[Fsfe-ie] Re: The GPL

Niall Douglas s_fsfeurope2 at nedprod.com
Mon Sep 29 02:07:36 CEST 2003

Hash: SHA1

On 28 Sep 2003 at 3:36, David Golden wrote:

Note: I appreciate that some of the stuff I've said below is hard. 
Most people when I start talking like below switch off or 
deliberately take simplified (and therefore totally incorrect) 
interpretations of what I really said. But if you study it long 
enough, it's very worthwhile.

> > I had worked on the basis that divisive discussions such as these
> > are best kept off public fora. But if people want to, we can.
> I disagree totally, openness and honest acknowledgement of division is
> becoming more and more important, and is vital for a resilient society
> that won't "shatter when struck"- you can't analyse and really resolve
> division by hiding it. 

Oh but we're not hiding it. These discussions merely go on behind 
closed doors where the enemy(TM) have difficulty getting to it.

If you don't think they employ people to spy on us, see the Sunday 
Times today about BAE paying for agents to infiltrate anti-arms sales 

> Digression: I recommend the book by David
> Brin  "The Transparent Society: Will technology force us to choose
> between privacy and freedom?" for an introductory and accessible (i.e.
> not written by Popper) exploration of why it's probably for the best
> to keep such things out in the open, and why it's becoming much more
> important that we do so as technology advances (demand reciprocal
> transparency, not privacy, one of my bones of contention with the FSF
> is their privacy stance.).  http://www.davidbrin.com/tschp1.html

I hope you don't mind me saying I think this approach somewhat naïve 
and simplistic. He who controls information creates the potential for 
power. Therefore putting this stuff in public is counter-productive 
in the current climate.

> > In fact, some like me  think the GPL a necessary evil and a
> > doubtful one still at that.
> I do hope one day the GPL will become unnecessary. I don't think it's
> particularly evil. Certainly not compared to your average MS EULA :-)

The single advantage of the MS model over the free software one is 
that it is long-term self-sustainable. If the free software movement 
did not have proprietary software to clone, they would quickly lose 
cohesion and it would become a right mess.

If you disagree, go read "The Mythical Man Month" and note my points 
about free software requiring consensus before it can achieve 
something (and I mean through volunteers, not injection of external 
capital to employ people to do something they wouldn't personally 
normally do). And everyone can agree on copying an existing example.

> > I meant that the GPL does many of the same bad things to software as
> > proprietary closed source does eg; duplication and thus waste of
> > production.
> Duplication? The duplicator had a choice, they could always have just
> abided by the GPL, and avoided the effort, couldn't they?

Most engineers will tend to duplicate rather than reuse. It's bad 
practice and has been for thirty years, yet we're all still doing it. 
The GPL and closed source both encourage duplication over reuse, and 
therefore work against best practice. I am therefore opposed to both.

> > The GPL seeks to permanently restrict the use of software
> > just like proprietary. I don't for a second call GPL software free
> > software.
> Again: it only restricts those who would exert exclusive rights over
> non-scarce information themselves, as far as I'm concerned. 

Except it asserts exclusive rights over the very same non-scarce 
information as well. It's a manifestation of the same problem ie; 
that software use must be permanently controlled for its own good.

I say no! I say that we need a better system, one which does 
everything to encourage best practice wherever it can. And we don't 
just need it in software, we need the same across all society across 
the world.

I liken the relationship between the GPL and closed source to 
capitalism and communism - these both stem from the same set of 
underlying assumptions ie; communism is merely a form of capitalism 
underneath. What those who hailed the victory of capitalism over 
communism fail to understand is that its death knell is also that of 

> > Well copyright is nearly dead already. Another ten years and they'll
> > be screaming out for a legislative replacement.
> Perhaps, but the pessimist in me predicts the replacement will be the
> legislation of mandatory DRM brain-implants :-))

Not if someone invents a totally secure and untrackable file trading 
system. Other than install a chip in every computer (which Linux 
could disable anyway), that event is only years away.

> > This is one of the best features of capitalism - that taking risk is
> > rewarded ie; entrepreneurship.
> There should be no guarantee of adequate reward for "taking risk".  If
> there was, it wouldn't be "taking risk" - Think about it!

I should have said "that there is an incentive to take risk ie; 
entrepreneurship". I usually do, just forgot this time.

> Current nominally "capitalist" nations are anything but  - you have
> governments left right and centre swallowing the anti-capitalist
> arguments that people, in particular pseudopeople that are large
> corporations, should be entitled to recoup investments they have made,
> even if bad (particularly if bad, in some cases...).

That's different. That comes from the more recent ideology that what 
is good for business is automatically good for society. The Americans 
in particular use this one openly - while we stopped doing so in the 
1960's, that mantra still underlies much of government and social 
policy in Europe.

> In fact, most of the participants in the ever more popular
> "anti-capitalist" protest marches around here (Dublin) are really
> anti-corporatist if you listen to what what they're complaining about.
> Unfortunately, capitalism (free-market capitalism) is being tarred
> with the same brush as corporatism since the fascists in power
> describe themselves as capitalists, and even call their
> completely-anti-free-market pushes for further first-world
> protectionism "establishing global free markets". [Sigh...]

I'd go much further than you have. I would say that the global 
opposition to globalisation actually stems from the usual social 
unrest which precedes a civilisation bifurcation point. People are 
intuitively realising that the current world system is unsustainable 
and is increasingly showing large cracks - and that total collapse is 
coming closer.

If you explain it this way, suddenly the recent penchant of western 
governments to legislate everything becomes clear - they are trying 
to wallpaper over the ever widening cracks. Things like DRM, software 
patents, EU legislation on the bendiness of bananas - all of this 
comes from a psychological need to feel like we're doing /something/ 
about this problem. Indeed the invasion of Iraq is clearly to secure 
control of energy sources but when looked at from higher up, it's 
more actually to feel like you're taking proactive action against the 
inevitable collapse of the current bretton woods system.

Since the late 1970's, the future for the world has become clear. 
Research started then has been increasingly growing though it is 
virtually unrecognised by the mainstream. A growing number of wealthy 
individuals are pouring money into post-capitalist research and the 
results are very interesting. Yet even if you searched the internet 
right now, I'd bet you'd have trouble finding any of this stuff.

What I especially like about it is that the future world order as 
proposed by these theories is completely scientific, long-term 
sustainable and ties in human spirituality very neatly as well. In 
fact, one could call it the grand unified theory of everything :)

> > You have, like many others, made the logical mistake of believing
> > there is a difference between manipulating intangibles and
> > tangibles. There is not.
> You have, like many others, made the logical mistake of believing
> there is no difference between manipulating intangibles and tangibles.
> There is.

This means the same thing?

> That's a little off, though, really, I actually agree pretty much with
> your version of the statement - but only because, in the limit, I
> don't really believe in intangibles. "intangible" is woolly thinking. 
>  Information only exists when impressed on a physical substrate.

Not at all. The dictionary definition of intangible is anything you 
can't hold in your hand. And you're wrong - information exists 
without any physical representation, just as does love, bad, an idea 
or plato's horse.

You're about to say that all those are human relative. And you'd be 
right - love to a human is a human's understanding of love. But love 
exists well beyond the ken of a human. Love exists without requiring 
a subjective interpretation just as much as plato's horse exists 
without a human ever seeing one.

Is this scientific? Absolutely. Once you accept the inevitable 
consequences of a quantum multiverse, all these things become clear.

> I acknowledge things get a little awkward at quantum level, where
> there's glimmerings that there is a quite close correspondence between
> information and physical items, but it isn't a correspondence that
> suggests that any existing frameworks will be valid as they currently
> stand once we gain the ability to control things at that level.

All conventional matter is merely emergent strands of order from an 
ever increasing quantity of complexity. Ditto for our brains and thus 
any ideas it forms. Everything in the universe is connected - and a 
rock is just as much alive as we are or the sun is. What is moral is 
only that which is long term self-sustainable and the quantity of 
morality is a measure of the contribution of complexity and thus 
evolution it gives to whatever is around it.

You may think this too metaphysical and thus irrelevent to the 
discussion. But I don't think you can understand why I think the way 
I do without understanding what I have said above. If you want 
further clarification, Gregory Bateson is a good start.

> > Thus this foolish idea of working on software as being a kind of
> > services industry (like where you pay an engineer to fix your motor)
> > rather than a manufacturing industry (like where you make a motor
> > and sell it) is extremely dangerous in the long-term.
> Dangerous for who?  Microsoft, yes (but not so dangerous that they
> couldn't successfully adapt, in my opinion).

Dangerous for long-term sustainability. Thus treating software as a 
service is immoral and bad for society.

> Handy you chose motors- I have a masters in mechanical engineering as
> well as being a professional software developer and all round annoying
> know-it-all ("consultant").  I happen to know, from personal
> experience, that software production is almost NOTHING like motor
> production. 

The production of it is irrelevent. They are of the same because both 
are solutions to a problem ie; an engineering solution. A book is 
not, except as a doorstop.

> Software+Hardware is slightly like a motor.  Software on
> it's own definitely isn't.  With software, a sufficiently detailed
> specification IS the software. 

Totally incorrect, but it's a common mistake. Is software any less of 
a complete solution to a problem without the computer hardware it 
runs upon?

Think of it this way: is an electric motor any less of a complete 
solution to a problem without electric current?

> You can't write down "this is an A.C. induction motor" and have it be
> called the motor, but you can write down "(setf pants (make-instance
> 'someclass))" and have it be called the software.

A description of software is like the plans for constructing an 
electric motor - incomplete.

> Further thought:  Modern motors and more complex machines involving
> motors often have control systems.  Software certainly is used , in
> that context, as the settings/instructions for the control system
> computer.   When you're a junior engineer doing some grunt work
> "fixing" a machine from the disinterested manager's perspective,
> you're actually often tweaking or rewriting said settings and
> instructions (i.e. writing software, perhaps in some godawful PLC
> assembler).  So software _production_ can actually be very like motor
> _fixing_.  :-))

No, you're confusing software production with software debugging. 
Debugging software is not production just as much as fixing a machine 
is not building it.

> >  That whole idea must be stamped out and I unfortunately notice a
> >  strong
> > correlation  of this idea with those who believe in the GPL.
> Hmm.  "The whole idea must be stamped out"?  A tad extreme, and
> not something I like to hear in any context.

What about stamping out fascism or torture?

I know it's not popular in the modern age, but there is absolute 
right and absolute wrong. The GPL is bad but I agree it's necessary. 
However treating software production as a service is an extension of 
the logical errors behind thinking computer software is nothing more 
than information. That is a recipe for future disaster.

Pure information can not solve a problem without a human added to the 
equation. This is why computer software is more than normal vanilla 
information - it has value and worth beyond normal information 
because it can solve problems.

Let's look at the entire universe. What does it do? Easy: it solves 
problems. Every single facet of everything solves problems. Look at 
biological life - what does all of it do? Again, it solves problems. 
- From the single celled bacteria to a dog to a human, their primary 
function is to solve problems.

Therefore a computer program, because it is a self-standing solution 
to a problem not requiring a human in its relational definition, is a 
manifestation of new emergent order.

Haven't you ever wondered why it is possible for us to double 
transistor counts every twelve to eighteen months? Sure, you can 
explain it in terms of improvements in technology. I go further than 
that - I say we tapped into a manifestation of the fundamental 
operating principle of the universe. If humankind wants to evolve, 
and I mean /really/ evolve, therein lies the solution.

> > (for example a computer program baking a cake
> > is substantially more than the recipe for a cake).
> A computer program might, when run on a computer interfaced to a
> servomechanism/robot, instruct a cake to be made.  But a computer
> program will never bake a cake in and of itself, no more than my mind
> (best guess is that's information impressed upon the physical
> substrate of my brain) can bake a cake without my hands.

What all computer software solves are human defined problems. But you 
must not confuse the nature of the act of solution with the end 
result itself.


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