The Fall of Industrial Capitalism and the Rise of the Collaborative Commons
written by Nick Bradfield
When we look at the emerging technologies of the future, they inspire us and give us hope. However, these glimpses of technological awe still appear distant and intangible. We have yet to fully comprehend how these technologies will interact with one another to revolutionize the global social-ecosystem. In a world fraught with conflict and moral corruption, technological wonders such as artificial intelligence, renewable energies and 3D printing are bringing us closer to a sustainable and just future for all beings. A new age creeps forth, steadfast through the dead of night. The Collaborative Commons, which will inevitably supersede industrial capitalism, will bring the cost of living on Earth to near zero while implementing technologies to empower citizens through direct democracy and sustainable living.
Capitalism reminds us of the larval stage of moths and butterflies. We have devoured Earth’s resources like a caterpillar devours the leaf it was hatched upon. We have become the most destructive influence on Earth’s ecosystem (post-asteroids). We are experiencing the worst of our growing pains and soon our society will begin its metamorphic transformation of the chrysalis. Traditional capitalist mechanisms will increasingly fail to uphold private profit-making schemes and we will exceed the Earth’s carrying capacity, forcing us to revolutionize our way of life. We will completely deconstruct and rearrange our society, giving it the wings to transcend our limitations.
Many of us fear that we have irreparably harmed the planet, that climate change will create uninhabitable conditions. However there is hope, that in the millions of years Earth’s ecosystem has evolved in symbiosis, the biosphere has developed survival mechanisms such that when greenhouse gasses increase or other undesirable conditions arise it triggers the super-organism of the Earth and its natural processes to respond by counteracting those influences to restore homeostasis – as if the Earth itself is one entity, sentient only through the organisms that compose it, intelligent only through the symbiotic relationships that connect it. We must befriend the Earth again, lest we be at war with it.
We are so entrenched in the capitalist worldview of private ownership and exploitation of the Earth that it is difficult to imagine a world inherited by all, shared as one, cared for with love, inhabited for free, enclosed by no one and governed communally. We must first break free from our chains and completely disintegrate before our metamorphosis into the butterfly – only then shall we emerge as the eternal stewards of the Earth and transcend our selfishness. We must learn that what is best for our species is also best for the Earth. We must fall before we learn to rise. We must die to be reborn.
The Enclosure Movement has scarcely left an iota of Earth uncaptured. The ruling class has declared his own the lands, the oceans, the skies, the mountains and the rivers – and we, their minions! What is left, besides words and ideas and information? Well, as it turns out, they’ve captured that, too. They’ve even begun to patent life-forms and restrict their use. We’ve become utterly encircled by and dependent upon the tyranny of private enclosure barons. How can mankind honestly believe these things to be in its possession? Not even the words we speak, the pictures we paint, the songs we sing, nor the ideas we ponder can be considered to be our own. They emanate from the timeless ether of our consciousness, past and present, learned and copied from the environment. We merely arrange them into variations of a universal theme. In this sense we are all plagiarists. Until the Earth itself is free from limitations and artificial boundaries, enclosed by private ownership of all things, material and immaterial, we will never find true liberty. This does not mean anarchy will reign and chaos will ensue, as the corporate oligarchy would like you to believe. Governance will rely on independent communities, who know best how to serve the needs of their constituents, with laterally-scaled collaboration with the global commons devoid of hierarchical and militarized authoritarianism.
We must arrive to the realization that we are reaching exponentially closer to the Third Industrial Revolution of our capitalist society, or the Singularity, as futurist Ray Kurzweil might refer to it, as marginal costs of producing goods plummet further toward zero (making the cost of each additional unit nearly free) and the capability and efficiency of robotics and artificial intelligence beyond our comprehension. Some argue that we will never reach that point because capitalism wouldn’t function and its masters would prevent it, but they fail to see the light of a new age. The great revolutions of the Industrial Age opened Pandora’s box and unleashed market forces beyond anyone’s control. Not even the elite ownership class of our world can hold back the rising tide of the collaborative age, although they will fight to the death to ensure they profit from control and domination of the emerging global commons. Their worldwide surveillance drag-nets, police states and media propaganda won’t suppress the peaceful evolution of social consciousness for long.
How will technology liberate us – and who is ‘us’? We are scientists, academics, hackers, activists, artists, writers and human beings – the commons – working to liberate information (and ultimately all things) so that we may have equal access to it in order to become the masters of our own destiny, no longer the pawns of the 1%. To be quote a great pioneer of this movement, Jeremy Rifkin, “In this new world, social capital is as important as financial capital, access trumps ownership, sustainability supersedes consumerism, cooperation ousts competition, and “exchange value” in the capitalist marketplace is increasingly replaced by “sharable value” on the Collaborative Commons.”
Machine automation has displaced the vast majority of labor opportunities and continues its march toward a world served by intelligent drones and robots. The belief that technological advancement and automation opens more doors than it closes no longer holds water. As we speak, artificial intelligence grows more efficient and reliable than human labor in financial, service, logistic and manufacturing industries. Goods and services are becoming exponentially cheaper and more capable. Vehicles will soon drive themselves. Packages will be delivered by drones. Renewable energy systems continue to plummet in price and increase in efficiency. Electronic devices will soon be connected to the SuperWeb (an Internet of Things) and an open-source, intelligent smart energy and communications network. 3d-printing machines can now replicate themselves and virtually any object (buildings, too) using virtually any material imaginable (plastic bottles, scrap metal, paper). Nanotechnology will open doors we can hardly fathom. Students can learn anything they desire from the most highly esteemed professors in the world for free via Massive Open Online Courses. Artificial organs can be grown in petri dishes. The list goes on… We are entering into the world we hardly dreamt of in science fiction novels of a century ago and we will inevitably face very difficult questions as to social equality, just governance, access to information, privacy and ultimately, the nature of consciousness (or the consciousness of nature).
It is best to start this conversation now, rather than later, as Rifkin warns in his masterpiece, The Zero Marginal Cost Society, "The struggle for control is already well underway, mostly behind the scenes, in regulatory commissions, courtrooms, legislatures, corporate boardrooms, civil society organizations, and academic circles all over the world. As of yet, only snippets of the discussion have bubbled up to public consciousness. That is likely to change in the next few years as a younger generation squares off with itself on what kind of economic future it favors"
But how can we transition into this world of liberty and zero-marginal cost? How does capitalism function without human labor to supply consumer funds to buy the things we no longer work to produce? Surely, remnants of the capitalist regime will last far into the future, preventing the catastrophic collapse of society until it is finally eclipsed entirely and the Collaborative Commons is well underway. During our transition, consumers will have to become producers (‘prosumers’) of goods and services, food and energy especially. Communities will become collaboratively governed commons. Renewable energy hubs will emerge independently to support modern needs and continued technological advancement. Corrupt bureaucrats and multinational corporate oligarchies will be left out to dry. Gift economies will emerge. Global information, communication and energy networks will connect everyone to one another and all of our cumulative knowledge in one unified super-brain matrix. Beyond that, our most creative philosophers, scientists, and dream-weavers have yet to fathom. All will become one as it always was… Lest we forget many traps have been laid for us, may we tread carefully, venture onward to the stars and dream beyond to the furthest reaches of the mind and the observable universe.
In the not-so-distant future we will be both grateful for the industrial-capitalist revolution which enabled us to exponentially evolve and transcend our limitations and also terrified that it brought our civilization so close to the brink of collapse. This we hope…
Nick Bradfield is a local Athenian, writer, musician, urban farmer and spiritual warrior for the Collaborative Commons.
This article was inspired by Jeremy Rifkin’s The Zero Marginal Cost Society (2014), aptly summarized in the New York Times article “The Rise of Anti-Capitalism” (2014) . He also recommends further reading of The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999) and The Singularity is Near (2005), by Ray Kurzeil.