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Re: awareness + flexibility + security

From: Marcus Brinkmann
Subject: Re: awareness + flexibility + security
Date: Tue, 15 Nov 2005 06:53:52 +0100
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At Mon, 14 Nov 2005 11:45:32 -0500,
"Jonathan S. Shapiro" <address@hidden> wrote:
> I want to suggest an analogy that may be thought provoking.
> Prior to the invention of the printing press, duplication of documents
> was incredibly expensive. As a practical matter, it was available only
> to governments and members of the aristocracy. If you look at the
> documents that were widely duplicated, many of them can be seen as tools
> of social control.
> The printing press changed this. Later, the web changed it further. But
> if you had evaluated the social benefit of duplication prior to the
> printing press, you would have concluded that it was basically an
> anti-freedom technology.

I want to add a thought which may be even more thought provoking.  The
situation hasn't really changed all that much.  Although production of
the content in small and medium quantities is now affordable for
everyone, marketing and distribution is not.

The distribution channels for books, CDs, DVDs, cinematic movies, etc,
are all tightly in the hand of large corporations.  These corporations
exercise their power for, yes, social control.  The content that is
distributed in masses has gone through many filters of corporate
self-censorship (passive selection), or has in fact been produced
actively by the corporation for corporate interests ("pop stars").

> In the end, open source will not succeed or fail with the masses on the
> strength of its moral position. The masses mostly don't care. Open
> source will succeed or fail because it is better, more agile, more
> responsive, and more robust. GPL is a very effective tool for building
> collaborations, which is why it sits underneath so much good code. If
> you go out and say to people "give bits away because it is right", they
> will mostly laugh at you. If you go out and say "give bits away because
> it serves to accomplish something you care about" you stand a chance of
> success.

This is highly disputable.  The masses may not care _now_, but they
certainly can care, and they may care if they are educated on the
issue, against the corporate propaganda.  It is true that this issue
is probably way down on most people's list of priorities, for
understandable reasons.  But it is something that is bound to happen.
Mass mobilization has happened before, it can and will happen again.
See for example the environmental movement, or women emancipation.

If you go out and say to people "give bits away because it is right",
and then they laugh at you, then you may have just made your case
poorly.  You didn't reply to my earlier mail which quoted Eben Moglen
on the subject of our moral responsibilities to share the information
and culture we have, if we can do so at marginal cost.  This is a
strong moral argument, and from my experience most people find it very
hard to laugh it off.

People, all people, are highly social and moral beings.  Morality is
part of the human nature, and it's very hard to remove from any
individual.  People don't laugh at such issues, but take them
seriously.  At least this is my experience.  I know that the _initial_
reaction of many people is often disbelief or even scorn, but if the
alternatives are presented in full, and it is shown how they are
already in effect and working today, they start to reconsider the
issue very quickly.

This pattern is not at all particular to the free software movement.
It is the general pattern that every movement experiences that stands
up against power.  People laughed at the idea that women should be
allowed to vote.  People laughed at the idea that "negroes" are
actually real people with real feelings and real intellects.  People
laughed at the idea that the exploitation of the earth by humans can
happen at an unsustainable scale.  Each and every time they changed
their minds when they escaped the narrow doctrine of the dominant


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