Introductory post on neovenetianism, explaining its conceptual framework and its main narratives written for being discussed with the P2P Foundation.
Topology as a narrative
The basic tool we have used for understanding the social changes experienced in last decades is the distinction between the three basic network topologies, made by Paul Baran in his famous 1966 paper on Darpanet.
But according to an Spanish Cyberpunk slogan in the nineties: “under every informational architecture lays a structure of power“. So we found in Baran’s graphs not only computer networks but a historical narrative:
- Centralized network: every node except one, are peripheral and need the central one for communicating between them. If central node falls, the whole network disappears.
Welcome back to the eighteenth century! No national identity were still defined. The middle European person sees in all its life time only a hundred different faces. The Post (postas in Spanish and Portuguese, la Poste in French) was the main interlocal communication system. Based in horse and merchant ships routes, it reproduces the architecture of monarchic absolute power: the strictly centralized network of the king’s taxation system. If you wanted to send a letter from Bahia to Rio de Janeiro it should travel through Lisbon. Any direct communication between different colonies in the Portuguese Empire was forbidden.
First newspapers are local, composed with local news with few references to national or international news. The first Brazilian newspaper was pubished in London and packaged to the main Brazilian cities one by one. Until 1811 was easier to send a clandestine letter from an alternative external center than to interconnect the colonial urban centers directly.
When in 1779 revolution arrived to France, the first political organizations, les clubs as the jacobine club, selforganized from the same post centralized structure. The clubs had a center, a national center, and correspondents in the province. Communication between local correspondants were filtered by the center, keeper of the political identity of the party. And when revolutionaries took power, the resultant state structure, known until today as jacobine state recreated again the same informational architecture around the national capital.
- Decentralized network: If you interconnect a pull of centralized networks you will get a decentralized one. As result dependency of a central node is substituted to dependency of a cluster of localy centralizing nodes. If one of them falls only a subnetwork will desappear.
When the telegraph originally appeared it was just a development of Post national centralized structure, but when in 1851 a telegraphic cable linked Paris and London, the informational architecture of the world suddenly changed. Connecting almost instantaneously the national centralized networks the global result was a first global decentralized network of online communication, what Tom Standage called the Victorian Internet.
The telegraph became soon the skeleton of the very first international world and the neural tissue of the internationalization of economy… and social conflicts. When British industrial owners faced with the first workers unionism, they started to use telegraph for subcontracting production in France during strikes. Then british unions called for the first International Conference of progressive organizations: the 1865 meeting at Sant Martin’s Hall were Marx, Bakunin and mistic italian nationalist Mazzini -the truly star of the event- founded the International Workingmen’s Association, the first International. And during Crimea’s war, Mr Reuters’ alliance with British Admiralty and London’s Times for wiring the path to the Black Sea, set at a time the very basis of contemporary media ecosystem, political control of warfare and global stock markets’ hysteria… Local papers will include then national and international news. In consequence, foreign affairs got into the scope of public discussion, eroding conservative arguments against universal voting.
Federalism became soon the word of the times. It developed the multilevel filtered, representative model through the state itself and configured the standard for any kind of organization from industrial firms to the scout movement. The informational structure of the world of the nations was a global decentralized network… indeed the telegraph network. Just a look to the socialdemocrat party and first national workers union structure at the beginnings of XXth century in Germany, France of Spain shows an almost perfect correspondence. Because of it Clairemont Ferran became such an important place in socialist and unionist history: it was the national center of telegraph network, the perfect place for sending a general strike telegram…
- Distributed Network: All nodes are interconnected without necessary pass through a centralizing cluster. The fall of any node only produces its own unconnection. There is no center/periphery divide. Network is robust and no filtering is possible. The emergence of a distributed architecture in communication produced blogsphere (the first distributed media), civil swarming and transnationality (different from the internationalism of the two last decentralized centuries)…
Social nature of distributed networks
Topology changes the very nature of the relation between nodes in a human network. In a centralized one you only can to adhere or not. Religious, political and economical relationships in the Ancient Regime were not very different to Facebook I-like button: you can adhere or to remain silent. Absolutist, centralist times of scarcity and adherence culture.
In decentralized networks a whole new way of relation emerges: participation. Of course you participate on some other’s proposals in some other’s terrain, becase of it is participation: there is a clear divide between the different levels of centralization and their “inferiors”, with the commons in the bottom of the pyramid. Is the same kind of relation established between bloggers and commenters.
In distributed networks, as moving from a subnetwork to another is really low cost and there is not a structural dependence between nodes, we have no adherence nor participation but interaction.
A closer look to the social dynamics of interaction will show us the abundance logic in motion. Abundance logic is a seminal concept introduced by Juan Urrutia in 2002 as the basis on which to understand what was then known as the “new economy”. The classic example is the comparison between newspapers and the blogsphere. In a newspaper, with a limited paper surface, publishing one more line in an article entails suppressing a line somewhere else as in a zero-sum game. By contrast, in the blogsphere, a space where the social cost of an extra post is zero, any blogger’s publishing his or her information does not decrease anyone else’s publication possibilities. The marginal cost is zero. The need to collectively decide what is published and what is not simply disappears. As opposed to scarcity logic, which generates the need for democratic (or authoritarian) decision, abundance logic opens the door to pluriarchy, a system where every individual actor can decide only for itself but has no opportunity to decide on the other actors. Plurarchy makes appear any democratic or authoritarian decision process as an artificial generation of scarcity, a decrease in diversity, and an impoverishment for all.
From network to community
So interaction in a distributed network generates deliberation, not collective decision making. But deliberation is a process, meaning iteration and then accumulation of references. In time: common contexts. That ‘s an important step forward from simple distributed network. It means it is becoming a deliberative network, a conversational network.
From this point is no more just about an interaction, an interchange of arguments and ideas. We are incorporating now a kind of variables. First a basic cohesion feeling, a “pleasure of being together“: fraternity. Second, shared contexts what allows me not only to recognize the others as members of the same network but to be reasonably sure I will be recognized by them as an equal member too. In other words: the deliberative networks trends to develop identity.
When identity and fraternity grew up from interaction we have a community. A “real community” where everybody knows and interacts with (almost) everybody. A community that is “real” also in opposition to “imagined” communities as nation, class or genre where you don’t know even names of the other supposed to be members, you have to imagine them. An finally also “real” in opposition to “service communities” where there is no interaction but participation in some provider’s proposals or mere adherence to someone or something.
By the way, once we have a real community we know it is conversational, it is pluriarchical and it is soustainibly creating new implicit consensus and meanings for their shared contexts. In other words: every community is generating its own knowledge.
It can be technical, scientific, familiar, business centered, theological, linguistic or gambling knowledge, but it always gonna be “identity related“. Of course there are intercommunity contexts and even socially accepted knowledge, but the fact is that almost every knowledge you will describe was originally developed inside a “real” community. Because only in a community previous shared contexts could be discussed and reinterpreted for creating new knowledge.
The question is, where is the magic? Conversational communities cannot decide anything, they dont produce any material good, they seem to be useless… So, why conversational communities endure? What’s the base for fraternity? What’s the reason we value so much community recognition and identity?
The truth is that you have an stick and a carrot always pushing you towards community building. The carrot is making your knowledge useful (accepted and understood) and then making possible learning new things with low social and intellectual cost; the stick is the cost of learning, explaining, discussing and sharing by first time already developed contexts with a completely new group of persons.
From communities to phyles
In the previous paragraphs we argued how Internet’s informational architecture made possible to emerge millions of conversational communities and how works its logic, based in the social proprieties of its distributed structure. Our key concepts were distributed network, abundance logic/ plurarchy on one hand and on the other hand interaction, identity, fraternity and real community.
Now we will deep in the nature of this real communities and in some different paths some of them followed towards new forms of organization and identity.
It’s not a completely new phenomena. Telegraph revolutioned not only the speed and range of communication but the political structure of the world from local identity and royal power towards national identities inside a decentralized managed national state. Along the european and latinamerican XIXth century civil wars, local, religious and lineage identities were subdued to nationality.
Only when Internet quickly grows during the XXth century ninenties, things, and identity boundaries, starts changing, drawing a transnational world.
In Internet, when conversations take place in languages such as French, Spanish, or Arabic, they become transnational with great ease. Only 2 out of every 5 people who write in French on the Internet live in France. More than half the readers of any Madrid website with more than 1000 visitors per day are in Latin America. Arabic in the Western islamic world has gone, in ten years, from being a religious language superimposed onto regional, almost mutually unintelligible varieties (Moroccan, Algerian, etc.), to having a standard that is gradually reunifying the local dialects: Al Jazeera Arabic.
All these virtual-real communities arise in new spaces, the spaces of the various globalisations associated with the great transnational languages. The grateful experience of plurarchy discovers for some of them a way out of the exigent and tortured national, ethnic, class and political stablished identities: the emerging “real” identity of their own transnational community.
At this point, some of them start to live for theirselves: the objective of the community becomes the community itself, not the original cause that made them to meet. They dream the possibility of a completely virtual life with their real community. Sometimes it takes the form of virtual countries, other times of exclusive social networks or even different kinds of transnational activism. That is what we call “Digital Zionism“, a kind of digital segregationism. But Digital Zionism is an unstable terrain: economy matters and in the long run no coversational community can afford a complete identity, alternative no national identities if it cannot explain the very basis of the personal subsistence of its members.
On the other hand community as was experienced before by this groups, was based in abundance and plurarchy, while economy is the world of scarcity and decision making. The dilemma it’s not easy to solve and the majority of communities who evolved towards digital zionism, simply die.
But few of them evolves to a new kind of structure: the phyle. The phyle is a real community (then transnational and virtually born) who collectively have firms or group of firms with the declared objective of feeding economically the autonomy of the community. Community precedes and has always priority over business, so economic decision making processes never can impose its results over the scope of community plurarchy.
For phyle members there are two “simple truths“: the preeminence of the transnational community needs and freedoms over its own economy and the necessity of producing and trading in a plain, non hierarchical enviroment. When both principles are linked by the economic democracy principle (usually through cooperativist forms) we are talking about neovenetianism. But, neovenetianism its not an organized movement nor an structured ideology but an environment related to the conversation on phyle and phyle building. Indeed we could say that neovenetianism is a multitude of forever-opened phyle-related discussions: cooperatives vs familiar firm networks, virtual markets vs monetary and trade ecosystems, communitarism vs universalism, open communities vs integration procedures, etc.
Over all of them phyle itself could be consensually defined as a networked, distributed, small sized, hacker ethic empowered, Internet born organism with high productivity and great resilience who has its own universe of myths, narratives and tools…