This gets even broader than the important stuff I’ve been fleshing out at Framing idea for introducing newcomers to concept of public goods - #21 by wolftune
This is a first explication of some pretty radical perspectives I’m processing. I would love to engage in conversation about all this.
For perspective, this came up more explicitly for me while reading the late David Graeber’s new co-authored book, The Dawn of Everything. In the first section, the book challenges the core questions about the relationships between traditional European social structures, the influence of indigenous American ideas, and the massive significance of indigenous critiques and philosophy on the Enlightenment. In short: the indigenous ways of living were not driven by money nor the force of state-power, and while many Europeans did get their imaginations running wild with the ramifications of this alternative way of life, it wasn’t just imagination, it really was driven by the real concepts and critiques of the indigenous people who were appalled at the brutality and horrors of European life (like, ‘OMG, you just let beggars starve on the streets? WTF is wrong with you!’ — but also very thoughtful, reasoned arguments; the indigenous societies relied on consent for so much of everything, they were naturally practiced at reasoned debate etc)…
I could go on about the powerful arguments in the book and their points about why historians today so widely and unfairly dismiss the influence of indigenous ideas (ironically, often in the guise of being critical of Europeans, not wanting to give credence to European claims to understand indigenous perspectives) and the other ideas in the book… But I’m writing here to reflect on my own feelings about money and the place it plays in my motivations in founding and working on Snowdrift.coop.
IMO, Money does undermine all sorts of egalitarian social possibilities. Contractual monetary arrangements tend to compete with rather than enhance our social relationships. I’ve focused on this from the earliest days of Snowdrift.coop. I wrote about Dan Ariely’s studies in behavioral economics and Barry Schwartz’s emphasis on the more fuzzy, human, non-contractual deeper-meaning of “Practical Wisdom” outside of formal job descriptions. In my earliest writings at Snowdrift Wiki - FLO Development and Economic Psychology, I had the headings: “Money can displace social considerations” and “How Snowdrift.coop avoids focusing on money” and so on.
No wonder I have resisted nailing down traditional money-focused hard goals for projects (for us as first project) and related basic business things. Incidentally, I’ve had the same tensions in my music-teaching day-job where setting rates and dealing with money is my least favorite of my tasks. Over the years, I’ve done more and more bartering, and I’ve made it less and less hard-line and contractual. I don’t want to relate to others through money. And I have good reasons for this perspective.
So what is with the idea of building Snowdrift.coop as a money-centered fundraising platform??
FIrst, to set the obvious stage. We do not live in an egalitarian world built on abundance, sharing, volunteering, and consensus. But of course, these things are present in many places. And whenever someone experiences them, it can transform our perspectives. Richard Stallman struggled to feel comfortable in our society until he experienced this sort of egalitarian community at the MIT AI lab. When that egalitarian community started falling apart, that led to everything else he worked for in his life with GNU and software freedom. Although not explicitly anti-money, there’s always been a huge tension because there’s no inherent place, no primacy of money in the vision of software freedom.
What drives creative work today? Despite all the volunteering and social actions around the edges, most work happens through people paid for their time. And the funding that pays them comes from paywalls and ads. Paywalls and ads make each interaction with creative works be one mediated by money.
We cannot jump from where we are now to a totally different non-monetary society. I have no confidence in the capacity of sudden revolutions to take us where I hope to go. So, what small steps lead us in the right direction?
If we can continue the pattern of paying creative workers to put in their time but remove the monetary context from each creative engagement, that’s a step in the right direction. We can push money upstream. We can contain it. Put a firewall on where money plays a part. I don’t want money anywhere near the moment when someone reads a news article or watches a video. The public library still has to buy books, pay salaries and utility bills, and this comes from the money that the residents of a town pay in taxes. But my choice to read a particular book from the library is completely independent of money. I don’t give some author extra money by reading their book (and sometimes I read books I dislike in order to understand what they are, and I don’t want to support the author at all).
I have always been resistant to schemes that try to assign micropayments to each view or click or listen. The whole cryptocurrency emphasis on certain sorts of contracts seems to me to push money into everything — the opposite of what I want to see and the sort of society I wish to live in. So, this framing is helping me understand my own motivations and tensions around all these topics.
For me, crowdmatching is a way to build consensus with others about the general direction of where money goes while having the end results of projects be freed from direct connection to money. I don’t want to micromanage which features projects use money for (hence my distaste for bounty-style fundraising, even though it has a place). I do have opinions about priorities, but I want to express those priorities with reasons, to have them considered in terms of their merit. I don’t want our widening inequality to mean that whoever has the most money gets their priorities. If we fund projects enough at their core, it frees the creative workers to have non-monetary relations to the rest of their work and to their audiences and collaborators.
UBI (Universal Basic Income) is a similar direction. Within our money-centric world, UBI gives money less power, less direct influence on what jobs we do, how we use our time… there are tensions with it all, but nothing is perfect. In my view, everything that reduces the power of money is going in the right direction (at least on that aspect of the many concerns we have about how we want to live).
We do not have good money-focused business models that work without scarcity or exclusion, and really I don’t have any answers for how to get them. I don’t want them. I don’t want FLO public goods to somehow get money injected as a mediator to every engagement. My celebration of FLO public goods is that they exist so strongly independently of money. FLO public goods are about abundance and sharing — and engaging with them is our greatest challenge to monetary-focused nature of life. Of course, we also have other non-monetary parts of life, such as “care work”, which I so strongly do not want to see “monetized” (I wrote about this in Essay (with valuable links): Economics, social attitudes toward FLO public goods, and "care work").
I’ve heard claims that money is a neutral technology, it’s just a matter of what we do with it. Well, we might say the same about video-chats or all sorts of other things. And I’m thrilled that I get to engage with people through this amazing technology and have relationships I couldn’t otherwise have. But no way in hell do I want a world in which all my connections to other people are through screens and computers. The technology isn’t inherently good or evil, but to whatever extent it has a place, that place is not “everywhere”. I’m open to the idea that money has a place and can even be part of a profoundly healthy society — but that’s certainly not the reality I experience today.
So what does all this mean for Snowdrift.coop?
It’s helpful to me that I’m getting my views more explicit. I would like to get others’ perspectives and to end up making our vision all that clearer. We are not in this to fundraise. We have no mission of fundraising as an end in itself. We are proposing fundraising as a means to remove the need for all the intrusive monetizing that has brought us paywalls, ads, and so many other harms. We are building a dedicated place for people to put coordinated funds so that the products of creative work do not themselves need to be tied to money and scarcity and exclusion.
How does this perspective inform how we build and describe what we’re doing? I haven’t thought that through as much yet. What do you think?