Exchanging ideas is the stage prior to proposing alternatives

Álvaro Bermejo


The students who took Saint-Germain Boulevard by storm in May 1968 shouted, “Beneath the cobblestones, the beach!” The first large wave, however, took a year to roll in, and it came to Rome. In 1969, Aurelio Peccei gathered an informal group of European thinkers, scientists, economists, entrepreneurs, and high-level bureaucrats. Their purpose was not to form a debating society. Instead, they aspired to influence and transform reality by changing attitudes that had gone unquestioned until that time. The Club of Rome was born, perhaps the first embryo of network thinking with global aims in keeping with its radical modernity.

Its first report, “The Limits to Growth”, posed a challenge still topical forty years later. Their warning was the first to alert the world to the serious danger of the threats destroying the biosphere. It led to the first connections between a dawning environmental awareness and political agendas at a time when the word “sustainability” was unknown. Thus, along with an invitation to build a new economy and a new society based on what was then a revolutionary concept, the Club of Rome inaugurated a kind of prospective literature about the future of life on this planet, based on connectivity.

In fact, that first report arose from a connection between the newly created Massachusetts Institute of Technology, followed by Jay Forrester’s dynamic simulation models, and an ongoing saga of predictive essays- the famous World 1, 2 and 3- where conclusions were no longer as essential as the pattern of network thinking started by those Utopian thinkers at a time of crisis.

Forty years later, the banquet_nodes and networks (banquete_ nodos y redes) project is completely connected to this philosophy. Its name suggests a party, a great “banquet” that is in no way Platonic. However, its starting point is rooted in the same “state of discontent”. We are now in the 21st century but the great questions posed by the Club of Rome are still on the table. We have not solved the tensions between the market and the planet, or environmental and cultural settings, and have made even less headway regarding the position of humans faced with a series of economic, social, industrial and techno-scientific emergencies that demand new ways of managing diversity.

A network is more than just an operative concept. We can accumulate many complex networks, full of information, and yet continue an autistic dialogue in a bell jar inhabited by highly skilled specialists removed from any type of human imperative. By acting this way, we turn modernity into a kind of civilized barbarity armed with icons celebrating the growing homogenization of the world and life styles and elevating technical and economic logic to the status of the paradigm for all things. Can this be called progress? Can it be called knowledge? What kind of world is being created by those who act behind closed doors, wielding great macroeconomic and techno-scientific power?

One of the keys to open those doors is called “free software”. It is a good antidote to moderate the shift of knowledge toward an invisible dimension. There are several other keys used daily in that house without doors— and full of windows, such as thebanquet_nodes and networks (banquete_ nodos y redes) project. Bringing together artists, scientists, thinkers, people who believe another world is possible, technologists and artisans of narrative, this open process reminds us that that full citizenship in today’s world is acquired when one has the right not only to access to our accumulated cultural heritage but also when one can take part in and model the culture of the context where one lives.

The progress of knowledge consists precisely of just that. Not of limiting it to a handful of experts who know more and more about less and less, until they end up knowing everything about nothing. It is instead the challenge of finding a metaphor that is a polyhedron reflecting and encompassing all the facets of complexity, in spite of being much simpler than any of them.

This active and interactive metaphor always in search of itself, this constant crossing of vectors and terabytes among the arts, sciences, and a hundred other fields of knowledge and experimentation considered until now as separate and incompatible, yes, perhaps a part of all of this is the best definition of the scope and flight plan ofbanquet_nodes and networks (banquete_ nodos y redes) project. This is the third time it has been held and the network concept once again is shown to be that polyhedron of a metaphor that defines the continuity of this global project started by the Situationists of the Club of Rome.

Undoubtedly, just as was true of the city during the Renaissance, today the network constitutes the space which genuinely expresses creative and deliberative diversity, the space where the perspective of the meeting of disparate things makes it possible for knowledge and collective reflection to advance.

But the essential characteristic of a network is not only its range. Its “state of tension” is also very important and should be the “human imperative” mentioned above. In this era of economic and technological preeminence, perhaps the time has come to think from the human-as-node and for humans as a whole, as opposed to the reasoning that values innovation per se, and practical logic over any other questioning of its goals.

It is clear that new technologies form the essence of the identity of the 21st century. Even in the old world of books, cybernetic novels have appeared, as well as virtual bookshops and libraries, online authors and electronic reading devices. No one questions the fact any longer that cyberspace and emerging technologies are accelerating the transformation to a new cultural era. However, if a reflection on its meaning is lacking, the structural essence of online cultural communities can be quite similar to that of any settlement of Yanomamis lost in the Stone Age Amazon rain forest. Both contain a latent idea of power that only shows signs of evolution when it reflects on itself, integrating knowledge into the common good, and truly socializes it.

banquet_nodes and networks (banquete_nodos y redes) contributes to making the new generation of wiki scientists and technologists more visible. They transcend the hermetic dimension of science, aware that dialogue on the Web, the interchange of stories and experiences, offers a powerful form of social and human enrichment where the true measure of the new culture is determined.

The great debate today centres on the old theme of the limits to growth and demands answers that transcend the market governing all levels of society. That includes artistic and techno-scientific levels and also the most perverse of all, which is “Web marketing”.

Exchanging ideas is the stage prior to proposing alternatives to jointly, openly, non-dogmatically, or, in a word, creatively face the fascinating challenges presented by the contemporary world.

San Sebastián – 25 May 2008