Well, I’ve never kept a “blog”, and I’m still trying to decide whether I can tolerate the name, or feel compelled to insist on “weblog”. In any case, though, I think it is appropriate to provide a first post which tells a little bit about me, so that in the future, people can refer to it.
My interest in free software is primarily “pragmatic”. I’m hardly a fanatic about the concept, just as I am generally not idealistic about economic systems. I have seen quite enough of a world in which a "mostly capitalist but highly socialized" country rails endlessly against a "mostly communist, but with a substantial capitalist marketplace" country and each threatens the other, and all the bystanders in between, with nuclear annihilation. It seemed stupid to me then, and it still does. Such issues are pragmatic problems which have real consequences for the people affected by them, but they are not worthy, in my humble opinion, of that kind of dogmatic political fanaticism.
And I feel the same way about what I like to call (in full) “free-licensed open-source software”. Whether people prefer to call their compulsion to produce such work “ethical” or “enlightened self-interested” seems neither to matter nor to be particularly accurate nor particularly distinct. It can be argued that all "ethical" decisions are really grounded in enlightened self-interest as surely as it can be that enlightened self-interest requires ethical decision making.
So while I have come to recognize certain world-view differences between those who prefer the didactic and parochial approach of drawing people into a “free software” culture and ideology, versus the liberal and inclusive approach of the “open source” movement which strives to show the benefits of the free-licensing of software in the light of multiple (and mostly other) ideologies, I can’t say I really buy into the idea that they are in any substantive way separate. I regard them as two views on the same idea, and the fact that their “definitions” differ are not due to fundamental differences of objective, as some have suggested, but rather of differences of implementation of what are in fact the same goals.
What does interest me particularly, is that I find it fairly clear that while software (meaning computer programs) represents a particularly compelling case for the value of free-licensing, there are many other areas of Human endeavor for which free-licensing strategies hold great promise. In particular, I believe that in the coming interplanetary era, when our present ideas about the efficiency of centralized manufacturing of corporate goods combined with cheap global shipping will be completely turned on their heads, an economy of free-licensed design combined with localized manufacturing from local materials will become almost inevitable.
“Almost”, because there is an alternative: the proprietary alternative. We could become a solar system society of people who deal in information, charging license fees for virtually every idea that can be codified in language or drawn on a page. A society in which every thought, every sentence, every possible piece of innovation is taxed to fuel an onslaught of monster corporations loosed from the bounds of the Earth to wreak havoc on the future of Mankind. As technology becomes ephemeralized, the entire economy will become like the present software economy, with even fewer limits on the polarization it can reach.
Nice thought, huh? Well, that’s why I really want to see an alternative developed. I don’t want to see a future of Outland-style company mining towns or glass palaces in which “rigorous psychological profiling” is used to determine whether citizens can be allowed to participate in society, lest some dangerous non-conformity threaten the fragile shells that our “benevolent dictators” would put us in.
For those who don’t know
Gerard O’Neill proposed such psychological profiling in The High Frontier, and he himself referred to his own lack of understanding of politics and regarded his plans as for execution “by a benevolent dictator”. I actually have a lot of respect for both O’Neill and his book for their technical concepts, but sociologically, I don’t think it’s a realistic or prudent future that he depicts.