[linux-elitists] Reformism versus radicalism and UCITA (was: Re: [linux-elitists] death knell for shrinkwrap...)

Seth David Schoen schoen@loyalty.org
Wed Feb 16 19:06:14 PST 2000

Heather writes:

> Jim Dennis predicted that UCITA (if passed and actually attempted to be
> enforced) would be the death knell of commercial software... 
>   * because -some- businesses can't afford risky things like agreeing
>     to b.s. written on page 23 of a 25 page document of which only
>     12 lines are shown to you at a time with an OK button.  (So far, 
>     they've been relying on the clause waaaay near the bottom that says
>     um, and if this is illegal in your state, whatever that was we didn't
>     say it, but the rest is in full force.)
>   * because if we can't reverse engineer to make interoperable, why 
>     then, we'll just stop buying the one we can't modify.

Some anarchists have suggested that repressive actions by the State are not
only not to be opposed but are perhaps to be welcomed or even encouraged,
because they have the effect of making people dislike the State, and
perhaps of revealing the true potential of the State in a way that will
lead people in time to oppose it and be more inclined to want to
eliminate it.

Revolutionists of all sorts have definitely been optimistic in the face of
repression by existing regimes for just that sort of reason -- if the
public comes to understand what is going on, the cause of the revolution
could be helped.

This was a common criticism of some radical organized leftists: that rather
than supporting political reforms or technological improvements which would
have helped the material conditions of workers, they allegedly _preferred_
for the workers to remain miserable, so that they would become radicalized.

(The theoretical justification for this is the idea that any such reforms
are ultimately only superficial and temporary, and the true nature of the
system was ultimately to oppress its victims; thus, it is better if the
victims see and appreciate this, rather than benefit marginally from
deceptive "improvements" and "compromises" which are intended to distract
them or confuse them and conceal from them what's really going on.)

In general, there is a big conflict between reformists and radicals.  (I
wanted to say "reformists and revolutionaries", but many radicals are
_not_ revolutionaries.  There are radicals who want to make very deep and
fundamental changes through a long and gradual process -- but they still
all want to focus on underlying causes rather than symptoms.)

So, someone might say "the UCITA is _good_, because it reveals the true
nature of proprietary software and makes proprietary software less
attractive to its victims, making it increasingly likely that they will
become radicalized and investigate free software".

Or someone might say "the UCITA is _bad_, because the overwhelming
majority of users are stuck with proprietary software for the foreseeable
future, and the UCITA will clearly harm them, and we shouldn't wish
them to be harmed".

Can proprietary software be made free by "continuous deformation"?  If
so, then UCITA is definitely bad -- a step in the wrong direction.

If not, then UCITA is OK, or irrelevant; maybe it will scare people
away from proprietary software a bit, or maybe it will simply have no
effects which are relevant to free software at all, depending on how
effectively free software activists and publicize it and teach people
about it.

There is another reason that UCITA could be good.  People _might_
actually start to read their software licenses, think about what the
licenses said, and decide for themselves whether or not they were willing
to accept them, and what the consequences were.

Right now, as with many things, lots of people expect some future court
case to save them from the combination of someone else's corner-cutting
and their own low standards or bad decisions.  If I knew enough game
theory, I would speculate that this was a Nash equilibrium of some sort.
But it's not an equilibrium I like.

Seth David Schoen <schoen@loyalty.org>  | And do not say, I will study when I
Temp.  http://www.loyalty.org/~schoen/  | have leisure; for perhaps you will
down:  http://www.loyalty.org/   (CAF)  | not have leisure.  -- Pirke Avot 2:5

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