The End of FLOSS as we know it?!

Just as I really get into FOSS, I’m told it’s over.

First, it was by a site shared with someone I’m working with on the Open Metaverse Foundation, and whose views I respect and learn from. On this site it is mentioned that “14. Open source may not be the answer”. I went, WTF? closed the site and moved on with my life.

Aside, I started reading Dougald Hine again and his assertions that the world is ending – but the world as we know it, the modernity version. I was pontificating about how FLOSS – free and open source software was The Answer to the apocalypse. And I do believe this, my version in my head, anyway.

At the same time I was talking to all who would listen about how bloody frustrating it is to be involved in FOSS. My short hand for my particular challenge is that I’m a middle-aged woman who don’t have a IT technical background. (And cue people pointing you to the nearest women-ish conference at the merest mention of this, like you’re a bunch of lepers looking for a commune.) But really it’s more than this, and I could not articulate it until just now.

Cory Doctorow had another newsletter, and in it he mentions Aymeric Mansoux and Roel Roscam Abbing’s “Seven Theses On The Fediverse And The Becoming Of Floss”, and the last one, shudderingly, says “7. The Fediverse as the End of Free/Libre and Open Source Software as We Know It” Up till now I thought the fediverse is a good thing? and FLOSS is a good thing? Why are they destroying each other??

This is what the document says, on page 139

  1. 7. The Fediverse as the End of Free/Libre and Open Source Software as We Know It
    Until now, the vast majority of discussions around FLOSS licensing have remained locked in a tiresome comparison between free software’s emphasis on user ethics versus the open source approach based on economics. Whether motivated by ethics or economics, both free software and open source software share the ideal that their position is superior to closed source and proprietary modes of production. However in both cases, the foundational liberal drive at the base of these ethical and economic perspectives is rarely challenged. This drive is deeply rooted in a Western context that over the past few decades has favored individual freedom in the form of liberalism and libertarianism at the expense of equality and care.

    Questioning this drive is a pivotal step, as this would open up discussions about other ways to approach the writing and circulation of, and access to, source code. By extension this would stop the pretension that these practices are either apolitical, universal, or neutral. Unfortunately, such discussions have been difficult to facilitate for reasons that go beyond the dogmatic nature of both free and open source software agendas. In fact they have been inconceivable because one of the most important aspects of FLOSS is that it was conceived as non-discriminatory in nature. To be sure, with non-discriminatory, we refer to FLOSS licensing, that permits anyone to make use of a FLOSS source code for any purpose.

I’m trying to read the rest of that pdf but I can’t move past reading these two paragraphs over and over. I scoff at coders as being, for the most part, these emotionally underdeveloped boys who never learnt to engage socially outside of their rather very narrow inner circles, to talk and compromise, like the rest of us had to, because they could disappear into their computer screens. But fuck, it looks like that is really what’s going on. The FLOSS community wants to believe they are equal and liberal and non-discriminatory and what not, but any argument and the ensuing flamewar shows how incapable the community is of communicating to a point that reaches any sort of real understanding. We’re just getting more PC, more scripted, in what we say, but it feels like we are getting more rabid in our irritations in private conversations. To me this feels like an infected wound about to erupt.

Thinking about this more, and speaking to FLOSS friends who obviously are offended by these points, people got into code because it was devoid of the social issues, of course. But maybe they did try to fit in and compromise and just couldn’t, they were misfits and outcasts, more than the rest of us. But now there is a certain misfit culture that won over, and a certain way of behaving that is accepted, and not welcoming at all, for me to enter. I don’t want it, it’s a dumpster fire.

So as with Dougald’s end of modernity, and the end of FLOSS as we know it… Bring it on! But then, what comes next? What do we do once we cleaned up the mess?

After I calm down, I wonder, what would the fediverse look like in the context of Debian? Would it inject new energy into the project? Would it be modernising Debian?

The seven theses essay ends with this:

With its relatively diverse constituency of users, developers, agenda, software, and ideologies, the Fediverse is gradually becoming the most relevant system for the articulation of new forms of FLOSS critique. The Fediverse has become a site where traditional notions about FLOSS are confronted and revised by people who understand its use as part of a wider set of practices that challenge the status quo. Sometimes this happens in a reflective, discursive way across several communities, sometimes through the materialization of experiments and
projects that directly challenge FLOSS as we know it. It has become the sprawling site where constructive critiques of FLOSS and a longing for its reimagination are most vivid. In its current state, FLOSS culture feels like a patched-up collection of irreconcilable pieces from another era, and it is urgent to revaluate many of its characteristics that have been taken for granted.
If we can accept the much-needed sacrilege of thinking of free software without free software, it remains to be seen what could fill the void left by its absence.

Talking to some friends, they think that FLOSS as the concept, and the social aspects of specific communities should not be conflated. And it’s a good thing that the fediverse allows different community constructions to flourish.

I woke up this morning still feeling frustrated. On the one hand, I say I’m done and I will create my own communities. On the other, I seem to still want to be let in and have a space that is welcoming to me, don’t want to be left aside like a leper colony. Pick a lane, buddy! I suppose a federated “web of worlds” allow that space to play, to have spaces to re-imagine while also occasionally wandering through the dude geek halls. Viva la feral fediverse.

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