Wikipedia and Free Software Communities: Extracting lessons for bringing our dreams into reality without idealizing them

Comunes is a non-profit collective (mainly based in Madrid but with an international community) dedicated to facilitating the use of free/libre web tools and resources to collectives and activists alike, with the hopes of encouraging the Commons. I very much enjoy their approach and think they are doing a great job. See: http://comunes.org/

This last week Comunes released a text under the nameHack for Your Rights: Hacker ethics understood as a simultaneous and global game in the search for structural changes in any area of society(www.comunes.org/hack-for-your-rights). In their terms:Our intention in this text is to extrapolate some ideas extracted from struggles and conquests in the digital world, and apply them in the search for change in other areas of our society.In doing so, they point to Wikipedia and the free software projects as examples ofwinning.They then encourage anyone to be ahacker,meaning anyone can act to transform society. They end up arguing thatTo oppose is not enough; neither can we do just anything.See full text at: comunes.org/hack-for-your-rights/

Here is my reaction to the text. First, a big congratulations for it!

Texts like this are needed. There are “hackers” who are unknowingly fighting for equal rights from other fields, such as the fight against gender violence. Texts like these can help them understand that behind free software and/or free culture not only are “technology” or “consumption” cultural, but free software and free culture are other fields of struggle for equal rights; free software/free culture are based on a vision of society with more justice, solidarity, and a free society.

Texts like this are also needed because they help break the “glass ceiling” with respect to a world of possibilities that are now “possible” that we seem not to see. New technologies, higher levels of education, economic and political crisis, and so on, in short, the transition in which we live, are opening new horizons. Organizing and acting (without waiting until the solutions come from the state or the market) through the construction of commons and the defense of a new democracy on the basis of our commonalities, we can achieve our goals, and we can meet our common needs and desires, our common dreams. Together, we can! As argued by the text, free software and Wikipedia, but also the natural commons, are a clear example of it. Here and now, we can?each one of us and all together.

What I would add to the text is that this “we can” also means that we can live our “dreams.” We don’t need to idealize them in order for them to appear desirable and in order to spur us to action. The cases of free software and Wikipedia are also experiences from which we can embrace the ambivalence of the new possibilities. By this I mean to embrace both the risks they have (For instance, the image of the free software as a community of volunteers is unrealistic today. This might have been feasible at the beginning, but not today. We need to point to the need for tackling forms of sustainability in order that the energy of these experiences doesn’t end up with a “migration” of creative forces into contracts of large corporations) also that when “we can,” we can look to these experiences addressing the new challenges and “responsibilities” (Wikipedia empowers us because it shows that it is possible to build something together but also because it empowers us by opening new challenges on how to manage the dynamics of power and exclusion in these new forms in forms that do not reproduce the dynamics we object to?for instance, Wikipedia and free software communities not only play to but exacerbate gender inequalities, with 88% and 98.5% of male predominance in each of these communities, respectively). When we point to Wikipedia and free software communities as examples, we need to also embrace that they are examples of how to face the limitations of these forms. We don’t need to idealize them to be empowered by them.

In short, Wikipedia and free source communities are new fields for the achievement of rights for the construction of a common life based on more justice, solidarity, and a free society We can?individually and together?construct commons (in contrast to delegate in the State or the market), and, let me add, we can build a common by embracing its ambivalence, facing the new challenges and limitations that entails. We can bring our dreams into reality without idealizing them.

Mayo

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