Saturday, June 30, 2012

Michel Bauwens - The Next Buddha Will Be a Collective

I think I have seen this article before, a long while back, but it's good to see it posted at Reality Sandwich where it will get some wider exposure. Bauwens is advocating a communal or relational spirituality, which seems like a logical extension on the P2P philosophy, which includes "distributed networks" as a foundational idea.

I am in total agreement with a more relational view of spiritual evolution, contra the highly individualistic focus of the mainstream integral crowd. Clearly, both paths are useful and necessary, but integral has focused nearly all of their marketing on the individual path.

The Next Buddha Will Be a Collective


Spiritual expression, and the religious organizational formats in which context it will take place, is always embedded in a social structure. For example, we could say that the tribal forms of religion, such as animism and shamanism, do not have elaborate hierarchical structures as they arose in societal structures that had fairly egalitarian kinship based relations. But the great organized religions, which arose in hierarchically-based societies, have intricate hierarchical structures, monological conceptions of truth, and expectations of obedience from its members. The Protestant Reformation and its offshoots took on the many democratic aspects which corresponded to the rise of a new urban class under merchant and industrial capitalism, and the many offshoots of the new age movements have clearly adopted contemporary capitalist practices of paid workshops, trainings, etc ... (i.e. taking the form of spiritual experience as a consumable commodity).

In this essay, we will claim that contemporary society is evolving towards a dominance of distributed networks, with peer to peer based social relations, and that this will affect spiritual expression in fundamental ways.

To organize our thoughts, we will use a triarchical division of organizational forms, and a quaternary structure of human relations. Human organizational formats can be laid out as network structures, outlining the relationships between the members of a community. A common network format is the hierarchical one, where relations and actions are initiated from the center. It is graphically represented by a star form, but also often represented as a pyramidal structure. A second very common network format is the decentralized network, where agents actions and relations are constrained by prior hubs. In decentralized networks power has devolved to different groups or entities, which have to find a balance together, and agents generally belong to the different decentralized groups, which represent their interests in some way. Finally, we have distributed networks, which are graphically represented by the same hub and spoke graphic, but contain a crucial differentiating characteristic. In distributed networks, though there are indeed hubs, i.e. nodes with a higher density of connections, these hubs remain voluntary. Think of the difference between taking a plane that is going to go to the destination via a hub airport, and you have no choice but stay in the place, whose flight path has been decided by someone else, and the much greater freedom that you have in a car, where you can still pass through that big city hub if you want, and many people do, but you can also go around it, the choice is yours.

Our first contention is that distributed networks are becoming a dominant format of human technological and organizational frameworks. Think about the internet and the web as point to point or end to end networks. Think about the emerging micro media practices such as wiki's and blogging, which allow many human agents to express themselves by bypassing former decentralized mass media. Think of the team-based organized project groups increasingly being used in the worksphere. In a distributed network, the peers are free to connect and to act, and the organizational characteristics are emerging from the choices of the individuals. The second framework we are using is the quaternary relational typology proposed by the anthropologist Alan Page Fiske, who describes this extensively in his landmark treatise, the "Structures of Social Life."

According to Fiske, there are four main ways that humans can relate to each other, and this typology is valid across different cultures and epochs, as an underlying grammar. Cultures and civilizations will choose different combinations, but one format may be dominant.

Equality matching is the logic of the gift economy, which was the dominant format of the tribal era. According to this logic, the one that gives obtains prestige, and the one that receives feels an obligation to return the favour, in one way or another, so that the equality of the relationship could be maintained. Tribal cultures have elaborate ritualized and festive mechanisms, organized around the notion of reciprocity and symmetry, to allow this process to happen. The second relational logic is Authority Ranking, and corresponds to the just as important human need to compare. This ranking may be the result of birth, of force or coercion, of nomination by a prior hierarchy, of credentials, even of merit. Authority Ranking is the main logic of the imperial and tributary hierarchies (such as the feudal system) which dominated human society before the advent of capitalism and parliamentary democracy. The strong protects and provides for the safety of the weak, who in exchange, pay a tribute. These societies were moved by the concept of a life debt, from the human to the divine order sustaining it, and from the mass of the living to the representatives of that divine order, who required tribute in order to extinguish that debt. The organizing principle is one of centrality (represented by kingship) and redistribution of the resources by a hierarchy. The third format is Market Pricing, based on the neutral exchange of comparable values. This is the logic of the capitalist market system, and the impersonal relations on which its economic system is based.

Finally, there is the logic of Communal Shareholding, which is based on generalized or non-reciprocal exchange. In this form of human relations, members collectively and voluntarily contribute to a common resource, in exchange for the free usage of that resource. Examples are the medieval agricultural commons, the mutualities of the labour movement, and the theoretical notion of communism used by Marx (but of course not the hierarchical Authority Ranking practice of regimes abusively using this nomenclature). There is of course a relationship between the organizational triarchy and the quaternary relational grammar. The tribal era was based on small kinship based distributed networks, which had little relationship to each other; the imperial and feudal regimes use the hierarchical formats, and capitalist societies used mostly decentralized political structures (the balance of power of democratic governance) and competition between firms. In contrast, the current social structures are increasingly moving towards manyfold affinity based distributed networks, interconnected on a global scale. 

Read the whole article.
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