Archive for the ‘Hackers’ Category

According to anarchist revolutionary, Mikhail Bakunin: “Man is not only the most individual being on earth, but also the most social.”i Proof of this assessment of humankind is seen in the free / open source software (FOSS) movement where individuals participate in the production of program code in a community enterprise and then share it with the world as has happened with WordPress, Firefox, Open Office, Linux and thousands of other applications for sharing files and photos, sending emails, creating websites, writing blogs, connecting socially, mixing music, and editing video.

The more prominent proponents of FOSS (when they are not talking to Boards of Directors or the business press) often emphasize the social value of this communal computing. They may talk about the goodness of emerging economies using FOSS due to its zero cost. They may discuss the threats to cultural or national sovereignty that result from software created in the corporate model, and how FOSS can be the solution.ii They may criticize today’s form of capitalism where profit is valued over efficiency, and the two are not always in agreement.iii They may even dream of a post-scarcity future when non-productive activities such as bureaucratic meddling and “isometric struggles against competition”iv are eliminated, when humans will work just ten hours per week making a living tending to “required tasks such as legislation, family counseling, robot repair and asteroid prospecting” with all the others hours freed for fun activities (such as programming!)

Naturally, with all this talk of free software and communities sharing and helping one other, disingenuous critics will conflate the FOSS phenomenon with communism.v This tactic is nothing more than FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt), a form of propaganda using false information and logical fallacy. Of course, the counter-response is not too difficult to devise. To be sure, a culture of positive liberty can be ruinous in a hierarchical, authoritarian system and can lead to anything from unreliable cathedral-type software to liberalism’s social contract to state communism at the extreme where “sharing” is forced. But the required action is not to abandon the positive liberty piece of the equation in favour of “free markets”vi where capital always wins (e.g. Microsoft), but rather to abandon the authoritarianism piece, to abandon the cathedral, to de-commodify software and remove the market, so the powerful lose interest in ownership.

(This post is a short extract from: On the Nature of Software Anarchism)

i A. Lehning, 1973, “Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings”, page 125

iv Richard Stallman, “The GNU Manifesto

v Eric Raymond, Communism and Free Software, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69ZyX5sN2NA#t=0m40s

vi If we are to believe Torvalds (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVTWCPoUt8w#t=36m22s) that none of us know what we’re doing all the time (and that’s why open source software works), then the markets cannot behave rationally. There is no such thing as an invisible hand as Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz would say. Guardian newspaper Friday, 20 December, 2002

According to anarchist revolutionary, Mikael Bakunin: “Man is not only the most individual being on earth, but also the most social.”i Proof of this assessment of humankind is seen in the free / open source software (FOSS) movement where individuals participate in the production of program code in a sort of “communal computing” enterprise and then share it with the world as has happened with WordPress, Firefox, Open Office, Linux and thousands of other applications for sharing files and photos, sending emails, creating websites, writing blogs, connecting socially, mixing music, and editing video.

The more prominent proponents of FOSS (when they are not talking to Boards of Directors or the business press) may talk about the goodness of emerging economies using FOSS due to its zero cost. They may talk about the threats to cultural or national sovereignty that result from software created in the corporate model, and how FOSS can be the solution.ii They may criticize today’s form of capitalism where profit is valued over efficiency, and the two are not always in agreement.iii They may even dream of a post-scarcity future when non-productive activities such as bureaucratic meddling and “isometric struggles against competition”iv are eliminated, when humans will work just ten hours per week making a living tending to “required tasks such as legislation, family counseling, robot repair and asteroid prospecting” with all the others hours freed for fun activities (such as programming!)

Naturally, with all this talk of free software and communities sharing and helping one other, disingenuous critics will conflate the FOSS phenomenon with communism.v This tactic is nothing more than FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt), a form of propaganda using false information and logical fallacy. Of course, the counter-response is not too difficult to devise. To be sure, a culture of positive liberty can be ruinous in a hierarchical, authoritarian system and can lead to anything from unreliable cathedral-type software to liberalism’s social contract to state communism at the extreme where “sharing” is forced. But the required action is not to abandon the positive liberty piece of the equation in favour of “free markets”vi where capital always wins (e.g. Microsoft), but rather to abandon the authoritarianism piece, to abandon the cathedral, to de-commodify software and remove the market, so the powerful lose interest in ownership.

i A. Lehning, 1973, “Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings”, page 125

iv Richard Stallman, “The GNU Manifesto”, http://www.gnu.org/gnu/manifesto.html

v Eric Raymond, Communism and Free Software, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69ZyX5sN2NA#t=0m40s

vi If we are to believe Torvalds (see end note 19) that none of us know what we’re doing all the time (and that’s why open source software works), then the markets cannot behave rationally. There is no such thing as an invisible hand as Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz would say. Guardian newspaper Friday, 20 December, 2002 http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2002/dec/20/highereducation.uk1#article_continue

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What a story Wikileaks is. While most journalists bend over backwards to not offend authority, Wikileaks founder and journalist, Julian Assange, is the object of a veritable Pentagon manhunt due to the none too pleasing fact for Washington that Assange may be in possession of 260,000 classified diplomatic cables. And while Assange lies low, the world holds its breath waiting for the incriminating documents to come online where they will almost certainly discredit U.S. foreign policy and foreign governments in the mid East and beyond. Wikileaks has already raised the ire of the mucky mucks over at the Pentagon with its “Collateral Murder” video which shows US war choppers killing unarmed

In the Crosshairs

Iraqi civilians and seriously wounding children. But while Collateral Murder damns US military tactics, will the cables damn US State strategies? Intriguing stuff.

The irony is absolutely stunning if we take a big picture look at the story from its beginnings over four decades ago.

In the late 1960’s, Western society was quite literally blowing up. Minority races, women, and environmentalists were demanding a change to the social order. Martin Luther King’s assassination provoked riots in over a hundred cities. The Troubles had drawn blood in Northern Ireland. Two-thirds of France was on strike. Hundreds of protestors were massacred in Mexico City. The Russell Tribunal indicted the US government on charges of genocide. Tanks were rolling in Prague. And amidst all the turmoil perhaps a bigger revolution was unfolding: four IMPs were connected to form the ARPANET.

The significance of plugging together four microcomputers to form the larval internet would not be recognized for another generation. Originally, envisioned by its Pentagon funder as a distributed computer network robust enough to survive nuclear detonations, it has now metamorphosed into –not just the technological wonder familiar to us all –but the greatest irony of all time. The Pentagon Establishment, the greatest power centre in the history of humankind, an organization whose primary purpose for six decades has been to impose obedience throughout the world to the dictates of the money men,1 has, quite simply, enabled forces that are well on their way to undermining all agents of authority. Yesterday’s expert views are consigned to the yellowing, crusty pages of the Encyclopedia Britannica; the wiki-mass has taken their place. Children download movies while studios throw tantrums. The professional journalists are blogged out of existence. US copter cowboys slaughter a grouping of Iraqis for millions of youtubeans to witness. And now the Pentagon tries to close Pandora’s virtual box. Remarkable.

(One last point: Assange appears to be a free software hacker. Much more on this topic, anarchism, the internet, decentralization and Wikileaks here: On the Nature of Software Anarchism. It’s all connected.)

1 Here I’m reminded of the following quotation from Thomas Friedman, “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”: “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas… And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”

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.