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Re: <nettime> Zittrain's Foundational Myth of the Open Internet
Florian Cramer on Thu, 16 Oct 2008 13:35:50 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Zittrain's Foundational Myth of the Open Internet

On Wednesday, October 15 2008, 18:39 (+0200), Felix Stalder wrote:
> For Popper the central question of political theory is a negative     
> one: How to get rid of a bad government. And this, and this reason    
> alone, is why he favours democracy because it has an inbuilt          
> mechanism to get rid of a bad government. You simply elect another    
> one. Beyond that, Popper was not particularly political a thinker and 
> he was happy to praised by the left and right a like.                 


> Now, the only connection I see between Popper and open technology is
> in the way most free software projects handle bugs. Starting from the
> assumption that all software is buggy, developers have created ways
> to turn bugs into a productive element by publishing them actively,
> rather than a destructive element that needs to be hidden and ignored
> as much as possible.

Thanks a lot, Felix, for your excellent summary of Popper. Yet I beg
to differ, thinking that the connection between him and internet
politics goes farther than bug handling. Just like in Popper's
political theory, the concept of "openness" in computer/Internet
culture is (a) based on negative deduction and (b) an avoidance of
political partisanship.

There exists, first of all, no positive concept of openness - not
even in FLOSS. While FLOSS has well agreed on criteria for software
openness/freedom, it has no consensus or firm notions of over open
standards (such as protocols and file formats), "open content" (as
obvious in the various incompatible Creative Commons license options)
let alone openness of technology and communication on a larger
scale. However, there is a negative definition of open technology as
non-proprietary that unites all these players.

Secondly, there is a deliberate political vagueness in "open
technology" discourses allowing diverse libertarians, liberals,
socialists, religiously motivated people and even conservative
businesses to gather under the notion of "open" technology, just like
leaders of the Western European political left, center and right could
jointly subscribe to Popper's notion of the open society.

> Yet, most web2.0 projects are closed in Popper's sense of openness.   

Which is exactly the kind of criticism they draw from open technology

> Hidden behind some amorphous notion of community (a new kind of       
> fundamentalism, really) much of the governance structure is actually  
> opaque, unaccountable, and without any mechanism to substantively     
> question and change its workings. That does not mean that they cannot 
> change, but it means there is systemic way to influencing this change 
> and make it accountable. I would not like to have your political      
> systems to function like Wikipedia.                                   

The argument for Wikipedia (as opposed to proprietary web services)
would be that anyone who doesn't agree with its governance can, thanks
to the GNU Free Documentation License of its contents and the GNU
General Public License of its software backend MediaWiki, fork the
project to continue it under a different governance model. Unless I'm
overlooking something, this seems to be a close match to Popper's
open society models of governance [which I perhaps should have better
called a "negative cybernetics"].

> Thus, I don't think a fitting critique to see these "open media" as 
> continuation of the liberal projects because they aren't (I kinda   
> would prefer if they were). Rather, they seem to exemplify a new    
> corporatism where the group (be it a community or a corporation) is 
> always right and very steep hierarchies are masked behind a shallow 
> egalitarianism.                                                     

But the same critique could be (and has been) made of Western
democracies that fulfill Popper's open society criteria.



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