"Every act of perception, is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination." -Oliver Sacks

Open Source Government

by Ethan Glover, Sun, Jan 05, 2014 - (Edited) Wed, Jan 10, 2018


In reading a collection of articles by Michael Tiemann, collectively called “Open Always Wins”, about open-source software and development I couldn’t help but notice how the open-source culture could greatly benefit real world society. According to Tiemann, open source is all about lateral evolution rather than vertical. That’s not to suggest the leftarchist way of forced equality but to say that elements from different projects are chosen and applied based on the individual needs of a project. You look at what is known to work while using that to create what you think will work better for the project at hand. In short, this means using open source software to build open source software and adapting the new to the problems at hand rather than simply trying to be “better for all”, or creating one large standalone program and just updating it according to bugs alone. Open source software is meant to be dynamic, have many different uses, and be a usable tool in itself. Proprietary software (closed source) generally has one purpose as decided by the creating team and is not allowed to be taken apart and used according to individual need. It just updates for bugs and compatibility. This is the difference between lateral and vertical evolution.

This also means that every project should be geared towards a specific issue. Not only that, but every portion of the software and every tool used should be useful in itself outside of that program. It should be usable by others in the future. This means that no one project, or no one piece of the project is “too big to fail” because everything is modular. Instead of the whole thing being one big copyrighted and locked down mess, the software is a pre-built lego castle that can be freely copied and used in any way. Of course, this means that any portion of the program can fail itself and break the entire thing. This, as most programmers know, is a good thing, it makes it easier to isolate and fix problems without affecting the entire program. Tiemann notes that the easier it is for you to fail, the sooner you succeed. He explains this by saying if you defensively build or code instead of simply doing the best you can and allowing fixes from individuals and their adaptations you’re likely to build a buggy or bad program. He says that there should be no protection for programs that can not adapt to future needs. You can’t stick to tradition and just assume your project will hold up and be of value to people, especially when they can’t suggest or make the modifications that they need to make.

Real World

There were two examples of open source being used in the real world in this series of articles. The first was the actions of Robert Nolvak who organized a cleanup of Estonia. The program cleaned up 100,000 tons of garbage in one day for an estimated cost of 500,000 euros. This is opposed to the government plan that would have taken three years and 22,500,000 euros. Nolvaks program didn’t create a million dollar committee or spend a lot of time deciding who would do what, in what order, along what path, etc. There was no need for micromanagement. This was a volunteer program in which everybody simply got together and decided locally, in their groups, or individually what they were capable of doing, and did it. Once the problem was recognized, people found their own solutions based on what they knew they could do. There were no old criminals and sociopaths telling them what they could or should do, or simply taking their money to make them pay for professional clean up services, no matter if that would be the right solution or not. It was simply a matter of getting things done, without all the useless government oversight.

The second example involves the Shinsei Bank in Tokyo, Japan. The bank, in order to improve efficiency, started running open source software to run all versions of their software in parallel as a way to avoid bugs and problems. As a result, company milestones were reached 4x faster and at 1/9th of the cost as before. Instead of being designed for initial functionality, the software was designed for maximum adaptability. Shinsei Bank quickly became #1 for customer loyalty and satisfaction. Changes were made to their software systems faster. People were better able to make suggestions, and coders anywhere, more than likely customers who happen to be programmers, were able to make the changes they knew were necessary. This made sure that people were able to put their input in directly and play a direct role in the improvements that they personally needed in their banking system.

Both of these examples show the true value of the “open source way”. Instead of a small group of people making decisions for others, making assumptions about their needs and trying to create functionality that applies to everyone, people got together and created solutions that adapted to the original system themselves.

“We need to clean up all this garbage.” – “OK, I have a truck, let's get some trash bags and get the roads.” – “I don’t have a vehicle, but I live next to some parks that could use a little pickup, I’ll head there.”

“Our software is buggy and people aren’t really liking it.” – “I know this language, and with access to the code, I can point out a few problems, with others working collectively we can get it all out.” – “I’m not a programmer, but every time I try to do X, this happens. That’s not right. I’ll report my findings to this large team of thousands of people working independently so they can work it out.”


Open source means people have direct access to the products they use and aren’t restricted by silly IP regulations and can help to improve it in their own individual interests. It’s the magic of chaos. When you try to micromanage these things and aim for some sort of impossible “functionality” rather than allowing people to adapt in their own ways, you create bugs, resistance, and a lack of interest. Allow people to work for themselves, and seek cooperation in order to find their own happiness you create stability, a greater connection between people, and an interest in doing something simply because they can. Doing things this way, rather than depending on the static decisions and perceptions of a few people, means you can adapt much more quickly through individual preferences.

When it comes to government, minarchists may take these ideas and say, “Exactly! Maximum freedom and personal adaptations are exactly what we need more of.” Except, the liberal says the same thing. What I mean by an “open source government” is not really government at all. But rather, allowing people to choose what works for them and using it to fit their needs. If you want Rand Paul to be your president, great, make it happen, allow yourself to be “represented” by a libertarian congress while your at it. For me, I prefer a little more customization, I require better adaptability. I’ll take your private roads, and abstain from your public military. Is there any reason for being mad at me for doing so? Or forcing me to accept what you personally see as “right”? Not at all. I think the minarchists version of “minimalism” is only a part of the problem, but that’s not really any of my business. My responsibility is my own happiness and my own actions. I can’t possibly speak for anyone else. I can only continue to live and make the changes I feel are necessary for me.

“…the world changes at such a rate that solving a problem once relevant in the past is likely no longer relevant in the future, especially if that problem is merely a symptom of a deeper problem.” -Michael Tiemann

UPDATE: There’s another quote I wanted to work into this article, it is from the book/wiki “The Open Source Way“:

“More people want to do good for your project than want to do bad. Don’t punish the do-gooders because of the potential evil someone might do.”

You might see this as an argument against things like gun control. But take it a little deeper and expand a little, and it means much more. Why would you aim to bring people into your project that are anything other than “do-gooders”? Why would you use vote to force a system on people they don’t want when you know they are going to do everything in their power to destroy or change it radically? You set yourself up for failure in these cases. Just find your peers and work together. There’s no need for this overbearing, “my government is necessary” stuff. Live and let live and realize that there are enough people out there who support your project to sustain it without the use of  force.