More Unwise Commentary

Posted in response to a response by Michael Gurstein to his response to a critique by someone from an “open” organization of a very smart post by Gurstein in the first place that responds to his sage and well-observed discussion of the politics of “open source” in an earlier post:

Michael, you are fighting the good fight here, and it’s a hard battle to take on. My diagnosis is that people who become deeply attached to memes (not specifically directed to PM-R in the quotations above, whom i don’t know from adam)–especially very simple ones like the word “open”–have typically invested very little in the interrogation of the terms out of which the memes are constructed. “Open” is a wonderful word. It sounds so good. Who could argue with it? Out of context, that sounds good. But (1) get into the guts of real Constitutional law, political practice, corporate practice, and so on, and in my opinion, “open” stops being a useful regulative ideal (I am specifically mentioning Kant). It doesn’t describe with enough detail. “Build this in an open way” or don’t. I have been in many production contexts in which “open” stuff is advocated with so much force and with so little specific justification that it’s almost like deliberately staged propaganda. “Open above all.” In corporations this often conflicts with “profit above all” for obvious and non-obvious reasons, and programmers who keep saying “open” often don’t hold their positions for long. Overall, it isn’t enough to hang your hat on and it can be used by any side for justification.

(2) Its service as a default response to the request for “real” political engagement is deeply troubling. When I say that I see the same people who used to care about politics (meaning smart people in their 20s) now having hairtrigger responses that mention “open source” I get very worried.

The conversation I’ve had many times, typically with a gr***** st**** who has not published a book or perhaps anything at all, goes:

Enthusiast: “You’ve pointed out many destructive things computers do in the world and many ways that their overall deployment debilitates parts of society. But what about open source?”
Me: “What specific social problems are you saying open source addresses?”
Enthusiast: “Well, but, you point at destruction…”
Me: “I didn’t say open source was destructive. you said it counters my argument that computers have destructive effects. which ones, and how?”
Enthusiast: [reddening stare]

I see blood in their eyes, and I can hear the sacred cows mooing, but I can’t say much, can I? Not that I’ll get the job anyway. You can hear the post-interview discussion: “Crazy! he says computers do so many bad things, but he has nothing to say about open source!”

My last words on “open government”: show me one and we’ll talk about it.

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