Capitalism (that is, the accrual of capital as life’s purpose) might get a bad name sometimes, but it has been able to survive because the more exploited individuals still often manage to have their needs met well enough that they don’t join a rebellion.
This process where the market adjusts to serve bourgeois whims and provide enough compensation to workers is typically known as the invisible hand. Sure, we might think that SUVs or bedazzled phone cases are needless luxuries, but the people making them end up with food and housing − their needs end up being resolved, as explained here by Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1759:
The rich only select from the heap what is most precious and agreeable. They consume little more than the poor, and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity, though they mean only their own conveniency, though the sole end which they propose from the labours of all the thousands whom they employ, be the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires, they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species.
This ability to extract necessary money from rich people through bullshit products and services, has led to the idea that everyone needs a job and that a job has some sort of inherent moral value − it’s keeping people fed! So there’s no need to really keep track of which jobs are useful and which are just a way of propping up the ability to extract money out of rich people. If our pursuit of milking the bourgeoisie involves creating a few extra jobs in one company, well it seems pointless to try differentiating between the useful vs useless people, at a company that itself is useless. Companies can become bloated because such little thought is applied to this distinction, and because there are employees who are actively trying to ensure the existence of such bloated jobs.
Employees are actively deceiving the rest of the company (and maybe themselves!), that what they’re doing really is somehow important. Maintaining this gaslighting means they’ll continue to have their essential needs met.
For work that’s more managerial, you might notice the phenomenon of organisations setting up new departments, then never getting rid of them. Even if the department was created to solve some specific problem, then for whatever reason, the department still manages to find some reason to keep itself alive. People love having the new title, Head of Bullshit Department #279. There are people reporting to them, so they must be important!
Dream job: seeming important.
At universities, the amount of bullshit has got so out of hand that there are more staff than students at Stanford!
For those in STEM, bullshit jobs might include scientific research that can’t be replicated, or code that’s deliberately problematic:
Source: Dilbert’s Team writes a Minivan
But back to the foundation of companies and the invention of their possible products and services − why limit such businesses just to rich customers? Why not go after poor customers too? As you can see, we quickly end up in a tangled mess where sure, people are getting enough food and shelter to quell their desire for rebellion, but still, people might spend their time doing tasks they know to be pointless, unfulfilling, or downright immoral.
We’ve previously explored the notion of how any job that can be replaced, should be replaced and you won’t really shed a tear for any of these workers. We’ve also made the case that if people didn’t have a job or “anything to do”, then they could actually be mentally sane and they would have things they wanted to do. We agreed with Ted Kaczynski that it’s demeaning to fulfill the will to power through bullshit jobs dreamed up as band-aids for this mental difficulty.
Even if most people in industrial-technological society were well satisfied, we (FC) would still be opposed to that form of society, because (among other reasons) we consider it demeaning to fulfill one’s need for the power process through surrogate activities or through identification with an organization, rather than through pursuit of real goals.
So, how do we go about stripping away some of the useless jobs in our society? We won’t be sending bombs in the mail like Uncle Ted; we’ll be using the power of open-source software!
Science has long been liberating us, because it’s easy to share ideas:
- Did you know water boils at 100°C?
- Did you know that steam will push things out of the way, so it can keep expanding?
It’s harder to share technology though; explaining how to make a steam turbine. Open-source software is getting there − it’s enabling excellent technologies to become widespread, turning a laborious task into a solved problem.
Unfortanutely, software companies still aren’t doing enough − they’ll pat themselves on the back about how they’re such a socially beneficial company because they changed their logo to have a rainbow, during Pride Month. But in terms of concrete support for society, they’ll heavily rely on open-source software and give nothing back.
Oh sorry, maybe they’ll make some open-source client code, to call their own API.
If companies started giving back to the open-source community as much as they’re taking, then we wouldn’t have 500 companies hiring their own in-house people to write essentially the same widgets as each other. Someone would release theirs open-source, and everyone at all the other companies would suddenly be freed from their demeaning surrogate activities.
On this note, it would be interesting to think about a competitor to GitHub or Bitbucket, where open-source software projects can be hosted, but where there’s tracking of who’s downloading the code. An account found to be leeching could be banned or at least rate-limited, so we might end up with git identities that are tied to pseudonymous blockchain wallets, paying for access rights.
If the git accounts and blockchain wallets had known identities rather than pseudonyms, it could be even better − imagine that a vulnerability is discovered in eg OpenSSL, then before logging into your email provider or carrying out a transaction, you can check whether they’ve pulled the recent bugfix or whether they’ll still be vulnerable to impersonation, if you were to continue.
Just as you might be told that your meat is “100% beef” or that your coffee is certified fair-trade coffee from Colombia, online services might boast that they’re certified to be using the latest, safest software libraries, and that they’re provably donating to the support of those projects.
It’s not just software that can be used to liberate workers from unnecessary jobs − although software is certainly the most sharable form of engineering, there are community-led projects for robotics (OpenDog) and for space rockets (Copenhagen Suborbitals).
Community projects would be incentivised to have better documentation than commercial projects, as the participants won’t be relinquishing a paycheque if someone else finds the documentation helpful. On this point, it’s worth pointing out that you can support collaborative engineering and the end of bullshit jobs just by contributing to documentation and to learning resources − you don’t strictly need to be a scientist or engineer.
In terms of writing content for a project, it’s also worth pointing out that there is inherently going to be little chatter, about any open-source project. There is no advertising budget, and there are no sales calls. If you were to search for eg “best collaborative document editing software”, then you might get ads right there in the search results, or you might be directed to a blog that superficially compares a few solutions. The author there might be paid to refer you to some particular choice, and they’re almost certainly being paid to serve ads on the page. In fact, it’s probably in their interests to sell you on a sub-optimal solution, so that your colleagues will ask you, “really?” and you’ll be sending your colleagues to the blog post, for them to read too.
The profit-driven companies have the budget and incentive to ensure that people hear about them, so no wonder you don’t hear about open-source alternatives.
For government projects with greater funding, people will be inundating the officials with misleading advice and sales spin, then the terms of the eventual deal are sometimes kept secret, at the request of the company. This is despite the fact that governments are meant to be transparent with their spending.
It’s really an outrageous situation when governments can pay for custom software to be made, then the source code isn’t made available to the constituency. When reports are commissioned, the public gets to see the whole report, not just the final decisions. For government-funded scientific research, we shouldn’t need to pay a journal to see the publications, and for government-funded software, we should be able to see the source code.
If governments were to release all their software open-source, then that would go a long way in reducing the cost for anyone to run a society, which in turn will lower the cost of living in such a society. Software systems will free us from more cognitive tasks and robots will free us from unnecessary physical work, so there will eventually be little left for us to do, in terms of keeping the population housed and fed. The cost of living will be driven to zero, and we can spend our time doing what we really want to do.
So, how can we ensure this liberation does take place?
- Most open-source projects should be treated as charities. Sure, we’d need to be worried about “open-source projects” that really only help one company, but for projects like Git that are genuinely useful to the entire population, it’s easy to make the argument that they do more good than eg a food bank for one neighbourhood.
- Financial contributions to the project should be tax-free.
- Time spent writing code for the project should count towards community service, for criminal convictions and social credit scores.
- Organisations must be ineligible to portray themselves as non-profits, unless all their software is open-source. If they’re creating moats around their business, their motives are not altruistic.
- Governments and any other community institutions should refuse to partake in deals with confidential terms.
- As much as possible, governments should move to using open-source software. The public can directly contribute to the smooth running of their society.
- Except for military secrets, any code commissioned as a government project should be released open-source to constituents.
- All of us should contribute to open-source projects, whether it’s with code, documentation, or even just content about projects, explaining when it’s suitable to use them and what the trade-offs are. The open-source movement has a reputation for being cost-effective, but it deserves so much more − it deserves to be recognised as a movement that will liberate humanity 🌈