Anarchism — Belief in societies that are thoroughly based on voluntary cooperation. Anarchists replace involuntary centralized authority with decentralized free associations — where the members choose the association and the association chooses the members. All members having some guaranteed access to shared resources makes it more practical for them to leave or avoid associations and to join and create new associations. In some cases free associations with open membership may be incentivized by the community by offering them additional access to shared resources in order to make it more likely that all members will have access to the benefits of association.
What if a hackerspace was organized to be a container for holding other subspaces? It could function something like Amazon Web Services or a hypervisor running several operating systems at once. Instead of defining everything that goes on in the space for everyone, the container space could focus on creating rules for general membership and for sharing resources such as subleases and purchasing shared equipment. They could operate with the goal of being something like the best imaginable landlord for hackerspace activities.
Any member could be allowed to create a subspace. Subspaces could sublease part of the physical space or operate in a virtual way. Each subspace, virtual or not, could have easy access to web resources for organizing their subspace as well as access to community managed space and equipment.
Each member could have some portion of their dues given to them each month that they could assign to any collection of the subspaces holding subleases that they like. The percent of dues that are made discretionary could simply be equal to the percentage of the container space that is currently being subleased, since sublease holders share in paying for the costs of the facility and in its management. The subspaces could use the discretionary funds they receive to pay rent or other nonprofit expenses. When they wished to make a purchase, they could submit a purchase order to the container space that could be reviewed to ensure that the purchase is for some approved nonprofit purpose. Any equipment or materials purchased by a subspace could be managed by that subspace and stored in the subspace’s subleased area unless other arrangements are made.
Spaces that are full of items could simply mark the spaces to be subleased and not remove the items until after a subspace leases. Subleases could be a fixed price price per square foot (you know we should be using meters!) or set by auction.
Any items that are purchased with member dues could become the container space’s property, and the subgroup that purchased the item could become the manager of the item by default. Subspaces could raise funds and acquire items in addition to those they acquire through the membership dues they receive. Any items acquired in these ways would not become the property of the container space. QR coded stickers could be used to indicate which items are container space property and which are not. The QR codes could also encode URLs that lead to instructions for how to properly access the equipment or materials — including things like ownership records, usage logs, costs, safety procedures, parties to contact for permission, and requisite training. If the item is too small to QR code, it’s home resting place could be QR coded instead.
Any subspace that subleases space could be required to make a statement about what they intend to contribute to the nonprofit purpose of the group. The subspaces could be required to provide something to everyone — this could work similar to a gift economy, where each subleased space could offer something to the entire community without additional fees. Subspaces might contribute to the community’s nonprofit purpose by engaging in activities such as purchasing and managing a piece of equipment, offering a supply of materials, hosting guest speakers, or offering classes. Subspaces that are found to not be contributing to the group may have their right to receive dues and subleases challenged through a referendum of all members. Perhaps a probationary period that allows for reform could occur before a subspace’s right to sublease and receive discretionary dues is withdrawn.
This system should help to avoid the space becoming too static and gives more members a chance to go through the process of starting and managing their own space. Members may be more enthusiastic and productive when given expanded opportunities to influence what happens at the space based on their own designs. Imagine a building full of enthusiastic founders of voluntary subspaces that feel personally invested in making the overall space a success. Having access to discretionary dues, space to rent, web resources, shared equipment, and commons areas enables members to enjoy the benefits of both general club resources and subgroup resources. Subgroups could co-federate amongst each other in whatever way they like. A collection of subspaces might co-federate to do things like sublease additional portions of the space, offer a special piece of equipment, or host a special event.
Allowing subspaces to set any rule they like for membership could work towards prefiguring how free association might work in an anarchist post-capitalist society. However, hackerspaces are free associations themselves and are allowed to set their own rules for management and membership. Spaces might wish to allow the container space to not offer space resources to any subgroup that is determined to be a hate group or engaging in criminal activity using a referendum of the members. Discounts on rent might be offered to subspaces with open membership in order to encourage integrated options to form while respecting the right to form more exclusive subgroups on the condition that they offer some benefit to the general membership.
When voting within a subspace, or within the overall container space, members might find the following consensus building procedure to be useful.
Voters are allowed to do one of the following:
1. Agree and consent to whatever the outcome is
2. Disagree and consent to whatever the outcome is
3. Abstain and consent to whatever the outcome is
4. Block and do not consent if a particular outcome should occur
A block differs from the other options since it indicates that the voter is unwilling to accept some outcomes the voting procedure might lead to and it is issued in advance of the voting taking place. It should be used as an ultimatum that is intended to influence a vote before it occurs.
Someone who issues a block is in-effect saying:
“If the vote does not go a particular way then I will leave this association with my share of the resources and I encourage others to do the same.”
Other members could be allowed to join a block before a vote takes place and information could be made available about the skills and other resources (e.g. dues, privately owned equipment) the blocking members may subtract from the association if the vote does not go the way they request. If a member blocks but does not leave an association when a vote does not result in the outcome the block requested then their ability to issue new blocks may be suspended for some number of future votes (e.g. always 3 votes, or some number that increases with each new balk).
Method For Splitting A Free Association
If a free association’s members should decide they have reached an impasse, how can the collectively owned property be equitably distributed between the communities that result from the split? The following technique may be helpful.
If there is only a small percent of the members that would like to leave the association, then those that leave could receive nothing. This should be agreed to at the time the member joins or consented to explicitly by the members should the policy change. If a member decides to leave because of a proposed change to this policy they should be compensated according to the previously agreed to arrangement.
If a significant percentage of the members wish to leave, then an auction could help determine the distribution of the shared resources. The threshold needed to trigger an auction should be explicitly stated in the association’s policy. How should the auction be conducted? I haven’t thoroughly researched auction mechanisms for dividing resources in these situations. Here is an initial sketch for an approach that may be useful. Please let me know of you see a way to improve it!
- Those wishing to leave could join factions based on which subspace they wish the property to be distributed to. Loan individuals could also participate in the auction with the intention of the property they win being placed under the manegment of the entire container space.
- An assessment of the value of the shared property could be made and each faction could be assigned a portion of that value. Instead of a simple even per-capita split of the value it may be more desirable to assign each member a value that is proportional to the value they added to the group during their time as a member by doing things like paying dues, donating equipment, and volunteering. The portion that is allocated to each faction could be distributed by simply recording how much each faction is allocated in a document or by distributing actual tokens. If all parties should run out of currency to spend during the auction, then a new round of currency could be distributed using the ratios that were used in the initial round.
- Each faction could be allowed to deliberate on the bid they would like to make for each item as it comes up for auction. A simple method is to allow each member of the faction to indicate the amount they would be willing to bid for an item and for the faction to bid the average of those values. A closed bid auction for each item, where the participants submit a single bid and where the high bid wins, may often be a simple effective arrangement. An auction that allows for multiple rounds of bidding on each item could also be done where the faction members could average together the minimum and maximum each member is willing to bid and allow a representative to bid within that range or where the members directly issue each new bid by taking the average of what each member is willing to bid.
In addition to splitting apart and merging, groups may often wish to maintain their independence while coming together for particular limited purposes. The appropriate tool in these cases is “co-federation”, where distinct subspaces form a voluntary association where any of the member subspaces can unilaterally withdraw at any time. In some cases a co-federation of subspaces may be obtain equipment or take on special tasks such as hosting a particular class or regular event. Voting in the co-federation could occur by direct referendum of all members of all member subspaces or could occur with recallable delegates that are meant to represent the member subspaces. Subspaces could set their own policies for delegate voting. One recommended policy would be for the subspace to mandate to the delegate what they would like for them to vote in advance of co-federation voting. If a vote can not be taken before the delegate needs to decide on a matter, then the delegate could be required to obtain ratification after the fact for any decisions they made on behalf of the subspace using whatever ratification procedure the subspace should decide upon. A technique called “Lowerarchy With Lazy Ratification” could be used to give delegates more freedom while still remaining responsive to the will of the subspace members. This technique could also be used for delegation of decisions within a subspace.
In some ways a space of this type prefigures a new design for an entire human society. For more information about a style of anarchism that hackerspaces of this type prefigure you should check out “Enableism”.