Stone Soup by peterfuchs
September 13, 2008, 10:04 am
Filed under: Art as Gift Research blog | Tags:
Brothers Grimm

The Brothers Grimm

Stone Soup is a fable collected by the Brothers Grimm – and found in many diffrent versions all across Europe – about the benefits of cooperation and selflessness.

According to the story, some travelers come to a village, carrying nothing more than an empty pot. Upon their arrival, the villagers are unwilling to share any of their food stores with the hungry travelers. The travelers fill the pot with water, drop a large stone in it, and place it over a fire in the village square. One of the villagers becomes curious and asks what they are doing. The travelers answer that they are making “stone soup”, which tastes wonderful, although it still needs a little bit of garnish to improve the flavor, which they are missing. The villager doesn’t mind parting with just a little bit to help them out, so it gets added to the soup. Another villager walks by, inquiring about the pot, and the travelers again mention their stone soup which hasn’t reached its full potential yet. The villager hands them a little bit of seasoning to help them out. More and more villagers walk by, each adding another ingredient. Finally, a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is enjoyed by all. (via Wikipedia)

Nowadays, a large number of collaborative, non-profit project embark this very title – in some extent, the allegory of the stone soup functions as a model for a new, peer based economy, in which a large amount of “free”, or “gift” work brings a valuable final product.

From do it yourself supercomputers to collaborative housing projects, many small, grassroot enterprises took the name of this fable, but the overall idea around the tale is even more widespread in the contemporary culture: take the copyleft GNU project for example, which is a free operation system software, developed by a huge community of contributors.

The Stone Soup tale concept might be familiar for those who into peer-to-peer networking and other network based production. The concept of “Commons-based peer production, which –

Commons-based peer production is a term coined by Harvard Law School professor Yochai Benkler to describe a new model of economic production in which the creative energy of large numbers of people is coordinated (usually with the aid of the internet) into large, meaningful projects, mostly without traditional hierarchical organization or financial compensation.  (via Wikipedia)

– is a well known phenomena of gift economy. Peer-to peer systems tend to have the same consequence system as the one we encounter in the fable: everybody contributes, therefore everybody involved, but with different level of responsibility and commitment. I mean, in the case of peer-to-peer file sharing torrent downloads, – which take up a massive amount of nowadays internet traffic – both the actual transfer and (in some extent, the legal consequences) are shared exactly the same way, as in the tale, everybody involved, yet nobody owns the case (soup). In the case of peer-to-peer file sharing, a movie, or any other type of artwork, which has been stolen from the legal owner (maybe the villager in case of the original fable?), is distributed by a network of peers, who only re-distribute a small fracture of the original, so they do not own a product, nor distribute it, but all of them, together has the final product. Of course, peer-to-peer file sharing is a quite hot legal issue, with many odds and evens, but in most cases, the “original contributor”, the first seeder (those who own a product in a file sharing system are called seeders, as they “seed” the work, those who exchange only small fractions “ingredients of the stone soup” are the called the leechers, yet, any leecher who “leeches” enough ingredients to become a seeder. becomes one automatically ) are considered to be legally responsible for their doing.

Of course in, case of these semi-legal exchanges, it might be hard to point out who is the responsible, who is the author, the contributor, and who is being the audience, and also the nature of the “soup” is still to be defined legally, but let’s don’t forget Yochai Benkler’s definition as peer-to-peers being a new model of production, not only distribution.

But what if all the soups made in the village would be “stone soups”? What if all “soups” would be free, without a stable market of “priced soups” in the town, which have a predefined price? Would the city survive, if everybody would add a single ingredient to several soups? Should from then on, the village rely on free soups, and also free vegetables, free smithy work, free governance? Sounds like an ideal socialist utopia, and the same time a question clearly related to the concept of gift economy based societies.


2 Comments so far
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