Politics and FOSS: Open to who and when?

I was recently doing some reading towards writing a paper that touched on the politics and philosophy of FOSS. That stands for “Free and Open Source Software.” That doesn’t mean free as in “no charge,” although that is often also true. It’s “Free as in Freedom,” according to those that follow Stallman [1]. FOSS software belongs to the community of people that use and write it.
It’s about sharing. You give away what you write and you give away your knowledge of how to use. Communities of users form, giving each other support and helping each other with the software. It’s very easy to see this in idealist terms, and I wanted to write a paper about how progressive we all were. I was reading a paper by Olga Goriunova that analysed FOSS from a Marxist perspective. And then again from a feminist perspective. And then again from a Deluzian point of view. [2] FOSS began to look like a Rorschach blot of politics.
Indeed when some of the major players in the movement, such as Raymond, are right-libertarians [3, 4] and others are anti-captialist, then obviously it resists this kind of simple political reading.This was at the back of my mind this afternoon when, looking for distraction, I logged into the Greater London Linux Users Group channel on Freenode.
Freende is an IRC server, so this was a real-time chat, established so that people in the London area can talk about Linux; maybe network or get some help with a problem. Instead, I wandered in to a conversation where the participants were bemoaning the “wrong” kind of people having babies, by which, they meant poor people. One of the participants was talking about how a particular 14 year old girl, known to him personally, was a “slapper.” (*) The conversation turned to how forced sterilisation of poor people would be a good idea. “[W]e keep coming to this conclusion, birth controll [sic] in the water in all council estates” suggested a user called hali. [5]
Meanwhile, bastubis, a woman from a working class background logged in and became upset about the content of the conversation. Bastubis noted she “lived on a council estate as a child.” A few lines later hali said, “the fact the chavs(**) get pregnant in the first place is usually a misstake [sic].” Bastubis explained that she was “a chav with an education – you’re talking about me.” Another user, dick_turpin, chimed in shortly thereafter with, “Enforced sterilisation I say.” Bastubis quickly became frustrated and left. [5]
Dick_turpin cheered her departure with a “Huzzah!”, while hali celebrated with a “muahaha.” [5]
Their exercise of privilege to create a hostile environment for some users is clearly not accidental. If they were unconsciously expressing privilege, that would not have been followed with a “huzzah.” Given that the conversation started with both gender and class based slurs, it seem likely that their desire to exclude bastubis from the group had roots both in class and gender. As such, their intention was specifically to replicate privilege found offline and institute online to create an homogenous environment.
That privilege is expressed online as much as offline should not be surprising. FOSS communities are diverse and organised around geographical regions and or interests and sometimes identity, such as women or LGBT users. Therefore, some groups will tend to allow unchecked privilege, while others will tend to frown upon it or specifically disallow it. Simon Yuill writes that OpenLab, another London-based community centred on FOSS, specifically grew out out of a progressive squatter-based movement. Hacklabs such as OpenLab, “have provided a clear political and ethical orientation in contrast to the somewhat confused and contradictory political and social perspectives articulated in the other communities and contexts of the wider FOSS world.” [6] When OpenLab’s mailing list recently had a discussion about how to get more women involved, there were certainly moments of frustration, but the apparent intention was inclusion.
How is it that FOSS can create some communities that would seem to be progressive and others that would seem to want to preserve privilege over any other goal? I think my error is looking at it as a political movement. A lot of its spokespeople speak of it in a political manner, but given the widely divergent viewpoints, there is no inherent or unifying left or right ideology of FOSS. It’s infrastructure. It has value to many groups of people because it avoids duplication of effort and grants them access to resources. For some groups, the fact that it also grants resources to other users is a necessary sacrifice – one that can be mitigated through hostility to undesirable participants. For other groups, the sharing is a main focal point. FOSS, itself, is political like music is political, with as many readings and intentions.

*A derogatory slang term used for sexual promiscuous females.
** A derogatory slang term used for poor people

[1] Free as in Freedom
[2] Goriunova, Olga, “Autocreativity: The Operation of Codes of Freedom in Art and Culture”. FLOSS+Art (eBook) Ed. Aymeric Mansoux and Marloes de Valk. 2008.
[3] Raymond, Eric S, “I am an active Libertarian” 2003. Assessed 18 August 2010.
[4] Raymond, Eric S, Whatever happened to civil rights? 2003. Assessed 18 August 2010.
[6] Yuill, Simon, “All Problems of Notation Will be Solved by the Masses: Free Open Form Performance, Free/Libre Open Source Software, and Distributive Practice”. FLOSS+Art (eBook) Ed. Aymeric Mansoux and Marloes de Valk. 2008.


Online Dating

This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

  • pissed (3x)
  • torture (2x)
  • queer (1x)

Ok, maybe “pissed” is a (sorta) bad word. And I can see how political discussions involving American application of torture in prisons (at home and abroad. Let’s not forget that prison rape is so tolerated that it’s practically officially sanctioned.) might alarm small children. And everybody else too, I hope. But “queer”? My very self is inappropriate for kids?
I thought this was the 21st century, but, um, yeah. Maybe the perl script thought I was using it as a pejorative term.
Speaking of queerness . . .. Well, somebody was speaking to me of queerness last night. She wanted to talk about gender theory, but was really drunk, as was I. This could have been amusing, but then she wanted to switch clothes with me. At which point it got more stressful. She got a cisgender guy to put on her clothes. Hilarity ensued. I mean, he was kind of funny being all hairy-chested in that frilly shirt. But on the other hand. I mean. Is it automatically funny if somebody is cross dressing? Cuz, yeah, I do it every day.
And many folks wonder why I do it. Is it some sort of political statement? Is it the result of a theoretical position? Do I do it because I am brave and strong?
Let’s be clear: I am neither brave nor strong. If I were brave and strong, my sense of self would be able to withstand any choice of clothing. That it cannot speaks to fragility. I dress the way I do because of an internal imperative. I don’t know why, but I know it’s not negotiable. If I were brave or strong or theoretical or political, switching into frilly clothes on a lark would be nothing more than a lark. The suggestion would not make me want to flee.
And what about other baggage? Pip of Great Expectations writes:

Are there white middle-class butches? If so, where are they? I found Judith/Jack Halberstam’s book, Female Masculinities, particularly disappointing in this regard. It seems that J/J identifies as butch (??). But although she shows how butch history has been ignored by middle-class feminism, she doesn’t admit that being an academic means that working-class butch history doesn’t simply belong to her. She doesn’t use this opportunity to share her own experience of butchness, and instead uses the (often extremely personal) stories of others to illustrate this story. It’s this kind of behaviour that allows white middle class men/women/butches to claim a rich history and identity, while hiding our privilege over others of the same gender (just like white women using pictures of black mothers to symbolise the fertility or spirituality of all women).

I don’t know about claiming the word “butch.” I mean, butch women all have way more gravitas than me. And I’m really scrawny, which is a strike against it. Also, women who are actually, indisputably butch intimidate me no end. But all that aside, what Pip is talking about here is female-bodied masculinity, which is something I think I can claim.
The class baggage surrounding it has been on the periphery of my vision. When I wrote my post about how to cross dress, I stated, “You have two goals when it comes to clothing: 1. Pass, 2. Avoid getting treated like dirt . . .. Therefore, you want to convey not only masculinity, but also . . . social status. Simply put: life is easier if you look rich . . .. Therefore, you want to avoid dressing in a sloppy manner. It will drop your status . . ..” In those ellipses, I was talking about ageism. On the rare occasions that I pass for male, I’m read as a teen boy, which has drawbacks. But when I don’t pass, I’m also treated as a low status person (followed around stores by security, that sort of thing) if I’m dressed in an overly casual fashion. I knew that dressing as a businessman tended to help, but I didn’t quite make the class connection there that Pip does.
Obviously, gender expression and class are not as linked in their incidence as Pip suggests, or I wouldn’t exist. But if people are subconsciously making the connection in their minds, this explains why folks think I’m a thug. Because they’re homophobic, transphobic, classist asshats.
(Be nice to me, or I’ll call you names on my blog.)
Anyway, I think real lesson here is that I shouldn’t try to talk about gender theory when I’m drunk. Or maybe ever. It’s ok when I or people in my general position theorize about my life, but when people from outside do it, well, that’s different. For me, it’s my life, which makes the stakes somewhat different than a casual person who wonders about the meanings of gender statements. I’m not making a statement, I’m just trying to get through my day.


So I met somebody the other day who said she liked Yanni, and I realized that I’d never actually heard anything by him, despite his being a staple of pledge-drive season public television in the bay area. I asked Tom and he said, “Yanni’s great! I actually really like him.” But tom used these same words of praise on Britney Spears, so I thought I should investigate this for myself.

The offical Yanni website only offers 33 and 36 second previews of his work, so I can only talk about his introductions, of which I just downloaded a few. And listened to them while Xena stared at me with a confused and disapproving expression, the dog version of “wtf?” It sounds like an instrumental version of Celine Dion, but performed on Casio Tones.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Casio tones. And I don’t know what year’s music I was listening to. Perhaps it was recorded in the heyday of Casio tones. anyway, someplace, I have one, I think. I’m fond of it. It’s a midi controller and the accordian sound is really nifty when passed through an overdriven low pass filter. Actually, it’s Christi‘s casio tone, so perhaps I will never see it again, since i’m not sure where it has gotten itself off to.
I feel like there may be a strong asthetic connection between Yanni, Thomas Kinkade and Chicken Soup for the Soul. It feels like it is strongly rooted in the middle class, perhaps distinctly American (except that Yanni is Greek and Celine Dion is Canadian). It’s something born in the last decade? Perhaps earlier? The middle class is the backbone of our society. the silent majority who tromps off to work every day, pays taxes (most taxes? the rich aren’t paying anymore) and sees little benefit except in public education. Without the middle class, the US would decend into chaos and open class warfare, or at least chaos, since open class warfare is already being waged in many places. The middle class, locked into debt, is locked into non-radicalism. they have the most to lose and the most fear of losing it. the cultural values that they embrace define us a society, as they are consumers, so the rich pander to them while ignoring the poor.
Therefore, the middle class asthetic is safe. the middle class is up to it’s eyeballs in student debt, credit card debt and morgage debt, they can’t afford to rock the boat. the asthetic is comforting. while existing a few paychecks or one serious illness away from bankruptcy, the need for comfort is strong. And it allows them dreams of togtherness, unity and a social safety net. While isolated in the suburbs, with no real community around them, who wouldn’t desire to look at pictures of cohesive village social structures?
Or maybe I’m readin too much into this
I have a CD with an interview with a Dadaist on it and he’s talking about how the thing to do seemed to be to attack the bourgeois, as apparently they were unaware that it had been done to death. then they did some investigation and found out that they were all bourgeois.
“Science says we are the servants of nature: everything is in order, make love and bash your brains in. Carry on, my children, humanity, kind bourgeois and journalist virgins . . . ” (http://www.english.upenn.edu/~jenglish/English104/tzara.html)
I want to write a manifesto for an art movement. analyzing capitalist systems and Yanni is optional