Why I’m not ready to jump on the P2P bandwagon

Because Governance of Peer Production is Meritocratic, not Egalitarian. My watchwords are Equality, Liberty, Sorority and Fraternity (the latter two more in the French sense of “brotherhood” than the “Greek” sense of secret societies). I put Equality before Liberty not because I consider equality a strictly higher priority than Liberty, but because I don’t see the promotion of Liberty as an “under-served market.” On the other hand, I just provided another example of how hard it is to escape the logic of the market. 🙂 In my defense, I do drop frequent disclaimers that at least half of what appears at the present blog might be in the spirit of devil’s advocacy.

Back to the Governance of Peer Production; maybe my anarchist-sympathizing soul is opposed in principle to Governance, which sounds suspiciously like Government. Or maybe I’m opposed in principle to Meritocracy, which ends in the -ocracy suffix, which is usually more or less synonymous with the -archy suffix. In my defense, I’ve promoted Meritocracy over Promotion (e.g. here and here). This is largely because I’m a frank aspie and I am a lot less (a LOT less) intimidated by civil service exams than by J.O.B. interviews, let alone “networking,” “elevator pitches” and other increasingly-mandatory practices that from my perspective look like extreme feats of extroversion. While posting those essays, the -ocracy at the end of meritocracy was of course sticking in my craw, as of course is the obvious problem that civil service jobs are government jobs and therefore not suitable for a practicing anarchist. My nebulous policy statement is “let’s extend civil-servicey humyn resources praxis to the private sector,” with “policy statement” walked back to “best practices norm” for the sake of anarchy, but in the name of all that is sacred, can’t we advocate these practices ASSERTIVELY?

Back to the Governance of Peer Production; reading about its Governance reminded me that, while there’s no I in team, there demonstrably is an -ocracy in Meritocracy. In short, the essay served as a wake-up call that it’s high time that I explicate that while I prefer Meritocracy over Promotion, I prefer Egalitarianism over Meritocracy. Egalitarianism-bashing has become fashionable even in progressive circles, where its not unheard of that outing myself as an Egalitarian gets me reflexively called insulting names such as Diana Moon Glampers. Maybe all I’m really asking for is a little Inclusivity. The social and economic forces that galvanized me into an Anagorist consist of nothing more than

  • The experiences of a foolish youth with a resume too short on experience and therefore too long on education.
  • The experience of living in a culture in which one’s J.O.B. is literally one’s Justification Of Being.
  • The experience of discovering the Internet during its relatively innocent period in 1991, but nevertheless being assaulted by ALL CAPS verbiage in misc.jobs.misc along the lines of THREE PLUS YEARS OF FULL TIME PAID NON-ACADEMIC EXPERIENCE ENTRY LEVEL NEED NOT APPLY AND WILL NOT BE CONSIDERED.
  • The experience of listening to sanctimonious assholes whose current fad is calling themselves “the 53%,” who say “I wish everyone was willing to work” when what they mean is “I wish everyone was able to sell themselves.”

The experience of being ineligible to claim any experience at all.

To add injury to insult, it turns out that in the New Economy, even unpaid volunteer work is a privilege, not a right. The market value of the data entry and other back-office gigs even I was able to drum up back in the Halcyon Nineties has fallen literally to pennies or fractions of a penny as evidenced by the existence of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. As Felix Stadler tells us, anyone can be a user of free open-source software, but not everyone can be a contributor. This mirrors the 53% mentality perfectly. According to those reactionaries with their creative accounting methods, 53% of the American population are taxpayers, which is to say, contributing members of society. Part of the emerging message discipline of the right is to rebrand clients/beneficiaries/etc. of the safety net as consumers/users/etc. The “everyone can be (and in fact is) a consumer but not everyone can be a producer” mindset is the essence of the market, and I see no solid reason to believe that the so-called freed-market somehow negates this fact. Assuming you have money (and money is money—a “welfare consumer” has money, at least for a few moments now and then) the market economy offers no resistance to the privilege of consuming at least some amount of economic goods. The privilege of being an economic producer, a contributor, on the other hand, is a well-guarded fortress. Competition itself is an entry barrier and therefore a barrier to the unattainable ideal called perfect competition. And yet, production is a pre-requisite for consumption. Solvency requires producing at least as much as you consume. And of course dignity requires solvency. People who have lived under Big-C Communism talk of (i.e. lecture Egalitarians about) a world in which even buying grocieries requires connections, references, the Gift of Gab, scary-smart shrewdness and other stuff a lucky Citizen of Capitalism like me thinks of as weapons for penetrating Fortress Employment. Each individual has their economic inputs as a consumer and hopefully economic outputs as a worker. In a market economy they deal with the Business Community, whose dealings with individuals has its inputs as an employer and outputs as a retailer. For each, solvency happens when outputs meet or exceed inputs. An individual is an individual, while a business is an institution (I *Hate* using the word “collective” as “the opposite of an individual,” BTW) so of course individuals are encouraged, yea pressured to consume, but at best invited to run the gauntlet to see if they’re “good enough” to produce. The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor the solvency to the institutionalized. The previous sentence is ironic. This is why, in spite of my sympathy to the anarchist cause (or at least the anarcho-communist cause), I see no way around some kind of basic income guarantee, except Frank Social Darwinism. Back to the Governance of Peer Production; Mr. Stadler wants me to believe that Benevolent Dictatorship and Voluntary Hierarchy are somehow not oxymorons, while the less starkly contrasting and less antisocial Egalitarian Meritocracy is. No thank you, Mr. Stadler, I don’t want to buy any of what you’re selling.

Perhaps the days are over in which a brainchild released into the public domain can serve as an individual’s “calling card” or even a one-time waiver of the ENTRY LEVEL NEED NOT APPLY clause, simply because of all the coding projects of one-person scale are a sort of low-hanging fruit that has already been harvested. In the spirit of the New Economy in which even the supposedly nerdy jobs like engineering and accounting require SOLID COMMUNICATION SKILLS BOTH ORAL AND WRITTEN, even contributing to the open source movement requires People Skills. If the tone of what you just read (If you’re still with me a big THANK YOU btw) seems abrasive, it’s because right now the future looks to me like a Very Scary Place. I’m literally trembling in my boots.

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6 Responses to Why I’m not ready to jump on the P2P bandwagon

  1. In filmmaking, I actually prefer working with inexperienced people, since they bring a much fresher perspective untainted by often-incorrect “conventional wisdom”. Sure, there’s the learning curve, but as any educator worth their salt knows, a teacher learns from their student as much as the student learns from the teacher. So it’s often a net gain to work with someone who needs to learn the ropes.

    I would gladly hire a whole bunch of disillusioned high school dropouts if only I had the capital.

  2. Carolyn Ann says:

    In a society such as America’s, the future is always an uncertain place. The current political pissing contest is about the vision of America: one where there’s some safety, some assurance, or one where there’s very little. Both having “unique selling propositions”.

    Are you mistaking political extrapolation for your own fear? Or trying to explain a perfectly reasonable worry in terms that make it less scary?

    Yes, we all need that “elevator pitch”; even going for a job stocking supermarket shelves I figured out what my pitch would be. It’s part and parcel of living in today’s economy. It’s not desirable; people should be able to demonstrate their capacity and capabilities, but that’s reserved for a few. It is what it is. Even now there’s a place for those who don’t want to “fit in”; the biggest challenge is figuring out where that is! Platitudes, I know. Sorry 😦 I can’t provide any concrete suggestions or words; I’ve not held a “real” job for over a decade and have spent a lot of that time figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life. I think I’ve got it figured; perhaps it’ll make me a living wage, perhaps it won’t. But I’m gonna find out!

    Good luck to you. 🙂

    • Carolyn Ann says:

      By the way, when I say “real job”, I mean a job with a salary & benefits. I’ve spent much of the last 10 or so years either doing woodwork as a self-employed woodworker or as a consultant. On occasion I’ve stocked shelves at supermarkets simply to keep body and soul collocated. So to speak. 🙂 (The pay is lousy, but it’s a living and some like it!)

  3. Poor Richard says:

    “Peer production”, open source project governance , and egality aren’t necessarily isomorphic or even congruent; but I don’t see egality and individual merit necessarily at odds. Ideally they are complementary parts of a system having separation of powers with appropriate, reciprocal checks and balances. The proper “radical leveling across society” of egality is a leveling of rights and rules, not of individual strengths and weaknesses. I see various degrees of hierarchy and other specific local arrangements as permissible aspects of egalitarian governance under the proper circumstances. The totally horizontal topology of OWS general assemblies won’t scale past some finite number of people (certainly not to 300 million), for example. Nor will “direct democracy” scale to 300 million people jointly participating in hundreds of separate votes per day. At some point additional structures and methods must seemingly be added. What makes the additional arrangements “good” or “bad” is the degree of democracy, the willing and informed consent of the parties, and the utility or fitness for the intended purposes. Beyond that there are all kinds of “best practices” of governance that stress transparency, accountability, fairness, etc. without being tied to strictly horizontal relations.

    In FOSS, for example, peers are generally free to fork off of an existing code base any way they like, but altering code within existing projects or forks is subject to additional rules and restrictions determined by prior agreements between the contributing parties. In a FOSS “meritocracy”, the “merit” really applies more to the work and work products (quality, fitness for a purpose) than to the peers themselves as people. Ideally, meritocratic personnel status is just a proxy for work-related factors such as authorship, degree of facility or familiarity with a project or body of code , etc. People need to demonstrate “merit” commensurate with the project requirements if quality is of any concern.

    So any practical form of egality (as opposed to a utopian form) stresses equality with respect to a common, fair, and appropriate set of rights and rules rather than equality of talents, experience, or work roles. Maximizing the latter can be a goal, but hardly a prerequisite, IMHO. There is a distinction between an equivalence of value, importance, dignity, etc. among persons and roles as opposed to an equality of effort, experience, or expertise.

    The dreaded specters of “merit” and “expertise” are not the real enemies of egality. They are really only evil when they serve (as indeed they often do) as euphemisms for corruption, injustice, and exploitation.


  4. Some further observations. I think that the interesting social innovation of peer production is the recognition that democracy, and the market, and hierarchy are allocation systems for scarcity, and are not necessery for non-rival or anti-rival goods (those goods that get more value by sharing,and get no loss from sharing), so that in a context of abundance, individuals can contribute what they want, and use what they need. Everyone who contributes has a say, ‘meritocratic contributors’ do not get more votes when issues are discussed. At the same time, for the management of rival resources, such as the infrastructure of cooperation that is needed, defending the code base from attack etc .. They have built democratic institutions. OWS has the same structure, exactly the same. If you contribute, you can access the general assembly; and similarly the Working Groups in charge of provisioning have democratic structures. The important thing is that peer production is for active projects, where people construct something in common. It’s not a model that needs to be generalized to other spheres. For example, the necessity for caring about say a common territorial resource.

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