When Free Software was a nest of black swans

Listening to this song while reading might help understand the post:

I guess you wouldn't believe how free software was in the beginning: a nest of freaks.

When I went to my first Libre Software Meeting in 2000 I met a lot of interesting persons. And now that I know them, retrospectively I knew only freaks:
- people suffering of chronic seizure;
- of Sclerosis;
- of type II diabete;
- transgenders, bi sexual, gays and lesbians;
- people suffering from psychosis (chronic depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia);
- Asperger's syndroma;
- handicapped people;
- social outcast for miscellaneous reasons;
- and... no women.

With an over-representation in regard to the actual freak percentage in society.

And this is just what I know from talking to some people in private, and amongst them are well known members of FLOSS community.

Have you ever attended  a speech where the stuttering speecher  would be not only accepted but would be granted a warm welcome?  That is the Free Software I embraced. A radically non discriminative community (© Benjamin Mako Hill).

Is this an exception? It has taken me years to discover the truth, because they were not wearing their differences as an excuse for not respecting the rules, and that might have been the secret of Free Software success: being a nest of freaks that want to be treated as everyone: only what you achieve define people, not appearance, nor social status, nor difference.

And now, as time has passed by, I think that not only this was wonderful and an example for society as a whole, but also the reason of the rise, and maybe a possible reason for the fall to come of the free software community.

Status hierarchy vs Competence hierarchy


I will now err on the very risky path of  giving my interpretation: I think that the 80's has been the stage of a nameless counter reaction to the 70's, and that Free Software might have been a nameless revolution that took place in the 90's. No words were spoken, still outcasts gathered.

Is there any cultural trace of what I say?

Teenage movies in the 1980's were often about how nerds being bullied that would fight back. Musical bands such as N.E.R.D.S or No doubt, or weezer or 311 would speak about it.

France were I was grown up is not U.S.A. we had our own history based on the elites and a very strong social reproduction based on social casts.

In order to have a computer degree that was socially recognized it was better to integrate selective schools. Given the actual data, I believe that 1968 revolution was a revolution in words and a counter revolution in disguise (social diversity maximum is  almost exactly in 1968).

What kind of hobby was cool for the freaks? Computer stuff: whatever your social status was, only your skills mattered and social skills were useless. I don't know if it was a conscious claim or a logical evolution, still computer hobbyists were counting numerous nerds that could shine through their skills.

Don't think computer scene was open to everyone, computers at this time were really expensive toys, so it was mainly structured around well born social outcasts from (white) educated families.

Cargo cult programming vs Digital craftsmanship

Conformism against diversity

I hereby begin one of the controversial part of my thesis. We did better at coding because we were not elite engineers and engineering was not about learning how to code, but how to behave and talk. (*Of course my statement is a bit excessive.)

In (my) university we were not as well equipped as engineering schools. We had cheap (PC) or obsolete stuff (Old unices and stations). At this time I remember that embracing linux, C bash, Perl and PHP was scolded. Real pros would use: Java, Design Patterns, UML and merise, Corba, VB, C++ ... Networking future in France was about Token Ring, ATM, minitel, Internet was a joke designed by (what a joke) PhD. We were hobbyists tinkering at most and betting on the wrong technologies.

Real engineers with a future learnt all the right theory of programming, theory of compilators, they could spoke the words of IT (commonly known as BS or buzzwords),  while we  were due to code practical problems, such as plotting our own results taken from our lab equipment. I was graduating in physics, maybe it helped. We had no time to learn any hype coding we were due to deliver with short deadlines.

We were scolded, despised, mocked but we all delivered in our fields of competences. Some became famous, some lost. Free Software was a much more selective world than any selective school in France: it was based on what you really do, not how nice you were, or how you could handle concepts or the hype you raised, or how web 2.0 coolish your blog was. And shipping stuff was the entry token. Code is not the only thing you can ship: documentation, web magazine, coordination, packaging, socialisation, normalisation are important parts of free software.

 Doing is an aristocracy that needs no excuse

The cool stuff when feeling you suffer an injustice is too fight back the only way you opponents understand: we, the freaks of a conformist society, have beaten the pulp out of the arrogant people with nice suits and soft words by delivering stuffs. FLOSS success was neither a technological or a political common fight, it was the sum of individual fighting separately for acknowledgement.

So when I see articles about: «why you should not hire the black swan» I wonder if the fall of FLOSS is not coming? Being different but delivering quality products is at my opinion a corner stone of Free Software Community.

Mega Troll: why women have so much problems in free software?

In a pretty misogyn chapter of «the social contract» Rousseau stated that women used their supposed weakness as a strength. After stating that the strongest tend to bully the weakest, he then stated that women claims of weakness  should not be taken for granted since they tends to side with the strongest.

I would like to point the fact that if you accept my assumption that free software pioneers were pretty much standing out of the conformity, and were rejected when trying to pick up chicks then women rejection as a trauma can make sense. Oddly enough, this community was made of men.

You could figure how strange people are cock blocked for  being uncool, or not hype enough, or poorly dressed or just plain different and have a mental picture of how some of the freaks may have been hurt. You could also read fantasy to have a glimpse in the mind of women: K. Kurtz, A Mc Muster Bujold, U. K. Le Guin... all heroes in feminine stories are good, because they are the good deeds of good parents. Parenthood is the key to heroism 9 out of 10 times.You don't date monsters unfit for being the father of your children.

Most heroes in male written stories are however background-less: only their action makes them interesting. (Okay, I admit that with my vision of fantasy, I'd be relieved we discover that LOTR was influenced by a women).

If and only if my assumptions are right, I say deep wounds take time to heal so there will be no immediate acceptance of women. And, to test my theory I have made up a way to test it: given feminine guinea pigs accepting the following premises:

- women should consider that masculine gender is in fact a neutral gender on internet and should hide any hints pointing towards their sex;
- women should consider they deserve nothing for being a women neither good nor bad, and they should embrace the idea that what you do defines what you are, not who you are defines what you can (that is radical non discrimination);
- on internet no one knows I am a women;
- people that were bullied in their youth tends to develop a strong personality and thus are assertive/pushy, so should women if they want to blend in if they really think they really suffered their difference.  

If nice guinea pigs tries my experimental behavior compared to a set of unbriefed women; then I dare predict they will be accepted in free software communities. And, I also can predict that all hell will break loose when people will uncover the women's true identity in real life (either strong attraction or repulsion). And for a few, given enough respect earned by their actions, they might even be accepted as the person they are.

The conclusion in music too:

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