Open source, terrorism, politics and Zen

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This is a slightly different post this week. I haven’t found anything of technical note to talk about and only discovered some of the power of Ruby on Rails this week, but have not had the chance to explore it much, but on the surface it looks awesome.

What I did discover while checking things out in cyberspace is three interesting open source models for different areas. War, politics and religion. Just the stuff we like to discuss at the dinner table. No doubt there are many blogs on open source sex, but that’s a dinner table conversation I’m not going to cover today.

I had been thinking about the South African government’s free software IT policy, which I blogged about that a couple weeks ago, and it lead to mighty old England. I see that the UK opposition party, the Conservatives, have been talking about open source and open source Politics. That’s Politics with a capital p.

George Osborne, UK Conservative Shadow Chancellor, has been speaking recently about some very interesting Open Source initiatives including opening all government contracts to public googling so that UK taxpayers can see where their money goes. It’s a democratizing of information initiative. He also supports the growth of open source Politics through citing the power of online social networking and US politics. Senator Barack Obama, a presidential candidate for the upcoming elections, already has 300,000 supporters on Facebook and has even set up his own social networking site

One of the more interesting drifts in Osborne’s thinking goes to the idea of opening the political process to a more open source model. He says, open source politics means rejecting the old monolithic top-down approach to decision-making. It means throwing open the doors and listening to new ideas and new contributors. It means harnessing the power of mass collaboration. And rather than relying on the input of a few trusted experts, it means drawing on the skills and expertise of millions.

Seems somewhat democratic.

On a more negative use of the open source model I ran across a site called Global Guerrillas by John Robb and he examines how international terrorists are using the open source model for their war against the West.

It certainly always seemed to me that the concept of independent terrorist cells and an Al Queda fundamentalist philosophy propagated throughout the net would make for a formidable force provided that philosophy could attract supporters. It seems to have done so and also seems somewhat successful.

John’s blog uses Eric Raymond’s The Cathedral and the Bazaar as the model. Here’s the first three factors he assesses. I’ve pulled these from his site so you may want to go and read his article to see more.

  1. Release early and often. Try new forms of attacks against different types of targets early and often. Don’t wait for a perfect plan.
  2. Your co-developers (beta-testers) are your most valuable resource. The other guerrilla networks in the bazaar are your most valuable allies. They will innovate on your plans, swarm on weaknesses you identify, and protect you by creating system noise.
  3. Given a large enough pool of co-developers, any difficult problem will be seen as obvious by someone, and solved. Eventually some participant of the bazaar will find a way to disrupt a particularly difficult target. All you need to do is copy the process they used.

The open source model for terrorism is quite a frightening idea in that it is probably the most difficult model to fight because there is no central control. The very thing that makes open source software development a positive, makes it a negative in a negative activity. The scary thing is the success of the model.

On another note, somewhat more peaceful religious approaches are also adopting the model. One of the more high profile is the Open Source Judaism project started by author Douglas Rushkoff, winner of the first Neil Postman award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity. The Open Source Judaism project is an attempt to open up the religion to disaffected Jews and use new media technologies to reinterpret the faith in a way accessible and relevant in the 21st century. In essence, it’s a blogging spot for those of this faith to use more modern technologies to engage in religious debate.

I think a more open open source religious movement, that is less religious and more philosophical, is Zen Buddhism. Probably the closest I can find to a true open model. There is no financial hierarchical structure or support for new Zen centers. Like the terrorist cells, all of them are self-sustaining and work from a shared philosophical viewpoint passed down amongst the members. Unlike the terrorists, however, the Buddhists work towards easing suffering rather than causing it. The resident Roshi may have a lineage that has been passed down through the ages much like working off a GNU/Linux distribution and enhancing it through local activity. The local group called a Sangha meets and supports itself and investigates the practice of Zen together much like a bunch of developers. They practice Zen, enhance their lives and go out and help to ease suffering in others and also very subtly and calmly bring the peace of Buddhism into the world. Buddhism is probably the first open source model and the oldest by far. Two and half thousand years old in fact.

That’s what I was finding this week in the open source world. The model is spreading and the world is collaborating. Let’s hope we collaborate positively.



Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I think you're confusing "terrorism" with "guerrilla warfare". Those principles quoted from Eric Raymond are certainly apt when you consider the resourcefulness of the insurgents in Iraq, but those people are not terrorists, they are fighting a war. It's a multi-sided war, between different Iraqi factions and also against the US and its allies who invaded their country. But it's a war, nonetheless.

Terrorists, on the other hand, don't fight wars. They're not interested in any of the goals of warfare, they're just out to terrorize people.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro

axels's picture
Submitted by axels on

Recently the liberal party in Belgium ( dutch - Flemish speaking part of Belgium )named "VLD" "vrije liberaal democraten" - "free liberal democrats" - changed the name of their party to " Open VLD"

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

The real terrorists are the people who terrorize for financial, power or egocentric motives, and at times rally others to a hopeless cause. Insurgents become terrorists when they refuse to negotiate on a fair-playing field, or refuse to listen to a logical counter-argument.

All others are just followers, and are just defending their own little causes, whatever it may be - i.e. autonomy of a region (Revolutionaries vs. England), fervent support of their religious beliefs (abortion-clinic bombers), or just avenging the needless death of their friends and family (Palestinian suicide bombers). But same rules apply as insurgents.

And straying away from that topic, just like nuclear technology can be used for good and evil, so can open-source insurgency. I think we need to develop the field, perhaps write a few more books on techniques and such, you know, in preparation for when the machines attack. We're already getting all manners of autonomous military hardware taking over the roles of human personnel. We also have an administration that comes down heavily on dissenters, and wants to launch unilateral wars without the approval of the greater majority. How long before our elected officials and their automated military turn on us the citizens?

If anything, the NRA should be leading the field in this.

Just my two cents.

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Chris Holt specializes in consulting for Government and NGO public health and social services organizations about software to assist with case management and patient management systems.
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