One of the objections to my Contribution Society idea, that we should put something in because we’re definitely taking something out, and we’ll be happier and more effective if we do anyway, is that it is somehow contrary to business principles. That is to miss the point. Businesses give stuff away all the time, in order to gain advantage in the market. Whether these contributions stand up to ethical scrutiny is of course a different question. Anyway, i thought a blog by Dave Pollard has some useful insights to help understand what contribution means. Or as he puts it: How to Make Money Giving Stuff Away Free. After all, Dave says,
“Innovative companies are learning that giving something away free can be good for both the top and bottom line. Unscrupulous companies are abusing it. Oligopolies are wringing their hands and calling it theft, and the end of the world. Is this trend inevitable, and how can we make it work to everyone’s benefit?”
Dave is a smart dude and even if you don’t like to think in green he still has some good contrarian ideas to consider.
On the subject of blog commentary Dave offers these helpful ideas for what bloggers would like from their audience:
1. constructive criticism, reaction, feedback
2. ‘thank you’ comments, and why readers liked their post
3. requests for future posts on specific subjects
4. foundation articles: posts that writers can build on, on their own blogs
5. reading lists/aggregations of material on specific, leading-edge subjects that writers can use as resource material
6. wonderful examples of writing of a particular genre, that they can learn from
7. comments that engender lively discussion
8. guidance on how to write in the strange world of weblogs
March 15, 2005 at 5:36 am
The notion of “Contribution Society” is powerful, though raw. Pairing “contribution” and “society” invokes both complementary and contradictory concepts. The notion of “social contact” borne during the Enlightenment assumed a common facility of “rights” within individuals and that Society itself was (is??) the result of the contribution of sacrifice of absolute right (aka compromise) to all of one’s rights. Depending on the Enlightenment thinker, the arbiter of the compromise was either loathsome or benign – but powerful.
Conversely, the Utilitarians post-Enlightenment critique of this notion of sacrifice as contribution noted that some individuals were more able to contribute and/or sacrifice less and yet remain well within society’s boundaries – though stretching them mightily at times.
I render these notions and sparse historical narratives as a means to highlight what, to me, are the true tensions in the “Contribution Society” within the framework of existing legal and political structures. Fast forward to the immediate present to consider the very real conflicts that are experienced by “developing nations” as that seek a position of both compromise and contribution in the global marketplace framed by the WTO.
The Doha round, as we all know, is not fairing well toward international agreement. So-called first-world nations have their issues (and complaints) but it has been the developing nations that have been the sticky wicket – from the first-world perspective. The issue for developing nations is trade equality in the body of real sovereignty. Developing nations are rightly resistant to demands that they collectively reduce even eliminate subsidies on “cash-crop” and other agricultural products while first-world nations protect through tariff and subsidy their own more mature agri-business and post-development industries.
Some of the more forward thinking individuals who are residents of either “class of nation” have offered a novel way to circumvent both the nasty and unfair trade circumstance while also finding an ecologically sensitive way to address agri-industry penetration into emerging economies. The concept being pushed forward is a return to appellation, to local grown/local identified foods.
Appellation is – by rough comparison – a means to patent or legally classify products from specific even unique agricultural conditions. As with wine appellations, local appellation of other produce and live-stock products has become a means to protect the unique capability of “contributors” to the global economy while ensuring that the classification of their products through appellation protects the value of the products in an open marketplace.
I bring these very non-high technology notions to this forum to highlight the cyclical tension of protecting rights (the right to employ one’s mind and its abstractions) within political-economies. Protecting rights is a cyclical endeavor. The balance between more or less “right” swaying violently more like a drunken-sailor than the prophetically smooth pendulum we are constant – and metaphorically – bombarded with.
I will close on these two points; one is a commitment to return to for more contributing and the other is to tie the threads together. The point of this opening volley is to highlight the benefits and dangers of denuding rights (be they rights of intellectual property or rights as an economic agent) through ambiguous concepts of “contribution.” Kings gave way to Enlightenment ideas of society under force. However, ministers, presidents and World Bank chiefs consume democratically determined “contributions” as a means to consolidate control to the detriment of individuation at the person, company even nation-state level.
Intellectual property is the widget of the future for many global citizens. As much as first-world corporate magnates can and/or will exploit notions of open sharing or “contribution” they pale in the face of those who have not lived within a social paradigm where Enlightenment thought is at the root of contemporary institutions.