Under lock and key

Daniel Quinn has written about civilization and how agricultural farming is what has brought us to our current environmental predicament. In his books, particularly Ishmael and My Ishmael, he points out putting the food supply under lock and key (as opposed to being readily available for foraging) is a natural outgrowth of agriculture, given its surpluses and that our entire infrastructure is built around that condition.

Recently I’ve been reading his book Beyond Civilization, which, contrary to what you might think, is a treatise against civilization in general — not an advocation of improving civilization, but of an abandonment of the notion altogether, for in civilization, we find the memes that time and time again lead us down the path of exploitation and environmental desecration.

Rather than just continue building civilization in a different way, he advocates walking away — and developing a new model of making a living based on tribal economics.

While his vision is appealing to me, I’m stuck wanting to see massive change and revolution, sensing the urgency of our situation. On the other hand, no massive and complete upheaval will actually work, since inverting the triangle would simply result in another triangle.

Instead, and this is the way biological systems work, we need incremental change and new memes that shape our thinking and our approach to our reality.

I’ve been thinking about this lately and find that DRM and Intellectual Property Laws represent one side of Daniel’s Quinn’s story — and efforts like Coworking, BarCamp, microformats, open source and others represent, or at least have characteristics, of the other.

In particular, I question any institutional trend towards consolidation, crystallization, centralization or the locking up of naturally occurring resources or readily reproducible resources (like digital data). With much of my work, I’ve attempted to implement or at least follow the framework suggested by Andrius Kulikaukus in his “An Economy for Giving Everything Away”. I’ve also taken lessons from Daniel Quinn’s work and others, and have come to prefer a longer and more incremental approach to the changes that I want to see made real, and I think that this is the path of open source and biomimetic innovation.

Having visited BarCampLondon, I instantly see the value of making BarCamp open and proactively inclusive from the beginning. Retrospectively, I’m proud that there was no urge to trademark or lock down the name, the brand, the model or the community — as anathema to the spirit of BarCamp those actions would have been, they were choices that were made, either explicitly or implicitly, over time. And there are lessons to be had from our experiences.

On occasion, the notion of trademarking the BarCamp name has been brought up, primarily from a defensive perspective, to chill any attempts by “bad actors” or “corporate interests” from taking away from us that which we call our community, much CMP nearly did with their “Web 2.0” trademark. Now, I can tell you that I can understand the reasoning behind this and can sympathize with it. I can also state, quite certainly, that I’d rather the name be taken from us than to bring us back to centralization and the methods of enforcement and protection that I find so unseemly in a gift-based, community context.

Trademarks, patents and copyright all place upon the owners of such Rights obligations that do not beget community. As DRM are the economic shackles of genius, so I would not move to limit the bounds and possibilities that good actors within the community might do. That is not to say that we are immune from abuse, only that our priority should be the encouragement and promotion of proper and positive use.

To that end, we rely on a community of peers to uphold our values and principles, and do not outsource the responsibility of this work to a cathedral, a court of law, a foundation or other centralized establishment. We defer instead to the routing of the network and the creation of nodes in bearing shades of the original.

This is an ecosystem, we are the grid, this is walking away from civilization, this is rise of the tribes of BarCamp.

I’ll conclude with a quote from Daniel Quinn‘s Beyond Civilization, where he invokes an interesting word in describing “A new rule for new minds”:

We deeply believe in taking a military approach to problems. We proclaim a “war” on poverty. When that fails, we proclaim a “war” on drugs. We “fight” crime. We “combat” homelessness. We “battle” hunger. We vow to “defeat” AIDS.

Engineers can’t afford to fail as consistently as politicians and bureaucrats, so they prefer accedence to resistance (as I do). For example, they know that no structure can be made rigid enough to resist an earthquake. So, rather than defy the earthquake’s power by building rigid structures, they accede to it by building flexible ones. To accede is not merely to give in but rather to give in while drawing near; one may accede not only to an argument but to a throne. Thus the earthquake-proof building survives not be defeating the earthquake’s power by by acknowledging it — by drawing it in and dealing with it.

This is the path forward, and the path that I prefer to any kind of control, ownership or dictatorship. I believe that it also the one of the BarCamp community, and so long as we are able to accede to our environment and always respond to it positively, productively and optimistically, I think that we stand a chance to see the change realized that we wish to become.

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: Molly.com (YC W18), Uber, Google.

6 thoughts on “Under lock and key”

  1. Maybe there is something to my concerns that I have shared with you and your PiC *sic* about the violent language and expression that we use.

  2. Chris … First of all congrats on one thoughtful and intelligent post. This is a keeper for the sidebar. Anyhow, some thoughts just to test the waters, you understand 🙂
    (This is really an over a beer conversation)

    There’s a school of thought that society moves in cycles. Right now we are clearly within a disruptive cycle as old guard resists and new guard pushes all the buttons, whether DRM, patent, copyright, or simply, we “always made money this way, so we’ll hide behind Government regulations (Banks).

    So … my question/ thought is … is the BarCamp/ Openness/ Open Source expression you talk about merely a simple reflection of the obvious advantage internet brings, and the disruption it creates. Is it actually new?

    Take microformats. How long before someone patents them, and we are back into the old cycle.

    How can we make Web X.0 survive and break down all the BS.

    Thats my simple question.

  3. Randomly came across this post and wanted to say hello. I’m a long time follower of Daniel Quinn’s.

  4. Chris, Thank you for all of your attention to our paper “An Economy for Giving Everything Away”, but most of all, for taking our thoughts to heart. I invite your readers to join any of our Minciu Sodas laboratory’s working groups, including Cyfranogi led by John Rogers for participatory society, open economy and community currency.

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