[Lessig:FSF|Choice] On Freedom, Software, and Governing the Guardians of Both

by M. David Peterson

Update:
The crime of the so-called 'wisdom of crowds' is that when the crowd gets it wrong, they can keep it wrong for a long time.


[Original Post]

Lawrence Lessig

The real challenge here will be Richard Stallman's. His work helped launch important movements of freedom -- free software, most directly; free culture, through inspiration, and examples such as Wikipedia. It also helped launch a movement he's not happy about, the Open Source Software Movement. Much of the latter builds on the former. And these movements have been joined by many who share his values, some more, some less. (Again, see Torvalds). These movements have built much more than he, or any one person, could ever have done. So his challenge is whether he evolves these licenses in ways that fit his own views alone, recognizing those views deviate from many important parts of the movement he started. Or whether he evolves these licenses to support the communities they have enabled. This is not a choice of principle vs compromise. It is a choice about what principle should govern the guardians of these licenses.


Can enough gratitude be given to Richard Stallman for what his ideas, ideals, and subsequent work has accomplished? Nope! The idea that anyone should be able to tinker with the source code of a software application, improve upon it, make it better, and so forth has been the foundation of many great and wonderful "freedom movements" since the Free Software Foundation was first founded.

The problem, of course, is that true and pure freedom does nothing to control that in which is derived from one idea to the next, even if the original idea was never intended to become the foundation of something we would have wanted it to become.

These movements have built much more than he, or any one person, could ever have done. So his challenge is whether he evolves these licenses in ways that fit his own views alone, recognizing those views deviate from many important parts of the movement he started. Or whether he evolves these licenses to support the communities they have enabled. This is not a choice of principle vs compromise. It is a choice about what principle should govern the guardians of these licenses.


Yep.




6 Comments

len
2006-09-28 12:00:39
The chooser of choices, Dave. Second order systems are the big challenge for web evolution and for evolution in general.


The big problem is when instead of understanding a tipping point as a statistical value, one begins to believe one IS the tipping point. From that comes many of the bigger crimes in history.

M. David Peterson
2006-09-28 12:45:08
>> The chooser of choices, Dave. Second order systems are the big challenge for web evolution and for evolution in general. <<


And just like that, it hit me,


Cybernetics (ref: http://pcp.vub.ac.be/Papers/Cybernetics-EPST.pdf)


Information Theory, Control Theory and Control Systems Engineering have since developed
into independent disciplines. What distinguishes cybernetics is its emphasis on control and communication not only in engineered, artificial systems, but also in evolved, natural systems such as organisms and societies, which set their own goals, rather than being controlled by their creators.


>> The big problem is when instead of understanding a tipping point as a statistical value, one begins to believe one IS the tipping point. From that comes many of the bigger crimes in history. <<


B. Second Order Cybernetics


Cybernetics had from the beginning been interested in the similarities between autonomous, living systems and machines. In this post-war era, the fascination with the new control and
computer technologies tended to focus attention on the engineering approach, where it is the system designer who determines what the system will do. However, after the control engineering and computer science disciplines had become fully independent, the remaining
cyberneticists felt the need to clearly distinguish themselves from these more mechanistic approaches, by emphasizing autonomy, self-organization, cognition, and the role of the observer in modelling a system. In the early 1970's this movement became known as second-order cybernetics.


They began with the recognition that all our knowledge of systems is mediated by our simplified representations--or models--of them, which necessarily ignore those aspects of the system which are irrelevant to the purposes for which the model is constructed. Thus the properties of the systems themselves must be distinguished from those of their models, which depend on us as their creators. An engineer working with a mechanical system, on the other hand, almost always know its internal structure and behavior to a high degree of accuracy, and therefore tends to de-emphasize the system/model distinction, acting as if the model is the
system.


Thanks len! This definitely provides a perspective that I hadn't even considered.

len
2006-09-29 00:07:46
Welcome to a much bigger world.


If you take a hard look at PageRank, my comments including terms such as 'eigen-value index locking' will make sense. Did I make that up? Sort of. You can read the papers on PageRank to understand why it is an eigen-value system, see the feedback or second-order system potentials, then add the attractors of chaos theory to get the rest of it. It is a phenomenon of the users of the system, its observers so to speak, that manifest as assumptions about truth values based on the results.


This isn't new in the domains of semiotics and their applications to marketing and politics where lock-in is often a desirable effect. Otherwise, understanding these effects is possibly not very widespread by web users except vaguely in terms like 'early adopters' although I believe many cynically do understand why control of references enable phenomema such as the so-called long-tail. What they may not understand is that the fracturing of knowledge into domains is a trade-off of specificity (eg domain terminology) for synthesis (expansion of knowledge by seeing the abstract or real connections between domains). A tough minded thinker on that topic is E. Wilson at Harvard.


The crime of the so-called 'wisdom of crowds' is that when the crowd gets it wrong, they can keep it wrong for a long time.

M. David Peterson
2006-09-29 08:53:56
>> Welcome to a much bigger world.


I hate to say it, but it's begging to be said,


"Why didn't I take the blue pill!?" ;)


err, wait... Maybe it was begging *NOT* to be said?


Yeah, probably... ;)


>> What they may not understand is that the fracturing of knowledge into domains is a trade-off of specificity (eg domain terminology) for synthesis <<


For the record, what follows is a serious statement: Sounds a whole lot like OOP.


Then again, one could argue that this is then true of DSL's. Fair enough... There are definitely those times when using a particular language to perform a task that is outside the scope of its intended domain is most definitely the wrong thing to do. But that doesn't seem to stop people from trying!


Even further, it lends well to your underlying and overall point. Quoting Don Box [ http://pluralsight.com/blogs/dbox/archive/2005/11/30/17208.aspx ],


I still find myself occasionally having to remind people that objects are at best a means to an end. They aren't the end unto themselves. Trying to design software only in terms of object-oriented concepts is like trying to speak English without using adjectives or adverbs.


>> The crime of the so-called 'wisdom of crowds' is that when the crowd gets it wrong, they can keep it wrong for a long time. <<


Nicely stated, len! I've got my QOTD! :D

Nafdik
2006-10-03 07:25:04
Amusing how freedom and free (free beer) are confounded.


Giving away your (intellectual) property is great but it has nothing to do with freedom.

M. David Peterson
2006-10-03 09:46:55
@Nafdik,


>> Amusing how freedom and free (free beer) are confounded.


Point well taken.


An unfortunate side effect of the evolution of the English language, though one could easily argue that while the point is clearly stated as part of the GPL that this has nothing to do with free as in price, the reality is that free as in price became the expected norm. It tough to criticize, as during the early days of the FSF it would have been difficult to have applied a price to the software being developed, as most of it was being developed by those who had primary interest in using the software. The user base would eventually expand into a broader crowd of folks, but the foundation was built upon community development from the start, which is really what this has always been about.


While a not-free-as-beer market for GPL'd software has developed since that time, the core foundation of the FSF seems to have stood their ground, focusing on that in which was the primary draw in the first place: Community interaction and the freedom to freely share ones ideas and resulting code amongst those who shared the same interests.


Unfortunately, it seems this has been to their overall disadvantage. But not because community driven software is in any way a bad thing, and instead because it forced them into a position in which they had to choose between taking a non-aggressive stance against corporate pressures, or continuing forward as they had been for a decade, continuing the fight for the original cause which at that point in time, they had barely even broke ground.


Today is a MUCH different time than it was then, this being the primary reason why I state that not enough gratitude can be given to Richard Stallman for continuing to push forward instead of giving in and giving up. If he had, we wouldn't be in a position, I don't believe, in which companies such as Microsoft are opening their source code and building projects such as IronPython.


Of course, a significant side effect of standing his ground for as long as he has is that of feeling the need to continuing to push forward until such time as he feels he has accomplished his goals. Will that ever happen? Don't know, but I do believe that a lot of the criticisms that Linus Torvalds and others have pushed upon the FSF are rightly founded, as the time has come where there is just as much legal lock-down contained in the latest drafts of the GPL that leads one to suggest that this has become less about freedom and more about control based on ideals rather than principles.


>> Giving away your (intellectual) property is great but it has nothing to do with freedom.


Agreed. From an idealistic view point, one could argue the opposite, but from a real-world perspective there is simply not enough natural incentive to provide ones ideas in a way that does not bring them anything other than a nice feeling that they are doing the right thing. The right thing, quite obviously, is subjective.


* Is it the right thing to provide ones talents and creations to a world at no cost nor obligation just because it feels like the right thing to do?, or
* Is it the right thing to provide ones talents and creations at a cost such that one can become part of an economy in which can freely interact, exchange ideas, allowing for others to build upon these ideas and creations in such a way as to establish a cyclical economic foundation in which continues to build and grow via an ever increasing base of wealth, both financial, physical, and spiritual?


At some point the realization has to be made that incentive for a free-as-in-speech culture must exist, or there will simply and always be too many forces fighting against the ideals of just such a culture, by building upon an ever increasing foundation of legal strangleholds due to the fact that those who have the money have the ability to put such strangleholds into place, and feel justified in doing so because their own way of life, that of maintaining their financial wealth, is something they too believe is worth defending.


In other words, the harder one pushes their own ideals in any give direction, the greater those with potentially equal and opposite ideals will push back. That doesn't mean one shouldn't push, and instead when they do, they need to allow enough room for the push back to equalize before pushing again, otherwise it becomes an increasing and often times irreversible force in which will continue to build until such time as the push back has weakened enough to feel justified in reducing the force just enough to keep the "combatant" at bay.


As I have come to learn through the wisdom of len, in the end, the one with the most resources is usually the one that wins, the loser becoming a forgotten has-been, buried in the history books that are no longer available in any great capacity, replaced instead with those that provide the favoring perspective of those that won, mentioning those that lost in meaningless passing and random footnotes, if at all.


Lets hope this isn't the outcome we see with all of this.


Thanks for taking the time to provide your comments, Nafdik!