Reimagining American Community
Oct
01

This piece was originally posted at the P2P Foundation.

Last year I wrote a paper with this title, which was published in May 2014. This is a synthesis of the main points of the paper. The full work is downloadable from my initial announcement, which also provides relevant links for more general background.

First, a couple of definitions

Catholic Social Doctrine (“CSD”): offers guidelines for the development and management of society inspired by the Gospel.

Openness: here I give this name to the set of attitudes, technologies, concrete practices, and legal infrastructures, all driven by principles that include a “share-and-share alike” approach to ownership and reuse of goods, and massive usage of the Internet for affordable, large-scale collaborative design and mutual support. Such characteristics make Openness particularly well suited to address (among other things) the “real needs” of many people, as defined in the paper.

Thanks to software and the Internet, many spontaneous communities worldwide, whose common characteristic is Openness, have already developed collaborative goods, services, and ways of working. Collectively, they constitute what in the paper I call “Openness Revolution” and present as relevant in CSD.

Natural travel companions?

In the paper I describe and explain in detail two things. First, that CSD, starting straight from the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, has always strongly proposed a society built on solidarity, subsidiarity, and common good. A society that should help the poor by empowering them through government that is small in assistentialism but “big” in fair rules. Through active participation (at all levels, from family to State) and distributed ownership of means of production, that society should serve the real needs of all its members, both at the spiritual and at the practical level.

Next, I describe how concrete implementations of Openness like Free Software, Open Access, Open Data, Open Hardware, ICT for Development and so on are all, by their own nature:

  1. legally and deeply adaptable to very diverse, local, real needs and the common good of all their users without special permissions, at the smallest possible cost;
  2. perfect for decentralization at the lowest possible levels;
  3. driven by, and supportive of, free and spontaneous initiatives, by individuals and communities, and voluntary, participated work, instead of assistentialism from above;
  4. not driven by profit, even if they do not exclude it;
  5. based on means of production that (at least in the immaterial parts) really belong to all their users, thus distributing ownership at a much bigger and more resilient scale, than would have been possible even a few years ago;
  6. usable, and already used, to build tools of peace of all sorts, from tractors to textbooks; and
  7. beneficial even for people without (broadband) Internet access.

Openness in CSD

“If development were concerned with merely technical aspects of human life… then the Church would not be entitled to speak on it”, said Pope Benedict XVI. But the leading concepts behind the technologies, community and practices of Openness are not technical.

For example, development in CSD implies active participation of peoples, “on equal terms, in the international economic process.” Openness makes this easier, turning globalization, that is borderless access to appropriate knowledge and to the most efficient means of production, to the poor’s advantage. In this sense, it seems to me a bit like globalization done right.

Even Subsidiarity, another pillar of CSD which I may summarize as “whenever people can do something by themselves, the State should help them to do so!”, requires and contains Openness. No State may delegate powers and tasks that it completely or partially lost due to globalization, international trade treaties and intellectual property abuses. By encouraging Openness, States can get back some of their power to offer subsidiarity.

In other words, Openness already exists and does not require any “extension” or changes to CSD. It may be used to implement with Information and Communication Technology the orthodox CSD that already exists.

Another way to express the same concept is that, if we had to build from scratch technologies and ways to use them that match CSD point-by-point, the result would be unavoidably very, very similar to what is de- scribed as Openness in the paper. So, why do it from scratch?

As far as I am concerned, the Openness Revolution also proves the timelessness and modernity of CSD and, in general, of the message of the Church: it is a bit like CSD had already conceived, decades or centuries ago, solutions so advanced that technology has been able to build the necessary tools only in recent years.

That is why, in my opinion, while Openness is good in and by itself, Catholics have even more reasons than others to promote, teach, and use it. Incidentally, this assertion may be extendable to every religion, belief system, or NGO that proposes subsidiarity, care for the poor, and similar goals (of course, this does not mean the opposite, that is, that one should be Catholic or, for that matter, “support” any established religion, in order to appreciate and practice Openness). For more details and examples, please read the full paper.

About the Author
Daniel Schwindt is Editor-in-chief at Solidarity Hall. He hails from the plains of central Kansas, a cultural navel of the world, and from there hurls his literary lighting bolts far and wide. His writings include Letter to my Generation: On Identity, Direction, and Disbelief, The Pursuit of Sanity, and Holocaust of the Childlike.