Open Source Can Do No Harm

I'm innocent I tells ya!

Note: Acronyms “FOSS” and “OSS” scattered herein essentially mean the same thing: “[free &] open source software”. There’s also FLOSS: “free/libre open source software”. And OS by itself, means “operating system”. And finally: Each illustration conceals a link to additional info.

Quoting goosbears:

AAMOF, Rick Moen wrote a wildly relevant essay entitled ‘INOLJ-OOW2.0C (Is Not On LiveJournal Or Other Web 2.0 Cults)’. Have Zeke K, Grant B, Larry C, and/or others of you heard of Rick or actually met him?

Yes indeed, and thanks for the link to one of Rick’s most informative essays, with which I fully agree. When I founded BUUG (Berkeley Unix User Group) in January 2000, Rick was one of the earlier participants. I have also had a number of thought-provoking and enjoyable e-mail conversations with Rick, on and off over the years. His linuxmafia site includes a page with links to his plentiful and most fascinating articles…dare I call him a “Unix philosopher”?

I’m definitely old-school re. open source and Linux, hence anti-coporate and anti-capitalist. So, Linux users such as myself, cringe over corporate hegemony, and do not necessarily see the business model as something worthy of adulation, let alone seeing the inclusion of Linux in the business world as a “success”. We are a nation that worships the almighty dollar, hence seeks to translate *anything* of value into profit. I see capitalism as ultimately, a failure, and therefore seek to promote goals that benefit humanity’s lot in life, over and above any sort of profit incentive.

Of course, there is some overlap, when you have companies treating their employees with respect and financial responsibility, such as Google and Red Hat. Though unfortunately, they are far the exception than the rule…as so sadly realized in our current economic downturn, which threatens to become the next worldwide depression, worse than the previous one. Now, *that’s* scary!

Video: The Next Great Depression

Do you Yahoo?

For me, Linux is one main answer to the computer jigsaw puzzle, in fostering a more peaceful, and less violent world…violence of which the greed for wealth is a formidable instigator. I do admire Mark Shuttleworth‘s lofty goal to provide a powerful operating system to even the poorest on this planet. For the same reason, I admire the OLPC project (One Laptop Per Child), originating out of an M.I.T. think tank. Amusingly, before I even heard of OLPC, I wrote a sci-fi fantasy piece about an uber-wealthy male who decides to give a laptop to every destitute child in the world. As it turns out, I wrote my piece several months after the OLPC project was announced to the public:

Parable of the Laptop Billionaire

(And I think that *most* Linux advocates would agree with me, it’s a real shame that OLPC eventually felt compelled to install Windoze alongside its own OSS version of Linux.)

Obviously, open source and Linux have matured tremendously in the last decade or so…and no longer can I simply assume that because they sprang from progressive and anti-capitalist ideals, they will always remain so. Now, we have a wide array of contributors, advocates, and even abusers. Republicans, Libertarians, Nazis and racists all use open source to achieve their ends (their web sites are everywhere; and I’m sure they use open source applications to enhance their pages with message boards, forums, chat rooms, surveys and the like), as do Democrats, Socialists, Green Partiers and the NAACP. And all shades between.

Therefore, if one is of a progressive or left-wing bent, one can no longer blindly support everything and anything that is open source. One must carefully discern each case in use, especially when speaking about corporations, government, organized religion, and the military (for examples). As for the philosophy of open source and free software, may I refer you to Richard Stallman’s “Why Open Source misses the point of Free Software“…and make it clear to my readers that I stand firmly in line with the free software advocates, as opposed to open source. Here’s an excerpt:

The main initial motivation of those who split off the open source camp from the free software movement was that the ethical ideas of “free software” made some people uneasy. That’s true: raising ethical issues such as freedom, talking about responsibilities as well as convenience, is asking people to think about things they might prefer to ignore, such as whether their conduct is ethical. This can trigger discomfort, and some people may simply close their minds to it. It does not follow that we ought to stop talking about these issues.

That is, however, what the leaders of open source decided to do. They figured that by keeping quiet about ethics and freedom, and talking only about the immediate practical benefits of certain free software, they might be able to “sell” the software more effectively to certain users, especially business….

As the advocates of open source draw new users into our community, we free software activists must shoulder the task of bringing the issue of freedom to their attention.

I am certain there is now a growing body of open source specifically geared towards the sabotage of a minority’s civil rights, for example; or towards the ruthless elimination of creative small businesses perceived as competition (another example, thinking here in the history-of-Microsoft mode).

Military use of open source

Open Source Marines?

Ergo, I make my official stand through this article, of my support *for* Linux and all open source that is used to assist, promote, and improve the human condition…and *against* its use to aid and abet financial greed and destructive ideologies.

Of which I include Libertarianism BTW, and which I see as a rapidly increasing threat to all humanity — global fascism if you will. Please read:

Ayn Rand, Hugely Popular Author and Inspiration to Right-Wing Leaders, Was a Big Admirer of Serial Killer

In fact, there were a number of Libertarians who helped me found BUUG..much to my dismay. (A main reason for my starting this group, was I felt lonely among a growing population of right-wing zealots, so assumed that forming a Linux group would attract liberal types. Times have sure changed! I predict that some day soon, we’ll see bumper stickers with slogan: “I hack for Jesus”. Maybe they’re already out there; I’ve never owned a car, so I don’t know.)

Discouraged by this, I quietly discontinued my participation after a year or so (with the feigned excuse of “family obligations”). Glad to say that I am back, and BUUG is more balanced ideologically, that is: with a good number of soundly progressive Linux and Unix advocates.

Berkeley Linux User Group is still a very young organization, and will take some years to expand and, hopefully, increase in diversity. But if I find that the membership is largely influenced by Libertarian advocates, I will be compelled to drop out, as the last thing I want is to support such cold-hearted dogma.

There also seems to be a cult-like tendency of some open source advocates, to never say anything bad about OSS, or its application. Else you will be labeled as “traitor” (or “counterproductive” or “spreading FUD” in my case). This ideology that open source can do no harm, is indeed a cultish attitude. Because all that open source is, is software whose code is free to view and alter, and often widely distributed at no cost. There is no rule of OSS that prohibits fascists, Nazis, or racists (for examples) from creating their own free programs. (Godwin’s Law be damned, I say!) Here’s your quote of the decade (by yours truly of course):

No longer can one blindly dive into the open source pool and assume with unquestioned confidence, that no sharks are about.

The toxic jaws of capitalism

FLOSS my teeth please?

So, open source advocates such as Berkeley-LUG can choose to become a cabal of Libertarian zealots (as seems to be the tendency of all OSS gatherings, these days), or expand into a diversity of members who share the common interest of open source, and advocate its use as a tool of compassion, rather than profit as their god. I specifically say “Libertarian” in lieu of other nihilistic credos, precisely because this is the main threat looming over the open source community. That is: the worship of corporate entities, rather than simply including them as but one slice of the OSS pie.

Regarding Larry C., the “Free Software Guy“:

Preaching the gospel of free software” exclaims his home page, at top. Now, I know his blurb was writ in good humor…nonetheless, there is a sort of zealotry sprouting from certain members of open source which attempts to unfairly censor others in that same community. This is mainly the ideology of Libertarianism, which habitually mocks and suppresses viewpoints from the old-school camp of liberals and progressives (who have these ridiculous notions of universal health care, living wage for all, and job protection…Ford have mercy!).

I have to cite Mr. C. as a living example of one who makes snap judgments against whistle blowers within the OSS community, precisely because he has found a personally rewarding (and dare I say, “profitable”) niche, and therefore great incentive to espouse the “open source can do no harm” ideology. This is not to say he is absolutely a hardcore Libertarian or Vulture Capitalist, but that he is likely influenced by such persuasions, as implied by his kneejerk attempt to squelch my particular voice, despite my strong record as an advocate of free and open software, especially Linux.

For the record, besides founding the Berkeley Unix User Group (a very social gathering BTW, per my intent), I’d like to point my readers to my two most recent online contributions towards open source and freeware:

Best PC security…at $0.00

That blog entry BTW, was my last contribution to the Windoze community, before I shut the door completely on Micro$oft products. In that essay, I show 100% free solutions to highly effective security and safety of one’s computer…for those who use a Windoze operating system. Originally posted February 2, 2009, it remains a solid piece of support.

My Letter to Ray Taliaferro

Posted Septermber 22, 2009, it is an e-mail supporting Mr. Taliaferro’s outrage against the expense and constant annoyances of Windoze seurity products, such as Norton. (Taliaferro is one of the most popular liberal radio talk show hosts in the country, been around for years.) I encouraged him to consider using a Linux OS, Ubuntu, and even invited him to our meetings at BUUG or Berkeley-LUG. Amazingly, he actually read my letter in full, on his next show…unfortunately, I didn’t stay up late to listen that night, and missed it. A neighbor called me the following morn, to relate the good news.

I have contributed numerous useful ideas and essays on behalf of free software and Internet democracy, since I first began BBS’ing way way back in 1984…including an original approach towards protecting your system from viruses and most other malware…in preparation for when this problem would take off. I was extensively quoted in 1988 by a technical journal called “Micro Cornuopia” now long defunct:

I have also created what is probably the first (and still only) full-blown ANSI animation story, “SallyJones”. Download it here, about the first truly intelligent, free-willed robot, in the image of a little, multi-racial girl:

(You need to run it in a DOS box or window.)

In case anyone would be interested in learning more about my viewpoints (political, social, etc.), I’ve kept an extensive record of my Usenet participation from 1997 to 2009:

Spilling My Guts All Over Cyberspace

Out of respect for Jack D., founder of Berkeley Linux User Group, I’ve posted my reply in the form of a blog entry, instead of the usual mailing list. This is because he prefers to keep politics, for the most part, out of his Linux advocacy group. But people are political animals, and Linux is right in the bullseye of the culture war between progressive and right-wing ideologues…thus it is inevitable that from time to time, strongly political issues will arise. And that’s not a bad thing; it is in large part, philisophical pondering about the influences of open source, and forming a new consensus about which direction(s) it should take.

Philosophy of the GNU Project

No GNU ideas.

And since any number of Berkeley-LUG participants frequently makes (what I perceive as) naive or simplistic statements with the assumption that no one differs in their viewpoints, I feel compelled to toss in the FLOSS ring, my own two cents. For example, this statement:

I have nothing to hide, so I don’t care if Google gathers information about my online activities.

That statement is so naive and without a moment’s introspection, I don’t know where to begin. (Wait a minute, yes I do: I began with the first line of this essay!) I found the video in question “The Cost of Free” provides an excellent analysis of why one *should* care about Google’s user database, as but one example of many companies’ accumulation and potential misuse or abuse of this information. Where even a harmless error or glitch in such databases can wreak devastating harm on a most personal and intimate level. What you don’t think you have to hide, may work against your best interests somewhere down the line, such as health status, or political opinion that may wind up destroying your career, or prevent you from getting employment, health care, or admission into the school of your choice. In a nutshell:

If you really don’t care what personal data is being gathered about you, and by whom, then why don’t you live in a glass house or, at least, keep the drapes swept aside, that all may view you 24/7?

Now, Google’s slogan “Do no harm” I find rather alarming. (Sorry to pick on Google so much, I know some are happily employed there, with excellent benefits and salary, but they are a big player in open source, and thus smack dab on the radar. No doubt there will soon be a Godwin’s Law against citing Google, like we have for any mention of Nazis…oops there I go again.) I become immediately suspicious of any corporation that uses slogan’s like “Do no harm“…it’s like saying “We are perfect, we can never do any wrong.” Such an attitude is hubris, and smacks of ideological pandering, similar to a *cult*. (Reminds me of the Hippocratic Oath: comforting are the words, but how many doctors or clinics genuinely *practice* this ideal, that is: forego obscene profit in order to heal the poor?)

Actions speak louder than words,” goes the old saw, and I’d say that, in Google’s case, this doubly applies. What is Google’s record in this matter of doing no harm? Not very good, I conclude. The following site, Google Watch, serves as Google whistleblower, and will inform you of their dark side. They include topics such as “Google’s book grab,” “Big Brother is well-connected,” “Mozilla evades taxes,” “Is Google God?” and “Creepy Gmail”.

But Google is just one among countless examples of the corporatization of open source. I for one, refuse to toe the corporate shtick, as it wants to be adulated as your real family, replacing true communities with Libertarian schemes where the almighty dollar reigns over all other considerations. There are some good things about Google of course, such as excellent employee packages…but should this excuse them from abuses which are widespread and destructive to our personal lives, and what remains of true community? Does any of the good they do outweigh the bad (such as their cooperation with China’s draconic censorship laws)? I leave it to each of you, to reach your own conclusion. Good luck!

Yours most truly,

Ezekiel (I couldn’t hack my way out of a virtual paper bag ) J. Krahlin

When using open source makes you an enemy of the state

Addendum March 14 2010: Liz at today’s Berkeley-LUG meeting kindly corrected me re. Google’s motto. It’s “Don’t be evil”, not “Do No Harm”. But I believe my point’s still valid, regardless of this minor faux pas. Cheers!

5 Responses to Open Source Can Do No Harm

  1. Mark T says:

    + 1 for respecting the ML. Open Source & Linux need all the advocates we can get. If I am going to vilify anything, I try to stay to nameless faceless entities as opposed to people in particular. Unless there is a reason to point out specific deeds, or misdeeds, if you will.

    Rick Moen is more than just a Unix Philosopher, Hey is an Open Source God. He has helped many groups start & many more individuals with particular Linux issues. Even he has the drawback of not worshiping at the Altar of Tux the Penguin as much as I do. That’s ok. He would rather *do* things than talk about a penguin. You don’t need to like the Penguin as much as I do to be my friend (it’s bonus though.)

    I am hardcore with my belief in trying to be *inclusive* and that most of the time you can *play well with others.* I don’t ask that all of my friends subscribe to my belief system in exactly my fervent manner. All I ask is that try not to *be evil* and please try not to step on my toes (that often.) I have almost always been enriched by meeting people from different backgrounds & diverse experiences. I highly value friends with varying opinions, no matter how correct I may be, the echo chamber can be far more damaging than outside sources. I know it may be trite, but, if you and I are the same- one of us is redundant.

    I have rich friends, poor friends & everyone in between. I am not judging anyone on their face value – that’s wrong. Sometimes us poor folks need to ask rich folks for help. No one is better than anyone. Rich folks ask poor people for stuff also. I am not afraid of corporations, I am fearful of corporations use their resources to limit the *fruitfulness* of others. Google & RedHat have sometimes used their resources to stop some of these limiters. That does not mean I don’t keep a watchful eye on them, they don’t have Carte Blanche. In a world of shades of gray, they are decent allies. Really, look around, what other options do you see, I’m listening…

    Even Chris DiBona agrees that Skynet is likely either Apple or Google. He told me that idea is at least a good meme. I am worried about Google also, there are however, plenty of worse people than Sergey & Larry. We will see when & if they leave China

    I really like some of the cool things they do, like helping individuals organize together

    At this point though, I find Apple a little more offensive to my sensibilities. They just *purged* offensive applications from their store. Crazy stuff, like rated R & people that sold bikinis. They are also suing HTC for patent violations & trying to keep some phones from being brought into this country.

    Said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.” Some of their patent claims may be found legitimate, Yes, Apple does not want us to steal any of their ideas, like gesturing. A motion, combined with an interface = patent – that is *scary* to me. That kind of roadblock to innovation can not be allowed.

    Ask others in the Open Source communities if they agree on the important issues like this, and most will say yes. The same with issues like DRM, human rights, and general dislike of genocide.

    Let’s pick some stuff like this we all agree on. Otherwise we may fall victim to proprietary software’s true plan for Free Culture idealists “divide & conquer!” There are plenty of issues that can create divisions among us. Many things are trying to conquer what we are fighting for, let’s not conquer ourselves.

    I gestured while I was inputing that last sentence, please don’t sue me Apple, I was just trying to innovate

    If Apple sues me, I was wondering if my friends at either Ubuntu, Google or Red Hat ( or anyone else) could help an ally out, an evil corporation is trying to limit me.

  2. ZekeBlog says:

    Mark T:

    Poor people don’t ask rich people for “help”…they beg, they cry, they dissent. In an equitable society, no one would need to go through this, as no one would ever be *that* poor. For one, there’d be universal health care. Rich people don’t *ask* poor people for “stuff”. They demand they work to the bone in order to make *them* even richer. And that’s usually without any health insurance or living wage. Telling me to “look around” contains the assumption that I haven’t, and that my view is very narrow. Actually, it’s quite the opposite, and I speak out based on many years’ experience, observation, and keeping an open mind.

  3. Katie Stevens says:

    Hi Zeke. While I lack the technical knowledge on the software side of the entry I do agree with your comments on Rand and Objectivism. Thanks for the link and I do love the cute illustration.

  4. Very great post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around your weblog posts. After all I will be subscribing on your rss feed and I am hoping you write again very soon!

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