Libertarianism is Like Linux

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I remember a recent debate that I was having with a friend-of-a-friend. I was trying to share with him my idea that, within the context of a society, free choice is a good thing to have.

Unfortunately, this person, a committed democratic socialist, constantly rejected this premise. He said that his viewpoint on the human race was one of pessimism: he said that humans make bad decisions and because of this, the state should make choices for people.

Luckily, I thought of a perfect analogy to explain my perspective. Since this person was into technology and knew a lot about computers, I started asking him what sort of software he runs on his computers. Does he prefer an “open” operating system where there are a lot of choices and options, like Linux? Or does he prefer a “closed” OS like Microsoft Windows, where there are few options and most of the thinking has been done for you by Microsoft?

He conceded that closed systems are annoying and that he prefers open ones. Why? Because he, as an advanced user, would be stultified if he had to use Microsoft Windows all the time.

By conceding this, he has conceded an important point: that a closed system limits the advanced intellect. In a way, a smart person who is using Windows has an artificial ceiling that is much lower than the one that he might have if he is running Linux.

This point has an analogy as it pertains to open and closed societies. In an open society where individuals are free to make more choices, they can achieve more than they would in a closed society where the paternalistic government makes said choices for them.

But he raised another objection: wouldn’t the beginner user be stymied in an open system? If you gave a grandmother access to the power of a Linux command line, she would be bamboozled by it and she might even damage the operating environment if she errantly started entering commands.

And here… here is where the metaphor really came into its own. Yes, I said, she would. If you gave a novice computer user access to something like Linux circa 1985, then that person would not be competent to deal with the complexity of that OS. But, what if you gave that person access to a Linux distro like one that we have in the current day, circa 2014? Linux has forked into various distributions, the most popular of which, such as Linux Mint, Ubuntu, Debian, Open SUSE, and others, are incredibly solid, stable, and well-built systems which are suitable both for beginners and for more advanced users. (Indeed, it is worth noting that some distros of Linux, such as Eldy, are built specifically for elderly or novice users!)

If I might have the latitude to make an argument by analogy, our current monistic, paternalistic system can be compared to giving every computer user a copy of Windows and no other options…

But, having a libertarian-oriented society is like allowing users to install whatever software they want! Though this can be daunting to some people who are used to having their decisions made for them all of the time, it is the case that once a free society is adopted, those people will quickly find that they have a wide range of options to choose from, almost all of which are better and more elegant than the limited choices which they had before.

And this isn’t just true for the novice users. The advanced users, those thought leaders who are able to drive free societies forward at rapid paces, will be almost unfettered in their ability to do good.

About Author

Scotty Freeman is a philosophy graduate who loves to write and talk about freedom, the future of peaceful governments, seasteading, creating wealth, and saving the environment through deregulation. He can be reached at loodlehq@gmail.com.

  • John Palota

    Libertarianism is nothing like Linux. I know some people in the liberty movement love what Linux stands for. But has anyone actually look into the open-source culture? Open source is a good strategy and it seems to be the trend forward. Heck, Microsoft just open-sourced their crown jewel .NET framework. They are adopting open source, but only for marketing incentives.

    How many successful open-source delivery devices are there? There’s not many if at all. Windows is not open, consumer Android is not open contrary to what people think, iOS/OSX is not open. Why is that? Because closed-sourced ones are like private businesses, they can develop in any direction they find rewarding and not be subjected to a public ‘committee’. They can move to market quicker and reiterate faster as oppose to open-source projects where critical decisions are limited by financial donations.

    Have anyone worked on a dev team of an open-source project? It’s comparable to working in a commune. Just take a look at Linux’s own progress. It has taken Linux over 2 decades to be competitive in term of features and only slightly. Windows and OSX is still far ahead in features and compatibility. Why is that? because there’s less incentives for the good developers to commit time and effort in something “free”. And just because it’s open-sourced, it doesn’t mean there’s no control for where Linux is going. The creator of Linux, Linus Torvalds, is a notorious control-freak. All final decisions have to be checked out through him.

    The only similarity between Linux and libertarianism is probably infightings. There are so many distros of Linux because people in that community split off and do their own flavor. Much like how the libertarian movement split into many factions.

    People love the idea of open source because it stands for transparency, but when was the last time you look into the Linux code? The trust for Linux is purely self-reassuring and not based on any critical self-review. And who’s to say Linux is more secure than Windows or OSX? If anything Microsoft and Apple have an incentive to secure their products, whereas Linux distros have none. In fact, Linux communities is filled with NSA secret agent and have inserted bugs into their legacy codes without any review being done.

    There are a few choices in computing needs because of the nature of the beast. There aren’t dozens of OS choices, because that’s the problem. People are not inclined to own ten different OS types like the shirts they wear. But it’s not like governments because there there are choices. Microsoft is forcing people to buy Windows or Apple, their iPhone. People can buy OSX on for their laptop and Android for their phones.

    Libertarianism is not like Linux at all, culturally and commercially.

  • Mike Huben

    Sad that you have to rely on a false dichotomy, “open” versus “closed” to make this silly an argument on a weak (but appealing) metaphor..

    Libertarianism would be like running machine code on the bare metal. Libertarians would complain that any operating system inhibited their liberty to use any part of memory and cpu at any time they wanted. Right to keep and bear code and all that.

    Minarchist libertarians might claim they want a minimal operating system: perhaps like the ancient FORTH language. But anarchist libertarians would complain even about that.

    Constitutions are like national OS’s, and they often fork to different nations.

  • TheOneLaw

    Condolences about those other less-informed comments.
    Unfortunately, the linux metaphor is exquisitely appropriate:
    we need a certain amount of (decentralized) social operating system components
    to give libertarian ideas traction.
    Bitcoin is one example and soon there will be more,
    cutting the legs out from under Statism and Natzi hegemony.