Opensourcing and postcapitalism
Nov 23, 2009

Opensourcing and postcapitalism

The classic struggle, in both the world and in discussions, between the market and government over who best solves our problems both get thrown into a bit of a loop when the example of open source software comes up. The reason is simple: Open Source Software has been known to drive innovation and increase our quality of life while being resilient to either the top down pressures of government or the bottom up pressures of capitalism. What I want to explore is the motivations behind open source software and the possibility that this model of creating productive, innovate work can apply outside of the narrow field of software development. It should be noted that the motivations for open source software are widespread and at times definitely overlap with capitalist motivations in the sense that one is often creating something for (not exclusively) their own benefit; in particular, the apache webserver was a great example of this. That said, altruism runs high in the open source community and the development of software often comes at great expense to the individual developer in terms of time, resources and potential that could have been spent on more personally beneficial endeavors. The benefit is often towards various communities as a whole and it is this nature of open source to collaborate with little incentive towards material personal reward for the benefit of communities at large that I wish to explore.

My premise is that while humans evidently feel a pressing desire to benefit themselves, to a varying degree they also feel a pressure to benefit the communities they are a part of. I believe this latter desire to benefit the communities one is part of is selected for both physically and culturally. This altruism of humans towards ones communities is fairly evident in our culture in everything from families to volunteering to patriotism. What has been less evident is a good example that shows it can be made into a business model that drives innovation and quality of life improvements; that is, until open source. Open source has proven that valueable innovative products that aim primarily for the benefit of others both can and will develop. What is interesting is that many of the motivations are not personal gain and stem from a desire to be a part of a larger community and a desire to benefit the community.

The problems in both capitalism and communism can be seen in this way. For capitalism, the central tennet is personal gain and while it obviously does benefit communities it does so only out of an aggregate of personal benefits. Likewise for communism the ability to benefit exlusively oneself was restricted in favour of benefiting the community. What I see is the need for both personal and community based actions in our productivity models as this best reflects the underlying human conditioning. Traditionally in capitalism selfish benefit precides at the workplace and altruism is relegated to social interactions after work. Open source gives us a model on how the two motivatioms could be combined in the workplace. Consider for example Intel's embracent of the apache server an open source project freely helping on this to the benefit of the community while building value added services for their own profit on top of this platform.

Overcoming the more dominant demand for personal gain will not be easy and it is important not to enforce systems like communism that restrict our desire for personal gain. That said I feel there is a large potential benefit in average quality of life if our future social contract coincides more strongly with our inate desire to benefit communities at large.

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