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Of the powers we choose to lose

I used to be what is sometimes called a "Free Software purist". "Free" here refers to "free as in freedom" according to Richard Stallman's Free Software Philosophy. As such I was opposed to all proprietary software licensing. If a program doesn't come with a license that allows you those "four freedoms" (to run, modify and share both unmodified and modified versions of the program as you wish) then using it meant you don't care for your freedom and are choosing to be a "slave" to the developer. In turn I largely tended to agree that such developers are immoral to offer software under such licenses.

Needless to say that put me against the likes of Microsoft and Apple and even to some extent against certain Linux based offerings because they included certain bits of proprietary software in it. I joined in the fight against DRM which we called "Digital Restrictions Management" rather than "Digital Rights Management" which is its official name. I wrote articles in support of GNU General Public License which I saw as the best way to guarantee these four freedoms and protect them from being taken away. I chastised Linus Torvalds for choosing not to relicense the Linux kernel under GPLv2.

And then something happened, which was probably one way or another inevitable for me. I started talking with a friend about freedom and what it means which led to discussions that went beyond Free Software and into social organization and philosophy. As we employed critical thinking and questioning we were increasingly led deeper and deeper into individualism and recognition of freedom as a negative concept - freedom from something rather than freedom to something. Increasingly it was no longer about any particular set of freedom to do this or that, but rather about a freedom, a freedom from coercion. This single freedom ended up being a precondition to everything and an only way to hold a freedom-loving ideology that isn't self-contradictory.

If you are free from coercion then you live your life in complete freedom. Everything you do is voluntary. Everything you're subjected to is so because you agreed to it yourself and therefore subjected yourself to it. I could no longer see any real basis for the Free Software philosophy as such. If I agreed to particular terms of service before being provided it then I am still within my freedom. Proprietary software stopped being "immoral" and I could no longer identify with the Free Software movement.

Furthermore I could no longer identify with liberalism either which I probably was supportive of by default, even if I was never quite aware of it. Liberalism is all about freedom too, but it makes the mistake of thinking of liberty as "positive liberty" where you have freedoms to things; "right to free healthcare", "right to free education", "right to environment", right to this and right to that. All these rights turn out to be mere entitlements determined more by the emotion of the moment than critical study of human condition. Politicians promise these entitlements to gain votes and the public ends up embracing this idea of entitlement to something for nothing solely because they exist. Yet free healthcare, for instance, has to be provided by someone. It has its cost. There's no such thing as "free healthcare". Thus in order for them to have that "right", someone else must either be willing to work for free or be robbed at gun point.

Thus I rejected government due to its clear violation of freedom from coercion. Now I believe in the pure free markets, as something emergent from lack of coercion. Where there is trade there is no violence. One is fundamentally opposed to the other. However in a society so entangled with legitimized coercion it is hard to see where the market ends and government begins. It is hard to make out the effects of voluntary trade and the effects of coercion and violence. A lot of people call what there was in the USA as "free market capitalism" without paying any attention whatsoever to all the coercion that was still existent in it and creating its own effects. Thus they cannot distinguish between corporatism and capitalism.

Corporatism is capitalism regulated by the state, even if very little. It is a system which requires some or all businesses to register to the state in order to continue doing business and thus receive certain benefits from the state. The most obvious benefit is evident in such titles as "Limited Liability Company" (LLC) . Most people never see a problem in that. In fact they think of it as a necessity, yet what this essentially means is that a business is no longer 100% accountable to the market, to you the customer, and instead its liability is limited by the power of government. A government gives a corporation the power that would otherwise belong to you. That is the core of corporatism and carries within the sentiment that gave rise to large seemingly untouchable corporations which seem to have more power now than multiple states combined and are justly suspected of running the whole show by now.

It is the rejection of pure free market capitalism that created this situation. It wasn't too much free market. It was too little. It was the fact that it never was a 100% free market, even if it was 90%.

So we come, within the range of technology, to a world of Microsoft, Apple, IBM and other big corporations essentially shaping up the markets at will. People, same people who let the governments prop up these corporations through a series of small steps they took under a misled belief in "small sacrifice for the greater good", simply don't have enough of their own individuality and sense of self in them to require more power and more control. Thus they are easy prey to marketing that promises nothing but more convenience and more ease of use at the direct expense of lost control. And there is one company that are the masters at bringing you to into this mentality: Apple.

They seem to be the embodiment of this progression. Steve Jobs has merged the sensibilities of art with the function of technology to create an entire culture of people enamored by devices which seem more like magic than science. Magic, something you just can't and probably aren't supposed to know the inner workings of. This is a very dangerous thing to do within a culture of people so willing to give up their power whether for a vague idea of a "greater good" or for a little bit of convenience. When you have the love and trust of such people it's so easy to make them give up more and more and more, until you sell them devices that are almost completely controlled by you. Devices like iPhone or the iPad.

Reading that Cracked article and thinking about it made me, in a way, come full circle with regards to one thing. I used to have that extreme mistrust for people who sell you stuff you can't control and as the entire Free Software philosophy laid in ruins before my eyes as I turned towards the idea that if you agree upon something your freedom isn't lost I lost glimpse of a very subtle danger. It is easy to miss it in a world so duplicitous and ruined by this conflict between violent and voluntary interaction (government and the free market as it were).

It is the fact that the market will reflect the mentality and culture of the people. If the people are so easy to convince into giving up their power then they will do it in a multitude of ways. Perhaps buying an iPhone isn't as immediately harmful as voting for a law that creates a yet another victimless crime, but it is the reflection of the same mentality. They have gotten you so easily convinced that convenience must come at the expense of your personal power just as the government has gotten you convinced that security comes at the expense of liberty.

But it doesn't. Both are lies. One serves the profit of a multinational corporation at the expense of your power to choose and another the expanding power of your government over every aspect of your life.

Comments

 

As a security professional this article is a fair representation of what the world is coming to and how we are going to use technology to make the world a better place.

 

I think you make some great points. i am really impressed by your work.. good going all the best, keep it up

 

Good Article

Re: Of the powers we choose to lose

 

I'm not clear on the conclusion, as you hit upon like a dozen topics here...

Thankyou! Exactly what I was thinking. I need to get back to this and verify, but it looks cool. Caveat Scotch! Sorry.

 

Nice article, although I also did not get what your conclusion is, if any.

I also have read the discussion above, which was of great interest to me. And I can tell to everyone that there is really no need to go personal or anything, the discussion is very serious and about a very complex matter and you all raised good points. At no point did I feel that arguments of any of the side were bogus.

I would comment the article in this way.

Having thought a lot about free and proprietary software and having switched to GNU/Linux entirely and lived with what it can offer, I can say that I have obtained a very valued thing - experienced understanding about free and proprietary software. It is experience difficult to put into words, but what it does give me is a certain feeling that free software ideals do have something very important in them, in spite of all the idealism and whatever criticism that can be leveled against it, and that proprietary software does have certain sense to exist as well, in spite of all the problems it causes.

I understand that I can not offer any arguments or whatever, but this feeling, which comes from experience of living within these two different worlds is invaluable to me. It does provide me with insight which otherwise I would not get. Results of it are confusing to pure logic, but somehow it all makes sense. I would say it teaches me not to regard this issue in black and white, although I don't want to oversimplify my experience by simply saying things are gray. As I said, it is difficult to put into words, at least now.

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