nettime's digester on Tue, 18 Dec 2001 19:57:53 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> The Fading Altruism of Open Source Development

Re: <nettime> The Fading Altruism of Open Source Development
     jaromil <>
     Felix Stalder <>

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Date: Sun, 16 Dec 2001 19:26:43 +0100
From: jaromil <>
Subject: Re: <nettime> The Fading Altruism of Open Source Development

On Wed, Dec 12, 2001 at 12:39:49AM -0500, Felix Stalder wrote:

> I never understood why people think of Open Source in terms of
> _altruism_.  Perhaps, it's due to some confusion related to the
> "saintly" image of Richard Stallman, but it's the completely wrong
> approach and shows a very limited understanding of economic
> relationships where things are more varied than than selling things
> vs giving them away.

On Fri, Dec 14, 2001 at 11:37:51PM -0800, Kermit Snelson wrote:

> The open source paradigm should not be identified with altruism.
> This was Felix's main point, and I very much agree.  I also agree
> that software developers, like lawyers, can make a good living by
> selling their time rather than licensing their product.  This is
> hardly news, however.  (And the example of US legal celebrities such
> as Alan Dershowitz and Melvin Belli shows that the path to true
> riches in the law lies not on billable hours, but on widely
> distributed and copyrighted product.)

By reading David Lancashire's article and by following this thread i
still don't understand if you're voluntarily blurring differences
between "free software" and "open source" or you are simply ignorant:
in the latter case please refer to and ; to be sure you
have it clear, i quote here a brief statement from the second

 The GNU GPL embodies the firm philosophy of the free software
 movement; it doesn't come from the open source movement. I am not a
 supporter of the open source movement, and never have been. 
                                                   (Richard Stallman)

Once cleared such a crucial difference for the discussion i'd like to
add my point of view about free software: _it is_ altruism, it has a
philosophical background which is a solid spark in a free software
developer's mind; furthermore motivation is given as well by the
possibility to learn from and reuse code of other experienced
programmers willing to share knowledge and much is done also by a
development framework which finally _works_ as it should (and it's
free[1]! anybody here knows about the costs a programmer had to
sustain to distribute bytecode produced with a reliable compiler,
about 10 years ago? anyone ever read about the industrial revolution
and the role property of production systems played into it?); it's
about the pleasure to research into a field one is sincerely
interested, about the craftmanship spirit of self production which is
dramatically disappearing IRL substituted by mass-production

Free software is about solidarity, quoting Richard Stallman in one of
his first theorizations on free software:

 Why I Must Write GNU

 I consider that the golden rule requires that if I like a program I
 must share it with other people who like it. Software sellers want to
 divide the users and conquer them, making each user agree not to
 share with others. I refuse to break solidarity with other users in
 this way. I cannot in good conscience sign a nondisclosure agreement
 or a software license agreement. For years I worked within the
 Artificial Intelligence Lab to resist such tendencies and other
 inhospitalities, but eventually they had gone too far: I could not
 remain in an institution where such things are done for me against my

 So that I can continue to use computers without dishonor, I have
 decided to put together a sufficient body of free software so that I
 will be able to get along without any software that is not free. I
 have resigned from the AI lab to deny MIT any legal excuse to prevent
 me from giving GNU away.


                                 "The GNU Manifesto", Richard Stallman
               Copyright (C) 1985, 1993 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
                          Permission is granted to anyone to make or
                          distribute verbatim copies of this document.

and of course it's about reputation which i would'nt define
"ego-boost": i see such a phenomenon much more present in other
contexts which right here i see engaging the katartical exercise of
blurring a different philosophy to make it easier to reach.

enfin, to mark distances, i must state "je ne parle pas logique, je
parle generosite" : this answer Andre Breton gave in an analog
situation makes me once again comfortable in underlying the
differences i see in our languages, and approaches.

[1] Free software is a matter of freedom, not price; the word "free"
has to be intended in this way here. Furthermore, referring to the
wrong assumption by Keith Hart in this thread:
> The open source movement is split on the issue of exchange and money
> payment. Those who follow the Free Software Foundation appear
> consider that any hint of money and exchange, even of reciprocity,
> leads directly to unacceptable compromise with capitalism.
refer to to have a clear
point about the free-speech / free-beer issue.

jaromil  ][   ][  GnuPG _key__id_
EDEE F1B9 DC92 76C0 6D46  D77A 58B0 82D6 (5B6E 6D97)

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Date: Sun, 16 Dec 2001 14:56:56 -0500
From: Felix Stalder <>
Subject: 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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