10 November 2008

It's Morphic Resonance All Over Again

Last week I was talking at the Open Everything meeting in London, where I went through some (most) of my tropes about openness and the creation of a commons, about enclosure (of land, creativity and ideas), how today's open movements are based on the economics of abundance, not scarcity, and are actually a return to a pre-lapsarian state, rather than something inherently new.

What was particularly heartening about the occasion was meeting so many other people with similar viewpoints, albeit coming from slightly different starting positions. Indeed, one of the most positive signs that something is afoot is the broad-based nature of this growing unanimity around the world.

For example, I came across a reference to the paper "Undermining abundance (Counter­productive uses of technology and law in nature, agriculture, and the information sector)", which also ties together the enclosure of many different domains:

Technology and law are increasingly used to undermine processes of abundance intrinsic to nature, agriculture and the information sector. A number of examples are reviewed here. Such counter­productive use of technology and law is traced to corporate profit­seeking. The relationships between the phenomenon of abundance and the related concepts of scarcity and commons are explored. Finally, approaches are proposed that harness abundance for the human good.

This led me to the blog of the author, Roberto Verzola. He's based in the Philippines, which has provided me with interesting insights into what's happening in that part of the world in terms of openness.

Here's a taster of his original thinking, from a posting provocatively entitled "The piracy of intellectuals":

We’ve seen people who come from or work for Western software firms. Well groomed, in business coat and tie, they look the antithesis of the pirate they hate so much. They come and visit this country of pirates, and perhaps make a little study how much they are losing from piracy in the Philippines.

Quite a number of them, however, come to the country to do some pirating themselves.

But they don’t pirate software, which is apparently beyond their dignity. They pirate people. They pirate those who write the software. They pirate our best systems analysts, our best engineers, our best programmers, and our best computer operators.

The advanced countries of the West routinely pirate from the Third World our best professionals and skilled workers, but begrudge us peoples of the Third World if we engaged in some piracy ourselves. They accuse the Third World of “piracy of intellectual property”, yet they themselves engage in the “piracy of intellectuals”.

In truth, there is quite a difference between pirating intellectual property and pirating intellectuals.

For example, it costs our country perhaps ten thousand dollars to train one doctor. Training a second doctor would cost another ten thousand dollars. Training ten doctors would cost a hundred thousand dollars. In short, given an ‘original’ doctor, it would cost us as much to make each ‘copy’ of the original. When the Americans pirate our doctors, they take away an irreplaceable resource, for it takes more than ten years to train a new doctor. The Philippines has approximately one doctor for every 6,700 citizens. When the U.S. pirates this doctor, it denies 6,700 Filipinos of the services of a doctor. And every year, the U.S. takes away hundreds of our doctors. How many Filipinos died because they could not get the services of a doctor on time?

What about a computer program? Whatever amount Lotus Corporation spent in developing their spreadsheet program, it costs practically nothing to make a second or third copy of the program. It would take a few seconds for them to make each copy. When we Filipinos pirate their program, we have not stolen any irreplaceable resource, nor will it take Lotus 10 years to replace the program, nor have we denied any American citizen the use of the spreadsheet program. It is still there, for Americans to use. We make a copy of their program, we don’t steal it, because we have not taken anything away. We have made our own copy, but they still have the original.

Pirating a computer program is quite different from pirating a doctor. When the U.S. pirates our doctors, it doesn’t take a copy and leave the original behind. Instead, it takes the original and leaves nothing behind.

Strongly recommended.

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