Category Archives: Founder’s Journal

Personal thoughts, reflections, and experiences

Abandoning the IviCivi Project


IviCivi – Rest In Peace

It has been more than a year since the IviCivi Project was launched. Over that time, neither civilitics nor the IviCivi Project gained the visibility nor understanding needed to complete the project successfully. We had hoped the appeal of a civilitic world and the opportunity to become involved through the project would capture the imagination of people around the world. Sadly, this never occurred.

As is common in all crowd-funded projects, early donations were principally provided by colleagues, friends, and family: people who knew our efforts and could vouch for the integrity of the cause, even if they were unable to vouch for civilitics itself.

It has never been the intention of the ICI to create explicit profit. In fact, it is expressly the intention if the ICI to create alternative ways for people to contribute in the world without appealing to profit-driven machinations. Unfortunately, the most direct avenue to execute a project of this type lies through traditional fund raising methods and we have failed.

As we prepare to abandon the IviCivi Project, we would like to return all funds that were initially donated, however they have already been spent to promote civilitics and the IviCivi Project itself. The ICI will continue to promote civilitic principles in some way, however the IviCivi Project missed its launch window and will be abandoned in January of 2017.

Observations of December 2015

This blog has remained mostly dormant for the better part of two years while I explored other avenues for leveraging civilitic thinking into the world. And yet, not one of those efforts has created the level of interest that the subject warrants. Even though there is widespread contempt for the economic status quo, it seems that the promise of civilitic society is too divergent for any but the most devoted change-makers to investigate at the level needed to successfully master the material.

Of course, economists will doubtless point to the lack of widespread public interest as evidence that civilitics is flawed in some way. It is something of a self-fulfilling prophesy. One economist with whom I had the opportunity to speak about civilitics, pointed out that he was significantly more valuable to society than most other people, as evidenced by his substantial income. And yet, following his reasoning that income is commensurate with contribution, we should conclude that the contributions of people who receive no financial compensation for their labor, are exactly worthless. However, I do not recommend explaining to stay-at-home care-givers that their daily contribution has no value.

IviCivi: A civilitic social app

IviCivi: A civilitic social app

It is worth mentioning that another, more progressive, economist observed, “I have never seen anything like this before; it solves the [economic] problem of one person one vote.”

So, rather than boxing with the shadows of phantom economists, let me simply affirm that I remain convinced the implementation of a civilitic society (in some form) remains the singular greatest hope for re-civilizing humans and curbing the problems they continue to experience. Upon grasping the breadth of this principle, it becomes abundantly clear that the greatest problems we face are simply because of the illusory need to trade for everything, and the insecurity that accompanies the illusion.

This brings us to December 2015. Many discussions with influential community leaders, educators, social activists, and others, have yielded no spread of civilitic thinking or any motion toward a working civilitic system. My own effort to “walk the talk” and forego compensation in exchange for work has failed to set any notable example for others except, to demonstrate the strong hold exchange economics has upon the world by casting my family into near poverty.

In the past  year, I have created and transferred ownership of the civilitic effort to a new entity: the International Civilitics Institute (ICI). The website has morphed from being a simple blog, to representing the public face of the ICI, although it continues to serve both purposes. In addition, the ICI has taken on The IviCivi Project, which is a public campaign to create a civilitic infrastructure as soon as resources can be marshalled. So now the International Civilitics Institute will be able to move forward more deliberately to achieve the goal of a civilitic world.

Civilitics and the music industry

This post is part of a larger discussion that involves intellectual property of every form, ranging from artwork to patents. But here, specifically, we will confine the discussion to music.

In one of her TEDx talks, Jodi Beggs discussed several ways in which musicians survive economically. She did not spend much time on the conventional recording industry, but discussed alternative funding sources such as “pay what you want” and crowdfunding. She also spoke about freely-available music downloads and the presumed threat of digital music downloading and sharing.

Of course the conventional funding method for artists is to sign with a recording company which then handles overhead costs of producing, marketing, and distributing the artist’s music. This relationship gives artists the chance to focus on their music instead of handling the day-to-day job of running a business. Typically, artists must trade some of their profits and much of their independence for the business services they receive from recording companies. In some cases, artists are bound by exclusivity clauses that prevent them from performing outside those contractual relationships.

Some musicians have explored “pay what you want” funding methods as a way to create a less adversarial and  more friendly relationship with their customers. Other artists have turned to crowdfunding, such as kickstarter, to support their profession. This last group is beginning to look more civilitic, although most crowd funding campaigns remain based on some kind of exchange system to reward support. Even so, the bulk of the gifting is to the artist, presumably as a reward for the good works they have already created, even though it is unlikely those works were themselves freely given.

In addressing the question of digital music downloading and sharing, Jodi said,

…the weakened copyright protection, because of digital downloading, has not helped the producers of music, but it has actually helped society overall because it has resulted in a transfer of surplus economic value from producers to consumers and we have new consumers entering the market that either wouldn’t or couldn’t pay the old prices for music. Not something the industry likes to hear, but something that’s based on very valid scientific principles.

So, contrary to the tenets of Adam Smith, Jodi seems to be encouraging an economic philosophy that elevates “helping society overall” above the economic benefit to the music producers themselves.

In order to make the transition to a more civilitic recording industry, we would need to combine the last two points of Jodi’s discussion: crowdfunding and digital downloading. This is what it would look like:

  • Musicians would do the work of performing and recording, presumably because it is what they love to do, and because it contributes value to the world. As part of that effort, the music would be made freely available for download and/or distribution to the masses. After all, music that is not heard does not enrich the world.
  • The reciprocal side of the equation is that people who hear and love the music contribute in kind, whether back to the musician or in some other positive way. They might choose to make a donation of some kind back to the musician, or they might just “pay it forward” to someone else in faith that it will eventually reach back to the musician. In any event, the musician receives value back from the world in appreciation for their own form of contribution.
  • Overall, the musician provides music without any explicit promise of reward. Conversely, the world supports the musician without any explicit promise of additional music. This arrangement is fully ivi on both sides: things freely given without expectation of direct reciprocity. Of course it follows that better musicians will likely receive higher levels of appreciation. At the same time, it follows that greater appreciation is more likely to free up musicians to perform more works.

In My Garden by Peggy Lang

In My Garden by Peggy Lang

A good friend of mine is a singer/songwriter. Because of her, I have always considered how civilitics would apply to musicians. As with any profession, musicians have overhead tasks that must be done in order to pursue their ultimate goal of performing: there is time spent practicing, tuning, writing, coordinating, planning, and so on. In the economic world, most of those overhead activities do not generate revenue, so they must be covered by money earned from other activities such as performances and selling recordings. However, in a civilitic system, every activity that contributes to value in the world (as overhead activities do), holds the possibility for earning appreciation (ivi) from the community at large.

My friend, Peggy Lang, once had the opportunity to sign with a major recording company but she remained independent and never achieved the comparative musical success that some of her counterparts managed. I think she would tell you she managed to keep her soul in the bargain. It has made the pursuit of her music more challenging and it has forced her to support herself in other ways. Not surprisingly, exchange economics does not support those who challenge the established system.

After speaking with Peggy, she is making her album, In My Garden, available for free download as a civilitic gesture. Producing a run of CDs, marketing, and distributing them, is a large expense for a sole musician, so Peggy is making the download of this album available and is adding value to the world in doing so. She is not requesting any payment in exchange, though I am sure she would certainly put any donations to a good use. Mostly, in making this gift to the world, there is a hope that this will generate another civilitic gift forward. So if you download and enjoy the music, the most appropriate response is to contribute something of your own toward making the world a better place.

TEDxPublicStreet: Jodi Beggs

I happen to be a big fan of TEDx. For one thing, it is a sort of quasi-civilitic network, allowing people to give freely of their experience while generating a social reputation in the process. But even moreso, many of the presentations have some really excellent content. Collectively, TEDx is a beautiful gift to the world.

Jodi Beggs at TEDxPublicStreet

One particular TEDx presentation was made by Jodi Beggs at TEDxPublicStreet on January 20, 2013. To her credit, I think Jodi might be about as close to connecting the  civilitics dots as any mainstream economist is likely to be, while still remaining an economist. In her biography, Jodi identifies herself as a hybrid between Steve Levitt, Demetri Martin and Jon Stewart. It is clear that her thinking is motivated as much by ethics as exchange economic dogma. This particular presentation was given at an event with the theme “how people in different fields are using what they know in order to make the world a better place” (her own words). Her presentation is so relevant to civilitics that I could devote several posts to discuss all the material:

  • First of all, Jodi points out that economics was once known as the dismal science. The term derives from concerns by nineteenth-century economists that ending slavery would hamper economic progress and plunge the world into a depression. This discussion provides an excellent entry point to discuss the relationship between slavery, economics, and civilitics. This is nothing new, but civilitics brings the discussion of exchange economics, started by Thomas Carlyle in the mid-nineteenth century, to its full circle conclusion, showing how civilitics is to exchange economics what exchange economics was to slavery. In some respects, exchange economics is really just the new slavery. See my detailed discussion at Economics as a dismal science.
  • Secondly, Jodi speaks extensively about the music industry, which is apparently her specialty. Here again, she goes so far as to almost touch on civilitic systems of production while not quite seeing the possibility. I have a very good friend who is a singer/songwriter, which has caused me to give considerable thought to how civilitics would work for musicians. While discussing the economics of crowd-sourcing, “pay what you want”, and music sharing, Jodi comes very close to bridging the gap to the civilitic paradigm. See my detailed discussion at Civilitics and the music industry.
  • Finally, in passing, Jodi singled out “one pretty famous” economist: Adam Smith. She summarized one of Smith’s basic tenets, saying his “idea of supply and demand of the self-interested producer making things – not because he wants to directly benefit society but because he wants to benefit himself – that actually can be very much in line with doing what’s best for society overall.” Unfortunately, Adam Smith was wrong and Jodi should have emphasize the words “can be” in that quotation.

Over recent years, we have seen many negative consequences of exchange economics. I am encouraged by economists like Jodi who are honestly looking for ways to vision a positive role for economics in the modern world. The effort is honorable and I can imagine how frustrating it must be to really believe in the economic mythology while seeing confronting how it undermines good in the world. I have every expectation that Jodi will be among the first to awaken from the dream (dare I say nightmare?) of the exchange economic machine and realize there is a real alternative within our reach.

From local food to civilitics

It would be difficult to explain my life-long journey to civilitics in a singe blog posting. This portion of the story, however, started in about 2003 when I began working with an intrepid group of people who wanted to have a local organic grocery store in rural central Nebraska. At that time, retail organic foods were mostly available only in areas around the larger metropolitan areas of Lincoln and Omaha, about a hundred miles away.

After several meetings of the steering committee of the First Rural Organic Grocery Store (FROGS), we could not settle on a good and affordable location and came to the conclusion that the time for opening a store was not right. Some years later, FROGS did become a reality, but that is another story.

Shortly after FROGS failed to materialize, Bob Waldrop of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative came to speak at the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society (NSAS) annual conference about the local food cooperative he had founded in Oklahoma. That cooperative provided an online service that allowed small farmers to sell organic and naturally-grown foods directly to consumers through a website. After the meeting, I began working with a slightly different group of people to incorporate the Nebraska Food Cooperative in a likeness of the Oklahoma model.

About two years later, being a programmer, I found myself taking over much of the software development for those two cooperatives and another two that had formed in Idaho and Texas. Eventually, I became the lead software developer on the project and was directly supporting local food cooperatives around the world who were using the Local Food Co-op software.

That probably sounds like a pretty good gig, but there was one major flaw: Local food cooperatives tend to be shoe-string operations and most of them have negligible funds to pay for software development and maintenance. In a free-market economy, they would have been a casualty of the marketplace and gone bankrupt. Fortunately, one or two cooperatives were able to obtain grant funding to pay for software development, and that kept me with enough work to help my wife put food on the table. Nevertheless, I was happy to be working in a field which I could ethically support, rather than crafting ways to deceive search engines into promoting e-commerce sites that don’t actually serve the public benefit. Instead, I was helping small family farms survive and I was helping to get healthy food for people who wanted it. What could be better than that?

amount due: zero

amount due: zero

Well, “better” might have been making bucket-loads of money while doing that same conscientious work and building a thriving dot-com software company in the process. But it didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, I worked numerous of hours, many of them for little or nothing. By that time, I had been working on civilitics for a number of years and somewhere along the way I decided it was time to put my money where my mouth was. So in the summer of 2012, I quit participating in the exchange economy and provided all of my services free of charge, without negotiating for any compensation. If I had been running a thriving software company, the transition would have been more challenging, but it is not so difficult to give up nearly nothing.

Indirectly, this points out a couple of implicit advantages of civilitics over exchange economics:

  • In civilitics, market pressures do not affect the failure or success of an industry. As I mentioned earlier, in a market economy, the local food cooperatives might have failed for lack of ability to fund their software development. In this case, some economists would argue they should have failed. In civilitics, it is people who assess what is important or valuable and what is not.
  • In my case, because I support multiple small organizations in a variety of ways that would be difficult to quantify, civilitics simplifies my process and allows me to be more efficient. Sometimes I provide phone help; sometimes I debug a process error; sometimes I add a new feature or provide system upgrades, or backups. Sometimes I spend two hours on the phone giving support to organizations I have never even heard of. Surely these sorts of things are handled by other software consultants and billed accordingly. But in my situation, I only need to do the work. Invoicing, new client contracts, and similar overhead activities are not a part of my routine. I work, I create value, and I keep track of what I have done. It’s as simple as that.

At this time, the most significant drawback is that no civilitic framework yet exists, so there is no clear way for anyone to survive through civilitics without an alternative form of support (my wife, in my case). This means contributions are mostly just cast into a sort of social vacuum until there is a way to connect the reward side of the system. So the next phase is to create a framework that enables civilitic activity to take place and closes the cycle of benefit. In part, that is what the International Civilitic Institute is about: creating a home for that conversation and initiating the next steps.