Like a teenager discovering the shortcomings of the father, 21st Century humans want to break free from a paternalist system that cannot address complexity. They start looking after each other and invent new associative institutions for solidarity, and take the responsibility for their own future without waiting for the next false promise to come true. In the dying liberal system, the promise of personal growth and individual freedom is considered the key to a successful life and-or entrepreneurship. In this context, however, individual freedom is often understood as the capacity to do anything you like without responsibility. In the upcoming social re-organization, stability is grounded on free, voluntary association, and a new concept of freedom is necessary to keep the system from running out of control. We must acknowledge that with freedom comes responsibility. If “with power comes great responsibility”, political power brings the most responsibility, therefore it must respect individual freedom in the first place.
The antagonistic contradiction between global and individual freedoms brings on the notion of choice and responsibility to create the balance and resolve it at another level of reality. Gaining power is not anymore a question of taking it, but to accept responsibility at a global scale. Not only to accumulate knowledge but to learn to be human, and learn to live together. The pathway to a different socio-political organization starts with the deconstruction of the fundamentals of our civilization: individual freedom is most interesting in all aspects when it is measured with regard to the social constraints, it then becomes productive of worthy social and collective outcomes. Each individual can then root her personal development both in a local and global community, therefore reflecting personal action to nurture both the personal and the collective. Interdependence enabling self-determination can activate personal freedom as a responsible asset. A severe impeachment to self-determination is paternalism, a principal regulator of our infantilizing civilization. It can be retraced up and until liberalism and must disappear from a different organizational model if we are to achieve global individual and responsible freedom, responding to the injunction to “think global, act local”.
Free culture is all about addressing this contradiction as it emerges from this polarized tension. It produces the actual means and technical tools both inspired by those issues and created to resolve them. But free culture was born in reaction to the impeachment of self-determination and it struggles to blossom beyond resentment. As it rejects the paternalism of established institutions, it is harder for free culture organizations to benefit from the synergies of interdependence that could enable it to become a tangible way out of dying social structures. It rises the essential question of scale of organisazion, on which contributions here above express diverging opinions.
A recurrent pattern in free culture and free software is the lack of means to achieve stated goals, that ends up limiting the scope of action. Proponents of scaling up to big entities, as well as proponents of small, resistant networks need to overcome their differences: both approaches present opportunities and caveats, both are complementary. Large entities have easier access to capital, and can unfold economies of scale, as long as their action is focused and directed. But that comes at the price of slowness and a lack of resilience. On the contrary, distributed networks must offset the costs of their autonomy and their speed in line with a lack of funding that can be paralyzing.
Large entities are more likely to obtain public grants, as they can invest in the time and skills required to write acceptable applications. It involves technical and administrative knowledge and know-how that is often lacking in existing solidarity networks. But such grants generally allocate funds to tightly focused projects, serving specialized tasks and positions. Meanwhile small networks are often divergent, exploratory, involving multiple skills from a variety of disciplines: this work cannot be covered by grants which impose accountable production plans.
The question of how to enable complementarity between larger institutions and more informal networks is one of balance between power and agency. Public and corporate institutions naturally exercise power, given their scale and position within the interdependent networks of global society. But existing solidarity structures and systems enable concrete actions within the communities themselves, often out of reach of formal institutions. Not only the free culture movements need to help and enable each other, institutional powers also need to accept letting go of their trouble children, and enabling decentralized informal networks to intensify their social ties beyond specialization and a predetermined reading grid. Only then can we end infantilization and become adults as a species: by cooperating responsibly as members of a global society that embraces life, in all its complexity, uncertainty, and affectivity.