Public Money Public Code: a good policy for FSFE and other, non-profits?

Mat Witts mat at
Thu Jun 14 08:35:50 UTC 2018

 > Daniel's article about the use of proprietary software  and services 
by the FSFE:
 > ...a long discussion last year, starting here...
 > ...and ending here:

We may be wrong to give awards to organisations who use Free Software to 
achieve their objectives.

I say this because I see how beauty pageants, and the general seductions 
of seeking 'prestige' tend to make topics like privacy, surveillance and 
ultimately, control seem more juvenile than they really are. In any 
case, it's hard to out-match the behavior of companies like Google and 
Facebook in terms of their huge success in trivializing such things in 
my view. For those of us that are doing our best to use Free Software 
and improve it, I believe the rewards for knowing we are in control of 
the technology are more than sufficient?

What is at stake here I think in the Free Software universe is not about 
levels of adoption and pragmatics, since many CMS packages and FS 
flavors of linux are already doing pretty well in terms of 'market 
share' I think, (if I can put it that way). What I imagine is on the 
horizon is humanity having to deal with such challenges as IoT and AI 
while attenuating the land-grabbing mentality of the tech. giants and 
the extraordinary resources they already have at their disposal to 
influence governments and civil society - tax evasion, high-level 
'cabals' lobbying for international trade exemptions and so forth.

In terms of the FSFE, I think there are some obvious problems with the 
way things are done (or not done perhaps) which I think may be somewhat 
related to the relationships between the various actors at GA level, 
which I know nothing about and to be frank, cannot really get excited 
about because I don't see what I want to see at the FSFE. I have mostly 
lost interest in FSFE and instead have decided to support FSF in America 
for the time being. I don't agree with everything FSF stands for, but I 
do admire it enough to switch my affiliation for now.

Having worked with non-profits since the early nineties I see the same 
problems time and time again which are beyond the scope of this email, 
but can be generally classified as 'parochialism', getting too bogged 
down in personal battles and internal politics and losing the 'big 
picture' which I generally attribute to a prevailing images of the 
confluence of post-sufficiency (capitalist) philanthropy and liberal 

I agree it is not only 'right' for the FSFE to set the highest 
standards, but it can also be politically useful to be able to 
articulate a clear ethos. A 'zero-tolerance' policy is great for PR and 
helps to create the necessary differentiation between slippery customers 
like 'Open Source'.

However, this stance is often seen as 'anti-business', 
'anti-capitalist', 'utopian' and all the rest of it, which is where a 
lot of the anxiety is among business-oriented people (industrialists if 
you like). For business owners to admit that Free Software has a 
potential to circumvent the normative business practices they want, 
based on notions of appropriate incentives, private property and a 
stable macro-economic is akin to admitting a kind of personal defeat 
too, and for many it is (psychologically) too much to bear perhaps?

This is why the public code / public money campaign seems like a good 
idea at first, because it aligns an objective of the FSFE ('public 
code') with an identifiable social reality 'public money'. The one 
downside of this of course is the real tyrants, the ambitious 
industrialists and neoliberals just out to exploit for personal 
advantage (once again) manage to avoid the heat while publicly funded 
organizations are put under more pressure to meet standards that 
business leaders don't feel obliged to meet while doing everything they 
can to evade.

The problem with seeing FS just as a kind of liberal-minded , ethical 
gimmick for a business to enable it to produce a sense of social 
conscience, rather than a core ideal for humanity is that it is still 
bound to a more contentious idea of 'empowering' people to pursue goals 
to improve their lives (which for many people is fine) by putting 
capital and labour together to create products that add value (which for 
many people, isn't fine). The result is (again!) the accumulation of 
private property interests which brings with it problems such as social 
injustice, rising inequalities and powers of extractive elites enjoying 
monopoly profits.

FS advocates that fail to see how the broader logic of capitalism 
succeeds at connecting to even our best, socially motivated intentions 
means that half-heated solutions like 'Open Source' can still create 
outcomes that threaten to harm public and merit goods by meeting in 
secret to develop plans that do not benefit society as a whole.

For me, I think until the FSFE abandons what seems to me to resemble a 
kind of 'watered-down' market-led ideology at the highest level and 
fully adopts a more appropriate political philosophy and (as 
importantly), culture - I predict many years of in-fighting, confusion, 
missed opportunities and personal hurt ahead for all involved at that 
level of organization?

/ mat

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