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[libreplanet-discuss] Freedom versus formalcy

From: Steen Engholm
Subject: [libreplanet-discuss] Freedom versus formalcy
Date: Sat, 10 Oct 2015 21:08:06 +0200

From an old book about old times(1) it is described how a free peasant had the right to leave - that was the determinate consequence of being free.  It is perhaps the juristic axiom of freedom, and it does not encompass any consideration of what the peasant could do when he left.

Freedom can be associated with unrestrictedness.  For example, the common availability of internet acces is a sort of unrestrictedness that I can perceive of as an abundance.  This generality can be made more particular - what is the cost, what possible conditions are there for the subscriber, do I have a computer, what motives lies behind my subscription - and all these particulars shift the connotation from that of something unrestricted to something bound by many factors, a sort of matrix context.  The progressing formalcy of human relations(2) accentuate this praxis aspect.  And choosing the phraseology of 'free' and 'freedom' is to venture into the arena of rhetoric - even though it is common.(3)

Software is also a curious term.  Source code is a ressource different from a binary.  A program binary is a ressource, and what the majority of digital users consciously use.  Source code ressources consequence a different behaviour, and is in 99.9% of all cases a specialized and isolated praxis; the presumption being that the programmer will invariably use program binaries more often than occupying himself with the praxis of writing, editing, arranging or reading source code.  It seems semantically unfair to combine those two ressources into a common concept.  On the other hand this semantic conglomerate - software - do reflect a real chain of production.  It even seems source code is so specialized a ressource that it can only result in one kind of manufactured product.

I cannot come up with any parallel to this phenomenon.  From another perspective, source code can be seen as an intermediary product, a semi-manufacture, but it is bewildering that this 'spare-part' is so concise and unique that it has to be 'shipped' with each and every program.  The 'spare-part' perspective do reveal some common ground with the industrial and technological products.  I presume therefore that a professional technician might be able to find a parallel phenomenon.

These are semantic issues; the choice of using the phraseology of 'free' and 'freedom' and the ambiguous significance of the term 'software'. Now, to some context.

The consumer industry is a capitalist phenomenon.  It has characteristics of anarchy, central rule, oligarchy and democracy, but it is capitalist.

The idolatry of free software is easily transcribed into the idolatry of capitalism - and especially since this is a sort of normalcy.  The Open Source movement is not so hampered by the natural divergence between source code ressource and program binary ressource, even though these ressources are most often combined into one semantic concept (software).  The modularity of modern day industrial production is well established and the 'spare-part' characteristic of source code is, well at least implementable, via for example copyrights, patents and contract and license agreements.  Their phraseology also do not pertain to concepts of being free or freedom, for the time being.  The shared ressource, the "open source", is a professional theme, and not really important in the context of using the finished product, the program binary, but it is of importance in the service and maintenance.  The small niche for unsatisfaction, in regards the Open Source initiative, is contained in the private (third party) interest of being able to service and maintain program binaries.

As a Danish citizen I am naturally inclined to emphasizing digital normalcy as a viable descriptive concept.
 -)Digital governance is dependant on certain specific installations, such as a pdf-viewer and a browser that can process either _javascript_ or java.  The mechanism of authentication is well beyond something I can understand, but I guess it is proprietary.  So are too most browsers and pdf-viewers.  There is a real contrast between Danish digital governance and the ideas of the Free Software movement, but I am not sure that it is a contrast in principle.
 -)Pods, pads and tablets make use of touch screen technology.  It is a paradox, or a schism to predicate such technology 'interactive'.  The clickable or drawable 'mediators' comprise an expectation of interactivity typically directed towards humans or so called services.  In consequence, and in the midst of present day digital reality, it may be intellectually arduous to discern interactivity between man and machine from interactivity between humans.  I personally feel some estrangement towards this very widely distributed digital environment, but more relevant here is the glibness in the user interface and the apparent gloss over underlying technologies.  This screen-touch trend practically eliminate the endusers interest in and preoccupation with consumer hardware.
 -)The discrete prerequisites for digital governance and the schismatic interactivity are data-centres and datalink technologies.

Digital normalcy is a vaste of ressources, but it is also Life - and especially pronounced in Denmark.

The glibness of digital interfaces is easily associated with creativity and unrestrictedness.  It may even be obviously so, and to cognize the screen-touch technology with freedom is a small mental step. Also here it is not for me to say that there is a contrast in principle between programming for the screen-touch technology and programming under a free license.  The social and structural consequences of e-government and glib-glossed digital user interfaces are hard to fathom - they are overwhelming and massive phenomena on a par only anachronistically with what the juggernaut-metapher from "Das Kapital" was meant to signify.  It is convenient to refer these phenomena to capitalism and consumerism, meaning that especially understanding capitalism can lead to an understanding of these phenomena.  What may also further some understanding is the idea that formalcy between humans is a guiding principle.  Privileged welfare regions are also highly formalized as concerns the praxis of everyday living, with a host of keywords, such as schematized, rationalized, organized, institutionalized, integrated, educated, professionalized that more or less directly signify this.  The 'capitalist nations' provides a lot of freedom for their citizens, but in a formalized setting.  And, to speak of Nature is simply too much out of context - the natural environment is by inference excluded from the modern day affluent and popular Glasperlenspiel.


Free software is a great vision.  Digital technology is a real thing in a real world, a corporeal world, and history does not go away just because of some prognostic visions.  It is, then historic mechanisms, the inertia of social structures, that prevail.

The benefits of free software are: -) Enabling the enduser (everyone) to escape the consumer hustle and use digital equipment for some simple and practical tasks: Storing, viewing and editing various media formats, including plaintext, accessing the internet.  -) Enabling small to large scale digital cooperation to likewise escape the consumer hustle, by the native or indogenous development of software solutions.  -) In lieu of the professionalized expertise the amateur approach to technology has probably many drawbacks, and still it is the amateur that has to grapple with the numerous and inumerable thingys of today. Time is a factor, and slowness must be a valid option.  -) All the above prerequisite something that does not exist, namely an awareness of how capitalist logic sometimes seem to be the one and only viable way of existence. It is my oppinion, and generally speaking, that local initiatives must be able to surface, and contrariwise that a rhetorical approach to gainsay 'something' - be it open source, capitalism, normalcy or free software, slowness and amateurship - is always an attractive issue, but not always the most forthcomming.

 (1) Paul Vinogradoff, 1892. Villainage in England
 (2) den progressive formalisering af mellem-menneskelige relationer
 (3) "Freedom is everything, nothing else matters".
What the four points of freedom say is consistent with an engaged attitude in regards software. The leap of faith occur in the case of choosing between 'real' license projects, such as the Massachuttets Institute of Technology license or the Berkeley (University) license, or the 'unreal' license of GNU. Both kinds of license projects are actually and juristically real, both kinds enable shared collaboration. The troublesome difference is; for the 'real' license projects, that it is possible that there can be a proprietary spin-off. This possibility do not seem to be acutely important from the viewpoint of an already engaged programmer working in a shared collaborative project. So why not? For the 'unreal' license projects, that it is specifically forbidden to make a proprietary branch off the collaborative software project. But, when the shared branch is already established, then this engagement is realistically free, or open for acces in all perpetuity.
It is the concern for the popularity and distribution of proprietary software that lies behind the gnostic statement, that freedom is everything, nothing else matters.

Post Scriptum
  I am one of the endusers, and have used GNU software for the past more than 10 years. I can only express my gratitude towards the programmers, website administrators and others that has made it possible.

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