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:

  1. Within those aims
  2. Between those aims and the dominant forms of power
  3. 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.

There’s nothing new here, and I suppose it rhymes with stuff I’ve been saying for a while. The frame, though, feels like recognizing something I’ve been bad at looking at directly.

p1k3 / 2021 / 4 / 12
tags: topics/free-software, topics/idealogging, topics/politics