The Process Revolution:

Submitted by zClark on Wed, 01/Nov/2006 - 00:00


The Process Revolution:
The Internet and the Rise of Commonism

Authored by Eric Harris-Braun
v 0.5 - July 20060

Revised by Zack Clark to:
The Process Revolution:
The Internet and the Rise of "Co-talentism"

November 2006


A new vitalizing economic reformation is underway. Spawned from the world transforming industrial revolution (IR) it's poised like a huge wave ready to wash away the remaining chaff of superstition and carry humanity to yet new heights. And like the IR, it's powered by a new cognitive technology that's dramatically transforming a previously existing but minor element of the economy into a preeminent economic dynamic – which will trigger an avalanche of affluence. The enabling technology for the IR was the printing press. It freed knowledge in a way that couldn't be undone by book burnings. Not only were established intellectual works made widely available (instead of restricted to privileged scholars with access to the private libraries of rich secluded monasteries or royal courts), but new innovation & discovery were invigorated by a magnitude. The resulting new economic factor that emerged was mechanized production – formally identified as Capital. Indeed, the very coming into existence of Capital defines the IR. The currently unfolding process revolution (PR) is our new economic reformation. The enabling cognitive technology is networked computers (the Internet). And the powerful new economic factor is Information – defined as raw data plus the evolving patterns and interactive processes that transform said data into enhanced production by organizing & perfecting our understanding. What the printing press did for Aristotle's "episteme" and "techne" (knowledge), the Internet is doing for "phronesis" and perhaps "sophia" (wisdom). The former allowed people to better understand the world around them by reading encyclopedias, newspapers, textbooks, etc. – while the latter (Internet) allows anyone to be an encyclopedist, publisher, or multimedia producer. This phenomenon is radically revolutionizing both the number and kind of processes we can learn first hand and even be a crucial part of. This involvement unavoidably opens whole new realms of economic & political implications just as Capital and the mass-mechanizing of production did.

The IR evoked two major competing theories on how to organize the new economic factor of Capital: communism and capitalism. Likewise two rival schemes - "royaltyism" and "co-talentism" - now strive for control over Information. Royaltyism embodies the various arcane theories covering the ownership/control of abstract non-consumable property for personal gain (i.e. royalties). Such schemes typically promote aggressive means to defend royalty income and always rely on state intervention to regulate, interpret and enforce their concocted ‘rights’ (with the inevitably resulting corruption). Whereas co-talentism is more concerned with the free proliferation of human creative forces at all levels. The "-ism" one champions for receiving maximum benefit from the new PR depends on their world view. Those who see wealth as a (rightfully) restricted scarcity, will embrace royaltyism and jealously fight to secure a piece of the pie. (Interestingly, this seems to apply much more emphatically to those engaged in the lucrative business of owning/controlling the works of others than the actual talented creators themselves.) Whereas a perspective of wealth as limited only by our imagination and joint efforts leads to co-talentism. So rather than living for lawsuits, the primary focus is simply on creating for the best possible end results.

Co-talentism like capitalism maximizes individual dignity and in conjunction with the Internet “pushes the intelligence to the edges1” – an essential element for optimized decentralized decision making. However, to the extent that capitalism may be associated with the restriction or destruction of Information via coercive state granted monopolies; co-talentism takes the opposite track. It works with, not against, the raw reality that unlike any other ingredient that's consumed in the production process, Information is inherently enhanced & strengthened when employed for the nourishment of individual minds. In all conscience, sharing (making copies) of Information obviously increases its availability/abundance and hence its utility as well.

Finally, the IR expanded the role of money in circulation to new heights. Money as an investment empowering fuel functions as the principal informational tool in this arena. Consequently, the potential for money to undergo massive -humanity liberating- transformations has never been more possible than it is right now under co-talentism.

There are a series of homologies (per biologists) or isomorphisms (per mathematicians) that exist between the IR and the PR:
1) A previously minor aspect of production explodes to major economic significance.
2) This irreversible transformation is enabled by a cognitive technology.
3) The cognitive technology has both an embodiment and a distribution facet.
4) Competing philosophical approaches struggle to dominate this new major economic force.

Examining the benefits and downsides of various historical approaches to new economic factors allow us to pick the best approach to take this time around as history does seem to be repeating itself.


The expansion of Capital and Information:
(note the convention of capitalizing these terms)

During the IR, Capital (i.e. the tools of production) was transformed from a secondary aspect of the economy, to being one of the chief economic factors along with Land and Labor. Capital previously existed in the form of things like hand tools, and small workshops (mills, smithies, wheelwrights, etc). Yet these were a relatively small component of economic activity in comparison to the role of raw materials (Land) and the human effort of converting them into the necessities of life (Labor). Moreover, these basic machines were made and wielded by individuals. After the IR the necessities of life for most people are produced exclusively with the involvement of massive Capital (factories), and Capital of this magnitude is not within the individuals reach; it is both built and wielded collectively.

With the PR, Information is the economic factor undergoing rapid expansion. Just as the formal economic definition of Capital emphasizes the tools of production as those items we produce not to consume directly, but for creating yet more production   it behooves us to remember that Information is not only the base datum but also the patterns and processes that use that data to organize production. So in this sense, Information is much more than mere numbers (just as the the bits on a CD are a far cry from the music produced via specialized processing). Computer software is perhaps the clearest example of Information in this sense because it is both data and process. Basic information (inventories, cost profiles, etc.) has always been part of production. Said input was never a major independent factor in production however because it has limited both by 1) its narrow accessibility to a few select individuals, plus 2) its low levels of analytical processing and integration (networking) with other vital data external to the company. Any raw data and (to the extent they existed) patterns or processes where reserved for individual managers. The PR now allows for the transfer of Information from limitless sources into machines. For example, modern production is becoming ever more dependent on such Information processes like just-in-time delivery, where the key variable in production is not the physical tools, but rather the quality of Information available to organize & coordinate multifaceted operations. So Information -like Capital- is no longer the providence of the individual, but is again built and wielded collectively.


The cognitive technologies:

To reiterate, the key transforming factor in both revolutions is the introduction of technology that advances human cognitive ability on a mass scale. For the IR that technology was the printing press. It achieved the mass-distribution of knowledge on an unprecedented scale which transformed our cognitive ability as a species. The IR required this mass-production of knowledge to disseminate the advancements of science and technology. Another perspective sees the IR as the result of the feedback loop that results when the discoveries of science are timely introduced into the production arena which then drives huge increases of production, and in turn elicits yet more science. This cycle becomes the exponential spiral that makes for a “revolution” when scattered print shops evolve into multiple mass-publication giants. It's crucial to note, however, that the revolution is not just the quantity of printed material, but it's the pattern shifts, quality enhancements, and feed-back loops that are enabled by this massively increased quantity.

Regarding the PR, the key transformative technology is the networked personal computer. This cognitive technology is not simply an expansion of the printing press, rather it is a technology of an entirely higher order. Or using the terminology of Russell and Whitehead, it is of a “different logical type”. Both technologies exhibit the facets of embodiment and distribution for a cognitive ability. The printing press is a technology that takes a narrative and puts it into physical form. However, it's not just about making it easy to create one book, but more specifically the ability to create many books with the same manual labor needed to create just one – and that's what makes it a transformative technology. Similarly the computer allows for the embodiment of a pattern, or a process. Yet, just as books existed before the printing press, so did machines that could embody pattern and process. In fact, a good way of looking at it, is that each machine is just that, an embodied pattern or process of production. What's unique about the computer is that it's a tool for embodying processes in general. Not only that, but any specialized process so embodied can more or less be readily made to execute on other computers as well. Just as the printing press can print any kind of book, there is no limit to the different processes a computer can execute. The Internet is the distributive facet of this technology, and it makes pattern and process almost instantly available through out the world.

Aristotle provides some helpful terms for thinking about cognitive technologies. Aristotle's ethics distinguishes a number of intellectual virtues – namely:
episteme: empirical knowledge
techne: technical knowledge or craft skill (which became the root of our word technology)
phronesis: practical wisdom
sophia: theoretical wisdom, or understanding of first-principles.

The claim of this paper is that the IR's printing press was an amplifying technology for episteme and techne; while the Internet (short hand for networked personal computers), is clearly an amplifying technology for phronesis and also perhaps for sophia. The first half of this clam is fairly easy to see. The printing press allows us to set down and distribute the empirical results of scientific investigation as well as the craft skills we develop. Phronesis and Sophia -the products of experience- on the other hand, are not so easy to express. They represent the ability to judge what actions are best in any particular circumstance by matching up previously understood patterns and processes to current concerns. For example, the skilled doctor or entrepreneur must make decisions when all the facts are lacking. This is done by matching the current pattern of a disease, or business situation, with past experienced patterns.

At first blush the Internet just seems like a hyper printing press. Moreover, it appears that the Wikipedia is just a very efficient, very large encyclopedia, and that blogs are just huge & efficient journal publication system. But that's only because we are still looking at this technology through our old eyes. If we look at this from a fresh angle, we can see that what we've really created is a tool to allow anyone to became an encyclopedist or publisher. The printing press has already enabled any reader to become a scholar. Thanks to mass-publication, the average modern college graduate probably has an order of magnitude more scholarly learning in their heads than all but the very best scholars of pre-industrial societies. The printing press created the Knowledge society through its ability to publish well organized material for the benefit of humanity and our economic undertakings. Whereas the Internet – with its power to globally host interactive development of Information to the same humanitarian ends – has the potential to advance us to the next level (Wisdom).


Capitalism vs. Communism:

Capital, the huge new economic dynamic that begot the IR also conjured up two major rival economic orders: Capitalism and Communism. Both claimed to answer the basic question of who should exercise control/ownership over the new phenomenon of Capital. Communism proposes that the State should own Capital and the products produced thereby. While Capitalism proposes ownership by individuals2. The justifications for choosing one over the other are of course as lengthy and varied as are the descriptions of why Capitalism largely won out. However, I would propose two main systemic properties to account for its success:
1) Both in theory and in how it is popularly perceived (although perhaps not perfected in practice) Capitalism maximizes individual dignity and potential
2) like the Internet, it “pushes the intelligence out to the edges.”
The first property allows it to have maximal psychological appeal. It's much easier to adopt a system that appeals to, and in fact systemically works with people's natural self-interest. The second maximizes efficient functioning. It's much easier and more effective to adopt a decentralized system that allows for local decision-making where local Information can be used to its greatest advantage.

Both of these initially adaptive individualist and decentralist properties play out very differently in the end game of the IR. Any system that scales to a single huge planetary economy, ends up in conflict with the common good. The built in focus of Capitalism on the individual makes it very difficult to solve problems of the commons. The arguments that point to the systemic truth of this claim have been made very cogently elsewhere, but I'll point to two interesting facts here:
1) The corporation is legally a single individual person. This oddity (a collective body legally treated as a single person) is not so strange when we keep in mind how Capitalism assigns ownership of Capital.
2) Our collective bodies (governments and corporations) have addressed the problem of massive scaling through complex hierarchical organization.
In practice this has erased the benefits of decentralization inherent in the original Capitalist ideas. Corporations and Governments are now so gargantuan that both of them are forces for individual dis-empowerment. Moreover, they have literally grown beyond their theoretical capacity to manage the complexity of the environment they operate in. So this problem is not limited just to particular governments or corporations, but represents a systemic inevitability as Jean-François Noubel's so well describes in his work on Collective Intelligence. In other-words, it's inescapably inherent in such hierarchical systems when they grow to their current level of complexity.


Co-talentism vs. Royaltyism

We're now, of course, seeing major conflicts over how Information should be treated. One knee-jerk approach is to simplistically adopt the Capitalist's answer to Capital and say that Information should be locked-up & owned by individuals. This fits in well with all the vested interests that profit from those branches of law used to enforce individual ownership claims of non-depleteable Information. Specifically, this includes intellectual property such as: 1) trade secrets, 2) copyrighted material, 3) patented processes, 4) trademarks - etc. (all of which are now absorbed within the new Information model).

An opposite approach to today's Information is practiced by the free software & open source movements, where the key product, software, is the purest expression of Information as defined in this paper (i.e. the processes and patterns used for production). The free software movement is shunned by many simply due to an apparent communistic flavor resulting from its disclaimer of individual ownership. However, the free software movement answers the ownership question differently than communism did. Instead of placing ownership of Information in the hands of a State, the free software movement effectively places ownership in the commons (through various innovative legal maneuvers3). This is a possibility that wasn't even available to Communists for Capital. The State was a stand-in representative for the commons when scarce resource that needed protection were the issue. In the modern era, the Information commons doesn't need protection by the state. Instead it needs protection from the state which has been commandeered for the opposite objective of preventing the flow of Information into the commons by maintaining coercive control of in the powerful hands of a few.

History, as is often claimed, repeats itself. Yet it's obviously not a wheel that comes back to the same place (circumstances are constantly evolving) – but is more like a fractal in which similar patterns re-appear in a modified form. So the new ownership question regarding Information should carefully re-examine all concerns in light of current technologies, etc. Our conclusion here holds that the unadulterated freedom enjoyed by placing Information into the commons embodies the solution that maximizes individual dignity and potential, while it “pushes the intelligence out to the edges” (which means decisions are made at the most effective point). While this claim could be argued in great depth, I'll simply note that the underlying reality is that Information, unlike Capital, has the natural property that once it comes into existence, there is little or no further cost to maintain it. A traditional factory requires continual material input to operate, and cannot clone itself without formidable expenditures. Digital Information on the other hand is characterized very differently as the main expenses are entirely up-front while cloning cost are negligible. The systemic economic effect of artificially locking up the value of something that has little or no on-going cost via royalties etc. needs to be carefully examined. The competition that reduces prices of production4 to “commodity” levels, does not happen when the Information of production is monopolized. Finally, the co-talentism approach to Information operates in concert with the obvious fact that Information is NOT depleted by use. This vital consideration is analogous to how Capitalism works with people's natural sense of right & wrong and not against their collective self-interest.

Enforcement of copyrights and patents is a perverse demeaning chore. Similarly, promoting “digital rights management” is a precious time & resource wasting endeavor that cripples the mind through jealous anti-creative efforts. First, a new brand of “piracy” is dishonestly invented by shamelessly twisting an established concept to serve untenable vested interest. Then a viciously onerous agenda is eagerly backed by the state to assure that profit and power continue to flow to established moguls. Finally, as the indefensible absurdity of their agenda grows evermore evident, unconscionably aggressive attacks against weak targets are employed as a last resort. This important subject is much more involved than presented here. For an extensive and enlightening book covering the dangers of the intellectual property mentality read Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity (2004) by law professor Lawrence Lessig. This highly recommended work and can be downloaded as a pdf file *here* (2.5 MB).

Adam Smith saw the systemic advantage of embracing self-interest and putting it to work for the common good. The result was Capitalism. The free software movement and its off-shoots promote the sharing of Information in celebration of its amplified abundance and utility when ‘consumed’. Moreover the propensity of Information to flow everywhere is also embraced as advancing the common good. Another way to look at this is that Information is not subject to the tragedy of the commons, where resource hogs benefit at the expense of everyone else. Because, even heavy use of Information in no way diminishes its availability to anyone else (in fact it can only increase both accessibility and effectiveness). Since Information isn't used up, it is thus most naturally held in the commons.



It'd be naive to consider the rise of Capitalism without also examining money. The fact that common usage defines capital as “wealth in the form of money or property owned by a person or business and human resources of economic value” (instead of the “tools of production”) emphasizes the need to examine money. As amply shown elsewhere5, today's money is actually a form of Information. This fact is hard to see because in it's intentionally obscured and made to mimic the scarce natural resources that used to back it (pure propaganda and actions of the Fed such as interest rate manipulation enforce this illusion). This has the effect of keeping money scarce enough to maintain a perceived value. But the whole idea that today's money is inherently valuable, rather than simply a record of value transacted, is a grand mistake with horrendous repercussions.

This paper claims that Information was not a major economic factor before the PR began. So it may seem odd to now claim that money is a form of Information since money certainly has historically been a major part of our economic system. The difference is that money is not a direct ingredient/factor in production per se; where as Land, Labor, Capital and now Information are. This is NOT to say that money is not equally important, but it's still a different animal. Money and the financial schemes developed around it form the very infrastructure that underlies and enables trade   the unique prerequisite for the “division of labor” and the resulting world of mind bending productivity. Consider Land, Labor & Capital; it's hard to get much more material & physical than that! But Information? What could be more incorporeal?? The two classical worlds of the seen and unseen – perhaps it's finally time for the (bashful) unseen to make its appearance as a formidable factor in production. And what a entrance! Not only does Information make a big splash in the realm of production, but it also holds major rank as the life blood of trade. This dual role necessarily has awesome ramifications – particular as Information and its underlying technologies unfold into whole new areas of unprecedented production and monetary freedom.

{A quick aside is probably appropriate here. Labor should be distinguished as an element that spans the two worlds cited above. With ever more respect and value being placed on mental vs. physical labor as time wears on.}

It's not astonishing that the monetary system and Capital both followed the same ownership pattern under Capitalism (and naturally the same forces are now intent on dominating Information as well). For instance, the monetary system is not owned by the State, but private banks6. The State does influence the monetary system, but none-the-less, its ownership is in private hands. It's noteworthy that the Fed manipulates the relative scarcity of money through its open market activities and control over interest rates. These are essentially exploitations of this Information system. We can hardly rehash all the relative merits and problems of the current system here, but it is worth pointing out that like corporations and government, the monetary system has followed the same pattern and evolved to match the planetary scale of the economy. They have all systemically outgrown their capacity to remain stable. Consequently they now constitute forces thwarting the goals of maximal individual dignity and potential. The current monetary model ensures the centralization of decision making power for the various national monetary systems (and thus the lucrative benefits of ownership) remains in the elite hands of the hegemonic few. Solving these problems is crucial because money is the Information infrastructure that underlies all economic activity.

Since modern money is Information, the co-talentism approach provides hope that it (money) will also enter the commons. This does not advocate changing ownership of the current system from the banks to the State7. Rather, the appropriate action is to build a new -more complete- system that leverages money's inherently advantageous features as Information. And doing so truly has a thoroughly “capitalist” feel, which is just to say that there's no reason that the monetary system itself shouldn't also benefit from competition in the free market (just as every other aspect of business has). In fact, there are a number of efforts under way in the field of community currencies that do just this.



As expected, technologies that transform our ability to think also give rise to new mechanisms for providing us our daily bread. The politico/economic systems put in place to govern these changes wrestle with the sticky issues of how control (also known as ownership) of those mechanisms is parceled out. The new abstract mechanization of process calls for a new understanding of what the commons is, and how to allow for its free control and ownership. It is not clear how this will shake out. As already pointed out, Information, in contrast to Capital, costs next to (or less than) nothing once it comes into existence. But bringing it into existence is not cheap (or at least not effortless). This raises the question of investment. The free software movement has proven that it is possible to distribute such investment very broadly. But it is quite likely that the volunteerism modality of this work so far, will be replaced by new mechanisms that compensates participation in more tangible ways than simply the pleasure of getting to use the software you help build (or, as is the case for many business that subsidize work on open source projects, the hope that it will pay off indirectly). Such new investment mechanisms will undoubtedly be built on top of monetary systems that themselves were created in and thus freely protected by the commons.


  • 0: This work is derived from Eric Harris-Braun's July 2006 paper that I discovered *here*. Obviously, I'm positively impressed with Eric's insights and hopefully my efforts here are recognized as a laudatory tribute. About a fourth of this current document's raw content was contributed by myself, while 99% of the ideas come from version 0.5 of Mr. Harris-Braun's pdf file. Part of my plan here was to put some edge on the text so that it better penetrates and sticks into the reader's mind. Some modifications are a bit bolder than I'd anticipated. Most particularly, the terms “commonism” & “ownerism” were switched for “co-talentism” & “royaltyism” respectfully. Hopefully the revised terms are less subject to misinterpretation and also better capture the real essence of the critical precepts they are meant to embody (“coactionism” was almost chosen over “co-talentism”). In any event, my intention was to maintain fidelity with the original work and NOT to introduce any divergent perspectives. In fact many additions are simply explicit URLs to material already referenced by Eric. So any deviation from the original core concepts is unexpected. Finally, I really must say that it's pretty enthralling the way Eric's closing sentences and ultimate sentiments succinctly capture YeNom's impetus so thoroughly.
  • 1: See David P. Reed and Andrew Lippman's paper Viral Communications for a detailed presentation of the power of edge based networks.
  • 2: It's worth considering how the earlier economic systems of Feudalism, Kingdoms, Tribes, Hunter gatherers answered this same question about the other economic factors. Labor and Land have variously been owned by the kings, individuals, States, the commons, and more.
  • 3: For examples see the Gnu General Public Licensing and Creative Commons.
  • 4: It is interesting to note that the initial intent of the patent system was also a form of open source meant to solve this issue because its main purpose was to create an incentive to not treat Information as a trade secret, which ironically was done by granting limited time ownership rights to Information in exchange for complete open disclosure.
  • 5: See Tom Greco's: Money and Bernard Lietaer's: The Future of Money
  • 6: It is not common knowledge that the Federal Reserve Bank is privately held, and is only partially governed by the actions of the federal government.
  • 7: Exactly this approach is advocated by some monetary reformers, notably Stephen Zarlenga