Evolutionary Software

Posted: May 29, 2010 in Free / Open Software, Kropotkin, Torvalds
Tags: , , , ,

This post is an adapted excerpt from: On the Nature of Software Anarchism

An insightful work by anarchist Peter Kropotkin is “Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution” which begins with Kropotkin recounting his observations of animal life in Siberia. He first notes the extremely severe conditions with which life need contend in that part of the world. His second observation –or lack of observation –is that he could find no evidence that individuals of a given species compete with each other, let alone compete bitterly as Darwin contends. Colonies of rodents, flocks of birds, herds of wild horses, deer, squirrels, insects all illustrate the importance of mutual aid and support in the mutual struggle for survival in nature.

The phenomenon of mutual evolution is not lost on the adherents of open source software either. Linus Torvalds talks about “communal computing” being a process of evolution where numerous people –none of whom understand what they, themselves, are doing all the time –contribute small ideas and assimilate small progresses from others in order to adapt to the environment. Both the community and the software evolve into something that no one ever foresaw, that no one ever planned. According to Torvalds, this process can be contrasted with commercial software which –to its credit –will often be designed and implemented efficiently to reach certain goals –but very often the wrong goals, dead-end branches on the evolutionary tree.

And so, upfront design and business-focus place limits on evolution and repress the innovation and flexibility needed to produce optimal results.

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