Bonum Certa Men Certa

Missing the Point about Burnout

Dog with a sign

Summary: An opinion about misdirected criticism of the Free software community

Last week a poison pen who pretends to be a reasonable journalist claimed there's an epidemic of burnout in the Free software community and asked developers to achieve balance in the wrong place. He smeared the community and ignored the largest stressor of the Free software community, Microsoft. There is a lot of stress out there right now, but the answer is more cooperation and freedom, not less. People involved with Free software should be proud of the fantastic world they have built and the way their tools and cooperative spirit is catching on in society at large. No one needs to be a hero when we all share and work together and this -- rather than burnout -- is a hallmark of the Free software world.

The call to surrender dredges up old and discredited community smears. He regurgitates nonsense about hostility towards women and talks about people vomiting from caffeine addiction. Sexual harassment is not acceptable, but it is less prominent in the Free software community than in society at large but is more so where people are trained to think of developers as "one night stands". Caffeine addiction and dietary abuse should not be a problem at volunteer organizations but are stereotypical of cubicle life. The charges are a projection of the worst practices of non-Free software companies and the author has a history of doing this to Groklaw, the Free Software Foundation, Boycott Novell and others. What's not brought up probably as important than what he does talk about.

Microsoft's constant attacks on the community through infiltration, impersonation, direct trolling, media manipulation, technical sabotage and legal attack are great burdens that deserve mention in any article about free software frustration. Boycott Novell has both experienced and covered these issues in the past. People like Bruce Perens had a dozen Slashdot impersonation accounts, and HP offered him similar PR services when he worked for them. Every Free software community has put up with endless trolling. Anyone who thinks trolling is just coincidental or part of human nature that randomly focuses on Free software has not read and understood Microsoft's training material which details and advocates "subverting" and shutting down "enemy" channels of communication. Face it, most internet trolls hardly know about Free software projects and are not inclined to waste years harassing yours. If you think Microsoft's legal assault on Free software started with Android, you should check out my short history of their software patent extortion, which tells the story in their own words. Microsoft's ongoing technical sabotage of Free software includes creating complex and poorly performing hardware hardware standards like ACPI and the usual boot loader tricks [2, 3]. Those companies that overcome all of those barriers face retail sabotage that includes spying, intimidation and bribes. All of these attacks make it difficult to make a living with software of any sort but are especially aimed at free software users and developers.

Microsoft's war against software freedom is part of the rich and powerful's attack on all of our freedoms. At least one person has astutely pointed out that concentration of wealth has created an inefficient command economy. Inefficiency, paradoxically works in their favor. They can only recruit their armies of airport gropers, phone tappers and other flunkies in an atmosphere of paranoid deprivation. Those who have wealth and power are punishing the rest of us to maintain their relative position as their usual means of control falter. Sadly, as we know from the HB Gary scandal, Microsoft's form of information warfare has gone mainstream and is being used by major banks and other big dumb companies owned by the same set of sociopaths. They would have us divided and helpless and hate the community ethos and effectiveness of free software.

The answer is not to step away from important free software work, it's to take back your life. Free software is something people want to do. Sixty hour work weeks for progressively less money are not something people want to pull. We will need the cooperation of our neighbors to successfully demand social justice. Free software builds up a civic spirit that is useful in solving problems that are more responsible for people's frustrations and burn out than anything unique to coding. Sharing is good and people who share trust each other more. Free software also bring essential tools for publication and private communication that our neighbors need.


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