Subject: Re: hmm
From: "Benjamin J. Tilly " <ben_tilly@operamail.com>
Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2003 20:43:18 +0500

Tom Lord <lord@emf.net> wrote:
> From the "nothing to lose" dept.:

Actually you have a lot left to lose.  You just don't
realize it yet, because your life has never been bad
enough to lose it.

Your pride and belief that the world owes you would
be two things that I suggest losing early.

> Look, gawdamnit, I have 170K+ lines of really excellent
> free software here, available for review, which I
> developed over the past 10 years.  Users of my current
> primary project universally love it, and rank it higher
> than all competitors.  I know a heck of a lot, about a
> lot of things, a few in considerable depth.  Yes, in
> some contexts, this being one, my email persona is
> informally ranked as "arrogant ass", but in person,
> and considering the larger evidence, I'm charming and
> interesting, and people who bother to dig into my
> technology recognize that I have a heck of a lot to
> contribute.  In a few days (< 5) I'll be, at _best_
> homeless.  I really don't get an FSB industry that
> collectively decides to simply discard capable people.

I hate to say that I told you so, but I did.  I really
did.  Along with a whole lot of other people.

For literally years now you have been saying, "This is
how the world should be!  Damnit, why aren't you all
behaving like I tell you to?"  And we have all been
telling you that that isn't how the world works, and
have been trying to patiently explain why the world is as
it is.  And you have refused to listen.

Here is the abstract theory.  Again.  Real world
applications abound.

Economists like to talk about "Nash equilibrium".  Which
is a state where everything balances out, and it is in
nobody's individual interest to change things.  The
resulting equilibria are known to mathematicians as
*stable*.  Chemists give the following description of
what makes a stable equilibrium: "If you make any change
away from equilibrium, forces will arise within the
system driving you back towards equilibrium."  (This is
Le Chatelier's Principle.)

Why do economists and everyone else like to talk about
stable equilibria (under whatever name) so much?  It is
very simple.  In theory there are many possible
equilibria out there.  In practice the only ones that you
ever see are stable ones.  There are lots and lots of
desirable unstable equilibria that are possible, but it
takes a lot of work to produce one, and they don't last.

For a visual example of why they don't last, consider a
pencil.  It has a stable equilibrium lying on its side.
It has an unstable one balanced on its tip.  You never
see the unstable equilibrium because it doesn't last,
there is always some jostle or imperfection, and once it
gets started the pencil falls back to blessed stability.

Any engineer who designed a mechanical system that
people's jobs depend on which only continues to work as
long as a pencil remains balanced is being silly.
Anyone whose job depends on that engineer's design
working is being stupid.  Either figure out how to
clamp that pencil so that it is stable in the 
onfiguration that you want, or else go back to the
drawing board because it ain't going to work.

Ditto in any other field of endeavour.  For instance
business.  Build a business on the hope that people will
act in ways that ideally they could act, but practically
they won't, and you will have people (including yourself)
depending on a business that is about to fail.  Not good.
Real businesses cannot afford to do that, and I mean
"cannot afford" in the most literal way possible.

And this is where you have gone wrong time and time
again.  You have proposed courses of action which might
be good if every business did them, but which are
unstable equilibria.  No matter how good it might be if
everyone did them, people won't.  Not unless you can
find a way to make it in their individual interest to do
so and not to cheat.  For an example of an attempt to
make apparently idealistic behaviour be in people's
individual interest, see the GPL. (*)

Here is a summary of the actual history, as I saw it.
You proposed that all of the major players should act
idealistically, in ways that predictably will not work
in the real world.  Many people told you that your ideas
would not work.  You complained that you could not find
VC to fund your ideas.  Many people told you that that
was because they thought that your ideas would not work.
You said that you were going to use your personal
resources to act in accord with your theories in the
belief that others would follow in due course.  You were
told that it was economic suicide.  Throughout you kept
on posting utopian theories of how everyone else should
act, slowly becoming more and more explicit that you were
the obvious recipient of other people's generousity.  It
has turned out to be economic suicide to do so, and you
are now in desperate circumstances.

It has been really sad watching you cut your economic
throat, but that is exactly what you did.  Despite
many very, very clear warnings that that is what you
were doing.

Here is a fact of life for you.  Evolution does not work
with gradual warnings.  When there is a change in what
works, evolution signals that by randomly killing some of
the now less well fitted individuals.  The fact that
humans are generally educatable is not our right or due,
it is an evolved strategy to avoid getting killed.  You
might reflect on that...

> So, uh, a little help here?

Not from me.

Do I have the resources to help you out a little?  Yes.
But I see every reason to believe that after a rescue
you would just get back into the same position for the
same reason, so that would be a waste of money.  I also
intend to make a major lifestyle change in the fairly
near future, and would like reserves in case _I_ have
trouble finding work.  And if I wanted to throw my money
at deserving causes, I have people who are closer to me
who would get it first.

Further than that, I am not in the position to hire
someone, but if I were, I would not be inclined to hire
you.  Why would I hire someone who is apparently unable
to accept any outside guidance or direction when there
are plenty of technically capable people out there who
can take that guidance?  That isn't something that you
can change immediately since it is an impression that
you gave and then reinforced for years.  However it is
something to reflect on for a while.

And a final note.  You are looking at being homeless as
if it is the end of the world.  It isn't.  I know a
number of people who do quite well despite having been
homeless earlier in their lives.  Life doesn't end
because you are on the street.  It really sucks being
there, but you can recover from it.  However YOU are
going to have to be the person who does it.  Nobody
else.  Tom Lord is going to have to rescue Tom Lord.

Regards,
Ben

* My considered belief is that generous licenses like the
BSD results in a mix of behaviours.  Enough people find
keeping it open in their interest that the free software
dynamic continues, but there is a level of proprietary
incorporation as well.  Whether you think this is good or
bad depends on your personal politics.
-- 
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