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The Brasilia Consensus, Free Software and Gilberto Gil's Dreadlocks
Alex Steffen, 5 Nov 04

We've written a ton about Brazil, and for good reason: while still dragging behind it dire legacies of poverty, violence and corruption, Lula's Brazil is plotting out what looks like the first genuinely 21st Century course for the developing world.

And more and more people are noticing; most recently, Wired. In a new piece We Pledge Allegiance to the Penguin, they discuss the explosion of open-source, open-access, copyleft approaches in Brazil:

"Every license for Office plus Windows in Brazil - a country in which 22 million people are starving - means we have to export 60 sacks of soybeans," says Marcelo D'Elia Branco, coordinator of the country's Free Software Project and liaison between the open source community and the national government, now headed by president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. "For the right to use one copy of Office plus Windows for one year or a year and a half, until the next upgrade, we have to till the earth, plant, harvest, and export to the international markets that much soy. When I explain this to farmers, they go nuts."

This analysis goes a long way toward explaining why the Lula government loves free software. Brazil's national IT policy these days can more or less be reduced to two words: Linux roolz. "We're not just discussing one product as opposed to another here - Ford versus Fiat," says Sérgio Amadeu da Silveira, the institute's director. "We're talking about different models of development."

It's not a bad piece (though it suffers from some typical old tired Wired-isms, like the need to include a 60s countercultural figure (a "rebel") -- in this case Gilberto Gil -- or the constant, conspicuous absense of poor people). It's worth a read... but it ultimately misses the point entirely.

And I think I know why. After my talk at Poptech, Wired editor Chris Anderson approached me and said he thought the talk was a good one, but that it'd be much better if I "took all that politics out of it."

The idea that you can "take the politics" out of subjects like technology, development, trade regimes and intellectual property systems is, of course, patently absurd. There's practically nothing but politics involved here -- the technical issues, the innovation, are practically trivial in comparison to the politcal challenges involved in creating South-South science or fashioning the Brasilia Consensus. Our entire global system is a political construct, and Brazil is doing its best to hack that system to make it work better for the billions of people on this planet who don't own Microsoft stock. Technology is only a means to an end in that fight.

Brazil isn't engaged in a science project, it's declaring a revolution.

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Actually, I agree. Agriculture is BIG NEWS. Arguing about who owns the spoils of Agriculture is SMALL NEWS. Solving problems is a big deal. Arguing about who gets shafted by the unsolved problems is a small deal.

Against All Ideologies! Design Science Revolution Now!

Posted by: Vinay on 5 Nov 04

The buildup of technology knowledge and access in the (previously) third world, due to their use of Open Source, is going to have interesting effects. It's going to give millions of people a voice and get them used to HAVING a voice. This isn't just going to change these countries materially (though it definitely will) it's also going to radically alter them politically in previously unsuspected democratic ways. Open Source voting is much easier to prevent or detect tampering in than Diebold! Just as democracy, self-belief and forward thinking stagnate in the North-Western world, a new form of democracy will rise forcing it to change just to keep up. It's going to be an interesting ride, ladies and gentlemen! (as if you hadn't noticed that already).

Posted by: Daniel Johnston on 5 Nov 04

In your talk, your point would have been stronger had you mentioned Richard Stallman and GNU in addition to Linux and Linus. The GNU Public License is the foundation of the Free Software movement. It protects, promotes, and sets the general rules by which the collaboration takes place.

Linux is an archtypical example, but the work of the Free Software Foundation encompasses so much more. The Wikipedia, for instance, is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Without the GNU Public License, it's hard to imagine Linux where it is today.

Without the politics, you take the Freedom out of Free Software.

Posted by: John on 7 Nov 04

I ran across this accidentally.
Just wish to say,India is kicking Korporate butt with the concept of the "Simputer" from nCoretech &etc,but,already,an class-caste segmentation is occuring there in its' marketing.
An gold-plateing,uppa-Krust model is being mass-marketed,the "Amida",to cream off the luxury PDA market.
Let's hope this doesn't happen in Brazil or other impoverished countries.

Posted by: Randi '88 on 9 Nov 04



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