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Story: Linux and FOSS Are Not SelfishTotal Replies: 5
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joncr

Jun 13, 2012
3:19 PM EST
There are quotes around the word "selfish" in that BBC interview. I don't know if Linus wrote his responses or used air quotes, but I interpreted that remark when I read it this morning to suggest that FOSS developers are often motivated by their own interests in building something, the pleasure they take from the creative process, and the rewards they get when they see other people use their work. That seems innocuous enough.

I'm pretty sure Linus meant it to be taken in that sense, not in the Mr. Burns sense.

That said, I've been told more than once that the purpose I, as a user, serve in the FOSS ecology is to support developers. That point of view is not so innocuous.
smallboxadmin

Jun 13, 2012
4:48 PM EST
@joncr You said exactly what I was thinking.

Each contributor has thier own set of interests (i.e. being "selfish"). Sharing the result of those interests benefit all of Linux. I think what Linus was eluding to was there is no central mission, but all of the contributions have built something usable and sustainable.

Taking him to task for using "selfish" may have read too little into what he was saying.
montezuma

Jun 13, 2012
5:53 PM EST
The concept of selfishness is unfortunately a semantical playground.

Example:

I enjoy helping people and empathizing with them. Does that make me selfish? After-all I am deriving emotional benefit by not being selfish.

Taking a narrow view all human activity is selfish. I don't find that a productive definition however.
vainrveenr

Jun 13, 2012
6:51 PM EST
Quoting:Each contributor has thier own set of interests (i.e. being "selfish"). Sharing the result of those interests benefit all of Linux. I think what Linus was eluding to was there is no central mission, but all of the contributions have built something usable and sustainable.


Indeed.

It is also possible that the original poster of this LXer Feature piece never delved further past "Eric Raymond's famous itch scratch concept" in CatB to reach the elaboration of this "selfishness".

ESR elaborates upon this type of "selfishness" specifically within the CatB section The Social Context of Open-Source Software:
Quoting:Earlier I referred to the ``Delphi effect'' as a possible explanation for Linus's Law. But more powerful analogies to adaptive systems in biology and economics also irresistably suggest themselves. The Linux world behaves in many respects like a free market or an ecology, a collection of selfish agents attempting to maximize utility which in the process produces a self-correcting spontaneous order more elaborate and efficient than any amount of central planning could have achieved. Here, then, is the place to seek the ``principle of understanding''.

The ``utility function'' Linux hackers are maximizing is not classically economic, but is the intangible of their own ego satisfaction and reputation among other hackers. (One may call their motivation ``altruistic'', but this ignores the fact that altruism is itself a form of ego satisfaction for the altruist). Voluntary cultures that work this way are not actually uncommon; one other in which I have long participated is science fiction fandom, which unlike hackerdom has long explicitly recognized ``egoboo'' (ego-boosting, or the enhancement of one's reputation among other fans) as the basic drive behind volunteer activity.

Linus, by successfully positioning himself as the gatekeeper of a project in which the development is mostly done by others, and nurturing interest in the project until it became self-sustaining, has shown an acute grasp of Kropotkin's ``principle of shared understanding''. This quasi-economic view of the Linux world enables us to see how that understanding is applied.

We may view Linus's method as a way to create an efficient market in ``egoboo''—to connect the selfishness of individual hackers as firmly as possible to difficult ends that can only be achieved by sustained cooperation. With the fetchmail project I have shown (albeit on a smaller scale) that his methods can be duplicated with good results. Perhaps I have even done it a bit more consciously and systematically than he.

Many people (especially those who politically distrust free markets) would expect a culture of self-directed egoists to be fragmented, territorial, wasteful, secretive, and hostile. But this expectation is clearly falsified by (to give just one example) the stunning variety, quality, and depth of Linux documentation. It is a hallowed given that programmers hate documenting; how is it, then, that Linux hackers generate so much documentation? Evidently Linux's free market in egoboo works better to produce virtuous, other-directed behavior than the massively-funded documentation shops of commercial software producers.


Perhaps the type of "selfishness" elaborated upon here has already successfully and will continue to successfully "work with FOSS" regardless of the leanings of the original poster of this LXer Feature piece.



tuxchick

Jun 13, 2012
8:11 PM EST
Quoting: I enjoy helping people and empathizing with them. Does that make me selfish? After-all I am deriving emotional benefit by not being selfish.


Perhaps this is the crux of the disagreements-- selfishness is not an emotional state. It is behavior.

vrainveer, I forgot about that bit. It ignores the plain and simple dictionary definition of 'selfish'.
linuxwriter

Jun 14, 2012
12:13 AM EST
What's wrong with the "selfish" bit?

In the ultimate analysis, all human acts are selfish. Even altruism will only be indulged in if the doer feels good about it. The warm feeling that comes when one does good is the kickback - it does not always have to be something material.

Nothing wrong about it, we as a species are built that way.

And, BTW, I don't think the BBC put the word "selfish" in. I did an interview with Linus last year [1] and used his replies to my questions verbatim. The BBC text reads exactly like his own writing. He often uses words in quotes himself and his way of expressing himself is so clear and uncomplicated that something would be lost in editing it.

[1] http://www.itwire.com/opinion-and-analysis/open-sauce/44975-...

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