Changemaker Profile – Brett Scott

headshot of Brett Scott

This is the fifth in a series of Changemaker Profiles, which introduces the work of changemakers I know and admire, and offers insights into their approaches to communication and change work.

Brett Scott is a campaigner, former derivatives broker, and general economic explorer. He has been involved in various financial campaigns, and is a Fellow of the Finance Innovation Lab. I’ve written for publications like The Guardian, The New Internationalist, The Ecologist, and openDemocracy, and I’ve been on channels like the BBC, Arte TV & the Keiser Report. He is the author of The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money, published with Pluto Press. He is a Fellow at the WWF/ICAEW Finance Innovation Lab. He blogs at www.suitpossum.blogspot.com and tweets as @Suitpossum.

1. Tell us about the work you are involved with:

I am part of a growing global network of people who are attempting to rewire the global financial system. Part of that involves me just exploring various facets of the system, from base level questions – such as the nature of money – to anthropological questions on financial culture, to technical questions like the operations of derivative markets. I actually worked in derivatives for a couple years, which helps a bit in that process. I also help activist groups who are running campaigns targeting negative aspects of the financial system. I’m also involved in the alternative finance community, people who are building alternatives to mainstream finance. An important part of this involves me trying to use weird and interesting new platforms to test them out. I also published a book recently called The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money.

cover of Heretics Guide to Global Finance book

2. What motivated you to be doing this work?

I figured that a lot of the traditional NGO work has already been pioneered, and I wanted to try something different. Part of the motivation is based in curiosity: I love to learn about how massive systems work for the sheer intellectual pleasure of doing so. The other part is rebellious or creative: to use that knowledge to try take on massive systems of power. I also try to have fun in the process. I mean, in trying to ‘alter the economic system’ we’re in an underdog position, and I don’t for a moment assume that we would succeed. I view all victories in improving systems as unlikely and unstable bonuses, not everlasting fixes.

3. What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?

It’s cool to see people coming to me and saying that my book really helped them understand stuff. I actually don’t really like pitching myself as a ‘financial expert’, because I’m not really a financial expert. I’m more an explorer who likes to share my explorations with others so that they can explore too. That process is fun in itself, but also can be very empowering for people who have been indoctrinated into believing that finance and ‘economics’ are inaccessible. It’s also rewarding to feel a growing movement in the ‘alternative economics’ space, albeit I always hold something of an outsider ethic, and try to maintain some degree of distance from more evangelical economic change movements (ie. people who believe they have the precise answer to all the world’s economic ills).

4. What do you feel is your biggest communication challenge?

The financial system is cloaked in a layer of mystique and seemingly impenetrable language. It’s naturally challenging to convey it to people, and also sometimes to understand what the hell is going on. Luckily, most financial professionals don’t know either, so we’re all in the same boat.

5. How do you handle a situation when you find yourself in conflict with someone about your work or ideas?

I like to listen to their points. Luckily I have a very anarchic intellectual stance on things where I don’t strictly believe in singular truths, so I don’t really mind that much if someone contradicts something I say – there may be elements of truth in both perspectives. Also, to a large extent I’m a chancer who throws out statements about the world and then attempts to revise them in light of responses – criticism is great for refining what you really think. There’s this weird expectation in society that things you say somehow must exactly reflect what you believe, and who you are, but I often say things that I’m not entirely sure I believe, just to test them out. That said, when I first started writing pieces I’d get defensive when people attacked them, but now I try to understand where they’re coming from. For example, a lot of rich white men get uppity about stuff I say, and then it dawns on me that ‘oh, they’re rich white men, clinging onto outmoded models underpinned by gigantic systems of power. I shouldn’t hold it against them’.

6. What’s your best piece of advice for change-makers and activists?

You should always seek to discover why you personally want to be involved in the causes you take on.  Too many activists don’t really have a coherent narrative as to why they care about something. It’s easy to say stuff like ‘oh that’s a terrible injustice in Indonesia’, but then you look into their eyes and want to shake them and say, ‘but why do you in particular feel moved by that?’. I feel moved and angry when I walk past homeless people on the street and see a clawing aspirational elite viewing them like pieces of trash that have failed at life. I get very warlike in those situations, and I realise it’s probably because I’ve always sympathised with underdogs who get marginalised in society. It’s not because I’m ‘good’ in some abstract sense, it’s because I empathise with certain types of people.

I’d also say it’s worth having a healthy degree of skepticism about the individual’s ability to affect change in the world. In middle-class university-educated society there is a massive bias towards believing in the power of the individual to shape the world, but much historical change is related to technology and mass movements (this, for example, is the basis of much of Karl Marx’s work). In that formulation people like Steve Jobs mean very little – they’re individuals who happen to strike it lucky and are carried along in the wave of mass acceptance for what they happen to create (Mark Zuckerberg is a good recent example – to me, he is not Facebook, he just happened to be the person who created a platform that would have been created anyway). These figures are manifestations of broader trends in society. Likewise, if you start a social enterprise, and you assume that somehow you’re going to forge a new route for society through your sheer charisma and talent, you should probably try to put yourself more in historical and cultural context. I love trying to do cool stuff, but I always attempt to put myself in context and say, yeah what I’m doing is cool, but it’s not really just about me.

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Changemaker Profile – Dana Pearlman

This is the fourth in a series of Changemaker Profiles, which introduces the work of changemakers I know and admire, and offers insights into their approaches to communication and change work.

Dana Pearlman is co-founder of the Global Leadership Lab, bringing together systemic change-makers to transform our world towards a thriving ecosystem through leadership, community and project/venture acceleration. She is co-author and publisher of The Lotus: A Practice Guide for Authentic Leadership Towards Sustainability. Please see Dana’s longer bio at the end of this post.

headshot of dana pearlman

1. Tell us about the work you are involved with:

In modern society, we have become fragmented and disconnected from many aspects of our true selves, disconnected from one another and from our deep human need for community and from our planet. My work is about reconnecting people to their true selves, to their values, to one another and to our greater global community.

I host conversations that matter and design and deliver learning experiences that enable transformation at the individual and collective levels.  My work aims to support capacity building in change-makers to help them become more effective in their work through collaborative and authentic leadership development as well as venture acceleration that aims to change the world for the better.

Oftentimes, world-changing ventures do not get the support they need to make an impact. We are building an ecosystem of systemic change-makers to support these ventures and giving them the attention they need to thrive.

2. What motivated you to be doing this work?

A number of years ago I went through a period of great discontent. I was no longer satisfied with my career and life path. I felt called to do something much more meaningful and I needed to be part of the healing of our planet.

I ended up attending an amazing graduate program in Sweden, and obtained a masters degree in strategic leadership towards sustainability. I actually ignored the fact that the word leadership was in the title, and while attending the program realized the huge global deficit in the kind of leadership that is needed in our world is also at the root of our current modern day challenges.

The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervenor.

Bill O’Brien (from the book Theory U by Otto Scharmer)

During the Swedish program my colleagues and I had a webinar with Otto Scharmer and he shared this quote. This sent a few of us into an exploration of what is the ideal interior state of the intervener?

We began speaking to a myriad of leaders working in transformational spaces and encountered a massive leverage point for change: Leaders that are authentic, and use their personal learning experiences enable vulnerability in those around them, it is these encounters that enable change. This simple yet profound realization is game changing. If you create spaces of meaning and vulnerability, healing will take place.

During this exploration we also synthesized 9 capacities authentic leaders find essential in their work (these include: being present, compassion, personal power, suspension and letting go, intention aligned with higher purpose, whole self awareness, whole system awareness, having a sense of humor and holding paradoxes, ambiguities and multiple world views).

Further, we explored the practices that enable the development of these capacities, such as yoga, meditation, dialogue, peer learning. aikido and many other practices. There is a freely downloadable guidebook here.

3. What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?

It is all rewarding. Even the struggles. The human experience is a complex, juicy and relentless journey and in my work I am constantly being invited to deepen my own self-awareness in order to hold space for others to do likewise. I am reminded daily of the profound beauty that exists when I am able to be present with another human being and that when I really take the time to listen to another person there is an entire new universe to understand and connect to.

The work I get to participate in in our world vastly surpasses what I could have ever hoped for.

4. What do you feel is your biggest communication challenge?

I work in human complexity. When one thing is out of alignment (in ourselves or in our relationships) it blocks movement and transformation is stunted. At any given moment, a plethora of human dynamics are at play between our relationships to ourselves, and with one another.

I am constantly building capacity in myself to recognize these blocks and to address them compassionately and fearlessly. On some days better than others!

The key is to express yourself and be with those that invite this!

5. How do you handle a situation when you find yourself in conflict with someone about your work or ideas?

The pattern is typically to react. However, the goal is to navigate these moments with grace and a heightened sense of awareness. The practice is to notice the arising reaction and to take a breath. Recognize what is happening in the present moment and really focus in on hearing their perspective, or taking some space until I am able to really hear them.

In this work, it is not about agreeing with one another, it is about the willingness to listen to another human being for the simple fact that they are a human being and deserve to be heard and recognized. That is where real transformation occurs, when we can deeply care enough to listen. That is where social trust unfolds and begins to heal ourselves and our planet. It is in these small gestures of caring for another that healing occurs.

6. What’s your best piece of advice for change-makers and activists?

Rule number 6. Don’t take yourself, others and the world so f%#$ing seriously. When we were researching authentic leaders, the capacity that was essential for this kind of work was having a sense of humor. Without lightheartedness we will forget to enjoy the journey of deeply caring for our planet. Remember to take time for yourself, to reflect and remember why you are doing this work and to source your work from your deepest values and cares.

Oh, and if you don’t already have your tribe, find them! We need to be around each other doing this work!

Dana Pearlman designs and facilitates action learning experiences. Her academic background is in clinical psychology and strategic leadership towards sustainability. She uses participatory facilitation processes, frameworks and powerful questions to enable deeper wisdom at the individual, team, community and collective levels. Her sweet spot is at the intersection of authentic leadership, tapping into other ways of knowing (beyond cognition) the world, collective healing and community building in order to accelerate the profound transformation that is needed in our world. She co-authored and published: The Lotus: A practice guide for Authentic Leadership towards Sustainability. Dana is also co-creating a start up, the Global Leadership Lab, that is bringing together systemic change-makers to transform our world towards a thriving ecosystem through leadership, community and project/venture acceleration, working with ventures that will impact 1 billion people or more. 

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Changemaker Profile – Ben Dyson, Founder of Positive Money

headshot of Ben Dyson

This is the third in a series of Changemaker Profiles, which introduces the work of changemakers I know and admire, and offers insights into their approaches to communication and change work.

Ben Dyson is the founder of Positive Money, a not-for-profit research and campaign group working to raise awareness of the connections between our current monetary and banking system and some of our biggest social, economic and environmental challenges.

1. Tell us about the work you are involved with:

My organisation is working to get people to understand how the monetary system currently works and the effect it has on some of the main social and economic issues that we’re facing today.

We focus on raising awareness of the fact that, at the moment, around 97% of all the money that exists is created by banks when they make loans, meaning that it is banks that determine a) how much money there is in the economy, and b) how that money is used.

As well as giving banks the power to shape the economy and making it impossible for us to let them fail, it also has knock-on impacts on issues like indebtedness, inequality, economic instability and the environmental crisis.

2. What motivated you to be doing this work?

By accident, in 2006, I stumbled across a book which talked about these issues. It seemed obvious that the system was structured in such a way that sooner or later it would collapse. In 2007, the collapse started.

Over the first two years of the financial crisis I became more and more frustrated that journalists and politicians seemed to be clueless of the root cause of the financial crisis – the fact that banks had created enough money in 8 years to double the amount of money in the economy, and put most of this money into house price bubbles. The talk was all about the fact that people had borrowed too much and needed to live within their means, but no one was asking questions such as “Where did all this money come from?”

In 2009 I started blogging about this issue on a personal blog, and in 2010 I decided that to have any real impact we’d need to build an organisation. We launched Positive Money in mid 2010.

3. What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?

One of the most rewarding aspects is to know that our analysis of the problems with the monetary system can be the missing piece of the puzzle for many social and economic issues that have seemed impossible to solve until now. We often have people telling us that they can finally start to make sense of everything that is going on in the economy and society at the moment, because they understand how finance and money is driving a lot of these problems. Once we understand how money is affecting these issues, it becomes easier to start to find solutions to some of these problems.

It’s also rewarding to see the ideas start to spread further. The chairman of the FSA recently gave a speech making some of the same points that we’ve been arguing, mostly as a lone voice, for the last two and a half years.

4. What do you feel is your biggest communication challenge?

Money and economics can be a very dry subject that seems quite far removed from people’s daily experience.

Our biggest challenge has always been to take out the jargon, make it simple and accessible, and make it relevant to people. I think we’ve managed to make the issue accessible (our videos for example are designed for people with no background in economics, although some of our books and papers are much more ‘in the deep end’, necessarily). But the challenge we’re working on most at the moment is to make it clearer how this is relevant to people’s lives. You might not care directly that money creation by banks can distort prices in the economy until it’s explained that this means you’ll give up an extra 5 years’ income simply to pay for the place where you live.

There are also a lot of knee-jerk reactions to the kind of ideas that we’re talking about. The first is the natural disbelief and the argument that “banks don’t create money”, although this one is easier to deal with now that more and more senior figures are open about the way this system works.

But then amongst those who know a little bit about economics or finance, there are a load more knee-jerk reactions that we have to contend with. The monetary system isn’t simple and it’s easy to very quickly get caught up in technical debates whilst missing the bigger issue of the effect the current system actually has. It’s always a challenge to keep people focussed on the realities of the impact the current system is having, rather than getting stuck in a technical debate about the mechanics of the banking system.

5. How do you handle a situation when you find yourself in conflict with someone about your work or ideas?

I find the best approach is usually to start by trying to see their perspective, rather than getting defensive immediately. Sometimes they do have a point, and we have changed our approach, proposals and messaging in the past to take that into account. The campaign is a lot more effective for taking that feedback on board.

If someone objects to our ideas our first reaction is to make sure they understand them fully. I don’t mind people objecting to something once they’ve read and understood it, and we regularly have fascinating and friendly discussions with people who fundamentally disagree with us. But I find it difficult to have much patience for people who misrepresent or mis-read what we’re suggesting and then start critiquing their own misinterpretation of the ideas. This often happens with other campaigners, politicians or journalists, who manage to form an opinion in a couple of minutes and ignore the fact that we’ve spent 3 years researching this system and looking at the impact it has. In this situation we normally try to meet them in person and find out whether the disagreement is based on misunderstandings, or whether it’s something more fundamental. Quite often these people didn’t fully appreciate the depth of the consequences of the current system.

But we have never expected to be able to get everyone on side with our analysis or proposals, and we don’t try to. The reality is that no major change has been made through complete consensus, so as Churchill suggested, if you haven’t made a few enemies yet you’re probably not making enough of an impact. But we do try to make sure we’re explaining the ideas in the clearest possible way and try to avoid causing confusion.

6. What’s your best piece of advice for change-makers and activists?

1) Spend a lot of time thinking about what will actually make the difference. A lot of campaigners spend a lot of energy doing busy work, when actually only a small amount of that work is effective. We fall into the same trap from time to time and have to keep re-evaluating our projects to make sure we’re always working on the thing that would make the biggest difference. The 80/20 rule applies here.

2) I’m not at all religious but there’s an element of faith in trying to do something this big (as with most campaigns that aim to change something on a huge scale). You do need to plan and figure out a strategy that could be successful, but a lot of the lucky breaks and contacts we’ve made could never have been planned for. A lot of it has just unfolded as we’ve gone on. So you have to some faith that once you start with something like this, even though it won’t be entirely clear how you can get to your end goal, the path will reveal itself bit by bit.

You can read more about the work of Ben and the Positive Money team’s work on their site, or in the book ‘Modernising Money’:

modernising money book cover

Modernising Money: Why Our Monetary System is Broken & How it Can Be Fixed

The product of three years of research and development, these proposals offer one of the few hopes of escaping from our current dysfunctional monetary system. Modernising Money shows how a law first implemented in the UK in 1844 (but never updated) can be combined with reform proposals that grew out of the Great Depression of the 1930s to provide the UK with a stable monetary and banking system, low personal and government debt and a thriving economy.

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Changemaker Profile – Neal Gorenflo, Founder of Shareable

headshot of Neal

This is the second in a series of Changemaker Profiles, which introduces the work of changemakers I know and admire, and offers insights into their approaches to communication and change work.

Neal Gorenflo is the co-founder and publisher of Shareable Magazine, a nonprofit online magazine about sharing. A former market researcher, stock analyst, and Fortune 500 strategist, Neal is co-editor of the anthology Share or Die: Voices of The Get Lost Generation in the Age of Crisis.

share or die cover

1. Tell us about the work you are involved with:

I’m the co-founder of Shareable, a nonprofit with a mission to turbocharge the sharing movement. We have two main activities, online publishing and community organizing, though our organizing work is in a pilot phase.

Through our online magazine, we hope to heighten awareness of saner alternatives to the global market economy and the social and environmental damage it creates. Shareable witnesses a movement of movements, each with the goal to democratize and even dematerialize the economy.

These movements include cooperatives, the commons, collaborative consumption, coworking, open source software, participatory budgeting, the commons, public banking, open government, and more. We publish stories about these movements from a personal perspective where possible.  And we offer the largest collection of sharing how-tos on the web. In this way, Shareable is as much a lifestyle magazine as it is about the big picture.

We hope to challenge the prevailing culture narrative in Western market societies that the path to the good life is based on individualism, competition and shopping. We argue that the good life is more likely to be achieved through community, collaboration and sharing.

I’m inspired by Saul Alinsky’s observation that the mainstream media makes the ordinary person feel like a small failure within a bigger failure. We hope to offer the opposite experience, that people start to feel like a success within a bigger success when they see practical alternatives in their personal lives and society.

2. What motivated you to be doing this work?

After decades of personal exploration and failed life experiments, I eventually realized I could not become the type of person I wanted to be, have the type of relationships I needed, nor could I realize my creative potential in a market society. The psychologically toxic value system of consumer culture, the competitive social relationships, and the inequality in every major institution were incredibly disempowering. If I boiled all this down to one thing that motivated me, it’s that I felt an unbearable loneliness.

Of course, I also realized that this wasn’t just my situation, that many others were in the same boat. This lead to the conclusion that the only path out was a collective path. I couldn’t get the life or world I wanted alone. It simply was not something that an individual could do. I need to find ‘the others’ as the saying goes, and get to work.  It sounds obvious, but it wasn’t an obvious conclusion for me at when I started.

Later, I realized that a movement that acted at the systemic level was necessary. This was much more than I originally bargained for, but the evidence was just overwhelming that a big systemic change was necessary.

Another important motivation was that I didn’t want to participate anymore in destroying people, communities, and the environment. And there was almost no way in America to do that without making an exodus from the status quo, which I’m finding is really hard to do completely, though my life experiments in sharing have led to an incredible boost in my quality of life.  I don’t feel so alone any more.

3. What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?

Working with people, and seeing what happens when they make a big change. What’s exciting about this movement is that a new sharing-based reality can be experienced in microcosm at the small group level, and when people get a taste of that, they want more. This can lead to much bigger personal changes and a commitment to help others. As an advocate, I frequently tell people not take my word about the value of sharing, to give sharing an earnest try and come to their own conclusions.

4. What do you feel is your biggest communication challenge?

The biggest challenge is communicating about sharing in a way that’s broadly accessible. There’s a lot of cultural baggage that gets in the way. In American, there’s a skepticism about the value and practicality of sharing. We’ve been conditioned by trillions of dollars of advertising, our dysfunctional political culture, and our life in winner-take-all organizations to look only after our own individual interests. This conditioning can be mistaken for human nature, that that’s just the way we are. That fundamental belief is hard to challenge as on the surface there’s evidence for it.

My view, shared by many others, is that there’s something deeper at work, that it’s the institutions around us that shape our behavior, and that if we want different behavior, different lives and opportunities, we have to change our institutions or create new ones.

One the most important institutions to change is culture – the set of values, unquestioned assumptions, and stories that shape how we see and act in the world. We have some success at Shareable in telling stories that upend unquestioned assumptions about the way the world works. For instance, one of our most popular stories of all time is about how to travel without money, and have better experiences because you’re traveling without money.

5. How do you handle a situation when you find yourself in conflict with someone about your work or ideas?

I read Michel Bauwens’ answer to this question, and I couldn’t put it any better. That said, doing what he advocates is difficult. As he said, integrating conflicting perspectives is a social process and attention to process is critical. Herein lies the difficulty. We’re not taught how to make decision together democratically. Our most important institutions, from education to business to our healthcare systems, are driven by top-down decision making. This is why we just published a guide about how to make effective decisions together. There’s a well-justified pre-occupation with process in the guide. For the decision to work in practice, it’s important that everyone feels that they were treated fairly in the process whether the decision went ‘their way’ or not.

6. What’s your best piece of advice for change-makers and activists?

There’s one piece of advice that trumps all. There’s no substitute for total commitment. Unfortunately, I don’t think you can’t manufacture commitment. You have to feel it in your bones. It’s my experience that total commitment only comes from some serious failures and persistent reflection.

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Changemaker Profile – Michel Bauwens, Founder of the Foundation for P2P Alternatives

This is the first in a series of Changemaker Profiles, which introduces the work of changemakers I know and admire, and offers insights into their approaches to communication and change work.

Michel Bauwens is a co-founder and leading activist of the P2P Foundation (Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives), which works in collaboration with a global group of researchers exploring peer production/governance/property and the open/free, participatory, and commons-oriented modes of human cooperation.

bauwens

1. Tell us about the work you are involved with:

In 2006, I founded the Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives. We are a knowledge commons and a global ‘collaboratory’ of researchers into peer production, peer governance, and peer property. I realize I need to unpack these words, so here we go.

Our key belief and hypothesis is that the internet is creating not just a great horizontalisation in communication, but also new forms of cooperation and actual ‘production’, not just of knowledge and code (software), but also the capacity of making things in a wholly new way. It is now possible for people to meet together, declare their joint intention to produce something, and go about organizing this using a combination of ‘virtual’ and ‘physical’ means.

These systems are based on people engaging with their passion, ie. doing things they actually want and like to do, to create a community around it, and to start jointly producing their knowledge online, but also physically coming together in new types of co-working such as hackerspaces, co-working hubs, and the like. Just as mutualizing immaterial things such as knowledge, code and design are now possible through internet cooperation, eg. the miniaturisation of the immaterial means of production, just so it is now possible to mutualize physical production, through the miniaturisation of manufacturing machinery, such as 3D Printing and other forms of distributed manufacturing.

The new rule is: heavy is near, light can be far away, ie. producing locally but cooperating globally. This is happening both from the bottom-up, in every area of human life, in what we call peer production, but also top-down, as existing hierarchical and centralized institutions try to adapt, engage and even co-opt these same possibilties. Thus we have crowdsourcing, collaborative consumption, open innovation and many other trends.

Our purpose then, is to observe and analyze them, but also to work for their advancement, as we believe that freely engaging producers is a great advancement, not just in terms of economic democracy, but also in terms of human life and happiness. So we don’t believe in a utopian future (though there’s nothing wrong with dreaming of a better world) but to actually look at existing practices and seek out how to extend them.

2. What motivated you to be doing this work?

Though I was a disaffected and radical youth, after a long spiritual search and self-work, I adapted to the world, and undertook a career as a librarian, then corporate knowledge manager, and finally internet enterpreneur. But from my early forties on, I felt an increasing disquiet as I could observe that all indicators seemed to go in the wrong direction. Not just the ongoing destruction of the biosphere, but also the increased precariousness facing youth in the West, the increased inequality, and what I saw as the deterioration of the human psyche in corporate settings.

So I pretty much decided at some point that I had to re-engage with the political and social world. But what can really change the world? Though I am by no means a technological determinist, ie. driven by the belief that technology is good or will liberate humanity ‘by itself’, I am convinced though that we are essentially a technological species, and that human history pretty much proceeds by technological shocks, which periodically re-arrange the deck. It is in these periods of transition that human emancipation gets a new chance to re-arrange the balance of power. We are now going to precisely such a period, in which the internet is changing our ways of being (ontology), ways of knowing (epistemology), value systems (axiology).

There is both a decomposition of the mainstream world, and a recomposition of the outline of a new type of society and economy, and I would argue, a new civilisational model. This model is based on the potential to globally scale small group dynamics, ie. to scale the trust and honesty and cooperation we feel and practice when we are dealing with those close to us. Peer to peer is the leverage that brings us an unprecendented opportunity to rehumanize our world; it is not a given, but it is worth fighting for.

So, at some point, I undertook a two-year sabbatical, did intensive reading on previous phase transitions (the change from the Roman Empire to the feudal system as well as the birth of capitalism), and slowly started developing a P2P Theory which is geared towards transforming our present society, but which is closely linked to all the positive things that people are already doing. I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to this quest.

In discovering those patterns, inter-relating them, spreading them, I am hoping that these inter-related patterns will find each other and coalesce in a new ‘sustainable’ logic for the future of humanity and the planet. I proceed from an extension of the existing peer to peer relationships we have with family and friends, with our chosen communities of practice over the internet, and try to expand this happiness-producing dynamic in as much aspects of life as we possibly can. We don’t want to be the leader of any of these trends and movements, but be one of the catalysts, by bringing greater awareness to what is now difficult for most people to see.

3. What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?

It’s difficult to pin it down to one specific aspect. This engagement with social change is bound with my personal history. A first attempt as a disaffected youth, then an abandonment of the impulse, and a re-engagement with it on a more mature level after a mid-life crisis. If you have a deep impulse in life and you abandon it for whatever reason, even if you are successful in other ways, you have a black hole that sucks up your life energy. So when I decide to re-own my deep impulse as a world-changer, I achieved a higher level of personal integration, a kind of twice-born experience as explained by William James in his famous book, ‘Varieties of Religious Experience’. Once you feel aligned with your ‘cosmic self’, a deep sense of purpose and a intimate feeling that you know why you are on this planet, a deep baseline of happiness arises.

The second thing is that if you are free to follow your passion, to self-allocate your energies with others who do the same, and you minimize the authoritarian impules, it’s simply a very happy way to work. I strongly feel that what was once an aspiration in the sixties and seventies, the free-flow of cooperation between like-minded people, is now simply a daily reality. Other aspects are the constant learning, and the fact that we are in service of others, constantly helping people finding the right resources and contacts so they can in turn advance their own projects. But you have to realize as well that it is not a bed of roses. The hardest for me has been the constant financial insecurity, the lack of income for healthcare, insufficient funds for my own family. So it is a source of happiness, but also a sacrifice, and a source of worry. But at least, the worry and anxieties occur within a baseline of happiness and purpose.

4. What do you feel is your biggest communication challenge?

There are two issues for me. The first issue is one of our own networked culture, and the problem there is fragmentation. For example, our P2P Foundation is pretty good with its communications, we have a constant interest and are growing at about 30% every year, without any professional marketing, expanding just by word of mouth. We have 20 million viewers for our wiki and reach about 26 thousand daily. Still, there are many networks out there, and while it is easy to filter out quality in your own field, what do you do with other fields? There are so many domains that are under-reported by the mainstream, but it is very difficult to find the best alternative sources in all the different domains. I think this is a general problem for many people.

The second problem is the communication between the p2p subcultures and the mainstream. You still want to reach a broader population but the mass media have significantly dumbed down and become ever more corporatized. So you have two worlds, a well informed alternative networked world; and a fundamentally misinformed mainstream. But it is still important to reach the broader population. For example, when I write for Al Jazeera, my audience jumps hundredfold, and I don’t recognize any of the names of the retweeters, which shows we are reaching a different audience that is not familiar with our work.

5. How do you handle a situation when you find yourself in conflict with someone about your work or ideas?

I’m an adherent of integral philosophy and methodology; this means a recognition of the complexity of any reality and the impossibility for any person or movement to get a fully correct understanding of the world. Furthermore, it also follows that no one can be 100% mistaken. This means that difference in perspectives is fully constitutive of our world, and that truth building is necessarily a collective process, whereby the ability to see the world from various perspectives, those of others than yourself, adds to the capacity to shed light on any ‘object’ of knowledge (which of course is no object at all, since knowledge is a participative process).

This is how the P2P Foundation work is constituted. Our wiki is not neutral or objective like the stated aim of the Wikipedia, but is a ‘perspectopedia’ in which various viewpoints are honoured, on the condition that you are interested in peer to peer dynamics. Our boundaries are: overt and hostile racism, sexism, and other forms of rankism that deny the equipotentiality of the other members of our community, ie. their capacity to offer useful contributions to our collective project. We make a big difference in the freedom to say what you want, in terms of context, but pay attention to ‘how you say it’, ie. we ban personal attacks. This means that overall, our internal and communications are generally quite peaceful. Of course, occasionally, both online and offline, there are occasional outbursts. From my own experience, love and hate are usually intertwined (you can only be really angry at something you love), and outbursts are often tied to unprocessed ‘hot buttons’. In other words, you get into conflict not exactly because of what the other person says, but because it awakens something you condemn within yourself.

And finally, cultivating some form of self-awareness about such processes, helps you regulate your own negative emotional outbursts. Of course they do happen to me as to others. I try to be civil in all cases, to be exclusively defensive in terms of doing hurtful things (ie. never initiate any aggressive action), and if the conflict seems unresolvable, to part ways, and simply decide that each party goes on its own path, without unduly disturbing the other. Peer productions contexts are  helpful, because they allow permissionless action of individuals, and keep conflicts where they really needed; and because they happen in a common context of love for the commons, ie. the social object that binds us. A final rule is, bring conflict into the open, submit it to the arbitrage of the collective wisdom of the group, do not take authoritarian actions based on individual power.

6. What’s your best piece of advice for change-makers and activists?

That’s a tough one.  I don’t really feel successful enough, nor able to generalize easily from my own very specific experience . Very generally speaking, as an advocate of peer production, ie. passionate production, I feel that every individual should look at the confluence of these three factors: 1) what do I want to do (your passion), 2) what can I do (your skills), 3) what does the world need (this only can guarantee a livelihood through donations or any other means of support). Take your time to find this, and wait for your gut to tell you what the right decision is. It may still be a wrong decision, but as long as you have integrity with others, and sincerity with yourself, it does not matter, as even wrong turns can be productive and a gift to the world. Bear in mind that no good deed goes unpunished and therefore, your motivation cannot be the success of the endeavour, which is not under your control.

Combine a steadfastedness based on principles, and a long term vision of your strategy, with an adaptation to emergent realities and what the others and the universe will dictate you as the ‘next step’. The way is the destination. In all likehood, you will fail, but if you hadn’t made the effort, it’s much more likely that the world would be much worse off. Find the right mix between selflessness for the goal, and the enjoyment of life, ie. engagement with your own wellbeing, those of your loved ones, and the communities you are engaged with. Listen to your heart, your instincts, but also to your reason. Be integral and integrative, not monological in your search for solutions. We’re all just part of the puzzle, but each part of the puzzle is necessary, so the key is to find your right ‘fit’.

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