Sixten Kai Nielsen Martin Rosengaard
Wooloo is a Danish artist group founded in 2002 by Sixten Kai Nielsen and Martin Rosengaard.
What would an actual sharing economy look like in today’s world?
What do you personally share already — and what would you like to share if you could?
“Sharing” is a contemporary buzzword, and large companies like Airbnb and Uber are supposedly leading a rising “sharing economy.” But is this really sharing? What would an actual sharing economy look like to you?
Fernando García-Dory's work engages specifically with the relationship between culture and nature now, as manifested in multiple contexts, from landscape and the rural, to desires and expectations concerned with identity, through to (global) crisis, utopia and the potential for social change.
The meaning of sharing for me is there is a good one owns to which others are granted access. Shared use in this sense means not questioning the property owner, and that person has the final word on how and when that good is shared.
On the other hand, there are goods that have no individual owner. These goods are common property, which means they are owned collectively and cannot be separated from any of the members of the collective. These goods form the commons; they range from the air we breathe to mountains, pastures, and most of human knowledge. Use of those common goods is shared simultaneously by all, or individually, with access defined by the collective.
This contemporary notion of sharing — akin to a P2P economy — is based in “hacktivism” ethics. Creative Commons allows shared access to a tool or intellectual creation, while keeping some form of recognition or reward for the person who developed it. It is usually opposed to private property systems that avoid free sharing of information. (I am interested in this form of sharing; now, we are creating a legal collective in which we share work and land while we salvage an abandoned village. This is part of the INLAND.org project I have been working with since 2009.)
The so called “sharing economy” we see flourishing in Web 2.0 companies is in fact mostly opening new market opportunities in other spheres of life. There is concern that it involves a kind of logic where other altruistic forms of relating are possible, but a real sharing economy is not something necessarily to place in a utopian world or a distant future. It is happening here and now. Apart from free software, sharing is central in peasant and indigenous communities around the globe — still half of world’s population. All kinds of informal economies — and forms of mutual support — are fundamental not only for reproducing society and recovering the economy’s social dimension, but also to weave a dense web of affects, exchanges, and reciprocity. Sharing is not regulated by an app; it works under the principle “today for me, tomorrow for you”. When we free ourselves from Gollum-style greed, we actually breathe more and walk more lightly. I think there are more people who believe that luxury is not only a unique possession but also something that allows us to actually engage others and organize our polis by deepening interaction and communication. The Transition Towns initiative, with 1130 communities registered in 43 countries, is like a post-wealth choice for sharing and building resilience in response to “big oil”, biosphere destruction, social alienation, and economic instability. It creates local groups that uphold local values.
One problem with a radical interpretation of anti-capitalist values as sharing is it can make money taboo. Society is built on a series of cultural constructions, money being one of them. Currency allowed trade and exchange beyond bartering models, a fundamental aspect of communication amongst groups and individuals, based in some notion of private property — we own something in order to be able to sell it. Now, the notion of what can be privately owned and commoditized, and how money works requires political regulation. The current economic system (e.g. trade, money, interest, etc.) allows endless accumulation and reproduction of capital. For me, opposing capitalism is not about being opposed to economic exchanges, the use of currency, or some notion of private property. I think we have to find a new form for this exchange based in a specific regulation. We are interconnected on a global level by increasingly complex economies, growing global debt, and partly automated financial markets. This is possibly the biggest reason for collapse in our civilisation.
Our current system is designed so a small number of people can accumulate more wealth, prompting a dangerous rise in inequality. This is no longer just a concern for old-school Marxists, but was mentioned in a well known 2014 NASA-funded study directed by Professor Safa Motesharrei of the University of Maryland. It states the main reason for civilisation collapse is unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution. In a scenario of scarcity and growing socio-ecological turbulence, an ethic of sharing might be seen as the less desirable option. At the same time, as Dr. Montesharrei astutely concluded in his report: “Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion”.
Eeva is a politico and writer. She’s what you get when you mix London, Helsinki, Copenhagen, California, DC and Berlin together.
Starve the Tech Bro Beast
Technology has decimated the writing profession. Yes, I heard about the people who make a killing selling their ebooks on Amazon. All three of them sound delightful. But for the rest of us, there’s Arianna Huffington making a boatload of money from a site fueled by writers, none of whom she pays. There’s the New York Times going into another round of staff layoffs, while other publications and publishing houses crumble. And any site that still pays writers appears to be vying to win an award for the most eye-tormenting concentration-obliterating advert imaginable.
To the rescue, we are told, comes the sharing economy. An economy primed to help us supplement our incomes during these economically precarious times. And sharing does sound awfully positive. Doublespeak done right always does. But, once again, we find ourselves in a system in which individuals create or manage products to generate profit that lines the pockets of venture capitalists, tech bros and an army of lobbyists. What is a writer to do?
Thankfully, it’s not all Orwellian methodology and Dickensian outcomes. At least we now know that there are people worldwide who want to share with others. Fantastic. Perhaps our collective wisdom and resources can be pooled into a community that helps support careers outside of taxi driving or innkeeping? A community in which knowledge is shared and skills are bartered, among peers and beyond geographic or experiential constraints, for the purpose of making a living wage.
Writers are already hammered with requests for free work. And amassing knowledge that is of value to others takes time and effort, and so real sharing is not a risk-free endeavor. Not to mention that people are alarmingly comfortable wasting other people’s time and stealing their ideas. But I picked a profession that is largely conducted in isolation from my peers. Plus, even the most Salinger-esque of writers must admit, when pressed, that not all people suck. And as long as I’m not engaging with my peers, I won’t know what a fair wage for a specific type of piece is, or just how many grant or job options are available to me. So when knowledge is currency, who do you trust with yours? And whose currency should you accept?
I learned the awkward way that any virtual or in-person writer’s group worth belonging to is not indexed by Google. So I went old school and asked around. I battled my introvert instincts and consumed coffee with strangers. I kept asking and coffee-ing until I found my community. Along the way, I was regularly counselled to write Swedish crime fiction (I am neither Swedish nor a crime writer) and was eviscerated for a moss reference in my novel by people too lazy to google moss, but passionate enough about moss to quash my work over it. But I also found an incredible amount of online resources, as well as a powerhouse of a writing group. Together we critique with the goal of improving, and edit with the goal of publishing. It’s the kind of input that will set you back about $100 an hour on the mean streets of the free market.
Where writers share information and barter skills, I’ve discovered paid work. I’ve found relevant side-gigs that supplement my income. I’ve met people in my field. And I’ve had wildly talented people help me hone my craft. In exchange, I help whenever and however I can, through editing, advice or connecting people. I buy books from stores or the publisher. I pay for online subscriptions. And I attempt never to give the Huffington Post my clicks. This way, I do my part to feed writers, editors and publishers, instead of the tech bro beast.
Co-founder and director of Solobeta. Researching and designing learning programs on the Digital Economy and related themes.
After the Sharing Economy
“If you study what the really big things on the internet are, you realize they are masters at making things fast and not making people think.”
– Evan Williams (co-founder of Twitter)
For someone who belongs to the tech-entrepreneur-elite, and being a founder of several exorbitantly funded start-ups, this quote borders on confession.
So what’s been really big on the internet as of late? The Sharing Economy for one. Now, of course the internet does not mean “online” or “cyber-something”, but should nowadays simply signify something that is networked by way of digital technology. That being the case this so-called sharing economy should direct our attention to an economy, where value is created by way of networked interactions based on some primary sense of sharing.
A vulgar misnomer
Obviously the mainstream posterchildren of this apparently “disruptive” movement, entreprises like Airbnb, Uber, Taskrabbit and the long tail of startup followers have very little, if anything, to do with actual sharing. As quite a few critics have aired it’s mostly about sharewashing. That is, the pretence of sharing, a simple cover up scam, all the while something entirely different unfolds.
I try to avoid getting stuck in a quarrel over semantics on these matters and resolve myself to this position: When economic exchange is based on transactions providing exclusive ownership or right of use to an individual (like say, by leasing, selling, bartering — even gifting) and not on mutualization of resources or value, then the designated word “sharing” seems like a vulgar misnomer. Even children can see this.
Hence, we should move on noting that Williams was indeed right. The big things, the rapid growth projections and disruptive waves prevent people from thinking to the point where they stupidify themselves clinging onto the notion of “sharing” and all the extended goodwill presumed to follow.
An unholy alliance
Beyond intellectual indignity we are confronted by old ghosts. The sharing economy has already lent itself to many interests. Most noteworthy an unthought of alliance between left-wing idealists, believers in the need to move to projected safe space beyond capitalism, and the tech-libertarians, these promoters of the Californian ideology, where the combined forces of technology, entrepreneurship and huge chunks of venture capital will deliver us all from misery and save the world.
You really have to appreciate the irony playing out here. The lefties celebrated the new platforms believed to support peer-to-peer exchange, crowdsourcing and some speculative claim about cutting out the middle man, decentralizing value creation and its subsequent capture. As such they became the strongest and indeed cheapest advertising agency the Silicon Valley brotherhood could have hoped for.
Meanwhile, with a steady hand, the platforms became the new middle men, capturing the greater value and exporting risks onto that very crowd which is claimed to be a community, when in all fairness, it is a competitive marketplace.
You can’t go back to real
Of course this ordeal could not go on. The alliance unhinged a year or two ago. The brute reality too obvious, the naiveté too uncomfortable. Different critical tactics played out. One currently influential trend is the recourse to a supposed “real” sharing economy.
The idea of a real sharing economy is where people genuinely do share their skills, information, knowledge and assets in ways that create additional value for everyone who contributes. This is indeed a worthy idea materialized through services like Couchsurfing, Skillshare or Freecycle.
But in the end it will have no real impact on the economy. The “real” sharing economy will not provoke any real disruption in any sectors, it will not draw real investments away from conventional incumbents, it will not have any real impact on the consumer behavior of our times. This really cannot be a surprise.
Sharing as an idea, a practice, a method of distributing resources is very important for creating social value, not so much for creating economic value in a marketplace. In the end it was an illusion to build an alternative economy around sharing.
A Renaissance of Cooperativism
Amongst the more promising movements to reclaim some sense of economic solidarity we find the idea of platform cooperativism. These are people who have reached an important insight: the sharing economy’s most repeated bon mot, access over ownership, was a bluff. In truth it’s still about ownership. Owning the platform, owning the user-generated data. So if value should be shared by many, that means the platform should be owned and governed by the many.
Imagine an Uber owned by its drivers. Or an Airbnb owned by its thousands of hosts or the entire community. The wager is of course; can this actually be pulled off beyond the realm of speculative thought? Will these models actually be able to compete regionally, or dare we say, globally?
Does the sharing economy exist?
I don’t really think so. You can always argue that some aspect of this or that business model implies sharing – but it is never the key driver of value creation. It might be a nice add-on, might make things relatively more appealing.
However, all this fuss over a concept nobody agrees on what actually means should remind us of an old truth: We all share in the economy, albeit this sharing is not evenly distributed. This is in my opinion the larger scope of Williams quote. Technology indeed moves fast, new business models disrupt, things grow beyond our wildest expectations. Living in a shared economy, means sharing some level of economic reality.
You don’t get improved convenience, lower prices and rapid scaling without cost being shifted onto someone else. If we are indeed manipulated, made not to think, this is what is at stake: Sure, we share this circulation of benefits and costs, but they are not distributed evenly and definitely not fairly.
Combine or die trying
There are no big narratives, which will pave the way for a better and improved economic system. Such narratives are only sitting ducks waiting to be caught and co-opted to serve other interests. The same goes for trends, models or technologies that are often assumed to be implicitly “better” or leading to “more” fair or solidary outcomes.
Say, like open source, peer-to-peer exchange, blockchains, community-driven innovation, crowd-this-and-that, decentralized or distributed organizations and so on. In and by themselves these notions mean close to nothing – least of all do they institute a better world. Because even though new technology opens up a space of possibility, it’s all about how that space is taken up and to which ends we direct it.
So even though technological advents, new modes of production and distribution provide for valuable alternatives to the mainstream business world, the only way to get there, is by way of experimentation. And experimentation is never a neutral project. That is, everything comes down to the values we hold, the hopes we harbour, the specific visions we hold for a future economy. For sure it’s time to start thinking again.
Majken Overgaard is a specialist in innovation and entrepreneurship, focusing on technology, contemporary art.
Tolkien gave us the story of Gollum, which can be boiled down to his lust for the Ring and his desire to be free of it. Currently, in the western world we are drowning in stuff. Companies like Uber and Airbnb come to our rescue and encourage us to share goods and services instead of owning them. To free ourselves from our desire to buy and own and let go of the all the stuff that ends up owning us. Most of us are attracted to the idea of sharing because what we also learned from the story about Gollum is that in the end his desire to own was too strong and as a result he died.
Art as Sharing
I’ve always thought of the art world as being the true sharing economy. Inspired by new media making it possible to share thoughts and ideas in new and radical ways, I’ve curated shows and written articles about art’s ability to invoke new thoughts and ideas in people through sharing. Not only based on new technology but also because you have to share to make it as a contemporary artist. You need to show your works at museums and galleries. Share with the world what you’ve created and how it came about. That’s a basic premise for an artist, getting the possibility to share and show their work — at the right places. So in my view contemporary art is more about sharing than Uber or Airbnb has ever been, however, admittedly they have a better business model.
Of course it’s not only about sharing. A few weeks ago I visited a friend of mine who’s an artist in her studio. She showed me her recent works and told me about two concerns:
- She was afraid that one of her artist friends would think she’d copied his work.
- She knew for a fact that another artist “friend” had copied her work.
So even though the development of art (and knowledge) rests on sharing, it’s only about sharing some things. Or sharing to a certain degree. Artists still need to be original. The work of art has to maintain the aura of the original. The viewers / users / buyers still desire the original work of art. Gollum is in many ways the epiphany of an art lover. He worshipped that Ring, was obsessed with this significant and highly original work of art.
Maybe the problem wasn’t the ring, but his reluctance to share it with the world. Would Tolkien’s story have been different if he’d decided to share? Or if the elven smiths had shared their original designs so people could copy and make their own versions of the Ring? Or maybe Uber and Airbnb is still based on the premise of originality. Instead of the object being original, it’s the business model. That is after all what made them a success. That and really good PR.
Owning the Ring made Gollum into who he is. The work of art shaped him and his ideas of the world. Contemporary art has this power and it’s not lost when shared. Maybe it even get’s stronger. The Ring after all made Gollum able to live more than five times longer than the average hobbit. So buy art, buy more stuff and prolong you life! Or die in the flames?
Mary W. Rowe is an urbanist and civic entrepreneur. She currently lives in New York City and works with government, business and civil society organizations to strengthen the economic, social, cultural and environmental resilience of the city and its neighborhoods.
One of my takeaways from the writings of Jane Jacobs, who would have celebrated her 100th birthday this month, was the importance of seeing a healthy economy as circular: financial capital, as currency, constantly circulates and recirculates within a larger system of exchange, which self-corrects to protect its on-going functioning. This constant movement, or churn, is vital to the dynamism of our lives. In that way, the economy is the commons: we each have a stake, a part to play, in it.
I exchange my services for fees and a salary; I then buy what I need and want. So much of what I buy, though, is dormant for most of the time, except when I choose to use or enjoy it. Those goods — a piano, a car, bicycles, the food processor on my kitchen counter — only get used occasionally. If I were part of a family living situation, they might get used more, but even then, there would be ‘slack’, time when those items were dormant in the system.
For decades in the organizational development world we’ve heard calls for ‘optimization’, meaning ensuring we are deriving the maximum benefit from any resource. Regrettably, this has often been misaligned with ‘efficiency,’ a fetish that has got us into more problems as we’ve eliminated layers deemed redundant, when in fact they were essential to the resiliency and adaptation of the whole. Worse, when optimization was taken as license for depletion, which in fact destroyed the system. But more sensibly, optimization means finding ways to minimize wastes, and take up the ‘slack’ in a system. Its ‘economical’. A baker’s kitchen is only used early in the morning to mid-day. But the afternoon and evening hours could be productively used as well, by other entrepreneurs looking for only a few hours each day to prepare their products for sale. The ball fields in public parks are generally only busy after the workday. Playing fields designed well can be built to also suit school children and seniors who are looking for access in early mornings and afternoons. HOV lanes and surcharges on peak transit travel are both ways of incentivizing optimization of the system, making it cheaper to travel with others, or at less busy times. They take up the slack. These are all forms of ‘sharing’ resources.
The strongest attribute of a city is the diversity of user it attracts to live and work there, and the varied needs and interests each person brings. A city is predicated on sharing: streets, buildings, public works, social services, cultural amenities. It is by definition a shared economy, a shared system of interactions and exchange. Traditional town planning made this concrete, by always including a town square, public market, bourse, and grazing areas in initial city designs. Faith institutions, museums, galleries and public libraries were also part of this system of organizing. But the advent of industrialization brought with it an emphasis on scaling and volume production, and as household incomes rose, so did the personal acquisition of goods.
It’s perhaps easier to understand certain kinds of public services as shared, because we ‘use’ them, rather than ‘own’ them. During the 1950s and 60s, when I was growing up, we were encouraged to consume, to own, things. So my parents bought cars, books, blenders, power tools. That consumption fueled extraordinary economic growth and job creation, but also generated tons (literally) of surplus stuff and waste, the costs of which, if internalized, would choke the economic system. Has the weight of all that throughput driven a search to tighten the system and close those waste loops?
Over the last two decades the extension of technology into our individual lives has perhaps made us more comfortable as ‘users’ of a resource that we don’t own, but that we share, that is perpetually changing and adapting. Word processing software replaced my typewriter. Do I really need to buy that book, when I can go back to the library – one of the oldest and brightest stars of the sharing economy – and borrow it? Now I can even borrow it online from my Kindle lending library? (In my house, books are perhaps the most egregious example of a dormant resource).
The sharing economy as now popularized is only the tip of the iceberg in what optimization of our resources may look like. Tech is what is making the sharing accessible in much larger numbers, than what before was probably limited by word of mouth, or the reach of a church bulletin board. (“Son at camp for the summer. Room to rent. Call 7-4006”). And there is appropriate cynicism being leveled at the early hegemonies like Airbnb and Uber, that in fact may be industrializing what began as more modest, locally-specific ways of connecting excess capacity with demand. But my hunch is that sharing is returning to becoming more regular in our day-to-day lives. Smaller, resource-scarce communities understand sharing by necessity. Successful urban economies are more flush, but that abundance causes scarcities of other kinds: lack of space, time, costs of disposal are both strong drivers of sharing, as new forms of housing, accommodation, travel, recycling and reuse emerge. I suspect the behemoths will level out, and we’ll continue to see a plethora of tech-enabled sharing solutions, that make it more attractive for the most rugged individualist to share his modern art collection and for the single parent juggling two jobs to affordably get his kids to soccer and gymnastics.
The most fundamental driver of a sharing economy is the universal desire people have to live a fuller life. Will the sharing economy continue to develop new vehicles that make it easier for people to share goods and services in common? Undoubtedly, yes.
Rasmus Sangild is head of press and communication at the Danish Council on Climate Change. Opinions expressed reflect writer’s own views.
Is Sharing Also Caring?
The sharing economy — it has a certain ring to it. It sounds like something straight out of Das Kapital and at the same time it’s quite modern, even though there is nothing new in sharing per se. It’s been around as a concept for a long time. The Greeks were sharing thoughts, the Romans shared their slaves, Christians shared bread and wine, Vikings were firm believers in sharing beer and the Hippies took a brave stand against anyone bogarting a joint. And now sharing is back by popular demand.
At least from a Scandinavian welfare system point of view, the sharing economy should be something a fairly large portion of the population should be able to agree on, but is it really something that benefits us all?
Even though sharing sounds almost socialistic, it isn’t exactly a revolution where people are forced to give up private ownership. Everything more or less happens by your own free will. The word ‘economy’ gives it away as the sharing bit happens mainly because there is an economic incentive. So is this a good thing? Well, there are ups and downs to many things, as they say.
From a resource point of view the sharing economy seems like a good idea. Research once showed that on average a portable drilling device is only used for a total of twenty-something minutes before it is discarded. Needless to say, that is not a lot of drilling per unit. However, if the device was passed to the next person with a project, and the drill could be used for another twenty minutes before the battery was permanently exhausted, it could potentially save an extra drilling device being produced. That would undoubtedly be good for the planet.
But hold on, there is also an economic incentive. It is only if the money you receive from sharing the drilling machine, or the money you save from not buying a new one for yourself, doesn’t prompt you to buy something else that the transaction has left a positive effect on the climate. In the event that you do go and spend the money on fuel for your car or a hair dryer or something else, then the planet isn’t much better off. This mechanism is called the rebound effect and studies show that the positive effect on climate change that comes from initiatives in the sharing economy is way smaller than expected mainly because people keep spending money on new stuff. Car sharing has become widely popular but car sales only go one way and that is up.
But surely car sharing over the Internet must be a good thing if it prevents people from taking their own vehicle? If we can save a trip or two by filling up our cars, then it must limit pollution somehow, and co-driving networks accessible from smartphones have become widely popular all over the world. Nonetheless, it hasn’t had any great effect on greenhouse gas emissions so far, mainly because the scale is still too small and services are primarily used by people who would otherwise use public transportation.
If the sharing economy wants to be about caring for the planet, then initiatives need to convince people that they can manage with less stuff instead of just expanding their consumer horizon. The money you save should be used for more free time not adding to the pile of earthly goods. So, yeah, sharing could also be about caring for the planet, but you need to spend that extra green on something that limits pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, for instance more free time with family and friends. And if you haven’t got either, charity is always a possibility.
Mikkel Stjernberg (born 1972). Danish Writer and Entrepreneur. Co-founder & COO of Storyfriend. Former political speechwriter. Published author. Mover and Foodie.
To Share is to Contribute
Whether you share your car, your flat or your food you are contributing to the life of other people. So when we talk about the sharing economy we are basically talking about how our money can contribute to the life of others. Like in a family.
Naturally, real life is far from this ideal. The usual intention of sharing anything today is to make money. AirBnB lets us rent out our homes and Uber lets us get a taxi a little easier, but basically both companies enable us to make money on other people. However noble a cause that may be in its own right it’s a far cry from true sharing.
In many ways the term “sharing economy” is flawed since we are neither sharing our money nor anything else with each other. Rather we are using our collective potential to maximize individual profit. A better term would be the “collective economy”.
For me the big question is if you charge money for it or not. If it’s true sharing then it must contribute to other people’s lives without you expecting anything in return. From a spiritual point of view that’s the fundamental principle of sharing.
You must give in order to receive, but if you give with the intention of receiving, nature doesn’t recognize it as sharing because the contribution part just isn’t there. So at the end of this equation we find a constant battle between profit and contribution.
In other words, you have to take profit completely out of the equation to justify anything as sharing. This way you don’t make money on the actual sharing act, but you save money somewhere else. It’s all about understanding the systemic approach and seing the bigger picture.
Take Home Exchange for example. A concept built on you and me exchanging our homes for a period of time and thus being able to save money on hotels — or AirBnB. Which again makes us afford something else. You don’t profit directly from it, but your saved money goes into the food chain one way or the other.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Uber, AirBnB and the like. I just don’t see it as sharing at all. However, I’m all in for a continuous development of the “collective economy”, which I think is the most realistic future after all.
Still, my philanthropist self dreams of a larger degree of true sharing. As a foodie, for instance, I would love to have a society where we shared food with each other. It bothers me every time I throw out my old carrots, and for some odd reason I always have old carrots in the fridge. I think many people have.
But imagine if I could share my carrots before they got old with people in my neighbourhood. Imagine if we had a system for that. How much money would we save on groceries?
Such a system would even improve our quality of eating since you would be interested in contributing with good and diverse ingredients because you have to share them with people you know. As a result our general health would improve. People would talk to each other more. Lots of good stuff would happen.
And yes, maybe it’s just a naïve dream that will never come true. But sharing our dreams never hurt anyone.
Anne Waak is an author based in Berlin. She writes for several magazines and newspapers. Her next book will deal with the history of suicide.
The saddest sight I know is that of costumed and increasingly drunk groups of men and women wobbling through European inner cities celebrating bachelor and bachelorette parties. Neatly divided by gender, one enjoys their last night in freedom, preferably with strippers or at the bordello, before swearing off all debauchery once and for all on the allegedly most beautiful day of their lives. In France, this event is called “enterrement de la vie de jeune fille” and “de jeune homme”, respectively. “Enterrement” is French for funeral.
At last, desire gets locked up and put in its place. Hopes are that from now on it will focus on exclusively one person, otherwise everything is at stake: the relationship, the family, the laboriously constructed bliss. One’s personal freedom as well as that of the beloved one must be left at the registry office gates. But: marriage has nothing to do with love. In the words of Swiss divorce lawyer Helene Klaar: “The law regulates marriage, and it doesn’t even mention love. Love is not the foundation of the marital contract.”
The real problem is not so much the institution itself, but the idea it is based on: monogamy, till death do us part. Sexual fidelity, till we are sick of each other’s sight. Us — just the two of us — our children and the inheritance we will hand down to them — unless it is spent on a tedious divorce battle first.
This unity is expected to provide the involved parties with everything: love, sex and passion, today and forever, friendship and company well into old age. In her book Unspeakable Things — Sex, Lies and Revolution, Laurie Penny calls this: Love®. Neatly packaged singular Love, “the idea that every person has one soulmate who they are supposed to love for eternity and that life can only be complete once you share bed and table with them,” according to Penny is not just unlikely, but outright cruel. Because it implies failure on the part of everyone who does not achieve just this — and those who might not share this goal.
Recently, this kind of romantic love increasingly resembles employment: “It is all-encompassing and precarious at the same time.” Penny is right: we are required to devote ourselves to our jobs and little loves completely, with everything we have got. It could be revoked at any time. For example, when we desire other things on the side too much, like free time or other people. This climate of fear makes us hesitant and meek. This kind of love, according to Penny, creates “self-reproducing family units, each one isolated in its respective struggle.” The thing we often and nonspecifically refer to as love — and by which we mean a monogamous relationship between two people who create a refuge out of marriage and a nuclear family — in relation to the history of humankind, is quite a modern invention, and most of the time an extremely messy and polymorphic feeling.
Here is an idea: If Love® does not suit some people, it might not be them who have to change but their definition of love. An antonym to Love® could be Big Love. Because it includes more than two people and because, much like love among friends, is not a zero-sum game that leaves less for the others should one receive more. Quite the opposite.
In order for this to work, all participants need to be in the know: about themselves, the others, and their respective needs. They must be able to see past themselves and communicative above average. They must recognize jealousy’s resentful form for what it is – which, much like marriage, is a means to protect one’s ownership. A capitalist notion that moves one to understand another person as private property. My house, my car, my wife, my son – you better leave them alone.
Love in capitalism is subordinate to flawed laws. As talk of competition and of reciprocal exchange of goods and services alone prove, it is doubtlessly thought of as a market. This does not mean that one can’t rethink this market and its dealings. In a world that bid its farewells to small love, intimacy circulates. This earns Big Love the occasional accusation of being a manifestation of a neoliberal zeitgeist. Simultaneously, Big Love fundamentally opposes capitalism because it knows no clear ownership structure. If I want the one I love to be well, I am invested, too, in the wellbeing of their remaining loved ones. In place of isolated lone fighters, Big Love puts a web of relationships with entirely new responsibilities and commitments.
Freed from the gloomy idea that men are hunters and women their bait, Big Love is not a gendered fantasy: if women are allowed to make their own sexual choices, if they are allowed to love whom they please, men, as a rule, receive more of both – sex and love.
For those who are exhausted and feel uneasy by the thought of granting their perceived property the freedom they would secretly grant themselves at any given chance, Big Love is not a very good idea. For those whose desires feed off of seeing their loved one(s) free, happy and deemed loveable by others, too, Big Love is here.
Caroline Woolard is an artist, organizer, and co-founder of cultural equity initiatives http://OurGoods.org, http://TradeSchool.coop, and http://BFAMFAPhD.com.
Solidarity Art Worlds, a manifesto
I cannot describe the future for you because I am writing this alone. In Solidarity Art Worlds, no one person will understand what we currently mean by “alternative” or “my ideas.” Solidarity Art Worlds grow from collective spaces of listening, not from immediate reactions to coercion and individual accumulation. Solidarity Art Worlds are not just small alternatives to inevitable structures of greed, hoarding, and isolation. Solidarity Art Worlds emerge as we share authority and sense our collective power. I find hope and strength when I engage with Third Root community health center, the Rock Dove healing collective, the open source computer engineers at Eyebeam and NYCResistor, the readings at Bluestockings, and the ongoing work at Ganas, Fourth Arts Block, Interference Archive, Black Women’s Blueprint, TimeBanksNYC, Picture the Homeless, The Foundry Theater, WOW Cafe, The Church of Stop Shopping, OurGoods.org, Milk Not Jails, INDIGnación, 596Acres, Callen-Lorde, O4O, CUNY’s Public Science Project, Brooklyn Cooperative Credit Union, the Park Slope Food Co-op, and Black Urban Growers.
Solidarity Art Worlds exist in places where people acknowledge each other with care and dignity, linking common struggles so that the next generations can work toward a world without structural violence, without worrying that solidarity, cooperation, redistribution, or guaranteed housing, universal health care, and education are alternative. I experience Solidarity Art Worlds when a wide range of struggles, desires, and needs are discussed. Without these spaces, I cannot dream of a better world. With two week timelines from invitation to publication,the Rail will seldom hear collective contributions. I cannot describe the future for you because I am writing this alone. One statement cannot communicate the lived experience of collective analysis, action, and collaboration. I cannot describe the future for you because I am writing this alone.
As we organize to resist, subordinate, and displace corporate power and a self-destructive economic system, we hold in our hearts a vision for an economy based on justice, ecological sustainability, cooperation, and democracy. We look to sites of creation and imagination, where we are forging new systems of exchange which prefigure a society that puts people and the planet before profit and growth.
We use direct democracy and cooperation to clothe, feed, heal, nurture, celebrate, educate, and challenge each other. We do all of this not to profit individually, but to meet the human needs of our community. Our internal economies are the antithesis of the greed and oppression we have been taught to expect from each other and acknowledges and addresses the myriad injustices that people bear everyday. Together we are moving beyond “jobs,” something someone gives you or takes from you, towards shared livelihoods that increase our collective economic security.
As we create new spaces, new relationships, and new systems, we acknowledge the existence of a solidarity economy outside of our occupations. The concept of a solidarity economy emerged from the global South, as economia solidária, to describe economic practices and models which advance values of democracy, mutualism, cooperation, ecological sustainability, justice, and reciprocity. These economic practices include:
Creation: Ideas and Resources
the commons: ecological and intellectual
free and open source software and technology
community land trusts
Production: How things are made
non-profit artisan collectives
democratic employee stock ownership programs
Transfer and Exchange: The Way We Share Goods and Services
sliding scale pricing
community supported agriculture
community supported kitchens
consumer (usually food) co-operatives
housing co-operatives and collectives
non-profit buying clubs
Surplus Allocation: The Way We Create Economic Security
credit unions and community development credit unions
co-operative loan funds
rotating savings and credit associations
mutual aid societies
community development banks
While we must continue to experiment and refine ways of creating local self-reliance, we also acknowledge that without supporting the existing alternatives, and bringing them into our communities, we continue to uphold the very economic power that is destroying our communities and our planet. Likewise we recognize we must challenge and transform the existing forms of economic power to create room for more just forms of economic activity to take root and grow. In other words, we need a complete transformation of the dominant economic system.
Let’s assert our economic power through exercising our right to move our money credit and create restorative systems of exchange to replace extractive corporations. We can also learn about the alternatives that already exist in our communities, and where none exist, we can form them in the spirit of direct democracy! Together, we can create a world free of greed and oppression. Each day our very existence proves the possibility of other, more just and cooperative, economies.
I want to thank the Alternative Economies Working Group for creating such an inspiring document. As I struggle to avoid the busy lifestyle of workaholic Cultural Capitalists, where artists make time for careers rather than friendships, for work rather than healing, I openly struggle as a member of TradeSchool.coop to share authority and information. I am dedicated to sharing the resources I have: I open my studio space to friends during the day, and I have committed the $30,000 I received as a Fellow at Eyebeam: Art and Technology Center to a collective house. I’m currently seeking a dedicated group of people who want to organize a low income community land trust with spaces that do not allow for speculation on land. When I bind my livelihood together with artists and activists, I find the emotional and financial support to dream. I am excited to see more Solidarity Art Worlds, more collective projects, and longer timeframes so that I can open the Rail and read statements of collective struggle and desire.
“Solidarity Art Worlds” was first published in the February 2013 issue of the Brooklyn Rail.