Physical Sources

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Physical Sources are the material Means of Production needed before any production can begin.

Suggested divisions of reality:

  • Physical Sources
    • Space/Time: Land area, but also volume and shade considerations.
    • Mass/Energy: Mineral, Water,
  • Virtual Sources
    • Design and/or Life: software, music, symbols, genetics

re-mix of

[image of a Philosophical Gnu]

Why Sources Should Be Free

Sources are the means to an end. For instance, the sources of spaghetti include: land, water, seed, energy, compost, tools to {till, sow, reap, grind, mix, press, boil, strain}, plate, fork, salt.

A source is recursively defined as either:

  • The product of other sources


  • A finite source

So, while a tiller is one of the sources of spaghetti, it also has it's own sources:

Tiller: Metal, plastic, tools to shape the metal and plastic, energy, design, plans to make it all come together; gasoline, air and oil to run it, etc.
Metal: Mined ore, tools to smelter, forge, energy, etc.
Mined Ore: Ore, knowledge or magic to find it, tools to mine it, energy, etc.
Ore: Finite
Plastic: Extracted Petrol, Other components of platic, tools to make the liquid, energy, action
Extracted Petrol: Petrol, Tools, energy, plan
Petrol: Finite

Sources contribute to the world by making it possible to copy and modify objects. Permaculture, better design and automation promise to make this easier for all of us.

Not everyone wants it to be easier. The system of property rights allows owners to withhold potential benefit from the rest of the public. They would like to be the only ones who can copy and modify the products we use. They can do this when users do not control some Sources for that kind of product.

Property rights are important for privacy, but they have been mixed together with property wrongs. It is wrong to take freedom away from users. An ordinary user, who does not own the sources of an object, can try to copy the product "by hand", but it is not free to utilize (as a worker) the Sources (buildings, tools, etc.) needed to make another object of that kind, or to fix or change the intance in question. Some laws, such as DMCA (and other various incarnations) disallow copying the product in this manner, studying, or even just understanding how it works. In other words, intelligence is illegal. With physical sources there is the complexity of real and recurring costs that must be covered for the source to remain viable, so it may not sound reasonable to think hard sources could also be free, but remember it's about liberty, not price. Current owners can safely share physical sources by charging rent high enough to cover those costs.

Knowledge and tools to safely live with the plants and animals we need, better design and automation all make it possible to easily copy and share physical products with others at a very low cost. This very flexibility makes a bad fit with a system expecting owner profit. That's the reason for the increasingly nasty and draconian measures now used to enforce usury. Consider these practices of the International Monetary Fund (IMF):

The following list is from

  • In September 1999, Bolivian officials signed a 40-year contract with a private company named Aguas del Tunari to take over the municipal water system of Cochabamba, the country's third largest city. The company, largely owned by U.S. construction giant Bechtel, was the sole bidder for the contract, which guaranteed 15 percent annual profit in inflation-indexed dollars.
  • With the encouragement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, since 1985 Bolivian governments have sold national public assets to foreign investors and opened their markets to global trade. Despite the promise of development by following the "Washington consensus" of economic liberalization, it remained the poorest country in Latin America. But World Bank officials still insisted that Bolivia privatize Cochabamba's water utility and that residents, no matter how poor, pay full cost of the service without subsidy.
  • Two months after Bechtel's subsidiary took over, it roughly tripled local water rates, telling the poor they could pay one-fourth of their income for water or have the spigot shut off. There were massive protests for several months until the contract was cancelled.
  • But a few months after signing the contract, Bechtel surreptitiously added new investors and reincorporated its subsidiary in the Netherlands. When it lost the contract, Bechtel sued Bolivia---under terms of a bilateral investment treaty between Bolivia and Netherlands---for damages of at least $25 million for loss of profits it might have made, even though it had invested less than $1 million. Last month, the Bolivian government argued in secret hearings before an investment tribunal affiliated with the World Bank that the treaty doesn't apply, partly because Dutch nationals never controlled Aguas del Tunari.

These practices resemble those now used throughout the world, where every product has a guard over the source to prevent forbidden access, and where individuals have to raise organisms and copy products secretly, passing them from hand to hand as samizdat. There is little difference: the motive for control world wide is political, but since corporations run governments, we see the final the motive is profit. But it is the actions that affect us, not the motive. Any attempt to block the sharing of products, no matter why, leads to the same methods and the same harshness.

Owners make several kinds of arguments for giving them the power to control how we share:

  • Name calling.

Owners use smear words such as piracy and theft, as well as expert terminology such as intellectual property and damage, to suggest a certain line of thinking to the public---a simplistic analogy between sources and the object of those sources.

Our ideas and intuitions about property for an object are about whether it is right to take an object away from someone else. They don't directly apply to pragmatic sharing or reproduction (sharing of sources). But the owners ask us to apply them anyway.

  • Exaggeration.

Owners say that they suffer harm or economic loss when users have access to their own sources. But the access has no direct effect on the owner, and it harms no one. The owner can lose only if the person who used the source would otherwise have paid the owner some profit.

A little thought shows that most such people would not have wanted to endure such usury. Yet the owners compute their losses as if each and every one would have submitted willfully. That is exaggeration---to put it kindly.

  • The law.

Owners often describe the current state of the law, and the harsh penalties they can threaten us with. Implicit in this approach is the suggestion that today's law reflects an unquestionable view of morality---yet at the same time, we are urged to regard these penalties as facts of nature that can't be blamed on anyone.

This line of persuasion isn't designed to stand up to critical thinking; it's intended to reinforce a habitual mental pathway.

It's elementary that laws don't decide right and wrong. Every American should know that, forty years ago, it was against the law in many states for a black person to sit in the front of a bus; but only racists would say sitting there was wrong.

  • Natural rights.

Owners often claim a special connection with sources they own, and go on to assert that, as a result, their desires and interests concerning the source simply outweigh those of anyone else---or even those of the whole rest of the world. (Typically companies, not workers, hold ownership, but we are expected to ignore this discrepancy.)

To those who propose this as an ethical axiom---the owner is more important than you---I can only say that I, an owner myself, call it bunk.

But people in general are only likely to feel any sympathy with the natural rights claims for two reasons.

One reason is an understretched analogy with material objects. When I cook spaghetti, I do object if someone else eats it, because then I cannot eat it. His action hurts me exactly as much as it benefits him; only one of us can eat the spaghetti, so the question is, which? The smallest distinction between us is enough to tip the ethical balance.

But whether you have free access to the sources of spaghetti affects you directly and me only indirectly.

Example Costs

Holding (rivalry):
Durables such as the pan, stove, plate, fork are temporarily exclusive, so could be rented.
Consumables such as fuel, spaghetti, water, salt, oil are irreversibly transformed, so should by paid for in full.
Investment: Interest payments and installation for the land, building and tools.
Energy: Fuel for stove, lighting, fuel for hot-water during cleanup.
Maintainence: Washing the pans, fixing the stove.
Pollution: Noise, bother, smell, mess.
Wages: If you want or need someone else to cook for you.

Whether you give a copy of some spaghetti to your friend, or teach him how to pay for the use of the sources affects you and your friend much more than it affects me. I shouldn't have the power to tell you not to do these things. No one should.

The second reason is that people have been told that natural wrongs for owners is the accepted and unquestioned tradition of our society.

As a matter of history, the opposite is true. The idea of natural wrongs of owners is recognized by many leaders such as: Christ, Ghandi, George, Stallman. That's why the Constitution only permits hoarding and does not require it; that's why it should be temporary for some things. The purpose of ownership is to promote progress --- not to reward hoarders.

The real established tradition of our society is that hoarding cuts into the natural rights of the public --- and that this can only be justified for the public's sake.

  • Economics.

The final argument made for owner hoarding is that this leads to more production.

Unlike the others, this argument at least takes a legitimate approach to the subject. It is based on a valid goal --- satisfying the consumer. And it is empirically clear that people will produce more of something if they are well paid for doing so.

But the economic argument has a flaw: it is based on the assumption that the difference is only a matter of how much money we have to pay. It assumes that production is what we want, whether the owners can hoard or not.

People readily accept this assumption because it appears to accord with our experiences with material objects. Consider a sandwich, for instance. You might well be able to get an equivalent sandwich either free or for a price. If so, the amount you pay is one difference. Whether or not you have to buy it, the sandwich has the same taste, the same nutritional value, and in either case you can only eat it once. Whether you get the sandwich from an owner or not directly affects the amount of money you have afterwards and also determines whether you will have the freedom to access the sources of that sandwich so you may modify, copy and share copies of it.

This is true for any kind of material object---whether or not it has an owner may directly affect what it is, and what you can do with it if you acquire it.

If such an object is locked closed, this very much affects what it is, and what you can do with a copy if you buy one. The difference is not just a matter of money. The property system encourages owners to produce something---but not what society really needs. And it causes intangible ethical pollution that affects us all.

What does society need? It needs objects that are truly available to its citizens---for example, machines that people can study, fix, adapt, and improve, not just operate as an employee. But what owners typically deliver is a black box that we can't use, modify, copy or change in the most inventive of ways.

Society also needs freedom. When an object is locked closed, the users lose freedom to control part of their own lives.

And above all society needs to encourage the spirit of voluntary cooperation in its citizens. When owners tell us that helping our neighbors in a natural way is piracy, they pollute our society's civic spirit.

This is why we say that free objects are a matter of freedom, not price.

The economic argument for owners is erroneous, but the economic issue is real. Some people create or purchase for pleasure or for admiration and love; but if we want more objects and sources than those people can afford, we need to raise funds.

The Personal Sovereignty Foundation (PSF), a tax-exempt charity for free object development, raises funds by selling GNU objects which users are free to use, modify, copy and change, as well as from donations.

Some free object developers make money by selling support services.

As a consumer today, you may find yourself using a proprietary object. If your friend asks to make a copy, it would be wrong to refuse, but it is impossible without access to the sources. Cooperation is more important than hoarding. But underground, closet cooperation does not make for a good society, and is usually impossible without access to the expensive sources to do so. A person should aspire to live an upright life openly with pride, and this means saying No to proprietary objects.

You deserve to be able to cooperate openly and freely with other people who use objects. You deserve to be able to learn how the object works, and to teach your students with it. You deserve to be able to hire your favorite artisan to fix it when it breaks.

You deserve free objects, and free objects require free sources.