Extracting value from the Festival of Ideas #AdlFoI

Show me. Don’t tell me. Show me that sharing and challenging are important enough to keep a clear promise to a 2/3 to 1/3 split between sage-on-the-stage and audience interaction.

Alternatively, if you’ve no intention or capability to enforce a 30 minute/15 minute split between talking and Q and A, then don’t promise it. It’s very very simple. Just say ‘x is going to talk for 45 minutes. You can email him (or, less likely, her) if you like.’ If you do this beforehand, then people can make an informed adult decision about what they will attend. If you lack the honesty or competence to keep your promises, don’t be surprised if someone calls you out for poor chairing. Actually, be surprised, because most people are far too polite, which is part of why the bad behaviour (and it is bad behaviour) persists.
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Right, Michel Bauwens. Several people whose judgement I trust rate him very highly. And they are right to. He’s clearly able to give a clear, compelling and fruitful overview of the long duree. He’s read prodigiously, and is able to communicate clearly, even while giving you flashbacks to Donald Pleasance circa The Great Escape (“take me with you, I can see perfectly!”)

Bauwens started out by looking at three nurses all doing exactly the same job of caring for an elderly person. One is doing it via a family/church situation, and has no ‘GDP’. The next is a public sector nurse, and this is seen as a drag on the economy. Only the third, private sector, nurse is ‘generating income (i.e. surplus value for shareholders/investors). Bauwens points out that this is weird – three people doing the same job where only one counts as ‘profitable.’ This is his ‘way into’ the notion of value regimes, and they change more often than you might think.

Citing a book called The Structure of World History: From modes of production to modes of exchange by Kojin Karatani, he lays out four value regimes (and none exists in a pure state). In a nomadic tribe, there is simply a sharing/pooling of resources (and the hunters were often the last to choose what they got). In villages you have reciprocity/gift economies. After ten thousand years of this, you get to conquer, plunder and redistribution – i.e. feudalism. And then the market (thanks to double-entry book keeping, the printing press and the Reformation).
The book looks at this in detail, with the end of the Roman Empire (5th Century) the persistence f the class structure, Charlemagne’s tries to re-establish it. In the 9th century you get knights stealing from the church, nobles stealing from the peasantry – a plunder economy. But then the monks of Cluny start confronting the knights with their sins… and it worked! So along comes feudalism and ‘noblesse oblige, ‘primogeniture etc.
Bauwens argues that there are two ways of creating wealth today – extraction from land/soil etc and extraction from people. But these are radically unsustainable ecologically – climate change, resource depletion, the sixth great extinction) and also socially (rising inequality since the 80s, recent rise of radical right in Poland and Hungary, possibly France and Austria too, with inequality destroying the middle ground. In the UK the calculation is that there are only 100 harvests left thanks to soil exhaustion

Clearly a generative regime, that creates wealth by adding, is required. Bauwens points out that something like Facebook is valueless without the input of its users. He points out that the new companies like Uber and Airbnb are not investing in their own infrastructure, or hiring workers, and that we are moving from a salary worker economy to freelancers. Give it another 15 to 20 years and you’ll see a lot of pauperisation (16m in UK with less than 100 quid in saving).

So, what is to be done? Bauwens points to the “commons. He talked about networks as ‘nomadic technologies, with the Internet making people independent of place, and more able to pool resources. (Bauwens spoke of ‘commons-bound-peer production and the self-organising ability to organise production and distribution via ‘open contributory systems’. He cited the wikihouse and wikicar – a 1/5th of the fossil fuel usage, apparently.
Bauwens pointed out that entre-preneur means ‘taking between’, an extractive mode, and the word should instead by entredoneur – giver between. He bigged up ‘Enspiral: more people working on stuff that matters’, 300 New Zealanders with an open source decision-making process (loomio) and also co-budgetting. This is all ‘infrastructure of cooperation.
He pointed to the ‘capital-nation-state’ formulation of Karitani (nation as in the imagined community created when the State and Capital had screwed over the older ways of being). He then segued into Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation, and its narrative (the “double movement”) of how the market tries to get its own way, succeeds and then 20-30 years later there is a revolt of the nation – popular protest creates social movements that force the state to re-regulate the market. Has happened a bunch of times, but now capital is truly transnational, states don’t have the power to discipline the market.
So, where is the productive civil society going to come from? Depends what you mean by productive, doesn’t it!

So, Bauwens argues for value sovereignty (think back to the three nurses), and the need to create a ‘membrane’ around ourselves has value flowing in and sticking around.
After further arguments, he proposed we all take a closer look at the website he’s part of helping grow – 21 thousand articles, 40 million views, trying to “observe and take not, and try to learn”.

Books he suggests we read:

There were three minutes for questions. Three minutes. I asked about what the vested interests might do in response, to defend themselves. I also pointed out the gap between the rhetoric of sharing versus the reality of talking for 42 out of 45 minutes which drew predictable gasps and jeers from some of the audience (the sheep, basically).
Came the answer ‘if all citizens take action, they can’t all be stopped. Choose your battles carefully. Do things in the interstitial spaces until strong enough’. He gave two examples – of AirBnB being fought to a standstill in Barcelona, with the battle leading on eventually to a new politics.
The second example was of ‘the Bologna Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of Urban Commons’ of roughly ten yeas ago.

The second brief question was about the outcomes of system change efforts/advice in Ecuador. Bauwens impressed me with his frank appraisal that the efforts having not succeeded, (the national state decided ‘nope’ and so it’s moved to a city level). Commons Transitions Coalition in Melbourne

Other things to read-



Seven blog posts about one event? Really? #tediousselfpromotion

The only way I know what I think is to read what I wrote. Sort of.  And then that writing serves as an aide-memoire (and, yes, a calling card on occasion).  Here’s a list of the ones I did after today’s Festival of Ideas event.

Athenian Democracy?  A few funny things will need to happen on the way to the forums

Sustainable jobs in sustainable communities

I’ve seen the future and it’s … social media.

Solar Citizens launch

Climbing out of the abyss?  Not so sure on that

Roads to ruin, pathways to prosperity

Ideas about festivals of ideas

No guarantees that I’ll do the same for tomorrow. After all, my brain will probably give up the ghost, especially after I inflict the latest Jack Reacher movie on it…

Ideas about the festival of ideas #AdlFoI

[Seventh of a series of blog posts about sessions at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas on Saturday 22nd October]

So, had a great time at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas today. Met some very interesting people (some famous-ish, some as obscure as me).  And  while not ever disgruntled, I was also not completely gruntled. I never am.

As well as ‘welcome to country’ and acknowledgement of the importance of the land to the original occupants, there could be two other pre-beginning things.

  1. An acknowledgement of carbon dioxide – its growth in the atmosphere as the central geo(physical)political fact of the 21st century, and the fact the kind of life we attendees take for granted is part of that growth [here’s an example]
  2. An acknowledgement of the isolating impactof neoliberalism and many top-down forms of communication (such as being ego-fodder at an event).

    And there. therefore the MC asks everyone to turn to a person next to them or behind them (i.e. a stranger) and  simply greet them, verbally or with a handshake and perhaps chat for a minute.

next up – and this is crucial – all the speakers to spend no more than a third of their time on the diagnosis of what is wrong, and two thirds of their time on what they would do about it/like to see done about it.

We really need speakers who can address the ‘why have we failed in the past’question.  What road blocks prevented us from achieving what (we knew) needed to be achieved, in the 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s (pick a decade, any decade).  What do we need to do differently to sustain social movement pressure?  How do we avoid the perils of the smugosphere?

Keep data on who asks questions (age and gender) and aim for 50/50 (on the basis tha

Before Q and A, have people turn to the person next to them to get help honing a question. This may improve the gender balance of questions  (see this blog post on ‘meetings are institutionally sexist‘)

‘Roads to ruin, pathways to prosperity’ for South Australia #AdlFoI

[Sixth of a series of blog posts about sessions at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas on Saturday 22nd October]

Finally today, John Spoehr looked at South Australia’s future ‘Roads to ruin, pathways to prosperity’.

Again, he bigged up Labor’s response to the GFC, compared the Abbott government’s 2014 budget as a throwback to Fightback (!), the 1990-1993 neoliberalism writ-large of the Hewson Liberal Party (which went on to lose the unloseable election, done slowly by Paul Keating).

Spoehr warned that the ‘personal empowerment’ rhetoric for services was seductive and attractive.  He argued that there are alternatives to the current ‘nuclear waste dump to pay for the stuff we want to do’ proposals of the State Government.
He didn’t shie away from the challenges ahead, especially for male full-time employment as major employers shut up shop.  If Whyalla’s steel works were to close, it would, for example, be very messy indeed.

He invoked Don Dunstan on the question of ‘we intervene or we sink’.

Anyway, I asked the question I always do – about how social movements can be clever and resilient enough to cope with the inevitable two or thee years down the line political a) ‘fuck off’ or b) ‘yes, we will do what you say’ (followed by broken promises that demoralise further). How can social movements avoid either co-optation or repression?

Spoehr pointed to engaging younger people, the internet, convergences between issues, and predicted that climate change would be a major driver of the next wave of protest over the coming years.

FWIW, it’s something I write a lot about, at a ‘micro’ level, of how the normal ‘rules’ of social movement events (protests, rallies, meetings etc) usually exclude anyone whose face doesn’t fit, who isn’t willing and able to spend ages in boring meetings etc etc. For recent examples about South Australia, see here here and here. Plenty more where that came from, just ask, or google ‘smugosphere’, ‘ego-fodder’ and so on.

In response to another question (on resisting the siren song of ‘personalisation’) he suggested we read the work of Dexter Whitfield

Dexter Whitfield seminar
Dexter gave a talk on ‘Capitalist dynamics reconfiguring the state: alternatives to privatising public services’ at The University of Nottingham on Wednesday 16 September 2015.

A recording of his talk from the event is available via the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSJG) website.

Climbing from the Abyss? Not sure on that… #AdlFoI

[Fifth of a series of blog posts about sessions at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas on Saturday 22nd October]

Barry Jones really is a living legend. The list of his achievements and honours is very very long.  But…

But this.

When Jones gave the Don Dunstan Oration today (Dunstan was a game-changing Labor leader of South Australia in the 60s and 70s), he did not deliver an explanation of “climbing up out of the political abyss” that the title and blurb promised, but rather described that abyss and how we got in it.  That description was erudite and entertaining- this is Barry Jones, after all – but it was not what the audience had come for (I spoke afterwards to a couple of people who left half-way through it). The audience was mostly elderly, described to me by one entertaining person as “Whitlam’s offspring; the rat in side the boa constrictor of the system” [Whitlam introduced free tertiary education during his 1972-1975 Prime Ministership].

All that Jones said; that Labor has been the party of change and reform; that the debate has become infantilised and reduced to the purely economic and the personal; that there seems to be an inverse relationship between our access to knowledge and the capacity of our political systems to deal with the concatenating wicked problems – all this was true.

But we in the audience knew that, I think.  We had come to hear how he thinks we should get out of this godawful mess, not to hear (entertaining) comparisons between Trump and Lincoln, enumerations of all the silences (on class, problem gambling, the power of lobbying groups, growth as an end in itself, the destruction of human rights, the environmental collapse, the rise of surveillance etc). and an enumeration of the toxicity of media, digital media and social media cycles.  And yes, political parties are hollowed out (representing, at best, 0.6 percent of the population, and state funding is simply ‘ armour plating for existing structures’ and factions being – in the words of Robert Ray ‘a whole production line of apparatchiks”  Yes, all true (although he didn’t mention it, Jones lost his Minister of Science gig because of factional bargaining, back in 1990).

Yes, the EO Wilson quote on our species having paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and god-like technologies was entertaining, but it’s still just an aphorism of the apocalypse.  Yes I will look up Mark Thompson’s “Enough Said” but there just wasn’t – to paraphrase Gertrude Stein – a there there.

The word courage in politics is always an excuse (not used by Jones) to refer to the classic scene in Yes Minister about ‘courageous decisions’, so here goes.

I think Jones very probably does have many important and interesting things to say on the question, but he spent so very long outlining the problems that we just didn’t get to hear any of those things. Nor was there a chance for any questions from the floor, which is a bit ironic, since one of the problems is surely a lack of dalogue, no?

Solar Citizens launch at Adelaide Festival of Ideas #AdlFoI

[Fourth of a series of blog posts about sessions at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas on Saturday 22nd October]

I missed the beginning of this because the Kerr thing was so good.  It was the launch of Solar Citizens. It covered the ‘solar rooftop revolution’ (1.5million Australian houses with solar panels, from a basically standing start 8 years ago), the start of solar citizens and its plans for a ‘fair and orderly transition.’

This was done via an engaging talk that took in President Carter’s 1979 installation of solar panels on the roof of the Whitehouse, Reagan’s 1986 removal, and Obama’s 2014 re-installation (by which time the price had dropped by a factor of 40). In the last few years the rooftop solar ‘revolution’ has at a conservative estimate, 19000 jobs, reduced energy bills and 24 million tonnes of carbon saved. An interesting comparison was made with the millennium drought, which also brought a sense of personal connection/responsibility for consumption patterns.

Solar Citizens’ origins were linked to the ‘direct attacks’ on renewables emanating from the big ‘gentailers’ (Origin, AGL and Energy Australia) and the owners of the transmission lines (the ticket clippers).

In May 2015 they’d proposed a solar surchage of $100 per year on people with panels in South Australia, simply to raise revenue.  Thus do incumbents defend themselves…. The regulator (AER) said ‘nope’, it went to court and the courts said ‘nope’, while local groups rallied, petitioned and generally raised cain (effectively).

Solar Citizens are also trying to get ‘big solar’ on the agenda.  They’ve combined with Get Up! To produce a ‘Homegrown Power Plan’ .

Here’s their video-

It seeks to remove roadblocks , ‘reboot the system’ [e.g. end the situation where people only get a derisory amount for energy they sell back from to power companies, that then flog it on at ‘normal’ prices to other customers) and repower the country” (concentrated solar thermal etc).

These sorts of normative entrepreneurship efforts are crucial to any transition, be it energy, food or whatever.  They often get written out of the official histories (we can’t have citizens making  a difference, after all, they might get wrong ideas about democracy and their own power!], but boy do they matter…

There’s a Solar Citizens event on October 31 in Adelaide

. Sadly there was no time for questions – I’d have asked about their relationship (competition?) with BZE…

I’ve seen the Future baby, and it’s… social media #AdlFoI

[Third of a series of blog posts about sessions at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas on Saturday 22nd October]

Dr Fiona Kerr (of Adelaide University; all the best people went there) gave a barnstorming tour through the brain (her day job), and talked about the impacts on it of prolonged exposure to new technologies.  She made a compelling case that … sorry, just had to check an email message.  Where was I?  Oh, yes, she made a…   No, sorry, it’s gone.  Something about deep thinking needing to be done off-line, away from the dopamine-pings of… hang on, just a minute… something about abstraction.

She then moved on to talk about the fascinating physiological profiles of empathy (‘discernment mode’.  The problem with social media is that it doesn’t have the face-to-face empathic cues and clues, so although we are better ‘connected’, we are no less lonely.  She speculated on the possible link to increased depression [As I am sure Kerr is aware, new technologies always come with these fears – the introduction of the telephone, for instance, was predicted to kill  off people visiting one another].

Kerr then turned to Big Data, and recommend we read Hans Rosling, who looks at the patterns(and solutions) in solving world’s problems.  There was an intriguing reference to a search engine company having made a choice to present ‘easy’ results, that keep us surfing (and therefore our eyeballs sold to advertises) rather than digging deeper.

On the question of references to oneself, in face-to-face conversation, its roughly 30 per cent of sentences that include I/me statements but on social media it’s in the 80s%. #engineofnarcissism.  [but then, Christopher Lasch was banging on about narcissism in the 70s, and Philip Slater in the 60s). It’s always been getting worse, no?

Kerr also talked about cases of women with new born children on their phones while breast-feeding. She said that while skin-to-skin contact is really important, eye contact (‘direct gaze’) is also very very important indeed.  (She gave the example of infants’ cortisol levels going up and staying up during a ‘still face’ and no touch experiment , versus cortisol levels not spiking as high or staying elevated if  ‘still face’ was accompanied by continuous touch. Recent work is looking a ‘irritable cortisol receptors.

In response to an excellent question/observation about how in East Timor, very young children are given (small!) jobs to do and the elderly important jobs, Kerr spoke of the importance of will power (persistence) but also challenging children and expecting more of them.

I had a brief chat afterwards with Dr Kerr on Blade Runner (naturlich) and the rise of the machines (our extermination may be down to nothing more than an optimisation algorithm, rather than SkyNet becoming self-aware) and… ‘synthetic empathy


Words, ideas, videos