The Social Black Box Paradox

An article has caught my eye; it’s a semi Free Software, semi philosophical entry about freedom and how it is traded. That to consider the importance of free software we have to consider the importance of the freedoms we have to deny ourselves in order to pay for software freedom.

You can read the whole article here: The Magic Black Box Paradox of Freedom

This is my response to that article.

Freedom is really a fascinating philosophical object. What most people consider to be freedom is in actuality the certain prospect of not being punished for conducting ones self in a known fashion. When we talk of the balance of freedoms we’re now getting into what is considered to be acceptable behaviour in people who’s actions relate to each other, even if the people are not in any formal relationship.

No one will stop and punish you if you walk out the door and run to Lands End, no matter how hard and gruelling the journey. So one might say that your freedom is just the prospect and not the cost of carrying out that action. What the article above confuses is this natural difference between freedoms not taken away and heavy costs and responsibilities.

The nature of the costs of an action are not anti-freedom, I’d love to go to Mars and I’m free to do so, but I can’t afford to build my own rocket system. Natural economics can stifle your progress but they are not culling your freedom. If on the other hand the law or society that is removing your natural ability, then that can be said to be a curbing of freedoms through economic means.

So if we’ve got a distinction between prospects and costs, and the difference between natural and social retardation you should be able to see the confusing nature of considering the costs of Free Software to be anti-freedom.

Educational freedom plays as much of a part of this prospective freedom, what I know controls what I can imagine I can do with my time and I’m a full supporter of Walter Bender’s idea that education and it’s prospects should be a much more highly valued attribute of the common Free and Open Source Software cause.

There is one more important definition of freedom and that is it’s systematic, social implication. We are reliant heavily on the freedom of the press which protects journalists from reprisals for the words they publish, while very few of us have printing presses the law effects everyone because the situation of not having that freedom would lead to bad things for everyone.

Proprietary software is reprehensible socially, it’s an illness of the respectful relationship between supplier and user of software that should exist. While freedom does not seem that important to anyone outside of the relationship, the systematic consequences of denying users ownership and control over their own property sets a bad example and shifts social power so that it can abuse the many for the benefit of a few.

Any sort of proprietisation of intellectual control is a curb of our prospective freedom, it isn’t that reverse engineering is hard that is problematic, it’s that the engineer who engages in that activity may have to face reprisals from the law for trying to exercise control over their own property.

Situations that we see already and a marked disrespect for all freedoms seems to emanate from the companies who are most resistant to a codified legal framework for software licensing. These companies attempt to believe that they are immune from the laws about freedom of the press just as they are seemingly immune from the laws which govern freedom of property and the guarantees of ownership on sale.

If we must support Freedom then you can be inwardly looking and consider that in supporting it you will get better software for yourself and mostly likely you will get it for free as it will have likely been paid for by someone else; or you can be outwardly looking and support software freedom because it is socially and morally important for us as a society to respect each others prospective freedoms, the interconnectivity of what we do effects everyone and the more people push for freedom, the more we will not have to spend time and money on costly workarounds.