Chess is not Checkers

When we confuse open source with the GPL and inflict Stallman's viral provisions on developing economies, we're not helping the people there; what we're doing is exporting hobbies for the rich and hobbles for the poor

The other night I went to sleep thinking about Gödel's incompleteness theorem as a kind of juvenile twaddle: a quailing in the face of the infinite more appropriate to Mahler than Bach - and apparently got up somewhat later to celebrate of one of those mid night epiphanies by scribbling "Chess != Checkers !!!" on the phone notes pad.

So what was that about? the mnemonic recognizes that any chess position you can put on a board, has a game: i.e. every legal position is reachable through some sequence of moves - but what you can't do is use chess rules to get to a checkers position. In other words, you can create axiomatic systems in which operations look different or limited, but all such systems are either legal derivatives of what we commonly understand to be true or wrong.

Basically, human conceptual systems are logically closed. Or, in brutally simplified IT terms: you can give a data processing guy Solaris, but any success he's going to have with it will come from using it in a data processing mode; because we can change our tools, but not what we are.

Similarly, you can dress a social agenda in GPL lace, but you can't hide what it is -and what makes that observation interesting is that the GPL3 should make all of us re-evaluate the commitment Stallman at al are asking us to make; and not to open source, but to their politics.

Right now, Stallman's Free Software Foundation probably comes closer than any other organization or group ever has to making socialist ideals work. Why? because the open source process matches the "in loco parentis" assumption implicit in socialism's primary marketing slogan: "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" - meaning that the process assumes that some external agency, like parents or a day job, meets the open source contributor's lower level needs for food, shelter, and social support.

This assumption holds for academic researchers - their teaching contributions pay for the time needed to do research, and the fundamental open source process simply extends the academic tradition of building on the work of others - a tradition requiring the kind of free information exchange behind the BSD derived licenses.

Unfortunately a lot of people conflate open source with the GPL, but this is simply wrong: both the GPL and the BSD derived licenses translate the open tradition of academic exchange and information re-use to the world of intellectual property and civil litigation, but the GPL carries something the BSD's don't: a political message embedded in its viral components.

Thus it's perfectly reasonable for anyone, individual or corporation, to use BSD licensed code in a for profit enterprise - but anyone signing on with the GPL has to have independent means of support - like rich parents, a day job, or an emperor's clothing con like Red Hat's pretence to selling expensive support for free software while actually licensing expensive software with some free support.

You and I can probably afford to admire and perhaps even practice the social ideals driving GNU, but most people in real socialist paradises like North Korea, Cuba, or Communist China have their freedoms, and their economic opportunities, ruthless suppressed - because Stallman's ideal: economic communism, can only exist where somebody else picks up the tab.

Absent that handy rich parent, economic communism requires the imposition of its own antithesis: totalitarianism, to survive - and that reality leads to a bitter bottom line: chess is not checkers, when we confuse open source with the GPL and inflict Stallman's viral provisions on developing economies, we're not helping them; what we're doing is exporting hobbies for the rich and hobbles for the poor.