My friend Jeff Mackanic pointed me to this article from last month’s Wired Magazine where Kevin Kelly makes the assertion that there is a “new socialism” emerging in the form of large-scale collaboration projects online. He discusses contributions to Wikipedia, Flickr, even Red Hat’s own Fedora as examples of village-sized or greater online collective work.
In the context of my recent post regarding what Ayn Rand would think of open source, I think Kevin makes a leap where I might not follow him.The clue is right in the article:
…the leaders of the new socialism are extremely pragmatic. A survey of 2,784 open source developers explored their motivations. The most common was “to learn and develop new skills.” That’s practical. One academic put it this way (paraphrasing): The major reason for working on free stuff is to improve my own damn software. Basically, overt politics is not practical enough.
Where Kevin Kelly reaches the conclusion that contributors working together to “improve [their] own damn software” is a new form of socialism in action, I might take the view instead that this is a new form of individualism.
A form of individualism where people are free to pursue their own self interests, yet do so in such a way that they are still in harmony with those around them. The goal of open source developers is individual pursuit, as the paragraph above from the article makes clear… yet a byproduct of these individual pursuits is a collective good: better software, a better enyclopedia, etc.
If it was socialism, the collective good would be the end goal of everyone. But ultimately, the open source model is based on the individual working for the good of himself in harmony with others, not on being a mindless cog in a much bigger wheel.
But I’m no philosophy expert, what do you think?