DisCO is a P2P/Commons, cooperative and Feminist Economic alternative to DAOs. Check out DisCO.coop
Previously on the DisCo Elements...
In the last chapter (The DisCO CAT and DisCO-Deck) we introduced DisCO's Community Algorithmic Trust or CAT, a series of modular software platforms designed to enable people to learn about and build viable
Where does care begin?
In his 2014 treatise, What’s the Point If We Can’t Have Fun?, the late great anarchist thinker and anthropologist David Graeber states:
“To exercise one’s capacities to their fullest extent is to take pleasure in one’s own existence, and with sociable creatures, such pleasures are proportionally magnified when performed in company.”
Later that same year Graeber published “Caring too much. That’s the curse of the working classes”, a shorter article on one peculiarity of the less privileged: they care more about others. He writes:
“And humans being the empathetic creatures that they are, knowledge leads to compassion. The rich and powerful, meanwhile, can remain oblivious and uncaring, because they can afford to. Numerous psychological studies have recently confirmed this. Those born to working-class families invariably score far better at tests of gauging others’ feelings than scions of the rich, or professional classes. In a way it’s hardly surprising. After all, this is what being ‘powerful’ is largely about: not having to pay a lot of attention to what those around one are thinking and feeling. The powerful employ others to do that for them.”
There seems to be a great, millenia-long cultural gaffe at play here. If biological entities (worms, butterflies, flowers and trees, humans) are bursting with care and play, why do our economies subvert those urges?
Care work is a fundamental concept in Feminist economics. The discipline argues that, absent the labor of child nurturing and the non-commodified provision of psychological well being, the very economies that have built their house of cards on the backs of this invisibilized labor would collapse. It stands to reason that the people who, Graeber argues, care, have a lot more power than they give themselves credit for.
It’s not our place to give lessons on the history and discipline of Feminist economics  but, unlike the allegedly “scientific” premises of Enlightenment-legacy economics,  Feminist Economics is instantly relatable to anyone who’s ever cared for another being. We do it all the time.
Feminist economics and legal theory bring other key points to the table, including a critique of GDP as an essentially sexist construct, the Wages for Housework movement, and how the lack of care work in lefty circles has helped capitalism undermine progressive movements.  Also, witches! (Not joking about the witches, just watch the video below).
Should feminists embrace the image of the witch? It’s complicated! In this video, autonomist feminist (and one of the figures behind Wages for Housework) Silvia Federici talks about the history of persecution, torture and murder women have been subjected to over the centuries, reminding us that it wasn’t women who created the figure of the witch, but the system that oppressed and oppressed them. For more on this subject, check out Federici’s modern classic, Caliban and the Witch. 
Tensions between mainstream economics and omnipresent, yet invisibilized, care work can be compared to ungrateful children who abuse their parents after they’ve raised them. In this way, mainstream economics is actively anticare, by commodifying it and outsourcing it in a perverted tribute to profit, while being totally dependent on invisible (or perhaps better put, tacit) care to survive. When can we stop feeding the vampire?
One of the main subjects covered in the DisCO Manifesto is the ever abundant blindspots of the DAO world. In a techno-deterministic future,
care is… What? Where? Automated? Are we ready to put love in an incorruptible, write-only blockchain? Maybe we can do something funkier. If you agree, then welcome to the DisCO.
In DisCO, we distinguish between two types of care work. The first is what you would expect: the people in the DisCO care for the people in DisCO. Behind this simple statement lies a world of assumptions that readily clash with lived experience, highlighting how we’re not educated to do any of this. Really not.
The second type of care work is more controversial: we care for the “spirit” of the DisCO itself, which, while hard to define or describe, has to do with a commonly held vision of how we want to see and support one another, and within the group.
In the end, what really matters are the goals, values and missions that you and your group want to uphold. You can be accountable to this vision in various ways: from an informal group of friends sharing a commitment within the bounds of their personal relationship,  to a regular coop with its statutes, to a DisCO with its Community Algorithmic Trust or DisCO CAT (see last chapter). Let’s take a look at each in turn:
When do the people in a group stop being people? When they’re treated as
cogs within a machine, or part of somebody else’s plan. Capitalism is such a plan, as are many DAO projects. Design obliges culture; those with the means to do so can design the architectures required to oblige the cultures they want, to support their plans.
The commons does things differently. Writing about the concept of the Nested-I, David Bollier and Silke Helfrich tell us:
“In trying to communicate the realities of commoning, we kept coming up against the duality of the concepts I and we in English. The very words assert an opposition that commoning transcends. But seeing the world through a binary choice of I or we inhibits a real understanding of commoning. Language itself is a problem in communicating a different OntoStory. As we pondered this quandary, one day a solution occurred to us: the term Nested-I. It is an expression that helps us describe the practices and identity of a commoner. It overcomes the deeply rooted assumptions about individual identity and agency being opposed to collective goals. The Nested-I is an attempt to make visible the subtle, contextual social relationships that integrate ‘me’ and ‘we’. Even if our Western mindset does not easily acknowledge the idea, that reality is everywhere.” 
“Economics is not just about money. Economics is about our holistic
well-being as a planet, as a people, as an animal species”. In this video, commons advocate, speaker and shaman Nonty Charity Sabic teaches us how Ubuntu Philosophy serves to remind us that we are of nature, not separate from it.
The 5th DisCO Principle states that “care work is the core”. This can mean different things for the existing DisCO Labs, but likely includes being attentive to others’ circumstances and gently inquiring when something left unsaid is nonetheless perceived, as well as the ongoing practices of mentoring and mutual support. In the two DisCO LABS we have direct experience of (Guerrilla Media Collective and DisCO.coop), the members share hopes, fears and aspirations but also jokes and silly memes. When we talk, we make sure that everyone has the space to express themselves, and we stay quiet when necessary (creating and holding space with moderation). Like riding a bicycle, care among the members of a DisCO is not something that can really be “taught”. It needs to be practiced and experienced and, we know from experience, there will likely be more than one fall.
We are adamant that we should be paid for this care. As a rule, many of
us are simply not used to seeing care rewarded directly with money — it
feels wrong, somehow. Not because care isn’t valuable to us, but because of where it usually happens, or is made visible, in our lives. It often (culturally) seems too intimate, too pure a thing to translate into payment in exchange. Money’s dirty magic of making hard transactions out of softer exchanges seems like an insult to the spirit of care, in many of our eyes. How many times can you recall having a friend refuse money for bringing you lunch, or a small item you requested from the store? But then how can we make right the issues of balance, fairness and gratitude in a money-based workplace?
If money still holds a kind of top-level supremacy in our culture and we need to work with what we have, let’s redistribute the existing money we have available in fairer ways, as a restorative act towards better recognition of the time we take in supporting one another beyond hard
productivity. Cooperatives offer us the freedom to make certain decisions: do we divert a part of our existing income away from the “productive stuff” and towards rewarding reproductive and care work? Your coop’s assembly can discuss and decide. Money, as Wages for Housework showed us, shouldn’t be the “be-all/end-all”of our changemaking programs, but it’s a real attention grabber. Referring back to the basic DisCO Governance Model, the amount of money diverted towards paying for care or love work is the same as what would otherwise be paid towards “productive”, aka market or livelihood work. It’s just distributed more fairly, in our opinion.
There’s another facet to this, too. In practice, we also just give things away (be they tangible, or intangible, like time). Care always trumps “the numbers” in the end. Once we take pains to meet all fiscal/legal obligations, we’re left with human considerations and these take precedence. The DisCO Governance model and tech in development include ways to gift to others. Beyond that, we are also exploring the concept of UnDisCO: What happens when the collective lets go of
protocols and ratios, and just shares based on abilities and needs?  All these affections, nudging thoughts and conversations are what inform DisCO in both its storytelling and technological design. Like the Zapatistas say, we learn by listening quietly to each other, and only then can we feel empowered to speak with the world.
The DisCO CAT is DisCO’s soul, and not just a collection of interoperable apps. We use “soul” as a metaphor; any group, commons or organization hatches a set of shared memes and expectations that form a kind of spirit. Sometimes people will anthropomorphize things in order to create a sense of connection or empathy. We’ve even found ourselves trying to relate to hostile entities or groups in order to find common ground or to understand the origin of the behavior or mitigating circumstances, even as their actions or inactions may be destructive to people and the planet. If relatability is a key to transformative engagement, we say, let’s embrace that impulse.
That’s one reason we’ve invited the friendly figure of the DisCO CAT along for this journey, but if you don’t find that relatable, choose your own mascot or do without; just don’t lose the guiding light of connection. The notion of “caring for the collective as a living being” arose out of difficult experiences and challenges in Guerrilla Translation starting in 2013, and which we’re honestly still trying to crack. We are happy to share these challenges because they have made DisCO what they are. In the spirit of relatability, let us share some real world background on how we got to these notions of care work in the workplace through our own bumpy experiences.
Since the creation of Guerrilla Translation  we’ve experienced it all. Love, joy, excitement and creativity, the unbelievable sense of having helped birth something that resonates with people. Over the years we’ve cultivated life long friendships and amazing camaraderie. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the hard times, precarity and pain. The OG team that configured GT has been called things like tyrannical, controlling, baffling, irresponsible and naive — all criticisms which bear a grain of truth.
Hurtful as these may have been, we’ve tried to use these criticisms to better hone and explain our intent (and to learn from our own mistakes). The following is also true. Over much time and many members, whether still with us or now moved on, the GT team made a consistent effort in love and care (work), prioritizing the collective well being while striving to uphold GT’s goals and values. We just never gave up, and this passionate belief (or stubbornness) slowly took the seed germinated in GT/GMC to eventually sprout into DisCO. 
From the start, we were clear on a few things that have crystalized in the DisCO Governance Model. We would do both pro-bono work and agency
work (mainly translation, at the time). A percentage of the agency work
would pay back the sweat equity accrued through pro-bono work. But we
were always at a loss on what to do about how to encourage everyone to
take up their fair share of all the rest, i.e., formatting, contacting authors, seeking work, social media, dealing with people’s emotions (including our own), and a very long etcetera.
We sometimes describe DisCO as the daughter of GT/GMC, but also its mother.  The reality of our lived experience has led to certain biases. We are trying to alleviate these in ourselves through the influence of the DisCO LABs, not least of which is DisCO.coop itself. The latter has a healthy representation of people coming from GT/GMC, and happily not the majority — and with new voices added, the timbre of the chorus has changed. Still, this notion of invisibilized “admin” work is a perpetual issue, which has a parallel with activism. Anyone who’s done organizing, protesting, or community building has probably experienced, or at least witnessed, activist burnout.  How could we prevent our group from falling into the same trap?
In 2014, we wrote the first version of this article, then called “What is Admin”. Within the collective, we saw the same productivist dynamics which permeate capitalism were finding a foothold (sometimes with crampons). Declaring a flat horizontal organization and expecting things to just fall into place doesn’t work. 
Power and hierarchy can’t simply be waved away, it would be naive to think so (at least, in our cultural context and personal experience). Even if an attempt is made to avoid or eliminate things that look like power and hierarchy in practice, if they’re not actively replaced with deliberately counteractive methodologies, they simply shapeshift and jump back into the vacuum with different masks, ready to trigger those same traumas we’d tried to bypass. Whoopsie! The work of replacing starts with ourselves, in acknowledging how deeply rooted these systems are in our own psyches and behaviors.
Here’s what we’ve seen or learned about what can happen in organizations
that are, perhaps, activist in nature or somehow counter to capitalism (whether anti, post, etc.). People who end up with reputational power can also end up to be the perceived bosses, even if they’re not exploiting people financially via wage labor — and they may be even more burned out than anyone who confers this power upon them. These de-facto and unwilling “bosses” are the people who ended up quietly doing much or all of the unacknowledged sustainability work to keep the ship afloat, including both the admin work for the organization and the care-taking work for the humans. Those who are just joining or don’t understand the full picture due to miscommunication also suffer and feel frustrated when things don’t work as expected and problems arise.
DisCO adds activism where we feel it belongs: in the workplace. If
you’re expected to spend a third of your lifetime at work, what are you
Participatory Economics or “Parecon” can give us some pointers. This is a set of economic patterns based around shared decision making. Described as a “anarchist economic vision” by its most visible proponents, Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel,  Parecon provides a fascinating set of ideas relevant for DisCO or, indeed, anyone yearning to live in an economy liberated from the maladies of capitalism. Of particular note for this discussion is the notion of balanced job complexes. In a 2012 interview, Albert explains the concept thusly:
“In the traditional corporate approach, which is common both to
capitalism and to twentieth century socialism, about 20 percent of the
workforce monopolizes the empowering tasks. In other words, they do jobs which are largely composed of tasks and responsibilities that empower those doing them — giving them overarching information, skills,
knowledge, social ties, energy and initiative, and access to levers of control. Here we are talking about engineers, managers, accountants, CEOs, lawyers, doctors, high-level professors, and so on. The other 80 percent of the workforce is left doing jobs composed of tasks and responsibilities that disempower those doing them by diminishing their skills, knowledge, social ties, energy and initiative, and separating them from all means of control.”
The former empowered group, called the coordinator class, operates above the latter disempowered group, called the working class. Their situations give these two classes contrary interests, and great power is given to the coordinators. In capitalism, the coordinators are between labor and capital, often carrying out the will of the owners, but also, to a degree, advancing their own interests in conflict with the workers below and the owners above. In twentieth-century socialism, while owners no longer exist, the coordinator class not only still exists, it becomes the new ruling class. For this reason, advocates of Parecon tend to call twentieth-century socialism, “coordinatorism”.
Mmmkay…Bill Lumberg (from Mike Judge’s classic Office Space) is the coordinator class personified. From his Wikipedia entry: “He greets subordinates with an unenthusiastic, “What’s happening?”, and when asking an employee to do an unpleasant task, starts the sentence with, “I’m gonna need you to”, or “If you could go ahead and”, as well as ending these requests with “that’d be great/terrific” and “mmmkay?” Watch him in action here.
Parecon’s introduction of the “coordinator” class may help explain some of the contradictions of twentieth-century socialism. We won’t get into that, but let’s contrast what happens in the typical coordinator-class enterprise with what happens in activist or commons-based peer production projects (e.g. free/open source software, fablabs, wikis, and community gardens).
We should mention the 90-9-1 rule. Research on the activities in commons-based peer production communities shows a pattern of “deeply unequal distribution of effort”, wherein 1% of a group fully participates (e.g. in a wiki, “adding content”), 9% participate to a far lesser degree (“changes/updates/edits content”) and a big 90% basically just lurks. Sometimes this is depicted as 1% of a community doing 90% of the work. The rule is also questioned by some, but it does reflect a lived experience in many communities: most will hang back and let a few take the lead, and with it the responsibility, and the power.
An ironic and troubling paradox is the idea of an organization without
structure. An organization is a structure, a cultural one that organizes the actions and goals of a group.  If a group organizational structure isn’t deliberately, formally discussed and created, then an informal one, perhaps less immediately visible, will emerge that attempts to serve the unspoken needs and agendas of some (but not all) of its constituents. This results from the lack of focus on the “how”, and can lead to a lot of conflict and fallout. Just a few people will end up making the decisions and rules,
and whether they intended this or not their power concentrates further
into an elite group. 
This process is spectacularly unpacked in Jo Freeman’s iconic essay, The Tyranny of Structurelessness. So, anyone who doesn’t work towards making power visible in their groups — e.g., activists, coders, commoners — will almost inevitably and invisibly suffer burnout when not only power but effort becomes unbalanced. Eventually, the whole collective is subject to burnout from the lack of mutual support and the need to prioritize one’s own needs, in the absence of any provision to support everyone’s needs.
Another aspect to this problem is the gendered aspect of power and care
work in activism and research projects alike, and the persistence of high profile positions taking credit for work that was in large part made possible by completely and deliberately invisible care work done by less high profile people. There is a lot more to say about this particular structural inequity, and how it is perpetuated through not only cultural but financial dominance, which we will continue to explore in other, future works (did someone say “PinkPaper”?).
Not vicious or malicious, just de-lovely and delicious!? If you’ve made it this far, congrats! You deserve to take a break and remember how you felt the first time you heard this song!
How can we ever hope to address these systemic problems? A recurring answer that has become almost a trope in DisCO presentations and webinars is, “we don’t know”. This answer might be rare in progressive,
political projects, but we really don’t; however, over time, we’ve developed some ideas:
We need to face these issues honestly and humbly. And, by constantly admitting that we don’t know everything; we need to make fluid maps and strong footholds for a shifting territory. In this podcast,  ecofeminist author and activist Starhawk tells us how to balance power and responsibility, while not shying away from conflict in equipotential organizations:
“In the Empowerment Manual, I talk about what I call ‘the Talisman of Healthy Groups’ which is like a magic circle with power and responsibility being one axis and accountability, communication, and trust being the other. We balance power and responsibility when people gain power in a group by taking on responsibility and fulfilling it. When people take on the responsibility, the group empowers it. The group gives them the authority, the license to use power to do what they need to do. When these things are in balance, the group is much healthier and has a much healthier chance of surviving and thriving.”
Asking questions for which we don’t have any answers already in mind is taking a chance, a leap into the unknown — not unlike dancing.
At the head of the chapter we asked, where does care begin? Perhaps the real question is: When does it end?
It shouldn’t, it hasn’t and it won’t. It’s vital for our survival, and care is the only way to heal this much abused planet. In this heinous, shocking year of 2020 we’ve seen some of the worst the human species has to offer, but also the best. In an article published in late March 2020, as the world was coming to terms with the crisis and before complacency, denial and covid-gaslighting had fully set in, British ecologist and thinker George Monbiot wrote:
“Power has migrated not just from private money to the state, but from both market and state to another place altogether: the commons. All over the world, communities have mobilized where governments have failed.” 
Monbiot is literally describing one of the souls animating DisCO. Radical (read, not bound by capitalist biases) anthropology tells us that:
“...early Homo sapiens were not just physically the same as modern humans, they were our intellectual peers as well. In fact, most were probably more conscious of society’s potential than people generally are today, switching back and forth between different forms of organization every year. Rather than idling in some primordial innocence, until the genie of inequality was somehow uncorked, our prehistoric ancestors seem to have successfully opened and shut the bottle on a regular basis, confining inequality to ritual costume dramas, constructing gods and kingdoms as they did their monuments, then cheerfully disassembling them once again.” 
If power is migrating, we can’t just expect to receive it passively. To quote one of the great critical voices of our time, we need to take it back. Dealing with established power, (i.e.: the Market/State28) is not an eventuality to be wished away; we should actively engage in fun, creative and also assertive ways to take it back.
The closing chapter of these DisCO Elements is all about a future built by
us, the people who care. Let’s see how we get there, with care.
The next chapter ( DisCO Futures: Building Tracks ) will end this serialization of The DisCO Elements with a final thought: What needs to happen for DisCOs to grow and flourish across the economy?
This article is the Fifth chapter of Groove is in the Heart: The DisCO Elements, which is currently being serialised on HackerNoon. The featured image is by Duncan C. Click here for full image credits.
DisCO stands for "Distributed Cooperative Organization" and it is a feminist, cooperative and commons-oriented alternative to the mainstream DAOspace. The DisCO Elements is a non-linear introduction to the "hows" of DisCO. Click here to download the full PDF or EPub with extra content or visit DisCO.coop for more resources.
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