P2P tutorial, Part II-Bangkok Post

October 24, 2008

[FACT comments: More on the conspiracy to ruin P2P. P2P is obvious too dangerous for real people to make decisions collectively.]

How about a new open money system we can manage ourselves?
Robin Good
Bangkok Post Database: October 22, 2008


This concludes a two-part interview where Michel Bauwens speaks to Robin Good, the publisher of Master New Media.


A new world order is emerging, one that could underpin governance, social systems, the economy and financial systems, and which is based around peer-to-peer (P2P) principles.

One of the foremost advocates of how “P2P Society” might change our world is Michel Bauwens, the founder of the Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives, a global research collective that researches peer production, governance and property formats.


Bauwens lives in Chiang Mai and before moving to Thailand he had an active career as an internet entrepreneur and as eBusiness strategy manager for a major telecommunications company.

Acknowleged as an Internet pioneer, Bauwens has also co-produced a three-hour TV documentary, TechnoCalyps, an in-depth examination of ‘transhuman’ technologies and their implications.”

In this, the second in a two-part series, he completes his picture of the P2P landscape by looking at why some people are afraid of P2P, at how P2P can change our monetary system and at the relationship between people and technology.

The interview is conducted by Robin Good of MasterNewMedia (http://www.masternewmedia.org), who has granted permission for us to republish it here.

Robin Good: Why are people afraid of P2P?

Michel Bauwens: I think it is the issue of expertise. The fear of dumbing down. The fear that if you broaden participation the people who know more will be lost in the masses. And I think the more hierarchical a society is, the more power experts have, and the more fear they have of losing it.

I think in some countries for example, like in France, they get more easily angry than in others. So, there’s this fear that if you open up that the people who know less will take power. And the quality of society will go down. And it’s a fear that I recognise.

I think peer-to-peer runs a danger in some circumstances of having that effect. I don’t think it’s inherent to peer-to-peer. I think it’s bad design, bad governance, that leads to those kind of processes. And now we have value-conscious design, a value-sensitive design that designs for diversity, for autonomy, for selection of excellence. And are the best processes to do that better than even other forms of social organisation.

I think this fear is the same fear of democracy. When people started arguing that everybody had the right to vote. There was a very similar fear that democracy would bring the rule of the mob. Now we have had 200 years of democracy and democracy is far from perfect. But who wants to go back to an authoritarian state? Not many people want to go back.

It is the same thing with peer-to-peer. Once it’s there… once you’re used to it, when you have problems, you try to solve it in a peer-to-peer way. We don’t want to go back to the old systems.

How can P2P change our monetary system?

I define peer-to-peer as a direct social production value by civil society.

And when you look at money, money is created by banks through their loans and it’s regulated by the central banks. One of the things that we also discovered in peer-to-peer is the importance of invisible architectures. The kind of protocol, the design rules that favours some kind of behaviour and make other kinds of behaviour difficult.

So I think that what this shows us is that these protocols of money today, interest-based money, are protocols which drive infinite growth. Infinite growth in a finite system. So I think that this is not a good thing – this kind of monetary system which is based on fighting for scarce resources. And so the scarcity is for the people who need it. And then you have 98 percent of the money which is floating around speculatively and creating one bubble after another. I don’t think this is a very good system.

Now how would a system like this change? Well of course the people who would profit from it are not going to change it. So what if we create an open money system that we can manage ourselves? That we can choose a protocol from? And that virtual and physical communities can start using from the bottom up. I would say that’s one of the particular changes that could happen through peer-to-peer.

The other one is the following: to have peer-to-peer, you have access to your own resources. So today we have our brains, we have a community of surplus. We have computers. We have access to the networks. And that allows us to do immaterial cooperation. So we can do everything that’s not physical stuff. We can do it already through peer-to-peer.

Now, when machines start becoming miniaturised, we will have desktop manufacturing, personal fabricators, flexible manufacturing, multi-purpose machinery. All these trends point to capital becoming cheaper and more distributed.

When financing becomes more distributed, which is the point of social lending (like Prosper – the American system or Zopa – the English system). That means that people can get money from each other.

Then we have: computers are distributed, machines are getting distributed, and money is getting more distributed. What it does is it augments the peer-to-peer in society. So that peer-to-peer production can move from pure knowledge production to open design for machinery, to actually making things in a more peer-to-peer way. And finding the capital to do it as well.

All these are not changes that are happening overnight. But I think the change is moving in that direction. So in the next 10, 20, 30 years, we’ll see more of these different steps taken up by different people and creating the basis for another type of society which I call the peer-to-peer society.

Could Peer to Peer provide an alternative currency?

Open money for me is a particular type of alternative currency which has the capacity to follow different rules.

The important thing is not to have an alternative currency which does the same thing as the old. The important thing is to have new rules for that currency. As long as they are local currencies, they can’t scale. So what I am thinking of are open money systems which are virtual (through the Internet) and can therefore scale globally and be an interchange between different communities.

How can P2P continue to grow?

I think that the most important thing for peer-to-peer to grow is through example. And that is really what the Peer-to-Peer Foundation wants to do.

We want to be an inter-networking platform, where people in the open and free, participatory, and community oriented movements (in whatever field they are) can publicise their efforts, can see who else is doing something similar and can share experiences.

And when people see that peer-to-peer ways of doing things are more efficient… are more pleasant… are more democratic, they will find more and more in common with it. So I think that we are at the very beginning of that revolution where people are beginning to see that.

What is the relationship between people and technology?

The engineers who created the Internet did it for scientific research and for peer review and exchanging information amongst peers. And gradually as the internet became more and more popular then there were more and more centralised elements within it. Now this is true, and the Web, for example, is a client-server system. But I think the important thing is not to get blinded by technology.

It’s really about the people. Can you as individuals produce information, share it, distribute it? And can I as a user find it, take it, and use it? As long as those things are guaranteed we have peer-to-peer human relationships.

And of course we have to be careful about the technology. We have to look at it, we have to see who is in charge… who owns it, what the rules are, and we have to be careful about it. But we shouldn’t be blinded by the technology.

It’s really about enabling and empowering human participation. That’s the key. And sometimes what peer-to-peer does is in a pure way it might make systems less efficient. Take Napster, Napster was more efficient because it had a centralised database. But that made it vulnerable. So politically the file-sharing community was obliged to go more purely peer-to-peer not because it was technically superior but because they wanted a system that couldn’t be broken. That is a political decision.

You have to make a balance between going in a more pure peer-to-peer way and maybe having more redundancy, or going toward more efficiency with more centralised elements. But then they are more vulnerable to ownership and control. So this is a technical decision not a philosophical decision. You have to see what is happening concretely in order to make those decisions.

In general we have to have a preference for distributed systems because that is what allows people to be in charge of their own productive resources.

The P2P Foundation researches, documents and promotes peer to peer alternatives. There is a Wiki and Encyclopedia at http://p2pfoundation.net; a blog, at http://blog.p2pfoundation.net; Newsletter, at http://integralvisioning.org/index.php?topic=p2p, Delicious tags at http://del.icio.us/mbauwens

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