Jaron Lanier’s rant against online collectivism and its relational alternative

Michel Bauwens, P2P Foundation, Jan 29, 2016
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Michel Bauwens responds to Jaron Lanier's post in Edge warning us of "digital Maoism" and the dangers of online collectivism. Bauwens finds, I think, the same middle ground between the individual and the collective. I think we all agree, with Lanier, that "Collectives can be just as stupid as any individual, and in important cases, stupider." But what are the conditions in which they're not? This middle ground (the 'network', as opposed to the group; or the 'connective', as opposed to the collective) is created not by all of us somehow becoming the same, but rather, by virtue of the relationships we enter into with one another ('cooperation', as opposed to collaboration).

Where I disagree with Bauwens is with some of the architecture he builds around this. For example, he writes, "Indeed, human agents never just ‘relate’ in the abstract, agents always relate around an object, in a concrete fashion." I disagree. Humans do not require a "view of the whole" to interact (that's exactly what gets us into trouble in collectivism). Bauwens also writes, "This individual operates not in a dead space of objects, but in a network of flows. Space is dynamical, perpetually co-created by the actions of the individuals and in peer to peer processes, where the digital noosphere is an extraordinary medium for generating signals emanating from this dynamical space." Again, Bauwens is trying to incorporate some sort of view of the whole into the picture, something that is 'co-created'. It's not connectivism if you introduce collectivism in through the back door. The 'whole', if there is any, is perceived individually, differently, autonomously, by each individual, and hence has no inherent unifying or collective force.

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