Open Source and Communism – Why it makes no sense

Throughout the dealings between the open source community and the rest of the world an often quoted point of view is that, that open source equals communism and/or socialism. It’s a blighting accusation that gets a luke-warm reception on both sides, partly because the open source way of thinking in some aspects could be said to contain communist aspects, and in other areas not. Nonetheless it has become a knee-jerk reaction for any staunch capitalist to rip on open source using the C-word if it happens to instantiate itself in a fashion which could seem detrimental to the capitalist way of thinking. In the following I will elaborate on the fallacy being committed in regards to such misnomers; the notion does not pertain to open source only, indeed it is a fallacy committed on a daily basis by anyone who put their personal inclination and agenda above the desire for truth and objectivity. My ramblings may seem tautological to you, if they do then all is well and good, I salute your honesty, however worthless such a salute may (and should) be. On the other hand some people seem to believe that their own oppinion hold equal, if not greater, value than objective truth; a strange lemming-like behavior that does not seem to provide anything constructive than the placebo-effect of believing one is right.

Humans in general hate to be wrong, let’s not deny it. In a world where success is no longer measured by how many mammoths you have brought home from your hunting-trip, and everyone can communicate instantly with each other via technology, the veracity of claims have attained a status as the ultimate trophy for humanity. This is all well and good, after all truth is an absolute about which we can all agree is a desirable thing to attain. However, there exist those who would seek to exploit truth for their own gains, and leverage their private knowledge against those who are ignorant of the truth to attain praise. This notion of exploiting others through superior knowledge is nothing new, indeed human history is rife with instances of smart people screwing over the less intellectually inclined. What has changed though, is the way that this process is carried out. In old times, priests and oracles could use their superior knowledge of astronomy to call upon solar eclipses (at specific times of courses) to sway the public into submission. Today this is less likely to be the case; people have become smarter, if someone postulates the incredible, it is fairly easy for the individual to either check the veracity of this persons claims, or point to an element of the claims and say “prove it”. Logic and reason seem to have become a household ability which everyone touts, but alas, the rhetoric with which to delude people has become equally advanced in place.

Let us disregard the fact that software and material goods are two very different things for a moment. If I share my software, then I can copy it indefinitely without ending up with less software; if tried the same with a block of butter, I probably would not be as lucky, which is arguably a major contributor to the shortcomings of communism in history. Take for instance the accusation which open source adherents repeatedly must answer to these days : “open source is communistic”. The problem with this statement is that people who utter it most likely does not have a comprehensive knowledge of what communism is in its entirety (not even I would claim a feat as grand as that). Rather, in this day and age, uttering this sentence is simply a badly hidden declaration of ones own political stance, which in this case would be that of a capitalist or a liberal, and an attempt to tie the negative elements of communism as we historically know it to the person spoken to. So when a person says “open source is communistic” he most likely does not mean that open source is an ideal in which people share their creations freely in order to modify them and make them better for the good of the community, which is a communistic ideal; rather he most likely thinks that open source will erect Gulag-camps and silence political opposition if allowed to run amok. In logic this way of reasoning is one part of the fallacy termed as the relativistic “if-by-whiskey” fallacy. Whiskey can have negative connotations as well as good ones, depending on what angle you view it from, however, attacking whiskey solely from the point of view that it’s a bad thing does not embody the whole debate about whiskey, much less says anything about whether or not whiskey is good or not. It is simply nothing but people shouting “Boo!” and “Hooray!” against each other, and very little of any value has ever emerged from that. If you apply this to the open source argument, then it is no longer a question of whether open source is communistic or not, it is a question of whether the proponents and opponents on both sides of the “if-by-whiskey”-constellation are right in their claims. Is open source an ideal in which people share their source code for the benefit of the community, definitely yes. Is open source trying to erect Gulag-camps and silence political dissent, absolutely no.

My big question here is, why even drag communism into the debate? As demonstrated it holds a double-meaning depending on the point of view, and serves no other purpose than to muddy up the waters, and throw the discourse into an emotional disarray. Any debattant, no, any human, should be able to identify this horrid way of side-tracking a perfectly valid debate about the relevance of open source, and, on a greater scale, everything else for that matter. The “if-by-whiskey”-fallacy has become the most misused fallacy in the world today, a world in which humans mistakenly has begun to think that their oppinion matters even when hard evidence exists that contradicts their oppinion. In concordance with this, it has become every humans job to chain their inclinations and gullibility in favor of their duty to crystallized and verifiable truth.

So, if someone ever asks you “is open source communist”, and they don’t seem like the person who would be permeable to logic, you shouldn’t answer “yes” or “no”, you should smack them on the cheek for asking a stupid question, or simply ignore them. If you do not understand logic, if you have nothing but an unfounded oppinion, why should you warrant an answer in the first place?

Published in: on March 23, 2008 at 7:56 am  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I think we should answer, open source is new social movement for agains the “capitalistic” -closed corpus- right.
    I like your blog and try to understand your write hardly. Because in my country, English is not primary or secondary language. Just complementer for who they feel it needed.

  2. @ Qahar. I don’t think open source is against capitalism per se, as there are lots of alternative ways to generate income from open source (support, tailoring applications to work-processes, etc.). Also open source is probably the most extreme iteration of free economy, where supply (unlimited) and demand dictates which software is developed, and which is not. So in my eyes it is very hard to find an contemporary ideological shoe which fits open source nowadays, as it is a bit of everything. In the end I believe this endeavor to ‘link’ open source with anything is doing more damage than good. Open source is open source, let’s leave it at that 🙂

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  4. may be you right. I’m just confuse about so easily capitalism try to get through-in to every “against symbolic”.
    I wanna ask your opinian. I have think that capitalist on industrial not just exploitated the workers, but also everyone on the society that work hardly to consumption the stuff that increasing their presticious. In that case, the capitalist exploited them with increasing the reveune and decrease cost from the workers. They spread the reveune for security, country stability etc. What u think about that?
    May I know you more? I’m undergraduated student at Muhammadiyah University of Surakarta,Indonesia.

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