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October 27, 2009


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Also, just came across this on-line magazine on Community Currencies: http://www.ccmag.net/


Hm, not sure if this is satire falling flat, but I'm not sure I get your response.

The way I would look at it is that if we do not fix the issues with the social systems, that global warming is the fever that will rid the planet of us like a plague. But it is also important to see the other side of this, that human money and the proposed new currencies as "human information system" are actually an opportunity to get out of the mess we are in.

Organisms that don't have the necessary systems to survive, do not survive. If we overshoot our niche, we could take down most of the species we cohabitate the planet with, we have already taken down many. These are systems issues, nobody and no living being escapes the consequences. No way out, we are all in together for the whole ride.

Phil Cubeta

So to love life and all species how can one root for the human? What can cure the earth of this species? We show no signs in aggregate of slowing our global despoliation. What % of species would be better off if we were extinct?


How can one not?

Would you suggest we commit suicide as a species to accomplish this "cure"? What other alternatives are there? Should we give up any possibility that we might learn to live in harmony with the living environment and technology?

There is no question that the Earth is changing, and even if humans disappeared all at once, the trajectory has been changed and many species will die off. Extinction events are in the fossil record, and one of them likely set the stage for humans to emerge in the first place. Even if the worst case come to pass, the Earth survives and regenerates. Not that we would not weep for all the destruction if we were around to do so, but that there is a level at which these events just are. They are only good and bad with respect to ourselves or alternatively other organisms. It still is what it is, awesome, mysterious and with all of the potentialities it had before.

And given that we are not going to just checkout and leave the Earth humanless without a fight, the real question is to find a path not just out of this worst case, but to a higher possibility of re-integration with the living world. Towards not just surviving, but thriving. There is no reason to assume we will continue on the more destructive paths.


We are just now witnessing the collapse of the markets. We may also see the collapse of "the markets" in another sense, the markets as a metaphor for life. Metaphors are not merely ornaments: they are very strange. For instance, the moment you take for granted that a metaphor is the equivalent of the thing it describes or points to, is the moment when that metaphor is effectively dead. It's worse than useless for thinking with. But usually people go on using such metaphors long after they've ceased to generate any new ideas--which is one of the things a metaphor is supposed to help us do. People will just keep walking on in the resulting conceptual daze, because to think about it is like looking at the end of thhe world. Some will invest heavily in re-animating the corpse and blame the demise on the usual suspects: the all-powerful and infinitely devious upstart poor and other outsiders.

I mean, maybe the market was never supposed to become the dominant metaphor of the content of human livelihood; maybe that's why it fails.

Eric Harris-Braun

Stephen Jay Gould spoke at my college graduation, which was before the fall of the Berlin wall, so the threat of global destruction that was most present in the imagination was of super-power nuclear war, not climate change. His message at that time, was that if we did blow ourselves up, "Nature" would hardly care. He said that life on the planet itself would recover quite nicely (in time) as such an event would be on a much smaller scale than the asteroid collisions that wiped out the Dinosaurs. Of course such an event would be horrendous, but mostly from a human centric point of view. He was saying that life is a MUCH bigger force than humans, and though we can certainly affect how life works on this planet, mostly what we are affecting is how well it works for us. We have a choice, he said, to make sure we live within life's current configuration of sustainable flows, or, if we don't, they will be destroyed and life we restructure itself into a new set, with out us.

You might think that this view allows me take an attitude of "well, if we screw it up, that's ok, because life will prevail in the end." But rather it's just the opposite. Instead this long scale view is very humbling and useful. It helps me keep focused, but also not misanthropic. It helps me see that life itself is what's "in charge" on the planet, and thus my right relationship is service to living systems.

Phil, you write: "So to love life and all species how can one root for the human." Gould's message for me is precisely that to really "root" for the human, is to re-envision ourselves not as "extra-nature" but embedded within it. I look for a time when the word "Nature" doesn't even make sense because there is not a thing out there that we can call nature and conceive of as different from ourselves.

The core point of my post that you quote, is that I believe humanity can, as a social organism, re-naturalize, but only if we shift to using a flow control system (i.e. a new monetary system) that itself is harmonizes with natural flow systemics. I believe that this is well within the possible, and it is what drives my passion for meta-currency.


I am coming to understand the role of markets differently. Yochai Benkler (author of "Wealth of Networks) building from Ronald Coase' distinction of "the firm" and "markets" as two distinct modes of projection. Benkler adds "comons based peer production" as another mode of production that is becoming more significant today.

Most people don't realize just how new "markets and firms" are in human history, really only a few hundred years. Check out Wikipedia on "Natural Ecomony" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_economy where it is stated that while money has been in continuous use ever since in was invented, it was always only a small part of the economy.

What has happened is that the "firm and market" part has grown radically in recent history to the point of dominance. What we are trying to do with the new currencies is to make the flows of this commons based economy more visible. As a practical matter this will enable the investment of currencies, both scarce traditional currencies, and the new abundant ones, in accounting for commons based wealth creation.

Markets are still important, just not the be all and end all of economies as peer production ramps up.


Chis Corrigan blogging about failure: http://chriscorrigan.com/parkinglot/?p=2366

Even if humanity fails, the earth keeps living, cycling. We are part of a larger system.

We do face another order of failure here, the possible end of humanity. And like Eric, I can't feel, "Oh well, life goes on without us." It matters to me that we survive, that we solve the problems to continue in harmony. Continuing in disharmony is impossible. Life will get rid of us if we don't wise up.


You can call it life, or cosmos, one is hot, one is cold, but, you know, these themselves are metaphors.

Phil Cubeta

The best word in this thread to my eye is "livelihood." Kia is saying that currencies are a dead metaphor, I believe, still born, or died of old age. Our livelihood is earned in other coin, and our poverty is of another order. If we asked how much holy spirit weighs, how many dollars it can covert to per ounce, what weight it can pull, we would have committed a category mistake, misunderstanding the kind of concept the holy spirit is. When we talk about measuring flows and reducing them to spreadsheets, I feel like we are saving the husks and tossing out the kernel of what it means to be gifted. "Link love" in blogging is a happier term.

Phil Cubeta

Let me add that I am ignorant about alternative currencies, and appreciate being taught here. Anything that encourages giving, or the creation of "social capital," or conviviality and citizenship could be a good thing. If we thought more about the benefits of what we share and the less about the benefits of wh

Phil Cubeta

(continued) benefits of what we own, we would be better off no doubt. I know people in the giving field whose net worth is almost nil, and whose income is ver low who say, "Over my lifetime I have given away $2 million and have catalyzed gifts of $100 million." That is a whole other way to measure one's "worth."

Phil Cubeta

Instead of EBay collection centers, imagine ShareBay collecting the junk we all have and the clothing, etc and issuing "share points" redeemable in other people junk. Would that be an alternative currency system?

Phil Cubeta

Thanks, Eric, for dropping by. Nice to see your growing visibility, not only for your sake but for the sake of the ideas and the community which has contributed to their development.


ShareBay sounds sort of like YardSaleBay - I've seen lots of offers to exchange, say, Iphones for Kayaks, on Craigs.

Phil Cubeta

Trade services on Craigs? But can you build up an account with which to purchase items? Craigs Bucks? You create a fine poem. Contribute the manuscript. Get 5 Craigs bucks from highest bidder. Purchase 5 guitar lessons. Is that what meta-currency does? I contribute a video of my poodle dancing on hindlegs. 1,000 people love it and toss me a Craigs buck each. With them I buy a blackmarket dental extraction?


That's far better than the bartering efforts I've seen. With a little skim off the top, the CraigsBucks entrepreneur has monetized CraigsList.

Phil Cubeta

Who then controls the creation of Craigs Bucks? Can they be created at will? By whom? The Craigs List owners can print them?


To the earlier discussion, I echo the satire of before: why is economics the language with which we describe all the world? We must explore the negation of the saying "that which can be measured, can be managed".

In regards to alternative currencies,if money is the lifeblood of a economic society, than the money must flow. Take a small community: if it is made up of non-local corporations, every dollar of profit that does not return the the community in wages is bled from the community. Alternative currencies seek to keep that money within the community, and keep it flowing as a means of exchange, rather than a means of investment.

A community can be impoverished, not because its people cannot build and produce, but because there is no money to enable the transactions required to enable them to produce. If that money can only flow in from outside, then that community is hosed. If that community can create it's own currency to enable those community transactions, it can put those people to work.

I haven't entirely drunk the Kool-Aid, but thats the idea.


To Ben's point - Dambisa Moyo says the same thing regarding the destructive character of aid to African nations, here:


Moyo is also alluded to in this interview with The Gateses - see their response:


Phil Cubeta

Ben, that helps, thank you. Also enjoyed the post to which you name is linked above.

Phil Cubeta

"No good deed goes unpunished," some philanthropists say. The Gates's seem to be responding in that spirit. Philanthropy at their level begins to fuse with government policy interventions, and with business interventions. The terminologies shift and blur. It requires such exquisite understanding of an entire system, with its many feedback loops, and human fallibility and crowd effects, to intervene in ways that produce positive overall effects, net of the unintented side effects. Against that are small acts of kindness, peer to peer, and hand to hand, human scale, like hyperlinks and friendships. Our moral traditions around giving come from these more human scale relationships. Learning the "big grid" of global health, for example, seems a lifelong project for a large team of teams. How that info gets correlated, stockpiled and reused, domain by domain, seems another saga only now beginning to unfold as governments, foundations, and busienss hove into each other's view as agents interaction in the same domain, such as malaria relief or hiv.


The meta-currency project doesn't do those things, but gives you a language to do those things in. Like html and http are the "language and protocol" of the internet, we seek to design a language and protocol for currencies in the broadest sense. This language is designed for a very general space. So you could define the rules of say a commodities market, or in these proto-examples http://wiki.flowplace.org/XPFL chess or baseball or even the MCP development process.

Flowplace.org is the place to play with an implementation of the meta-currency protocol (MCP) and to develop processes for collaboratively building and sharing wealth held in common.

Eric just made a conceptual advance in the design and implementation, what he is calling membranes. Here he defines a currency, the membrane currency, that is used to identify the players of the game. Who is the pitcher, the ref, the batter, the bank, the client, and so on. That creates a meta-game whereby people get on a roster and engage in games or sets.

We could use this protocol to define the rules of the typical corporation, non-profit, or university, but for our work we want to define the rules for a more open structure: http://wiki.flowplace.org/wagn/Member_Class Earlier we were calling these games, but started calling them patterns to better capture the nested networked of patterns, whereas a game might define a organized set of patterns.

Later we will also define with patterns they way wealth is build in cycles, but Eric has named "weals" which I attempt to describe here: http://wiki.flowplace.org/wagn/Action_Language

I know there is a lot to really absorb all of this, but I hope you see how this is deeper than just a new face on the same old WB. It has room for life. More on that in the other thread.

Phil Cubeta

Reminds me of Wittgenstein's theory of meaning, as a language game. Membranes (rites of passage) could connect you to sociology. Co-creation of weals - yes, imagine fields with farmers who are either protected by a Knight who lives in the Castle, or are citizen soldiers themselves, defending their weals from depradation. Membranes separate friend and foe, noble from base. Membranes are audible in the accents denoting social class. They are visible in dress and demeanor.

When all is said and done, isnt the effort to "spread and expand the wealth and weal" to those who are currently marginal? That is on the outer edge of the membranes in which wealth is easily extracted, as by the Knight collecting tribute?


Yes, definitely. We are self-consciously egalitarian, we want to teach and heal the populations so that the instincts for egalitarianism are strengthened. I was just reading Daniel Small "On Deep History and the Brain" http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/16/books/review/Star-t.html which suggests that while the human genome has a vast potential that is only activated by culture. If we have societies with lots of dominance hierarchies, the subordnation and dominance circuits are in place and evolution pushes in that direction, but the anthropological record suggest humans as a lineage have a particularly strong potentiality for building community on egalitarianism and sharing.

If we activate those circuits, generation by generation teaching these values and caring for all of the outliers. Generations of dominance training creates sociopaths, and we have them in our midst. They as much as the poor need our care. We don't know our fellow man, and psychic illness untreated creates a modern horror show. Only when most of us, start caring about all of us, can all of us be whole and healthy. Fix the economic system (in the broadest sense going to the root meaning of economy), and we will surely have physical abundance and sustainable production and consumption cycles. The systems we have are just broken. We know why, as long as you listen to experts over ideologs.

With an abundant (in wealth creation, not resource consumption) economy, we will have plenty of time, energy and care to really do this. It really is possible as soon as enough of us choose it. I sense we are very close to that tipping point. A good thing too, because there is a lot of work to do to turn this ship around. We just have to put our collective minds to it.

Phil Cubeta

Yes, emphatically, to all this, "f we activate those circuits, generation by generation teaching these values and caring for all of the outliers. Generations of dominance training creates sociopaths, and we have them in our midst. They as much as the poor need our care. We don't know our fellow man, and psychic illness untreated creates a modern horror show. Only when most of us, start caring about all of us, can all of us be whole and healthy. Fix the economic system (in the broadest sense going to the root meaning of economy), and we will surely have physical abundance and sustainable production and consumption cycles. The systems we have are just broken. We know why, as long as you listen to experts over ideologs."

The sociopath is ideally suited to running large enterprises, whether armies, empires, corporations. To disassociate compassion, reciprocity, peership, mutual care seems sometimes the whole work of corporate governance. (JH could weigh in here.) A hierarchy in which I can read your personnel file, do your annual review interview, and get you fired or give you a raise, whereas your options are to placate and serve me or to get out, breeds a certain sort of soul. "Kiss up and kick down." We are literally and truly owned, managed and ruled by those who absolutely excel in this double game of servility and dominance. They even have their own credential, the MBA, which is considered essential if you are to start your sucking up and kicking down at the middle of the pyramid, rather than the bottom. The real double bottom line goes, "Fit in or F off."

Phil Cubeta

I watch all these reality tv shows in this spirit: Experts or insiders display grotesque dominance behavior as they evaluate and vote on cringing talent. It is an allegory or training video played out night after night, sometimes on several channels in various versions. "Kiss up and kick down." The variant is a life boat ethics case study in which people vote each other into or out of the life boat. The moral is the same. "Get yours by befriending and betraying others, until the island or life boat is yours alone." What better training could their be for sociopaths and their victims? All paid for by corporate advertising.


Signs of the times.

Thanks so much for this dialog. Nothing else like it.


Via twitter: RT @davidhodgson ... @sbraiden @artbrock Yochai Benkler's TED talk on the Social Economy http://bit.ly/17IaJD

Great video. It was great to have him at Freedom to Connect, probably three years ago when I got my copy of "Wealth of Networks" autographed.


The impetus to speak of economics as a kind of language, while certainly stimulating as a gambit promising gains in intelligibility, runs the risk of substituting an even less well understood model for the admittedly horrifically fuzzy realm of "economics."

The seduction of thinking language is more easily controlled because more rule-bound and susceptible of structural analysis may not be unlike the delusion enjoyed by fans of the reality show allegories noted by Phil. They might be drawn in by the promise of a story of human ingenuity, MacGyver-like cleverness, the indomitable will to survive, but what they get is an indoctrination into the iron rules of corporate "human relations," which, given the non-human nature of corporations, is either an egregious misnomer or a slip in the carefully masked practice of Alien codes.

Language gives us the ineluctable impression that we say what we mean, and mean what we say. Unless this assumption is subjected to Wittgensteinian scrutiny, efforts to extend our understanding of complex fields through the use of linguistic models might find themselves more adrift in the welter of aberrant metaphor than could be considered constructive.

Phil Cubeta

In other words, in plain English, language was the master metaphor in literary and philosophical studies from say 1965-maybe 1995. In the process it degenerated into psuedo science then into psuedo scholarship then into Pataphysics. Semiotics, Structuralism, post-Structuralism, deconstruction, along with ordinary language studies in English philosophy have come and gone. Few would say it led to clarity. Language like reputation systems and economic systems is what any self-respecting person games. Metaphors are grenades more than building blocks. When you have a master metaphor like "the market," or "language," or "currency," or someone will game the terminology, riff on it, disrupt it, and in that energy is the life of it.


One of the deceptive ploys of language is to assume that translation is a matter of "other words" and that what is intended via one set of vocables can always be boiled down to something much more satisfying and straightforward. In this case, I wasn't at all thinking of the body of work you point to, not that it's not relevant. The literary and philosophical tradition we happen to share begins with the logos of Heracleitus and the Word of Genesis and John, and much of the first 14 centuries after Xt involved efforts to arrive at an understanding of signs, tropes, performatives, and modes of logic, rhetoric, and grammar. We've been in it for the long haul, and there's no exit in view. No more is there an escape from the conundra of language, the mirrors of truth and the theatres of action, than there is from wealth bondage. At least that's how I read it, and while I share your less than enthusiastic view of academic suicidal fashion events of the last half century, the only way to know whether the grenades will really blow us up is to defuse them, one by one. Tedious, but what else can one do.


When the two of you get started, I'm never sure if I'm following at all.

If I understand at all, I would respond that "there is no master narrative". Which is to say that the ground of narrative, or all being is the non-dual which is beyond time and space, or more simply, beyond all distinction. The pre-semiotic. Or the pre-whatever, really. Whatever your master tool is, it is grounded on something else, something deeper.

As linguistic beings, situated in a history of language practices, there are no other tools but language to work with. We can deconstruct any language practice with formalisms, but you will only find the limits of language and formalism. Knowing the structure of language does not tell you what it is to be a linguistic being, to be a mind in a body.

Reading John Dewey this morning: "in, not as marbles are in a box but as events are in history, in a moving, growing never finished process" (Experience and Nature p. 295)

It sometimes feels like you are arguing for the same kind of nihilism that deconstructed the field you trained for. The systems theorists and cyberneticians are the ones putting the real back in the real world. They reject the mistaken dualisms that equate systems with formalisms, with "mechanism".


Gerry, a couple of your posts about language have reminded me of Walter Benjamin, and here, your second graf about what lies "beyond" language again reminds me of his sense of a profound divide between truth "there," and knowledge "here." This sense of things underlies his work.

Your third graf pretty much gets at what I was aiming at -- while language deceives us as to the complexity of its form, a "mastery" of formal analysis will leave us pretty much where we were when it comes to meaning: square one.

I'm intrigued by your last grafs. I agree that equating language with mechanism seems inadequate, but have nothing but ignorance of the work you suggest gets us out of the trap.

Phil Cubeta

What symbolism, master metaphor, dials and guages, will correctly allocate resources towards survival? Money and markets have not done it. Theology is not doing it. Poets are not. So we are in this uneasy time when the formalism, metaphors, rubics are being pressed beyond their true load capacity. "Double bottom line businesses," "currencies," "Gaia," all seem like gestures at the same thing, an urgent thing. I hope Gerry's friends are making progress is some systme of notation and record keeping that will allocate attention and resources to survival.


Ah, but you are not at square one. You are back at the start, but not quite at the same point; a strange loop, a spiral. Now you know the limits of formalism, and some uses of formalism. It is good that all the grand programs to prove it all from axioms always fail. Now we know why, move on, next level, new set of problems.

Godel's incompleteness theorem didn't stop mathematics from continuing to discover new fields of math built the same foundations, nor should post-modernist deconstruction cause one to throw out all critical truths. All that is shown is that the truth is particular, it has a story, a history, a reality.

I put a couple notes about my path to this here: http://newcurrencyfrontiers.com/wagn/What_the_frog_s_eye_tells_the_frog_s_brain which I really wrote for a link in this http://newcurrencyfrontiers.com/wagn/The_Systems_Flip which is sort-of a preliminary map of systems theory onto the currency work.

I think we can agree that it isn't really about master metaphors, but about the richness and diversity of lives as lived. The currency work isn't so much about the currencies themselves, but the processes that they may become a part of. The similarity we are pointing to from diverse sources is all about this distinction. Structure, syntax, formalisms are one thing, but there is always a living system, a process where the former is but one aspect.

Ultimately what do we mean by process? In another thread we discussed the generational task of teaching compassion and care. Dewey was also all about "life as a learning process" as I understand.

Phil Cubeta

Money images value. When the two diverge, we go after money. The new formalisms are meant to correct that by subsituting other measures. Is that right?


Or put another way, we know that the sort of language we use, our metaphors like the market metaphor become overused and dead. It is possible to change the metaphor enough (currencies vs. money) that new processes become possible. Or old ones revived. Scarcity is a key property of money as we know it, take that away and currencies are more free to follow anything we might value, and not just what is artificially scarce. We start producing more of what we value without regard to trade value, monetization.

As you well know, the scarcity system only works as long as you have people scared all the time. WB can't function without scarcity, but markets and economies can. They just have to work differently.

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