

Based on writings by Norman Cohn and Michael Barkun, Part 1 argued that millenarian mentalities, from medieval chiliasm through modern terrorism, are explained better by Barkun’s absolute-disaster model than by conventional frustration-aggression and relative-deprivation models. (It’s one of the most read posts at this blog; why I don’t know.)  Part 2 was about how millenarian tendencies infuse the modern concept of progress, whereby the future can be made different from and better than the past through people’s actions — a key shift in people’s STA orientations centuries ago. Part 3 observed that people who become millenarian terrorists today may do so primarily because of negative shifts in their spatial orientations, even more than in their time and action orientations.

Against this background, Part 4 was going to discuss implications for U.S. policy and strategy. But much as I figured the series should end that way, I didn’t (and still don’t) have clear strong notions as to what those implications are — I’ve only had a few imprecise notions, as follows:

• One notion was that national-security strategists and analysts should recognize that there was/is a significant millenarian strain in much jihadi and other terrorism (as well as in some criminal gangsterism, notably in Mexico). I thought the theme was being neglected back then. And I had my own reasons for thinking so. For I had tried occasionally in small ways years ago to suggest that Al Qaeda and its cohorts should be analyzed, at least a bit, as expressions of millenarianism — whether as millenarians who have a strategic sense, or as strategists who have a millenarian bent. But my few minor pleadings proved to no avail and occasionally led to dismissiveness, sometimes accompanied by erroneous hall-way advice that Islam does not exhibit much millennialism compared to Jewish and Christian histories.

Today, years later, the notion still has difficulty gaining traction among policy analysts and strategists. But I gather it has gained some traction, thanks in part to bloggings and other writings by such experts as Charles Cameron, Timothy Furnish, John Hall, Richard Landes, and Jean Rosenfeld, not to mention others. I recommend that interested readers turn to them.

• I also meant to reiterate that strategists and analysts would be well advised to focus on the spatial orientations of prospective and active terrorists, including millenarians. Many efforts are underway around the world for analyzing how to counter if not prevent violent extremism, and it’s my view that STA could do better than much of what I’ve seen written-up.

While I did not finish this particular post, I did go on to reiterate an STA-oriented view about spatial orientations among terrorists, though not specifically millenarians, in a 2013 post titled “Terrorist mindsets: importance of spatial orientations — using STA to analyze the Boston Marathon bombers” (here). I’m also preparing to review a book that discusses terrorists’ time orientations; and I will observe anew that the authors’ analysis is insufficient and would be much improved by attending as well to spatial orientations — better yet, to the full STA triplex.

If/when I get around to viewing millenarian terrorists from an STA perspective again, care must be taken in claiming that their spatial orientations may be more significant than their time orientations. After all, millenarianism is about breaching into a new future. But while the millenarian mindset is knotted up with urgent notions about time (the “end times”), it is also about space (e.g., barriers everywhere) and action (e.g., violent deeds to achieve divine breakthroughs). What’s crucial to millenarians is apocalyptic “time war” (term from Rifkin, 1987), more than a spatial “clash of civilizations” (Huntington, 1993).

• I also wanted this missing post to make points about millenarianism in relation to tribalism. In a sketchy sense, today’s hard-core millenarians often represent an apocalyptic reaction to modernity. They want to purify and restore (exactly what varies), and they double-down if resisted. They claim to speak in God’s spiritual terms and proclaim high-minded values; but more often than not, they appeal to mundane notions about pride, honor, respect, and dignity, about seeing that their followers cohere like a family, and eventually about wrath, vengeance, and reclamation against outsiders and non-believers — all classic traits of TIMN’s tribal form, both its bright and dark sides. Thus, what millenarians seek are recruits who can be tribalized to an extreme, for millenarianism amounts to an apocalyptic religiosity overlaying an extreme tribalism.

As millenarians look for recruits, they tend to attract some who are “accidental millenarians” (to play on Kilcullen’s 2009 term “accidental guerrillas”). Thus, I was going to include in this post a suggestion that ways be found (à la TIMN and STA) to drive wedges between hard-core millenarians, who are not going to change their minds or relent, and tag-along tribalists who amount to accidental millenarians. The latters’ mindsets are more about tribalism (belonging to the group, expressing solidarity, defending against outsiders) than about millenarianism (blasting into a new future).

Weren’t the monotheistic religions meant to transcend tribalism, so as to commit people to pursuing universal truths about humanity? Yet, I gather that violent millenarian movements — be they Jewish, Christian, Islamic, or whatever — are likely to be terribly tribal. That may be a strength — but it's also a weakness. If so, here’s what may be advisable: Don't focus on questioning their religion, their religiosity. Focus instead on questioning their tribalism, their tribalization of religion, their re-configuring of religion to suit tribalism. Which raises further questions: Why is religion often so tribal? Should it be? When should religion be separated from tribalism?.

While I never finished this post, I did try to raise many of these points in comments at other blog’s where millenarian terrorism came up, usually in posts by Charles Cameron. A collection of these comments appears in my 2010 post titled “Incidentals (4th of 5): apropos terrorist mindsets (à la STA and TIMN)” (here). Also, partly apropos, I concocted a speculative future scenario about a conflict in South Asia, 50 years hence, that features a violent millenarian movement called Black Flag Momentum and its claim that a new prophet was imminent. This appears in a 2010 post titled “Scenarios for the "Afghanistan 2050" roundtable at Chicagoboyz blog: tribes versus networks” (here).

In short, this is a dynamite topic. How it fits with TIMN and STA, and what those frameworks can do to help understand and strategize about it, remain of keen interest. Nonetheless, I’m still unlikely to finish this missing post, though I do intend to keep coming up with episodic points to put in other posts, here and elsewhere.