Begging the Software Gods

Why do we have to beg the software companies to provide the functionality when we can take our fate into our own hands?

Kneel before your (Greek) God
Image by Dave Smith via Flickr

There is a frustrating phenomenon that I notice amongst many technology enthusiasts and general users, the conditioning to pathetically expect new progress from the software companies. All too often I see someone claiming to be a fan, asking, pleading, begging, wishing, warning or even threatening any software company so that they would implement a feature that they wish for.

This is the mentality of a slave. It shows that one is happy simply wait for the enlightened elite to provide them with what they believe they need. The only difference exists in how much that elite listen to their “peasants'” voices. You have many web2.0 companies which are very open to their community and you have others which are so absolutely haughty and elite that what they give you, they expect you to like.

But why do people willingly put themselves in this situation? I guess it is it they do not wish to trouble themselves too much. All that a software company requires of them is their continuous supply of money (or presence & support, in the case of web2.0 ones) and they promise to take care of everything you ever wished for. You just rest your little heads..

One wonders, would these same people willingly put themselves under “socialist” dictatorship? If not, why? Doesn’t that work in the same way as any of those software companies? Wouldn’t these dictators work with your own best interests in mind, if only you gave them your money? Wouldn’t it be possible to even modify their actions if you begged, pleased, warned or threatened enough?

‘Aha’ you will say ‘But I can at any point switch software with ease. I can vote with my wallet I can! If those companies don’t listen to my wishes I can just choose another piece of software instead. I don’t need them, they need me!’

So tell me, are you truly free, when all you have is a freedom to choose between masters? Won’t any other company be like this as well? Perhaps a bit more “consoling” to your betrayed soul, but ultimately the same? Would you be any more free if you could at any point leave your “socialist” dictatorship if there were only more of them to select from?

And what if there isn’t anywhere to go to? What if your continued support all these years has made that dictatorship so big that it has swallowed all others and now it’s either that, go live alone or start your own little commune and have only the bare basics compared to what you had before?

And what if they won’t even let you leave? What if the borders are closed and your property simply licensed to you? What if the only way to leave an oppressive dictatorship like that is to simply discard all your earthly belongings and simply leave with just the clothes on your back?

But this is what a propriertary software will try to do. Either it will be so unique that you simply cannot chose something else and you must continue paying like a good little worker or They will not let you take anything with you because of closed formats and the like.

  • Until Open Office came around, what alternative was there if one wished to move away from MS Office, say because it lacked a certain feature and MS refused to implement it or because it was simply too expensive?
  • When you leave facebook, can you take anything with you?
  • Can’t Google cancel your account at any point, without having to give you any excuse or letting you take anything back?
  • Isn’t Photoshop basically your only option as a professional graphic designer?

It is especially worrying to see people not only gladly place their own shackles but to excitedly support some of the most oppressive companies ever. Apple and its fanboys are the one that perplex me the most. There is truly here a cult of personality the kind of which any fascism regime would be proud off. The supporters will blindly trust in the wisdom of Jobs and Apple and buy and swallow any junk they throw their way, as if it were nectar. The fact that their shackles are the strongest and most numerous of them all does not matter, simply because they are also the most shiny.

But what are the alternatives? Well, like any dictatorship has its antonym in free democracy, so does proprietary software has it’s antonym in Free/Libre Software.
Do you remember my example of that little group of people who wished to escape from the dictatorship they lived under? They did. They did leave everything behind and went on to create their own little community. But they were wise, for they knew that it was only a matter of time until their society ended up like the one they fled from.
Thus, they created a constitution, a manifesto, call it what you like, which prevented them and their successors from doing just that.

That manifesto was the GNU General Public License and while they started only with their hands and the clothes on their back, their little community grew and prospered and started to draw freedom-loving people who fled from proprietary dictatorships all over the world.

Whereas a software company decides what you will have with varying degrees of input from you, the GPL community does not decide at all. Any member can have what he wants, provided that they work to get it. It is simply not possible to stop anyone from making the software do what he wants if he really wants it, unlike a proprietary software which you cannot change unless allowed to (through begging, asking, pleading etc).

Is this a harder road? Most definitely. But it is the only road that preserves your freedom. And nobody ever said that freedom is easy. Quite the contrary, freedom has always required hard work and struggle to sustain from the people comprising. From the bottom-up. But the fruits of it are always much sweeter.

The only thing you get easy, from people who make all the choices for you, is simply the illusion of freedom. And this is exactly what you get with proprietary software. And even that goes away eventually.

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Dissecting the Libertarian mind

Right-Libertarians tend to use to most misguided way of perceiving reality. Starting from their morals and denying all facts which do not agree with them.

There Is No Alternative to global free-market ...
Image by charles.hope via Flickr

Disclaimer: When in this post I write about Libertarians, I mean Right-Libertarian

My recent posts on Capitalism, “Free Market” and the subsequent heated discussions with Libertarian ((or possibly Objectivist, I can never be sure but I think it was mostly the former as they weren’t arrogant or rude enough)) stormtroopers let me to an insight which you all now have to suffer through.

The thing is this: Libertarians are staunch supporters of unregulated Capitalism along with unrestricted personal freedom. They insist on non-aggression and only on specific government intervention, generally only enough to protect the basis of Capitalism: Private Property.

And here we reach our first problem. Every time I’ve discussed with Libertarians, they explain these wonderful concepts,  they drill me on my freedom-loving, and eventually we get to arguing economics.

Now a peculiar difference in methodology appears.

My Way

I am a (far) left-libertarian. I’ve reached this position by at some point in my life wondering “How can the world become better?” ((I can already hear the questions coming to ask me how I define what is better and why should it be my opinion that counts. *Sigh*)). This question coloured the research I did and the answers I sought.

I moved gradually to the left because I noticed that Capitalism is the only economic force in the world and yet it’s totally incapable of solving even the worst of our problems. Indeed, our situation is only deteriorating. My opinion is more nuanced than that of course but this is what I’ve discovered from looking at a broken capitalistic socioeconomic system and continuously asking the same question.

Once I figure out a few ways with which the world can become better, I modify my morality to be compatible with them.

The Libertarian Way

The Libertarian starts from the premise: “(Negative) Freedom is good” and then builds his whole belief system with ways to achieve more of this freedom. For it naturally follows, if freedom is good, then when the largest amount of humans have the maximum amount of freedom, the world will be the best it can be. Thus anything that is compatible with more freedom, must be good as well.

But their premise is unargued for. They never turn to ask: Why is Freedom good? Or, if they do, they start running around in circles with their rest of their beliefs. For example:

  • The “Free Market” is good because it can create a lot of wealth for some people and that should be allowed because to do otherwise would be to restrict one’s freedom which is not good because it is not compatible with the only thing that is works in the world, the “Free Market”.
  • Capitalism is good because it is the only thing that is compatible with the human nature of greed which is good because Capitalism requires it to work.

I think you get the point.

This was made especially clear in my recent discussion with a member of the audience who, while arguing that current mainstream economics are based on the scientific method (they’re not), informed me that Libertarians do not base their morality upon the superiority of those but rather, their belief is simply reinforced by them working (theoretically).

Thus, the Libertarians simply start from the conclusion and then finds beliefs to reinforce it. They have formed their morality and are choosing to believe whichever data are compatible with it.

Needless to say, such a take on reality and morality is not only misguided but it is diametrically opposite to the scientific and sceptical thought. The human mind’s ability to see the hits and ignore the misses is well known and understood, and this is why in order to even have a chance of finding the correct position, we need to start from the observation.

So Libertarians, I implore you. Ask yourself: Why is (negative) freedom good? Try to answer this question without running around in circles with the “Free Market” and the like. You will eventually discover that the only philosophy which attempted to truly base this moral grounding is Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. And she has failed miserably.

If you do believe you can defend a morality  centered around negative freedom, by all means jump in and let me know why I’m wrong.

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Egalitarianism VS Freedom

Black and Red Star of Anarcho-Syndicalism

In my recent conversation with a…err…”political moderate”, a fundamental difference in opinions surfaced which I think is what caused most of the friction. Specifically it is the classic collision that occurs between a free market libertarian and a Libertarian Socialist.

Our conversation started with me explaining if I am a supporter of personal freedoms and very soon I was being drilled on why I support them but I don’t support the freedom of people to amass capital. Even as I was explaining that such freedom creates inequality and exploitation I was indirectly being accused of hypocrisy (which was incidentally a trigger point to take this publicly).

There was a tacit understanding by my opponent that I was somehow as supportive of (the same type of) freedom as he was and thus, by not supporting economic freedom I was being hypocritical. Indeed, thinking about the way this conversation took place I get the impression tha Oolon was attempting to make me realize this perceived dissonance in my opinion and thus abandon such views.

However what Oolon and generally libertarians do not understand is that for me (and I guess for the rest of the left-libertarian movement – feel free to correct me on this) it is not liberty (or more accurately, negative liberty) that is my highest value or priority, it is egalitarianism or positive liberty and while I do consider negative liberty as a worthy goal and will be willing to cooperate with free market libertarians to achieve it, it will definitely take the back seat when it conflicts with egalitarianism.

Libertarians love to scream “bloody oppression” when such views are expressed and this is what really gets me annoyed. I can only take so many accusations that “I am trying to force my morality on others” or that I am trying to take away freedoms when I am attempting to achieve the exact opposite: Promote the most freedom for the largest amount of people.

Thus our fundamental difference once again comes down to the classic Egalitarianism VS Freedom or Positive VS Negative Liberty and if we are to have any meaningful discussion, it is this part that we need to argue for the rest of our argument stems from it.

There is no point in expressing my opinion on one policy and have the libertarian exclaim “Aha! But you’re taking away my freedom.” I.Don’t.Care. By allowing you that freedom it would mean that inequality would once again occur and people would suffer as a result. I do not care for your repugnant beliefs that the people are not entitled to escape suffering and if you call me authoritarian one more time I will smack you.

Our freedoms need already to be curtailed in some aspects in order to have a working society. Thus, among others, you do not have the freedom to pay people below the minimum wage and you do not have the freedom to freely pollute your own property. And finally, you do not have the freedom to relinquish your own freedom.

Incidentally this is similar to the classic disagreement between the BSD Licenses and GNU GPL. The BSDs are always accusing the Free Software movement that they are not as free as them because they do not allow the freedom to take away the freedom. GPL is about providing positive freedom while BSD is about proviging negative freedom. The type of freedom that BSD espouses is what enabled Microsoft to get and then grip the market with their Active Directory implementation of LDAP & Kerberos.

It is in a similar way that negative liberty is abused, even without the initiation of force. This is what free market libertarians fail to consider. Things like monopolies, worker exploitation etc are the results and they end up hurting everyone.

On the other hand, what Egalitarianism is about, is not making all people achieve the same (which is again a misunderstanding of the concept) but allowing all people the same freedoms no matter their abilities or social standing. Egalitarianism is not about putting overachievers down, but rather in making sure that inequality is not created because of it.

For example, it is of not unfair if a person making 1M a year is taxed at 80% in order to enable people making 20K to be taxed 10%. The former is still filthy rich and the later can have a comfortable life without struggling for subsistence.

But why is egalitarianism of higher priority than freedom? Because through egalitarianism people truly have a choice in their lives. It allows people to do what they do best even if under capitalism that is not profitable. It makes people happier and it allows people to discard fear which further serves as a catalyst for discarding religion. And most importantly, it is self-sustaining.

When people learn to cooperate in this manner it is difficult for it to change. Cooperative people have already the necessary mentality to unite and oppose creeping inequality and authoritarianism. Free Market Libertarians OTOH, classically with a “Every man for himself” mentality, are doomed to play the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

So dear libertarians and political moderates, if you’re going to debate me on such issues you’re better trying to convince me why Negative liberty is superior to Egalitarianism. Anything else can only end in frustration.

Debate with a libertarian in denial

Stage Two

By Zeus’ golden rain! Can anyone explain to me why I recently seem to attract all the crusaders of capitalism? It seems like every other post I make I’m battling with Objectivists, libertarians, anarcho-capitalists and the like. Did someone stick a “Ask me about Communism!” sticker on my back when I wasn’t looking? Fuck, I don’t even enjoy talking about this stuff.

Stage Two
CC - Credit: NinaMyers

By Zeus’ golden rain! Can anyone explain to me why I recently seem to attract all the crusaders of capitalism? It seems like every other post I make I’m battling with Objectivists, libertarians, anarcho-capitalists and the like. Did someone stick a “Ask me about Communism!” sticker on my back when I wasn’t looking? Fuck, I don’t even enjoy talking about this stuff.

So recently I’ve been having a lively discussion with a member of the Atheist Nexus who contated me via email and initiated a discussion by innocuously asking me some basic questions on freedoms (such as if I support ban on smoking or drugs). The nature of the questions was somehow suspicious as I’ve been very clear generally on my support for personal freedoms in the fora but I decided to answer anyway.

As I expected, soon enough the questions turned to accusations of me not allowing the same freedom for economy that I allow to persons and that somehow makes me a hypocrite and a “moral facist” [1. The later description is just my way to describe the classic accusation all libertarians seem to make, with annoying frequency, of “pushing our morality upon them”] and things only started getting downhill from there…

The main gist of Oolon’s “I’m not a libertarian” Colluphid was that absolutely unregulated freedom is the best thing that can ev4r happen. All my arguments were either equivocated or handwaved away as irrelevant or inconsequential.

  • Positive Freedom? There’s no such thing. It’s “entitlement” and you’re stealing money to achieve it
  • Wage Slavery? It’s not that. You always have a choice to switch jobs and just because you’re unhappy with your work it does not mean that you’re entitled to something better.
  • Tragedy of the commons? It’s not really a problem and besides, Capitalism can deal with it…somehow.
  • Hard working people being impoverished? Impossible! They’re just lazy. Prove it to me otherwise!
  • Inequality? This will never change so we might as well look to ourselves.(why is this such a favorite response from capitalists?)

Generally the classic libertarian lollipop where the pertaining notion is that Free Market knows best and all concerns to the contrary are trivialized. I even had my example of one getting a work that exploits them because of desperation, compared to…taking out the garbage!

This is precisely the reason why I don’t enjoy these debates. Whenever I state my arguments, people seem to enjoy jumping on their high horse and calling me an authoritarian. I am accused of not understanding the “human nature” (which will of course, never-ever change) without them ever recognising that, without this “human nature” changing, their system is even worse.

For my part, I generally agree with Ebonmuse’s “Why I’m not a libertarian” series from which I often take many of the arguments whenever I’m faced with these discussions. I also have a few other arguments that Ebonmuse did not tackle, such as the possibility for monopolies to form in a libertarian environment (which another A|N member believes are only formed because of goverment intervention, as silly as that sounds).

In general this email debate covered all the bases: Poor people are lazy, I misunderstand economics, I am a moral fascist, capitalism is a natural as evolution etc.
It also touched on two issues I would like to tackle:

At some point in our discussion Oolon revealed his favorable future

There’s no two ways about it. Either we follow the majority’s economic “ideals” or we follow the minority’s. I don’t see why it should be the later.

False dichotomy. We can let the government set back, enforce basic laws and let society for itself. Nothing it stopping you from forming a commune and living a socialist lifestyle in my capitalist country however in a socialist country I can’t own and operate a private business

Why is forming a commune perfectly fine but if that commune becomes large enough to include the whole nation that is not fine? If a capitalist does not want to live in a commune he does not have to get in it, but if the majority of people in a country want to form a commune, they somehow can’t? What if that commune I form grows so much as to include all other citizens of the country? Wouldn’t that be the same thing?
Oolon, is not about allowing freedom, he is all about getting his own way. If somehow all other humans on the planet wanted to live in a grand planet-wide commune, then Oolon would feel that he is being oppressed.

That is, unfortunately, a classic sentiment I’ve seen libertarian express (which I’m just certain, Oolon isn’t). It should be either their way or nothing at all – and this is why I am always left with the impression that they’re just spoiled brats…

However Oolon has another conflict that he may have perhaps not noticed. He is supporting enironmental protections (and government checks on corporations to that end) and he’s also for Government protection. However I could very well use the same arguments he does, in order to argue against these concepts too:
Why should I pay for you protection Oolon? Why can’t I use my hard earned money to buy my own protection that would better serve me? Why should you be entitled to protection? Why do you want to curtail my freedom to build and use whatever I want? A coal plant will save me more money than a wind pylon.

Of course the obvious conflicts of supporting some socialistic policies (environmental and protection) because of the good consequences they will have, while on the other hand opposing others (like universal heathcare) is the classic schizophrenic nature of the right-libertarian beast. They subconsciously realize that common goals have a net benefit for everyone but are utterly incapable of seeing that it’s the same exact concept for the rest.

Unfortunately, once again, I find out that there is little point in having a conversation like these. Sooner or later we reach some fundamental difference in concepts and it then becomes a shouting match. And I have neither the time nor the inclination to participate.

The Beginning of the end or the end of a beginning?

Apparently back in my homecountry, Greece, people have been finally waking up to the blogging phenomenon and as with anything new, the knee-jerk reaction is starting.

What is happening is that the anonymous blog Press-gr which has been publishing various inside stories for a while has finally drawn enough ire (and lawsuits) that the Greek goverment has mobilized to reveal who the anonymous bloggers behind it are. Apparently, they managed to track down an “author” of the blog by revealing ip addresses from his ISP. Nevermind that this is ridiculous as, without knowing from which IP addresses the authors used to connect to press-gr (which they can only get from Google) they might as well be catching any regular reader (Although without knowing the specifics of the investigation, I guess I could be wrong but I don’t see how unless they set up illegal packet sniffers).

In any case, I was reading Press-gr in the beggining, when the information seemed genuine, but when it started posting any BS that came to their hands, even things posted by anonymous commenters or obvious political propaganda, I decided to call it quits. It was just getting too unreliable (as well as being suspicious due to the amount of adverising) as far as accurate information ios concerned, not to mention annoying as the commentspam was ridiculous – A clear example that freedom of speech does not equal freedom to spam.

So what happened now is that various famous personalities of Greece are claiming that they were blackmailed from the authors of Press-gr and were threatened with defamation. Now, ignoring the fact that groundless defamation from an anonymous blog who’s quality is arguable by most sceptics, is not going to do much damage, the blackmailed people have gone public and are asking for goverment intervention. I’m actually wondering if those fighting back against an anonymous posting have ever heard of the Streisand effect

The most scary thing of all, of course, is that the goverment is now considering putting limits on free speech. This is exactly what the big media companies (and Televangelist/Telemarketers) want. Specifically, they are going to request people that blog about “informative issues” remain eponymous. If they still wish to remain anonymous then it will be much easier for the goverment to violate their rights and find out who they are.

Seeing how backwards the Greek goverment has been until now as regards to digital rights, then it’s fairly certain that things will move towards the worse case scenario. I just hope that more people will start using wikileaks which the Greek goverment cannot touch and also has a much higher standard

Generally speaking, after being sent a cease and desist myself for supposedly defaming my previous employer (although no details were given other than the scary lawyer email), I’m seeing a larger interest in the blogosphere from all the people that are set to have their skeletons drawn out of the closet.

Truly, there is nothing more that these slimy worms fear than the unedited light of truth. Blogs and the internet are the only thing they cannot control and all their secrets are finally slipping through their fingers. Don’t let them take it away from you people.

Sometimes I’m really glad I escaped Greece…

And you thought American privacy violations were bad…

According to a law passed by the German parties CDU, CSU and SPD, from 2008 on it will be possible to trace who has contacted whom via telephone, mobile phone or e-mail for a period of six months.

— Anonymising services will be prohibited. —

This is a really frightening prospect. However many organizations are already working on getting this up to the Supreme Court so hopefully it will receive a negative ruling.

Spread the word!

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Here is the main reason why people should know about and (hopefully) support the Pirate Party.

I’ve already set up a €5 donation per month just because this is a movement that deserves traction. Our personal freedoms are much more important than the bottom line of corporations who have a shady history of dealings (Payola, hacking etc).

Especially when we get to the point of pressuring the goverment to pass laws, only for the benefit of big corporations, to the detriment of the freedom and creativity of everyone else, then we really have an issue.

Now, can someone point me to the Greek and German Pirate parties?