Free software and its current logic failures

Within this article we want to describe the logic failures many projects from the sphere of free and libre software are following and especially why Hyperbola do not and will not include or even mention further projects. Aside of we do not include a list of projects as this article is meant as generic description of fallacies.

First of all we will use the idiom freedom is not self-evident as figurative meaning and expression also within this article. Therefore we want also to underline as others that free, libre software and culture is in a shape of crisis. We do not intend to get this mentioned idiom into misconception also. The conception of freedom as ultimate ratio for democratic participation and expression for every individual being is coming with a responsibility: Democracy and freedom are not some self-evident things, not coming also for everyone as “individual advantage”. They are not responsible to make anything better individual, they are meant to be for everyone the same and we as global society have to work for so they can be kept for the future. Democracy and freedom are meant for making the whole social living better, meant to grant participation and rights for every being, not only for some or some advantages likewise people think. We have to work on and for it daily, inclusive as democrats and not as ignorant individuals!

But what is this “freedom”?

The wording is seen for every individual different, sidewise when reading this article. We refer to “freedom” most time with the four freedoms defined for the “free, libre software”-movement.

About free, libre culture and software

In theory free, libre culture and software is a grant for inclusion, that all beings have the same rights and the same possible outcome of technical emancipation and freedom for open information, resulting in better education and democratic progression. Elementary within are the four freedoms defined:

  • Freedom 0: The freedom to use the program for any purpose.
  • Freedom 1: The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
  • Freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute and make copies so you can help your neighbor.
  • Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

So there is the right for everyone to look into the sources and all other parts of a software, modify this to own needs and give the modifications back towards everyone else.

What are those issues?

The outcome of the first projects assigned towards free, libre software was not the best when looking back into the early history: Many companies and others assumed this would reflect a generic danger for their own intellectual properties and the monetarian income in a whole, speaking therefore about the “economy”. But here is the first essential fallacy, a blind-spot of free, libre software itself as it was declared:

The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software.

With this any restriction towards making a derived work for whatever reasoning is no longer seen as free, libre software (for example to restrict or forbid commercial usage). But the fallacy is going beyond as this leads also to further assumptions being made: Making derived work or buy projects only with the intention of making more money, not with enrichment of society or bringing people any kind of technical emancipation. On those roots the new word “open-source” had its course. But the failure of the “open-source”-movement is ultimately a failure of imagination. When we talk about the “failure” of the “open-source”-movement, we don’t simply mean that systemic underfunding of crucial projects has led to incidents like the Heartbleed-issue, whereby a vulnerability in an important software library called OpenSSL undermined the integrity of a large part of the global network itself. Nor we are referring to the low adoption of “open-source”-software on the consumer side. Those are certainly failures and definite fallacies, but they are minor in comparison to the one that looms over the entire movement and free, libre culture as software itself. The biggest failure is philosophical. And it is rooted in what we normally think of as the greatest success declared from with the “open-source”-movement generated.

We use the terminology “open-source” to underline the difference towards free, libre software, which is and will be always our only priority and perspective. Please also inform yourself with the article words to avoid. The wording “open-source” is especially vague, but used exactly out of this reasoning because it is intended to have only a vague description from companies and corporations.

In recent decades, “open source” as artificial generated movement has proliferated on the production side - how software is developed, deployed, and maintained. We’ve even reached a point where corporations and companies are frequently choosing “open-source”-software over not opened alternatives. What’s even more, they’re publicly extolling its virtues as they’re sponsoring conferences and allowing their developers to work on popular projects. Indeed, many employers now consider past contributions to “open-source”-projects a de facto requirement for getting hired. But this is not any kind of further progression, when we look only close enough: When counting as a kind of “victory for freedom”, it was a pyrrhic one. The more something changes, the more we can count on everything stays the same as before. And so “open-source” is nowadays what it was right from the beginning: A big illusion. In the process of gaining popularity, the social movement of “free, libre software” - which rejected the very idea of treating software as intellectual property for gaining more income - morphed into the more palatable notion of “open source” as a development methodology, in which free and non-free software / projects could happily co-exist. The corporations that latched onto the movement discovered a useful technique for developing software, but jettisoned the critique of property rights that formed its ideological foundation. They had an idea for having “work and engagement for free” and they used it.

With this having in mind we have nowadays projects like Rust and PHP having so many restrictions towards their so-called intellectual property and trademark, that Hyperbola concluded to remove them and never get back towards their inclusion. Not enough with the trademarks original free, libre and premissive licensed projects tend to include non-free platforms and services direct into their development, for communication and also for the software itself.

Nevertheless it is not fair to blame the founders of free, libre software for having their movement hijacked. They were facing difficult odds: The neoliberal consensus of the last few decades has meant that the benefits of technological development have largely flowed to corporations, under the aegis of a strong intellectual property regime. As the “free, libre software”-movement came up against these prevailing economic forces, its more contentious aspects were watered down or discarded. The result was “open source”, a more collaborative method of writing software that bore few traces of its subversive origins. This is a shame, because free, libre software had the potential to be so much more. The movement arose out of the desire to decommodify data, to contest the idea of treating information as “property” and asking direct the sense behind “intellectual property of digital data”. Of course, the movement’s ability to fulfill this desire was hampered by a lack of political analysis and historical context. We need to remember that everything is political, driven within a political, ideological context. Nothing is without!

But that's one side of the even bigger picture: Free, libre software is also often further misued and mistreated as “ultimate errata for misguided data-usage”. The solution against surveillance, may it be from states, from organizations, companies or others. That's also a wrong perspective same way as before for misguided and shortened argumentation for or against capitalism. The conclusion is always included within further buzzwords like VPN, cryptography, cryptocurrency and more. Those are no solutions, especially when talking about social issues, as those cannot be solved with technical progression and further tools. That only results in circumvention and generation of even more problems. Speaking of: We need to face the facts that social issues are most complex and not only possible to solve with more technical approaches.

Hyperbola as project does not speak up against VPN or cryptography: In fact Hyperbola is based on the basic idea that everyone has a right of privacy and security. But we speak against their misusage as toolsets for paranoia. Critical thinking is always needed and critical questions same way. To state after all: Do we really want to have free, libre culture and software being that kind of misused? Social and economical that mistreated and misguided, so the once good meant intentions do not longer count? As society we need to come back to rational explanations: People make software for people, not for companies, not for corporations. The best protection is having the person in front of the computers having the possibility for emancipation and education, for science and not for some hearsay. Based on this we can also decline projects with a clear reasoning, not with something we have once read or heard somewhere alike.

Free, libre software-projects should go against the trend of even more data-consumption, for having even more dependencies with questionable backgrounds. Yes, most of them all around free, permissive licensed. But in the end treated only as corporate inclusion-ground and having people working “for free” on a “so-called open-licensed project”. In the outcome this is only misused as “cheap and easy workforce”. The “free, libre software”-movement tended to approach the issue of property rights within a capitalist framework from an individualized perspective, drawn from the 1970s-1980s hacker culture that many of them came from: If you could change how enough hackers wrote and used software, you could change the world. This highly personalized model of social change proposed an individual solution to a structural problem, which necessarily neglected the wider social context. In the end it was ignored also that a system cannot be changed from within, only outside with a complete different paradigm. So let's summarize: While “free, libre software” as movement has its own original roots, the wording “open-source” was only generated for a comfort-zone and it is fraud in all places.

What can we do about it?

Hyperbola has taken action about the issues described before and removed many projects associated only as “open-source” and / or with corporations direct. We do not support vague terminology and also do not want any kind of association with those projects. This includes also to set packages (applications and libraries) on hold, so they only receive security-fixes but no upgrade as newer releases of the projects have migrated towards problematic frameworks or themself only support bloated definitions - technical, social or economic.

All in all this is surely not enough: A growing number of people question the power that technology companies and corporations have over our lives, our economies, and our democracies. Pundits and politicians are casting about frantically for solutions: better regulation; a code of ethics for engineers, more diverse workforces. Unfortunately, these are mostly window-dressing solutions that don’t address the imbalance of power at the root of the problem. We need responsibility and radical perspectives in the community. At minimum to keep the niche of free, libre software working without technical dependencies for corporate projects, with their only intentions to embrace “open-source” as some illusion. We should also remember that property rights originally developed under conditions of scarcity, so it feels somewhat odd, from a consumer perspective, to apply those same rights to non-scarce goods which can be replicated at zero marginal cost. Digital data is a non-scarce good, within its definition, its design, its own boundaries and roots. So simulating artificial scarcity is also not ethical towards every being. The exact questions should be:

  • Who owns that data?
  • Who owns that servers?
  • And who is in charge and command of the users hard- and software?

A “computer” should be per definition a helping tool, not an energy-consumption with endless scaling, not a fear and risk for the data of users and not only in command of others. In the near theory everyone should even be able to build an own computer, an own “computing machine” with own parts, which only is in command of its own user and builder. This terminology was also misused, as a false promise once. So to overcome the first step of illusion, we need to ask ourselves the above listed questions and make a strict and harsh definition for the software also. With this we can go further to the hardware, but we need to be clear: We also look close enough and work for freedom in software being stable as there is no possibility left making compromises!

We need to stop using shortened phrases and buzzwords, as they are most only some false promises, being never fulfilled. May it be “complete / ultimate security” or “decentralized data as solution”. Yes, some of them are helpful for the further realization. But a “decentralized server and network” (Mastodon, Diaspora etc.) is only more part of the problem, not the solution from our perspective: The need to communicate everything with sharing nothing in fact. There are good examples for the opposite. But in fact it is today more than ever needed to share real experiences and help others, while it is also important to listen. We need therefore be honest with each other: Demanding from small teams and minorities to explain their points over and over again, leads only to frustration and exhaustion, nothing else. Listen carefully enough, be critical and show a helping hand instead of on-going questions only for the own advantages. Make differences of the kind of technology and the technology-stack in usage.

And in the end there is also a difference: Having original non-free data running with free environments is the follow-up of the original intention for “open-source”, trademarks, copyright and more. But having free and libre environments making a foul compromise with non-free services is the opposite of the original idea. Why do we want to include more and more non-free services in our own infrastructure? The logic fallacy is only one corner ahead: Even when there are no bigger disadvantages, at one point that part of the infrastructure for communication as example will definitely break down, when this service is no longer offered or changed its own way being offered (for example in regards to payment). Non-free services and their inclusion or further usage is nothing we should ever take into perspective. Nothing is offered “for free” in a capitalistic paradigm. If you do not pay first with money, you will pay later on or direct with data from yourself, project-members and users. That is in every way unethical to the point and intention of free, libre software!

Yes, this all means in the end to reside in a niche, away from some majority. But this is a right for every individual, same as it is a right for the group of “free, libre culture and software”. The movement may have lost many, even loosing while this article is written. But the niche is far better as it offers possibilities. Outgrowing too fast, getting too many people with us in a small amount of time is not working. There is learning-curve and it is different for everyone, individual seen. So we need to take the time and face one elemental fact also that capitalism is of no solution for those problems written down. There is also no “surveillance capitalism” as this a part of the system itself making everything as possible monetary source. Surveillance is part of capitalism, as we are all included. We can only break with it, when we look from outside instead thinking from the inside! Remember: It is your own decision and action to find your solution. But to demand from free, libre licensed software and operating-systems to include non-free services is of no solution in the end. Also to remember: Capitalism is only based on exploitation as in this article already described on the perspective for “free, libre software”. It's ground rules are based on “consumption” and just therefore ask who is paying the highest price in the whole chain of services and software. If it is not you, it will be for sure someone else paying that price. Perhaps the person fixing the code or taking on the issues? Perhaps others in moderation of non-free services? There is always a price to pay. Getting out of this is only a promise, when we really want to do that. Not pretending to do likewise often in those days. You are free in your own freedom, but likewise you are restricting others when you overestimate your own freedom.

It was not possible to oversee the whole outcome when the “free, libre software”-movement was started. Nevertheless we have to work now with different parameters, more strict and straight forward. Nevertheless always oriented on the freedom for all, the technical emancipation and education for the willing people. There is always need for a critical look on our engagement and a daily retrospective.

Conclusion

One essential question stays unsolved: Is the “free, libre software”-movement ready to be saved or can it save itself from being undermined? That's the point for this article. The following points are to be seen critical:

  • No historical and political analysis is leaving the movement let alone in unknown fields, so it is needed that the movement itself can order itself.
  • No strict handles are used, so projects and teams are left with questionable decisions for tools and further workflows, creating therefore dependencies for unethical, partwise complete non-free services.
  • No social responsibility is shown in the wide fields, as to remember that everything is political and every decision is same way. Freedom is important to be preserved but not worthwhile it is just seen alone as own freedom includes also the freedom of others.
  • No support from the community let the “free, libre software”-movement going down, very fast and harsh. Getting support from companies and corporations is the wrong way.

Possible solutions in the same order:

  • The “free, libre software”-movement is also a movement about social justice, about inclusion and the grant of democratic participation, for free data and information.
  • Strict definitions are working tools, principles and values are needed to keep questionable decisions out of sight. Debates and talks with clear results are helpful same as acknowledge non-free services and stop their inclusion around in projects.
  • Social responsibility is one common ground to grant freedom: Interaction is never deterministic but can be solved with the will for talks.
  • Support is needed and given on many ways, may it be critical points shared, additions for articles and / or documentations, lines of code, testing or many other things. Without support the “free, libre software”-movement is not possible to work and exist!

As long as misusage is going forward, named within this article, as long the “free, libre software”-movement will include those logical failures. Unable to solve them besides the cryout for “freedom” alone is not solving anything. Freedom is self-evident, when the personal freedom can be seen also in a wider context. It is a simple formula as the more people are able and willing to learn and educate, the more they can also take on other perspectives and find solutions with others around, the wider the perspective would get the more better the solutions can be. If we deny technical emancipation and await always from others solutions, we deny also a possible better outcome, reducing our complex social interaction only to deterministic information and algorithms defined by other instances.

We have also named “decentralization” within this article, most with a negative connotation. But this naming and its mechanism per definition can be used also positive: When we are ready to use it for real. Instead to focus sources and information at and on single platforms. We should not just copy failed systems and platforms as social interaction and communication is too complex for just some lines written or regulated throughout digital tools. Same when we are going to use the rulesets instead as community in opposite to focus that on just single individuals, names and persons. The opposite direction is to enable really every individual to be capable of doing something, just instead to have only some focus on names, platforms and projects. We do not need to build oversized and complex processing structures, we just need fitting toolsets with doing just one thing and doing that well enough. Bringing the real community back with the will to debate, to change and to work with each other, just to learn peacefully and with democratic participation. Leaving the rest behind, yes, sometimes even strict and harsh as ideologies and perspectives with roots in hatred, harassment and exclusion of groups or individuals have no place in a democracy.