This "Glossary of Backward-Looking Words" is our attempt to identify words that have embedded, old-paradigm meanings that are often used uncritically, invisibly directing our attention in certain ways and blocking other ways of thinking. Social scientist Steven Jackson would call the words in this glossary examples of "broken world thinking." pdf
#Why do we need such a glossary?
In his “Keywords for the Age of Austerity,” html John Pat Leary cites Raymond Williams' 1976 classic, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society wiki , to show that certain words "bind together ways of seeing culture and society. These shared meanings change over time, shaping and reflecting the society in which they are made." The keywords for our time
"relate to affinity for hierarchy and a celebration of the virtues of competition, 'the marketplace,' and the virtual technologies of our time. This series will explore the historical meanings embedded in these words as well as the new meanings that our age has given them."
# A Glossary of Broken-World Words
- Citizen: Implies that people's identities are in relation to the state, and that non-citizens are somehow "less than" equal peers or perhaps even "illegal." See essay by Kate Reed Petty, "Is It Time to Retire the Word 'Citizen'?" in LA Review of Books blog, April 22, 2017, blog
- Dualities (or dichotomies): Pairs of polar "opposites" that imply that each pole exhibits very diferent logics and are essential incompatible. But we can often dissolve or transcend the presumed dichotomies when we experience the social ontology of commoning in a given situation. Example: the polarity of the individual and collective is transcended through the idea and experience of the "Nested-I."
- Governance: Implies a separate class, power group or institutional apparatus that stands over others and governs them, precluding the idea of a collective governance system that is integrated with and controlled by a group of peers themselves. "Peer governance" is our preferred alternative.
- Innovation: In contemporary usage, the very idea of "innovation" is seen as intrinsically beneficial and progressive. In fact, the celebration of "innovation' reflects capital's incessant demands for return on investment and competitive advantage, which are propelled by technological and business innovation. The alternative to "innovation" is not its binary opposite, "static and traditional," but rather creative adaptation that is shared, needs-based and convivial.
- Leadership: Implies a single leader -- bold, courageous, insightful -- who mobilizes "followers" to achieve collective goals that are otherwise unattainable. Such individuals are important, to be sure, but the focus on "leadership" often obscures the inner dynamics of social collectives in actualizing change. For example, the distributed knowledge and open feedback loops within a commons may be critical to transformations. Or people who function as "super-nodes" (not "leaders") often contribute certain knowledge, talents or acts that catalyze major changes over time.
Nonprofit: The term "nonprofit" implies that an organization is virtuous and socially minded -- presumably the opposite of a self-serving for-profit corporation. But in fact, a nonprofit is simply a tax status that indicates that an organization is not structured to produce market revenue, profits and capital returns. It does not imply any affirmatively good social purpose.
Organization: This term implies a coherent, integrated institution that is coordinated to shared goals and speaks with one voice. But this idea is now being inverted by the power of open networks. Coase's Theorum about the corporate form as a solution to high transaction costs is now being subverted as open and commons-based sharing provides a more efficient, effective vehicle for minimizing transaction costs. Put another way, trusted communities are moving beyond transactional encounters to trust-based relationships, via improvisational social networks and commons with varying degrees of coherence. Conventional organizations (government & corporate bureaucracies) are finding that the very definition of an "organization" is changing, becoming more fluid, dynamic, and social. Institutional boundaries are becoming more porous and collaborations with "outsiders" more routine.
Policy: The word "policy" implies general principles, laws and rules that are decided by government authorities and imposed from above. The wisdom and legitimacy of "policy" is often justified by citing its democratic and scientific antecedents -- elections, procedural fairness, expert advice, etc. But state power, especially in its alliance with market capitalism, has its own imperatives shaping the creation and implementation of "policy." The counterpoint from the commons is custom, traditional knowledge, and informal systems that have been shaped and refined by widespread social practice over time.
- Scale (as a verb): "How do we scale this idea?" implies that some sort of centralized, hierarchical system is needed to expand the operationality of a given idea. "Scale" is often another way of saying "significant" or "consequential." But as we explain in our principle of emulate and federate, small-scale, local projects can "scale" through self-selection and self-organization, without centralized systems of control. The wisdom of designer Thomas Lommée is apt: "The next big thing will be a lot of small things."
- Pluralism: The idea of "pluralism" is often taken as unalloyed social virtue. It suggests that the speaker tolerates a diversity of races, ethnicities, gender orientations, religions, etc. This is important so far as it goes, but the idea of "pluralism" generally accepts the market/state polity as now constituted. A more bracing challenge is to embrace the idea of a "pluriverse," which recognizes that there is not a single reality and worldview -- the "One-World World" that anthropologist Arturo Escobar speaks of html -- but rather a "pluriverse" of many experienced "worlds" that people create.
# Misleading Dualities
- Collective/Individual: This duality is often used to suggest that the interest of an individual is positioned against the interests of a collective body. Such conflicts can exist, to be sure, but the idea of an individual as separate and distinct from a group -- the "self-made man" -- is an illusion. An individual can only develop and come into being through his/her participation in a larger collective. And vice-versa: the collective an only come into being through individuals. In other words, the two are conjoined and interdependent, not polar opposites and separate. We try to underscore this idea through the idea of the Nested-I and Ubuntu-Rationality.
- Cooperation/competition: These two terms are often posed as opposites. But evolutionary scientists and anthropologists note that the two are often quite interrelated; species tend to have symbiotic relationships that entail both competition and cooperation, depending upon the circumstances. Even economists have noted such dynamics in corporate marketplaces as companies both compete and cooperate in ever-changing ways,
- Consumer/producer. Standard economics generally sees consumers and producers as a dyad relationship: a business produces, an individual consumes. But as commons and open networks empower individuals to self-provision for themselves (individually and collectively), the duality between the two functions is blurring. Some speak of individuals who function as a "prosumer," blending production and consumption in one process. This coinage has its value, perhaps, but it still puts the discussion on an economic, materialistic plane -- production and consumption of goods -- rather than seeing that more is going on than resource-modifications and distribution. The commons paradigm points to a larger range of human sensibility and activity than "prosumer."
- Objective/subjective: In modern life, these two modes of perception and understanding are taken as opposites. The "objective" can be quantified and measured, and it is a hard, immutable fact of "reality" -- whereas the "subjective" is merely one person's emotional reactions, feelings, mood, and intuition. The former is seen as real, the latter as unreliable and transient. However, neurologists and behavioral scientists and economists have shown that the separation between objective and subjective is largely a fiction. The commons paradigm seeks to reintegrate the "objective" and "subjective."
- Rational/irrational: This duality is a variant of the "objective" vs. "subjective" one noted above. The "rational" is supposedly "objective," while the "irrational" is merely personal and "subjective." The presumption is that non-rational (i.e., qualitative, emotional, spiritual, intuitive) modes of understanding are not to be trusted, or at least confined to "private" spheres of life (family, community). The "rational" is associated with public life (and men and boys) while the "irrational" has been associated with private life (and women and girls).
- Public/private: This familiar dichotomy reflects the premise of modern industrial societies that government and markets are separate and somewhat oppositional. The government is supposedly the force for "public" purposes, and the market is supposedly "private" (even though the "Invisible Hand" of "free markets" is cast as the engine of public purpose). However, contemporary politics has demonstrated just how closely allied the state and market truly are, such that any disagreements pale in comparison to their strong commitment and allegiance to a worldview based on market capitalism. Thus debates that revolve around an opposition between "public" and "private" fail to consider a broader, larger array of possibilities based on noncapitalist forms of order.
- Pluralism is often taken as social virtue because the speaker claims to tolerate and accept alternative views on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, etc. But acceptance of pluralism within a liberal state, which has normative expectations about social aspirations and attitudes toward market society, is very different than welcoming a pluriverse / pluriversal, which implies a recognition of multiple ways of being in the world without a shared allegiance to the market/state.