Re: [ox-en] Some thoughts upon the GPL society
- From: "Niall Douglas" <s_fsfeurope2 nedprod.com>
- Date: Wed, 21 Jan 2004 18:40:19 -0000
On 19 Jan 2004 at 14:52, Stefan Merten wrote:
Thanks for your well-structured post. As you may have expected I do
not agree with most of your points. Johan pointed out one aspect I'd
Ultimately it's as always a case of worldview. Economics is 100%
determined by worldview - water is not worth much only because our
culture and society make it so - in a different culture or society,
water could be worth more than a few thousand deaths per year.
Software however is not determined by worldview - how it is
constructed yes, how it is used yes, even its relative value yes.
However even totally useless software is still software.
This is why trying to apply what works for software to society will
come unstuck. It's not of the same logical type - software is like
knowledge & understanding this way, it can grow forever. No human
population can do that, nor can an economy, country or anything bound
by physical limits.
My first criticism is that most free software isn't just produced -
it is created like all art through the affluence of a population
giving its citizens enough free time not spent working to enable it
to be produced as a hobby.
In other words: There are some people which have enough spare time
they do not need to use for working to fulfill their basic needs. I'd
agree with this but this is nothing new. Indeed every society has this
sort of affluence. Raising kids for instance is paid by nobody -
although dramatically important for continuation of society.
Writing free software as you said is a hobby. I don't think anyone
would claim that raising their children is a hobby, and if they do
then they can't be good parents.
My point is that you can divide human production into two kinds -
that needed for survival, and everything else.
Software production is very much in the latter camp unless you make a
living by it. If free software developers didn't have so much free
time, they'd be too busy scraping together to get around to writing
Bringing it back to my original point, I can't see free software
production as being anything more than a form of cooperative, a very
old idea dating back to tribal life.
I for one find it at least thinkable to envision a world where (at
least) most of the (basic) needs are satisfied without needing any
form of coercion.
I'd imagine things will eventually turn out this way. But hardly yet -
as it painfully evident from the state of the world today, the
occidental culture ruling this world is still very immature.
While the Greeks had large slave populations, we here in the West
live in opulance while hundreds of millions of our economic slaves
in the third world die to keep us fat & rich.
I think this is simply not true. IMHO the wealth of the North/West
states comes mainly from the high productivity.
Really? Try reading any of Hazel Henderson's work, or even Noam
Chomsky on world orders.
If you examine the economic dynamics of the present day, they are
identical to those between Britain and its empire at the height of
empire - a massive net transfer of raw materials extracted by coolie
labour inwards. Except - and this is where it's interesting - the
west per capita now sucks *more* wealth from the third world than it
did at any time during the British empire! The difference between
rich and poor globally rises inexorably every single year, no wonder
that so many immigrants seek to go where the wealth ever increasingly
If this mass cheap resource injection were stopped, most of the
growth experienced in the west for the last fifty years would be
wiped out permanently.
If we envision the collapse without such a destruction of the means of
production then there is some chance, however. This would mean that
rather few people work for money while the big rest just uses the
products of the high productivity to live their life as they want.
Then an increase of production of Free Software and other Free Goods
is only a logical consequence.
Our entire production mechanism is based on massive subsidies of
transport and scale of economies. It is highly inefficient and gets
worse with every year. When it can go no further, and we are
increasingly running into hard limits on this, it will collapse like
1929. And like all economically troubled times, we'll see the next
batch of Hitler's arising to fill the void - the people will be
crying out for it and start voting the madmen in.
I wonder why all the people only think the level of civilization
already reached must necessarily decrease in the future. Actually if
this could be proofed in some way I'd recommend everyone to forget
about the future and live as nice as possible right now. Fortunately I
guess there is no such proof ;-) .
There is plenty of proof. Every civilisation ends if it doesn't
constantly renew itself. If we continue to ignore the fundamental law
that nothing can grow forever, we will cease to be.
Even as I type this, there are many futurist researchers mapping out
the post-capitalist world which we know must come within our
lifetimes. A good though dated summary is "The Web Of Life" by
Now let me be clear, I am the first to bang on about the inequality
of the world and I furthermore believe that the growing gap between
rich and poor globally is the single biggest threat to our
I don't think that. This gap could be controlled by ever growing use
The British thought that too, as did the Romans. Keeping people under
a yoke can never be a long-term sustainable option. Look at Ireland
even - they drove the British out with bombs and assassinations.
However, I absolutely endorse inequality to
reward those who contribute to society and to penalise those who
You are very much stuck into that "Who does not work shall not eat."
This is very much capitalist ideology (going back to Christian
ideology BTW). I think the world is already different and it could be
even more so. This is where I'm heading to.
Hardly. Anyone who has studied behaviour psychology knows that the
carrot & stick method works.
Thirdly, and my final major point, is that volunteer software
production does not enable creativity - it is a *conformist*
paradigm whereby the output tends to converge with time. Any student
of biology knows that creativity can only happen in a /divergent/
system which is worked against by the volunteer nature of free
Biology can say nothing about human societies. Human societies are not
natural (= biological) but cultural (= social).
In particular I'd say there is no such thing like creativity in
nature. Evolution for instance is not a creative process in any useful
sense of the word I can think of. Evolution is a blind random process
and it makes sense only if you look at it in a teleological manner -
which is of course a grave mistake.
There are so many falsehoods in what you've just said I can't begin!
Life *is* creativity, evolution is not at all random (feedback loops)
and there is a clear purpose to the universe - to evolve. I should
add that sentience is merely a higher order of aliveness.
This isn't just my opinion, this is rigourous science. See "The Web
Of Life" mentioned above and "The Tree of Knowledge - Knowing That We
Know" by Varela and Maturana.
I go into this much more in the website link I posted above, but to
summarise a free software project can only go places if enough
volunteers agree on a common direction.
No. It is perfectly possible to set up and run a Free Software project
as an individual. I know this from experience ;-) . Volunteers are
nice but not a necessary pre-condition. In fact I think there are a
big number of (usually small) Free Software projects out there which
have a single developer.
Of course. But one programmer working in their free time takes
forever and no commercial entity will fund really radical blue-sky
free software except for governments.
The more radical you get, the
harder it is to get enough people to agree -
I think this is also not true. As Eric S. Raymond put it I think you
need to have a good promise to be able to scratch an itch of many
people. Then you get volunteers regardless on how radically new your
idea may be.
That all depends on whether people know where the itch is. The more
radical an idea is, the proportionally less people will agree it's
the right solution!
therefore, free software
tends to clone existing functionality in small steps rather than
ever come up with something truly original. One can thus call this
system good at creating *incremental* innovation but poor at
creating *step- change* innovation.
I don't think so in general. However, only a few examples come to
mind. Can someone come up with some examples of innovative Free
Plan 9. GNU Hurd ten years ago.
Therefore in my view, software in the communal pool should be the
bread & butter stuff which is useful to everyone - it should be free
of cost. However software pushing into new radical areas as well as
bespoke solutions & customisations should cost money
I.e. they are not Free.
Free of cost no. Freedom of use yes.
If the fund for example set up a number of
fast root servers which collected stats on downloads, this could be
quite easy. Indeed, this could be a solution for all digitally
representable media eg; music, books, movies etc. as the current
system of enforcing information scarcity is clearly not long-term
sustainable - though software is far more useful to society than
other digital information because our civilisation's continued
evolution is heavily predicated on improved software - therefore,
computer software programmers should be very keenly rewarded for
If they work *for* money then you have state corporations - which
regarding alienation this is little different from makert
corporations. Free Software is as good as it is because people do not
work for money. The unalienated nature of Free Software is inseparable
from it's success.
I had the BBC model in mind whereby TV is funded by the state and the
free market supplies the programmes.
The biggest problem with this idea is that it requires
ending western hegemonic economic policy and to treat the third
world totally equally to the west which hasn't happened in centuries
Because no western government would permit large quantities of the
royalties it pays from the tax coffers to go to the third world.
Under the current economic system it would be madness - protectionism
pays. If this weren't so, we'd see the EU open full free trade with
all the African countries.
1a. Automated production is invariably very energy-expensive &
environmentally-expensive. The only reason why some machines are
cheaper than humans is that currently energy is cheap and we ignore
costs to the environment -
Sorry, but this last sentence is simply crap. I'd even question
whether machines are necessarily more energy-expensive than humans if
you count the calories. As a quick example biking comes to mind.
Riding a bicycle is less energy-expensive than walking so at least
using a bicycle saves energy.
I'm very sorry but what you are saying is the crap. A typical human
will consume around 2,000,000 calories (2000 kcals) which is ~8.4m
joules. That's 97W, far far less than your computer or even your
lightbulb. Even doing hard physical labour you wouldn't pass 220-
Face it - humans (and animals) are far, far more energy efficient
than almost all automated production. 120W BTW is around
however, with the coming end of the oil
age and severe climate disturbance which has already begun that will
radically change. Chances are we'll be dismantling many of the
factories and replacing them with humans who are much more energy &
This is all a question of energy sources. From an technical point of
view I'd say that the sun delivers so much energy to the Earth that in
the foreseeable future there is little limit in energy. The point is
to make it available - which in the end is a technological question.
No it's a POLITICAL question. If there was enough will you could grow
biomass and convert it to alcohol for running cars off and gas for
everything else. The only long-term sustainable energy source is the
1b. Automated production tends to require scale of economy. Scale of
economy depends on the mass movement of large quantities of raw
materials. Currently our production is very centralised in that a
few very large specialised factories usually located in the third
world make most of our durable goods.
This changes with the universalization of machines. Computers, fabbers
and industry robots make specialized factories like the ones you
describe less necessary than during the height of the industrial age.
Look at CPU fabbing. The reasons why it costs more and more each year
are the same reasons why all automated production costs more and more
each year - it's just that with CPU's the subsidies can't keep up.
3. Competition works - it is a great biological motivator of people
- though only in an overall system of cooperation.
Then we need to clarify what we mean by competition. I'd agree if it
is competition as seen in sports, games or Free Software. I'd disagree
if you are talking about economical live-or-die competition.
Yes, I mean like how team members compete with each other in order to
improve the team.
I look forward to seeing what people have to say!
Late but there ;-) .
Well, yours was the only reply in the end, so thanks! My heart kinda
sank after that first post a bit - either I sounded like I was
trolling or no one was going to try to fault my impeccable arguments!