There’s a complex piece over at Al Jazeera at the moment on the subject of the worldwide Occupy movement and the new economics it may help to configure. Till now, Occupy has been generally perceived and criticised as an umbrella group of people who obviously know what they disagree with but find difficulty in saying what they’re in favour of.
Also, till now, Occupy has been seen as a mainly political statement of utter rejection of the more immoral sides of latterday economic practice, without offering concrete solutions or alternatives. But the article Al Jazeera published on the 9th of this month, and which can be found here, points us in a different direction completely. The thesis thus described appears to build on solid and pre-existing process as exemplified by the grand American IT corporations which have already cared to get involved with the ecosystems of open source software (the bold is mine):
Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organisationsstresses that companies that work with Linux, such as IBM, “have given up the right to manage the projects they are paying for, and their competitors have immediate access to everything they do. It’s not IBM’s product”.
This, then, is the point I want to make: that even with shareholder companies allied with peer production, the community’s value creation is still at the core of the process, and that the entrepreneurial coalition, to a substantial degree, already follows this new logic – in which the community is primary and business secondary.
If gigantic corporations such as IBM can work out a way of keeping their shareholders onside whilst they work to create libre software, surely it cannot be beyond us to contemplate a society of the common good where that common good is sustained by empowered communities which can choose according to their own particular set of ethical values. From Al Jazeera once more:
[...] Occupy Wall Street set up working groups to find solutions to their physical needs. The economy was considered as a provisioning system (as explained in Marvin Brown’s wonderful book, Civilising the Economy), and it was the “citizens”, organised in these working groups, who decided which provisioning system was appropriate given their ethical values.
For example, organic farmers from Vermont provided free food to the campers, but this had a negative side effect: the local street vendors, generally poor immigrants, did not fare too well with everyone getting free food. The occupiers cared about the vendors and so they set up an Occupy Wall Street Vendor Project, which raised funds to buy food from the vendors.
Bingo: in one swoop, OWS created a well-functioning ethical economy that included a market dynamic, but that also functioned in harmony with the value system of the occupiers. What is crucial here is that it was the citizens who decided on the most appropriate provisioning system – and not the property and money owners in an economy divorced from ethical values.
As I pointed out in my own piece linked to above, the tools of large corporate behaviours can be useful or destructive: it all depends to what organisational purposes they are put and what values are employed to define their implementation. That so many large corporations psychopathically get it wrong doesn’t mean everyone who uses such tools of mass organisation will be tainted by the same behaviours.
Meanwhile, this observation, from the new blog Shifting Grounds, puts the neoliberals of this world firmly in their place:
An ideology that celebrates selfishness and denigrates the common good has been the moral and financial ruin of Britain.
As well as a great many other places around the world.
It may, then, now be the turn of open source strategies and their ilk to allow a protest movement with many relatively passive adherents in a wider society to build on a considerable corporate expertise proven over the a quarter of a century. The challenge, of course, is to find a way of interfacing the powerful with the needy – without losing our moral compasses.
New Labour failed to do the latter.
In the shadow of the moral outpourings of a discarded generation, quite another Labour must not.
Another learning Labour, that is.