No Business Like Bad FOSS Business

In response to Bruce Byfield’s article on how We shouldn’t feel bad when businesses have no morals. I feel compelled to point out the flaw in his logic and hopefully add some sense to why moral outrage is the correct response to unscrupulous behaviour by companies.

It’s not a surprise when companies are inconsiderate/naughty/evil, but that doesn’t make what they do any less wrong and it doesn’t make a negative reaction any less justified. The most important thing to remember as a consumer is that your aversion to certain behaviours of others directly affects your willingness to engage in business with someone. To put it another way: What we think about a business being bad, effects their profit. Just ask BP or Toyota.

The purpose of a corporation is to fulfil all of it’s responsibilities. It’s responsibilities to it’s capital investors is to maximise the return on their capital investment through profits, but it’s responsibility to their employees is to pay them the contracted amount. Two conflicting responsibilities… and yet somehow companies manage to balance them.

To list just a few possibly conflicting responsibilities that all companies have: Shareholders to extract profits, employees to pay, business to continue, customers to serve, environment to maintain, suppliers to pay and even maintain, society to improve and government to appease. Here’s Bruce Schwartz doing a much better talk on why scruples are a good idea.

When a company hurts the FOSS ecosystem (in this case Novel), it’s neglecting it’s responsibility to maintain it’s suppliers, it’s hurting it’s relationship and ability to serve it’s customers and it’s endangering the continuation of it’s business. We don’t even need to bring in it’s possible legal responsibility to know that what Novel did was damaging and wrong. Yes I used the word ‘wrong’, because sometimes there is a right way and there is a wrong way to “maximise profits”.

Having a social responsibility shouldn’t be impossible for companies and we shouldn’t put up with companies that have the audacity to claim it isn’t their responsibility. Too often they hide behind “My responsibility is to the share holders” which is about as nonsensical as looking after sun, but not the earth.

If your business has short sighted, profit motivated share holders, my advice is to get rid of them as soon as possible. As a business owner you don’t have to take up extra responsibilities of having investors…. No wonder Canonical and Facebook don’t want to float on the stock market, I know I wouldn’t want to have share holders in the current ethical climate.

Your thoughts?

Secular Distributism; Moral Absolutes

I’ve been keeping a curious tab on the Distributionist’s Review which is a news blog with the focused aim of distributing the ideas of the easry 20th Century catholic philosopher G. K. Chesterton called Distributionism.

I’ve talked before about how the system of thought surrounding the old distrobutism has remarkable similarities to Free and Open Source models and I’m not the only one to think so. But in this blog entry I’d like to outline where I fundamentally disagree with a lot of distrobutionists: Religion and absolute Morality.

As a good apathist I’m not keen on god. By not keen I mean to say I think it’s a brain disease, a mental disorder which poisons reason and is the resting place of unfounded faith and the denial of evidence. The undoing of self understanding and in an attempt to explain the outside world with inside your head data really misses the point of philosophy.

OK so now I’ve made it clear that I’m not a supporter of religion or gods (whether they exist or not I don’t care), the one thing about the Distrobutionist’s review that sticks in my craw is the way there is often a forced joining of moral thinking, religious fundamentalism and economic process.

It’s true that many factors of economics do need to include morality, but morality isn’t absolute, you can find yourself in a position of having to commit immoral acts by virtue of being stuck between decisions which are all immoral, all cause suffering and in these cases I will have to apply the same underlying personalisation of moral responsibility which governs the rest of the distrobutionist philosophy.

Take abortion, which is far harder a topic than contraception which I consider to be perfectly solved, it is a hard question because the assessment of what is life, what is murder and what is suffering give us a negative sum game. No matter what you do, you loose. I’m happier giving this question over to the people and person who will ultimately loose from the decision: the mother. they are the ones who must make the decision because child-in-potentia is their responsibility, not the state’s. But why should the state not punish the murderer after the act?

So long as the state can’t take responsibility for a life immediately, it has no business being a moral authority. Take an extreme case; if a child born can not be looked after by the mother animal and there is no society to take responsibility then it’s very hard to force the mother animal to have a morality that respects the sanctity of life and at the same time rejects the suffering of life; often nature has right the answer where excessive stress in a mother will cause them to kill their children (and possibly eat them).

But where would religions possibly find footing in this apparent abhorrent behaviour? Often this is summed up by the quip about American Calthics: “the foetus is precious, the mother is sinful and the born child is a nuisance to be ignored”. Basically that religions concern themselves will unrealistic absolutes like “life for everyone” without considering the resulting suffering that it causes. This perhaps why my own morality is based on suffering and not on life, to me it’s quite possible for “Thou shall not kill” to become immoral in rare instances.

And besides we can’t very well go around convicting mothers on a morality which is based on their own internal responsibility, it’s not societies place to force individuals into responsibility and suffering. Of course the question then becomes; well how can you support society helping abortion with medical practice?

Another hard question but I put it like this, the mother after careful consideration has requested the help of their community to both help with the consideration and help with the safe medical procedure that will ensure a minimisation of suffering. In this way the community can be more sure the decision was not made lightly and the mother can be sure of not dying from the procedure. Surely this must be the most balanced approach for both women and community.

To the conclusion.

Plenty of anarchists would suggest that as well as being economically distributed an ideal society must also be morally distributed. This might be a little extreme for most who need the reliability and security of a normalised legal morality with which to work from and with other people around them. So a rejection of a moral consensus is not really the way to go.

But I would argue that when considering how your moral consensus ties together with your ideal world view about economic distrobutism, that you must consider it to be an under-developed philosophy and not as many Catholics see it; an absolute perfection delivered by god. Because unquestioning religious dogma has no place in a truly compassionate, thoughtful and moral world view.

Your thoughts?

Is open siege under sourced? Let’s not hope!

An excellent post by txwikinger on his blog called Is open source under siege? Let’s hope not! paints a picture of all the recent movements in the business world which seem to undermine free and open source in economics (withdrawal of support) and in philosophical backing (maybe working together isn’t good?).

When it comes to the ideas surrounding free and open source, the commons and free culture in general we have to remember that our cultural values are subject to dialectic interpretation as much as any set of ideas. Our main mooring has been the sometimes radical and always socially objectionable Free Software community who has been very strong on purpose and clear on what it considers to be for and against the free software ideal.

This I think has allowed us to be protected in a lot of ways from being swept away by dialectic diffusion; where your ideas mix up so much with other people’s that identifying the core values become impossible. The gentle sound of the waves of free culture crashing against the seemingly impossibly immovable shore of commercial reality has over time not changed radically commercial reality, but the shape of commercial advantage and where there is easy and attractive exploitable resources.

It’s not a surprise to me that as the impending beat of market forces in conjunction with the reality of software and all soft media increases in tempo, the fear of the old world companies is leading them to seek even more government protection. Every governmentally supported artificial barrier conceivable is being employed by the biggest and most well resourced organisations to try and keep a status quo that can not be.

To conclude I would say that the free and open source ideas are changing the world, they are as well being changed as you’d expect. Sometimes for the better and sometimes in ill advised ways that should be rejected by everyone who wants to keep their free software ideals. The proprietary companies and people who think as they do that protectionism and government monopolies are better than the free market will struggle something fierce while they either morph or die into something survivable.

Remember your concern over what Microsoft, Apple and Oracle are doing is nothing but a fraction of the fear and dread that they have over a real open free market in software and the work we all do to hasten it.

What the Market Can Bear

I was listening to an interesting video of the rather flamboyant Jimmy McMillan of the rent is too damn high party campaigning for the New York Governor’s office and he brought to mind the recent insistent views of Katie Hopkins on last week’s Young Voter’s Question Time on BBC Three. I should say that I don’t agree with either person as the first seems to lack rationality and the second both compassion and ironically economic understanding.

These two are rather far a part I admit, but something in their radical and disagreeable views created a new idea for me. That perhaps “rent is too high” because “the market will bear” much more when the goods are a requirement to productive living and increase with the degree to which people are able to not buy and even exit out of agreements easily.

So the main economic factor needed to reduce the amount of rent (because it is too damn high) being paid on average is to provide sensible, comfortable and easily accessible alternative housing to as many people as possible from either the government directly or non-profit chartered organisations at a stretch.

My conjecture is that lowering the tolerance of customers (that’s renters) by providing alternatives to private rented accommodation will reduce the rent burden by reducing the amount the market will bear. After all the amount the market will bear is only the amount to which people will/need to pay in order to get the services.

Ironically it means the people who are right wing poor and middle class are inadvertently increasing their own rent by virtue of being indignant about government provided housing. I know plenty of normally sensible people who would like government housing to be as horrid and uncomfortable as possible in order to encourage people’s independence form the state. Of course economics bites them in the arse on that one.

Never let it be said that doing the right wing doesn’t move you left and doing the left wing doesn’t make you right. This is complex man.

Copying Ideas is Not Theft

In a recent yahoo blog post about Apple in the hock for patent infringement here. The story itself is fairly typical of the growing nuclear destruction that’s going on in the technology world, as meaningless patents are created and enforced on purely mental and mathematical designs and not inventions in the useful arts as was originally bargained for in that sort of Faustian way societies do sometimes.

What gets me is the language and manner of the commentators. Yes I know I shouldn’t let someone on the internet who is wrong keep me up all night. But these people are not just wrong, they’re wrong headed even when fighting each other.

Firslty we have the Apple fans. People who don’t just buy Apple products, they believe in Apple’s reasons for existing in much the way Simon Sinek describes. They don’t want to hear about Apple offending anyone or being immoral or perhaps even doing something as base as stealing. These comments are blandly giving Apple a pass for no other reason than them being Apple and the maker of the beloved products. No other reason.

Then we move onto the other set of people. The “every idea is owned” brigade that think that patents are for “encouraging innovation” and that using ideas or inventing similar ideas in the process of working on problems are somehow theft. Parents aren’t for encouraging innovation, they’re for ensuring inventions are documented in the public domain so progress isn’t locked away behind trade secretes.

It’s also not theft. Stealing is the re-appropriation of a fixed property, the possession moves. Copying ideas (even if you DID copy ideas instead of just inventing the same ones again) can’t be stealing because the idea is still in your head and not just in mine. The copying process means it _can’t_ be theft.

Patents are a social agreement who’s time is past. Society no longer gains anything from them and I have no faith in their original purpose. No inventor or programmer reads patents, they don’t ensure the progress of inventions any more. Sure software patents shouldn’t have ever existed, but more than that patents in all other areas have caused major problems and just silly regressions in progress and standardisation.

You thoughts?

Hold on Tight to Principles

I wanted to take this comment I made in an email and post it to my blog. I’m fairly principled and I try my best with all sorts of things. There is something about principles which I think is not well understood and I’d like to offer a tentative explanation:

Principles are a view of the world which can be seen to be idealistic, they are in their nature the very way in which given the way you understand the world to work you could see things being made better and more ideal. Ideals are not always practical, you have to deal with real world issues that are not ideal.

Practicalism isn’t a principle, it’s the ways real world problems can be solved. You use your principles to weigh up the cost of actions that solve the problem. You do _not_ replace your principles wholesale with a view that cheapens and makes light of principles in general but instead use them to dialectically make new and creative solutions to the problems.

Free and Open Source as a principle: It’s both a long term practical benefit (investment) and a universal social good which respects users and brings down the cost of computer software development. I would say that FOSS is one of those unique common sense type principles that have immediate and far reaching effects. The difficulty with spreading the ideas and philosophies are not due to the general public not being able to understand, but instead relate to how tightly vested interests hold onto their own principles about the appropriateness of their product’s terms.

All these things have cultural and political consequences in my view. You don’t have to be a raving supporter or a crazy Ubuntu advocate. I think just being more aware of exactly what the proposition is and why proprietary software is very costly and not worth your time would be very valuable in bringing about a cultural shift.

Thank you for reading my ramble, what are your thoughts? Am I talking out of my hat again? Should I be less concerned with the adoption of practicalism as a principle?

When to Have an Agenda

Recently I’ve found myself having to balance more precariously how I approach local community based activities. Say if I’m going to be teaching Free Software use, then should I be putting to one side my obvious and oblique “Ubuntu is easy” agenda and just go with what is already there?

Even if I know that other people are using events to promote other focuses of interest. If I think the event is worthwhile in it’s own right then I think I ort to be involved and help out where I can.

I know I’ve looked more like an Ubuntu only fan but personally it’s much more about getting the best and quickest Free Desktop in front of as many people as possible, whatever that turns out to be. Making sure that users have tools that work and are respectful of their rights as users under the Free Software definition. That is perhaps my agenda, perhaps trying to spread principles is part of it too?

So long as it’s an event to promote Free and Open Source, I can’t see a reason why I shouldn’t be involved if needed. Weather it’s Debian, Fedora or Firefox.


Free at the Point of Download

Yesterday I posted an entry about how I felt that commercial economics should be more widely employed in the FOSS world and that it’s our failure as a community to engaged appropriately with non-material-contributing users in such a way as to make our material contributions more economically sustainable.

Some took this to mean that I was a dangerous capitalist (ironic for those who know my as the dangerous socialist).

OK let’s make one thing clear, I do _not_ advocate for the sale of something that is already paid for. And by that I mean that someone else already put the money or time into making something FOSS and has graciously licensed it for download.

If you need to spend full time on a project to make it a success then you have no choice but to find a way to make money. My proposals so far have been more about promoting the idea of paying for the _creation_ of software than about the rather more impossible _distribution_ of software. To do that would be to make something artificially scarce.

There must be a way to see users in different lights, they are: users, potential contributors, potential inverters and a source of problems. If you can turn every Ubuntu user into a contributor then that’s great, it’s healthy for the ecosystem and it’s growth and I know it’s great for the education of the contributors. On the other hand if you don’t have time to contribute then the next best thing to invest is damned money. Paying for someone else’s time can get you that contribution and it can even be more meaningful since the people who your paying can be highly skilled and your simply saving them from a life of non-foss development.

I’ve not yet given up the hope that we _can_ find a way to have fair Free Software development that pays the bills and delivers freedom.

What is Feminine Energy?

I was watching the amazing tedtalk by Isabel Allende as she described some of the women who dedicate their lives to making the world better and the incredible cultural sexism they faced in their journeys.

Near the end of the talk Isabel talks about the world as it is and how unsatisfyingly bad it is and how much better it could be if we could promote women’s rights and embrace women in jobs.

What’s striking to me is that I’ve noticed the tendency of not just the lack of women in various job roles, but also that any women that do get into those jobs tend to need to act like men in order to advance. I’m not just talking about sexism, but about aggressive social interaction, bullying and inconsideration for the wider implication of action. Their patriarchies are not familiar matriarchies or tribal relations.

There is an interesting thought that we should be investing more in enterprises run by women, especially in the third world where women can really make a difference for their families and society.

Isabel also mentions teaching young men how to understand and embrace their feminine energy. something I assume is code words for social organisation such as the idea that the people we talk to may actually be important enough to care about, empathise with and think about in a less self serving manner. I know it seems hard to think of people as people and not as ways to further one’s personal agenda, but it’s possible to teach I think.

I guess I’d be a feminist if I thought it should be a movement and didn’t just think of it as common sense. Rather than thinking I need to join a social group of people, I think I’m rather more comfortable imagining everyone a feminist and anyone who behaves sexist is simply that: outside the realm of acceptable behaviour.