Tuesday, March 16, 2010

more subtle than search

In discovering a proof, we must do something more subtle than search. 
We must come to see the relevance, in respect of whatever statement it is we wish to justify, of some fact in full view, and of which, therefore, we are already constantly aware.
Whereas we may know how to undertake a search for something we can not see, the subtlety of the technique of trying to `find’ something which we already can see may more easily escape our efforts.

G. Spencer-Brown, Laws of Form

Douglas Rushkoff has written much about the origins and workings of our modern money system in Life Inc, and also, again on money -

Radical Abundance

"How We Get Past “Free” and Learn to Exchange Value Again. Here’s my keynote from the O’Reilly Web 2.0 conference last week. It is my clearest articulation yet of how we’re using an obsolete operating system for money, optimized for a pre-Internet economy. "

And -

Corporations as Uber-Citizens

"Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling was positive in one respect: it made law out of what was already happening...
...But I’ve got more faith in our ability, as people, to rebuild our society and economy from the bottom up, without the participation or approval of a corporate-funded and corporate-driven central government. We can rebuild local economies based on the abundance of our labor and resources rather than the scarcity of centrally issued currency. We can rebuild local agriculture based on the quality of the topsoil, the features of the climate, and the nutritional needs of people rather than corn lobby laws. And we can rebuild our mechanisms for making meaning based on our shared hopes and values rather than those developed by PR firms to make us compete for false, individualistic goals.

In short, I say screw ‘em. Let’s do this ourselves."

Late last year, Douglas and Jerry Michalski were kind enough to talk with me, at my request, for almost an hour (on blogtalkradio) on money and memes that might move it. We particularly wanted to get their response to the content and presentation of one such proposed meme set - the open money-go-round.

While it was a very amicable and interesting exchange, Douglas's closing comment (partial transcript) could be read as somewhat discouraging.

42:25 dr - yeah, I dunno, we'll see whether this is a situation where this and a subway token will get you on the subway or whether we actually are capable of helping faciilitate a new economic co-reality

This is not the most positive feedback, certainly not what we hoped to hear. However, it's not all bad. In fact it's good. Really good, really.

The main problems for Douglas (and Jerry) aren't with the core issues themselves or the end products, the community currencies. It was the presentation and method of the virus - the messaging of the memes - that left them cold. We agreed on all the parts, but we failed completely in showing them just what is the whole that we see these parts compose. And that failure greatly surprised us, and informed us even more. That's why it's good.

As the podcast and transcript show, on all matters of money itself that we touched on - how central bank money works, what it does to people, to society, to the physical world, what utilities it has - we are in agreement. As we also are on the value of community networks in general, and in some particular instances in that wide and varied field. Here there is some divergence - for instance, are "cargo cult" currencies (systems that look as though they do something while they actually don't) perhaps still a good thing if they attract media attention and raise some general public awareness? I say not, Douglas takes a more positive view.

But it's the whole thing that we aren't seeing the same way. However we are presenting our view of the parts, their relationships, what can be done and how to do it, it simply doesn't communicate to these communications gurus. And this is not a good sign for a core component of a communications strategy.

In follow-up emails, Douglas and Jerry agree on the substance of each of the three elements - that bank money is always going away, that community currencies recirculate, and they can work in many forms, with quantifiable outcomes, in theory and practice.

But somehow they didn't get why the distinction we draw between money that "goes away" and money that "goes around and comes back" matters so much as a fundamental property of money, and much less that it's the most critical factor in our present situation.

And naturally we also failed to give them a sense of the value of the open money-go-round meme, much less how this idea might be an almost irresistible unique selling proposition for community currencies in the mainstream, that the "money-back" guarantee of the medium gives "what's-in-it-for-me?" baseline benefits for users of all sorts and sizes.

The value of the communications strategy (and hence the business model) remained correspondingly invisible, insubstantial, unaccountable.

To paraphrase their response - "ok, maybe so - but so what? this isn't going to move any masses." This is very useful feedback, of course, but also very painful! What we've got here is failure to communicate.

And the good news is that this is both reason and perspective to review and perhaps redirect our efforts - less on theory, analysis, abstraction and projection, and more on concrete actions. We should in particular stop expecting people to understand and appreciate what they don't even see.

Yet even in this dark tunnel there's some light. We were also told our closing question is good and could be more effective without all the preamble, that we might do better if we simply cut straight to it. After all, it must be the first and last qualification with any money - do you buy it? So here's one formulation of the core question -

In our world, we have a business backed community currency, the cw$, that we can buy from charities, causes and groups 1:1 with canadian $, and those cw$ are accepted at 65 (and counting) local businesses.

That's four benefits from each $ - we invest $ in the community when we exchange cdn$ for cw$, we keep our $ spending value, we support (buy local) the businesses that make this possible, and the new cw$ recirculate, enabling business and trading that builds a progressively more resilient economy.

If you could do this where you live, would you?

And if so, how much?

This isn't anything about politics, theory, technicalities, software, climate, religious belief or aesthetic preference. It's only about our individual and personal values and choices. Almost everyone claims to have the community at heart, but in truth are we willing to match money and mouth?

So, community money - do you buy it?

Are there any other questions?