On solving the world's problems

Do FLO values include the assumption that human beings are good by nature, but behave in evil ways because of the way society works currently?

I am deeply convinced that every human is evil and that this cannot change by means of human-made outside influence – the only hope is God.

I do think we can solve individual problems, like ban targeted advertising. But this feels like curing symptoms when there is a root cause that we ignore. As a result, while I like what you’re doing, it’s hard for me to support the effort on a deep level.

What are your worldviews around this?

I wouldn’t say that FLO values include assumptions about human nature. The range of views (evidence-based or assumptions or otherwise) held by people within FLO movements varies widely.

Snowdrift.coop also includes co-op values, but those also make no assumptions about human nature. Rather, they are a push, a mandate for a set of pro-social values we should abide by.

Anarchists may believe that everything will naturally be better if we just get rid of power structures, states, laws, etc. and they tend to support FLO ideas. But the vast majority of FLO proponents are not anarchists. Most FLO supporters believe we need whatever other social institutions and laws to deal with broader ethical concerns and issues. FLO cannot itself solve everything.

The place of FLO is about allowing creative evolution, access to ideas, and rejecting the power dynamics that come from broad legal and technical restrictions on creativity.

This stuff seems related to recent arguments in this space around discriminatory licensing like “ethical source”. Many people want to restrict culture and technology to be used only in ethical ways. I certainly sympathize with that wish. But copyright licenses are just not an effective or appropriate tool. We can’t accomplish every ethical goal through hacking copyright law. Most ethical concerns need to be addressed in other ways.

We’d be delusional to think that FLO will automatically solve the world’s problems. I’m open to arguments that FLO can introduce some new problems and challenges. Overall, FLO enables pro-social behavior by emphasizing collaboration and sharing, but it doesn’t necessarily go that way or make everyone automatically pro-social.

The reasons for people being pro-social or anti-social are complex and a topic beyond the scope of Snowdrift.coop. But it’s valid and interesting to think about what these issues mean for us. When I started this, my assumption was that it would not be enough to just promote and fund FLO. That for this to be overall positive, it needs to emphasize other ethical values such as the co-op principles. I’ve had disagreements with people who think we should only care about FLO itself and have total neutrality on all other topics. But I do want a broad enough coalition here where people don’t feel that they have to accept a specific narrow view of everything to participate.

We’re promoting pro-social values and working to eliminate conflicts-of-interest that cause people to sell out those values. It’s a problem that people who do find pro-social motivations (however that happens, naturally or not) still have pressures to do things like working for targetted-ad companies because they fear they can’t sustain a basic living doing only pro-social work.

You may be right, I’m not sure. I aim to keep a curious and open mind about all of this, but I think FLO is compatible with other efforts to build a more just, ethical world. I see it as a challenging but practical thing we can work on. The main issue with addressing symptoms is whether it reduces the chances of solving underlying problems, and I don’t think that’s the case with FLO. Sometimes, addressing symptoms helps us recognize the potential for addressing the disease. It can show us the potential for change.

1 Like

Awesome :). It all sounded to me as if you were going to save the world by funding FLO.

I wonder if, in order to be net-positive in ethical matters, you really need to avoid working for “the bad guys”? After all, if everyone with a sense for morale stops working with or talking to the bad guys, they might become even worse? Maybe this depends on how “infectious” the good is that you would carry into that place. It seems avoiding non-FLO employees is a huge thing in the FLO world, so this might be an important question to ask – and probably it has been asked before.

1 Like

Excellent point. Just like FLO emphasizes in general, sharing ideas is good. Echo chambers can be really counterproductive. If the FLO-dedicated have only prejudices and no real understanding of others, that’s a pretty ill-informed way to have a movement. There’s certainly a lot to be said for working within the system too. I agree that a lot of bad comes when bad actors have no exposure to critics or if the critics are only seen as outsiders (who they can ignore or dismiss).

For me it’s more like, funding FLO is something that I think will make some difference in the world — particularly, a larger difference than I could make working on any single FLO project — and it’s a place where I can apply skills and interests I already have. Compared to, say, political organizing, which I think is super important and which I support financially, but doesn’t fit my skill set and other interests quite as well.

I just listened to this great podcast episode:

This discusses the issues with how strict, rule-focused, and rule-following and rule-enforcing different cultures can be. I find the framing helpful.

I strongly disagree with those who suggest that we just need to remove rules and everything will just work out. But it’s easy to see how excessive rules may be stifling, counterproductive, unjust etc. It’s all a matter of finding the right balance to deal with how people and systems actually work.

So, FLO can seem to be pushing toward relaxed, loose approach to rules. But done right, it has clear norms and rules itself. Snowdrift.coop uses the tightest and most restrictive of all the FLO licenses. The values, norms, Code of Conduct etc. are all about having strong rules that are themselves loose enough in interpretation that we can use good judgment and not treat people as simple computer programs.

Crowdmatching is itself a balance, bringing some tight rules. I once had an anarchist object to our idea of having a particular pledge model with particular rules everyone must follow. They wished for a system where every patron could make a pledge using whatever model they prefer and let the natural chaos of it all work itself out. But what we’re doing here is saying that we are proposing a specific model with tight rules. You can’t just donate any amount. You can’t just keep donating a fixed level and stop matching further. It’s a matching pledge, and you have to accept the basic rules with everyone agreeing to the same pledge. Your option is mainly to choose per-project whether you are in or out.

A totally loose attitude would suggest that you merely make it as easy as possible for people to donate and it will all work out. No matching pledge or coordination needed. I think that’s nonsense. We need some tight rules that bind us together culturally, and they must be structured to push us toward what is most ethical. They just need to be loose enough to adapt in case our initial rules aren’t quite the optimal ones (we’re not gods, we can’t get everything perfect, especially first try).

On a side note, I’ve done some work for the massive new Open Source efforts at IEEE. The significance is: the FLO status quo has some deep failures, largely based on inadequate structure, lack of planning, “tyranny of structurelessness”, lack of adherence to tighter standards, etc. IEEE is an organization that knows tight standards and strict rules. They can potentially bring to Open Source the missing strictness. Projects could come to IEEE in order to be forced to meet higher standards of ethics, security, governance etc. The FLO world desperately needs these things.

The way I understand “They wished for a system where every patron could make a pledge using whatever model they prefer”, this would allow making a snowdrift-style pledge, while also allowing other styles. I can totally see how from the anarchist viewpoint, this would sort itself out: People would play around a little, and if the snowdrift model turns out to work best, most people would do snowdrift-style pledges.

However, building a system that works this way would be very hard, because the user must be able to configure very arbitrary pledge styles – plus it gets very hard to visualize the data.

Even if it was possible to build such a system, its righteousness would be questionable to me. The only rule would be survival-of-the-fittest. Maybe the pledge style that works best would use fear or sth like that – if it’s an anarchy, nobody should prevent it.

I have a different view of what the failure is in the first place, because I’m mostly happy with the software I’m using – the problems arise when interfacing with the non-FLO (or FLO-but-low-quality) world.

I mostly do my computing according to the unix philosophy – a logical conclusion of which is that you don’t need to write much software, you only need to find out what the problem really is: Once the problem has become trivial enough, you either don’t need new software in the first place, or it can be written in an hour or two. The most annoying thing about my computing life is that the rest of the world does not follow the unix philosophy: Stuff is not built to be re-used etc, so lots of things that should be trivial cannot be done at all. This is not a problem because the stuff can be replaced with trivial bits of software (which, to stay honest, do take a lot of work to figure out) – however, other people will still use the complex stuff and thus I cannot interface with the outside world.

I cannot see how structure (or funding) would fix any of this. Most projects that would profit from structure or funding wouldn’t adhere to the unix philosophy, so both of the solutions would only make the situation worse. But I’m fairly certain we aren’t talking about the same failures here, so it might still be effective towards those other failures :slight_smile:

How exactly does the lack of structure contribute to those other failures?

2 Likes

Indeed, I am referring to other sorts of failures: failure to effectively deliver the goods to the general public (for whatever combination of reasons, including the need to out-compete proprietary stuff and its marketing), failures in security, failures in ethical management of collaborative teams and communities…

One reference thing (happens to be about not-so-unix software, culture, and political organizations in Germany, specifically highlighting FSFE, KDE, and German Wikipedia): https://jolts.world/index.php/jolts/article/view/131

I’m fine with the Unix philosophy, we need much more of it. But it’s a micro-focus, and just like we can’t assume people are good, we can’t assume that good micro level things will necessarily combine to good macro results. I think we need care and attention at both micro and macro levels.

P.S. your interpretation of anarchic pledge-models is exactly what I think the person was describing, and I agree with your concerns about it

1 Like

True indeed, doing more unix things won’t fix the FLO situation. But while I personally cannot relate to the FLO problem, I can relate to the unix problem: For my day-to-day computing activities, I cannot tell apart theoretically-FLO and proprietary software. I can only tell apart software that practically allows me to understand/fix/change it, and software that doesn’t.

Very crazy example: I use chromium, which is FLO software. But I use a 32-bit machine, so there’s a fairly small limit to the amount of RAM my machine can deal with – and this limit is way below the requirements for compiling chromium. Even then, compiling chromium takes a few hours. While it is FLO, it is not free software in practice. I try to avoid it just as much as I try to avoid proprietary software – just that it’s the most difficult thing to avoid; e.g. it’s impossible for me to contribute in this forum without using chromium. (Firefox/iceweasel has the identical problem.) There’s many examples of software that are less extreme, but that I still avoid.

Maybe there is a way very-practically-libre software can be supported using funding/structure? The way I currently see it, practically-libre is not the usual outcome if you have different FLO projects compete to each other. So building an unopinionated FLO funding platform would lead to more FLO-but-not-practically-libre software.

2 Likes

Right, so the point here is that we are opinionated. See https://wiki.snowdrift.coop/project-reqs/honor-projects (this whole vision I have for distinguishing between hard requirements and calling out specific opinionated ideals we should honor).

I want to see projects effectively graded on whether they are actually practically FLO and also actually good for the world. Being technically FLO without living up to the pro-social ideals is not good enough. I just think we need sometimes to have social pressure / reporting / transparency rather than hard rules. We have to be pragmatic and to not be so insistent that nearly zero projects even qualify.

EDIT: I split a reply about the contents of that wiki page into a separate topic Add adaptability, avoid complexity to project honor code? because it’s a more specific discussion.

2 posts were split to a new topic: Add adaptability, avoid complexity to project honor code?

Maybe I should clarify that while I can relate to the problem of practically-libre software – because I know the usefulness of such software, and would thus like there to be more of it – this doesn’t imply that it’s a good thing. Sometimes stuff that I like on an emotional level is really bad – I guess that’s normal in many topics :slight_smile:

But I think it’s good to talk about these kinds of things: I notice that I’m sometimes arrogant around world-view topics, and that it’s very hard for me to talk about these sorts of things with other people who have fundamentally different beliefs.

So I guess leaving you just because I cannot deeply support the cause due to fundamental differences, would be one of those decisions that isolate me from people with different beliefs. This in turn leads to even more inability to understand others and talk with them about interesting topics.

So maybe it’s a good idea for me to stay around a little, hoping that more conversation about ethical/spiritual sorts of topics will happen. There probably is a balance where this is good for the project overall, by connecting people and generating activity, without distracting from getting work done.

2 Likes

There seems to be some assumptions. I need to read-between-the-lines to try to get what you are saying here. But I will reiterate some important points I see you saying.

Any of us can only best approach understanding of truth by engaging with diverse views. If we’re only exposed to an echo-chamber or other limited sets of views, we can’t know what we’re missing. That doesn’t mean it’s healthy to seek conflict all the time. But we can all have open minds where we’re plainly curious. We can wish to continually learn about how we can update our views to get closer to truth.

There are connections I actively maintain and those I don’t, but I try not to close doors. I see many people stuck in ignorant views because they surround themselves only with reinforcement and avoid questions and challenges. This happens with all sorts of political, cultural, and philosophical positions.

That’s not to support relativism. It’s not like everything is equally true. It’s more that in the goal of continually getting closer to truth (at least as an average direction), we get there best by inviting a diverse range of inputs. Not so open minded that our minds fall out, so to speak. I appreciate non-dogmatic convictions. I think it’s good to care and have moral and ethical convictions. We can do that while remaining engaged, open-minded, and curious.

Snowdrift.coop doesn’t only value diversity as some end-in-itself because we care about all people in the world. We value diversity because we know that we’ll make worse decisions the more blind-spots we have when various perspectives are not present.

1 Like

Maybe I should go through my post and clarify things here and there :slight_smile:

I’ve began the thread because I was wondering whether snowdrift.coop is a place where I should be. I thought a good thing might be to start talking about some of the matters that cause me to think I shouldn’t be here:

Now my most recent post:

I like what you’re doing: I regularly encounter the problem you’re solving and sometimes I even have some emotional attachment to it. But I don’t think it’s good to solve it. (I also don’t think it’s evil in itself to solve it.)

A very weird example that still explains why being able to relate to the problem doesn’t imply I think it’s good to solve it: Death. Everyone needs to die at some point – I can relate that this is bad, but I don’t think we should solve it. Since my point is less about being able to solve it than it being good to solve it, here’s what that would be in the example: Death is there for a reason – IMHO we’re all doing very evil things, but since we’re limited by death, there’s a maximum to how evil and sophisticated the stuff we do can become.

At this point I noticed that I was in the middle of a discussion that is hard for me to have in a different place. I explained why I think having more of this sort of discussion would be good. In fact, this is the same “good” that I meant earlier when I said I cannot see how funding FLO is a “good” thing: Talking about these sorts of matters is a stronger reason for me to stay around than funding FLO is.

This simply continues the reasoning why this sort of discussion is good. While the other paragraph explained my problems of character (being arrogant, finding it hard to talk about certain topics) around this, this one unfolds how they are related to staying here vs leaving.

I then wondered whether this is OK for you. After all, I wouldn’t be here to help funding FLO, but to talk about off-topic things. I felt this might be distracting and very rude behavior, similar to what trolls do. I concluded with the hope that there’s a way forward that both allows me to have these sorts of conversations, while at the same time being net positive for the project.

I mostly think the same, but with a major tweak: It’s totally OK to have make very different fundamental assumptions from other people. However if you do so, your learning from the other people is limited to a) stuff that is not impacted by the differences in assumptions, and b) the assumptions themselves.

Thus you should also seek a lot of contact with people who share the same assumptions as you – when doing so, you should however avoid echo-chambers related to sub-flavours of thinking that is not part of your assumptions. E.g. if you’re a christian, it makes a lot of sense to seek much contact with other christians – but there’s different flavours of “christian” and you should not avoid contact with christians that have slightly different views from yours.

In addition, you should seek contact with other people as well :slight_smile:. I just think it makes sense to keep the distinction in mind in order to learn the most from the conversations you have.

This makes a lot of sense – closing connections in a way that makes it hard to open them again, would require very solid knowledge that you shouldn’t have it anymore. I both think a) this is probably seldom the case, and b) it’s very hard to know for sure.

However, I think it’s a good idea to be intentional about which connections you actively maintain and which you don’t. This includes actively reducing the amount you engage somewhere if you think that is the right way to go.

I’m unsure if you think this could be part of what I was saying (in a between-the-lines, or background/worldview way), so I would like to clarify that it isn’t: The ethical convictions I do have are either fairly solid or impacted by the assumptions stuff described above – i.e. while I would certainly love to talk about ethical convictions, the main reason would not be to learn more about them. (I do think, however, that expressing convictions can help see them in a different light, and thus learn more about them. And that others can spot inconsistencies and thus help one grow. This is just not where the focus of my point was.)

I’m rather expecting to learn more about the ethical convictions of others and what the relationships between mine and those of others are: How my beliefs fit into the picture of what others believe.

This makes a lot of sense, and matches my expectations. However, my main reason for staying here would be diversity. This is why I’m wondering if it’s a good idea – it would not be aligned with the purpose of this community. At the same time, that might be totally fine, and the whole thing might even be net-positive towards the actual purpose.

1 Like

My point about relativism was: I wanted to be sure you understood that by supporting diversity, I (and others here) were not supporting relativism (which I know you don’t support yourself).

That’s what I presumed, and my sense was that you’re still far from clear. For one thing, we don’t necessarily all share beliefs or even know fully what each of us believes. Some of us have gotten to know one another more personally, but we all have limited time and some topics have just not happened to come up. I haven’t myself mentioned all of my views here (this exchange is long enough already), and I don’t represent the team or project specifically.

In terms of how FLO fits in, I actually think it’s not quite right to see the Snowdrift.coop mission as exclusively or even particularly about FLO as an end in itself. The public-goods dilemma economically is the real focus, and FLO is just an element and good example of it (in some cases at least). Consider the example of journalism:

Good journalism is a public good in that the results are non-rivalrous and ought to not be paywalled or ad-laden. Paywalled journalism limits the reach and thus who can be informed (especially limiting to the poorest citizens). Ad-laden journalism (particularly when targeted and manipulative) creates conflicts-of-interest for the journalists in addition to ethical concerns about advertising in general. So, we see Snowdrift.coop and crowdmatching as a way to better align journalism with the public-interest. I’ll admit there’s also a ton of concerns and pitfalls (I don’t want to fund misinformation or conspiracy theories etc, even if they are popular, and so this is a wicked problem for us to consider how to set out the right principles for what sorts of journalism we could support — somehow not too biased toward our personal views but meeting some principles of journalistic standards etc). You might not specifically care about this issue either, but it’s not the same type of thing in the world as some Unix-type software tools. It just relates to the same economic concern.

My personal reason for ethical concern about public goods is seeing a lot of harm from paywalls, proprietary limitations, and ad-based systems and a lot of underfunded creative work that isn’t reaching it’s potential. I would like to see all organizations be ethically-driven rather than profit-driven. And I want to see more resources move away from the problematic work and toward better things. FLO is just an element of this. The other aspect is an intentional decision not to try to make Snowdrift.coop exclusive for projects I personally support. So, I’ve been seeking all along how to define the clearest ethical principles that are still general enough.

2 Likes

A post was merged into an existing topic: Add adaptability, avoid complexity to project honor code?

Regarding the original post. So you have your opinion on a certain philosophical question, which is:

But then you go and say

Presumably this “root cause” is the “human nature is evil by default” problem that you subscribe to. If so, then isn’t the point of calling it “human nature” to say that it’s already a lost cause, and “focusing on curing the symptoms” (i.e. being good despite ourselves) is the only choice we have as a society? In which, case what does it matter whether we are addressing the symptoms (which we can control) vs. the helpless “root cause”? Either way, we’re solving at the highest level possible. (Sans involving Snowdrift in religion, which I don’t think you’re suggesting.)

Though in your opinion, there is one solution:

…which is of course out of scope for us, so for Snowdrift purposes we’re back to the zero-solution argument above. That’s assuming by “the only hope is God” you mean, the only hope for humanity is “finding God” (or some similar spiritual goal) during our lifetime. If you in fact mean “the only hope is God” himself saving us later on after life has happened, then that’s again out of scope for what we can do here, today, in this life, on earth to address the issues we’re trying to address. Thus, when you say you’re not sure if you can support this project, it seems contradictory that you can support any socially beneficial project that is not religious…

Why do I bring this up? To show that the answer to the fundamental question that started this thread:

…is “it doesn’t matter”. Why? Because all arguments for FLO values still stand, either way. They’re orthogonal issues. How do I know?

Proof

Assuming the goal is we want to be good (whatever that might mean), then it logically follows that:

  • If humans are “good” by nature, but tainted with some bad, our goal should be to remove that “taint” and aspire to our fully “good” natural selves.
  • If humans are “bad” by nature, but capable of good nonetheless, we should all try to consciously fight the bad as best we can, and become our best approximation of a good person anyway.

As you can see, the resulting moral imperative is exactly the same in practice. So, you can take the “bad by default” philosophy and I can take the “good by default” philosophy and it won’t matter because it’s all just philosophy and has limited practical relevance to what is the next right thing to be done in our lives and as a cooperative.

AFAICT to suggest otherwise would be to take the “we’re all bad, so why bother?” approach to life (which shares its in-practice outcome with nihilism, if you think about it!) and if you felt that way you presumably wouldn’t have arrived at snowdrift nor be mentioning God :smile:

(It doesn't matter what definition you pick for 'good')

The exact definition of “good” and “bad” have no bearing on these arguments, so pick whatever you like. That’s just more philosophy. Obviously most religions prescribe some pretty rigorous definitions for these, so use them if you want - but if you’re lacking a good framework then I think Wolftune’s idea of “pro-social” works pretty brilliantly for defining “good”.

4 Likes

Hmm, maybe Snowdrift should emphasize this more. It seems OP’s lack of familiarity with the depth (and specific examples) of the problem being solved was part of what needed to be clarified in this thread, so surely there are many others out there that need this as well - or at least, there will be, once we truly go public and try to recruit patrons.

Those of us with years of experience in free culture (@wolftune is an artist) are deeply familiar with the failings of the current system, so for us it’s enough to simply say on the site “There’s this problem with funding creative work. Anyway, here’s a full explanation about how we’re going to solve it…”. In other words, are we taking for granted that people see the issues, or will simply take our word for it that they’re a problem? Perhaps it will make our homepage less happy-go-lucky, but I think having on hand some powerful examples of current-system failings (for lack of a better descriptor) would really motivate our visitors who come here not having thought about any of this before.

After all, if underfunded artists are mainstream-invisible, the mainstream audience wouldn’t notice there’s a problem!

3 Likes

I didn’t claim I could support any socially beneficial project that is not religious :slight_smile:. Though I didn’t claim the opposite either.

Sure, in a way. The main point, however, is about what is good in the first place – if humans are good by nature, then good is helping them remove that taint. If humans are bad by nature, and the only hope is God, then good is bringing them in contact with God.