What is decomposition?

Decomposition of the global economic, political, and social system surrounds us and affects all of social life, from international to personal relations. Understanding decomposition and its scope is the first step to being able start overcoming it here and now.

Decomposition is what we call the simultaneous destruction of the two main institutions of current society: the state and the market. Neoliberalism is associated almost exclusively with the erosion of the welfare state, but in economies with overscaled businesses and highly concentrated capital, deregulation can’t be done on principle without hopelessly hurting the market. In fact, while the neoliberal state is a state that is fleeing from its responsibility for social cohesion, the neoliberal market is a market with a phobia of the concept of competition that describes liberal economic models: financial deregulation goes hand in hand with laws made to suit new sectors that are attractive to investment, and social cuts serve to pay direct economic rents to big businesses. Without any sense of irony, agreements between oligopolists are called free competition, and barriers to entry are called equality of opportunities. For the immense majority of people, the State is becoming a weaker and weaker guarantee, without the market being presented at any time as an alternative or refuge. The market that current generations know has never been anything but an alien, adverse, and inaccessible space. And with a concentrated market and a self-marginalized and captured state, which has become a big factory of economic rents for overscaled capital, the result could only be an exponential increase in inequality.

Decomposition goes far beyond the direct consequences of the State’s abandonment of the tools of social cohesion. It is the form that life takes under a captured State–from “crony capitalism” to copyright and from corruption to the “tax on the sun”–and a market concentrated on global oligopolies and local rent-seeking monopolies–from the recentralization of the Internet to “Big Pharma” and from telcos to electric companies.

But decomposition is not something characteristic of certain countries or policies, although certain policies can accelerate it and each country experiences it to different degrees and in different ways. Decomposition is a global historical stage, because all societies are woven together through a single world market.

In the most affected places on the periphery, where the State was more fragile and the market was never developed inclusively, decomposition became obvious when social sectors expelled from the market and abandoned by the State started to reconnect in more and more places by new organizations: gangs, “commandos,” and drug organizations in the Americas, and para-States in Asia and Africa. These organizations are the decomposed expression of a market defined by networks, traffickers, and global capital, but affirm their kinship and their desire to provide continuity with the State through the monopoly on violence and the development of primitive but systematic social services.

While the two characteristic institutions of capitalism–the State and the market–have been both agents and victims of decomposition, the third great social institution, community, has not escaped, either. In fact, it is most likely the space that has been made the most mundane and painful over the last 30 years. The destruction of the fabric of social relationships and community bonds has not been so great since the “great transformation,” the great wave of commodification that installed industrial capitalism in the eighteenth century.

This dimension of decomposition is doubtlessly the most dangerous because it directly affects the possibilities of overcoming decomposition itself. As we see in the following graphic, while in the ’70s, more than 60% of US citizens of working age believed that could trust “most people,” in 2012, the number of people who said so barely exceeded 20% of those surveyed.

This erosion of the interpersonal basis of human relations translates to a culture of pessimism, of “every man for himself,” of the gloom before the catastrophe, of anguish, of the glorification of individualism and isolation that express the impossibility of thinking that the socioeconomic system can offer any desirable future for the human race.

And the truth is that’s right. The current system does not offer a desirable future. It’s hard to think that we can overcome the decomposition of the system without overcoming the system. So, we need to be able to see in the present beyond what is dominant today to go beyond defensive reactions and build here and now, step by step, the foundations of a new world.

Original post and this translation are in the public domain

Technological biodiversity to jump the walled gardens of the Internet

The dream of the Internet was to be free. Isn’t that everyone’s dream? Without going into detail about what it means to each of us, being free (feeling free) is one of life’s great purposes.

It turns out we take a handful of cables, antennas, modems, servers, protocols, etc., and we personify them. We make them dream of being “free.” But, to many of us, the Internet isn’t just a tool or infrastructure, but an immaterial thing that builds social relationships. Yes, we know the dangers of the Internet. Every day, we try to keep our privacy and intimacy safe in a medium currently ruled by market laws and government control that are far removed from the dreams of those who, more than forty years ago, saw it as a space in which shared knowledge had no limits.

The great confluence of prior “inventions” that ended up becoming the network of networks has also been marked by military, academic, and economic “development.” Each of those groups has diverse, and sometimes antagonistic, interests, but are “forced” to coexist on the Internet one way or another.

Among all these, the ones that interest us are the groups (which are also diverse but more “amorphous”) that, every day, keep building an environment on the Internet that values people and collective processes, privacy and anonymity, the circulation of knowledge, and mutual learning.

Are there still such groups in a technological world marked by “innovation,” startups, lobbyists and the buying and selling of data?

Yes. We are still capable of being indignant about technological authoritarianism and building and feeding free and federated networks. There are still those of us who believe in forums, chat channels, and mailing lists where we can discuss and learn. There are still those who think about free infrastructure, and about cooperative and autonomous technologies. There are still those who work for appropriation and technological rewriting.

This universe of options that still exists, and that are more necessary each day, is what we call technological biodiversity.

Yes, the Internet is today coopted by private infrastructure we can’t do without (let’s be optimistic and think: just for now!) But even as we continue to use those cables and fibers, we can go beyond the private platforms that “everyone” is on (!) and find each other to build other digital (and analog) spaces where we can feel more free, to inhabit them.

“..we’re experiencing a progressive centralization of the Internet, and it’s more and more pressing. This centralization means that even with the incredible variety of debate spaces, plazas, and agoras that exist in cyberspace, we stay in the walled gardens where one of the worst illusions is created: the illusion of community” [we read around 2015 on a friendly blog].

The Internet built on technological biodiversity is “bio” because it also recalls that the materials and “iron” used to interconnect us come from nature, which we’re a part of, and which, as society, we’re devastating in the interest of consumption, planned obsolescence, and perceived obsolescence.

And then, disobeying the orders of every ad that puts the most “advanced” device in front of us, this other technology–popular, underground, autonomous, or whatever it’s called–invites us to question that “advance,” to take back our devices… invites us to touch, disassemble, play with it, and learn what it’s about… It invites us to think beyond simple equipment and to construct ourselves together so those tools can enhance social relationships, and relationships with our natural surroundings that allow us to not abuse them, and to stay “connected.”

Yes, we’re among those who use cell phones and computers. And we’re also among those who who reuse, repair, and add to ways of critically questioning this equipment. In spite of all the daily news that invites us to believe otherwise, we’re also among those who think that digital tools help to create social relationships.

To be sure, to do this, we need to go through the construction and use of tools that accompany our liberating (and tecnofeminist!) social processes. So, it makes a difference which digital tool or server we use for our communications with others.

This crazy modern life is more and more complex. There’s little time for what’s important, because we can hardly take care of what’s urgent. These proposals for technological biodiversity are already urgent and we’re only a few digital steps from walking towards those that already exist, find each other, and smiling on each other there.

Original article and this translation licensed under the PPL

A brief introduction

What’s the deal? Why have a Common Understanding Project?

My objective is to get the cooperative movement and the commons movement talking to each other (hence the coffeehouse motif). There isn’t a predefined destination for this conversation, and it’s entirely possible it won’t have a destination at all. But the overlap in the values each movement holds means that we have a lot, well, in common.

Indeed, the cooperative movement should be understood as the successor to the original commons, at least in the English-speaking world. Common management of resources is called “ancient” in the Magna Carta, but it was steadily crowded out by the interests of the aristocracy (we would call them the 1%) in the 18th and 19th centuries in a process known as “enclosure” (we would call it privatization). The Rochdale Pioneers were–even if not consciously–the re-emergence of that communal spirit.

But the commons are making a resurgence, especially online. Holding and managing a resource in common is an idea that’s easy to grasp. (Garrett Hardin’s notion of a “Tragedy of the Commons” has been thoroughly debunked, and he himself backtracked from it.) The ability to make decisions is spread among those affected by the decisions. In other words, power is decentralized. In still other words, the common people (or “commoners”) are empowered.

This blog will look into how cooperatives and the commons can reinforce each other. Not every post will talk about this expressly, because only a small handful of people are researching this particular aspect, but we’ll go back and forth between the two movements in an attempt to cross-pollinate them.

Also, the articles on this blog will be translated from Spanish (and hopefully other languages, in the future). That way, we get a global view of the movements, and avoid simply reposting content that already exists somewhere else.