Finn Jackson: Can Monasteries Be a Model for Reclaiming Tech Culture for Good?

Governance, Innovation, P2P / Panarchy
Finn Jackson
Finn Jackson

This article describes an initiative more in line with the approach I would take:

“find a place with unmet needs and unused space to lend a building to a group of young hackers. Live together cheaply, building open-source infrastructure for the commons. Repeat until it becomes a network.”

Can Monasteries Be a Model for Reclaiming Tech Culture for Good?

Nathan Schneider

The Nation, 27 August 2014

hristian monasticism began in earnest in the fourth century CE, just after Constantine made Jesus Christ the official god of Rome. No longer persecuted, believers who craved a holiness less compromised by empire fled to the desert and set up communes. These monastics came to wield power in their own right, putting on display a more strenuous, radical faith. Their successors became Europe's chief scholars and inventors and also served as guardians for the technology of writing.

Early this year, the ancient caves of Matera, Italy, became home to an experiment: an unMonastery, the first of its kind. For the dozen or so unMonks living there, plus the hundreds following their progress online, it carried the quixotic hope of an underemployed generation regaining control of the technology that increasingly commodifies and surveils their lives. Monasteries ushered civilization through the Dark Ages; perhaps unMonasteries, sparing the dogma and self-flagellation, can keep alive the promise of a liberating Internet as companies like Google and Facebook tighten their grip.

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Far beyond the Sassi, the unMonastery idea has continued to circulate. Michel Bauwens, an elder statesman in Europe's peer-to-peer movement, wrote an open letter to Pope Francis suggesting that underused churches and monasteries not be sold on the real-estate market but repurposed as sites of a new collaborative economy. He cited the unMonastery as a model.

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Doing so, however, requires tangible politics. If the new wave of guerrilla hackers is to hold on longer than its predecessors, it needs to build power. The hackers need allies at every level: local organizations, organized labor, political parties—allies that their practices can support and that, in turn, can help their values spread. What would an open-source party look like? Or a unionized hacker-space? Churches, too—the turn to religious tropes need not remain solely superficial. These relationships can seem like compromises with the past, but what seems new and original almost never really is, except to the degree that we fail to remember.

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