Ideas are the means of production of more ideas (💡+💡=💡💡💡), and this:
- applies in science (hence Isaac Newton’s standing on the shoulders of giants),
- applies in technology (most obviously in digital technology built of components in layers on top of standards), and
- applies in the digital commons, where creative works bubble with the influences of others in shared and standardised languages (text and visual, say) and forms, freely available for all to use.
Each of these communisms is formed from a community of communities (👩🔬👨🔬👩🔬 + 👨🔬👩🔬👨🔬 + …) with a commons (📚📚), and a set of collectively-decided rules and conventions (📖) on how to use and run it (and proscriptions against abusing it).
These commons have long ago transcended national borders. From The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1848, Samuel Moore translation, Penguin Classics):
The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.
Efforts to create a global (unrestricted by national or imperial boundary) commons of science go back further than the Encyclopédistes of the French Enlightenment or the Translation Movement of the Islamic Golden Age.
It was the European scientific commons that gave their empires an eventually-decisive edge against those empires outside it. Global science today has its biases and controversies, but is characterised by the components of the scientific method which require open publishing.
Non-communistic or privatised science gives us alchemy instead of chemistry, astrology instead of astronomy, or (ideologically speaking) Lysenkoism instead of biology.
This kind of idea-communism should tend towards logical and testable consistency, with special attention given towards anomalies.
Open (Source) Technology
The modern world not only runs on open technologies and standards, it could not exist without them. All the proprietary attempts to build the Internet failed, and the essential interoperability of digital technology is guaranteed and underpinned by open standards.
You find notable areas of this global commons such as:
- programming languages
- Internet stack
- web servers, web browsers
- maker movement
- web and data standards
With so many attempts to 'own' common technology (often as horrifically absurd as British Telecom's claim over the hyperlink), robust legal protection is required, for example in patent control.
This kind of idea-communism should tend towards interoperability and continual improvement of ideas, with special consideration of resolving the tension between these two aims.
The Digital Commons
There are the well-known licence-smiths like Creative Commons, the content organisers like Wikimedia Foundation and the archivists of public domain like Project Gutenberg, but digital commons are spread much more widely than these examples.
Wikipedia is now something of a battleground in the various wars of ideas that spring up globally and locally, as well as a target for the enemies of idea-communism itself.
Any high-profile digital commons based in places like the USA tend to be coy about the communistic aspect of their work to avoid drawing down the ideological lightning, but I doubt it is the general publics of the Earth they have to fear.
This kind of idea-communism should tend towards diversity of content and form, and support a multiplicity of views and approaches, while fostering critical means to assess on dimensions of quality.
The Enemies of Global Commons
While corporations, states, organised ideological groups may benefit greatly from commons, their activities are often geared towards exploiting, undermining, manipulating or destroying them.
For example, Fascists and other factional authoritarians may have an ideological concept of science that is not communistic, perhaps that scientists should serve the state, possibly not contradict government policy/religious authority, and so on. Their antipathy to global science goes far beyond resentment of any particular research finding or area. They will oppose such things as globally-focused public libraries and digital commons for the same reasons: ideas are the means of production of more ideas.
Some other groups like flat-Earthers, anti-vaxxers and/or Creationists may hope to discredit the notion of public collective-decision-making, and even democracy itself. The idea of a shared, objective 'truth' outside of central/authoritarian control or overriding a preferred subjective worldview can be threatening to some, even if an actual commons reflects a plurality of worldview or beliefs.
The Dangers of Unconstrained, Partisan or Militarized Idea-Communism
With the awesome effectiveness of these global communisms of ideas comes some dangers, especially when knowledge can be weaponised. There are currently great concerns over whether DNA sequences of certain viruses should be released beyond a few researchers, since viruses can be increasingly easily be made by automated machinery.
Other risks are that an ideas community or commons becomes contaminated or manipulated by outside forces, develops its own biases, contains gaps, excludes people or ideas in way that harms the globally-beneficial intent. Nowadays, many private corporations parasitise off of the global scientific commons, and pollute it with paid-for results (suppressing research findings that interfere with profits).
And as previously mentioned, when one part of human society wields the power of an idea commons against other parts, such as happened during European national-imperial expansion, then this constitutes a threat to those who wish to live in peace.
Not every scientist, technologist or digital contributor is a communist. But many are part of a community of communities who contribute, run and draw from a commons of ideas and decide on its rules.
When Marx and Engels wrote "All that is solid melts into air…", they presumably did not have the digital revolution in mind, that allows their Communist Manifesto to be beamed through Wifi into your device.
However, given the revolutionary changes of the information age, and the many vast global challenges human societies face, it would be foolish a) to fail to use the greatest means at our disposal to meet these challenges, b) to fail to recognise the communistic nature of them, and c) to reject using these means because of some ideological objection to communism based on indoctrination or misunderstanding the essential nature of something which has been portrayed as a bogeyman, a Spectre to frighten children with.
Some of the most advanced privately-funded research organisations and technology corporations are joining the global community and sharing in the global commons precisely because it is the rational and responsible thing to do, and adjusting their business models accordingly. Having already profited enormously from these three great idea-communisms, it is the right thing to do in every way. Indeed, communism could become the new normal.
Three Communisms that Shape Our Modern World: Global Science, Open Technology and the Digital Commons by SleepingDog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.