I think of as peer-to-peer democratization [as] encompassing the analysis of Netroots organizing, copyfight struggles, basic income advocacy (what I call "pay-to-peer"), and also connections between p2p formations and the history of nonviolent activism, what I think of as p2p peacework or peace in pieces.
Friend of Blog Martin responded in the Moot: "Ironically, the laissez-faire capitalist system of grassroots exchanges of money is 'p2p' while basic income guarantee represents a centralized, 'broadcast' form of economic exchange.
I strongly disagree with this characterization (if I am understanding it aright), but saying why takes us into right into the heart of democratic theory and rhetoric.
First of all, just to get this out of the way, when Martin refers to "the laissez-faire capitalist system of grassroots exchanges of money" as a kind of actually-existing p2p formation it is truly crucial to remind everybody that this "laissez-faire capitalist system of exchanges" does not, nor has it ever, nor could it ever exist.
The formations that we describe as "Market" orders, such as they are, depend on laws backed by force, depend on norms practiced in the context of relatively stable institutions providing for the resolution of disputes beholden to legitimate governance, depend on infrastructure maintained to provide equity for all citizens rather than profit for a minority of owners, and depend on prices articulated by treaties, protocols, agreements, regulations enacted by authorized representatives, and on and on and on and on and on. The actual historical forms that so-called free, so-called spontaneous, so-called natural markets take will actually definitively reflect the particular historical forms of these laws, norms, protocols, treaties, assumptions on which they also depend for their maintenance.
Laissez-faire capitalism and the fantasy of "spontaneous order" are entirely rhetorical constructions deployed by incumbent interests to bamboozle majorities into collaborating in the terms of their own exploitation by incumbent interests who benefit from the indispensable unpaid or ill-paid looting of their common heritage, earthly commons, and their common peers.
These things must be said, else conversations like this, however progressive and democratic their aspirations, will end up endorsing deep assumptions on which incumbent and anti-democratic politics quite to the contrary of our aspirations rely for their ongoing intelligibility and force.
Now, more to the point at hand, what Martin is deploying in his ironic observation is Yochai Benkler's distinction between a Broadcast Media Model and a Peer-to-Peer Model, which Benkler goes on very provocatively and (apparently for Martin as much as for me too) powerfully to subsume under the more general distinction between an Industrial Model and Peer Production Model that can be applied to organization more broadly. Martin and I both agree that this distinction has real salience if we would grasp the significance of emerging shifts in the practice of governance in networked societies.
But it seems to me if you want to apply Benkler's industrial versus p2p figure to governance, the proper place to apply it is to the shift from sovereign to ever more democratic governance, and not as yet another retelling of the right-wing fantasy of Big Brother against Free Markets.
The current Netroots challenge of the Democratic Party corporatist "Machine Politics" and the corporate media via blogs, small campaign donor aggregation, rapid media pushback, public fact-checking, incumbent challenges, and so on very palpably represents a shift from a hierarchical-broadcast-gatekeeper model of partisan politics to a mass amateurization of politics peer to peer. If one locates p2p instead in the place of "spontaneous order" from neoliberal and libertopian ideology, such shifts -- which are the only rival to human influenced ecosystemic change and resource descent as the most significant force afoot in the world at the moment -- become difficult to grasp in their significance or even become invisible altogether.
We all have to push beyond the libertopian figuration of government as always equaling Big Brother and markets as always equaling Spontaneous Order, and then locating violence always on the one side and then nonviolence always on the other, locating centralization always on the one side and decentralization always on the other.
I doubt that Martin is actually entrapped by these metaphors as much as, say, the silly online anarcho-capitalists and dynamists and Randians and the rest are (poor things), but come what may his opening gambit essentially reproduces that conventional market libertarian/neoliberal figure and relies for its force on the intuitive plausibility that comes from that figure's incessant repetition since WWII (as a forceful opposition discourse since Hayek's Mount Pelerin declaration, and as a forceful orthodox discourse since the appointment by Carter of Volcker as Fed Chair and by every Administration, very much including Clinton's, since then).
Grasping what is wrong with this figuration at its heart is key to grasping how specifically deranging it is to read p2p democratization through the lens of this figure, this framing.
Violence inheres in human plurality as a permanent possibility, and human beings are always capable of retroactively justifying any conduct, however violent or unjust, if they have the authority to get away with it. Governments claim and then exercise a monopoly on the legitimate recourse to coercion within particular geographical or jurisdictional bounds. That an authorized minority can and almost inevitably will exercise violence on the majority is another permanent and ineradicable possibility inhering again in the basic fact of human plurality in its actually-existing diversity.
The violent state is ineradicable, not to be wished away by New Age fantasies of a triumph of love over all, nor defined away as free marketeers do when they simply claim that all market exchanges, however duressed, are noncoercive by fiat, nor smashed in some revolutionary's or anarchist's daydream of violence.
The State cannot be wished away or smashed, but at best democratized, tasked to maintain institutions that provide for nonviolent alternatives for the resolution of disputes and to maintain the legible scene of informed nonduressed consent for their citizens, through the connection of a guarantee of representation and legal recourse to any who are taxed to support its ongoing functioning, through the multilateral antagonisms of a separation of powers, through the dedication to a Constitution and delineated Rights invested with a formal universality soliciting foundational investment rendered especially resistant to tampering, through the solicitation of ever wider ever more diverse participation, and so on.
Where governance is backed by the consent of the governed as well as by its ineradicable violence, it can legitimize and so transform the red thread of that violence into one tasked always only with preserving the peace and protecting the scene of consent on which it depends. The creation of this virtuous circle is the great triumph of democratization, to the extent that we have managed through centuries, bit by bit, to institute it, struggle for it, and in struggling through it to invigorate it.
What I worry that Martin is decrying in his response as the "centralization" or "industrialization" of a government regulation and subsidization of p2p formations is in fact the legitimacy that is ineradicably connected to the monopolization of the recourse to violence to preserve the peace and protect the scene of consent.
But the alternative to such centralization is not free love or a market provision of these "services," but inevitably the disintegration of freedom and the reappearance of the tyrannical sovereign "centralized" form of authority at the local level. p2p won't smash the state (nor should anybody in their right mind want to smash the state), but p2p can facilitate its ongoing democratization to the emancipation of us all.
As it happens governments (even the cranky minarchist Founding Era United States) have always subsidized the media infrastructure on which they depend for the administration of trade, intelligence, and defense, from roads, to postal services, to universities and presses, to telegraphy and telephony, to radio, to television, to the internet. Subsidizing peer production practices with a basic income guarantee (my "pay-to-peer" scheme) would be an extension of this practice, even further substantiating the democratic civilizational ethos that citizens are peers rather than clients of or footsoldiers for self-appointed elites.
That this development would not properly be described as "centralized" or "broadcast" or "industrial" in essence -- even if a neoliberal/libertopian mindset will assume otherwise since the development is to be brought into being in the first place only through the administration of a legitimate governance tasked to provide equity to all its diversity of stakeholders -- would surely be substantiated through a survey of its actual effects, which in my expectation would be a massive expansion and leveling of the actual practices of public agitation, organization, participation, criticism, collaboration, contestation, and so on.
p2p democratization so far has emerged out of some really small changes in transaction costs for certain kinds of organized activity, changes so small that almost nobody ever grasps their significance until they find themselves wallowing in the effects.
We must never underestimate the impact of losing Net Neutrality battles, losing media consolidation battles, losing copyfight battles, losing privacy battles on the ongoing p2p revolution. There is nothing inevitable in this marvelous thing that is happening around us (in the nick of time, given the bloodyminded lies and crimes of the Right and given the unprecedented crises arising from our long abuse of the environment). We have to fight for it. p2p democratization is technodevelopmental social struggle. Instituting Net Neutrality, breaking up media monopolies, providing free fast wifi everywhere, subsidizing p2p with basic income can make p2p practices harder to circumvent and strengthen democracy, but these measures require struggle.
It's far too early for triumphalism, especially any foolish triumphalism inspired by faith in the fantasy of inherently libertory technologies presumably at hand. Neoliberal forces and market libertarian ideology are nothing but obstacles to the actual political work at hand.