The power of openness
Published 05th October 2009 - 4 comments - 1569 views -
I think the entire group of Th!nkers were impressed by the presentation of Samsö Island in Copenhagen, and it was not only because Søren Hermansen was a great speaker, even though he was. There was something else, something more - a feeling that these guys that actually did something, not only talked about it. While the rest of the world is haggling about 20 % or 30% reduction in CO2 emissions, these guys had actually managed to get CO2 neutral, long before the COP 15 meeting.
For readers who did not see Hermansen's pesentation in Copenhagen: Samsö is an island located between Jylland and Själland in Denmark. Some time ago they had the same problems as most conuntryside communities do - people move, jobs move, the community can't finance public welfare, and there is a general feeling of alienation and that the real power lies somewhere else.
The people of Samsö decided to do something about it, and found that the easiest way was to invest in wind power. They bought their own plants, and instead of consuming power from Denmark, they now own their own plants, and sell electricity to their co-patriots. Samsö is still Danish, but the decisions are no longer taken in Copenhagen.
I think most of us also remember Dysselskilde. A totally different project, more rooted in hippie alternative culture than in hillbilly home rule. And yet they were so similar. Dysselskilde were not self-sufficient on energy like Samsö, and could not boast to be CO2 neutral, but on the other hand their houses, and food (delicious bean dishes) probably had a smaller CO2 footprint than Sören Hermansen's breakfast.
I don't know anything about that, though, and it is not my point here to highlight the differences between Samsö and Dysselskilde. I want to talk about the similarities. Both places had created lifestyles, way more sustainable than most most scandinavians live. But in both cases this seemed to be something secondary, a positive side effect. Somehing that is so obvious that you don't need to talk about it.
What was talked about instead was power. About the feeling that the inhabitants chose their own lives. In Dysselskilde it could be about building the house you like. Resident Birgitta Steen, whom I and Domen Savic interviewed talked about the freedom to engage in what you want, when you want. The freedom to paint the signs instead of harvesting potatoes, if you are a sign-painter. The freedom to pick potatoes in stead of working in front of a computer, if you are a potato-picker.
In Samsö it was about ownership. Not the kind of ownership that investors claim over companies they don't work in, but the responsible stewardship over resources, that can be profitable if it is carried out prudently. Like Hermansen's old math teacher, who put on a sweater and did not turn on the lights, if the elecricity his solar panels produced was not enough.
It is all about freedom, the essence of a healthy society. The free society has its antagonists, but it has proven unbelivable succesful, because it is free. Because liberalism is not necessariy what our liberal parties say, and socialism is not necessarily what's in the socialist party's programme. And religion is not what the church proclaims, but what the community members believe.
Freedom in politics can not be taken for granted, and yet a vast majority supports it wholeheartedly. Not so in other sphere's of life...
As customers, we readily accept that we buy something without getting the right to do what we want with it. Typical examples are DRM-protected digital media, or computer programs, that you are not allowed to change. You might call that buying, but whatever you pay, you don't own them.
As you might know there is another way to think about digital products, called open source. The idea is that software might be sold or given away, but the user is always free to improve, destory, use, give away or do what he or she wants with it. Given that they give credit to the creators, and tell the next in line where the ideas come from. Which is exactly the same way as science works. I can read Foucaults work, and use them to analyze whatever I want, without asking anyone beforehand, as long as I tell my readers that I took this theory from Foucault.
Science does't know about patents. Business do, and as society becomes computerized, we apply the logic of the computer world to more and more areas - handing over more and more power to the vendors rather than the buyers.
In the rich world multinational corporations hardly face any opposition, because they are so big and vital to our economies and identities. Politicians still like to believe that "what is good for Volvo is good for Sweden". In stead it is the developing countries that defend their right to buy ownership, not only clientship. The most written about cases have been about AIDS medicines, where the corporations fought hard to uphold their patents, rather than spreading the knowledge to the benefit of the sick. This is a medieval guild-mentality, opposed to the free spirit of science.
Now - when the third world ask for a knowledge transfer of clean technologies, Big Business again choose to protect their patents in stead of humanity's future. The US Chamber of commerse, were for example Mark Loughridge from IBM is aboard member, have said that they will oppose a climate deal that gives developing countries access to their Intellectual Property. Because Intellectual Property is power, and you don't sell your power... I think it is anti-scientific, short-sighted and unworthy of a company like IBM to set profits above global development.Therefore I was very glad to hear that Nike has left the chamber of commerce, due to their weak stance on climate change policy.
A world where the real power and knowledge remains whitin IBM, in Copenhagen or Bruxelles, is weak in the same way as a centralised state is not resilient to change. And things will change a lot. Also the biggest corporations are ran by humans, and therefor they are unable to foresee the future. That's why we should be free to adjust their technology according to our needs. I think we need to build a world where each of us is the responsible owner of his own life. Just like the people in Dysselskilde and Samsö.
About the author
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