Felix Stalder on Sun, 16 Dec 2001 20:57:01 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] RE: <nettime> The Fading Altruism of Open Source Development

Kermit Snelson wrote:

>But then Felix goes on to call the law "a great Open Source project."
>Although it's clear to me that he intended this statement to serve only as a
>qualified analogy, I think it's politically important for the record to show
>that this is far from being the case in practice.

I entirely agree with your qualifications. Indeed, I intended the law
analogy as a very partial one. Besides the limitations that you point out,
there are obviously further aspects that make the legal system very
different from Open Source. Perhaps the most important is that in many
cases only members of a select group,  e.g. barred lawyers, are allowed to
practice the law. There is a clear, and vigorously maintained, difference
between professionals and lay people. The same difference exists in closed
source software. In the open source community, however, the boundaries
between developers and users are sliding and primarily dependent on dynamic
knowledge and commitment, rather than on static certification. This, I
think,  is a really important factor in the vitality of the movement.

The reason why I brought up the shaky analogy to law is to highlight that
there are other areas of our society that are based on a public knowledge
base (with the qualifications you added) and that this does not preclude,
for the better or worse, their inclusion into the main stream and nor their
economic viability.

Indeed, one could argue that many of the most sensitive aspects of a
democracy are based on publicly accessible knowledge (at least in theory)
and that it might be time to include the emerging information
infrastructure into this category. What a democracy needs is transparency,
accountability and participation, and open source can contribute to this on
a technical level.

Keith Hart wrote:

>The opposition selfish/altruistic is depressing because it speaks of a huge
>gap between the individual and society. This corresponds to our experience,
>where we are told on the one hand that each of us is a unique subjective
>personality, while society is a mass of remote objects governed by forces
>we neither understand nor can influence. The task of personal development
>and social organisation is rather to find way ways of integrating the two,
>the individual and the collective, self-in-the-world.

When I talked about 'selfish' versus 'altruistic' motivations of open
source contributors,  I took them as opposites which are usually regarded
as mutually exclusive. What I meant was that the way the process is
currently organized there is no real difference between the two, or, to be
more precise, the difference is on the level of the personal input, rather
than in the systemic output. In other words, no matter why you produce open
source code, the result is always open source code, which someone else can
you to whatever purpose she sees fit. Because the code is open, it is
impossible to program a hidden agenda into open source code, in the way MS
software is rumored  to have hidden backdoors and secret keys. This, to
some degree, keeps the software neutral and prevents personal motivations
to be translated into code that would conflict with the motivations of
other members of the community.

There is a long-standing discussion over whether Open Source is left wing
or a right wing movement which also crept up in this thread.

Florian Cramer wrote:
>Many Free Software developers I know have left-wing political views though
>and see work on Free Software as unalienated labour for which they are
>willing to make economical sacrifices.

To which oliver frommel replied:
> many software developers I know have right-wing libertarian views.

And I'm sure there are many open source developers who are totally

What I'm trying to understand is this: Does the shift from an impersonal
commodity to a personal service relationship (on the economic level)
combined with an abundant pool of resources and a task so complex that it
is managed most effectively in a collaborative way, does this to some
degree mitigate otherwise competing interests between the 'self' and the

It is certainly not a given, but perhaps the open source experience shows a
way into this direction.


Les faits sont faits.

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