As regular readers will be aware I am no fan of the Ownership Society idea. I believe that it is a call for naked self-interest and a frame that will be used to take money out of the pockets of those that can least afford it. Universal healthcare and universal education are not pipe-dreams, but they can’t be provided without making a contribution to society.
It seems to me that social software, and architectures of participation, are two means to delivering on the promise of a Contribution Society, where your worth is at least partially measured on what you contribute, rather than what you own. Frankly i am bored by what you own- hell – YOU are probably bored by most of what you own. I was therefore pleased to see Chris Allen making an explicit link between social networking and social software. He was speaking at the Future of Voluntary Health Associations Conference. As Chris says
Ideally Social Software can help increase their sense of touch with their volunteers, it can empower volunteers to collaborate and work harder and in new ways, it can increase information sharing and innovation, and it can help drive fund-raising numbers higher.
Am i an unrepentant commie? A creative commie perhaps. The blogging phenomenon makes it clear that millions of people want to contribute. The Creative Commons shows that we want to share our works and see them widely distributed. The genuine outpouring of love shown by contributions from citizens to Tsunami appeals, which shamed those of sovereign governments, illustrate an urge to contribute.
Open source software is the perhaps the most obvious illustration of the Contribution Society at work, with all the economic disruption it entails. Classical economic theory is very bad at explaining why folks do things for free, why they help people out. I believe we’re at least partially hard wired to contribute. We may also be predisposed to ownership, but in my mind there must be better bases for status. I have recently read Alain de Botton‘s Status Anxiety, an ace litttle book of philosophy, art and life.
Contribution Society may not be a perfect name, and it also tends to undercut a recent argument i made about Open Source being a cornucopia not a singleton. I also know the opponents of contribution are great at making the complex seem simple, monochrome, so i have tried to do the same. Now i just need to stay on message and try and spread the meme. If you want to help, please just mention the Contribution Society in conversation or on your blog or whatever. Or if you can think of a better name for a push back frame against the Ownership Society let me know.
In the course of this story i just found out that a nemesis is emerging. I found a reference to a Cato-ite called Richard A. Epstein. I assume this is the same chap that wrote the extremely ill-informed screed against open source in the FT recently.