ox4 Notes III: Money and Patterns

Franz Nahrada (photo by Phoebe)This post continued my coverage of the ox4 conference (part 1, part 2). The topic of Raoul Victor’s talk was Money and Peer Production. He pointed out that money as a dominant social relation emerged only with capitalism. In pre-capitalist societies, most social relations weren’t based on money and symmetric exchange. That’s an important reminder since people often believe that money and markets are more or less neutral tools which can be used for non-capitalist purposes, since they are far older than capitalism. They forget that money and markets have never been the primary means of organizing production in any non-capitalist society, they only played minor, supporting roles. Money cannot become the dominant social form outside of capitalism, and capitalism cannot exist without money.

Raoul also explained that money is just the incorporation of symmetric exchange; you cannot abolish money without abolishing exchange, and vice versa. Money emerges spontaneously when it is needed, e.g. cigarettes were used as a substitute money in times of war. When markets are forbidden but there is no other adequate way of organizing production and distribution, black markets appear—markets in their worst form. So money can only be abandoned by getting rid of its root cause: exchange.

Peer production isn’t based on exchange (it’s based on contributions, I would add), and therefore makes money superfluous and useless in the areas where it is successful. Whenever social relations aren’t based on exchange, money disappears automatically—that’s the case, for example, in the production and distribution of free software, which is abundant and not scarce.

“Peer money” is a contraction in terms, because money incorporates the capitalist logic (the logic of exchange), which is totally different from the logic of peer production.

Today, capitalist companies are heavily involved in peer production, but they are forced to accept at least parts of the new logic in order to do so successfully. In the 12th and 13rd century there have been many hybrid forms between feudalistic and capitalist production; it’s not surprising that we’re now seeing something similar between capitalism and peer production. Then, like now, there were many conflicts between the old logic and the new one. As long as the old doesn’t manage to subjugate the new, we’re on the right track.

Money is still needed in many areas where the old logic dominates, but is has already become largely obsolete in others (such as software and knowledge). In a fully developed peer society, there won’t be need for symmetric exchange, and thus for money.

The last talk of the second day was by Franz Nahrada (photo above): A Pattern Language of the Postindustrial Society. Franz tries to connect two sources: Marshall McLuhan, who coined the term “Global Village”, with his theory of media; and Christopher Alexander, who invented the concept of pattern languages, with his theory of patterns. These are very different thinkers, but they both understand the world as interplay of related, interacting processes.

For Franz, there are different source of change which must come together—free software is not the only germ form (Keimform) of a new society. Rather, there are several important processes and developments which so far develop more or less in isolation but which need to be connected (free software, permaculture, and others).

Franz’s goal is to create a pattern language for the post-industrial society. Doug Schuler has started a similar effort (“Liberating Voices! A Pattern Language for Communication Revolution”), but he decided to fork since Doug’s patterns are mainly “opposition pattern,” about how to organize opposition against the state and the market. Franz is instead interested in positive patterns for a new, post-industrial society.

He discussed or mentioned various patterns, including: commons; fractality and subsidiarity; voluntary, self-driven culture; self-directed cultural communities; hypercycling and social hacking (solidarity economy, cooperatives etc.); living systems (permaculture, regenerative design); flexible fabrication; learning center; life maintenance organization. For me, these pattern seemed a somewhat wild and vague mixture, and no consistent picture began to emerge (while consistency and interconnectedness of purpose and spirit are distinguishing elements of Alexander’s really remarkable architectural patterns). But maybe that’s only a matter of time…

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