Postmodernism arose when nothing could make sense any longer because, thanks to pluralism, we no longer agreed on the basics of what was true. Instead, we managed through economic and political symbolism, treating categories of methods (behaviors) as a cause in themselves that was bad.
When people think in terms of categories and symbolism, they look for figureheads of what went wrong, including abstract ones. Therefore you find lots of people railing against capitalism or socialism, but very few looking at how human behavior itself is pathological and, in masses, suicidal.
Our problem here with humanity has consistently been that if not told what to do, most people do simply what is convenient for them or interests them, and therefore the vital structure that keeps everything going is neglected. We miss the big picture and look at details that impact us as individuals instead.
We cannot externalize this problem by applying a method to control what is essentially human individualism resulting in discoordinated action:
Open wisdom-of-crowds software movements have become influential, but they haven’t promoted the kind of radical creativity I love most in computer science. If anything, they’ve been hindrances. Some of the youngest, brightest minds have been trapped in a 1970s intellectual framework because they are hypnotized into accepting old software designs as if they were facts of nature. Linux is a superbly polished copy of an antique, shinier than the original, perhaps, but still defined by it.
Why are so many of the more sophisticated examples of code in the online world.like the page-rank algorithms in the top search engines or like Adobe’s Flash — the results of proprietary development? Why did the adored iPhone come out of what many regard as the most closed, tyrannically managed software-development shop on Earth? An honest empiricist must conclude that while the open approach has been able to create lovely, polished copies, it hasn’t been so good at creating notable originals. Even though the open-source movement has a stinging countercultural rhetoric, it has in practice been a conservative force.
The open-source software community is simply too turbulent to focus its tests and maintain its criteria over an extended duration, and that is a prerequisite to evolving highly original things. There is only one iPhone, but there are hundreds of Linux releases. A closed-software team is a human construction that can tie down enough variables so that software becomes just a little more like a hardware chip.and note that chips, the most encapsulated objects made by humans, get better and better following an exponential pattern of improvement known as Moore’s law.
What makes closed-source software work well? It has (a) owners and (b) leadership. The owners demand some kind of return, which makes the software competitive, and the leadership must achieve these results or be replaced.
Linux, probably the best open-source software ever, is a clone of an operating system developed with educational and military grants back in the 1960s, following several others of the same type or developed by closed-source free enterprise.
Open source software does not have to respond to user demand and generally consists of hobby projects, so the programmers do what interest them and ignore what does not, resulting in half-complete projects. They get no money for it, so if something comes up that requires money, they focus elsewhere.
The best open-source and closed-source software comes from labors of love by committed small teams of exceptional programmers. These have owners and leaders, even if their ownership is rewarded by seeing their project fill a need and be used widely.
On the other hand, commercial software has the Microsoft and Google problem, namely that whenever something succeeds, all sorts of idiots show up to ride the coattails and get paid for it, resulted in bloated inefficient software like Microsoft Office.
In theory, it should be easy for open source to make a working replacement, but so far all efforts have fallen so short that they send people running back to Microsoft Office. Every time someone suggests LibreOffice, lots of people check that person off as a lunatic on their lists of capable personnel.
This is what it means to live in the Age of Symbolism. People like symbols like open source software and view them in a religious context as universal solutions. The reality is more granular: the success of any project depends on someone taking ownership and the project having good leadership.
Some products used to have an almost religious mysticism about them. Windex, for example, could clean just about anything. Then in came the world, and the high taxes to pay for anti-poverty and anti-racism programs forced the company to cut corners, so that what we have now is a weak substitute.
Symbols raise marginal costs. While the herd is unified in pursuit of some new absolute solution that makes everything better — hint: nothing does this — all of the details get swept aside, history is lost, and therefore competence is lost, resulting in an inferior substitute.
Consider the case of the beer industry which has been in decline for decades:
U.S. beer shipment to wholesalers declined 14.1% in December 2022 compared to the year prior, according to a Wells Fargo note published on Jan. 27. Compared to 2020, shipping volume is down 19.4%. We saw the lowest volume since 2012 in December.
Beer became suddenly pricey at the end of last year. Beer prices at retail, which doesn’t include bars or restaurants, popped 7% during the last 13 weeks of 2022, according to industry data provider Bump Williams Consulting. This is an unusually high increase, the consulting firm said.
People are…trading down… — snagging the more economic Keystone over comparatively pricey Coors. That explains why the “below premium” segment was the only one to see an increase in demand in January compared to January 2022, according to the National Beer Wholesalers Association’s Beer Purchasers’ Index.
Here a number of symbols came into play. Regulators responded to consumer demand for safety, requiring that all beer be homogenized. High taxes, regulations, unions, and affirmative action add costs. To sell beer at a normal price, they make it cheaper by cutting corners.
American beer always had a bad reputation because its specialty was using grains like corn and rice in addition to barley, making more alcohol with less flavor. But now even the imports like Heineken taste like beer-flavored soda.
When we raise costs in order to provide safety, equality, and free stuff from government, we get bad results because those raised marginal costs force sabotage of the core of each product. It is the same decline that destroyed the Soviet Union, but applied with a gentler hand and more humanism.
The same happens wherever symbolism lives. The symbol replaces knowledge of the whole. In pursuit of the symbol, other vital stuff is discarded. Further, pursuit of the symbol requires a transfer of wealth, in the process enriching lots of people.
In open source software, the symbol is the freedom itself, so people focus on that and quality becomes secondary. In closed source software, the symbol is profit, and companies focus on that because marginal costs have risen through government action.
No one focuses on doing the thing for its own sake, namely making good software simply to have a working tool, except for a few edgy cases who make really successful programs that are then mobbed by coattail-riders and over time become bloated and partially dysfunctional.
One needs look no further than the collapse of the Firefox browser. Based on Netscape, it started out with functional code, but then bloated to expand what its volunteers wanted, various safety programs, and of course all the new standards from Google and other big companies.
Add to this the complexity of modern investing: shareholders want more money, all the time, so they will always reward cutting corners. Companies run through a cycle from being disruptive innovators to being entrenched monopolies and finally cash cows because of this method.
Your average new company has a great idea. It succeeds. Then in come thousands of little marginal demands: employees want more job security, managers want more procedure, regulators want more rules. Soon the company exists to serve marginal costs.
In the same way, most leaders who succeed do so by recognizing elephants in the room and addressing them. Once stability occurs, however, entropy comes in: every person who comes in their office has a new demand that seems to reflect a real problem. Eventually all their time goes to these marginal needs.
This is how individualism destroys systems. The needs of the many special interests contradict the need of the system to keep functional, and consequently individuals parasitize the system, whether as producers (shareholders) or consumers (workers). This creates a dark organization:
Divergence between the ‘visible’ and the ‘hidden’ side of organization invites a critical work of ‘unveiling’. But such critique does not enable understanding of how coherency is accomplished between different modes of reason. This is performed in emergent third spaces, where parasitic relations are enacted.
This creates a dichotomy between text/public and subtext/private types of meaning. In public, everyone is working toward the goal. In private, each person has their own agenda and is pursuing this at the expense of others, both by not doing the necessary and justifying the unnecessary as essential when their personal objectives require it.
Only one thing abolishes this dark organization process and it is having a goal higher than individualism, but this only comes through honest bonds via culture and genetics. Without it, society becomes a mere shell in which individuals act out their justifications and take whatever they can at the expense of everyone else and their mutual future.
Tags: closed source software, dark organization, individualism, open source software