Freedom, Ownership, Infrastructure, and Hope

Eleanor Saitta

Playlists: 'MCH2022' videos starting here / audio

How should we live together? How do we make a complex, interdependent, infrastructural society less exploitive? In this talk, we'll try to frame questions, if not answers, grounded in the context of the political changes required to mitigate and survive climate change, global fascism, and hypercapitalism.

This talk starts from two threads. First, the common understanding of "freedom" derives from the institution of slavery. Looking at alternate definitions provides the foundation for rethinking the building blocks of society and human interaction. Second, climate change represents an immediate existential threat to human civilization, but mitigating it is no longer a question of technology — only of collective will.

If we insist on maintaining existing structures of ownership and inequality, we significantly reduce our chance of survival. However, these questions of freedom, ownership, and equity aren't just political questions, they're directly encoded in the infrastructure we all rely on to survive — that same infrastructure that we currently need to replace, almost wholesale.

In reality, any path to survival will imply a muddle of adaptation, mitigation, replacement, and elimination, both of infrastructural components and of elements of the social contract and its governance systems. Harm reduction is more important and more probable than ideologically perfect revolutions (or even evolutions). However, plausible visions of the future are a critical ingredient for the hope we need to continue the work, and will also directly shape that work.

Most folks who live in ownership societies (almost everyone, now) find the idea of moving away from an ownership model terrifying, because it means giving up those things that give them a sense of security. Understanding the emotional interiority of life in a post-ownership society can change that, and understanding the dynamics of different freedoms can help us understand how we might get there.

As people who build infrastructure, we can play with the social models our infrastructure encodes — and have been doing so for decades. Likewise, we can (and have been) rebuilding pieces of the social contracts that shape our personal lives. This talk aims to leave you with new questions and new directions for that work.