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[P]
The US Gov't and Unix

By kevin lyda in News
Wed May 17, 2000 at 04:32:24 PM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)
Politics

Andrew Leonard, a journalist with Salon is writing a book on Free Software. In one of the chapters he makes an interesting point:

Unix was cheap. AT&T had been forced to practically give it away for free by government order. But Unix was also, fundamentally, a hack designed to work on cheap hardware.
There seems to be a rather strong "libertarian" bent to people involved in free software discussion groups - at least those that post to them. And a frequent comment about the Microsoft breakup is that it shouldn't be done because US Gov't shouldn't interfere. Considering the history of Unix, and what's happened with AT&T's branches vs. the free software's branches, I'm curious how people would characterise the US Govt's involvement with Unix to date. I'm using a liberal definition of Unix here to include not just kernels like SVR4, *BSD'd and Linux, but also also userland parts as well. And yes, Linux is not Unix but in a sense it exists because BSD/386 wasn't allowed out - if it had then maybe Linus would have scratched another itch.


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The US Gov't and Unix | 27 comments (27 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Interesting...... (1.00 / 1) (#6)
by DJBongHit on Wed May 17, 2000 at 07:20:49 AM EST

DJBongHit voted 1 on this story.

Interesting...

~DJBongHit

--
GNU GPL: Free as in herpes.

There seems to be a rather strong "... (3.00 / 1) (#2)
by Dacta on Wed May 17, 2000 at 07:37:17 AM EST

Dacta voted -1 on this story.

There seems to be a rather strong "libertarian" bent to people involved in free software discussion groups - at least those that post to them.

No way am I ever going to let anyone characterise me or anyone else that simply. If there is one thing that characterises people on places like /. and here, it is how different everyones views are. Just because ESR is a libertarian doesn't mean that RMS is, for instance.

As for the discussion itself.. what's to discuss?

Re: There seems to be a rather strong (none / 0) (#10)
by pretzelgod on Wed May 17, 2000 at 05:20:12 PM EST

The author said '"libertarian" bent', not a Libertarian. RMS and ESR are both libertarian, as am i. The author wasn't referring to the political party, and i'd say that he's right; most free software advocates do have a libertarian bent.

-- 
Ever heard of the School of the Americas?


[ Parent ]
Re: There seems to be a rather strong (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by Field Marshall Stack on Wed May 17, 2000 at 07:43:01 PM EST

Any political designation broad enough to contain both ESR and RMS is, in my opinion, completely and totally useless =)

Shall we follow the lead of the infoshop people and split "libertarian" into "anarchocapitalist" and "anarchosocialist"?
--
Ben Allen, hiway@speakeasy.org
"Nobody ever lends money to a man with a sense of humor"
-Peter Tork
[ Parent ]

Re: There seems to be a rather strong (5.00 / 1) (#14)
by pretzelgod on Thu May 18, 2000 at 12:44:26 AM EST

Any political designation broad enough to contain both ESR and RMS is, in my opinion, completely and totally useless =)

It's not a political designation; it's just a description of their attitudes. They are both libertarian, as am i. I am not, however, a Libertarian.

Shall we follow the lead of the infoshop people and split "libertarian" into "anarchocapitalist" and "anarchosocialist"?

There's no such thing as an "anarchocapitalist". Anyone who calls himself that doesn't understand capitalism, anarchism, or both. An anarchist rejects authority, capitalism depends on it.


-- 
Ever heard of the School of the Americas?


[ Parent ]
Re: There seems to be a rather strong (none / 0) (#19)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri May 19, 2000 at 07:16:31 AM EST

There's no such thing as an "anarchocapitalist".

ESR will be surprised to hear of his non-existence. :)

Anyone who calls himself that doesn't understand capitalism, anarchism, or both.

Well, they seem pretty compatible:
Anarchism: desire for absence of State
Capitalism: absence of force
State: currently the most prevalent manifestation of force

An anarchist rejects authority, capitalism depends on it.

Um, how exactly does a free market depend on authority?

Wolfkin (who is at a computer other than his normal one).

[ Parent ]

Re: There seems to be a rather strong (none / 0) (#20)
by pretzelgod on Fri May 19, 2000 at 11:27:36 AM EST

ESR will be surprised to hear of his non-existence. :)

He exists alright. He's just a little confused.

Anarchism: desire for absence of State

Wrong. Anarchism is the desire for absence of authority, period. That includes corporations just as it does the state, if not more so. It amazes me that people will cling so tightly to democracy at home, but then they will happily give it up in the place they spend most of their time: the workplace.

Capitalism: absence of force

Wrong again. Capitalism is, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, capitalism is an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.

Notice the bit about "private decision". Capitalism presents you with the choice "Take this shitty job or starve." This, of course, is no choice at all. In capitalism, very few people have the power to control their own lives.

State: currently the most prevalent manifestation of force

Ah, here again is the most basic confusion that leads people to call themselves anarcho-capitalists. The state is the biggest evil we have to worry about. Corporations can come later (if ever).

This is not true. The state exists to serve the capitalist class; it always has. But, it can and has been used by the workers to gain small protections. For example, the 40-hour work week and child labor laws. The capitalists fought hard against these and other measures, but the state saw that if small concessions were not made within the system, the people would go ahead and replace the system.

Is the state a problem? As an anarchist, i must say, "Yes, definitely." But, is it the root problem? No.

Um, how exactly does a free market depend on authority?

More confusion. Capitalism != free market. Any decent form of socialism would also have a free market, and what we have today can't be called a free market by any stretch of the imagination.


-- 
Ever heard of the School of the Americas?


[ Parent ]
Re: There seems to be a rather strong (none / 0) (#24)
by Wolfkin on Sat May 20, 2000 at 04:02:56 AM EST

Anarchism is the desire for absence of authority, period. That includes corporations just as it does the state, if not more so.

Um, corporations, by their nature, are just organs of the State. They receive special privileges, in exchange for buying politicians. Such is democracy.

It amazes me that people will cling so tightly to democracy at home, but then they will happily give it up in the place they spend most of their time: the workplace.

I have two problems with that statement:

First, democracy is just another form of tyranny. If two people decide that the third should support them (writ large in the democracies of Europe as we speak, and more and more the case in the US as well), it might be good democracy, but it certainly isn't freedom.

Second, do you actually know anyone who spends most of their time in the workplace? I don't. Most people I know simply refuse to spend even 41 hours a week there, out of 168. In the place I work, more and more people are labelling themselves "management" (just to get around labor laws, you understand; they don't actually manage any groups), so that they can spend even less time at work, just staying each day until the job is done, and leaving. Most people I know only put in about 30 hours a week right now, and it's dropping due to automation of their jobs.

Notice the bit about "private decision". Capitalism presents you with the choice "Take this shitty job or starve." This, of course, is no choice at all. In capitalism, very few people have the power to control their own lives. Why would anyone take a shitty job, when they can go elsewhere? If you're not being paid what your skills are worth, get another job, or start your own business. That's what competition is all about: making things better for everybody.

If you don't have the skills (or money) people need, you should probably get some (education loans are easy and cheap; getting money requires skills).

Any decent form of socialism would also have a free market,

Um, and "knowledge is ignorance". Sure. If this is so, how come no socialist area has ever had a free market? How come socialists hold up the workings of a free market as a bad thing?

what we have today can't be called a free market by any stretch of the imagination.

Well, I can agree with that. The only thing it has going for it is that it's about as free as anyplace is, right now. Unfortunately, it's going downhill. :(

Wolfkin.

[ Parent ]

Re: There seems to be a rather strong (none / 0) (#26)
by pretzelgod on Mon May 22, 2000 at 09:32:28 PM EST

Second, do you actually know anyone who spends most of their time in the workplace?

Yes, i do. I was one of them. Many of my friends are in this situation. We may have nice, cozy jobs, but don't forget that most people have shitty jobs. Many of them have more than one such job, just to make ends meet.

Um, and "knowledge is ignorance". Sure. If this is so, how come no socialist area has ever had a free market?

Because there has never been a socialist country. Never. There have been small patches of socialism, like some intentional communities, the kibbutzim in Israel, Spain for a short time during the Spanish Civil War, Russia for a short time after the October Revolution, etc. But it's never lasted long. A small patch of socialism simply can't survive in a capitalist world.

How come socialists hold up the workings of a free market as a bad thing?

Socialists view a society ruled by a market to be a bad thing, and so do i. But it's hard to imagine a society running fairly without a free market.


-- 
Ever heard of the School of the Americas?


[ Parent ]
Self-serving redefinition of terms (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by error 404 on Fri May 19, 2000 at 01:53:33 PM EST

Our Anonymous Hero plays a bit fast and loose with the definitions, I think.

Anarchism has a rather wide variety of common definitions, of which desire for absense of State (for the common definition of State) is one. Rejection of authority in general is probably closer to what most people think of when they hear "anarchist". Would the average anarchist take Microsoft's side or the DoJ? I think the answer is either 'No' or 'lasagna'.

"Capitalism: absence of force" isn't even a proper definition, in that it doesn't enable one to distinguish between a something that is an instance of capitalism and something that is not. It is, at best, a wishful description. Force or the absense of force does not distintuish capitalism. I'd agree that Capitalism provides opportunities for the state to avoid force in many cases, but the relationship between capitalism and force is complex. More pure forms of Capitalism involve goon squads. I don't want to get into the exesses of labor law, but by interfering with some of the rights of those who own the means of production (namely, the right to hire people to beat up those who refuse to work) reduce the amount of force. And there is no use of force in the Post Office, which is a distinctly non-Capitalist organization.
Capitalism, as commonly understood, means that the means of production (factories, farms, etc.) are owned and controlled by individuals (often through corporations and other group arrangements) acting for their own benefit rather than by the govornment.

Describing State as the currently most prevalent manifestation of force might be accurate, but doesn't illuminate so much as complain. What it does is to play a word-game with AH's definition of "anarchism".


..................................
Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]
Re: Self-serving redefinition of terms (none / 0) (#23)
by Wolfkin on Sat May 20, 2000 at 03:02:02 AM EST

Our Anonymous Hero plays a bit fast and loose with the definitions, I think.

That AH was me. I don't think I am distorting the definitions at all, actually. The meaning of anarchism seems pretty clear, given the roots of the word. That is, an- (not or no) arch- (State, government) -ism (belief in, or philosophy of). Others might use it as rejection of authority, but to the extent that force is used, "authority" is Statist, and if no force is used, "authority" is just some sort of suggestion.

"Capitalism: absence of force" isn't even a proper definition, in that it doesn't enable one to distinguish between a something that is an instance of capitalism and something that is not.

Sure it does: if force is used in some transaction, that transaction is not capitalist. So capitalist transactions are those which involve only trade or free gifts.

I'd agree that Capitalism provides opportunities for the state to avoid force in many cases, but the relationship between capitalism and force is complex.

What? Why would the State want to avoid force? Force is the only interaction that the State aggregates unto itself. If non-State entities use force, we call it "crime".

More pure forms of Capitalism involve goon squads.

I'm not sure what you're calling "capitalism", but it doesn't much resemble a free market, and sounds very much like socialism.

And there is no use of force in the Post Office, which is a distinctly non-Capitalist organization.

Um, try setting up your own letter-carrying service (as opposed to packages, which they've generously allowed private individuals to carry), and you, too, can find out how little force the Post Office uses.

Capitalism, as commonly understood, means that the means of production (factories, farms, etc.) are owned and controlled by individuals (often through corporations and other group arrangements) acting for their own benefit rather than by the govornment.

I agree with that, except that corporations are only possible because the State upholds them. They aren't capitalist, but socialist, in other words. In a free market (i.e., anarchy), they wouldn't have the Statist protections that they now enjoy, such as limited liability, and probably couldn't continue to exist, as they'd be less efficient (efficiency being the measure of "good for those partcipating in the economy [society]").

Describing State as the currently most prevalent manifestation of force might be accurate, but doesn't illuminate so much as complain.

Well, I notice that lots of anarchists seem unfocused, preferring to attack the symptoms of Statism than the causes (e.g., attacking McDonald's). If we eliminate the State, the other problems, such as the existence of corporations, copyright law, and most other uses of force (union goons beating up workers, as you mention, for instance), will likely disappear or be less prevalent.

Wolfkin.

[ Parent ]

Re: Self-serving redefinition of terms (none / 0) (#25)
by error 404 on Mon May 22, 2000 at 09:29:36 AM EST

More pure forms of Capitalism involve goon squads.

I'm not sure what you're calling "capitalism", but it doesn't much resemble a free market, and sounds very much like socialism.

What I'm calling capitalism here is the situation that prevailed before the legal protection of unions. Very free market: the company hires people to beat up those who choose not to work under the current arrangement. No govornment involved at all, unless you count looking th other way and refusing to investigate or prosecute the assaults.

Force is not the only control that govornments use, although I agree that force is the underlying last resort.

The thing is, somebody is going to be using force. That is the human condition. The purpose of the elaborate govornment structures is to subjugate those who would use force - in other words, making Bill Clinton the President serves primarily to take out an individual who would be a very dangerous gangster. When the govornment fails to assert authority, other institutions take over.

I suppose the Libertarian (the capital 'L' version: official party, not philosophy) idea of letting the civil liability process handle everything (and I think that's what you are getting at with the idea that banning corporations and thus forcing liability on individuals) might work, but that would only move the focus of force to the enforcement of court orders. And as things stand now, in my experience, more day-to-day decisions are made out of fear of lawsuits and insurance cancellation than out of fear of the state.

I guess where we differ most is in the idea of the State as the most significant threat to liberty. I see it is one of many, and one that, in the case of the U.S. has been designed to be managable. And we differ in what we think would happen without the State. I think that the cartels that would replace the corporations would be far worse than the State.

Frankly, I'd have to develope a lot more respect for the govornment than I have in order to become an anarchist.
..................................
Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]

Re: Self-serving redefinition of terms (none / 0) (#27)
by Wolfkin on Tue May 23, 2000 at 03:06:09 AM EST

I guess where we differ most is in the idea of the State as the most significant threat to liberty. I see it is one of many, and one that, in the case of the U.S. has been designed to be managable.

While it was designed to be managable, that experiment has now largely failed, with political conditions in the US now being far worse than those that the original revolutionaries revolted against. Given that the idea was to erect a State that was as minimal as possible, and that this worked for nearly one hundred years before beginning to seriously break down, I think the course is clear: abolish the State altogether.

And we differ in what we think would happen without the State. I think that the cartels that would replace the corporations would be far worse than the State.

I think that it's been pretty well shown that cartels and monopolies don't work without a State to back them up. See Man, Economy, and State : A Treatise on Economic Principles by Murray Rothbard for that argument, but the short version is that it is always to the advantage of individual members of cartels to cheat, which tends to weaken the cartel, and drive prices back to market levels. Anyway, I doubt anyone is reading this anymore, save you and I. :)

Wolfkin.

[ Parent ]

I'm not going to go into if the Gov... (3.00 / 1) (#7)
by duxup on Wed May 17, 2000 at 07:52:36 AM EST

duxup voted 1 on this story.

I'm not going to go into if the Gov should be involved in the MS situation or not, I think that's a whole other ordeal :-) There does seem to be an inherent conflict saying that the Gov should not get involved in the MS situation where in the past it clearly has been involved to the benefit of those who say it should not be involved. UNIX indeed would not be what it is if AT&T hadn't been forced to release Unix as it did. It should also be noted that the Fed Gov was deeply involved in funding collage computer programs as well. However, I don't necessarily agree that it is a complete conflict in that opinion alone. Government management of certain aspects of the computer world in the early years and involvement in later years is much different. The computer world is much different now, affecting more people and in many different ways. I think you can say that they should have gotten involved in the past, but not necessarily now in the MS case and there isn't a conflict there. I think you can argue a case for both and be reasonable. I'm not arguing the MS case it's self here, I'm just saying that they are very different situations. Now I would agree that when it comes to libertarians there are lots of them who have benefited from Gov involvement in the tech industries (and funding of educational institutions) in the early years and seem to have forgotten that. I do see a conflict in the often absolute libertarian views that the Government should strictly not be involved in business at all. However, I find that this conflict seems to be more so in older libertarians views than younger in my experience. While I don't think the opinion alone self has a natural conflict. The libertarian line regarding Gov involvement and their own prosperity does seem to conflict.

Re: I'm not going to go into if the Gov... (none / 0) (#16)
by duxup on Thu May 18, 2000 at 04:52:54 AM EST

Sorry about the formatting.
It looked good before i posted it :-)

[ Parent ]
I'm curiously uninterested by this.... (2.00 / 1) (#4)
by pwhysall on Wed May 17, 2000 at 08:06:58 AM EST

pwhysall voted 0 on this story.

I'm curiously uninterested by this. There's nothing wrong with it, I just don't really know why it's been posted - what is the point being made here?
--
Peter
K5 Editors
I'm going to wager that the story keeps getting dumped because it is a steaming pile of badly formatted fool-meme.
CheeseBurgerBrown

And yes, let us please never, ever ... (4.00 / 1) (#3)
by your_desired_username on Wed May 17, 2000 at 09:18:31 AM EST

your_desired_username voted 1 on this story.

And yes, let us please never, ever mention the fact that 99% of the computer tech we all know and love, can be traced (most of it directly) to DOD funded research. Especially things unix related

As for 'libertarian bent', well, some libertarian ideas, such as eliminating goverment regulation of businesses, horrify me.

Re: And yes, let us please never, ever ... (3.00 / 1) (#9)
by Emacs on Wed May 17, 2000 at 05:07:58 PM EST

And yes, let us please never, ever mention the fact that 99% of the computer tech we all know and love, can be traced (most of it directly) to DOD funded research. Especially things unix related

I don't know about the 99% figure, but you are correct about the DOD funding a lot of projects that help shape the computer industry as we know it today. In fact if you look at ARPANET and the ideas/protocols that came from there it's pretty impresssive. Tcp/Ip and ethernet both came from ARPANET, two pretty solid ideas that still serve us today.

I read a book on ARPANET, "Where wizards stay up late", or something like that, and they talk about the problems they had with the public perception of computers at that time. People were afraid that computers would only be used for warfare and were not very supportive of the government working on them. Of course that was back in the 60's when paranoia ran wild. It makes me laugh to think just how wrong we can be sometimes. anybody who makes a living off the inernet can give a great big thanks to the US governmet for funding the early work on it.

[ Parent ]
Interesting thought (although, pers... (1.00 / 1) (#1)
by mattm on Wed May 17, 2000 at 10:09:14 AM EST

mattm voted 1 on this story.

Interesting thought (although, personally, my usual reaction to Libertarians is to reach for the flyswatter.)



What I don't get about the "no gove... (3.50 / 2) (#5)
by kovacsp on Wed May 17, 2000 at 11:49:26 AM EST

kovacsp voted 1 on this story.

What I don't get about the "no government intervention" argument is that it is government intervention in the form of copyright protection that started this whole problem! So now it's the Government's job to fix the market flaw that they created.

That's my $0.01 economics lesson for the day.

Re: What I don't get about the (none / 0) (#18)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu May 18, 2000 at 09:18:02 PM EST

I feel the same way. I'm a libertarian anarchist, but I think it's the government's job to fix the problem they've created. Preferably by completely eliminating that most foul of government-granted monopolies, copyright :)

Luke Francl

[ Parent ]
Basically this subject lacks focus.... (2.00 / 1) (#8)
by decomyn on Wed May 17, 2000 at 01:53:03 PM EST

decomyn voted -1 on this story.

Basically this subject lacks focus. Is it about Microsoft, about the history of UNIX, or about government interference in the market place? Any one of these has been shown to generate interest, heat, and perhaps a modicum of light. It looks more like the introduction to an article on infrastructure/protocols. Perhaps this is the question that's being led up to -- should there be a (gawd, I hate the old 'information highway' analogy) set of 'rules of the road?' If so, who sets and enforces them, and are different implementations allowed simultaneously.

Re: Basically this subject lacks focus.... (none / 0) (#11)
by pretzelgod on Wed May 17, 2000 at 05:23:15 PM EST

The article looks focused to me. He's asking for opinions on the US government's involvement in Unix, considering the anti-government attitude so many free software advocates seem to have.

-- 
Ever heard of the School of the Americas?


[ Parent ]
I should probably read the Leonard article, but... (2.50 / 2) (#12)
by _cbj on Wed May 17, 2000 at 06:06:13 PM EST

Surely any US Government interference in Unix is academic. Or historic. Whatever, unless you're talking about proprietary, American Unixes like Sun's, which would be subject to no more unusual attention than any other company, it's all moot. OpenBSD development is headed by a Dutchman (I think) and openly scorns The Land of The Great Satan, and FreeBSD seems impartial and global. Does anyone care about the rest? Screw 'em, I say!

Re: I should probably read the Leonard article, bu (none / 0) (#17)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu May 18, 2000 at 11:32:58 AM EST

> OpenBSD development is headed by a Dutchman (I think) and openly scorns The Land of The
> Great Satan

Uh...Theo's a Canuck. He might be of Dutch descent, but he's living up in the Canadian plains IIRC

[ Parent ]
We want source code, not a political party... (3.00 / 1) (#15)
by mattc on Thu May 18, 2000 at 01:42:34 AM EST

I'm a little tired of hearing people saying that hackers have a "libertarian bent".. especially when it is the right wing version they are talking about (not that I like the left version any better).

The free software movement has people from all over the political spectrum, who all share the belief that software with source code is better than software without source code. This is what the free software political movement is about. It's not about abortion, guns, religion, or any of the other popular political platforms. It's just about software.

Now there may be a few nutcases like ESR who want us all to wander around carrying automatic weapons and a copy of "Atlas Shrugged" clutched to our chests, but this self-appointed 'spokesperson' is just one guy, and his views do not represent the views of everyone in the free software movement.

Let's just keep free software about the software.

Revisionist Internet History (none / 0) (#22)
by Paul Dunne on Fri May 19, 2000 at 02:46:55 PM EST

Unix was born in the research lab of a Big Corporation, the Internet was sponsored by Big Government. It is strange that these are the two hate figures against which some free software people direct such venom. Apropos of which, there's a very good link off that Salon page to a superb Salus article called Revisionist Internet History. It's a must-read, and... what do you know? Sorry to give the plot away, but... Al Gore really did invent the Internet!
http://dunne.home.dhs.org/
The US Gov't and Unix | 27 comments (27 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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