everything wrong with free software

 "obedience breeds foolishness"

### software-wars *originally posted:* jan 2022 by Andy Farnell mirrored from: => http://obiwannabe.co.uk/tmp/software-wars.html ## Peak Code ### Part 1: Before the wars They ask me, "Grandad, what did you do in the software wars?" I went mad. No, that I cannot say. I want to tell them, "I coded for the resistance". But even today it is hard to talk about. Truth is, I was a coward. The "software wars" never really happened… not like people say. They're a story we tell today about how things fell apart. Sure, I was a great hacker, but like all the others I just gave up, and that's how we beat 'em… if this is winning. I think people knew it was coming. Digital technology had always created conflict. The humanists stood up to "bullshit jobs" and AI dehumanisation, and were dubbed Neo-Luddites. In the second and third crypto wars people fought for the right to private communication, and then for the right to use open plaintext protocols again, without mandated recipient codes. In the fog of creepy government lies contradiction and hypocrisy multiplied. People got confused. It took another 20 years to realise that encryption, for or against, had nothing to do with it. It was always about control. Digital communications technology organised on large scales seemed inherently troublesome for meaningful human choice. But sometime in the last century it stopped serving people altogether. I remember your friend dying because her mother couldn't call an ambulance. Maybe, if it hadn't been for that Twitter thing with her work, if she hadn't been disconnected, things could have been different. The neighbours she blamed, they weren't bad people. Just afraid, like everyone. Unauthorised assistance meant certain disconnection. Besides, going outside for help, too risky for someone facebanned like her mum… one step too close to the Ring, a passing vehicle or stranger wearing Glasses would be enough. The Semantic Wars (what they once called Culture Wars) had already made it impossible for anyone to talk to anyone else. Our fight to be heard amidst the trollbot armies, deepfake speech and meme mafia, was lost. The quest to have our words "mean what we mean" had silenced our voices and stripped away meaning. The Great Communication Breakdown was not a lack of will to talk, or "polarisation", but a failure of the medium of communication itself. In the mid-twenties the Security Wars raged, to decide whose security was most important - the vendors or the 'users'. Until those days most of us had regarded security as a shared value, a tide to raise all ships. A more painful truth, is that under surveillance capitalism security is a zero sum game. With that kind of "security", your security is my insecurity, and vice versa. I had never wondered until that time, how Orwellian contronyms arose, but soon we were divided into two camps. So-called "Secure Software", rubber-stamped by quasi-governmental corporations, was laughably insecure. Everyone knew it. But once governments had invested their pride, maintaining the pretence became a political priority. It gave the corporations a monopoly on commerce, medical and even educational computing. For a while the economy boomed for the certifiers, auditors, inquisitors, insurers and adjusters. For everyone else, there was "Insecure Software", also called "Free Software" by older people. That was the stuff you needed if you really wanted safe and stable systems. Once Google and Microsoft controlled access to half the world's "secure" computers, society largely operated despite, not by, its consumer-communist institutions. Software became a Soviet-era black-market. For everything you needed there was an official solution, and an illegal "Insecure" one that actually worked. So, please understand, that by the time of the so-called Software Wars, everything was already "at war". Indeed, as historians now note, in the period between 1960 and 2060 people had mistaken what they called "The Internet" for a communications system, when it had in fact been an Ideal and a Battleground all along - the site of the 100 years info-war. ### Part 2: Lost source I was a Free Software "hacker". The nights were late, the pay was… nothing. We were all-volunteers. There was no recognition, just a sense of being part of something. But oh boy, were we part of something! We felt like we were building history. I made companies. I wrote applications. I taught new hackers. All things pass. Much changed between the great pandemics and the mid-century storms when skyscrapers fell like dominoes. But I remember the software crisis starting. No great conspiracy. No revolution. No foreign hackers. No mythical "software wars". How suddenly it all blew up before that week when the food deliveries stopped and the lights went out. How many had already been on the edge, not knowing about each another or what was happening? With "disinformation" outlawed, we were swaddled, blind, clothed by the machine. Then, so suddenly, here, naked and together. That old Malthusian worrier, your uncle Archie said it, "One day the code will run out. Everything runs on code, but it's not sustainable". We all laughed at him. Everyone knew software had zero cost and was inexhaustible. There would always be kids who wanted to write it, to prove something, to scratch an itch. Besides, machines would soon write all the code we'd ever need. That must have been "peak code". You don't notice peak anything while you're living through it. By definition , it's the golden moment. Those days there were hundreds of languages, millions of coders and billions of devices. Software pulsed and flowed, in hourly updates, through the internet into the gadgets that ran our lives. Secure Software, nourishing the always-on, always pumping machine. Then like all hearts, it just grew old, tired and sick, and one day it gave up. Some spirit within it died and the software went away. Hired coders never cared. In their short, exhausting careers they plastered libraries on top of libraries, dependencies all the way down. To where? Nobody remembered. Maybe those few strange people who hacked not for money, but because it made them feel good? Old words from before The Face Chain and The Age of Legibility, "vocations", "callings", "civic duty", seem senseless now. By the thirties, only performative activity validated by public perception telemetry and backed by a smart contract could earn credit. Graeber described "moral resentment". Hate of care. Within a decade it wasn't just overt, it was policy. Helping a neighbour or family member might be overlooked. The Humans First Bill sealed it. Nurses and teachers, medics, firefighters, police, child-carers, all gone. "If a bot could a bot should". Interpersonal Disorder, from a mid century copy of the DSM describes a "pathological desire to interact with or serve other humans rather than accept convenient rational transaction with the machine". Momentum, aspiration and the inability of the masses to comprehend the decline kept things buoyant throughout the late twenties and thirties. Who knew the giant corporations could no longer sustain their own code? Things advanced too fast. Complexity and dependency went too deep. Education faltered. The "third industrial revolution" quietly ran out of steam. "Free" coders did still exist. They still believed that "Software Freedom" as prescribed by the great Stallman could open a doorway out of enslavement. In practice authorities turned a blind eye. These farm animals were obliviously in service of the BigTeks, who harvested their code to fuel the machine. Negative wages? That had an effect. Suddenly we were all supposed to pay for the privilege of keeping BigTek afloat?! Students, the only group who pay to work, rushed to fill the jobs without complaint. It was cheaper being a code worker than staying in education. Average age of the tech workers fell from 41 to 22 in a decade, expunging the entire body of active wisdom - those who knew how stuff worked. Some techies whispered of the great "Techxit" when all the creators and developers were supposed to stop coding in protest at the Face Chain. It never happened. Fear kept them in line. Not fear of losing income, such crude social control policies were so 20th century. To take away a person's purpose, was the new cruelty of power. Losing your access to code or gaming often led to suicide. Something was slowly shifting. Years before, in China it had been "Tang Ping", that ended in the "code for food" camps. In the USA a "Great Resignation" was successfully dismissed by social control media as disinformation. Some withdrew or poisoned their own libraries in protest, but their works were seized, reverted and stripped of their names by the Ministry of Code. When SMMC's "security mandated maintenance changes" were first issued, paying coders dutifully went along, virtuously signalling that it was the "responsible" thing to do. I would say it happened right there. Those first seeds were sown into the depleted soil of free software captured by its new master of "public necessity". From there the weeds would slowly spread. BigTek wanted to be the new banks, too big to fail. To show the vestiges of government who was boss the "three day weeks" came. Staged "security crises" lasted months, as the infamous Goldberg, alleged leader of Eponymous, "attacked our precious infrastructure". Some people learned how to store electricity, offline data and food, but those who died could not hack the DRM of their solar batteries, home appliances or get past the "Life Rights Management" for online access. BigTek's right to extract from the Free coder's "hobby projects", now declared "critical infrastructure, was official at last. Github underwent some re-branding. Accounts flipped to read-only, then locked, and then one day it became "The Ministry of Code". In the blink of an eye Microsoft appropriated nearly ninety percent of all 'Free Open Source' software, to "ensure stability". They kept the "messaging" light and positive - thanking all past contributors for their hard work over the years. It was, in all but name, the largest land-grab since William's rule in 1066. The Free Software Foundation remained dutifully quiet, helping deliver the peasants to their feudal lords. Debian and Mozilla played along. They were made "Yeoman Freeholders" in return for rewriting their charters to "work closely with the new Ministry in the interests of all stakeholders" - or some-such vacuous spout… because no one remembers… after that it started. ### Part 3: Part 3: After code The mind can rule the body. Psychogenic death happens when the software gives up. After a cancer diagnosis or a voodoo curse some people age ten years in a month and pass away even while quite healthy. We think empires fall from over-reach, but that is only half a truth. History books say the edges crumbled, but in fact Rome died first and things fell apart from the inside. The centre can only hold strong where there is uncorrupted will. The fish rots from its head. People always asked me, before the collapse, "But how will we build a Utopia". I laughed. Real people are not driven by visions of Utopia, but by the simple faults at the edges of life. At heart we are explorers who must find new risks, healers who seek out our injured, teachers who seek the attention of those hungry for knowledge, and protectors who see danger and vulnerable others to put ourselves between. Those are our itches at which we scratch. It is in service of each others' suffering that we find meaning. A Utopia? A society so perfect, so abstracted, so managed, so owned, so tranquil, so fair, so incorruptible in its smartness, so beyond mere technology - is a society not worth living in or for. It is a simulation and performance of a society that offers no reason for itself but that everything be in service of it. Before this self-devouring monster, the imperfect technological society of the twenty first century had built itself on the energy and love of those they called the "hackers", many of whom lived and worked in the twentieth century. Simply, they were workers, though some elevated themselves to titles like "developer", "CTO" or "computer scientists". We were always workers. Some were intrinsically motivated autotelic personalities engaged in the love of problem solving. Some were quiet moral labourers committed to the challenge of building a "better world". Some were social refuseniks who hid behind avatars and anonymity. Others were dissatisfied and restive women and men, motley crews of misfits and egotists hungry to be known and admired. Hackers were all sorts of things, but foremost they were people. Software is people. People built and ran the machine. Now, there it was, at last. Tamed. A system so slick, elegant, and otherly. It could provide everything we asked for, except for one thing - its absence. Any whim, impulse or fantasy… satisfied now. Delivered instantly, no pause, no shame, pay later. Anything you like, except for one simple request, that it shut itself off and leave us alone. Soon, all people talked about was the machine, it's constant demands for our happiness, acquiescence and smiling fealty. Nobody noticed the shrinking number of human accounts at the Ministry of Code. A dearth of new coders was eclipsed by the crisis of maintainers, growing old and retiring. Schools had not taught programming for decades. Universities had dumbed down computer science courses to certificate training. Hackers were brought into the fold, domesticated and made "ethical". By the time the BigTeks realised that education was a real hard and unprofitable profession they had trained a generation of mindless, and mostly useless digital mechanics who could not think beyond their parochial, proprietary instructions. By the time the tech press reported just how serious the recruitment problem was, it was 20 years too late. Some old guy named Linus, someone of importance if I recall correctly, retired, leaving half-hearted replacements and a bloated, fragmented project that soon faltered. Your aunt Alice fought in the Kernel Wars you know, but we don't talk about Alice. The "war" that never happened began when BigTek and the governments needed a narrative to explain what was happening. They wanted the old hackers back. But they were dying-off by then. Forty years too late, they offered to pay for Free software. "Code whatever you like" they said, "We'll pay whatever it takes". Trillionaire philanthropists opened their bank accounts, "Money no object" they said. But it was no use. Old hackers want walks in the park with the grandkids. "Not my business any longer", they said. We tried to train new hackers, but those kids weren't interested, ambivalent now towards technology that only seemed to control their lives. It was "no fun to compute". The excitement of possibility, of "making a difference", was gone. So the powers needed an enemy, a scapegoat. Goldberg's Neo-Luddite subversives, saboteurs, and malcontents were now blamed for the software crisis. Supposedly "a secret resistance" were coding new systems that would save us. Was that a worry or a wish? But beyond the fantasies of the press, nobody could find Eponymous. The CIA, adept at entrapment and honeypots, created fake "militant hacker groups" to draw in and reorient high-IQ candidates, but nobody joined. The sun was setting on the age of software. We'd enjoyed all we dreamed of. Drones flew in the skies over our houses, protecting us. Fingerprint door handles kept out the bad men. Everything was on the Face-Chain. Surveillance perimeters, smart TVs (Telescreens built to Orwell's original blueprint) watched over our living rooms. Mandatory smart everything kept us 'trustless'. Safe search, safe thoughts. We withdrew. Inside, we went quietly mad. We went Meta. And then Meta metastasised, into the heart of our care, until there was care no more. Nobody cared. Nobody coded. And the machine whimpered. => https://wrongwithfreesw.neocities.org