Lessons from las Indias
Diversity always was an important subject for las Indias. We were born a community of conversation. And for a long time, we had in common an (online) conversation, not an economy.
While our conversation and its results took place on the Internet, everything was easy. If we published an online book and there were two possible covers, we did not choose between them, but published both and left the readers to choose which to download. If we wanted to protest against a law because we thought that it ruled against our civil rights and there were two strategies… We followed both and each member of the community chose which one to do… Or even to do both. We call this system “plurarchy”. Plurarchy is the essence of distributed networks: nobody can filter anybody, everybody can do, say and publish what they want without subtracting from the opportunities for other’s expression, and the “decisions” are seldom a clear yes or no, but usually “more or less”. As our conversation deepened, we became closer and more consensual but our diversity did not decrease. In fact, just the opposite happened. We had more diversity. To the external world we might look like a crazy rainbow of surprisingly passionate nuances.
But in some cases it was necessary to make a decision. If we published a book on paper, there usually were big savings of scale and we could not afford publish two different editions with the money we had. That is, sometimes we were in situations of scarcity and scarcity makes it necessary to decide. And to make a decision means to renounce a certain degree of diversity.
Through this we discovered that every conversation that acted as if there was only one output from all the inputs of our members was condemned to centralization, as democratic as it might be. The problem is that, once you create a mechanism for centralizing, it is very easy to generate artificial scarcity.
For example, why is it that a newspaper–however democratic–cannot reflect as many points of view as there are? Why are not all articles in Wikipedia approved? Why is that the “Towel Day” article is “relevant” in the English Wikipedia but “irrelevant” in the Spanish version and thus remains unpublished? The short answer: because each incorporation, each extra text, increases the global costs and therefore subtracts opportunities for the other contents that are published thanks to a limited amount of money. It is necessary to choose. It can be done through authoritarian methods–as it happen in the usual newspapers–or through oligarchy–as with Wikipedia’s bureaucrats–or democratically–as in some alternative media. But you must choose, because scarcity is real…
Yes, it is real… but unnecessary, we said. It is a kind of artificial scarcity because there were other way to organize the media or a wiki which makes abundance and thus maximum diversity, possible. There is no bureaucracy or voting system in BitTorrent. Nobody decides which contents can be published in the blogsphere or in the world wide web, because distributed networks make abundance possible: a new page, a new point of view, is not an extra cost for anybody. Choose a distributed structure for publishing your book, your magazine or your encyclopedia and we are back to the world of diversity!
Since then we have investigated distributed networks and how apply their logic to more and more fields of the human activity, even physical production. We learned something extremely important: diversity lives in distributed networks… but not necessarily in its nodes.
Take other example: we used to insist that a blog is not media, the blogsphere is. Why? Because a blog has the same problems that a newspaper or Wikipedia has. Alone it lives in scarcity. But as part of the distributed world network of blogs, it takes part and contributes to abundance and diversity.
Why am I telling you this story? Because when I listen the concerns about the diversity of American communes, I feel they are like a blog trying to include the whole content of the world in itself. And I think that is not their role or what they should want from themselves, but from their network.
Nodes, communities, have to be free and distinctive to contribute to a really diverse network, and not try to substitute for the role of the network we must build.
Take las Indias. We are sociologically not representative of our environment in many issues. For example: the number of females is double the number of males. It also happens that the percentage of us born in South America, 50%, is a lot higher than the percentage of people born out of Europe living in Spain… but it is a lot less than the percentage of South American born people in the global map of Spanish speakers… and so on, and so on…
The question is, are we more or less diverse than the society we live in? I cannot say. We are just different, as it is different today to live in an egalitarian community. We have a distinctive culture and it attracts–and selects by itself–distinctive persons. We have had in our history more male sympathizers than female sympathizers but, the fact is, our way of living has been more attractive for women. Are we doing anything wrong? Should we worried about not being representative? Should we refuse the application of new female members for a while in order not to become sexually biased in our way of looking the world? We don’t think so.
I understand the concerns of American communities. It is shocking for me that you have so few “foreigners”. English is one of the three most spoken languages in the world and there is a vibrant conversation in English online. Shouldn’t you represent these diversities in your composition? Or is it the diversity of your suburb, your state, the USA or English speaking North America that you should represent? I think the answer is that you should not represent anything but yourselves. It does not mean a community should not be concerned about diversity. But the diversity we have to be worry about is not about how our fellow communards “are” according to sociological divides, but what the communal life allows them/us to do. The kind of diversity directly linked with what we call “abundance”. I think the main ethical commitment of the commune life is not to artificially produced scarcity and I also believe that abundance, diversity in what we do, is the real measure of success for a community.
The kind of diversity many of you are concerned about, even looking for, sex, sexual orientation, race, etc. will come by itself, but probably not to every community, but to the network we must build together.
(If you want to know more about our ideas, please read and discuss “The Communard Manifesto” and, if you like it, please share it.)
Go to the GEO front page