Lost Opportunity

This is Albert's brief conclusion to the Peercommony/Parecon discussion/debate found here: http://www.zcomm.org/znet/zdebatealbsiefkes.htm Siefkes didn't feel a need to add one. Albert thought it might be useful.  


I had hoped we might arrive at unity in this exchange. My optimism ran like this.  

Parecon and peercommony. Suppose we assume that they both seek:

  • all people having appropriate say over economic decisions

  • all people sharing just circumstances and means of attaining well being

  • all people collectively enhancing and celebrating the creativity and diversity of whole populations while enjoying mutual aid

  • and all people accounting responsibly for the environment.

Then the differences between peercommony and parecon would be overwhelmingly about means and not ends unless we differed about the meaning of appropriate say, or just circumstances, I guess, which i did not expect.  

Peercommony as Siefkes presented it claims that technological innovations will soon create a context in which people having fair, diverse, and solidaritous results, appropriate say, and ecological sustainability, will be virtually automatic. In this better future, we will all do as we please. Institutions won't mediate difficult issues of incentives, fairness, and information, because economic tasks and responsibilities become so fulfilling we can just do what comes naturally There are no difficult issues of incentives, fairness, and information. We won't need overarching norms and limits to propel wonderful results. Indeed, to propose methods of allocation, norms for remuneration, means for decision making, or a desired organization of work, would be superfluous. Economic relations will take care of themselves. We will just need to remove all decision encumbrances that restrict people from taking what they want from a commons and doing whatever they choose for work.  

Parecon, in contrast, claims that attaining solidarity, diversity, equity, self management, and ecological stewardship depends on having institutions that provide needed information and suitable contexts so that people will benefit from choices that accord with these favored values and lose from choices that violate them. For advocates of parecon, it is critically important to institutionally address the difficult issues of incentives, fairness, and information because people doing what comes naturally is only consistent with people's highest aspirations and potentials in a context that makes that the case. We don't need infinitely blueprinted societies for future people to live worthy and mutually beneficial lives, but we do need basic institutions which make such behavior possible and which preclude contrary behavior as being outside the logic of sensible living. With that in mind, parecon seeks self managing workers and consumers councils, equitable remuneration, balanced job complexes, and participatory planning because these institutions are needed and cannot spontaneously pop into and out of existence as dictated by people's free daily choices. Rather they will have to be created and maintained if we are to have free daily choices at all.  

Why did I think these two markedly different viewpoints could unify?  

Well, I thought peercommony, in the person of Christian Siefkes, would agree that pareconist values were worthy and even that pareconist institutions could deliver the results peercommony wants – though with a few more steps and structures than peercommonists prefer. I thought peercommonists could then say, "well, okay, if you want to have the few institutions you advocate as a way station on the road to what we expect to be a still more spontaneously worthy world, fine. We agree that there is no sense risking disaster by foregoing such structures entirely in the near term, as long as we are open to transcending them as we become able to do so."  

Then reciprocally, I thought pareconists could say, "well, okay, if over time people become steadily more informed about and in tune with one another and it proves true that to get wonderful results, less structure is needed than parecon proposes – terrific." And in light of that, pareconists could agree that "if we take the precaution of establishing structures that propel the results we all seek in the relative near term when people are not yet that informed and in touch with each other, and then at some point thereafter we discover that those relations are no longer needed because the outcomes take care of themselves – hooray."  

Now, of course, in this bargain, the pareconist would expect that budgets and relative valuations, plus equitable sharing of the social product, plus a classless division of labor, plus self managed collective negotiations of outcomes would remain needed and desirable at least far into the future and perhaps forever. And the peercommonist, in contrast, would expect that the period with these pareconist institutions in place would be quite brief, as very soon after transcending current economic forms we would quickly and easily dispense with requiring participatory planning and remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor, and even socially organized job complexes of any kind, or information provision, and simply do as we pleased, harmoniously.  

But even with these very different expectations about what would unfold as we enjoyed a better future, unity could arise because rather than risk disaster in the name of a deeply believed (but in the pareconists' view ill considered) immediately attainable greater "perfection," the peercommonist says okay I can see the advisability of parecon as a step toward peercommony. And rather than tout as permanent parecon's features in the name of a deeply believed (but in the peercommonist view insufficient) conception of economic "optimality," the pareconist says okay to peercommony as an ideal toward which history may lead. 

But, my hopes aside, that delightful accommodation did not happen. In this discussion I was unable to elicit anything like the sought agreements. Siefkes has not said yes, I want classlessness. He has not said, yes, I want collective self management. Yes, the fruits of labor ought to be equitably distributed. Yes, the institutional contexts in which we find ourselves ought to propel solidarity and diversity. Yes, our methods of arriving at what is produced and consumed ought to take into account consumers' desires and the effects on those doing work, but also take into account the effects on bystanders and on the environment. And mainly he hasn't said, either, that pareconish institutions would yield basically the same results he thinks would arise without parecon's structures in peercommony, or, if he thinks they wouldn't, he hasn't said what he thinks the difference would be.  

I think there are some things it might be interesting to know about both the community of advocates of parecon (beyond myself) and the community of advocates of peercommony (beyond Siefkes) to shed some possible light on some possible reasons for our impasse. Do the folks involved in these advocacy communities tend to show, over time, ever greater solidarity with ever wider circles of people around ever more diverse issues of peace and justice? Or, is the scope of concern and solidarity of the advocates of either parecon or peercommony limited, and not steadily growing?  

Perhaps someone will do some kind of survey to uncover such trends and tendencies, if they exist, and investigate their meaning. I know it is a vague formulation – but I think it may prove somewhat instructive. I may be wrong about this, but I don't think there is a single advocate – not even one – of parecon, who isn't also an advocate of revolutionary transformation regarding polity, kinship, culture, international relations, and ecology. On the other side of that coin, I am not sure there is even one advocate of peercommony who overtly and consistently advocates such diverse change. 

In any event, in peercommony the goal of wonderful social outcomes arrives by virtue of people producing what they want, when they want, as much as they want, and also taking what they want from the resulting product, without institutional structures that convey limits, provide relative prices, establish ways of apportioning labor, etc. The point of origin of this vision was, to the best of my "historical" investigations, the experience of programmers. One wonders, has it been thought through in more encompassing scope, or has the character of programming been pivotal and deemed too universal?  

To my perceptions, while I can empathize with some sentiments behind peercommony – for example, that we should like and freely choose our work and should be free more generally, of course – I honestly wonder if peercommony doesn't have a serious element of anti sociality or ingroup-ism lurking in its logic. Is peercommony really about everyone? Are all people considered and viewed similarly? Or is it just about everyone in an in group who happen to be doing – or, more accurately, happen to be monopolizing – all the empowering work, such as programmers writ large? If it is the former, then the question I can't get beyond is why wouldn't having equitable remuneration and balanced job complexes simply codify what peercommony would in that case be claiming to attain more or less automatically? If peercommony thinks it attains something other than a just distribution of responsibilities and benefits, plus collective self management, okay, why not say what that is, and how it differs? Without those answers, I don't know if the gap between parecon and peercommony is mainly a different understanding of current prospects and potentials on the road to one shared distant destination – so we should be able to reach accommodation – or if there are two quite different destinations lurking in the views? 

One thing someone examining this debate might do is check out the International Organization for a Participatory Society – an organization that I suspect includes far more pareconists than any other organization in the world – and look at its breadth of commitments and aims. Then find some similar grouping of most peercommony advocates, and contrast its breath of commitments and aims to those of IOPS.  

I think parecon's advocates – and participatory society's advocates – are about attaining the same overall benefits for all people. But I am wondering about whether that is true for peercommony. Is its specific constellation of commitments inadvertently skewed by arising from the experience of well off programmers – or is it skewed due to a classist misperception of a large proportion of the population who, it is assumed, will be happy doing the work that is left and having a level of say that is left after those who are assumed to be more into creative work make their self fulfilling choices? Or maybe it isn't skewed at all. I don't know.  

What I do know is, if we desire that each person's freedom should not restrict other people being just as free, and if we desire that each person's combined balance of consumption and of effort in creating social product shouldn't restrict each other person's combined share of output and effort in creating social product, and if we desire that each person's access to empowering tasks shouldn't exceed other people's access to empowering tasks, then we will arrive at a classless economy with just allocations of circumstances, influence, and material and social benefits. I think parecon would attain this. I think peercommony, even if it was possible to establish – which, due to its lack of allocative means I think it is not –  would not attain this. If that is correct, does peercommony miss the aim due to mere error, a misunderstanding, or is peercommony not about that aim in the first place, or perhaps not even about a full economy at all?  

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