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[ox-en] Politicizing FOSS Practice

On Tue, Feb 24, 2004 at 09:04:38AM -0500, Graham Seaman wrote:
So given that free software groups have evolved these (usually
unwritten) rules which work to keep politics at arms length, how can
you go about re-introducing it - but WITHOUT stopping the work from
getting done?

IMHO, they're not as unwritten as you seem to imply. This is basically
just a logical extension of freedom 0 we're talking about.

I've thrown my personal "solution" on this list a couples times
already but I'll do it again. :)

As someone who uses and develops FOSS for political purposes, I am
concerned with the idea of my work being used to do nasty things that I
am political or ethically opposed to. To use the now cliche example: I
don't want my software to be used to make bombs.

My "solution" to this problem is simple: I don't work on software that
could be used in bombs. We all get to choose our projects and I choose
to work on projects like participatory and collaborative content
management systems, peer to peer distribution networks, and software
specifically designed by and for grassroots organizers. That doesn't
mean that the other side can't use them but the projects I choose to
spend my time on are the ones that are going to be overwhelming more
useful for good than evil.

There are obviously some projects, like a kernel scheduler for
example, that are not tied to anyone one political use. I choose not
to work on them. I'm glad other people not as concerned with working
toward a particular political agenda *are* working on them and if they
stop, I might have to. Right now, it's a natural and voluntary
division that we're all happy with.

In starting the Debian-NP (NP is for "non-profit") project we have
created a group of people interested in social justice organizing and
civil society groups who are working together to work towards creating
software useful for the work of these organizations. It's available
for use by war machines and hate mongers but we've got reason to
believe it's going to be a hell of a lot more useful for us than for
them. The best part is that by bringing these groups together, we've
also created a set of shared values within the project. Is it my set
of values exactly?  No. Is it going to change as the projects matures
and changes and gets new members? Yes. If it moves too far in a
direction I'm comfortable with, I'll leave. But I doubt it will.

Or should you even try to? Is the 'alleged apolitical nature' an
ideological reflection of the practical need, or is it a part of the
essence of floss?

My model doesn't try to change the political nature of FOSS more
generally but tries to integrated politics into specific instances of
FOSS practice. I'd love to hear feedback.


Benjamin Mako Hill

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