We hear it so often it becomes part of the overall background
noise-- silly propaganda about how FOSS is anti-capitalist and
un-American because it can't be locked up and exploited. I picture
people who look like Mr. Burns on
the Simpsons cackling, rubbing their hands, and gloating over their
ill-gotten gains. They must be ill-gotten because it's more fun
that way. "Mine! All mine! Nobody else gets to even look at it
without paying me money. Lots and lots of money! I'll be rich, I'll
be fabulously wealthy!"
It's nuts. Oh sure, the first billion or so are exciting, but
then what do you do? Spend your days gloating? Maybe it's a
character defect, but that sounds dull to me, not to mention
maniacally selfish. There is a line from "Dune", by Frank Herbert,
that has always stuck with me: "The highest function of ecology is
understanding consequences." I think it makes a good yardstick for
everything-- what are the consequences of any particular
There are all kinds of obvious examples of disregarding
consequences, such as destructive natural resource extraction and
dirty industries. A select few reap fabulous monetary gains, but
they leave trails of damage and destruction that will persist for
generations. I suppose that the moguls who profit by dirty tactics
are OK with it as long as they have their own clean green retreats
to live and play in. Me, I think it shows a lack of self-respect
and a lack of interest in real quality, and a sociopathic disregard
for other people. How can anyone be proud of leaving behind a huge
mess for someone else to clean up, or be proud of ruining the
health of large numbers of people? The cleanup always costs way
more than whatever profits were extracted initially, and damaged
humans are rarely made whole again.
The analogue to that in high-tech is the worldwide swath of
destruction left by our favorite monopolist and its hordes of
servile toadies. I wonder if there is conscious decision-making at
work? Waking up every day and pondering "So what's on the schedule
today-- trashing a standards body? Subverting some legislators?
Perverting patent law, contract law, and copyrights? Putting the
screws to some schools or old people's homes? Interfering in some
foreign governments? Leaving a nice wide swath of scorched earth
just because I can? So many fun things to do, so little time!"
I suspect these thoughts are cloaked deceptively, rather than
faced honestly, though of course I have no way of knowing. Because
it seems that someone facing these issues honestly would realize
that destructive tactics have short shelf lives-- they work only as
long as a bigger, more ruthless bully does not appear. And then
they have only themselves to blame for paving the way and making it
easier for the new bully.
What is Wealth?
A related part of the anti-FOSS background noise is "Why would
anyone give away good code for free?" Which to me indicates a very
narrow worldview. I wonder why work in a job, or do anything just
for the money? We don't always have the luxury of choice and
sometimes have to take a job, any job just to have a paycheck. But
you might have noticed that most people are not all that motivated
by money. Studies and surveys on what motivates employees
consistently report that the number one motivator is recognition.
People want their expertise and good work to be acknowledged and
respected. Money is important, obviously, because we must provide
for ourselves and our families. It's just not the most important
factor, and receiving a paycheck doesn't mean they own you. I doubt
I'm the only one here who has ever quit a job or fired a client
because for some deals, no amount of money is enough. (Let alone
selling out for a "loaner" laptop...sheesh, selling out is bad
enough, but selling out cheaply? No self-respect at all.)
Why would anyone work for free? I could list a whole lot of
reasons, but I think they can all be summed up as "To be who we
really are." Coders code. Writers write. Artists make art.
Etc...you get the idea. It's not really working for free anyway,
it's just not getting paid in money. Payment comes in the form of
personal satisfaction, creating something excellent and
proud-worthy, sharing, being part of something bigger and
worthwhile, having the respect and approval of peers and friends,
making the world a little bit better. Getting paid to do what you
love is the best of all worlds, though you still have to keep your
guard up-- you have to watch out for the folks who think that
giving you money means they own you; that money justifies anything.
Money is a tricky bugger.