Peer to Peer is mostly known to technologically-oriented people as P2P, the decentralized form of putting computers together for different kind of cooperative endeavours, such as filesharing and music distribution. But this is only a small example of what P2P is: it's in fact a template of human relationships, a "relational dynamic" which is springing up throughout the social fields.
For example it is emerging as a 'third mode of production', neither profit-driven nor centrally planned, but as a decentralized cooperative way of producing software (free software and open source movements), based on 'equipotential' participants. It uses copyright and intellectual propery rights to transcend the very limitations of property, because in free software, if you use it, you have to give at least the same rights to those who will use your modified version, and in open sources, you have to give them equal access to the source code.
Such commons-based peer production has other important innovations, such as it taking place without the intervention of any manufacturer whatsoever. In fact the growing importance of 'user innovation communities', which are starting to surpass the role of corporate sponsored marketing and research divisions in their innovation capacities, show that this formula is poised for expansion even in the world of material production, provided the design phase is separated from the production phase. It is already producing major cultural and economic landmarks such as GNU/Linux, the Wikipedia encyclopedia, the Thinkcycle global cooperative research projects, and a Writeable Web/Participative Internet/Global Alternative Communications infrastructure that can be used by all, beyond the corporate stranglehold on mass media. Finally, CBPP exemplifies a new work culture, that overturns many aspects of the Protestant work ethic as described by Max Weber. In the world of development, it is exemplified by the emerging 'edge to edge development partnerships' theorized by Jock Gill.
P2P is emerging as a new form of political organisation and sensibility, already exemplified in the workings of the alterglobalisation movement which is a network of networks and refuses the principle of 'representation', i.e. that someone else can represent your interests. Thus the birth of conceptions of 'absolute democracy' or 'extreme democracy'. In France,the recent social movements since 1995 were led by "Coordinations" exemplifying exactly this sort of practice.
To give another example, P2P is emerging as a new ethos and methodology in the field of spirituality, where a new generation of authors, such as John Heron and Jorge Ferrer, are rejecting spiritual authoritarianism in favor of a participatory spiritual research method based on the free cooperation of individuals.
In the essay that you are about to read, all this and more is described in detail. But it is also explained, and we come to the conclusion that P2P is an expression not of the gift economy (which is a form of equality matching, where gifts have to be returned), but as a form of 'communal shareholding', where free participants co-create a new type of Commons, available to all, on the basis of need. It's logic is described in the form of an ideal-type, to which it various expressions are then compared. We also explain by pointing to major shifts in epistemology (ways of knowing) and ontology (ways of feeling-being), such as for example the new paradigm of connectivist learning, and multi-perspectival or a-perspectival truth-building. P2P is all about participation in a new kind of Commons, and it is the new basic format of civilization, which is now emerging as the basic infrastructure of 'cognitive capitalism' (a form of economy based on primarily immaterial flows), but in significant ways transcends, goes beyond it, may in the end be incompatible with it. Thus the new areas of struggle, political strategies, and scenarios for the future are also outlined. Finally, it is all placed in a overall evolutionary framework of the evolution of self, technology, political and economic systems, culture, spirituality and philosophy.
The conclusion is not only that P2P is the next big thing for human civilization, but that its new form of non-representational democracy is a crucial ingredient to find the solutions to global challenges facing us; a new ethos representing the highest aspirations of the new generations. The P2P and its Commons is something worth defending and fighting for, against those forces who want to create a corporate-based "Information Feudalism", and it carries in itself a new vocabulary and conceptual framework to continue and update the age-old struggle for further strides in human emancipation and moral advancement, and to create fruitful alliances between the peasants defending their rights of subsistence (and the struggle against biopiracy), the solidarity of global industrial workers, and the interests and aspirations of the new generations of knowledge workers.
P2P advocates are not Communists, meaning that they are not in favour of centralized and authoritarian modes of state-owned industrial property; but they may well be a new breed of CommOnists, who want to combine the aspiration to freedom inherent in the liberal tradition, with the aspirations for equality inherent in the radical democratic and socialist traditions, in a new form of civilization in which both are entirely compatible. It is precisely the free individual cooperation in the creation of use value, which allows the individual to find his highest expression and calling in the creation of a Commons which is useful to anyone in the global community of humankind.
Peer to Peer and Human Evolution / html version
|Links and Resources|
draft integral bibliography
P2P News Archive
P2P Theory foundational essay
The Foundation for P2P Alternatives
The Foundation's Blog
Summary essay on P2P Theory
Delicious P2P tags