[Dev] Reflection on the Relationship of Money and Parabola

hellekin hellekin at gnu.org
Sun Jan 4 20:44:17 GMT 2015

Hash: SHA512

In the last weeks we exchanged a lot about the need and possibility to
introduce money in the development of Parabola/GNU/Linux-libre.

Tiberiu offered to sponsor the project from the Fundatio Ceata, which
presents a number of advantages, especially on of ethical alignment.

Aurélien rose a strong shield against the principle of introducing
money, pretexting the antagonism between friendship and money. His
position was mostly rationalized against, and maybe because he does not
master the English language well enough, or maybe because he could not
verbalize his emotions into reasonable arguments, his minority position
mostly remained a lonely voice.

As the consensus minus one seems to be to embrace Tiberiu's plan, I want
to address Aurélien's position in other words than his own with the
objective to ease the tension and reframe the discussion.

I certainly don't want that the core feature of Parabola, i.e.
friendship, be dissolved by the introduction of money. A corollary is
that Aurélien cannot feel excluded for taking a different position that
the rest of Parabola stakeholders.

First, I want to say that I think Aurélien puts too much emphasis on the
properties of money: it seems to me that *competition*, from what I've
read so far, is a more precise term for the consequences of introducing
money that Aurélien seems to reject. I explain. Parabola is built on
human affinities and friendship, to build a free operating system that
respects users' freedom and community. In other words, Parabola is
conceived itself as a community, with collaboration as its fundamental
feature, not only between developers but primarily between users of the
distro, whether or not they have a role in steering, building, or
maintaining the distribution.

In Aurélien's view, introducing money is that alchemy would dissociate
the synergy and reduce it to its composing elements. I can agree with
the intuition that money has the capacity to change the current
equilibrium of Parabola and that in any case we're facing a phase
transition to a different metastable system. On the other hand, I
certainly wish that the new metastable system of Parabola+funding will
not destroy any of the founding features, because then, it would kill
the project.

It's critical to understand that Aurélien's position is not just an
extreme anti-money position, but an intuition of the avalanche of
consequences that such a move can produce. In my understanding, money
comes with several challenges: it makes more abstract and "objective"
relations of causality that were until now internalized and purely
emotional; it may make explicit some relations that were implicit; it
requires accountability where the common space was undefined and implicit.

In this list I didn't mention competition, because I don't believe in
the interdependence of competition and money: I prefer seeing money as a
mean to an end, and if it's used collaboratively, then competition has
nothing to do in the picture. Competition will become an issue however
if money is considered as an end. It will open questions such as "why
would that person get more money than I do?", etc.

As I said earlier, money is not a problem but its allocation is. What
purpose does it serve, and how fair can it be? Allocation of
money-as-a-mean is not the same as allocation of money-as-an-end. If the
end is to earn money, then it's the latter case. I think Parabola should
focus on the former case, namely that money should be allocated to
facilitate the development of the project. With the original proposal by
Icarious and Emulatorman, the goal was to provide continuity to the
project. In the spirit of solidarity, allocating money to developers in
need is both cheap and a mean to reinforce the community, not a mean to
dislocate it.

How this spirit is defined can be a challenge for the same reasons of
the overhead created by introducing money in the system. Thus it's
important to think about ways and means, objectives and clarify the
goals and values. There is no intrinsic moral issue with money
considered as an additional resource. All moral issues attached to it
come from the possibilities it enables. But such possibilities are not
deterministic: the nuclear bomb demonstrated that because it's
technically possible (to destroy life on Earth), it's not necessarily
happening (thanks to deterrence). So money itself may come with issues,
but that does not means money is cancer. Knowing the issues and routing
around them should be enough.

Tiberiu already mentioned the goals of his foundation in sponsoring
Parabola. Contrary to a typical sponsorship agreement (for example with
a corporation), Ceata does not have to expect a direct return, as the
success of Parabola is a sufficient return. So for Parabola there's no
question about how to handle the overhead by writing reports, etc. The
concern of the community remains the same as always: how can we build
solidarity and reinforce community patterns, except with additional

I hope this revisit of the problem can help steer the future towards a
sane approach of natural growth. I'm available for further exploration
of the topic and concrete proposals on how to make this happen.


P.S.: I took the liberty to interpret Aurélien's words because he did
not respond to my repeated questions about his personal use of money.
These questions were not made to demonstrate a contradiction in his
position, but to shift the issue from money to dissociation and
competition. It did not happen, so be it.
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