Supporting Resistances

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February 18

This is a translation of Soutien aux résistances.

We have to deal with the world as it becomes, not with the world as we would like it to be. But we have to stay as close as possible to what we think the world would want, experimenting and tinkering, and praying that the world doesn’t get angry at our mistakes.

— Vinciane Despret, Autobiographie d’un poulpe , p.120 isbn:9782330147631

Supporting resistances

In the field of software development, support for resistances does not necessarily involve a radical personal change, but more simply the dissipation of the propagandist fog that makes knowledge a commodity among others. Supporting resistances thus proceeds from an “inversion of responsibility”, to abuse a computer science term, where one discovers that a change of view allows the conceptual collapse of a system of oppression that was previously imposed as obvious.

The software industry, dominated by capitalist interests and methods, determines a “market” according to the consecrated terms of competition and scarcity. Producers of software, conceived as products, engage in a wild competition. It is a frantic race where talents are competing to produce as quickly as possible a software (or its promise) that will attract the attention of a predator. The biggest companies buy up the most “innovative” start-ups in a ritualistic, predestined business plan in which a wealthy buyer phagocytes the seller to take over or eliminate its competing product. The industry continues to apply its strategy of “embrace, extend, extinguish” to hide its own misery.

But these mythological terms are so far removed from reality that the capitalists themselves still use an inversion of meaning to hide this fact. Thus, they call “permissive licenses” those that permit predators to avoid the non-reciprocity of the value added by the software produced in common, and “restrictive licenses” those that restrict or abolish any capacity for exclusive appropriation of the software they cover (extraction of its value). But in the face of the abundance of code, the idea that this “commodity” could share the character of scarcity of oil or coal borders on the grotesque; and its cooperative mode of production makes any claim to competition futile and derisory. The consideration of cooperative, non-exclusive and non-competitive knowledge technologies invites reflection on the scope of a competitive vision when resources do not meet the condition of scarcity on which the whole edifice of capitalist extraction is based. In such a context, it is the whole political orientation of society that is turned upside down, making a large part of the software industry obsolete.

A common – communalistic – approach to generalized software production could benefit, for example, the professions of dentistry or architecture; an agreement to support the development of free software for their own use would significantly reduce the cost of developing and maintaining common software – considered a common resource; these costs would be much lower in the long run than maintaining an industry designed to extract value rather than provide it. A professional union could advantageously pursue the invention of a common technical pole for which only the characteristics linked to national differences (e.g. legal) would impose local overheads; most of the functionality forming a common good, the whole profession would benefit from a technical and social innovation – properly technological – determining the improvement of the working conditions of all professionals.

The lifting of the smoke curtain of siliconed capitalism would reveal all the interest of establishing a public digital infrastructure on free software that would favor its cooperative modes of production and would also satisfy the declared European political will of an open and competitive market between its small and medium-sized businesses, but on the solid bases of a technical floor maintained collectively for the benefit of all participants.

Not only technical, but also organizational, this evolution would accompany the very practices of the user communities and would thereby shape their relationship to technology, allowing them to appropriate it and to consider it from a collective and political perspective. Little by little, the habit of abandoning technical choices to corporations would fade away and be replaced by a will of general interest carried by software syndicates that would themselves be dedicated to the improvement of the conditions of their own users in proximity. Private interests and their goals of value extraction would be replaced by a logic of improvement of uses, of invention for the general interest, the respect of differences and the taking into account of singularities otherwise ignored; the value thus created would be a public good, in the same way as science, culture and arts.

From then on, it would become possible and easier to harmonize legal and soon legislative instruments beyond the specific conditions of each nation; thus, professionals could influence in a much more rational and efficient way the evolution of their profession in a supra-national context. The case of dentists and architects is helpful in understanding the benefits of standardizing digital tools (software) as a common good. Other domains, such as accounting or the relationship of legal persons to administrations, offer a similar opportunity beyond each corporation, in a context that could be described as syndical ; the anti-capitalist struggle for the abolition of the exploitation of workers would naturally find its expression in cooperative, non-exclusive and non-competitive knowledge technologies.

In other words, an approach to software production as a provider of a common infrastructure not only makes the user the central force of proposition, but also renders obsolete the artificial fragmentation of an entire industry based on what can be called an intellectual racket . The capitalist mode of production is antithetical to the functioning of a digital commons: the cooperative approach of the commons is infinitely more adapted to software production than is an exclusive approach.