When the Industrial Revolution began during the 18th century, a major shift occurred in the motivating forces that drove human endeavors. Prior to the start of the Industrial Revolution, an agrarian economy, a dedication to the pious structure provided by religion, and a strong sense of community/sharing centered on large groups of families dominated the cultural landscape. However, the Industrial Revolution brought about one very negative and unforeseen characteristic, along with the many beneficial ones: the primacy of self. One subconscious message of the Industrial Revolution was this: "My gains and my profits are ultimately the most important thing because my gains, coupled with those of others, will be the engine that drives progress."
Originally, this system worked exceptionally well because the drive towards self-enrichment was tempered by the strong moral directives of Christian Conservatism. The teachings of the Bible and other religious writings stressed the primacy not of self, but rather focusing on one greater that one's self (God), the importance of the family, and the importance of community service. However, over time, those important messages beganto be lost. Religion, whose moral tenets seemed to be an impediment to the unadulterated quest for profits, was quickly marginalized and given a status separate from the all-important financial dealings that were making millionaires out of former farmers. It became clear that the rules had to be changed to favor those who were willing to do whatever it took to become wealthy. Those that were willing to bear this burden quickly began to realize that the best way to motivate their employees was by offering compensation that far exceeded what they could make on rural farms. This led to a massive movement of large masses of people from their familiar farms, churches, and families, to the bustling streets of the new economic centers, the cities. As these workers migrated to their new homes, they saw the rapid accumulation of wealth that characterized their employers, and they wanted the same thing. An entire movement was born that "religiously" believed in the primacy of self.This is not to imply that this movement was all bad. Centuries of progress occurred due to the constant driving force of competition. A man was always looking at the accomplishments of his neighbor, and looking to have a slightly nicer house, and a slightly nicer yard than his rival. This constant game of one-upsmanship was the competitive engine that pushed the greatest period of human advancement in history. However, there was a hidden cost: people became conditioned to always expect compensation if they were to continue to add fuel to the force known as progress. Philanthropy was glamorized by the likes of industrialist Andrew Carnegie as an endeavor that one undertook AFTER they had already amassed a giant fortune. The wealth accumulated by Mr. Carnegie dazzled those who were witness to it. However, his fundamental messages were lost to many of them:
The price which society pays for the law of competition, like the price it pays for cheap comforts and luxuries, is great; but the advantages of this law are also greater still than its cost / for it is to this law that we owe our wonderful material development, which brings improved conditions in its train. But, whether the law be benign or not, we must say of it: It is here; we cannot evade it; no substitutes for it have been found; and while the law may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department.Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community.The man who dies rich dies disgraced.
In other words, Carnegie believed first and foremost in service to one's community, not in the primacy of self. Ultimately, moral forces
drove him far more than capitalistic forces did. If we fast forward nearly 100 years after Carnegie's death, here was one of the statements offered by the BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg in response to the recent Gulf Coast oil disaster:And we care about the small people. I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don't care. But that is not the case in BP. We care about the small people.How times have changed. Unwittingly, Mr. Svanberg's comments revealed the inner mental workings and psychology of many who have been in positions of affluence and high-profits for so long that it is seen as aGod-given right; those "small people" whose daily toils allow them to earn such profits are seen as little more than pawns on a chess board.
The evidence of this line of thinking is becoming more apparent in many relationships between businesses and consumers. Cellphone service provider AT&T has recently determined that its customers must use Yahoo as their search engine, and furthermore, cannot remove the default AT&T applications from their Android-powered handsets, the Motorola Backflip and the HTC Aria. Despite the open nature of the Linux-powered Android platform, AT&T sees it fit to restrict its pawns in deference to the greater good of surplus profits.So given the never-ending quest for increased profits, where does GNU/Linux fit into the old paradigm? It doesn't, GNU/Linux has created a completely new paradigm.
FearGNU/Linux and FOSS make the proprietors of closed-source software very afraid because the psychological relationship between the
end-user and the producer of software is entirely different. End-users are not seen as pawns. In fact, most often, the developer does not
really care how the end-user uses the software, or for what purpose. The paradigm shift that occurred with the open-source software movement is directly related to the fact that no one really understands exactly why open-source coders produce what they do for free. The truth is that I do not know either. I am up at 5 am writing an article about Linux for a website that does not provide me a profit because I believe that it serves a greater good, and because I enjoy it.
However, it is not an entirely rational decision, it just feels like the right thing to do. This spirit is what makes the old-school competitors to free and open-source software scared. At 3 am, somewhere in Massachusetts, a group of brilliant 15 year old kids is writing a software application that is better than a similar proprietary application sold by a multi-million dollar corporation. The corporation spent millions paying for research and development, health care benefits, and into employee retirement funds to produce this software. How can a group of 15-year-olds outdo them? The simple answer is passion. The deficiency in the old model where a person's commitment is bought is this: you CANNOT buy passion.
You CANNOT duplicate the tenacity of the person who is on a quest and who loves what they are doing simply for doing it. The problem is often a moral issue. Young, gifted programmers are often idealists. The idea of writing as piece of software that is engineered to take away a person's freedoms is often diametrically opposed to the spirit that drives most programmers. Programming is fueled by a concept of collaboration and sharing, not locking-down and controlling people. The group of 15 year old idealists will often feel much more compelled to release their brilliant code in an environment that appreciates and respects the concepts under which that very code was written. Free and open-source software often fit that mold.Uncertainty
The uncertainly lies in how people will respond when they realize that they are often enslaved by their proprietors. In Plato's famous Doubt
Allegory of the Cave, the philosopher opined that the enslaved often do not know that they are fettered. He continued that if you freed a person that was chained to a wall inside a cave for their entire life and let them see the outside, they would often want to run back to the security and comfort of the well-known interior of the cave. However, freedom is a taste that can be easily acquired with time and practice. Free and open source software such as GNU/Linux is exposing millions of people to freedoms that most of us are ignorant to. As people talk, the knowledge of this available freedom spreads, and the uncertainty lies in the question of what will people choose. Will they choose the safety and security of the cave, or will they choose to leave their bindings behindforever?
The real doubt introduced by GNU/Linux, and the culture that surrounds it, is a doubt in the old way of doing things. People, especially those without moral strength or character, do not like to give up their power without a fight. However, in Gnu/Linux, they are finding it very difficult to deal with an adversary that has a completely different concept of how the world works and what is important. Here is the fundamental distinction: in the old world way of doing things, one must maintain power by CONTROLLING the actions of large groups of people. Those groups of people, in turn, become manipulated components (pawns) that allow the person in power to progress and to meet all of their objectives. Whether the pawns' objectives are met is largely irrelevant. In the GNU/Linux paradigm, power is no longer the overriding objective. The ideological shift is that there is no centralized objective. The objectives are as plentiful as the number of people in the community. FOSS strives to give user A and user B the same freedoms and the same rights such that they can both meet all of their objectives; and in doing so, allow the entire community to surpass the productivity of traditional, tightly controlled platforms by aggregating the products of that shared freedom.
In closing, we are in the midst of a GNU/Linux and FOSS revolution that is creating a great deal of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. However,
this movement has demonstrated that fear, uncertainty, and doubt can be very good things.
Read this article in it's original context here