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Pandemic Priorities: supporting alternatives now is promoting a sustainable economy

Pandemic Priorities: supporting alternatives now is promoting a sustainable economy

Especially in these times, honoring our ancestors is investing in and trusting alternatives that are based in dignity, health and livelihoods for all of us. 

In the early 1960s, my grandma was a secretary at the Caymanas Sugar Estate in Portmore, Jamaica. She helped the cane cutters who worked on the estate’s land create a credit union. At that time, workers were acknowledging the problematics of who owned the capital and resources on their island. In 1962, Jamaica gained independence from the British, with the hopes of more national equity and securing workers rights. My grandmother understood that helping the cane cutters pool their money to create a credit union was one step closer to liberation from the confines of colonialism and capitalism. At the time she thought of it as a necessity—as the right thing to do—rather than an alternative economy.

Tej and grandma
Tej and grandma

Throughout the Caribbean and Africa, the sharing of resources and money is not new. Sou sous and other types of community banking are age-old practices. These traditions even emigrated overseas to places like the U.K. and Canada along with Jamaicans who realized they would not receive the queen’s royalties they learned of during their schooling.

Like Jamaican cane cutters and emigrants realizing they lacked access to the things they needed, we also now find ourselves similarly situated in the current pandemic. As we recognize that people need immediate access to resources, we are realizing that the most effective tools are local economies, regional manufacturing systems, and community banking. 

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Do we Need a New Myth, or No Myth?

This is the true, biggest challenge I’m facing as a writer and thinker. Myth: Do we need a new one, or do we need to dispense with them altogether?

I used to direct theater. I left the theater because I got increasingly dissatisfied with its reliance on stories with clear beginnings, middles, and ends. Aristotle’s narrative arc with its rising tension, crisis, and catharsis wasn’t just predictable, but dangerously limiting. Things look bad, but as long as you accept the hero’s solution, everything gets solved and you can go back to sleep. Crisis, climax, and sleep – the much-too-male approach to everything from sex to religion, capitalism to communism.

I left theater for the net, which seemed to offer a more open-ended, connected form of sense-making. So I wrote about that, and the possibilities this opened for everything from economics to society. In my books, I usually tried crashing a set of myths – but then usually offer some alternative at the end. So in my religion book I smashed the myth of apocalypse and salvation, but offered an alternative path toward consensus, progressive collaboration. In another, I exposed the fallacy of hand-me-down truths, but then offered an alternative of collective reality creation. In a graphic novel, I undermined the authority of the storyteller (me) and then have a character hand a pencil to the reader as if through the page. In a book on Judaism, I smashed the idolatry that infected Judaism, but promote a new, provisional mythology of communal sense making. In my books on economics, I crash the cynically devised mythologies of capitalism and corporatism, but offer a new one of circular economics and sharing. In my Team Human podcast, I regularly crash the myth of the survival of the fittest individual, but offer a new evolutionary history of interspecies cooperation.

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What the P2P Foundation is about: shifting from Generative Adversarial Networks to Generative Cooperative Networks

What are we really trying to do at the P2P Foundation, along with many other similar movements ?

One of the best ways to express our underlying philosophy is here very well expressed by John Ringland, who, using complexity theory insights, distinguishes ‘generative cooperative networks’ from ‘generative adversarial networks’.

We recommend reading the following text carefully, for an understanding of these dynamics.

From GAN’s, via GHN’s, to GCN’s?

John Ringland: It is no accident that as a civilisation the sophistication of our adversarial capacities far exceeds the sophistication of our cooperative capacities. Our historical path and current situation have made it this way, but the balance is changing.

There are two main generative processes underlying biological and cultural evolution and more broadly the evolution of any population of interacting adaptive agents.

A GAN (generative adversarial network) generates more sophisticated means of coercing and exploiting each other; based on the capacity to control. E.g. a nationalist arms race generating advanced military-industrial-media complexes, and all that comes with these.

A GCN (generative cooperative network) generates more sophisticated means of understanding and supporting each other; based on the capacity to nurture. E.g. a peaceful society generating harmonious networks of unified groups aligned around common needs and goals, and all that comes with these.

  • GAN → power over, held together by competitive interactions.
  • GCN → power with, held together by common needs and goals.

Real world systems are a complex mixture of these two principles. For instance, in a forest each multi-cellular organism is a highly refined GCN comprised of trillions of cells. Advanced organisms also live in complex family or social groups which are also GCNs but less tightly integrated. There may also be weak inter-species cooperative networks.

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There’s only one way to avoid climate catastrophe: ‘de-growing’ our economy

What’s most disturbing about this litany of pain is that it’s only going to get worse. A recent paper in the journal Nature estimates that our chances of keeping global warming below the danger threshold of 2 degrees is now vanishingly small: only about 5 per cent. It’s more likely that we’re headed for around 3.2 degrees of warming, and possibly as much as 4.9 degrees. If scientists are clear about anything, it’s that this level of climate change will be nothing short of catastrophic. Indeed, there’s a good chance that it would render large-scale civilization impossible.

If scientists are clear about anything, it’s that this level of climate change will be nothing short of catastrophic

Why are our prospects so bleak? According to the paper’s authors, it’s because the cuts we’re making to greenhouse gas emissions are being more than cancelled out by economic growth. In the coming decades, we’ll be able to reduce the carbon intensity (CO2 per unit of GDP) of the global economy by about 1.9 per cent per year, they say, if we make heavy investments in clean energy and efficient technology. That’s a lot. But as long as the economy keeps growing by more than that, total emissions are still going to rise.

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Thriving Communities & the Solidarity Economy

In 2009, Professor Tim Jackson catalysed a step-change in the conversation about the ‘growth imperative’ that is structurally built into our economic system. In a report for the UK Sustainable Development Commission, Jackson dared to name the elephant in the room by asking whether “prosperity without growth” was a possibility, stating clearly why ‘business as usual’ was no longer an option (Jackson, 2009a).

[This is an excerpt of a subchapter from Designing Regenerative Cultures, published by Triarchy Press, 2016.]

The report showed that while the global economy has more than doubled in size in the last 25 years, it has severely degraded more than 60% of the world’s ecosystems without delivering a more equitable sharing of wealth. To the contrary, inequality has grown both within and between nations. We live in a world with 5 billion poor and the bottom fifth of the world’s population have to make do with just 2% of global income. According to a Credit Suisse report, the richest 1% of people now own more than half of the world’s financial wealth (Treanor, 2014). This extreme inequality drives a series of devastating chain reactions, affecting health, community cohesion, national and international security, and the environment.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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