A brief tour of the imagining of abundance throughout history, from the Golden Age of the ancients to the P2P production of the current generation.
Few ideas have been as powerful and subversive as abundance. For thousands of years, we humans have projected our desires onto it, we’ve been inspired by it to transform our forms of organizing, and we’ve raised it as the banner of a better future. Free food, the end of labor forced by need, and the end of conflicts and violence due to scarcity have been the image of the world that humans deserve to inhabit for hundreds of generations.
The Golden Age
In hundreds of mythologies all over the world, the myth of the “Golden Age” appears again and again: a remote historical period in which humans, as Hesiod tells us,
[…] had known neither work, nor pain, or cruel old age; they had always kept the vigor of their feet and hands, and were charmed with festivals, far from all of the evils, and their death was like falling asleep. They possessed all goods; the fertile ground produced by itself in abundance; and in profound tranquility, they shared this wealth with the masses of other irreproachable men.
Surely, Plato’s insistence on the absence of social classes and State, or perhaps that of Ovid in The Metamorphosis on the absence of agriculture, has been interpreted as an idealized “memory” of the primitive community, which was nomadic and dedicated to hunting, fishing and gathering. But among the many versions, there are those that locate the Golden Age in an agricultural world. And in fact, today, when we know that settling may have had a long “communal” period, it would be fitting to date its origins to a later era and link the myth to the vindication of commonly held lands.
In any case, it was possibly the most influential political myth in Antiquity: by associating abundance with the absence of State and property, it served to present the injustices and miseries of each age as the fruit of a mythic “fall” from which Humanity would recover by abolishing private property and the State… the ultimate program of the social revolutionaries in every age.
We are well aware that primitive human societies did not know abundance. On the contrary, the study of the last groups and cultures that have maintained an economy of hunting and gathering speaks to us of systems where scarcity imposes a total subordination of the individual and their desires to the always precarious and difficult survival of the community. That’s why the myth of the Golden Age is so interesting: it doesn’t talk about a “more just” society, it talks about a society of abundance, an abundance that could only be intuited briefly when the Neolithic Revolution started to create the kind of surpluses that had been unknown until then, when the State appeared, and with it, the first public works, and the productivity of human societies multiplied for the first time.
The Christian Era
Curiously, while they were born together, egalitarian social ideals would soon be divorced from the dream of an abundant society. Early Christianity would be centered on sharing and would have its glimpses of abundance, but would not be able imagine a world of broad needs covered for everyone. Its monastic versions and its heresies would accentuate this egalitarianism of scarcity to its limits.
The commercial “revolution” of the tenth to thirteenth centuries and the instinctive rejection of the Church of the first commercial bourgeoisie, is seen with ever-greater frequency in this Christian reflection. At first, the Church condemns the artisan merchant and commerce itself, as articulated in theologies of poverty and their rejection of misery. But this misery was produced by the resistance to change in the nobility of which the Church elite was part.
The Church would present the Second Coming as the move to Messianic society where, sated, “the wolf will graze with the lamb.” From there, it kicked the can down to an indefinite future. But fewer and fewer were willing to wait around. New groups sought to promote the arrival of Christ by going to live in community, raising up the egalitarian society of the Gospel. In short order, groups began to slip thorough the Church’s hands: Waldenses, Joachimites, fraticellis, Beghards, flagellants… What’s interesting is that the theological praise of poverty soon became, in the hands of the popular classes, identarian recognition (the imagined community of “the poor”). And this self-identity, accidentally promoted by the ecclesiastical message, in turn, quickly became a rejection of poverty and violent vindication of abundance. The Church soon responded by turning the Franciscans into an order (giving an internal organizational space to poverty), advancing the Dominicans, and the creation of the Inquisition to “repress excesses.” We can glimpse the troubles and confrontations of these “communisms of poverty” with royal and papal power in The Name of the Rose, the novel in which Umberto Eco ironically commented on the Italian Left.
The theologies of poverty would be spread in the Protestant Reformation and would blossom in the peasant wars that would follow it in Germany. The tension between egalitarianism and scarcity would soon become obvious: when Thomas Munzer attempts the immediate establishment of the Kingdom of God, making work and property common, the results would be poor. Like the Anabaptist Hutterites who would follow him and the “Diggers” of the English revolution, who would appear later, everyone—in the case of the Hutterites, down to our days—would distrust technology and its use, and would only be able to build shared poverty.
Of course, we can explore this historical scenario in Q, another parable about the Italian contemporary Left written by the group of writers known as “Luther Blissett” and then as “Wu Ming.”
The era of discoveries
But while Christianity continued its own evolution, the development of the first major commercial routes and European fairs would bring a new kind of popular myth that, while it wasn’t really about abundance, was at least about opulence. Then stories begin to appear about the “Land of Cockaigne” and of “Schlaraffenland.” These tales would merge as of of the second half of the sixteenth century with the stories of fabulous wealth that would follow the Castilian conquest of the Aztec and Inca empires, giving way to the stories of the “pais de Jauja” that are still told to children in Spain.
It is then, around the middle of the sixteenth century, when the lower classes of Europe begin to dream of abundance as such. It continues to be significant that this abundance appears as a “deposit” or as a “gift of nature.” Although it is an era of accelerated technological development, innovations are concentrated in sailing, war and engineering, rather than the direct production of goods. The popular classes thus understand abundance as unlimited access to meeting needs and the storehouses of an ever-more powerful crown, not as the development of capacities of their own work.
It also links this idea with the Jewish and Christian myth of paradise, a “garden” where it is not necessary to work, not even at gathering, to be sated with as much as one needs. And it shouldn’t be forgotten how far the idea and desire went that the Indies, recently discovered on the first transatlantic voyages, would be no more and no less than the earthly paradise itself. This myth became so influential after Columbus’ first stories that the Castillian crown soon prohibited those who were “of impure blood,” which is to say, the descendants of converted Muslims and Jews, from emigrating to the king’s new lands. And in fact, this association between “original cultures” and “Adam, free from sin,” would have a long run, until, two centuries later, it become Rousseau’s “noble savage,” who, still today, can be sensed behind more than a few narratives exalting the “wisdom” of indigenous peoples.
This environment at the dawn of the European expansion in the Americas would also lead, among the educated classes, to a new political-literary genre. In 1516, Thomas Moore publishes his Utopia. Utopia is not the land of abundance, it is a democratic and patriarchal country, organized as a confederation of cities in which private property doesn’t exist. But, by reviving the idea of egalitarianism and joining it with certain democratic forms, and above all, with material well-being, it would have a tremendous influence on all European political thought. That thought was fated to again encounter abundance.
The era of revolutions
Still, it wouldn’t be until early industrialization and the French Revolution that abundance reappears. Once more, it would not be from the hand of egalitarianism. In all the works of Baubeuf, there is not one reference to abundance. The first reference would not be in rich revolutionary debates, but in an external observer who describes his times with the voice of a prophet. Between 1790 and 1793, William Blake, “mad Blake,” publishes “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” For the first time, abundance appears as the result and objective of a revolutionary process.
[…] the whole creation will be consumed, and appear infinite, and holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt.
But what’s really interesting is that he imagines the change to abundance as a leap to a whole new form of human experience, radically different from that of the world of scarcity in which
Man has closed himself up, till he sees all things
thro’ narraow chinks of his cavern.
To the extent that he understands that scarcity is alienating in itself, he imagines the transition to a new world as a change in the very way that we feel and experience the world:
This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment. (…) If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
The world that immediately follows Blake’s book seems to point in just the opposite direction, however. The world at that time is experiencing an accelerated process of specialization and an unprecedented increase in income per capita in the first industrial nations: Great Britain and the US first, and northwestern Europe later. Around 1800, production starts to grow more than the population. Productivity, which had been relatively stable until then, takes off. Early on, it’s a consequence of the application of the new mechanical technologies and of the organization of labor: the steam engine and the factory system are expanding. Growing British power assures a certain freedom of market within their own borders and demolishes the commercial barriers of the old empires, from Spanish America to China. Economic development leads to a true blossoming of science and technology which, in turn, drive knowledge and productivity.
The productive leap is so great that anything seems possible. Abundance seems around the corner, and for the first time in human history, economic crises are not from underproduction, but overproduction. It is in this context that we should understand Marx.
Marx places abundance at the end of the historical process, as the necessary result of the evolution of productivity, which he calls “productive forces.” In his model, the history of human societies is the history of the development of their productive capacity and the moments of political and social transformation, the result of the adaptation of the political and legal systems to the needs imposed by those capacities, by those forces, defended in every historical moment by a characteristic social class committed to making revolution. For Marx, the class of wage laborers was called to “liberate the productive forces” unchained by capitalism from the restrictions that the system of private property and nation-States impose on them. The result, communism, would be a society where productivity would be developed even more rapidly, to the point of making abundance a reality for all.
Despite the monumental size of his work, Marx didn’t leave many texts dedicated to describing the characteristics of the society of abundance. From what he did leave, we can say with certainty that he was the first to imagine a society where the development of productivity would be so high that not only would make possible the end of wage labor, but also, as he writes in some reading notes, could turn work itself into “a free manifestation of life, an enjoyment of life.” The idea, which he develops in The German Ideology (1845), is that, as of a certain level of development of productivity, specialization would simply disappear, and with it, alienation, the new name for that restriction of perception that Blake already denounced.
For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.
Marx would develop the idea of Blake’s “opening of the doors of perception” and would add to his idea of a society of abundance the dream of the artistic vanguards of the beginning of the twentieth century. The human experience in a society of abundance would be, to a certain extent, an artistic experience.
The exclusive concentration of artistic talent in particular individuals, and its suppression in the broad mass which is bound up with this, is a consequence of division of labour. […] In any case, with a communist organisation of society, there disappears the subordination of the artist to local and national narrowness, which arises entirely from division of labour, and also the subordination of the individual to some definite art, making him exclusively a painter, sculptor, etc.; the very name amply expresses the narrowness of his professional development and his dependence on division of labour. In a communist society there are no painters but only people who engage in painting among other activities.
In his most famous work, Capital (1867), he points out that the development of productivity that capitalism creates “contributes to creating social time available for recreation by each and every one,” even if is through forced unemployment, and that the path towards a society of abundance, the development of productivity, leads to “appropriating” the increases of productivity in a progressive reduction of the time dedicated to produce goods:
[…] on one side, necessary labour time will be measured by the needs of the social individual, and, on the other, the development of the power of social production will grow so rapidly that, even though production is now calculated for the wealth of all, disposable time will grow for all. For real wealth is the developed productive power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time.
In the same book, he would return to this idea of the society of abundance as a hyperproductive society in which human capacities are such that it does not make sense to maintain a life divided between between leisure and work.
It goes without saying, by the way, that direct labour time itself cannot remain in the abstract antithesis to free time in which it appears from the perspective of bourgeois economy. […] Free time—which is both idle time and time for higher activity—has naturally transformed its possessor into a different subject, and he then enters into the direct production process as this different subject.
And in one of his last works, the Critique of the Gotha Program (1875), he would insist on portraying the society of abundance as a stage of socioeconomic development produced by the sustained growth of productivity in which
[…] the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly.
Let’s stick with the idea that abundance opens a new kind of human experience, a “multifaceted development” of each one, because it will return in the twentieth century as the center of the ideas about abundance. But for the time being, we should underscore Marx’s emphasis on productive capacity. His son-in-law, Paul Lafargue, ended his personal manifesto, entitled The Right to Laziness, with a simplification of this idea:
[…] the machine is the redeemer of mankind, the God who will rescue humanity from the sordidae artes of wage slavery, the God who will give us leisure and liberty.
This vision of the society of abundance as a liberation of humanity made possible by technology wasn’t exclusive to Marx and his milieu. In 1892, Kropotkin publishes The Conquest of Bread, which confronts the Malthusian narrative that sees “indefinite growth” as impossible with the same underlying ideas:
[…] the productive powers of the human race increase at a much more rapid ratio than its powers of reproduction. The more thickly men are crowded on the soil, the more rapid is the growth of their wealth-creating power.
Kropotkin, like Marx, thinks that capitalism would be succeeded by a transitional period—certainly, without a State—in which the implantation of a decommodified economy guided by the needs of people through free confederation, would assure a “good life” to everyone and would develop even more productivity, to the point of reaching abundance, that stage where humans would dedicate themselves fundamentally to “the high pleasures of wisdom and of artistic creation”:
Henceforth, able to conceive solidarity—that immense power which increases man’s energy and creative forces a hundredfold—the new society will march to the conquest of the future with all the vigour of youth.
Leaving off production for unknown buyers, and looking in its midst for needs and tastes to be satisfied, society will liberally assure the life and ease of each of its members, as well as that moral satisfaction which work gives when freely chosen and freely accomplished, and the joy of living without encroaching on the life of others.
Inspired by a new daring—thanks to the sentiment of solidarity—all will march together to the conquest of the high joys of knowledge and artistic creation.
Kropotkin, like Marx, thinks that little can be imagined of a society of abundance: the human experience would be so different, as would the stories that humans would tell about life, which constantly limits itself to proposing forms of organizing for the transition period. He insists that the main task to reach abundance would be to reduce the number of hours of “work considered necessary to live,” which he initially puts at five, as productive capacity is developed and the division of labor is eroded.
Surely the closest contemporary literary reference to the communities Kropotkin imagines would be those described in 1974 by Ursula K. Le Guin in The Dispossessed. Le Guin shows us a decommodified society, with deep-seated individual and egalitarian freedoms, but—because of external conditioning—basically poor, with a certain centralizing tension and without continued growth like that imagined by the “anarchist prince.” It continues to be interesting, because Le Guin approaches anarchism not from the perspective of abundance, but of egalitarianism. A similar thing would occur with the person who is usually considered the principle intellectual heir of Kropotkin, Enrico Malatesta. Malatesta, in contrast to Kropotkin, doesn’t understand the future society as the result of a possibility opened by the development of knowledge and the transformative capacities of the human race over time. He argues that anarchy is a system possible in any historical moment. That is why he does not associate it with either abundance or technological development, which, in turn, leads him to lose the view of a more complete and complex human liberation, accepting obvious needs imposed by scarcity, like the division of labor:
Certainly in every large-scale collective commitment there is a need for a division of labor, for technical direction, administration, etc.
And in the first half of the twentieth century, marked by the Russian disasters and two world wars, the revolutionary and egalitarian narrative would again separate from the dream of universal abundance. Trust in a horizon of abundance and its path—progress—was linked in the nineteenth century to a sense of wonder about science. But science and technology, which are associated in the 19th century with Verne’s dreams and Pasteur’s vaccinations, in the twentieth would also be associated with war gases, civilian bombings, the greatest genocides in history, and the atomic bomb.
Surely because of this, the vindication of abundance during the first half of the new century did not come from scientifist philosophers like Marx or from philosopher scientists like Kropotkin, but from the heterogeneous group of artists and critics that formed the artistic “vanguards,” surrounded by the emergence of the new political movements and marked by the vital urgencies of a society plunged into war. But above all, they are quite conscious that, after the appearance and popularization of photography, art is first and foremost a narrative about the human experience in a historical context. In the first half of the twentieth century, that means proposing a new society. The artist goes from interpreter to prophet.
What the vanguards were pushing was the importance of “multifaceted development” of the individual as a fundamental feature of any society that would proposed to advance towards “true abundance.” This is an element that would gain more and more prominence as the totalitarian development of the Soviet State and the character of its economy become more and more obvious, but also as the economic cycle begun by the period after WWII reaches its end.
The era of well-being
In 1933, while the last vanguardist manifestos are still fresh, Herbert Marcuse, a young German philosopher who had participated as a twenty-year-old in the Sparticist uprising, joins the new “Institute of Social Studies.” He publishes and comments on Marx’s Philosophical Economic Manuscripts. He discovers in them the “young Marx,” enlightened by abundance and the criticism of alienation, but that same year, he would have to leave the Institute—which was already beginning to be known as the “Frankfurt School”—to emigrate to the USA. There, he would work for the war machine and would end up being the head of intelligence analysts for Central Europe of the State Department. In 1952, after being widowed, he begins a life as an academic that would take him through some of the most famous Ivy League universities and would allow him to write two of the most influential books in the ’60s in the US: Eros and Civilization (1955) and One-Dimensional Man (1964).
In the framework of the opulent and conformist US society of the ’50s and ’60s, Marcuse takes up Marx’s old argument, leaving aside all the material needs that make up the “good life” that Kropotkin imagined. He accepts that that “good life” of the road towards abundance continues to be the main philosophical objective for historical change.
Analyzed in the condition in which he finds himself in his universe, man seems to be in possession of certain faculties and powers which would enable him to lead a “good life,” i.e., a life which is as much as possible free from toil, dependence, and ugliness. To attain such a life is to attain the “best life”: to live in accordance with the essence of nature or man.
But Marcuse is aware that capitalism of the postwar period is developing productivity in a way that both Marx and Kropotkin thought would only be possible after the revolution. The “good life” of US well-being—which would soon have a European social-democratic echo—produces an acritical and demobilizing consensus that is too similar to a diffuse and generic totalitarianism to be able to find in it a promise of true abundance. Tied to the limitations of Marxist economic theory, Marcuse finds himself in a basic contradiction that his readers in the French May would turn into a famous slogan: “be realistic, demand the impossible.”
At its most advanced stage, domination functions as administration, and in the overdeveloped areas of mass consumption, the administered life becomes the good life of the whole, in the defense of which the opposites are united. This is the pure form of domination. Conversely, its negation appears to be the pure form of negation. All content seems reduced to the one abstract demand for the end of domination—the only truly revolutionary exigency, and the event that would validate the achievements of industrial civilization. In the face of its efficient denial by the established system, this negation appears in the politically impotent form of the “absolute refusal”—a refusal which seems the more unreasonable the more the established system develops its productivity and alleviates the burden of life.
Fearful of economic development in itself, he equates abundance to what puts Marx in line with Blake and the vanguards: the beginning of a new sensibility, a new form of perception. To emancipate oneself from culture—an idea for which he resorts to Freud—and turn life, as the vanguards said, into an artistic project, would be a development beyond the rationality of today’s relations of production.
The advancing one-dimensional society alters the relation between the rational and the irrational. Contrasted with the fantastic and insane aspects of its rationality, the realm of the irrational becomes the home of the really rational—of the ideas which may “promote the art of life.” If the established society manages all normal communication, validating or invalidating it in accordance with social requirements, then the values alien to these requirements may perhaps have no other medium of communication than the abnormal one of fiction. The aesthetic dimension still retains a freedom of expression which enables the writer and artist to call men and things by their name—to name the otherwise unnameable.
The movement towards abundance, for Marcuse, can only be an artistic movement of those who feel dispossessed, not of basic well-being, but of the hope of find meaning in life and the world; those who are outside of an economic rationality that Marcuse understands is perfectly capable of perpetuating itself, of exceeding all limits. The central idea in Marcuse is that the development of knowledge and science no longer brings us closer to abundance, but rather, pushes it further away, substituting it with the control of a totalitarian consensus based on consumerist well-being.
What’s interesting is that, not very far from Marcuse, and while he is writing his most relevant works, an economist as far as possible from the Marxist economy is laying the foundations to disassemble the theoretical “ceiling” the “Frankfurters” have reached.
Kenneth Boulding, the father of the General Theory of Systems, a Quaker and pacifist, had a spirituality that was greatly influenced by Teilhard of Chardin. Following the path of his teacher, he would be the first theoretician to incorporate the evolutionist perspective into economic analysis.
In radical opposition to Marcuse, Boulding rescues the role of knowledge and in Economic Development as an Evolutionary System (1962) restores its centrality, allowing him to articulate the relationship between History and Nature.
This whole process indeed can be described as a process in the growth of knowledge. What the economist calls “capital” is nothing more than human knowledge imposed on the material world. Knowledge and the growth of knowledge, therefore, is the essential key to economic development. Investment, financial systems and economic organizations and institutions are in a sense only the machinery by which a knowledge process is created and expressed.
In this context, the important thing about the analysis, like for every evolutionist influenced by Chardin and his omega point, is what happens at the “limit,” wherever the trend leads us. For him, the limit, which occurs in the definable limits of a system, is especially important. And at the limit, the omega point of an economy of perfect markets is the end of the economic problem: abundance.
That same logic of the limit would allow him to define the key of why and how capitalism of over-scaled corporations that intimidates Marcuse is not an endless alternative path, but only another moment on the road towards abundance. In The Organizational Revolution (1953), Boulding had already given us the tools to understand what, decades later, we would call crisis of scale, modeling how macro-organizations, in spite of the development of communications technology, create inefficiencies as of a certain point of criticality that move into the whole economy through the rigidity of prices, weakening the ability of the market to reach efficient equilibria and placing the weight of the economic system in such a state that Big Businesses would see it more and more as an objective to capture, as a source of the regulatory and direct rents on which, in the end, they depend.
The Network Era
The final decades of the twentieth century would be marked by the emergence of information technology and distributed networks. Originally born of the need to reduce the inefficiencies created by excessive scale, their massive popularization in the ’90s creates new social phenomena and makes visible the first cybercultures that had been maturing since the ’70s at the crossroads of the libertarian counterculture and technological exploration.
In 2001, Pekka Himanen publishes The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age. In it, he describes the culture of free software developers: A set of values in which the idea of private property is dispelled, knowledge is in itself the principle engine of work, and in which the separation between leisure and work seems to have been overcome. The hacker world becomes a myth of abundance. It is still seen as a big island in the middle of an industrial world, but it shows the promise of abundance at the end of the world the Internet is creating.
But Himanen is not the only one who knows how to see the promise contained in the new cultural forms. At the end of the ’90s, a chance meeting happens: Juan Urrutia, a disciple of Boulding and Marcuse, is beginning to work with the cyberpunks, with whom he would later found las Indias.
The first result of those conversations would be “The logic of abundance” a essay published at the beginning of 2001. In it, distributed networks and network effects appear for the first time as the economic foundation of abundance.
Urrutia would take up the Bouldinian idea of the importance of the limit and therefore of abundance as a result at the limit of a capitalism cleansed of corporate rents in The Coming Capitalism, published in installments between 2003 and 2008. A new concept, the dissipation of rents then serves as a link between the glimpses of abundance that characterize the emergence of distributed networks and the “de-marketized economy” with which Urrutia has characterized the economic analysis of a society of abundance, and which serves to address “Boredom, Rebellion and Cybermobs” (2003), processes of forming and changing consensus in identarian networks.
But Urrutia is not satisfied with building this unique bridge between the changes that he is experiencing in the first person and the society that he glimpses as possible. He extends the hacker ethic first to a “spirit of the bricoleur” that goes far beyond the world of software related by Himanen. He thus precedes the first narratives about “maker” world by nearly a decade, and foresees a growing “multi-specialization” that brings the “bricoleur” to the world of production. At the limit, this movement means the end of divisions in production and with them, the “change in perception” that we saw begin in Blake. This scenario leads him to give a progressive importance, beginning in 2014, to the distinction between knowledge^—born of the need to transform, and wisdom—the result and objective of the “good life” that the glimpses of abundance of a new communitarianism make more and more possible.
In parallel and almost as publicists, the Indianos publish the Network Trilogy, whose first installment, “The Power of Networks” accentuates the influence of network topologies on forms of social and political organizing throughout history. This trilogy, published between 2005 and 2010, would culminate with The P2P Mode of Production (2012), a manifesto that presents productive examples of Urrutia’s model of “identarian communities” and their “confederalism,” an idea already present, as we saw, in Kropotkin’s society of the abundance—following Proudhon in this—but also in Hayek. The Indianos would also pick up on Boulding’s idea of the crisis of scale to explain the dependence of corporations on rents and explain the simultaneous destruction of markets and state that characterizes the social decomposition that is being made even more visible with the crisis beginning in 2008.
But what’s really interesting from the point of view of the “history of abundance,” is that, beginning with the social experience of free software, for the first time, beyond Kropotkin’s logic of the transition, a new kind of economic cycle is outlined, the P2P mode of production, where capital is substituted by direct knowledge and the market is complementary, to the point that, at the limit, it goes “extinct.” And what’s no less important, this model is linked to the present through the new emerging industrial forms like the direct economy and the metabolisms of generation of knowledge that appear for the first time in those years linked to the overcoming of the intellectual property and academic institutions.
Nobody can yet present “detailed blueprints” of a society of abundance, but our brief tour through its imaginings, from the Golden Age to P2P production, tells us something extremely important. Abundance is not a dream that comes out of nowhere. It is not the fantasy of prophets and enlightened people. It expresses the development of knowledge and of their instrumentation in technology throughout history.
As we humans transformed nature more and more effectively, the more we learned about her and ourselves. And by knowing more about ourselves as a species and as part of that common metabolism, better approximations could be written of the same aspiration, intrinsic to our transformative nature, of a life not kidnapped by scarcity.
The “buts” and dismissals made of abundance and its spokespersons in every age by the “status quo” matter little. The mere imagination of abundance is the first place where we humans have found ourselves as such, as a species and leaders of time and nature. That’s why it is in the story of abundance where gods and supernatural beings were first dispensed with. Because, contrary to what Marx thought, it’s not only when abundance is the norm the human experience would be truly human—on the contrary, the really human experience is that which is oriented to building it.