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Many patterns make common wealth

cc in Europe - Bad Honneff, July 2004 - presentation notes

For actions deriving from this conference to have lasting and positive significance, there are three key realisations, presently far less widely and deeply appreciated than they should be, that must inform our intentions.

These three recognitions are

    * the inevitability of multiplicity

    * the significance of patterns

    * the need to realise our common wealth

1) Single vision and Newton's sleep

The man stranded on the desert island finds the bottle, and releases the genie with the standard three wishes - but the man can't decide what he wants.

Eventually the genie says - "How about this bottle? It pours water, it pours wine, it pours whiskey; and milk, and oil, and honey and brake fluid - any liquid you want. Salt water, even. Hot and cold as you choose. Never needs washing. For you, for ever. OK?"

    "That's better than OK. it's marvellous - I'll take it."

"Fine - and for wishes 2 & 3?"

    "Two more bottles just the same as that one."

For me this resonates strongly with the state of play in community currencies - we're generally still looking for more than we need and if we were only noticing what actually matters about what's staring us in the face then we would see we already have it all anyway.

For a start, it's got to be said ..... cc work, often more despite our best efforts and intentions than because of them. They work in all sorts of ways and always, so far, in effective isolation, each system and community an island unto itself. It's amazing how they survive and what they can carry.

However, they'll be working much better when they're understood to be a general approach rather than a restricted one. No one sort, size, shape or style will ever be more than just one among many.

So whenever I see anything like - "How to start a Local Currency in your community" - my immediate response is - please, don't even try until you've done some better research. The pen is more restrictive than the field. Is there not a danger that we are really doing little more than re-herding the sheep? Their pen or ours?

We will be exponentially more effective in getting cc in wider use when we show people the MANY MANY options rather than trying to press particular and singular ideas on them, no matter how excellent the project.

I heard it said all too often - "the very idea of many currencies is too confusing for them, they need it to be very simple, etc etc." This is both total nonsense and highly condescending.

What's the worth of a computer with only one program, or a radio with just one station? The value of a deck of cards is that it allows almost an infinity of games - bridge, poker, snap, patience.....

The singular system pitch is just plain wrong. If a colour TV is better than a black & white it's because it shows a spectrum of colours - not just one. Green & white, red & white, blue & white are all actually worse than black & white.

I'm NOT saying we shouldn't each put all the effort we can manage into our preferred directions - time$, HOURS, LETS, regional, global, whatever we see as most important, or possible, or strategic. But that's the personal challenge that we all face.

I AM saying, we need to make it clear that any single system is just one of many (perhaps some have yet to realise this). And wherever possible we need to make it easy to connect people (and business, and non-profit and government) in as many ways as possible.

The next major evolution in cc is into multiple systems. It's inevitable and definitely includes non-local systems - regional, cultural, special interest, political, fair-trade. There's as little limit to the range of cc systems as there is to the range of email lists on internet, and nobody can even count how many of those there are now. For a preliminary outline of the variety of cc types, please see -http://www.thetransitioner.org/wiki/tiki-index.php?page=open+money+ecology

We know it would be foolish and ineffective to try to get people onto internet by selling them on the benefits of access to one list, one web page, one wiki, one blogger. It's quite possible for some that a single such item would be enough, but even for them would it make any sense at all to imply that that was ALL there is? Would it ever be right to hide the bigger picture from people in case it scared them?

In due course most of us will keep accounts in at least 5 cc systems, and some will participate in many more. And we'll do so because every system we use is a benefit to us, and it's NOT more complicated to have more than one. Rank in order of ease of balance - unicycle, bicycle, tricycle, quadricycle ......

Perhaps this conveys the point of the magic bottle story - that looking for several separate "bottles of everything" is like getting getting our wishes granted and wasting them, the reduction of powerful general opportunities to a confusion of considerably weaker singular and isolated efforts.

William Blake warned us about Single Vision:

    "May God us keep
      From Single vision and Newton's sleep!"

No doubt God will be relieved when we wake up and stay that way.

This one is really very simple and self-evident. It requires little or no brain, and better still it saves a whole lot of effort and not a little pain. Given that so many different cc designs are clearly useful at some level, there's no need for us to spend time energy or goodwill trying to decide what is the "best" practice. Evidently, different models are suited to different situations. And since all can in principle exist in the same space simultaneously you don't have to convince me of anything, and I don't have to convince you. Which is a great relief.

In consequence of this realisation, there's precisely nothing that needs doing. On the contrary, it merely allows that we cease and desist from the tedious territorial and ideological arguments. This is obviously good.

2) Pattern making.

This is perhaps a more subtle realisation. It both opens the way for positive development, and challenges us by exposing the opportunity to be more creative in the space available.

What we normally refer to as the monetised economy is a combination of two essentially inseparable aspects.

One part of the economy, the real part, is composed of things moving to and fro between people and organisations, things that are real and are given by one party to another. Thus the restaurant gives me a meal, the grocery store gives the customer a box of food, people give their labour to their employer, the mining company gives its ore to the steel company, the consultant gives her advice to the government, the government gives us roads and (in some cases) health services. It's all given - things transferred from one to another. (Call this the economy of "real giving" to avoid confusion with the "gift economy".)

The other and essential counterpart of the exchange of these real things is an identical and contrary exchange of a symbolic marker of no real value, and often of no reality whatsoever, commonly called "money". And with no money, there's generally no exchange of the "real" item going to happen.

In the monetised economy, when some "real" thing moves in one direction, an "unreal" symbol moves in the other. That's why it is a monetised economy.

The pattern of movement of things - goods and services - that is possible and probable is identical to the possible and probably pattern of movement of the money.

If we use money that moves through and away, we are inevitably empowering import and export from the community.

If we want things to move around, whether locally or non-locally through more equitable inter-regional networks - we need simply design symbol systems that likewise move around. The key consideration is that of circulation, and so the critical question is - what makes a cc circulate effectively?

We should primarily be seeking to enable systems that circulate effectively so people and organisations can use those systems as means to create persistent patterns of circulation of real goods and services.

This is critical to real world economic sustainability, and it's our task to provide virtual systems that are similarly sustainable.

The first two issues - multiplicity and pattern making - are largely self-managing. They are part of the territory, core components of the cc context. Whether seen to be so or not, they exist and will persist, even if they are not addressed. This is not a matter of opinion but a matter of fact, and the intelligent thing to do is engage with that reality and make best use of it.

The third matter however - realising our common wealth, using our own cc tools to recursively enhance and develop cc systems - is a choice we MUST make with our best understanding of both the opportunities and the obligations. Otherwise we'll be continually compromised - ethically, financially and functionally.

3) The Wealth of the Commons

There's a regrettably persistent tendency amongst cc activists to look outside for resources, and seek financial support from governments, grantfunders, philanthropists. Too often too many plead poverty, as though we haven't the means to support ourselves.

Effective cc systems enable new economic activity additional to that supported by conventional money, and that additional economy can and certainly should finance its own maintenance and development.

The "commercial barter" industry for instance has for several decades done good business despite providing very limited cc services to a very limited community at an unnecessarily high cost. Perhaps the biggest flaw in their general business model is their insistence on charging cash fees, explicitly relegating their own money / credit system to a secondary status. But even so, they are in business, and making money, while we for the most part are not.

Not taking your own money seriously is not a good idea, but it's all too often the practice in cc initiatives, in schemes where a cc component is used as a sideshow inducement of some sort to create, for instance, buying clubs and then finance operations through them. It's equivalent to discovering a renewable energy source and applying its output to run an oil-rig.

Until we can release our dependency on external sources, we are funadmantally insecure and vulnerable.

We need, above all else, to take our own money seriously.

When we take proper account of multiplicity, pattern and the intrinsic common wealth we will be discovering and developing our collective intelligence. Until then we are at best merely individually clever, and altogether ignorant.

To illustrate how these ideas can be applied in action, please consider the current work on "lomp" - the London open money projects. There are some documents at http://openmoney.org/london.

At this time, "lomp" is just a design, a set of coherent and compatible ideas and proposals, but it need take only a matter of weeks for them to be translated into action, just as soon as the necessary resources can be found and focused.

There are many elements to lomp, but there are three that are both very important in the London design, and can be similarly relevant to many other initiatives elswhere:

    1 - community way - http://wildfire.communitycurrency.net
      -- working with youth for change
    2 - LETSplay - http//openmoney.org/letsplay
      -- learning without pain, just do it!
    3 - cc name space - http://openmoney.org/open/dns.html
      -- it begins with declaration

Briefly, the architecture for the delivery of multiple cc on a global scale only requires ...

    clear server-server protocols
    a general cc name space
      with national domain naming authorities
    means (financial / organizational) to sustainably support
      cc operations
      cc development
      cc communication / education

The preferred way to achieve this seems to be through various forms of chaordic collaboration, organised on a national basis and collaborating globally.