notebombs on free software, public services, intellectuals and parasites

December 21st, 2008 by Romeo Anghelache

Is your toilet economically sustainable?

Intrigued by Ubuntuism, commodification, and the software dialectic by Mike Chege, published on 1-st Dec 2008 in FirstMonday.

The author says:

free software is based on a philosophy of inclusion, cooperation, sharing, and openness, while the market is synonymous with self–interest, secretiveness, competition, and the exclusion of those who do not, or cannot, pay. The challenge of reconciling these two contradictory opposites is what constitutes the “software dialectic.”

So the question is, how does one reconcile these two contradictory opposites, commodification and Ubuntuism, so as to make free software economically viable while preserving the ideals of free software? This is the software dialectic.

I think this is a fake challenge, why should be free software economically viable? Free software is an intellectual activity, equivalent with watching an interesting movie and discussing it. Some talk poetry to their neighbors, some others talk poetry to the machine; some talk a language that humans understand, some talk a language (also designed by humans) that the machine (used by humans) understands.

Why ask for economic sustainability of free software? It’s like asking for economic sustainability of education or of toilets. Since when did “economy” became a law of nature? This “economical request” is an exaggeration coming from parasites: people who don’t dig the potatoes they’re eating but have the insolence to request money for their talking. That implies that some of us are made for “creativity” and some of us are made for potato digging, it is a master/slave attitude, especially when that “creativity” is solving only the economical problems of the “creative” ones. The burden of proof stays with those who pretend money for speech, not for those who see speech as a cheap gesture (the common evidence).

Today’s economy is not a wrapper around the physics of society. If it were, the economists would have been able to prevent the crises, or prevent the societies from feeling them, but they are not able. So the economists should take the backstage and learn how to make a science out of their activity. The market is a construction of words (the words of those with large enough capital), not a physical entity, and certainly not a mystical power.

Now, even using this mercantile vocabulary, how do the following prices make their companies economically sustainable? Adobe CS4 $1800, Windows Vista $320 , Office 2007 Pro $500.

Here’s how: there are two main categories of payers for these licenses,
1. clueless (or corrupt) suits in your government
2. you yourself, by paying the price of ad design even when you’re buying a toothpaste; that is you, the ignorant of what’s happening to you until it’s too late: you don’t understand anything about the machine that sits on your desk, the same way you forgot that milk comes from cows; most probably a Mac user.

Today, your government is sponsoring Adobe and Microsoft through the licensing mechanism (by “generously” installing on the public offices’ desks Microsoft+Adobe, rather than Ubuntu), but it should, instead, sponsor the GNU, Debian and FreeBSD projects. These projects form the infrastructure of practical democracy, they embody the free speech in its most accurate form. Your government/public administration should use them starting yesterday, these projects are offering fully-functional alternative solutions to the onerous pieces of bloatware mentioned above. You can test this statement easily, get Ubuntu on a live CD and play with it without making any modifications to your machine and see how’s it going, and, while at it, write a letter in OpenOffice to your public administration representative, asking him/her to end immediately the funding of Adobe and Microsoft. Then we can talk again about economic sustainability.

So, because what defines humanity prevails over if you prefer pork or more pork, the question of Mr. Chege should be reframed: how can we correct the market so that the free software ideals get preserved? Better yet, how should we redefine the market so that humans can survive it too?

The intellectuals (the authentic ones, not those who talk for money) should have noticed already that a public administration, by giving preference to proprietary software when free software is available to accomplish its public interest tasks, is, in fact, serving the self-interest of a smaller group of individuals (the “shareholders”): this practice is eroding the democracy and begs the question on the legitimacy of such a system/government, in other words, it supports corruption or incompetence or both. This applies to UN and EU too. How long do we have to pay incompetent people to “manage” these institutions’ software infrastructures?

Is your government economically sustainable?

Is your local economist economically viable?

Some questions only reveal the conceptual framework they belong to, the vocabulary they’ve been conceived with, the built-in limits of the answers-field.

I’ll quote a part of my comment below

Anyway, using free software is not just economically sustainable, but obviously more sustainable than any other alternative, while making it is not obviously sustainable. Exactly like (good) education, or wikipedia. They should be supported through taxes if we expect coherent results with a positive impact on society.

Why is the free software obviously sustainable? Because if you’re a programmer then you can maintain/modify it yourself, and, if you’re not a programmer, then:
1. you’re paying only for support, if you can’t figure it out from other people’s experience written on the web (with proprietary software you pay also for using it);
2. people who are getting the support can learn something from that, this knowledge becomes common knowledge in the long run (with proprietary software, the knowledge gets lost completely along with the initial investment)

So the bottom line is: asking for the sustainability of free software is identical to asking for the sustainability of your own language.

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