The conservative movement of the 1960s had a big advantage on today’s open source politics.
They knew where they stood from the beginning.
By 1966, which is analogous to our time, modern conservatism had the Sharon Statement (written at William F. Buckley’s place) as well as the Goldwater experience, and his book "The Conscience of a Conservative." They knew what they were about, knew what they wanted.
Open source does not know what it wants, politically. Oh, it has some policy goals, but these are mainly elite goals, goals that ordinary voters don’t care much about. An open Internet, a software commons, and open spectrum don’t make the heart of the average voter go pitter-pat, but that’s about as far as most open source people have gotten on policy.
In fact, most people in the open source movement still reject politics. They think it doesn’t matter to them. Issues like the current net neutrality battle, a WIPO treaty that destroys fair use, and a "big bang" spectrum auction process are slowly energizing them. But only slowly.
What would an open source politics look like, and stand for?
Consensus. Rather than fight like dogs to win narrow majorities, open source people know that only consensus moves us forward. Let’s find where we agree and go there first, and if we must fork, then be open to it.
- Practicality. An open source politics is not didactic. It doesn’t set forth policy solutions, but a process toward finding them. In this it borrows directly from FDR’s original New Deal.
- Science. The scientific method is at the heart of an open source politics. This puts it in direct opposition to the "faith-based" approach of the current excess.
- Commons. Open source, open spectrum, and open intellectual property regimes have at their heart the idea of a commons. You grow knowledge not by walling it off and making money off yesterday, but by freely building it toward tomorrow.
How might this work in setting some policies for the problems that currently bedevil us?
- Iraq – Negotiate with everyone, holding the carrot of a big cash pay-out once a consensus emerges among all parties, and I do mean all. Then get out. Military might is over-rated.
- Energy – A floor price and a reversal of today’s incentives in favor of oil and gas.
- Social Issues – Tone down the rhetoric. Change policy only where a consensus emerges.
- Budget Issues – Constant experimentation. We can’t turn this boat around all at once. Inflation will rise, the dollar will fall, even if we start balancing our budgets. Move slowly and transparently.
- Foreign Policy – Encourage international organizations. The UN, the WTO, all treaties. Including the International Criminal Court.
In the above, note that I didn’t look at the "open source policies" those currently in the open source movement take to be important.
I take them to be a given:
- A greater knowledge commons rather than the current proprietary copyright and patent regime.
- Real, open competition in provisioning networks, which must be defined at the edges rather than at the center.
- Open up more spectrum for services like 802.11. Space between existing TV channels, yes. Require build-outs of spectrum already sold or demand the chance to buy it back, and put that into the commons as well. More UWB.
This is a big, ambitious agenda. It’s pure idealism, and does not reflect current political realities. Netroots Democrats may even disagree (in part) with what I’ve written here. Certainly neither Washington party would consider this anything other than Esperanto.
There is some irony here. In terms of raw political power, the "out" party is practically much closer to power than was the case 40 years ago. The 1964 election had been a complete disaster for Goldwater Republicans, and their enormous gains of 1966 still left them in a minority position, even within their party. That party was divided ideologically, between "Rockefeller" Republicans and "Reagan" Republicans. And in 1966 Ronald Reagan was just an old TV show host who had given a speech, his political career having barely begun.
But in terms of philosophy, we are way behind where the Goldwater Republicans were 40 years ago. And this is what I’m speaking to here. If we don’t know where we stand, if we can’t agree on where we’re going, we’re not going to get anywhere.
I’m not talking here of a programmatic agreement, but a philosophical one. A consensus. The great division of our time is not Republican vs. Democrat. It’s proprietary vs. open source. It’s a division which began among elites, which is barely understood by most voters. But it’s something they will respond to, because it’s right in their guts, when it’s put to them.
Let’s put it to them.