What are we really trying to do at the P2P Foundation, along with many other similar movements ?
One of the best ways to express our underlying philosophy is here very well expressed by John Ringland, who, using complexity theory insights, distinguishes ‘generative cooperative networks’ from ‘generative adversarial networks’.
We recommend reading the following text carefully, for an understanding of these dynamics.
From GAN’s, via GHN’s, to GCN’s?
John Ringland: It is no accident that as a civilisation the sophistication of our adversarial capacities far exceeds the sophistication of our cooperative capacities. Our historical path and current situation have made it this way, but the balance is changing.
There are two main generative processes underlying biological and cultural evolution and more broadly the evolution of any population of interacting adaptive agents.
A GAN (generative adversarial network) generates more sophisticated means of coercing and exploiting each other; based on the capacity to control. E.g. a nationalist arms race generating advanced military-industrial-media complexes, and all that comes with these.
A GCN (generative cooperative network) generates more sophisticated means of understanding and supporting each other; based on the capacity to nurture. E.g. a peaceful society generating harmonious networks of unified groups aligned around common needs and goals, and all that comes with these.
- GAN → power over, held together by competitive interactions.
- GCN → power with, held together by common needs and goals.
Real world systems are a complex mixture of these two principles. For instance, in a forest each multi-cellular organism is a highly refined GCN comprised of trillions of cells. Advanced organisms also live in complex family or social groups which are also GCNs but less tightly integrated. There may also be weak inter-species cooperative networks. Aside from these, all organisms and species are engaged in a competition to satisfy their basic needs; resulting in a wider context GAN within which the many GCNs are embedded.
Throughout biological evolution the primary integrating principle was GCNs. It was cooperative networks that gave rise to higher levels of organisation, eventually resulting in tightly integrated collectives such as multi-cellular organisms.
However in a human cultural context a new integrative principle has emerged, which is primarily GAN with a veneer of GCN. I will call these GHNs (generative hierarchical networks). These were famously described by Machiavelli but had been evolving for aeons before him. This principle creates organisations based on internal competition rather than cooperation. It is a structure formed from interlocking fear and distrust, leading to coerced conformity to ‘authority’. There need be no shared goal, in fact the collective may act against the interests of most of its members because lower levels of the hierarchy are controlled by the upper levels.
Much of the human world is a complex tapestry of GHNs, such as empires, monarchies, governments, armies, bureaucracies, corporations, etc. A GHN is a GAN based organising principle, through which we have organised into a GAN dominated world, wracked with conflict and strife. A GHN can induce conformity but it has side effects, such as breaking social solidarity, weakening the ability to align around common goals and thereby destroying our capacity to engage cooperatively.
The phenomenon we call ‘capitalism’ is a decentralised GHN, pitting everyone against everyone in a competitive struggle for survival. Most people spend most of their lives engaged in adversarial interactions and this has become the norm, thus GCNs such as local communities and families steadily weaken and decay in such a climate.
Most of our language (and culture as a whole) is a product of adversarial competition. The field of NVC (Non violent communication) sheds light on just how adversarial our language and communication styles are. In NVC this is referred to as speaking ‘jackal’. This is the language of a culture that has evolved via primarily GAN processes. It is a language of judgement, projection, denial of the other’s perspective, imposing one’s own perspective, coercion, deception, manipulation, etc. It is a language born from power struggle.
In a GAN any predictable behaviour will be used against you. Your virtues if you are known to be virtuousness. Your deviousness if you are known to be devious. Your lust if you are known to be lustful. Your trauma coping strategies if you are known to be traumatised. In particular, what is most predicable is basic needs and the various strategies we use to meet these needs. These get ‘gamed’ the most.
In a GAN based society, one generation’s model citizen is the next generation’s tool. If a society encourages patriotism, this becomes a point of leverage to drive populations into war. If a society encourages hard work, these hard workers become more and more enslaved. If a society encourages trust and faith, these become gullible fools for all kinds of deceptions. Etc. With each experience of exploitation we adapt our behaviour to protect ourselves, but soon this too becomes predictable and is used as a point of leverage to control us.
Due to this arms-race-effect within GAN’s, our interactions have become far removed from the level of basic needs and what it takes to meet these. Hence most people in this world strive endlessly and yet remain deeply unsatisfied. Satisfying basic needs becomes the hardest of all for many: on the physical level this results in mass starvation amidst plenty of food, on the social level in mass alienation in a crowded world, and on the psychological level in mass despair amidst so much potential hope.
A GAN based culture arises from an arms race of tactics for exploitation and control. The more sophisticated such a culture becomes the more exploitative and controlling it becomes, and the more casualties there are.
Thus a GAN culture sows the seeds of its own demise:
- The oppressive situation breaks the solidarity that legitimises the power structure, leading to fracturing and polarisation of the collective. A GCN based culture arises from a cooperative sharing of tactics for understanding and supporting each other.
- The more sophisticated such a culture becomes the more understanding and supportive it becomes, and the more beneficiaries there are.
- Thus a GCN culture sows the seeds of its own thriving.
- The nurturing situation strengthens the solidarity that legitimises the relational structure, leading to unification and alignment within the collective.
An extremely overbalanced GCN can also sow the seeds of its own demise, by losing the capacity to engage effectively in adversarial situations (which will inevitably arise). For example, a tribe becoming so peaceful they forget how to fight, and are soon attacked and destroyed by another tribe.
A dynamic balance of GCN and GAN is required. For instance, in a rational discussion, i.e. a collaborative working towards ‘truth’ (and many other situations):
- GANs put things to the test.
- GCNs give things what they need to exist.
- Too much GAN and we end up with a rigid dogmatic structure, where alternatives are stamped out.
- Too much GCN and we end up with a profusion of incoherent structures, where energy is wasted exploring every conceivable alternative no matter how improbable.
Shifting from GAN to GCN turns conflict into creative tension, and power-over into power-with.
The old world has been primarily a GAN, but there is the potential that the new world may be primarily a GCN. This shift from GAN to GCN may be a useful way of understanding the approaching transition. The process of navigating and traversing the transition phase is Uplift. Uplift raises us out of the GAN we are in and into a higher order GCN.
The central question is: how can we enable and encourage the formation of GCNs within the existing GAN? How could these bubbles form, grow, merge and eventually shift the whole civilisation towards a more cooperative generative process.
Another important question is: what is it that GANs create in abundance, which can be used as a resource to enable future GCNs? They create disillusioned, alienated, frustrated individuals who know there is something wrong with the world but feel powerless to do anything about it; creating a dire lack of meaning, belonging, trust, hope, etc. This is a growing motivation for change.” (email, January 2018)