Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Big Feet In Little Shoes?

A few weeks ago, I listened to a stimulating and informative lecture from the 2013 Fletcher Summer Institute of the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict.  The title of the lecture was "Economic Self-Organization By Movements," by Tufts University Professor Kim Wilson.  Professor Wilson described in detail the risks and dangers that await indigenous peoples in developing countries when they are enticed by pushers of Western models for financing family, group or village economic ventures.  She also described the innovations which have been created by indigenous peoples for creating secure ways to pool their savings.

But she also gave her audience a warning, namely that Western corporations and NGO's have co-opted some of these innovations and have used them as means of continuing to rob indigenous populations of their savings, or as means of continuing to bring these populations into financial indebtedness to the West. 

Her warning was brought again to the forefront of my attention this week, as I heard about an Arizona-based cooperative called Anyshare, which seeks to help people throughout the United States connect with each other to form "sharing communities" - for a small fee, of course.  It's nice that they call themselves a "cooperative."  But I think that many of the social advantages of a cooperative - including an effective say in the direction of the cooperative - are best realized when the so-called cooperative is truly local (as in, an organization whose members don't have to travel more than a few miles to physically touch each other's hands).  This also ensures that the number of members in the cooperative does not drastically exceed Dunbar's Number.  Thus, if I want to form a "sharing community", I am much more likely to walk down the street to talk to my neighbors than I am to rely on an organization that is based in a state over 1,000 miles from where I live.  (I don't live in Arizona.)  The trouble I see with Anyshare or any other organization that seeks to capitalize on a social movement is that once that organization grows beyond a certain size, it stops looking like a homey, affectionate, well-worn collective of friends, and starts looking like...a corporation... (Sorry, REI.) 

I think Professor Wilson's warning is especially relevant in these days, in which many people are beginning to build alternative or parallel institutions as part of a campaign of nonviolent resistance to the regime currently in Washington.    Those who want to watch her lecture can see it here:

Those who are involved in building parallel institutions should beware of middlemen who "wanna get big" at the expense of the people whom they are supposed to be helping - especially when the middlemen are far away from the people they are trying to help.

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