It Belongs to Everyone

By on March 12, 2016

We share so very much…but who does it really belong to?
The many efforts of groups around the world are converging for justice, peace, the end of poverty, the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, and the restoration of a healthy planet.

Podcast: The Power and Perils of Cooperatives

By on September 23, 2017

Institute for Local Self-Reliance: Christopher Mitchell, the director of ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews Hannah Trostle and Karlee Weinmann, research associates for the Community Broadband Networks and Energy Democracy initiatives, respectively. The three discuss the cooperative model of ownership and how this model can enable investment in gigabit internet connections for their member-owners, but also... Continue reading

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Patterns for Decentralised Governance and why Blockchain Doesn’t Decentralise Power… Unless You Design It To

By on September 22, 2017

I  recently gave a talk at the re:publica conference in Dublin. Every time I go to one of these internet-and-society conferences I get very grumpy about the blockchain hype, so today I used my stage time to spell out my grumpiness. Here’s what I said… Civilisation ❤️ trusted databases It might help to think of blockchain as... Continue reading

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Dmytri Kleiner on the workings of a Venture Commune

By on September 22, 2017

Guerrilla Translation’s transcript of the 2013 C-Realm Podcast Bauwens/Kleiner/Trialogue prefigures many of the directions the P2P Foundation has taken in later years. To honor its relevance we’re curating special excerpts from each of the three authors. For our third and final extract, Venture Communist and Miscommunication specialist, So, to try to explain what “venture communism”... Continue reading

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Essay of the Day: The Right to the Co-City

By on September 21, 2017

A recently published article at the Italian Journal of Public Law, authored by Christian Iaione. Abstract “This study is an effort to contribute to the current urban studies debate on the way to conceptualize the city by advancing a rights-based approach and to suggest that to build such vision one needs to reconceive the city... Continue reading

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Affluence Without Abundance: What Moderns Might Learn from the Bushmen

By on September 21, 2017

Where did things go wrong on the way to modern life, and what should we do instead? This question always seems to lurk in the background of our fascination with many indigenous cultures. The modern world of global commerce, technologies and countless things has not delivered on the leisure and personal satisfaction once promised.  Which may be why we moderns continue to look with fascination at those cultures that have persisted over millennia, who thrive on a different sense of time, connection with the Earth, and social relatedness.

Such curiosity led me to a wonderful new book by anthropologist James Suzman, Affluence without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen. The title speaks to a timely concern:  Can the history of Bushmen culture offer insights into how we of the Anthropocene might build a more sustainable, satisfying life in harmony with nature?

Writing with the emotional insight and subtlety of a novelist, Suzman indirectly explores this theme by telling the history and contemporary lives of the San – the Bushmen – of the Kalahari Desert in Africa. The history is not told as a didactic lesson, but merely as a fascinating account of how humans have organized their lives in different, more stable, and arguably happier, ways. The book is serious anthropology blended with memoir, political history, and storytelling.

After spending 25 years studying every major Bushman group, Suzman has plenty of firsthand experiences and friendships among the San to draw upon. In the process, he also makes many astute observations about anthropology’s fraught relationship to the San.  Anthropologists have often imported their colonial prejudices and modern alienation in writing about the San, sometimes projecting romanticized visions of “primitive affluence.”   

Even with these caveats, it seems important to study the San and learn from them because, as Suzman puts it, “The story of southern Africa’s Bushmen encapsulates the history of modern Homo sapiens from our species’ first emergence in sub-Saharan Africa through to the agricultural revolution and beyond.”  Reconstructing the San’s 200,000-year history, Suzman explains the logic and social dynamics of the hunter-gatherer way of life -- and the complications that ensued when agriculture was discovered, and more recently, from the massive disruptions that modern imperialists and market culture have inflicted.

The fate of one band of San, the Ju/’hoansi, is remarkable, writes Suzman, because the speed of their transformation “from an isolated group of closely related hunting and gathering bands to a marginalized minority struggling to survive in a rapidly changing polyglot modern state is almost without parallel in modern history.” As European settlers seized their land, forced them to give up hunting, forced them to become wage-laborers on farms, and introduced them to electricity, cars and cell phones, the Ju/’hoansi acquired “a special, if ephemeral, double perspective on the modern world – one that comes from being in one world but of another; from being part of a modern nation-state yet simultaneously excluded from full participation in it; and fro having to engage with modernity with the hands and hearts of hunter-gatherers.”

In learning more about the San, then, one can learn more about the strange, unexamined norms of modern, technological society that most of us live in.  It is fascinating to see the social protocols of sharing meat and food; the conspicuous modesty of successful hunters (because in the end their success is part of a collaboration); and the “demand sharing” initiated by kin and friends to ensure a more equal distribution of meat and satisfaction of basic needs.

The inner lives of the Ju/’hoansi suggests their very different view of the world.  “For them,” writes Suzman, “empathy with animals was not a question of focusing on an animal’s humanlike characteristics but on assuming the whole perspective of the animal." The performance of the hunt engenders a kind of empathy for the prey, as well as a broader understanding that the cosmos ordains certain sacred roles for all of us – as prey, hunters, and food. Hunting and eating in the Kalahari connects a person with the cosmos in quite visceral ways – something that no supermarket can begin to approach.

I’m not ready to hunt my own food, but is there some way that I can see my bodily nourishment reconnected with the Earth and my peers, and not just to packaged commodities?  For now, my CSA is a good start.

The most poignant part of Affluence without Abundance is the final chapter, which describes how many San – deprived of their lands, ancestral traditions, and cultural identities – now live out dislocated lives in apartheid-founded townships that Suzman characterizes as having a “curious mix of authoritarian order and dystopian energy.”  There is deep resentment among the San about the plentitude of food even as people go hungry, and anger about the inequality of wealth and concentration of political power.  Most frightening of all may be the pervasive feelings of impermance and insecurity.  History barely matters, and the future is defined by market-based aspirations -- a job, a car, a home.  The modern world has few places to carry on meaningful traditions and sacred relationships.

I was pleased to see that James Suzman has founded a group, Anthropos, toapply anthropological methods to solving contemporary social economic and development problems.”  A timely and important mission.