The Value of Freedom and More Reification

The Value Of Freedom

Tom in the comments raises a question that I will recast as the issue of which “freedoms” are more important. In abstract all freedoms are equally important if we have some concept of human dignity or worth, it is only when these freedoms collide in practice that we should seek to prioritise them. But there is a temptation to regard some freedoms as obviously more important than others, especially in a crisis. The idea of feeding people first then worrying about their freedom seems eminently practical.

Ignoring freedom in the name of immediate need can be counter-productive though, and can be engineered to serve other people’s ends. To take a common example, women’s rights may seem a shibboleth when faced with the need to deal with patriarchal community leaders to feed the starving. But denying women’s rights is immensely harmful to society and the economy in general, never mind to the half of the population they apply to, and may well not lead to everyone getting fed whether today or in the long run. It will serve patriarchal power structures though.

In trying to prioritise freedoms one must be wary of unintended consequences and self-undermining actions if one believes that freedoms have social value. If one believes that freedoms are part of human dignity or absolute in some other way, then again one must be very careful that one’s sentiment does not undermine the very ends one is seeking to achieve, and that it is not exploited to serve the ultimately oppositional and un-free or un-dignified ends of others. And If freedoms are of value in themselves, they may be worth suffering for.

More Reification

The idea of a “commons” is reification. It privileges the objects of human activity over that activity (and humanity). It also leads to calling people “commoners”, which implies a king and a feudal society.

The idea of “Free Software” looks like it again confuses human subjectivity with the products of that subjectivity. It should perhaps be “Hacker Freedom”, and “Free Culture” should be “Cultural Freedom” or “Freedom of Culture”. The latter two may be useful labels to get away from the secondary permission culture of NC anyway. But the principles of Free Software are human freedoms, not “freedom” of the products of human activity. This is another reason why the BSD fanatic view of the world is wrong. Selling the products of human activity is not as important as the freedom to continue that activity.

Posted in Free Culture
3 comments on “The Value of Freedom and More Reification
  1. I worry how many people’s second misunderstanding of ‘free software’ (the first being free-of-charge), is to mistake the attribute of ‘freeness’ as applying to the software itself, and that it is the software that is deserving of liberty.
    Free software and free culture is about restoring freedom to the people to their public domain and everything within it.
    On the collision of freedoms, there is a real and present danger that the ‘Four freedoms’ of the FSF, are dogmatically about to collide with the human right to privacy.
    Any artist should have a right to copy a work in the public domain, modify and exploit it privately, irrespective of whether they publish the results of such exploitation. No stormtroopers should be sanctioned to break down the artist’s doors and ‘liberate’ their private work. Unlike the GPLv2, GPLv3 is considering such sanction. This is what happens when dogma is incomplete and fails to recognise a missing human right, the ‘right to privacy’.

  2. Rob Myers says:

    Certainly the confusion of the freedom of software users with the freedom of inanimate software is what I’m trying to get at in the last sentence. Creative Commons make this confusion worse for culture with their per-work licensing, attaching various permissions to use of each work, centering rights on works not human individuals.
    I don’t understand your point about GPL 3. I do recognise the right to control release of a work, I just don’t remember the section of GPL 3 that affects it. This sounds like a serious point, and it breaks some Moral Rights, so you really should raise it with the FSF if you haven’t already.

  3. I discuss it here:
    And on the GPLv3 comments page via:
    It’s the GPLv3 attempting to be compatible with the Affero license and the HPL, by permitting amendments requiring continuous disclosure of private modifications of software that is publicly exploited.
    There is a distinct difference in principle between preventing private exploitation and nullifying copyright, patents, and DRM/DMCA. This is why the Affero/HPL should be a wholly separate license from the GPL.
    Restricting the public’s freedom to invade or violate an individual’s private domain is NOT actually unethical, nor an actual imposition upon human liberty. However, the FSF’s four freedoms don’t cater for this boundary.