Self-sacrifice as hacker-culture glue

I’ve just had an insight I find a bit disturbing. Though perhaps I shouldn’t.

Occasionally I visit Scott Alexander’s excellent and thoughtful blog, Slate Star Codex. Today’s entry reminded me of Laurence Iannaccone’s research on Sacrifice and Stigma, which argues that onerous religious requirements are effective ways of building in-group trust because they are commitment signals that are difficult to fake.
flowers
It occurred to me to wonder: do hackers do this? And…I think we do.

One thing we sacrifice as a commitment signal is time. Software engineering and the support tasks around it are notorious time sinks, and working on open-source projects readily expands to fill up every free waking hour you have. The results are visible as code and commit volume.

Admittedly, it’s hard to disentangle the extent to which this is an intended commitment signal from how much we love what we do. But maybe this isn’t such a problem as it appears; religious people claim to love their group observances too, and appear to be truthful in this at least some of the time.

The question, then, is how much of the quasi-obsessive, apparently overcommitted behavior of hackers comes not from the obvious primary rewards of creative work but from a desire to signal in-groupness. I don’t know the answer, but now that I’m considering the question I’m pretty sure it’s not zero.

Note that this is a different mechanism than seeking reputation for the quality of one’s work. That comes from results, whereas the commitment signal comes from investment.

And, er, why play for in-groupness and peer trust? Well, I point out that my blog regulars recently threw nearly three grand in donations at me so I could build the Great Beast of Malvern, on which I am typing now. I think we may reasonably suppose this had something to do with peer trust.

The Great Beast is an extreme example, but there are rewards of peer trust less obvious and more common, such as the ability to recruit help for projects you need done.

Another thing we frequently sacrifice is earning capacity. Yes, there are plenty of people nowadays who have good jobs writing open-source code – but then, there are plenty who don’t, too. At least some are voluntarily forgoing more lucrative employment at closed-source shops. Principle? Possibly. Commitment signaling? Also possibly. As I never tire of pointing out, all interesting behavior is overdetermined.

Because I am an honest rationalist, I am now going to point out a significant problem with this theory. A straight-line analogy with Iannaccone’s type case of mainline protestants vs. evangelicals suggests that the hard-core self-sacrificers and fundamentalists in the hacker community ought to be gaining adherents at the expense of more moderate and inclusive tendencies.

This is not the direction in which the community has been moving since the early 1990s. Yes, yes, I know, as one of the “moderate” thought leaders and a strong advocate of inclusiveness I might not be considered entirely disinterested here…but I always believed I was liberating a pent-up demand rather than bucking a trend in the opposite direction, and history seems to have borne out that belief. Our fundamentalists certainly talk like a beleaguered minority…

There are a couple of possible explanations. One is that Iannacone’s theory is, despite its superficial plausibility, broken – he has somehow mistaken accident for essence. Another is that despite the apparent similarity in behaviors there is some fundamental difference between the psychology of religious believers and hackers that means his insights are true about the former but do not map over to the latter.

The possibility that I think is both most interesting and most likely to be true is that Iannacone’s theory is correct but incomplete: the rigorists only win if in-group signaling is the most important consequence of rigor, and not generally if there are other instrumentally rational and sufficient motives for those behaviors. In the hacker culture, we ship software; we do things that have useful results. And ultimately we judge by those results; “Show me the working code” easily beats “Show me your sacrifice.”

A related point is that fundamentalists are almost by definition worse at building coalitions with people outside their in-group than moderates are. That may be an acceptable handicap for an inward-facing religious group, but to the extent that hackers need to play well with others to get what they want, that requirement gives our moderates an advantage.

Overall, while I think the application of Iannacone’s ideas I’ve sketched is descriptively very plausible, there is one final problem with it. It’s not very generative. I have not yet identified a testable consequence. Perhaps one of my regulars will notice one.

70 thoughts on “Self-sacrifice as hacker-culture glue

  1. How would you apply it to the “systemd” controversy. Debian has been forked over it.

    Too moderate, and you are forced to include non-excellence.

  2. An interesting insight. I don’t feel qualified to comment on the completeness of the theory or its ramifications for hacker culture, but I can say that the phenomena is not limited one, but is very common to social networks in which one’s commitment is difficult for the group to monitor and enforce – for hackers their geographical separation and (potential) anonymity – and this holds true for many subcultures throughout history.

    See, for example, the works of economist Douglas Allen, on the structure of the British aristocracy in the 17th-19th centuries. Aristocrats proved they were ‘all-in’ to their system by sacrificing the option to practice a trade, sinking large amounts of wealth into hard to transfer property, geographically and socially isolating themselves on country estates, risking their lives in duels over what appear to be minor slights, and focusing their educations on dead languages and the Classics rather than on more practical subjects.

    We look back on these characteristics from a modern perspective and often view them as signs of corruption or decadence, but they really did serve as a check on ‘fakers.’ The potential return from business dealings, government posts, patronage, etc. were considerable, but one had to demonstrate their commitment and trustworthiness in so many ways in order to be accepted into the elite.

    Someone who didn’t take on all those sunk costs on land and education would not be accepted, and someone who violated the trust of the social group would have made an enormous investment (in wealth, property, and social connections) that they could no longer make good on.

    This demand for self-sacrifice for acceptance by the group is going to be a natural development any time that more effective monitoring mechanisms aren’t available – and outputs don’t always provide effective monitoring- nor can outputs even be clearly measured in every case. Self-sacrifice thus serves, in economic terms, as a ‘second-best’ solution.

  3. > Too moderate, and you are forced to include non-excellence.

    The other problem, is that if you’re too moderate you risk being infiltrated by a more radical tribe.

    There are troublinh signs that the Progressive/SJW tribe is doing this and trying to shift the focus from shipping good code to being “inclusive” of women and minorities.

  4. We look back on these characteristics from a modern perspective and often view them as signs of corruption or decadence, but they really did serve as a check on ‘fakers.’ The potential return from business dealings, government posts, patronage, etc. were considerable, but one had to demonstrate their commitment and trustworthiness in so many ways in order to be accepted into the elite.

    We see this today with Wall Street stockbrokers. Among entrepreneurs, self-sacrifice takes the form of forgoing luxuries so you have more money to invest in your own business, but among stockbrokers, bizarrely, it’s the opposite. You’d be making enough to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle in a modest neighborhood of Brooklyn or Queens while commuting to Manhattan every day, but you’d be passed over for a promotion. If you want the promotion you have to be living in the posh hi-rise on the Lower East Side, and spending much of the rest of your income on outward “symbols of success”: expensive suits, Rolex watches, Mercedes-Benz cars, etc. Brokerage firms promote the stockbrokers who are more “hungry” and thus more committed to the company and the profession.

  5. @esr:
    >Principle? Possibly. Commitment signaling? Also possibly. As I never tire of pointing out, all interesting behavior is overdetermined.

    Frankly, I’m not sure there’s a huge difference. I’d say that commitment signals in a group tend to be chosen so as to be natural outworkings of the groups principles, thus demonstrating that one actually does hold to the principles one claims to hold. At some point wannabes and fakers pick up on the commitment signals and start trying to mimic and game them, at which point commitment signaling and principle tend to diverge a bit until the group chooses a new way to demonstrate adherence to principles.

    This leads me to this:
    >The question, then, is how much of the quasi-obsessive, apparently overcommitted behavior of hackers comes not from the obvious primary rewards of creative work but from a desire to signal in-groupness.

    Among actual hackers, I’d say very little. Hackers are not so much interested in *signaling* in-groupness as in recognizing it (finding others who derive the same rewards from the same type of creative work). Among those, however, who do not derive primary rewards from hackerly work, but stand to benefit greatly from being *seen* as hackers, overcommitment will be primarily a signaling behavior.

    Which brings me to this:
    >Because I am an honest rationalist, I am now going to point out a significant problem with this theory. A straight-line analogy with Iannaccone’s type case of mainline protestants vs. evangelicals suggests that the hard-core self-sacrificers and fundamentalists in the hacker community ought to be gaining adherents at the expense of more moderate and inclusive tendencies.

    I’d say that this is because hackerdom is becoming more socially acceptable while Christianity is becoming less socially acceptable. In hackerdom, outsiders are “condensing” into the moderate hacker community, while fewer find it necessary to resort to fundamentalist rigor to keep the community alive. In Christianity, moderate Christians/Christianoids are “evaporating” into secular society, leaving only the fundamentalists.

  6. >Among actual hackers, I’d say very little. Hackers are not so much interested in *signaling* in-groupness as in recognizing it (finding others who derive the same rewards from the same type of creative work). Among those, however, who do not derive primary rewards from hackerly work, but stand to benefit greatly from being *seen* as hackers, overcommitment will be primarily a signaling behavior.

    You may be oversimplifying. Consider how a “genuine” new entrant’s behavior (that is, the behavior of someone who sincerely desires to be an exemplar rather than posing) is likely to change over time. It may well be that behaviors which begin with a large component of commitment signaling don’t stay that way. You’d expect to see the least of it in senior hackers who have little left to prove.

    >In hackerdom, outsiders are “condensing” into the moderate hacker community, while fewer find it necessary to resort to fundamentalist rigor to keep the community alive. In Christianity, moderate Christians/Christianoids are “evaporating” into secular society, leaving only the fundamentalists.

    I think that’s a good insight. And not exclusive of my theory about it; I expect all these features to have multiple sufficient causes.

  7. >How would you apply it to the “systemd” controversy.

    That seems to me to be an orthogonal set of issues. Do you have an argument otherwise?

  8. Jeff Read on 2014-12-24 at 15:13:53 said:

    You’d be making enough to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle in a modest neighborhood of Brooklyn or Queens while commuting to Manhattan every day, but you’d be passed over for a promotion. If you want the promotion you have to be living in the posh hi-rise on the Lower East Side, and spending much of the rest of your income on outward “symbols of success”: expensive suits, Rolex watches, Mercedes-Benz cars, etc. Brokerage firms promote the stockbrokers who are more “hungry” and thus more committed to the company and the profession.

    You spend a lot of time talking with and analyzing the behavior of wall street brokers, do you?

  9. Jon Brase on 2014-12-24 at 15:46:43 said:

    Among actual hackers, I’d say very little. Hackers are not so much interested in *signaling* in-groupness as in recognizing it (finding others who derive the same rewards from the same type of creative work).

    Boolshit.

    Show up in a suit and tie, with a proper shave and haircut. Use a *windows* laptop.

    Manner of dress, and fiddling over your *local* OS aren’t relevant to how well you can write code, but if make the wrong choice on something that is utterly trivial (dress and grooming, personal OS) you might be able to prove your chops, but it’s a LOT harder.

    See, that’s one of the things about “signalling”, most people don’t even realize they’re doing it.

  10. Common resume advice is to contribute to open source projects and include your Github account on job applications. Presumably the hiring managers giving this advice are not interested in bug fixes of obscure libraries. It has a useful purpose, but like many useful purposes (eg a college degree), signaling that purpose becomes at least as important as the original reasons.

  11. I suspect different groups place different value on proving yourself through hardship because they *need* to. The more competitive/stressful/dangerous the group’s environment or job is, the more members of the group will he serious about testing each other for suitability to be allowed in the group.

    Eric, you know spec ops people? Submarine sailors? You know about submariners and their ‘practical jokes’, etc…. I suspect it’s related.

    We live in a society that is at least somewhat hostile to organized religion (Europe is worse). Look at what churches continue to thrive in that environment, and how ‘moderate’ they are.

  12. Testable prediction: Hackers who exist in less ‘hacker friendly’ environments will be more inclined to perform (and look for) the more rigorous ‘prove yourself through sacrifice’ signalling than hackers who exist in more congenial environments. The congenial environment hackers will he your moderates.

  13. You spend a lot of time talking with and analyzing the behavior of wall street brokers, do you?

    No, I got this from a comment on Hacker News a while ago. But I’ve observed similar behavior among other subgroups, where signalling success is more important than actually having it. For example, Oracle consultants working for big banks:

    http://www.dba-oracle.com/dress_code.htm

    Note the advice to spend the extra money on the expensive suit, shoes, and Rolex watch. Most developer consultants make good money but are not quite in Rolex territory yet, unless they settle for a used one refurbed by a jeweller.

    So I am not inclined to disbelieve the HN commenter about the stockbrokers.

  14. Is the tendency toward hacker-overcommit signaling, or just an increase in social confidence? New entrant behavior could be simply the result of a gain in confidence due to finding a group with which they (for whatever reason) feel they belong.

  15. Is the tendency toward hacker-overcommit signaling, or just an increase in social confidence?

    Initially it was probably just an obsessive initial fascination with coding, as Eric documents in the entry for “larval stage”. But when the overcommit behavior of the larval stage becomes an expected thing, one feels the pressure to prove one’s hackerliness by emulating such behavior, to the point of organizing “hackathons” dedicated to unusually long coding sessions. And hackers who win or even participate in “hackathons” accumulate more whuffie than those who do not, ceteris paribus.

  16. @William:
    >See, that’s one of the things about “signalling”, most people don’t even realize they’re doing it.

    That’s sort of my point. People don’t realize they’re doing it because, in this case, the signals are chosen by the listener, not the signaler, as signals that are hard to fake unless you have a certain personality and value set.

    >Manner of dress, and fiddling over your *local* OS aren’t relevant to how well you can write code, but if make the wrong choice on something that is utterly trivial (dress and grooming, personal OS) you might be able to prove your chops, but it’s a LOT harder.

    But being a hacker isn’t *just* about writing code. It’s about having a certain outlook on code and on writing code, and suits and ties and the use of Windows anti-correlate fairly strongly with that outlook (Even among Windows geeks, my experience is that dressing up when not required to is rare). Hacker culure chooses its signals so that potential hackers will emit them before even being aware that hacker culture exists.

  17. >Hacker culure chooses its signals so that potential hackers will emit them before even being aware that hacker culture exists.

    That is true, and is a significant difference from religions. To signal in-groupness there you have to know the code exists and consciously choose to signal.

  18. “Another is that despite the apparent similarity in behaviors there is some fundamental difference between the psychology of religious believers and hackers that means his insights are true about the former but do not map over to the latter”

    Right. The difference lies in intelligence. Hackers are generally above average intelligence. Have to be. Fundamentalists are generally below average intelligence – dull normals, with enough of a sprinkling of bright normals to run the show. I don’t have the space or time to say why this is so, but it’s an accurate rendition of my experience.

  19. Bruce: [citation needed]…or else you’re just slinging an anti-religious slur.

  20. >The difference lies in intelligence […] Fundamentalists are generally below average intelligence

    No, that can’t be it, because the hacker community has its own fundamentalists.

    I think you’re confusing different senses of the term “fundamentalist” here. Forget belief content – which does tend to change as intelligence does – and think about style of belief.

  21. >Bruce: [citation needed]…or else you’re just slinging an anti-religious slur.

    I think he’s right about this in a religious context. Even in the unusual handful of religions that have sustained appeal to bright people, the fundamentalists do tend not to be among them. An example exotic enough to make the point without pushing anyone’s buttons is, say, Buddhism in general vs. Nichiren Shoshu.

    But note that I have also pointed at the existence of fundamentalists among hackers.

  22. This tendency to judge others intelligence by their degrees, their occupation, their income or in this case, their religiosity, screams elitism. I guess the other part that bothers me with the assertions above is the definition of bright. I have met tradesman (tool and die makers, welders, fabricators, etc) who have never stepped foot in the hallowed halls of higher learning but do amazing work. Work that is fundamentally intellectual in scope but executed not in software, but truly in hardware.

    “Hackers are generally above average intelligence.”

    Your tribe is “smarter” than that tribe over there. I guess that depends on the task and the judge. Being a hacker, you think a whole lot about yourself and how much smarter you are than the regular Joe. I have learned in life that smart people are not that rare. I meet a lot of smart people every day. What is rare is a smart, hard working, ethical person. And given the choice between the three attributes, smart as classically defined ranks last. But maybe that is why my opinion is in the minority here because religious doctrine tends not to judge by individual opinion of self importance but more outward signs such as hard work and ethics.

  23. @jfre – I suspect the reason you’ve “learned in life that smart people are not that rare” is precisely because you’re hanging out with tradesmen and not mundanes.

    By definition, those that create HAVE to be intelligent. Put a bunch of mundanes in a machine shop, and all they’ll do is drool on the controls.

    And there are far more mundanes out there than you imagine.

  24. My own motivations for being involved in open source don’t seem to fall cleanly into any of the proposed classifications. I first got involved in the numpy/scipy world because of the joy of python, the price of the product ($0), code reuse, and the fact that Matlab didn’t offer the algorithms I wanted to use. I think the first two reasons are self explanatory. The code reuse bit was that most of the algorithms implemented in numpy/scipy have been around for decades, but everytime I needed them I found myself rewriting them for the specific code I was working on, so it made sense to put them in one place where I could always access them as well as save others the hassle of implementing them.

    The reason I stayed with the projects was mostly incidental. I was getting up to retirement age and maintenance provided something to work on. My experience has been that many of the contributers move on after a couple of years. They either graduate and go to work, need to make money to support a family, have other ambitions, or simply burn out. Simple longevity explains much of the hierarchy found in open source.

    I don’t see either risk avoidence or sacrificial rites of initiation playing a major role in my involvement in open source.

  25. People have different mental skills. Hackers tend to think that they are really smart because the mental skills involved (an ability to retain a lot of rules and facts and correlate them successfully) lead to good school grades and high IQ test scores. This is a very narrow view of ‘smarts’..Other people have artistic talent – drawing, music, playwrighting, etc. Was Einstein really smarter than Lincoln? Does it even make sense to compare them?

    Those with a particular set of skills tend to flock together, like the members of Mensa. They signal by solving brain teasers. Hackers signal by getting a C program to compile and run.

  26. @jfre:

    This tendency to judge others intelligence by their degrees, their occupation, their income or in this case, their religiosity, screams elitism.

    AFAICT, nobody here is judging anybody by any of those things except religiosity. Personally, I know a lot of bright religious folks, so I tend to view them as crazy, rather than stupid.

    @Jay Maynard:

    [citation needed]…or else you’re just slinging an anti-religious slur.

    Well, if Bruce Arnold is in the US, there may be something to his observation if his experience is with Protestant fundamentalists:


    Controlling for other factors, they can only confidently show strong negative correlation between intelligence and religiosity among American Protestants.

  27. @Patrick Maupin

    there may be something to his observation if his experience is with Protestant fundamentalists:

    Christianity is out of fashion in the West, but I think Arnold may be a bit narrow in defining religiousity. I would include Communism/Marxism, modern environmentalism, and anthropogenic global warming as forms of religiousity fashionable at this time, and all of those have attracted plenty of very intelligent people. Indeed, I think the urge to religiousity is part of the human inheritance and very much present in the most intelligent people, they just need to find a form for it that is more conformant to the modern understanding of the world. I don’t think these new religions are as psychologially sophisticated as the old, partly because the old have been refined over many centuries, and partly because people with great talent for abstractions often have less talent for understanding people and community.

  28. @Chuck:

    > I think Arnold may be a bit narrow in defining religiousity.

    Although you are correct that attributes that a lot of us would associate with religiosity are found in other contexts, esr started with religion as discussed on another site, then Bruce Arnold narrowed the scope of his discussion to fundamentalists (understandably, as in certain locales in the US, fundamentalists and religion are practically inseparable), then jfre widened the discussion back out to religiosity, possibly deliberately ignoring Bruce’s narrowing, and probably without meaning to widen it as far as you are.

    So, within the context of the current conversation, I see no evidence that Bruce Arnold has narrowly defined religiosity.

  29. > esr on 2014-12-25 at 10:04:13 said:
    > >Bruce: [citation needed]…or else you’re just slinging an anti-religious slur.
    > I think he’s right about this in a religious context. Even in the unusual handful of religions
    > that have sustained appeal to bright people, the fundamentalists do tend not to be
    > among them.

    If the two people I know who self-identify as a fundamentalists one has no degree, at least 8 patents ranging from filesystems to credit card transactions, and basically Dr. McCoy’s TriCorder. He routinely gets paid to consult with startups, and writes filesystem code for amusement.

    He doesn’t come across as a fundamentalist because he’s not an evangelical, he knows that his faith is his, and is unlikely to be shared, but unless you’re really, really into understanding it, he’ll never bring it up.

    I’ve met others in the past that I did not associate with long enough to gauge either their intellect or just how fundamentalist they were, but they struck me as smarter than the norm.

    I will grant that by the definition of “fundamentalist”, the more one is intelligent, on the surface the harder it seems for that to square with advanced intellect, but to the person of faith there is always the “mystery of god” aspect to it that they can’t explain.

    He and I have gotten stuck there a few times–he can’t take me any further because it requires a faith I don’t have in order to understand.

    My father, who considered himself catholic (pre-vatican II) was the same way. Not quite as thoroughly educated (more of a self limited auto-didact) but could articulate and defend his faith in terms of *faith*, which is not the same as reason.

    Note also that there are at least two buckets of “fundamentalist”. Both believe in the inerrancy of the bible, and that the bible is the word of God, but one bucket asserts that every single sentence in the bible is literally true *and it happened that way*. The other bucket sort of uses a slightly different definition of “inerrant”, and is willing to treat certain books (namely Gensis) as more mythic than literal truth.

    You gotta remember about 1/2 of Christian thought was rubbed off from the Greeks.

    As you have noted many times, the further one gets to the right of the bell curve, the smaller the numbers get, so *of course* there aren’t that many fundamentalists out there–there tend not to be too many people out there to begin with, and for most people simply believing in the bible is a marker for being un-intelligent. I knew quite a few people in Silicon Valley when I lived out there who were moderately religious, but simply did *not* bring it into the work place because they didn’t want it impacting their career.

  30. @William O. B’Livion:

    I have no doubt your friend is smart, but, speaking as one whose name is on a number of patents, I can state that number of patents is a terrible metric for anything other than how much cash one or one’s employer is willing to spend on lawyers and government.

    As far as intelligence vs. religiosity, I think that within a religious community, atheism may be a marker for intelligence simply because curiosity is a hallmark of intelligence. Some, like the people you mentioned, will ask the questions and then decide that the answers are outside the bounds of reason and within the realm of faith; others will ask the questions and then decide that reason says there is no god; and still others, of course, will construct elaborate fantasies about the earth only being 6000 years old. None of these are necessarily unintelligent, although I call the latter ones crazy. But they all ask and attempt to answer questions, and thus all arguably engage in more critical thinking than the multitude who just blindly accept what they are told and stay in the religion of their childhood.

    Of course, by this hypothesis, as atheism becomes more popular, it becomes less of a marker for intelligence, because children of atheists may default to being atheists without any critical thinking on their own part.

  31. @ Patrick Maupin on 2014-12-25 at 19:44:27 said:

    I have no doubt your friend is smart, but, speaking as one whose name is on a number of patents, I can state that number of patents is a terrible metric for anything other than how much cash one or one’s employer is willing to spend on lawyers and government.

    Fair enough, though most of them he pushed through on his own dime.

    But they all ask and attempt to answer questions, and thus all arguably engage in more critical thinking than the multitude who just blindly accept what they are told and stay in the religion of their childhood.

    Prove the Big Bang. Show your work.

  32. @William O. B’Livion:

    In a religious community, there will be curious and incurious people. Intellectual curiosity is a good marker for academic achievement (e.g. the application of intelligence). I have hypothesized that, in such a community, fewer incurious people than curious people will choose to abandon their faith, which could have the result that the average IQ of the atheists will be higher than the average IQ of the non-atheists.

    Such hypothesis allows for the possibility that the very smartest are religious people who “get it” at a higher level than atheists. It certainly does not require the result that all atheists are smarter than all religious folks, and only someone much smarter than myself (or with a much higher level of apophenia) could possibly find this hypothesis falsified by lack of a proof for the Big Bang.

  33. So, a couple comments from a religious fundamentalist/software semi-pragmatist:

    1) The fundamentalist “style of believing”, as ESR so aptly described it, does not necessarily uniformly endorse a single set of dogmas. (Consider, for example, the positions classic Fundamentalists and the Amish take on military activity and self-defence. And that is only one of several differences; such doctrinal differences as free will/predestination can easily cause irreparable divisions. The Amish originated from a split over what church discipline should look like and the extent of the saved.)
    Similarly, in open source, the GNU project is not the only fundamentalist group out there. Online I’ve encountered a number of people who, if pressed, will vehemently express their animosity toward copyleft licenses, on the grounds that copyleft is not freedom (in the libertarian/anarchist understanding of the term). OpenBSD tends to attract proponents of this view.

    2) “Signaling” may be a function of self-sacrifice, but that does not necessarily mean that it is the motive even in religious circles. Those who hold strongly to a set of principles will often follow them as they understand even when others in the same group reject an application of the principles, or at times when it’s not possible for their co-believers to observe it.
    The implication in light of Iannaccone’s theory is that those groups which strongly hold to a set of principles will be those where trust grows within the community, and groups which best manifest conformance to those principles that are attractive will be strongest.
    Now, as far as how this variant of Iannaccone’s theory applies to ESR’s assertion that pragmatists seem to be gaining:
    What happens when those who best exemplify one set of principles hold forth a different set of principles? Are the perceived achievements of the Open Source pragmatists exceeding those of the FSF party?
    Are the “Permissivists” (to coin a term for the third camp I mentioned) getting lumped in with pragmatists because they avoid the FSF banner–and if so, how does their performance factor in?

  34. In my view, fundamentalism is an emotional problem, or even related to neuroticism or autism. I think that it is with religious ineptness (fundamentalism) as with social ineptness: It can very well combine with technical excellence and intelligence.

    See the “nerd” syndrome.

  35. @Jay

    As a Christian, I can tell you that of course Bruce is correct that the hacker community, as a whole, is more intelligent that the Christian community. It has to be.

    Being part of the hacker community means at the very dead minimum being interested in code. It is a deeply intellectual pursuit that, without intent, self selects for the above average in IQ.

    The Christian community focuses on all of humanity. A major point is helping those that are less fortunate, and the lower-IQ part of the spectrum takes a significant part of that population. Christianity is a deeply emotional pursuit that deliberately chooses to reach out to people in need.

    If the Christian community was equal in intellect to the hacker community, it would — it must! — be a failure. Different missions, different needs, different populations.

  36. @idunham:

    Online I’ve encountered a number of people who, if pressed, will vehemently express their animosity toward copyleft licenses, on the grounds that copyleft is not freedom (in the libertarian/anarchist understanding of the term).

    Although I am of the firm belief that anybody should be able to use whatever license they choose, I will vehemently express my animosity toward uncritical use of the GPL on similar grounds — the idea that software has needs (such as liberation) is ludicrous. I don’t think you have to be a libertarian/anarchist to view the advocacy of the GPL’s most vocal proponents as carefully crafted false advertising — that easily follows from contrasting a careful analysis of the license with the words used to promote it.

  37. @esr:

    a) I have a comment stuck in the moderation filter;

    b) My comment has no curse words and no links. This sort of thing has happened often enough that it might be time to analyze what wordpress is doing, and maybe take them to the woodshed for suppressing political speech.

  38. >This sort of thing has happened often enough that it might be time to analyze what wordpress is doing, and maybe take them to the woodshed for suppressing political speech.

    AFAIK Akismet is a straight Bayesian filter based on what people classify as spam; The WordPress maintainers have no particular control over that.

  39. Show up in a suit and tie, with a proper shave and haircut. Use a *windows* laptop.

    Manner of dress, and fiddling over your *local* OS aren’t relevant to how well you can write code, but if make the wrong choice on something that is utterly trivial (dress and grooming, personal OS) you might be able to prove your chops,

    I’ll call “boolshit” right back at you. While my experience has been much closer to jeans-and-T-shirt, I’ve seen a number of good hacker types who go with business casual and even suits, with conservative haircuts and clean-shaven (for men), and I didn’t see any writing-off-as-hacks. (Conflating that sort of dress with company of origin, such as SAP or IBM, is mixing signals.)

    The OS issue, though, is an entirely different beast. Windows is just fundamentally less efficient for most kinds of development work than a Unix system because until recently it had no decent shell to speak of (and which still has a very poor CLI GUI component) and makes portability between machines difficult because of its tendency to aggregate state and configuration information in locations that aren’t bundled with rest of the artifacts (e.g., the Registry). I find OS X a bit less efficient than Linux with KDE simply because it’s more difficult to drive the much of the WM from the keyboard.

    Using Windows because of a wrongheaded employer is one thing, and usually identifiable. Using Windows for Web development work tends to indicate lack of interest or ability in adopting the best tools.

  40. > and which still has a very poor CLI GUI component

    Let’s not throw stones – there are a number of specific ways in which the unix terminal model is worse than the windows console model.

    There’s also no fundamental reason that either should require fixed-width fonts for pure command-line input and output, or why a single model should attempt to handle both pure command-line I/O and full-screen text-mode UI (both systems fail subtly at the the boundary of the two modes in different ways).

  41. @Patrick Maupin:
    I did not intend to imply that one had to be a libertarian/anarchist to disagree with copyleft, but rather to point out that there are different definitions of “freedom” leading to different conclusions.
    One definition seems to be roughly “as many people as possible are allowed to do anything within these constraints”; the other is “as many people as are able have as few constraints as possible”. If one tried to measure freedom, one camp would measure the percent of the population who can reach the bounds of permitted actions and the other would measure the limits of the hypothetical renaissance man with unlimited wealth.
    In the political sphere, leftists seem to tend towards the first definition, exemplified by the claim that Obamacare increases freedom;
    the libertarian philosophy is premised in part on the second definition.
    (Many/most conservatives would tend to agree with the second definition, but not give freedom the ultimate value. And I’m not sure that all liberals hold the first definition.)
    If one applies the second definition to FOSS licenses, copyleft reduces freedom relative to permissive licenses or public domain; if one applies the first definition, copyleft increases freedom.

  42. the idea that software has needs (such as liberation) is ludicrous.

    My understanding has been that “software needs to be free” is intended as rhetorical shorthand for the idea that every user of software needs to be free to change any software they like as they see fit, and that furthering this is a moral imperative.
    (I consider the “moral imperative” part to be ludicrous. Modifying software is nice, but to consider it as having moral significance goes too far.)

  43. @idunham:

    > [to] consider [the ability to modify software] as having moral significance goes too far.

    Actually, I absolutely think there is moral significance in allowing the ability to modify software. Or more to the point, I think it is morally abhorrent that, in some cases, copyright law is taken to trump the plain meaning of the first amendment.

    I don’t think that anybody should be required to disclose their own source code (that would be forced speech), but reverse-engineering, and publishing the results of reverse engineering, should always be protected activity, unless you have agreed not to do so via a real contract (e.g. not some shrink-wrapped or click-wrap thing you have to agree to in order to use the thing you already bought and took home.)

  44. @idunham:
    >I consider the “moral imperative” part to be ludicrous. Modifying software is nice, but to consider it as having moral significance goes too far.

    What I am convinced of is that if free market capitalism is a moral imperative (which I am not entirely sure of, especially as a complete absolute, but which I lean in the direction of), then the freedom to use, modify, and redistribute publicly available information (including code) that one has received is also a moral imperative, and the abolition of copyrights and patents are thus morally imperative.

    The GPL is not entirely ideal as far as the above statements of moral imperativeness go. I like the idea, while copyrights and patents exist, of using a “MAD” license to create a copyright free zone, but while the GPL does provide this to some degree, it has some places where it falls short of its principles (or, at least, my view of them).

    For example, while source sharing is nice, it’s not morally imperative. If you provide source, it’s morally imperative (once again, assuming the moral imperativeness of free market capitalism) that you not restrict people from modifying and redistributing that source, but it’s not morally imperative that you provide the source in the first place. However, if you provide binaries, it is morally imperative that you not restrict modification or redistribution of the binaries. But you are not obligated even to provide binaries. You can keep your code completely secret and not make it publicly available. In that case, you are entitled to compensation if somebody gets a hold of your code and releases it for you.

  45. The OS issue, though, is an entirely different beast. Windows is just fundamentally less efficient for most kinds of development work than a Unix system

    This is one of those “you’re more efficient with the mouse but you think you’re more efficient with the keyboard” things. Have you tried Visual Studio? It is, hands down, the best development environment on the planet, and programmers are more productive with it than with anything else. The debugger alone pays for the whole package in terms of time saved; Linux is still years away from the sort of extensive, comprehensive debugging support available in the Visual Studio debugger.

    The Windows way of doing things is also simply more productive. Recently, researchers compared LaTeX to Word on the basis of efficiency in tasks where LaTeX was expected to shine: technical users preparing academic papers and texts. The result: Word won, hands down. Even beginners to Word were more productive than experts with LaTeX.

    because until recently it had no decent shell to speak of (and which still has a very poor CLI GUI component) and makes portability between machines difficult because of its tendency to aggregate state and configuration information in locations that aren’t bundled with rest of the artifacts (e.g., the Registry).

    *snicker* Have you tried running a binary built for one glibc version on a machine with a slightly different glibc version? That’s a problem Windows simply doesn’t have anymore; virtually all Win32 applications run just fine on recent Windows releases.

  46. I don’t think that anybody should be required to disclose their own source code (that would be forced speech), but reverse-engineering, and publishing the results of reverse engineering, should always be protected activity, unless you have agreed not to do so via a real contract (e.g. not some shrink-wrapped or click-wrap thing you have to agree to in order to use the thing you already bought and took home.)

    IANAL but it appears to be settled law: in the USA the courts consider EULAs to be valid, binding contracts and if you have to waive some of your rights under them to license the software, so be it. See Vernor v. Autodesk.

    You may wish to consider moving to a place that doesn’t have such a fucked up judicial system and laws.

  47. It is, hands down, the best development environment on the planet, and programmers are more productive with it than with anything else. The debugger alone pays for the whole package in terms of time saved; Linux is still years away from the sort of extensive, comprehensive debugging support available in the Visual Studio debugger.

    Personally I always feel that optimizing for debugging is like optimizing for nuclear winter… you’ve already failed. I will say however that quick trips to the debugger are almost free which is nice and some of their newer web tooling is pretty special. Having said that, if you’re using visual studio without Resharper then you’re not doing it right.

    Recently, researchers compared LaTeX to Word on the basis of efficiency in tasks where LaTeX was expected to shine: technical users preparing academic papers and texts. The result: Word won, hands down. Even beginners to Word were more productive than experts with LaTeX.

    Thats interesting. Back when I was writing my honours thesis the advice we got was “OK you’re probably not going to learn latex, but if you’re going to use word split things up as much as possible and save early because if you put your whole thesis in one word file word it WILL crash and you will spend more time recovering from crashes than writing your thesis”.

  48. You know, looking back on my previous posts I never made it exactly clear:

    I think the ‘self-sacrifice’ as glue is universal. It is fundamental to the behavior of groups, from smallest to largest. You see it most clearly in small groups that do dangerous things (which is why I mentioned spec ops soldier types). But you do see it – groups forcing members to undergo testing of some kind to ‘prove themselves’, to demonstrate both commitment and fitness – everywhere, to greater or less degrees.

    You see it very heavily in team sports, in fraternities (hazing has a purpose you know), in religions, in the medical profession, in law firms, accounting (there’s a reason the big public firms treat fresh outs the way they do, and it’s not entirely greed or sadism).

    And it’s very likely not original, but I do strongly suspect that you see more of the need for proving oneself in environments where the group really is under pressure, or doing dangerous things, for high stakes, etc. The safer, lower stakes environments allow for moderation, for having a ‘big tent’ and letting in fair weather followers, the wishy-washy, etc.

  49. @Jeff Read:

    IANAL but it appears to be settled law:

    Me neither, but no, it’s not.

    in the USA the courts consider EULAs to be valid, binding contracts

    Depends on where in the USA you are.

    and if you have to waive some of your rights under them to license the software, so be it. See Vernor v. Autodesk.

    Vernor is currently good law in the 9th circuit, but because the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, is meaningless elsewhere.

    You may wish to consider moving to a place that doesn’t have such a fucked up judicial system and laws.

    Please let me know where that would be. In the meantime, I will note that, while the absence of real copyright term limits is completely fucked up, the current court has actually been quite friendly to the first sale doctrine. A lot of people thought it was going the other way when a divided court let Omega v. Costco stand, but after Kirtsaeng (in a 6-3 decision, no less), I think Costco is more than free to start selling Omega grey market watches again.

  50. Jeff Read: The debugger alone pays for the whole package in terms of time saved

    JonCB: Personally I always feel that optimizing for debugging is like optimizing for nuclear winter… you’ve already failed.

    Me: I second that. Back in 1984 I asked my boss if he had half an hour or so to show me how to use one of the Z80 emulators in the lab. He looked at me real funny for awhile (in retrospect, probably to see the “April Fools!” or “Just kidding”) and then asked “What have you been doing for the last year?”

  51. Vernor v. Autodesk isn’t meaningless elsewhere; other courts can consider it persuasive. It’s simply not binding outside the Ninth Circuit.

    And while going out of your way to optimize for debugging is probably overdoing it, taking advantage of a good debugger you have available for other reasons is a win. After all, every programmer has to do debugging, so you might as well make it as painless as possible.

  52. @Jay Maynard:

    Vernor v. Autodesk isn’t meaningless elsewhere; other courts can consider it persuasive. It’s simply not binding outside the Ninth Circuit.

    While “meaningless” may be overstating the case, other courts are also free to completely ignore Autodesk, just as the 9th circuit ignored both some of its own precedents and the precedents of other circuits, including the 2nd circuit’s decision in Krause v Titleserv, when deciding Autodesk.

    taking advantage of a good debugger you have available for other reasons is a win.

    I can agree if you replace “have available” with “use regularly”. I have all sorts of debugging software and equipment at my disposal, and the only thing I use semi-regularly is an oscilloscope. It’s well worth having an excellent high-level understanding of the capabilities of all the tools, but it’s seldom worth hooking up an infrequently used tool unless I’ve convinced myself that the few hours I spend reacquainting myself with the interface will be repaid.

  53. Did the comparison between Word and LaTeX users include measuring the tendency to use \propto instead of \alpha?

    I won’t more than mention the sample size of 40.

  54. @Patrick:
    >Please let me know where that would be. In the meantime, I will note that, while the absence of real copyright term limits is completely fucked up…

    This reminds me of a time when I ran into a Brit on a web forum who was complaining about American Big Content pursuing copyright cases in the UK. I reminded him which country spent a century pressuring the other country to sign the Berne convention.

  55. “Note that this is a different mechanism than seeking reputation for the quality of one’s work. That comes from results, whereas the commitment signal comes from investment.”

    In software, there seems to be a significant amount of crosstalk between being scored for results and being scored for investment, even in the things that you see as mostly about investment. It’s as though some informal sailor fraternity placed a lot of importance on proving yourself by arbitrary acts of maritime macho, like sailing a small sailboat across a major ocean for no practical reason. It’s not the most directly practical display of relevant ability, but it’s much more of a display of relevant ability than a comparably expensive investment of sitting on a flagpole for the same period of time.

    You do acknowledge elsewhere that human behavior is often overdetermined. But I think it’s worth going beyond that here to acknowledge that it seems to be more overdetermined in this case than in various other cases: e.g. the geek signaling-by-investment seems qualitatively more ambiguous/overdetermined (in the demonstrating vs. investing, small-unpowered-boat sailing vs. flagpole sense) than the signaling by investment that people do in their attempts to get into universities which are known as gateways to connections with powerful people.

    FWIW, I have remarked off and on for years (and occasionally seen other people remarking) about how society has moved away from the old aristocratic/Whig-style signaling through things which were not just expensive but genuinely challenging even if not terribly useful — e.g. fluency in court languages (like French in England) and ritual languages (like classical Greek or Latin in England), or Chinese calligraphy, or swordsmanship — to nomenklatura/Progressive-style signaling of things that are merely expensive (volunteering for a fashionably left campaign, e.g.). I rather suspect but don’t know that such pure-expense signaling is not narrowly characteristic of modern leftist power, but more broadly characteristic of the powerful in classical regimes in the “Asiatic despotism” part of governmental parameter space. I also sorta suspect that this may be strongly correlated to the differences drawn by many blind people groping the elephant and trying to classify it as rule by a military hierarchy or rule by priestly hierarchy or rule by bureaucracy.

    To reconnect that to my point above about the OP, hackers are not the only subculture that seems to have converged on signaling norms that seem much closer to the aristocratic/Whig style than the style that reigns in the commanding heights of our society today. Relatedly, sometimes you can see a subculture trying to flip in a short period of time — that’s my interpretation of part of the brouhaha in SFWA, where the informal consensus prestige signals seemed to be fairly results-oriented and the new guard in the formal leadership is aggressively promoting investment-oriented signals instead.

  56. How would you apply it to the “systemd” controversy.

    One’s stance on systemd is a signalling behavior (though by far not the only one) that indicates membership in the class of “old Unix hands” — people who have invested a great deal of time in arcane Unix internals and toolsets, and who fear their knowledge becoming obsolete. One big hint: the Debian fork project, Devuan, takes its name from a group calling themselves “Veteran Unix Admins”.

    Younger Linux users tend not to mind systemd nearly so much. If anything they tend to favor it, since it brings the flexibility and configurability they’re used to from the Mac and Windows world to Linux. By any reasonable technical standard, systemd is a huge win, but it is emphatically not traditional Unix. It is a different, event-driven model that uses the new IPC standard — dbus — to drive all system configuration and management. So the old Unix guard feel a bit threatened by these young upstarts who don’t remember when Men were Men and maintained /etc/hosts for the entire internet by hand, and they make their disdain for systemd, GNOME, etc. known — irrespective of how badly the Linux ecosystem needs these changes in order to be a viable modern platform.

  57. As for the religion analogy. In a sense, a set of religious practices is an algorithm for how to live your life. A fundamentalist is someone who holds a belief and trust in the soundness of that algorithm. You don’t need to understand an algorithm in order to follow it, and there are plenty of people who follow religious laws — keeping kosher for instance, with no real rational explanation as to why they are doing it in this day and age. But a religion is presumed to be an algorithm that works. It may not be the most efficient way to live your life, but it provides individual and community benefits. You can be a Linux fundamentalist — the sort of person who evangelizes for open source, who keeps their system up to date, who uses all the open source tools at their disposal, eschews proprietary software, but couldn’t program a line of code to save their life. I think that the vast majority of the open source “tribe” is like that. It has to be, for the movement to be successful.

    But there’s a different sort of person — a person willing and able to play with the algorithms. Theologians. People with a deep enough understanding of the algorithms that they are able to propose alterations to the algorithms that don’t break the whole thing. But to be a successful theologian you need to have a deep, deep understanding of your religion. That requires an investment of time and energy that ordinary people are not interested in making. Nor should they be. There are plenty of other things to do with your time and your life. I don’t think that the hours spent by hackers on studying software are so much a form of self-sacrifice as they are an investment in learning how to do something you want to do. You spend time reading and understanding source code, you acquire knowledge and understanding. You apply that knowledge and understanding to create something new or improve something existing.

    It seems to me that the most respected programmers are the ones who get things right away, as opposed to the sort of dull programmer who takes forever to figure things out, which doesn’t really fit into the commitment signal theory.

  58. “Because I am an honest rationalist, I am now going to point out a significant problem with this theory. A straight-line analogy with Iannaccone’s type case of mainline protestants vs. evangelicals suggests that the hard-core self-sacrificers and fundamentalists in the hacker community ought to be gaining adherents at the expense of more moderate and inclusive tendencies.

    This is not the direction in which the community has been moving since the early 1990s. Yes, yes, I know, as one of the “moderate” thought leaders and a strong advocate of inclusiveness I might not be considered entirely disinterested here…but I always believed I was liberating a pent-up demand rather than bucking a trend in the opposite direction, and history seems to have borne out that belief. Our fundamentalists certainly talk like a beleaguered minority…”

    A couple thoughts:

    1. One of the defining characteristics of fundamentalism of every stripe seems to be a belief in the fallen/broken nature of other belief systems and/or attempts to compromise the primary belief system the fundamentalist holds. In this story, fundamentalism is necessary because everyone else is straying from the fundamentals and leading the world slowly into damnation, etc. In other words, only the chosen, pure few–the fundamentalists–can save the world. Which is a long-winded way of saying that considering yourself “a beleaguered minority” is part and parcel with fundamentalism itself and not necessarily a mathematical indicator of how many fundamentalists there are. Your broader point about how the community has leaned may be accurate, but I don’t think you can get an accurate read just from listening to the fundamentalists, because they’d talk like that even if they were the majority.

    2. Religion in the way we traditionally think of it–as a belief system that explains the deeper purpose of humankind, the origin of the world, the correct way to make moral decisions, etc.–is probably a bigger part of a strongly religious person’s identity than programming is for the identity of all but the most intense programmers. Religion explains or purports to explain everything, or at least all the really important things about life. It is totalizing, which is why it commands the devotion it does and, in the minds of believers, justifies the extreme behaviors it does, whether they be vows of silence or fasting or polygamy or holy wars.

    I’m not aware of anyone who would make that claim about programming, no matter how devoted to it. “Programming,” as most people would define it, simply doesn’t purport to constitute the total identity of a person, although it may end up seeming that way for the very devoted. Programming doesn’t claim to explain the world.

    Similarly, fundamentalism is a very essentialist and dualist doctrine. You are either on the correct side or you are not. You either believe or you don’t, and that is considered to be something inherent in the believer and not a learned behavior. That mindset is difficult to square with programming, which at its core is a skill that can be and is learned. (I realize I’m taking perhaps a Westernized view of religious experience here but I think the broader point about fundamentalism is mostly accurate.)

    That said, there are certainly parallels between the programming lifestyle and many of the behaviors associated with intense religious experience. I’ve often thought that our forebears who toiled away copying manuscripts in monasteries would be right at home coding–not just in the activity itself, but in the seriousness and sense of purpose that accompanies it.

  59. >Your broader point about how the community has leaned may be accurate, but I don’t think you can get an accurate read just from listening to the fundamentalists, because they’d talk like that even if they were the majority.

    In our case, they used to talk like they thought they were a majority, before about 1996.

    >“Programming,” as most people would define it, simply doesn’t purport to constitute the total identity of a person, although it may end up seeming that way for the very devoted.

    I think you’re on shaky ground here, because it is precisely the fundamentalists for which “I am a hacker” most often approaches a total identity that implies for them normative beliefs about things that aren’t hacking.

    I think your comment is serious and intelligent, but it does not seem to be informed by much experience of what hacker fundamentalists are actually like. We really do have a “You are either on the correct side or you are not” contingent, and their litmus test is one that uses classically moralist language: do you consider proprietary software evil?

    “Evil” is a word they actually use. I don’t see a lot of daylight between this and the religious style of belief.

  60. @esr:
    > We really do have a “You are either on the correct side or you are not” contingent, and their litmus test is one that uses classically moralist language: do you consider proprietary software evil?

    >“Evil” is a word they actually use.

    I think you are too quick to dismiss the possibility that proprietary software is evil, as your other stated moral principles are more consistent with that view than the opposite.

    I sit at the border between conservative and minarchist-libertarian (so I am more statist than you), and my answer to “is proprietary software evil” is “Proprietary software is arguably morally neutral in theory, with some strong caveats. In practice, purveyors of proprietary software use evil tactics to enforce the proprietariness of their software with sufficient frequency that the elimination of the legal basis for proprietary software (copyright) is strongly desirable, if not morally imperative.”

    You are a self declared anarcho-libertarian, and from what I’ve heard you say, I’m fairly certain that you believe free market capitalism to be a moral imperative. Proprietary software is a market distortion resulting from government intervention, so given self consistent moral beliefs, statism should correlate with the belief that proprietary software is neutral or good, while libertarianism should correlate with the belief that it is evil. Therefore, being more libertarian than me, you should have a position further toward the “it’s evil” side than me. Likewise, given RMS’s politics outside of computing, Steve Jobs’ successor should have been Stallman, who should now be attempting to turn the iPhone into a LISP machine (iLisp?). :-)

    You’ve said before that if there aren’t any Schelling points for the price of copyrighted informaiton, then the anti-copyright crowd is right and copyright is unjustifiable. What would your position on the evilness of proprietary software be if you believed that no such Schelling points existed?

  61. >You are a self declared anarcho-libertarian, and from what I’ve heard you say, I’m fairly certain that you believe free market capitalism to be a moral imperative.

    That’s not quite right. I would say that free-market capitalism follows from the imperative not to initiate force; or, alternatively, that if something other than free-market capitalism is going on, then there is necessarily coercion going on and therefore there is a moral violation in progress.

    >In practice, purveyors of proprietary software use evil tactics to enforce the proprietariness of their software with sufficient frequency that the elimination of the legal basis for proprietary software (copyright) is strongly desirable, if not morally imperative.”

    Now we get to why the previous distinction matters: my position is that the “evil” (if any) in proprietary software is in the tactics, the enforcement mechanisms. If a software vendor offers software bundled with a contract by which you bind yourself not to copy or reverse-engineer it, then I think there are information-asymmetry reasons that you’d almost always have to be a damn fool to sign that contract, but I don’t have any moral problem with the contract per se. (I can even construct some edge cases in which it’s Pareto or Kaldor-Hicks efficient to sign it.)

    Where I have a problem is when proprietary software vendors use the coercive force of the state (for example, DMCA takedowns) to claim ‘rights’ for which they could not negotiate in a free market.

    >Therefore, being more libertarian than me, you should have a position further toward the “it’s evil” side than me

    Having noticed that this is not the case, you should stop and notice that your predictive model is broken, and that therefore one or more of your premises needs to be re-examined.

    >You’ve said before that if there aren’t any Schelling points for the price of copyrighted informaiton, then the anti-copyright crowd is right and copyright is unjustifiable. What would your position on the evilness of proprietary software be if you believed that no such Schelling points existed?

    Unaltered. Reread and think about this reply until you understand why.

    I am not handing you the “why” on a platter because you will understand it better if you figure it out yourself.

    Hint: the circumstances under which government intervention is only evil at second order or greater are those in which it closely approximates what we would expect of a free-market outcome; the law of land property is the classic example of this.

  62. @esr:
    >Having noticed that this is not the case, you should stop and notice that your predictive model is broken, and that therefore one or more of your premises needs to be re-examined.

    Except that it’s not meant to be a predictive model. It’s a statement of what people would believe if their beliefs were consistent. People often fail to hold consistent beliefs, and especially so when copyright is involved.

  63. @ESR:

    We really do have a “You are either on the correct side or you are not” contingent, and their litmus test is one that uses classically moralist language: do you consider proprietary software evil?

    Do they use that classically moralist language because that is how their belief is, or because they’re “Hackers” and believe that using that sort of language will get their point across better?

    (And I realize that the answer is “sometimes” and “both”, but I’m wondering more about the breakdown between those who have that belief, and those who just use the words because *bold* is more than /italics/ which is more than plain.).

    Also I think you might be mixing fundamentalist and evangelical a bit.

  64. @esr:
    >If a software vendor offers software bundled with a contract by which you bind yourself not to copy or reverse-engineer it, then I think there are information-asymmetry reasons that you’d almost always have to be a damn fool to sign that contract, but I don’t have any moral problem with the contract per se.

    This isn’t all that different from my own position, except that if you’re selling a product, and only making that product available under a contract that most of your target market would be damn fools to sign, and you’re actually managing to get people to sign it, I think that there’s probably something morally fishy going on (coercion, deception, etc).

    >Unaltered. Reread and think about this reply until you understand why.

    I think I get your reasoning from your post up to this line without needing to reread or make use of your hint. At this point I’m not certain that your position is greatly different from mine. The greatest difference may be over the semantics of the word “evil”.

    I actually find your hint more confusing than helpful, though. I understand, in general, what is meant by the phrase “nth order effects”, but I’m not so certain what you’re calling first, second, etc. order effects in this case.

  65. @Jon Brase:

    > The greatest difference may be over the semantics of the word “evil”.

    The first definition in the dictionary is “profoundly immoral and malevolent.”

    So, it’s probably best not to use it for things that are just immoral.

  66. @ESR

    Copyright simulating a free-market outcome? Which one? An EULA forbidding something that takes a lot of intellectual investment – reverse-engineering, reusing pieces etc. – would be enforcable on a free market but simple sharing, Torrent uploading etc. not, given that the vast majority of the uploaders did not sign it and even those who did are largely nameless and hiding behind VPNs etc.

    Besides, solutions that are based non-initating force should reflect some kind of a common-sense understanding of justice, because the Schelling points tend to revolve around evolved human instincts, do we agree in that? And the common-sense justice is that if you look at it historically, that Cicero had a legitimate claim to the credit, but not to the royalties. Meaning, authors, programmers, writers, musicians etc. have a common-sense right to get credit and respect for their work, and thus copying a book without crediting the author is wrong, but the idea that copying a book while crediting the author, merely failing to pay royalties for it or actually paying more to the publisher than what the author gets, and making any copies for other people without permission from the publisher, is entirely bogus and should be eliminated by a coordinate effort of a white-hat open source advocacy and black-hat piracy.

    We need to get back to the age of Cicero where you cannot simply sell copies of a book and nobody expects to make money that way. Or a song, or a piece of software. We need to get back to the age where copying is allowed as long as original authors are credited and no plagiarism is done. This is simply the only common-sense Schelling point, that alludes to a natural sense of justice. If it is OK to lend you my copy of a book, it should be also OK to photocopy it for you or send you a PDF copy, as long as I don’t claim to have written it and the original author is clearly written on it. Having to treat every book, song, or software copy I purchased as some kind of a secret, having to tell my friend to go buy your own copy, is counter-intuitive and cannot really be made into a non-violent Schelling point. Nobody would really agree to that unless forced.

    This would, incidentally, solve some other problems. If information stops being a commodity, meaning we respect authors but don’t really pay royalties to them, these things will become a bit patrician – there will be less money to be made from courting the tastes of the masses and works of information will be made by, financed by, and donated to, by wealthier – but not necessarily rich, just middle-class – people. This, in my hopes, would kill current Hollywood / MTV pop-culture as we know it and improve the average taste.

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