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How essential is anonymity to peer to peer relationality?

How essential is anonymity to peer to peer relationality?

I believe answering that question becomes easier if we look at the historical development of relationality and that such a review may lead us to challenge any simplistic identification of peer to peer relationality with anonymity.

For starters, let us broadly define peer to peer relationality, as that type of relationality where individuals can freely aggregate themselves around common goals, enabled by the affordances of the new type of internetworked technologies .

One of the key insights of psychologist Clare Graves’ interpretation of human cultural evolution, is the idea of the changing balance, over time, between the two poles of the individual and the collective. In the popularization of his research by the Spiral Dynamics systems , they see the tribal era as characterized by collective harmony, but also as a culture of stagnation. Out of this harmony, strong individuals are born, heroes and conquerors, which will their people and others into the creation of larger entities. These leaders are considered divinities themselves and thus in certain senses are ‘beyond the law’, which they have themselves constituted through their conquest. It is against this ‘divine individualism’ that a religious reaction is born, very evident in the monotheistic religions, which stresses the existence of a transcendent divine order (rather than the immanent order of paganism), to which even the sovereign must obey.

Thus a more communal/collective order is created. But again, this situation is overturned when a new individual ethos arises, which will be reflected in the growth of capitalism. It is based on individuals, and collective individuals such as corporations and nations, which think strategically in terms of their own interest. In the words of anthropologist Louis Dumont, we moved from a situation of (w)holism, in which the empirical individuals saw themselves foremost as part of a whole, towards individualism as an ideology , positing atomistic individuals, in need of socialization through social contracts and institutions. They transferred their powers to collective individuals, such as the king, the people, the nation, which could act in their name, and created a sacrificial unity through the institutions of modernity.

This articulation, based on a autonomous self in a society which is created through a presumed social contract, has been changing in ‘postmodernity’. Simondon , a French philosopher of technology with an important posthumous following in the French-speaking world, has argued that what was typical for modernity was to ‘extract the individual dimension’ of every aspect of reality, of things/processes that are also always-already related . And what is needed to renew thought, he argued, was not to go back to premodern wholism, but to systematically build on the proposition that ‘everything is related’, while retaining the achievements of modern thought, i.e. the equally important centrality of individuality. Thus individuality then comes to be seen as constituted by relations , from relations. Continue reading.

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