% fortune -ae paul murphy

Wintel community tyranny

Here's an extended quotation from an Essay on Liberty by John Stuart Mills:

But, in political and philosophical theories, as well as in persons, success discloses faults and infirmities which failure might have concealed from observation. The notion, that the people have no need to limit their power over themselves, might seem axiomatic, when popular government was a thing only dreamed about, or read of as having existed at some distant period of the past. Neither was that notion necessarily disturbed by such temporary aberrations as those of the French Revolution, the worst of which were the work of an usurping few, and which, in any case, belonged, not to the permanent working of popular institutions, but to a sudden and convulsive outbreak against monarchical and aristocratic despotism. In time, however, a democratic republic came to occupy a large portion of the earth's surface, and made itself felt as one of the most powerful members of the community of nations; and elective and responsible government became subject to the observations and criticisms which wait upon a great existing fact. It was now perceived that such phrases as "self-government," and "the power of the people over themselves," do not express the true state of the case. The "people" who exercise the power, are not always the same people with those over whom it is exercised, and the "self-government" spoken of, is not the government of each by himself, but of each by all the rest. The will of the people, moreover, practically means, the will of the most numerous or the most active part of the people; the majority, or those who succeed in making themselves accepted as the majority; the people, consequently, may desire to oppress a part of their number; and precautions are as much needed against this, as against any other abuse of power. The limitation, therefore, of the power of government over individuals, loses none of its importance when the holders of power are regularly accountable to the community, that is, to the strongest party therein. This view of things, recommending itself equally to the intelligence of thinkers and to the inclination of those important classes in European society to whose real or supposed interests democracy is adverse, has had no difficulty in establishing itself; and in political speculations "the tyranny of the majority" is now generally included among the evils against which society requires to be on its guard.

Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant - society collectively, over the separate individuals who compose it - its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism.

a comment from last week by the rather less erudite brianmilke:

What is the definition of insanity?

Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

So said Albert Einstein.

It's what I hear and see every day in these blogs.

Again, and again, relentlessly, I hear how bad Windows is and how good the other guys are. Every day, the story is the same, and yet the horizon never changes. The outlook is still the same.

Blah, Blah, Blah. When will there be something new to be said? When will Unix, or Linux, or Apple build a computer OS that the masses will want to use?

They say that the new Macs are great, but did you ever try to use a mouse with one button?

They say Unix is so secure, but I do not see it running the high end software, CAD, design, or game programs.

Linux is a failure when it comes to any of the above, except for its security. Try to run Photo Shop or a high end CAD program and see how far you get. And what about drivers for the high end printers or plotters you want to use for those programs, good luck finding a driver for those. As for games, forget it. If it wasn't written specifically for Linux, 9 time out of 10 it will not run.

So, for all the decrying about how great these other solutions are, they do not cater to the masses.

You keep your "bulletproof" OS systems, and I'll keep my USEFUL machine with my weekly updated software that doesn't require I leap through 6 hoops,and walk on fire to rewrite the kernel every time I want to do a security update, or patch, or add a driver for a printer that may or may not work because there is no Hardware Quality Lab testing this stuff.

This starts out mis-informed and doesn't get better - admittedly, I too thought Einstein had said this until I got an email right after Mark Miller used the reference in his guest blog on The tattered history of OOP). Ooops! as it turns out not only is there no evidence Einstein ever used it, but the earliest known use of the definition occurs where it is appropriate: in the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book for 1939.

The comment about mice isn't so great either - for two main reasons:

  1. on a purely factual basis the comment is very nearly two decades out of date - the first PowerPC Macs in 1993/4 allowed users to plug in and use three button mice from third parties.

    This error illustrates, I think, a real problem we pretty much all suffer from: we tend to remember things, particularly negatives about people or things we have other motivations to dislike, as current no matter how out of date they get - I keep running into Finance people whose memories of million dollar Unix purchases in the 80s and early 90s blank out the information that any PC capable of running a licensed Windows product can also run a free Unix.

    Thus people who think Windows 7 on Core i7 is a miracle of advanced technology should probably take five minutes to watch this cool video of a 1993 Mac booting OS 9.1 - and another ten to think about it might mean that Apple could do this six full Wintel generations ago.

  2. Most of the people I meet who espouse Wintel by running down Apple love their cell phones - usually ones made by people who desperately bad mouth the iPhone while equally desperately trying to copy it. So far, however, not a single one has responded intelligently when I tell them that the new touch interface is really just an updated version of Apple's original one button mouse.

Then we get the canard about Unix not running high end software and not supporting high end printers - a classic case of the Walmart shopper defining consumer choice in terms of what Walmart carries, while nicely demonstrating a complete ignorance of high end printing: virtually all of which is PostScript based and served from either MacOS X or Solaris.

It doesn't get better either - in fact the revelation that if a game "wasn't written specifically for Linux, 9 time out of 10 it will not run" is characteristic of exactly the kind of deeply ignorant, utterly intolerant, and fundamentally fascist attempts by self-appointed members of a perceived majority to suppress dissent Mills warned us all against in 1859.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.