--| LINUX - BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE |---------------------------
--| BY: JOHN ROLAND PENNER (johnrpenner@earthlink.net) |--------------

  And this is the law of the wild,
  As old and as true as the sky.
  And the wolf who keeps it will prosper,
  But the wolf who breaks it will die!

  Like the wind that circles the tree trunk,
  this law runneth forward and back.
  The strength of the pack is the wolf,
  and the strength of the wolf is the pack.

  (Rudyard Kipling)

As of late, many have been watching with great interest the rise of
a new phenomenon in the computer industry known as "Open Source
Software" (OSS). Traditionally, computers companies like Microsoft
have hoarded their intellectual investment in source code, and sold
only closed binary versions of their applications. Open source software,
such as Linux, completely defies conventional logic and turns this model
on its head by giving the source code away.

"The idea is that altruistic programmers, working together across
 the Net on freely distributed code that's open for everyone's
 perusal and tinkering, can develop more powerful and reliable
 software than the old "closed shop" model of commercial software
 producers like Microsoft. According to the Halloween Document,
 [http://www.opensource.org/halloween.html] "Linux and other OSS
 advocates are making a progressively more credible argument that
 OSS software is at least as robust -- if not more -- than commercial
 alternatives... The ability of the OSS process to collect and harness
 the collective IQ of thousands of individuals across the Internet
 is simply amazing." (Salon Magazine - 

What is the motivation for those that volunteer their time into
building and writing code which is given away for free? For many,
it is the satisfaction that comes from knowing that what is given
away benefits and gives strength to the community as a whole.
Effort contributed in this way increases the well being of all those 
involved in the effort.

The Open Source movement has stumbled across a way of doing things
that is in full accord with what the early 20th century scientist
and philosopher, Rudolf Steiner, characterized as 'The Fundamental
Social Law':

  'The well-being of a community of people working together
   will be the greater, the less the individual claims for
   himself the proceeds of his work, i.e. the more of these
   proceeds he makes over to his fellow-workers, the more
   his own needs are satisfied, not out of his own work but
   out of the work done by others'. (Rudolf Steiner, 1905)

When an open source programmer volunteers his time into writing
code for an OSS project, s/he freely gives over the code they write
for the good of the OSS community; at the same time, they benefit
from the contributions of others within this community by getting
a really good, stable operating system and software, and so the
whole movement benefits and grows. People identified with the community
take pride in their work. They recieve satisfaction in knowing they have
contributed an excellent feature, or elegant piece of code. Compare
this to commercial programmers who code because they have to finish
some feature in return for a pay-cheque so they can go out and spend
it on what they "really" want. The one supports, and is supported by
their community; the other has as their motivation satisfaction of
ego-istic desires. The consequences of these different sources of
motivation lead to very different social arrangements.

"Every arrangement in a community that is contrary to this law will
inevitably engender somewhere after a while distress and want...
If anyone is to work for the community, he must perceive and feel
the value, the nature and importance, of this community. He can only
do this when the community is something quite differcnt from a more
or less indefinite summation of individuals... It must be informed
by an actual spirit, in which each single one has his part...
The community must have a... mission, and each individual must have
the will to contribute towards the fulfilling of this mission.
In every single member, down to the most solitary, this spirit
of the community must be alive..." (Rudolf Steiner, *The Reordering
of Society*)

Here, we see a good description of what is happening in the Open
Source community, and indeed with distributed work arrangements
all over the web in a greater and greater variety of forms.
We see parallels to the OSS movement in what is happening with
the Music industry -- volunteers creating, publishing, and
distributing their music through completely open means. Those
who have traditionally made their profits by trying to keep
the benefits of their work only for themselves are resisting
the new open ways of working, because it means a loss of income
FOR THEMSELVES ONLY, and instead requires that they depend on
the community for the overall satisfaction of their needs.

A new open economy is now becomming possible because people are
now able to join together in associations and groups based on a
common set of shared values. The Internet facilitates these sorts
of interactions in a way that is not bound by geographic proximity,
giving rise to "internet communities". We can look forward to
an increasing number of associations of this sort forming as
more and more people around the world begin to collaborate not
only on the basis of externally imposed work conditions, but on
the basis of working for causes to which they find inner sympathies.

"Wherever this law finds outer expression, wherever anyone is at
work on its lines--so far as is possible in that position in which
he is placed within the community--good results will be attained,
though it be but in the single case and in ever so small a measure.
And it is only a number of individual results attained in this way
that will together combine to the healthy collective progress of
society." (Rudolf Steiner, ibid).

The Open Source software movement is only the beginning of a new
way of working which can be extended into all areas of living with
benefits for all those who are willing to work together for the
common good. 


An original copy of this text can be found at:

The complete text of Rudolf Steiner's "The Reordering of Society"
can be found at: http://home.earthlink.net/~johnrpenner/Articles/Steiner-Social.html



eMail the editor at: johnrpenner@earthlink.net


this page last updated: february 2, 1999