Throughout this site, I stress the importance of decentralization in communication services. The reason for this is:

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

-Lord Acton

This situation has historically been seen in both politics and economics, but is present in software as well. In essence, it’s a matter of where power should rest:

  • Who gets to create legislation? A leader? Or the people who live under the law?
  • Who gets to design the economy? The state? Or the people who work and do commerce in the economy?
  • Who gets to control software? A company? Or the people who use the software?
  • In general, who should wield power? A trusted entity? Or the people who are vulnerable to that power?

These questions have been answered many different ways. Here are a few contrasting examples (implications are my admittedly biased observations):

Field Definition Implication
Centralized Politics (Dictatorship) Absolute power to legislate is consolidated in one leader The single source of authoritarian rule will be corrupted
Decentralized Politics (Democracy) Legislative power is distributed among many people It’s more difficult to corrupt (buy out) the masses
Centralized Economics
(Communism or Corporatism)
Power to produce is consolidated in the state (communism) or a big business (corporatism) A single source for goods and services tends to overcharge for bad products
Decentralized Economics (Capitalism) Production is distributed among many individuals and businesses The freedom to choose suppliers keeps prices down and quality up
Centralized Software (Proprietary) Control of software is consolidated in the company that wrote it The end user is not allowed to know everything that their software is doing nor make unapproved modifications to it
Decentralized Software
(Open Source)
Control of software is distributed among the people that use it Because source code is available, every function is visible and any modification that can be coded is possible

In practice, the extremes presented in this table rarely if ever exist. However, many situations lean one way or the other, toward either centralization or decentralization. Being a classic liberal, I believe that centralizing power is always dangerous when people (as opposed to God) are involved. I believe authoritarian legislation (dictatorships), planned economies (communism, corporatism, statism), and centrally controlled software (proprietary software) will tend toward a corrupt, ineffective, and restricted society.

On the other hand, when the power to legislate is shifted to the people (democracy), and the power to produce is held by individuals (free market capitalism), and the power to modify software is held by users (open source software), then society will tend toward being just, efficient, and free.

This clash of ideas can best be seen through two opposing worldviews: Society is either a machine that must be engineered, or it is an ecosystem that must be conserved.

Every machine requires a centralized system so that it can function efficiently and remain stable. An engineer (dictator) must design it, a mechanic (commune) must maintain it, and the owner (proprietor) must use it.

In contrast, every ecosystem will tend toward efficiency and stability if and only if it is allowed to do so. The ecosystem will design itself (democracy), provide for itself (capitalism), and engineer itself (open source) without the heavy hand of an outside power messing with it, thankyouverymuch.

It would be great if these worldviews were complimentary. That way we could all have our political differences, shrug it off as a matter of opinion, and carry on. Unfortunately, they’re mutually exclusive, and in quite a disastrous way. Leave a machine be and it will fall apart. Try to engineer an ecosystem and you’ll destroy it. If society is one of these two things but is mistreated as the other, then very bad things happen.

For what it’s worth, I’m convinced that society is an ecosystem. Part of what makes countries like the USA great is decentralized politics and economics. In stark contrast, countries like North Korea are humanitarian nightmares because of their authoritarian governments and command economies. Similarly, Linux is great because it is open source and community driven. Windows and OS X suck because they are locked down and locked into their respective companies’ visions.

If you disagree, feel free to shoot me an email (the address is in the footer). I’d love to chat. Regardless, I sincerely hope that you find this web site useful for participating in the open source software ecosystem.