Monday, April 12, 2021
software as government
I’m sketching an incomplete thought here. For context:
- GitHub eating open source, Microsoft eating GitHub. Google eating e-mail, the web, corporate communications. Apple with its infinite dollars and stranglehold on a class of users with deep, identity-defining emotional attachments to its stuff. All the usual monopoly-and-aspiring-monopoly stuff.
- The totality of cloud computing’s ideological and conceptual triumph in the space of a decade, to the point where people tend to view a business that owns servers and runs stuff on them instead of renting them from an approved megacorporation as aberrant and maybe kind of offensive.
- RMS and the Free Software Foundation’s apparent ongoing collapse
- A few years' experience working for a technical nonprofit embedded in a large community.
- The way most of the general-purpose computers are phones now, and how much less general purpose they’re looking these days.
So, the recurring thought: A lot of the things that people gravitate towards or become dependent on in software are effectively governments.
That is, partly, things which:
- Build and maintain infrastructure
- Create / enforce standards
- Police at least some kinds of bad actor
- Extract rents / taxes
- Provide employment to a class of technocrats
- Provide frameworks for cultural affiliation
- Express or enact aspects of the civic religion
While often what a lot of us in FOSS / digital rights / free knowledge circles are striving for is some combination, depending on priors and priorities, of:
- Software anarchism - things that don’t require government, operate outside of it, or actively defy it
- Mutual aid
- Certain kinds of resource sharing and cooperation between entities that are effectively (and sometimes literally) competing governments
- Better governance
There are thus contradictions that arise:
- Within those aims
- Between those aims and the dominant forms of power
- Between those aims and the needs / wants / habits of users
#2 is sort of a given, though we could do with a lot more self-awareness about just how much our work is the foundation of now-dominant powers. #1 and #3 bear more thinking about.