Today at the first day of the main conf proper, Sky Croeser gave a talk Free and open source software and activism (slides), talking about the politics of FOSS and how it can be quite aligned with activists’ values, but why it can often currently fall short. I first met Sky at AdaCamp Melbourne a year ago and I was impressed with her clear communication and academic perspective which helped to link current issues or actions in techy communities with those in other political movements. So I was very excited to see her at LCA, and her talk did not disappoint.
One of her points about why (Australian) activists might not be excited about FOSS relates to the way it is commonly described, Free as in Freedom. Sky pointed out that freedom is often the cause named as the motivator behind many political (especially military) acts of recent years in the US and thus may be a somewhat “polluted” term. She suggested that anarchists might tend to talk about an autonomous community, as an alternative. I’m not well grounded in philosophy to pinpoint the difference between the two concepts, but perhaps part of it is this: autonomy is about self-ruling, “positive freedom”. It doesn’t rule out the possibility of obligations to others, which perhaps “freedom” can be taken to encompass (“freedom from”).
Autonomy is a term not widely used by free software activists, although it has been – the autonomo.us group was set up to help promote free network services. But I wonder: what if we reformulated the four freedoms in the terminology of autonomy rather than freedom, and emphasised the benefit to communities over the benefit to individuals? Would such a document be more amenable to leftie activists today?
(I note it is already explicit that freedoms 2 and 3 are for the benefit of others rather than oneself.)
Free software, open source, libre software, F(L)OSS — do we need to add another label to the stable — “software for autonomy”?