10.05.20

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The Industry is a Religion, and What That Costs

Posted in Free/Libre Software at 12:53 am by Guest Editorial Team

By figosdev

An elevator sign

“Linux infestations are being uncovered in many of our large accounts as part of the escalation engagements.”

Microsoft Confidential

Summary: Guest poster figosdev examines the ramifications of the industry operating like a religion rather than a science

Techrights has writers (and guest writers) across a variety of viewpoints — including atheists, theists and agnostics like myself. Which isn’t technically important, except that none of those viewpoints are being excluded or discouraged in this article. I more or less don’t care what system you do or don’t believe in, only what it means to you as a person. You generally can’t tell (it isn’t safe to assume, though many try) what one individual really thinks by what system they are part of. In that regard at least, it’s unimportant.

Religious StatuarySome people, including myself (at age 4, though not more recently) figure if you get rid of religion, people will magically become more logical. I think at this point we have enough atheists to sample from, and my non-scientifically-reached observation is that if people can’t blame their worst ideas on God or whoever else, they will find another excuse. So that argument doesn’t really sway me.

In that regard, I defend the right and whatever reason you have for your personal beliefs. You’re entitled to those, and I might even appreciate them on some level. But even if I agree with you (at least hypothetically) one thing I won’t agree with is theocracy — because I don’t agree with personal beliefs being imposed on others. Shared? Sure. Imposed? Required? Nope. When it’s clearly a free speech issue, I’m more sympathetic.

At some point we come, of necessity, to the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the reason he is spoken of. A (The?) school board in Kansas was trying to cater to religious groups that wanted to impose their curriculum on schools, so that “equal time” would be given to utterly non-scientific matters in science classes.

“What actually happens with abstinence training (in regions where it is used instead of sex education) is that people are ill-prepared, teen pregnancy rates rise, and the opposite of what it claims to accomplish is achieved in practice.”I don’t have a problem with religious schools existing, but I don’t think religions can rightfully dictate what is taught in public science classes either. I mean, I have no problem with a school that teaches those things, but churches dictating what science is to the public (even in a non-religious setting like a public school) is a very old problem. We’ve never really benefited from interference from churches on this sort of thing, in fact people have died for nothing over the arrogance of religious leaders. In some ways that’s putting it mildly.

If it’s difficult to understand how I can say that and defend religion, it seems simple enough to me. Religion has its place even in an allegedly enlightened society, but its rightful place is not theocracy. Freedom of religion may not impose on public requirements and thus rule, because once it does then the goal of all in favour of liberty is to make it optional (or elective) again. And I feel exactly the same about this regardless of what religion we are talking about, but I would note that most people who argue for “equal time” are really not concerned with any representation of views other than their own, so it’s a dishonest request. Otherwise, as has already been said — there should be equal time also for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism.

But this is supposed to be a point about technology and education, and the costs of religion imposing itself where it should certainly not be welcomed — as a state requirement. The costs of doing so — and I consider loss of liberty as a great cost in itself, but on a more immediately “practical” note the example that I think of is the teaching of “abstinence” as an alternative to sex education.

“As science and maths gave the tools to make knowledge more formal, the work of philosophers presumably became more formal as well.”The effects of abstinence training, if it were effective, would be that fewer people got pregnant before they were married and ready to have a family. That’s the idea, that’s the best justification for teaching abstinence in schools. After all, if you believe some of the religious criticisms of sex education, it encourages people to have sex before marriage, and this is something horrible we should put a stop to. Hence, abstinence training — let the religious groups handle this, they know best.

What actually happens with abstinence training (in regions where it is used instead of sex education) is that people are ill-prepared, teen pregnancy rates rise, and the opposite of what it claims to accomplish is achieved in practice. In other words: it doesn’t work. Compare it to regions where sex education (and in particular, “safe sex”) are taught, and there is a lower teen pregnancy rate corresponding with better education. At least that’s what I know, I mean by itself this is a correlation, not an actual proof. I couldn’t tell you what those rates even are. But they do make perfect sense. One fact that is absolute undisputed is that none of those teen pregnancies were immaculately conceived.

In the history of human culture, you have — there is plenty of overlap and I don’t want to leave anybody out here — the thinkers of the world and of history can probably be sorted into mathematicians, philosophers, scientists and religious figures.

“Of the pseudo-religious, public relation firms often try to cast their political opponents as fanatics, extremists and nuts.”“Scientists” were not a thing until relatively recently, similar to the way that the First World War wasn’t the “First World War” until there was a second one. This is probably not the fault of the scientists, as the world was obviously content enough with mere philosophers and mathematicians for longer than many of us would think reasonable. But eventually science became a thing, and there are quite a few other things we wouldn’t have likely managed otherwise — like a good number of advantages in technology and medicine for example.

I guess that means we should include “healers” and artists or lump them in with philosophers, but it’s not so easy to do taxonomy without science. I consider religion to be “proto-philosophy”, which probably isn’t a popular idea with my friends who are atheists, but Darwin happened because of his interest in God — or he was forced to say so as some sort of defence, but I don’t know that he was. And if enough people read this, I expect to hear a rebuttal regarding alchemists, but I doubt it will drastically change any key point made in this article.

“Don’t make fun of yourself and religion at the same time, or Open Source will imply you’re really a closeted cult leader.”As science and maths gave the tools to make knowledge more formal, the work of philosophers presumably became more formal as well. Now we had systems of logic to rest our reasoning and theorising on, and religion became a category for “everything else”. I know for some scientists, this divorce was something they were never party to, and for them the two get along just fine. For me this is relatively true, so long as religious groups do not impose authority over education or secular law.

Of the pseudo-religious, public relation firms often try to cast their political opponents as fanatics, extremists and nuts. Eric S. Raymond suggested 20 years ago, that Open Source would be criticised in a similar fashion. And ever since, Open Source has (along with Raymond himself) used comparisons and innuendo around religious fanaticism to try to discredit Richard Stallman — despite the fact that Stallman himself is an atheist, albeit one who openly mocks religion (Flying Spaghetti style, one might argue) with a “halo” on his head and in the character of “Saint IGNUcius.” Don’t make fun of yourself and religion at the same time, or Open Source will imply you’re really a closeted cult leader. Whatever works, right?

But though many people paint him as an authoritarian, the people most threatened by Stallman’s message (which OSI was created supposedly to protect corporations from hearing and taking the wrong way) were in fact, people who act as intermediaries (authorities) standing between the user and their own computer. The struggle for Free Software has very easy metaphorical, thematic and historical ties to the liberation created by the printing press, which the Church tried to violently stifle because it was a threat to an authoritarian monopoly. (Of course heavy copyright proponents in general have also acted like the Medieval Church in this regard).

“But though many people paint him as an authoritarian, the people most threatened by Stallman’s message (which OSI was created supposedly to protect corporations from hearing and taking the wrong way) were in fact, people who act as intermediaries (authorities) standing between the user and their own computer.”The technology industry may not bring you religion, but they certainly bring you a way of life which puts them in power over society — in this way of life, you confess your sins to Twitter, who pores over them with algorithms and submits them to higher authorities, and the unwashed masses get together in crowds to condemn each other in acts of utter hypocrisy. Your smallest sins (every word you utter, these days) will be scrutinised for the merest hint of impropriety, while those at the top commit heinous acts against all humanity. But it also watches you with cameras and makes broad, sweeping notions about the way people walk, or how long they spend on a certain page of a book and so on and so on. It’s not a basis for liberation of any sort.

A reminder, just so we are still on the same page about this, that I really don’t judge you for belonging to such a religion. I am not religious, but I am not as strictly atheist as those who insist that religion (and not humanity itself) is this great impediment to progress — I think of it as more of an excuse than a cause for problems.

“Technology companies have gotten so used to telling people what they can and can’t do — when they can and can’t turn their computer off, what apps they can and can’t install.”Of course a great excuse is its own problem, though the way that many career atheists obsess over it is (in my opinion) not very scientific of them. I wish we had less biased studies about this. But it’s easier for people who are disenchanted with an idea to simply point fingers in the most obvious direction. Easier, but not as scientific; it pays a great deal of heed to the trappings of science, but then so did geocentrism.

I don’t judge you for belonging to such a religion, but I will judge those who abuse their authority. And you may or may not belong to such a religion, and if you do I will generally appreciate the difference between a person who subscribes to a concept and a leadership that is corrupted by power. In fact it’s the same with Open Source — I think Open Source is inherently corrupt, but not everyone who is swayed by it is swayed for terrible reasons. Blame the corruption at the top, where the lies come from — because they have made themselves authorities over the others and have betrayed that (misplaced) trust.

But it might (even in my own opinion) be a system with beliefs that I have no real problem with. So why would I blame you merely for sharing those? We need to avoid implementing thoughtcrime if we want a society that can speak of “liberty” in any meaningful or practical sense. On that note I’ll gladly defend your right to your beliefs, I may or may not defend what else you use them to justify. I’m not writing you that sort of blank cheque, I don’t even know your credit rating.

“Apple’s app store (it’s generic despite their worst efforts, you really don’t have to capitalise it) is like a bunch of aunties telling you who you can and can’t sleep with.”Nobody said that liberty is easy. We have all these centuries of people enjoying the feeling that they have right to tell everybody else what to do. People get used to that sort of idea, it even starts to appeal to the general public, who will never benefit from it — but they think they might. So more and more people begin to act out and defend such absurdities. And I’m hardly the first to say this, when even their own holy book says “there is a time wherein one man ruleth over another to his own hurt.” I couldn’t tell you if this line was intended to mock corrupt authority — but we can hope.

Technology companies have gotten so used to telling people what they can and can’t do — when they can and can’t turn their computer off, what apps they can and can’t install. Apple’s app store (it’s generic despite their worst efforts, you really don’t have to capitalise it) is like a bunch of aunties telling you who you can and can’t sleep with. And some people will benefit from that, but would you sign that authority away to Apple if they literally told you who you can and can’t sleep with?

The Church did that for a very long time, regarding various groups of people they didn’t think should be (allowed) together. I don’t trust their history on this sort of thing — nor do I trust Apple’s. Nor do I agree that they should have that sort of authority (or ownership) of your device after purchase. Maybe I’m old-fashioned that way, but the way that Apple and Microsoft (and sometimes, but not as often Google) assert ownership or control over things you bought from them — it seems more clearly authoritarian than benevolent or wise, let alone justifiable.

Then we come back to abstinence and the cost that inspired this article in the first place — new Android apps that are dangerous to install, which look like regular and harmless applications — I mean, how many times has someone you know installed a program that said straight off: “WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T INSTALL THIS! THIS IS ACTUALLY MALWARE!” Of course it looks like a regular and harmless application! Why else would any normal person (but for research purposes) install such a thing?

“As I said several times in this article, my complaint is corrupt authoritarians exploiting your personal beliefs as a false premise for their own authority.”As with sex education, instead of properly teaching people about computing and how to make responsible decisions for themselves, we always teach them to rely (primarily, if not almost exclusively) on companies with at best a conflict of interest, and on authoritarian measures like app stores which make unlimited promises but (pretty much as a law of the universe) deliver a limited benefit.

We teach them not to install things that aren’t in the app store, and then the rates of malware problems go up, while education and understanding drop lower. So basically we get similar results in the tech world that we get from terrible ideas like abstinence training and religious groups imposing authority over secular laws and institutions. And why wouldn’t we? The approach that the tech companies take to solving problems is “put us in complete charge of your life and hope for the best!” One man ruleth over another to his own hurt.

But when I said all that stuff about your right to your beliefs, was that just rhetoric to make a point about technology? No, I feel very strongly about your rights in that regard. As I said several times in this article, my complaint is corrupt authoritarians exploiting your personal beliefs as a false premise for their own authority. Your beliefs are personal — their corruption and exploitation of your personal beliefs are the part I take issue with.

“…I note the way that the tech companies maintain their crusade against basic human rights along the same rhetorical lines: insisting that anyone who opposes them is a dirty hippie, a hypocrite and extremist, or worse!”And just as religious leaders will paint challenges to their authority as evil heathen trying to judge, corrupt and condemn you personally, so you will rise to their defence on their behalf — I note the way that the tech companies maintain their crusade against basic human rights along the same rhetorical lines: insisting that anyone who opposes them is a dirty hippie, a hypocrite and extremist, or worse! I mean, isn’t that convenient? Not to mention familiar; gone (was) the Latin Mass that required an in-house translator to access the scriptures, but what of DRM and binary distribution without the available source code? It’s the same old game of pay homage to the gatekeepers of human knowledge, in a different technological era.

There are other parallels to be made here, though I’m sure someone else will manage to do so.

Whether you are religious or not, or use a silly overpriced phone or not — don’t let people insist they can live your life for you and do it better. They’re typically trying to sell you something, and it certainly isn’t freedom. But this is also of note: it doesn’t work!

Licence: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (public domain)

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A Single Comment

  1. Canta said,

    October 5, 2020 at 5:14 pm

    Gravatar

    Are you sure you’re not writing about ideology?

    Whatever the case, I’m a man of faith myself: I believe in science, and thus the human being. So, let me tell you: this current times are a hard test for that faith.

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