[iDC] Immaterial Labor and life beyond utility

Michel Bauwens michelsub2004 at gmail.com
Thu Aug 16 12:09:01 UTC 2007

The last paragraph of this little thought capsule takes a positive view of
the experience economy, as a bridge for a necessary transition from a
subjectivity based on 'having' to one based on 'being'.

The Experience Economy as a bridge between scarcity and abundance:

We live in a political economy that has it exactly backwards.

We believe that our natural world is infinite, and therefore that we can
have an economic system based on infinite growth. But since the material
world is finite, it is based on pseudo-abundance.

And then we believe that we should introduce artificial scarcities in the
world of immaterial production, impeding the free flow of culture and social
innovation, which is based on free cooperation, by creating the obstacle of
permissions and intellectual property rents protected by the state.

What we need instead is a political economy based on a true notion of
scarcity in the material realm, and a realization of abundance in the
immaterial realm. Complex innovation needs creative and autonomous workers
that are not impeded in their ability to share and learn from each other.

In the world of immaterial production, of software, text and design, the
costs of reproduction are marginal and therefore we see emerging in it
non-reciprocal peer production, where people voluntary engage in the direct
creation of use value, profiting from the resulting commons in a general
way, but without specific reciprocity.

In the world of material production, where we have scarcity, and costs have
to be recouped, such non-reciprocity is not possible, and therefore we need
modes of neutral exchange such as the markets, or other modes of

In the sphere of immaterial production, humanity is learning the laws of
abundance, because non-rival goods win in value through sharing. In this
world, we are evolving towards non-proprietary licences, participatory modes
of production, and commons-oriented property forms. Positive forms of
affinity based retribalization are emerging.

But in the world of scarce material goods, a series of scarcity crises are
brewing, global warming being just one of them, that is creating the
emergence of negative forms of competitive tribalizaition.

The logic of abundance has the potential of leading us to a reorganization
of our world to a level of higher complexity, moved principally by the peer
to peer logic.

The logic of scarcity has the potential of leading us to generalized wars
for resources, to a descent to a lower form of complexity, a new dark age as
was the case after the disintegration of the Roman Empire.

So the challenge is to use the emergent logic of abundance, and inject it
into the world of scarcity.

Is that a realistic possibility?

In the immaterial world of abundance, sharing is non-problematic, and the
further emergence and expansion of non-reciprocal modes of production will
be very likely. "Together we know everything", is a rather achievable ideal.

In the material world of scarcity, abundance is translated into three key
concepts that can change human consciousness and therefore economic
practices. The notion of 'together we have everything' seems not quite
achievable, we therefore need transitional concepts.

The first concept is the distribution of everything. This means that instead
of abundance, we have a slicing up of physical resources and the physical
means of production, so that individuals can freely engage and act. This
means an economy that moves towards a vision of peer-informed market modes
such as fair trade (a market mechanism subjected to peer arbitrage of
producers and consumers seen as partners), social entrepreneurship (using
profit for conscious social progress). Objective tendencies towards
miniaturization of the physical means of production makes this a distinct
possibility: desktop manufacturing enables individual designers; rapid
manufacturing and tooling are diminishing the advantages of scale of
industrial production, and so do personal fabricators. Social lending
creates a distribution of financial capital; and the direct social
production of money through software is not far away from being realized in
various parts of the world (see the work of Bernard Lietaer); If indeed
scarcity will create more expensive energy and raw material, a
re-localisation of production is likely, and peer-informed modes of
production will be enabled to a much greater extent.

The second concept is sustainability. Since an infinite growth system cannot
last indefinitely, we need to move to new market concepts as described by
the throught schools of natural capitalism (David Korten, Paul Hawken, Hazel
Henderson), capitalism 3.0 (Peter Barnes' proposal to use trust as property
forms because they impose the preservation of capital), cradle to cradle
design and production processes so that no waste is generated. We need to
move to a steady-state economy (Herman Daly), which is not necessarily
static, but where greater output from nature, is dependent on our ability to
regenerate the same resources.
The third concept is that of sufficiency. Abundance has not just an
objective side, it has a subjective side as well. In the material economy,
infinite growth needs to be replaced by sufficiency, a realization that
status and human happiness can no longer be dependent on infinite material
accumulation and overconsumption, but will become dependent on immaterial
accumulation and growth. Having enough so that we can pursue meaning and
status through our identity as creative and collaborative individuals,
recognized in our various peer communities.

And this is where the experience economy comes in! It is the agent of that
shift, from a need to have, towards the higher needs to be and to
experience. Only a rich experience economy can avoid a culture of
frustration and sacrifice, and the repressions and unhappiness that such
could entail. This experience economy however, will not just be created by
commercial franchises, but there will also be the direct social production
of cultural value. Businesses and peer communities, enabled and empowered by
a partner state, will have to create a rich tapestry of immaterial value,
and the thicker the surrounding immaterial value, the lighter our attachment
to mere having will be.

On 8/16/07, Paul B. Hartzog <paulbhartzog at gmail.com> wrote:
> On 8/13/07, Vasilis Kostakis <kostakis.b at gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> > To begin with, Paul claims ,amongst others, that "the authentic life is
> > always a subversion, a resistance, a revolution, against some attempt by
> > someone else to bind it, to bound it, to define it, to constrain it…"
> > whereas afterwards he states that "to live authentically means to create
> in
> > each moment something that cannot be taken and used for other purposes
> > because it is necessarily invisible to those who would attempt such a
> > theft". To be honest I cannot follow this syllogism as I find it a bit
> of
> > oxymoron. More specifically, supposing that authentic life is a
> revolution
> > against some attempt to bind it, we simultaneously accept that authentic
> is
> > visible to its opponents or in other words to its exploiters.
> Thanks for pointing out my little cul-de-sac :-)  I was thinking that
> the word "attempt" helped to clarify, but on review it seems it didn't
> help much.  Off the top of my head, a weak example might aid:
> Imagine a narrative in which "they" have designs to steal your book of
> Aristotle, because they perceive that it is the source of your power
> to resist their Machiavellian schemes.  What is "invisible" to them is
> that it is your experience of the substance of Aristotle and not the
> possession of the commodity Aristotle that is the source of your inner
> strength.
> > Furthermore, Paul's final conclusion, which I find brilliant, is that
> "the
> > really interesting and revolutionary things going on in the world are
> > invisible to those who would oppose them".  Therefore, I believe that
> the
> > really revolutionary things are visible to their opponents, who,
> however,
> > fail to spot and feel the real essence of them - resembling humans
> despite
> > that they can see the flower and even smell it, they are incapable of
> taking
> > real advantage of it: humans can only cut (by "killing") it, while bees
> > succeed in channelling bliss from it.  In that case both bees and humans
> can
> > see the flower (it is not invisible) , but, to put it in Paul's terms,
> the
> > true substance of the experience -the authentic- belongs entirely to
> bees,
> > and the superficial one to humans.
> Thank you.  Much of the work I have been involved with (futurist work)
> has been for corporate clients.  I have had deep discussions with my
> colleagues as to the possibility that we are fore-warning our enemies
> by teaching them about the economic importance of open-source, or
> cooperation, etc.  These are troubling possibilities.
> What is fascinating however is that by and large they truly seem to be
> incapable of "seeing" the essence of recent changes in production.
> The music industry literally cannot understand the reality of digital
> sharing; they (so far) only see it as epiphenomenal to their
> established (industrial era)  economic processes.  It is an
> aberration, a parasite; it could not stand on its own (they say).
> I will be giving a talk in November at De Montfort about
> Oort-Cloud.org (an endeavor by myself and Richard Adler) and "Social
> Publishing" in general ( http://www.oort-cloud.org/?q=node/2 or
> http://many.corante.com/archives/2006/09/02/social_publishing.php ).
> The notion of social publishing receives the same treatment from
> traditional publishing that music file sharing received from the music
> industry:  almost complete blindness.  It is the same treatment that
> wikipedia receives from traditional encyclopedists (knowledge
> elitists).
> I have yet to find a good metaphor for this, so I am asking for all of
> your help.  A good example from history, of a new process that was
> ignored and/or downplayed by the establishment ("It'll blow over" or
> "It's a fad") would suffice.
> much thx,
> -Paul
> --------------------------------------------------------
> http://www.PaulBHartzog.org
> http://www.panarchy.com
> PaulBHartzog at PaulBHartzog.org
> PaulBHartzog at panarchy.com
> PHartzog at umich.edu
> --------------------------------------------------------
> The Universe is made up of stories, not atoms.
>                  --Muriel Rukeyser
> See differently, then you will act differently.
>                  --Paul B. Hartzog
> --------------------------------------------------------
> _______________________________________________
> iDC -- mailing list of the Institute for Distributed Creativity (
> distributedcreativity.org)
> iDC at mailman.thing.net
> https://mailman.thing.net/mailman/listinfo/idc
> List Archive:
> http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/
> iDC Photo Stream:
> http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/idcnetwork/
> RSS feed:
> http://rss.gmane.org/gmane.culture.media.idc
> iDC Chat on Facebook:
> http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2457237647
> Share relevant URLs on Del.icio.us by adding the tag iDCref

The P2P Foundation researches, documents and promotes peer to peer

Wiki and Encyclopedia, at http://p2pfoundation.net; Blog, at
http://blog.p2pfoundation.net; Newsletter, at

Basic essay at http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=499; interview at
video interview, at

The work of the P2P Foundation is supported by
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/attachments/20070816/3ba0824b/attachment.htm 

More information about the iDC mailing list