All About Power – Part Two – Free Information, Freedom from the Grid, and Peer-to-Peer Bio-Innovation

windmillIn Part One of this series, I promised I would:

…explore some non-violent ways we can incapacitate the power elite, using this 4-step process,

  1. Identify the vulnerabilities: Fragility, overconcentration, ignorance, arrogance, lack of diversity, centralization, lack of redundancy, popular disgust, anxiety, dissatisfaction or apprehension, ill-preparedness, lack of agility, overcomplexity (left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing), lack of imagination and creativity, etc.
  2. Acquire resources stealthily: Put together what you need without letting your target know you’re doing so, or even what you are capable of doing with them.
  3. Develop solutions that exploit the vulnerabilities.
  4. Rigorously assess the likelihood of those solutions working effectively (incapacitating the incumbent power), and deploy only the high-probability solutions, quickly, before the incumbents have time to react and defend themselves.

and introduce ‘innovations’ that make our world a better place to live. The focus will be on new technology, new infrastructure, new models and new processes that replace the vulnerable ones that are the causes of so many of today’s global problems — and ensuring that these replacements are Open Source, and stay in the hands of all the world’s people.

In a brilliant and famous Wired interview with Freeman Dyson by Stewart Brand, Dyson identifies “a return to village culture” as the most important opportunity of the 21st century, driven by three technologies: global access to free information, local energy self-sufficiency, and biotech, which together could “gentrify” (bring affluence, population stability and ecological awareness to) the villages. Dyson predicts the “collapse of the market economy” will bring about this opportunity, in ‘rising from the ashes’ style. He’s a great believer in technology, and impatient with and pessimistic about our political and economic systems, but he has faith in human ingenuity, and the power of multiple, coordinated small-scale experiments.

But suppose if, instead of waiting for the collapse of the market economy and the crumbling of the power elite, we brought about that collapse, guerrilla-style,  by making information free, by making local communities energy self-sufficient, and by taking the lead in biotech away from government and corporatists (the power elite) by working collaboratively, using the Power of Many, Open Source, unconstrained by corporate allegiance, patents and ‘shareholder expectations’?

Let’s picture what that would look like: Imagine Canada, for example, with its 30 million people living in 200,000 communities with an average of 150 people each. Thirty people in each community work as partners in Natural Enterprises in the information sector — teaching, training, and managing the technology, information and learning resources of the community. Twenty people in each community work as partners in Natural Enterprises in the energy sector — operating and maintaining the community wind turbines, solar collectors, geothermal pipes and other renewable energy infrastructure that sustains the community. Thirty people in each community work as partners in Natural Enterprises in the biotech sector — growing and reforming proteins to produce foods, fibers, medicines and materials to feed and clothe the residents of the community, maintain its physical infrastructure and keep its citizens healthy. Everyone in the community plays a role in looking after each other’s well-being, raising the children, cooking, cleaning, and entertaining. Each community is completely self-sufficient for all of its essential needs. Its information, any surplus energy and biological products, and its artistic creations and productions are shared freely with other communities. Young people are the connectors and meme-spreaders in the community — part of their education is traveling and staying in other communities to find the people they want to live with and to learn hands-on how to make a living by trying out roles in each sector of the local economy. No one commutes and there is no need for private transportation other than bicycles — solar-powered vehicles are borrowed as needed for visits to other communities.

The first part of this guerrilla undermining of the corporatist-controlled ‘market’ economy — the ‘making free’ of information — is already underway. The war for free information between corporatists and people is occurring on multiple fronts: The attempt by large corporations to patent everything so it cannot be used by the people without paying an exorbitant and prohibitive fee; the attempt by large corporations to ban file-sharing without first paying extortion to the intellectual property ‘owner’ (little of which actually goes to the artist); the attempt to make more of the information on the Internet ‘pay for itself’. But the people are winning this guerrilla war.

I spent all day Saturday watching the first skirmishes in the second part of this guerrilla war, at a jam-packed information session on Wind Power, sponsored by the Canadian government, principally as an initiative to help enrich struggling family farms. Three hundred and fifty people packed a conference centre in a little town northwest of Toronto, and two hundred more were turned away, hoping to learn how to generate their own electricity, or to set up local energy co-ops in their communities. They were unfazed by the challenges — a five year process to locate the ideal site for wind turbines and to navigate the bureaucracy. The message repeated by the presenters over and over again during the day: Do this bottom-up, including your neighbours so this becomes a community project. If the community supports the project, the bureaucracy can be worked through more quickly, and the effort needed to succeed can be split up among more community members. The technology already exists, and is being improved at an astonishing rate. The economics of community-based all-renewable-resource energy production are already here. A representative of a local credit union, who has studied the European model by which local community energy co-ops are funded, was on hand with his chequebook and encouragement — money to pay for the infrastructure is available, no strings attached. The only obstacles are time, and paperwork, and…

One extremely agitated gentleman kept trying to sabotage the day’s events. Having all these local, piecemeal energy producers was ‘grossly inefficient’, he said, and for that reason (and because they are ‘eyesores’) they should be banned, in favour of large mega-farms of energy owned by private industry. Private industry would pick more ‘efficient’ sites, get economies of scale, and they ‘knew the business’ and would be motivated by profits to run these farms in a more businesslike way. This guy was utterly outnumbered on Saturday, but watch out — as word gets out that we can all be energy self-sufficient, and own our own ‘utility’, getting energy at cost (which is plummeting), the energy companies will join the war on the other side. They have billions to lose, and will not stand idly by as the peasants take back the means of their own production. In Canada, as in most of Europe, we have a liberal tradition in government, and governments here have ordered the owners of ‘the grid’ to allow local energy co-ops and even individual producers to feed their energy into it, and to compensate them at full retail price for what they contribute to the grid, on a ‘net-zero’ basis (if over time they actually put more into the grid than they take out, they only get a lower ‘producer price’ for the excess, but if they put in as much as they take out, they pay zero, not even a ‘rent’ for the use of the grid lines). It is doubtful that in the US and other conservative anti-government countries, the government will be as cooperative, and the struggle faced by local energy co-ops will be long, expensive and litigious.

We are not nearly so far along in the third part of Dyson’s vision for a community-based post-capitalist, post-‘market’ economy — biotech. This will be a more difficult and complicated process. The key players — farmers and scientists — currently don’t work together directly. The middle-man is the giant biotech firms whose answer is patented genetically manufactured foods providing monstrous revenues for the corporations and equally monstrous dangers to the natural world. These companies are working hand-in-glove with the equally giant agri-business conglomerates who want to make agriculture into a factory business where farmers are merely dependent employees who do what they are told, where automation is used to minimize the number of jobs that need to be created, where horrific animal cruelty is just ‘a cost of doing business’, and where all the profits accrue to the large corporate owners — a replay of the feudal system.

I have argued in past articles that scientists will play a pivotal role in either averting or causing the collapse of civilization culture, because they ‘own’ the assets — scientific knowledge — that could either allow us to create a sustainable economy (if they’re in our hands), or contribute directly to the escalation of the current unsustainable economy past the point of no return (if they’re in the hands of greedy corporatists and their politician handmaidens). Developments to date are discouraging — most scientists are in the employ of corporatists, or tied up in academia where their knowledge produces almost no social value. And scientists in past have often been politically naive or at best neutral, and ignorant about economics. But there are signs this is changing — organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists are agitating for drastic economic changes to make our world sustainable, and credible scientists no longer work for the Bush Administration, Davos and other corporatist-controlled political entities who try to make them mouthpieces and apologists for corporatist excess. And as conservative as farmers have been in recent years, they were critical supporters of the union and co-op movements that led to the New Deal and almost all modern legislation for social responsibility.

It’s time for us to get farmers and scientists working together to undermine the corporatist Ag-Bio stranglehold by creating an innovative, entrepreneurial, people-controlled, socially and environmentally responsible and sustainable Ag-Bio coalition, to bring the third part of Dyson’s dream to fruition. We’re winning the battle for free information, and we’ve turned the corner towards freeing ourselves from the Big Energy-controlled grid. But we need to do a lot of work on this third front, where we start now from a position of weakness. If we can succeed in this, we will have dealt a fatal incapacitating blow to the existing power elite, and created the foundations for a truly sustainable and democratic economy to supplant the one that now threatens us all.

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10 Responses to All About Power – Part Two – Free Information, Freedom from the Grid, and Peer-to-Peer Bio-Innovation

  1. Ken Hirsch says:

    It is doubtful that in the US and other conservative anti-government countries, the government will be as cooperative, and the struggle faced by local energy co-ops will be long, expensive and litigious.Sorry to disappoint you, but since the 1970s the U.S. has had a federal mandate for utilities to purchase power from independent producers (at wholesale prices). Most states have net metering laws similar to what you describe.

  2. Joe Deely says:

    In a continuation from the previous remark… The US also has a long history of municipal utilities. TVA – the Tennessee Valley Authority is one, LADWP provides all of the power for Los Angeles, SMUD provides the power for Sacramento, etc…

  3. Cuba is already showing the way, forced by the dramatic cut in of oil supplies. Farmers are the highest earners, earning more than engineers and being given the chance to attend agricultural college.Farms are being set up all over Cuba even growing in the cities in old car parks, etc. Surf around http://www.communitysolution.org

  4. Kevin Carson says:

    I really like your blog and have been delightedly digging through your archives for the past few days.But I’m puzzled as to what bizarro world your definition of “market” came from. My understanding of the market is simply the sphere of voluntary, non-coercive relations. By that definition of market, voluntary associations of people maintaining their own self-sufficient food and power systems is very much a market activity. On the other hand, that bizarre Type-A authoritarian who wanted to “ban” such activity seems quite uncomfortable with the idea of a free market.You seem to be taking “market” as synonymous with “cash nexus,” which it is not. Any free market that doesn’t have room for cooperatives, commons, and mutual banks isn’t a free market at all. These are, in most cases, more legitimately free market institutions than the giant corporations that got that way by externalizing their operating costs on the taxpayer and relying on the regulatory state to cartelize them and protect them from competition.The free market and corporate capitalism are two entirely different animals. Please don’t let our class enemies rob us of a perfectly good term.

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    I’m delighted to hear that the US allows full net-metering. I had been told that the US did not have the European style net-metering (full retail cost reduction to net-zero billing). As for TVA and LADWP, these monsters are the antithesis of community energy co-ops. Thanks to all for the links. Kevin — I try to always use ‘market’ in quotes to indicate its (mis-)use as a euphemism for unregulated oligopoly. I love the idea of a free market for regulating prices. I’m also rather fond of the idea of communism. Unfortunately the world has yet to see a true implementation of either idea, and it is probably naive to believe we ever will.

  6. Joe Deely says:

    The point in mentioning TVA and LADWP was just to show that the “anti-government” US already has a lot of public power utilities. I personally don’t have a problem with some of them being rather large. However, there are plenty of small ones as well.In fact, if you go to http://www.appanet.org/ which is the American Public Power Association you will see the following: “APPA is the service organization for the nation’s more than 2,000 not-for-profit electric utilities that are locally owned and operated by the people they serve.” To me, this sounds a lot like what you were talking about.In total, these utilities serve more than 43 million people.

  7. jeff says:

    PUBLIC POWERMost of the U.S. public power agencies were set up during the depression as Rural Electric Co-Ops, designed to bring electricity to communities a market could not serve (to push back on Kevin Carson’s intelligent push-back, “markets” are in the “free market” sense always based on profitability in money; a “free market” solution would have negated electricity to these communities for another 40-60 years because of the economics of generation technologies and building the grid to these podunks; but the real economics are net-positive…subsidizng their electrictiy makes them consumers for other goods an electric utility wouldn’t provide…what benefits the-market-of-the-whole though has no “market” that would inspire a for-profit to extend power there).Some U.S. cities have public power. Seattle is one of the biggest Urban Electric Co-ops. And San Francisco had it at one time but privatised, though there’s campaigning to get it back.

  8. jeff says:

    LOCAL, PIECEMEAL ENERGY PRODUCERSvs. LARGE MEGA-FARMS…Same argument for decades. When I worked at the U.S. Senate, I wrote and got my boss to introduce in 1976 a Family Farm Energy Conservation & Production Act that would have seeded 8,000 family farms at $2,000 each to convert bio-waste to fuel in a controlled mass experiment designed to enahnce the science and engineering around what bio-gas and other technologies existed then…The deliverables included: *mass quantities of data on input and outputs to optimise production practices, *some gas to offset some gas purchases * some income to offset gas costs *reduced pollution from agricultural wastes *a lot of treated compost that could replace some chemical fertilizers *another source of income from a commodity that tended to be reciprocal in price from most agricultural commodities…When Jimmy Carter got elected, his energy team took the $16MM and the plan, gave it to one mega-feedlot operator in Oklahoma who had been a big campaign contributor. The equipment, designed to work on a small farm, could never became economically viable on the larger, automated scale needed by the behemoth feedlot…Carter killed program as “technically unfeasible”. Tragic really…But this debate will persist on the U.S. side of the border at least as long as there’s R&D or subsidy to be dispensed. And it will need start-up capital to get it going, though if through something like the Farmer’s Union or the Grange, it wouldn’t have to be very much.

  9. crasspastor says:

    Jeff Angus:This is precisely why the “revolution” Dave spells out, must be done in a way that transcends the current system.”This guy was utterly outnumbered on Saturday, but watch out — as word gets out that we can all be energy self-sufficient, and own our own ‘utility’, getting energy at cost (which is plummeting), the energy companies will join the war on the other side. They have billions to lose, and will not stand idly by as the peasants take back the means of their own production.”I know it’s a losing battle as of now. But don’t underestimate the power of a newly growing global consciousness. Populations have to be propagandistically smeared in order for a military action, such as seizing not-for-sale land, to be successfully waged in the mind’s eye of the general populous. If we begin to refuse to take part in the “market” system in greater and greater numbers, networking ourselves along the way, it will become more and more difficult for the propaganda and marketing techniques of the corps and the governments in bed with them to have any effect.We just simply unplug.

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