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Engineering, facts, politics and fiction 4/07/2007 4:09:04 am - Subscribe
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Here's a sentence guaranteed to switch off 99% of people on this planet:

"The open-source development model is mostly about economics, using copyright laws to build legal defences around shared engineering work."

Most people find economics fairly incomprehensible, and consider technology to be magical black arts performed by bearded and white-cloaked
druids, and the law to be something which rich people buy. Whilst there is some truth in all of these, political sharks know these views well. A good political orator can convince most people of almost any kind of technical or economic argument without needing a single shred of proof, because what politicians rely on is sheep-thinking.

Sheep-thinking? Well, given a choice of having a nice meal, or resolving the complexities of n-dimensional time and space, most people choose the meal, especially if it comes with aperitifs, wine and liqueurs. They like others to do the thinking for them, ideally, whilst they're tucking into their mutton and madeira pie.

So the deal offered by politicians looks good, at least on the surface: "You go out and get drunk, and we'll do your thinking for you".

Sheep thinking is really that most people are, mentally at least, out to lunch all the time. Or perhaps dinner, or supper, or maybe just a mid-morning snack. Thus, they need to get their opinions from somewhere, and quite handily, there are lots of really nice politicians who can offer them opinions by the cart-load. All that's left for most people is to check with their closer friends which particular viewpoint is generally agreeable, and Bob's your uncle, thinking done.

Not only do most people not know what could be considered to be fact or fiction, truly, they actively do not care, and do not wish anyone to wake them up from elevenses to explain things to them.

This leaves politicians in a very powerful position. Not only to they get to do the "thinking", but they get to be judge and jury, too. And this works very well for everyone, at least, until something disruptive comes along.

Disruptive ideas, like disruptive business models, attack accepted ideas. This is a rotten state of affairs for politicians, since they succeed or fail by being in touch with sheep-thinking, by knowing what the accepted ideas are, and by influencing them where they need to. Disruptive ideas attack the basis of political power, because it's not clear just what the outcome will be. Which viewpoint will prevail? Which horse do I back?

The politics of any large organisation is much the same, and disruptive ideas, such as open-source, are often seen as a threat rather than an opportunity, with the messengers painted as harbingers of doom, or as zealots rather than the experts in economics and technology which they really are. The bring facts, facts about economics and facts about technical development methods, but they bring them into a space where fiction and fact are rarely discriminated between. Where shooting the messenger is as valid an advancement method as any other.

But, it is the politicians who will ultimately make the calls. Most people are "out to lunch" with their thinking, so they will wait to see which bandwagon looks the biggest, and get on that one, perhaps kicking a few others out of the way in the process. The consequence? Well, it seems to me that in order to influence the politicians, you need a substantial bandwagon, and you need to get it any way that you can. It's of little value understanding the pros and cons of licensing methods, intellectual property, cathedrals and bazaars if the political types don't see many "voters" out there.

A good recent example of this working in practice would be the Dell decision to offer linux-based computers as part of their standard line-up. When enough people voted, senior people in Dell supported the work.


You don't need to worry about facts or fiction, just get the votes.

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