Monday, October 29, 2012

Q’s & A’s about “TIMN in 20 minutes” (4th of 7): creation of a new sector?

As explained in the introduction to the first post in this series, it logs comments on my video about TIMN. The introduction also explains how the posts are arranged, and how I’ve approached using commenters’ remarks. Readers should be mindful of caveats I offered there about my presentation of those remarks and my replies.

This post logs the few remarks by commenters who emphasized issues about the rise of networked non-state and non-market actors that represent civil society, and about TIMN’s prediction that this will lead to creation of a new (+N) sector, distinct from the existing public (+I) and private (+M) sectors.

At the time, I was unable to offer much of a response to these welcome comments. So I’ll take this opportunity to add at the end some additional remarks about TIMN’s implications.

TIMN and the expanding roles of sub-state actors

An information-age analyst and strategist — Itamara Lochard — observed that:
“Your comments [that] these new networks / movements such as Occupy Wall Street, Anonymous or the Arab Spring will most likely evolve to a point where they too provide goods is really interesting. Most of what I’ve seen on it has identified them as simply e-protests or e-graffiti… But I’ve wondered whether they are simply that; if and to what extent they reflect either the precipitant or precondition of conflict; and now whether they are indeed a third category as you posit.
“My interest in sub-state actors started by looking at how indigenous religious groups organically provided to the populace in Latin America and Africa what colonial governments couldn’t or wouldn’t; then developed into how societies organized and reacted to totalitarian regimes during the Cold War.
“Your predictions/hunches that these new civic actors must evolve into / provide something more however made me wonder if they could indeed be a modern variant of this old pattern of sub-state actors, or something new altogether in parallel to this other set that still exists…?”
My reply at the time: I quite agree that there has been phenomenal growth in sub-state groups, and that many develop para-state roles. What that may mean for TIMN-type analysis is still full of questions for me. Some sub-state groups seem to resemble or partake of one TIMN form or another. And networking seems to benefit all types. But the extent to which some of this means a new network-based sector is taking shape, as I think it is, is still speculative. If such a sector emerges, it’s origins may well still rest on what you refer to.

Rethinking the education system

A graduate student interested in education and e-learning — James Hobson — commented that he’d “had a few thoughts about TIMN with relation to the UK education system, which I’ve put on my own blog”:
“The reason that this model has such resonance for me is that I see links with the current situation for the education system in the UK. We are currently organised by a mixture of institutional control and market suppliers. The government and its agencies ensure consistency of standards, whilst acknowledging the need for freedom of choice in exactly how services supporting that education are to be provided. Recent events have brought to light the potential for corruption (Garner, 2011; Orr, 2011), and weakened faith in our education system. In particular the accusations tend to rest on how market forces are undermining the integrity of education. The natural reaction of our society is to demand tighter institutional control, and yet this runs contrary to the progression that Ronfeldt describes.”
“It would follow logically from the TIMN framework that allowing networks to play an increased role in our education system could repair the damage and allow new efficiencies to be realised. These networks are yet to be realised, and the future is uncertain, but it is an avenue that might free our education system from the current conflict between institutional control and the undesirable effects of market-based education. As global citizens, we must take it upon ourselves to go forward into this new territory. For my own part I intend to build on this line of enquiry as a subject for my dissertation, in the hope that it might provide a piece in a much larger and evolving puzzle.”
At the time, I replied only briefly: A delight to read. Excellent summary of key points. And I welcome your ideas for exploring TIMN’s potential implications for education. They’re on track with my own sense of TIMN’s implications.

Toward a “commonwealth of networks”

An expert on information technology — Wally Baer — noted that “TIMN doesn’t really come out trippingly on the tongue. How about something like “Toward a commonwealth of networks”?

My quick reply back then said just that “I like the word “commonwealth” and the phrase you suggest. We’ll discuss when I rebound.”  Today, I’m thinking that a rephrasing — “Toward a commonswealth sector” — might also be appropriate. Putting an “s” in the middle would be consistent with what is broached in the coda below: the rise of a commons sector.

Meanwhile, for the past several years I’ve had hopes that the Obama administration would start to move in +N directions. I even thought I’d located, thanks to a blog post by Marcia Stepanek, an office in the White House that would provide impetus: the small Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. Creation of a “social innovation fund” and “social impact bonds” also appeared to be small steps in +N directions. But my hopes have since faded — and they’ll turn into doubts if a Romney administration is next. The lure of patrimonial corporatism is too strong to leave many openings for truly +N innovation.

[UPDATE — OCTOBER 30, 2012:  I’m pleased to see that Stephen Downes took a liking to Wally’s phrase and offered some additional pertinent comments about TIMN at his own blog:
“One thing that's useful about the TIMN model (tribes, hierarchical institutions, markets, and networks) is that it makes it clear that markets are not networks. This isn't always clear in discussions of network mechanics; often people represent network effects as market effects, and confuse (say) the 'invisible hand of the marketplace' with 'the wisdom of crowds'. But the former is a mathematical principle, while the latter is a relational principle. The former counts while the latter associates. The marketplace embodies a logic of competeition, but a network emplodies a logic of cooperation (not, note, collaboration, which is an artifact of institutional organization). That's why a 'commonwealth of networks' makes sense, while a 'commonwealth of markets' is an oxymoron.” (source)]

* * * * *

Coda: Will a +N sector be a commons sector?

Beyond those brief replies, I’d now offer additional clarifications about the little I said in the video on this topic: TIMN does indeed augur that a new sector will gradually emerge. And whether it emerges will be one of the key tests for verifying and validating TIMN.

TIMN heralds, as do many analyses these days, that new network forms of organization are taking hold, altering all that has gone before in so many areas. Yet TIMN remains unique (except for nearly-parallel versions of P2P theory) in arguing that a new +N sector will emerge that will be quite distinct from the established public (+I) and private (+M) sectors.

This new +N sector is as inchoate today as the +I and +M sectors were, in turn, during their emergences centuries ago. And it will surely be decades before the nature of this new sector — its key purposes, priorities, fields of endeavor — become clear and well defined. It has no settled name yet, but thinkers who have sensed its emergence have offered various tries: e.g., third sector, social sector, commons sector, etc.

In keeping with the evolution of such names, notions about this potential sector initially emphasized, beginning a few decades ago, that it would grow around networks of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) representing civil society, independently of state and market actors. And that is still a valid, tractionable notion. But earlier optimisms about such NGOs has given way to increasing doubt and criticism, as many NGOs have turned out to be quite unaccountable and even unethical and disreputable, with some proving to be dependent creations of obscure behind-the-scenes actors. An additional, ideological aspect is that activists on the Left who were initially enthused about NGOs have become discouraged that forces on the Right have gained as much if not more traction from the networked-NGO phenomenon.

As trust in the NGO phenomenon has declined, proponents of developing a new sector that would have strong ethical bases have turned increasingly to the concept of “the commons.” Indeed, the most interesting and auspicious activity in favor of a new sector is developing around this concept (and growing reality?). It has been around for centuries — recall, for example, “the enclosure of the commons” in English history as capitalism took hold. Now the concept is gaining renewed life and new dimensions as a result of the information revolution. This revolution is creating new kinds of commons — e.g., a knowledge commons, potentially a sensor commons — and enabling new ways of organization and governance that appeal to “commoners”. Elinor Ostrom’s winning the Nobel prize in economics for her work on the management of common-pool resources has enthused commoners that they’re on a sensible track. Of further importance, the concept of the commons has great ethical appeal for people who believe in collaborative sharing and openness, among other ideals.

The rise of the commons is being articulated especially on the Left, mostly by proponents of peer-to-peer (P2P) theory. They are taken with proposals for developing a commons sector as an alternative to state and market sectors. So far I see nothing comparable on the Right, though some forward-looking conservatives espouse a related concept that also has appeal on the Left: “stewardship”. From a different but still motivating angle, the commons is also acquiring new impetus in national security and military circles — particularly where “cyber” is treated as a new domain that should be protected along with the traditional air and sea commons.

For all parties and proponents, it remains unclear just exactly what is the commons, what belongs in it, and how and why to develop it. Even so, the concept continues to gain ground, and in my view it is very pertinent to the prospects for a +N sector.

Yet, from a TIMN viewpoint I doubt that the concept is being headed in the most suitable directions by its proponents on the Left. Yes, as they observe, the future potential of the commons is very much about network forms of organization and governance — for me in a +N sense, for them mostly in a P2P sense. And they are producing insightful writings (such as a new book from The Commons Strategy Group, The Wealth of the Commons: A world beyond market & state). However, they keep focusing on the commons mainly in economic terms — as a largely economic endeavor, as a matter of political economy, as a new mode of production “beyond market and state” that can serve as a peer-powered alternative to capitalism. Thus a lot of theorizing on the Left about the commons is quite neo-Marxist. That in itself does not bother me. Nor am I bothered by the anti-capitalist tone; TIMN is entirely pro-market but not entirely pro-capitalist. Rather, what’s puzzling is the intensive emphasis on economic matters — including in treating the rise of the commons as a new way to revive old battles against capitalism, and this time against statism as well.

That kind of emphasis is at odds with TIMN. TIMN means that the +I (state) and +M (market) realms are here to stay, albeit more limitedly, and that futurist thinking about the +N (network-based) realm should be done by figuring out its own nature on its own terms, not by reapplying old ones. The rise of +N depends above all on its capacity to define its own realm, and far less on its capacity to combine with or counter the other forms.

I’ve intended to address this for over a year — initially in a part-2 post for my three-part series on Michel Bauwens’s concept of the partner state, and later in a part-IV post for my four-part series on the Occupy movements. But those posts remain unfinished, absent. So I do not have a lot of backup material handy for my critical remarks. But I leave them above anyway, holding them subject to future revision and refinement.

According to TIMN (as I understand it so far), a new +N sector — and it may well be largely a commons sector — will be focused on addressing issues and offering options that the older forms / sectors are not doing well at. It will help address inefficiencies and externalities that that those older forms / sectors have exacerbated and failed to resolve. It will grow alongside and in balance with those older forms / sectors. It may modify them, and be modified by them; but it will not overwhelm them, nor be overwhelmed by them. Moreover, it will be focused on distinctive issues — and my sense of TIMN remains that these will be mainly social (and only secondarily economic) issues: possibly health, education, welfare, and environmental issues in particular. The networked ways they will be addressed will be largely non-profit, cooperative, for social benefit, and in the common interest (much in keeping with the values and ethics behind P2P theory). And these dynamics will define the new sector, not make it a derivative of the older sectors.

In my view, then, TIMN would raise questions about the intense economic orientation — including the emphasis on new kinds of business-like, socially-entrepreneurial enterprises (e.g., “phyles”) — that dominates some current writings from the Left about the potential for a distinct commons sector. There may well be a future for these kinds of commons-oriented actors and activities; but TIMN implies that they will not form the core of a new +N sector. They may pertain better to a transformed +M sector. Something else is emerging for +N.  I'm not sure exactly what, but notions about developing a “sensor commons” and “monitory democracy” around a new swarm of networked civil-society actors may turn out to be more on track and in tune with TIMN.

If that is one good track to be on, there is already evidence it has appeal across the political spectrum. Note the following quotes, the first from a P2P-oriented anarchist, the second from a conservative blogger — both well-known in their respective circles:
“Networked consumer, environmental and labor activism, with its ability to subject corporate malefactors to boycotts or tort actions, and to expose them to humiliating scrutiny, offers the potential to control and punish bad corporate behavior at least as well as did the regulatory state or the traditional press, and — insofar as they are not prone to the same sorts of cross-institutional collusion — to do an even better job of it. . . It incorporates a large element of what John Keane calls “monitory democracy.” (source)
“My dream is of a Tea Party so large and well funded it can serve as a perpetual monitor of the leviathan. Transparency and crowdsourcing will help.” (source)
A final musing: I keep seeing information-age manifestos by forward-looking thinkers: e.g., The Hacker Manifesto, The Telekommunist Manifesto, The P2P Manifesto, The Open-Source Everything Manifesto, etc. They incline me to think that there should be a TIMN manifesto. Perhaps call it The Quadraformist Manifesto. Meanwhile, whenever I’m asked whether I’m a liberal or a conservative these disturbed and disturbing days, I find it best to reply: “Neither. I’m a quadriformist. And someday you may be too.” Indeed, the question for the future is not how to be a better liberal or conservative in today’s triformist terms, but rather how to become a quadriformist first, and later a new kind of progressive or conservative.

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