[hackerspaces] will the fruits of our labors be used for, good or for evil?

Jamie Schwettmann jamie.schwettmann at gmail.com
Wed Nov 30 07:09:10 CET 2011

I realize I'm jumping into the fire here, but this is LONG-standing ethics conversation across ALL areas of science and technology research and development.

> As for not taking checks from DoD suppliers, how many companies in this country does that eliminate? How do you even know if any particular company has had contracts with the US or any other government?

I realize it can seem like an impossible task to be conscious of the use of your work and money, but it's more in-reach than ever before.

US Government contract spending and grant awards happen to be a matter of public information, considering it's your tax dollars being spent.  http://www.usaspending.gov/

Besides that, the original poster is addressing an issue of production-consciousness - the flip-side of consumption-consciousness.    Sure, everything is connected.  It's a big, complex ecosystem. No disputing that.  But YOU - yourself - are the center of your decisive influence in the world, and then to extension your friends and family, and immediate colleagues and communities that you influence.  It's a further extension to think about influencing larger populations like your cities, states, and countries, and obviously an individual has much less influence over that compared to the influence one has over one's own decisions.

Determining whether production control or consumption control is *more* influential is probably ultimately irrelevant (see: natural selection, punctuated equilibrium, population dynamics, community ecology), and isn't necessary to in order to discuss production control alone.  What is necessary to realize is that they are substantially different means of influence.  

Production underlies all goods or services which are available for consumption. Production can still happen without financial incentive for the producer.  Original production -- that is, scientific research, technology development, creative design -- publishable and patentable things -- underlie all other kinds of production, often in fundamental far-reaching ways.  

Building missiles is rote production. Designing factory technology to build more missiles faster and more efficiently is a more fundamental production activity than simply building them. Research and development to cause missiles to operate more efficiently (that is, kill people more efficiently), or develop new even-more-effiecient weapons that circumvent the need for missiles, is yet more fundamental of a production activity than simply upgrading the build process at the factory.  Fundamental science research, such as discovering new materials and methods of discovery and development themselves, is near the root of the tree. (yes, a tree is a simplified analogy, and no, trees don't exist alone in a vacuum)

At each level of production, the influence of the production extends to everything that can/will logically and foreseeably be produced as a result of the production at that level.  Thus, the conscious decision becomes more difficult, and at the same time more necessary, the closer to the root of a tree one's production stands.  

Where this differs from influence exerted by consumption control is in the forms of power that allow/cause an individual to stand at different points of influence on the tree.  With production control, intelligence, education, creativity, are what allow/cause a person to be closer to a root influence, and with consumption control, it's money.  (availability of resources can play a part in either one)

Being rich in intelligence, education, and creativity, hackerspaces and the individuals that comprise them are naturally enabled to exert production control.

Now on to the argument...

Defense-funded projects are *very likely* to be used for defense. In a time and place of peace, it might be easier to conjecture that "defense use" won't mean "overt global tyranny", but that time isn't now, and that place isn't earth (and definitely not the US), and global tyranny is pretty likely to mess with the other ecological balances of the world. Do you trust control of the fate of the human species to the people handing out the defense checks? 

But many of our hackerspace projects are open-source anyway, right? We publish them freely online, for anyone, including anyone building tyrannical "defense" systems to take and use, so what does it matter where the funding came from?  

Funding has a non-negligible effect on projects -- first off, it generally requires direct reporting to the funder.  There's a pipeline straight from your project to the "defense" use of it.  Second, funding sources *select* projects to fund, from projects *competing* for funding.  They're going to fund the ones that have the most direct "defense"-related use, encouraging the development of those over other projects with a less direct or less obvious "defense"-related use.   Third, funding sources often have negotiating power in determining the features of the project required to secure funding, so projects that seem harmless to begin with can become skewed over time (sometimes rather quickly), or scary when combined with the other defense-funded projects.

However, less spoken in this context is that even more projects are competing for production funding than are competing for consumption funding!  The projects available for production are limited solely by your imagination, resources (time and energy), and motivation, and that of your collaborators.  The projects available for consumption are limited to what we are actually willing to produce -- hopefully a far smaller number.

Working on fundamental production projects that receive obvious funding (in money and resources) from DoD is a trade for working on fundamental production projects that receive funding (in talent and time and energy) from YOU and YOUR community.  

Creative, technical, and scientific-minded people, please be careful who you work for -- and be sure to discuss and research the source and their motives *plenty* before actually accepting their funding.


> From: Al Jigen Billings <albill at openbuddha.com>; 
> To: ellrabin <ellrabin50 at yahoo.com>; 
> Cc: discuss at lists.hackerspaces.org <discuss at lists.hackerspaces.org>; 
> Subject: Re: [hackerspaces] will the fruits of our labors be used for, good or for evil? 
> Sent: Wed, Nov 30, 2011 4:04:47 AM 
> On 11/29/11 7:56 PM, ellrabin wrote:
>> The DOD launches almost all US satellites. Don't wanna support them? Cancel your dish network subscription.
>  How about I just not build satellites for them?
>> Interstate highways were a defense project too. Might want to avoid those.
> I don't see anyone taking DoD funds to work on them.
> I know reading comprehension is hard.
> Feel free to pimp yourself to the Army or other war departments if it makes you feel good. The rest of us still have some soul left.
> Thanks.
> Al
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