What is an Open Society?

The Open Society Institute gives the definition:

An open society is a society based on the recognition that nobody has a monopoly on the truth, that different people have different views and interests, and that there is a need for institutions to protect the rights of all people to allow them to live together in peace.

The Open Society Institute's definition fails to even mention the most fundamental aspect of an Open Society: Freedom.


Freedom means different things to different people, but can be defined for the purpose of this article as the ability for a person to do anything they want within the limits of the Golden Rule. In other words, each person's freedom ends where another person's freedom begins.

Good and Bad People

Good and Bad are abstract concepts which are usually couched in religious terms but which can actually be defined using the concepts of Freedom. A Good Person is someone who recognizes other people's freedoms while a Bad Person is someone who does not.

The need for Government

If everyone in the world was Good, there would be little need for Governments. Unfortunately, not everyone is Good. Governments in Open Societies exist to protect the Good people from the Bad as well as to help promote the cooperation of people for their betterment. The United States Constitution declares its intention to form an Open Society in its preamble:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Checks and Balances of Governmental powers

The Founding Fathers of the United States recognized that governmental powers in the hands of Bad people would destroy Freedom and built into the United States Government a system of checks and balances which were intended to limit the power of Bad people. As a result, the United States Government is split into three branches, each of which has distinct and separate powers which have the power to over rule the others. Many of the framers felt that the separation of powers and systems of checks and balances designed into the Constitution were sufficient to protect Freedom however others were distrustful of a Government which did not detail fundamental freedoms which could not be abridged by government. As a result, the first amendments to the U.S. Constitution outlined a number of basic rights in the Bill of Rights.

Freedom of Speech and Press

Two of the most fundamental freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights are the freedom of speech and the freedom of press. These freedoms are essential for the creation and preservation of a Free and Open Society. Without these freedoms, a government can prevent the truth about its actions from being known to its citizens resulting in the loss of all Freedom.

Recent events in the United States provide a perfect example of the interplay between Open Source and the freedom of speech and press. When Dan Rather of CBS News attempted to influence the 2004 Presidential election using forged documents from an untrustworthy source, the so-called blogosphere used Open Source technology such as the web, RSS, and blog publishing software to communicate their opinions that the documents were not to be trusted. Mr. Rather quickly dismissed the bloggers as inconsequential pajama-clad partisan operatives. Mr. Rather, as well as many people in the so-called Big Media, failed to understand that the blogosphere is composed of millions of people whose talents, skills and knowledge are unsurpassed by any single organization.

The unsung heroes behind this successful exercise of freedom of speech are the creators of the technologies used by the bloggers. These technologies include TCP/IP, HTTP, HTML, XML and RSS which are all public, open standards which are unencumbered by patents. Without these standards and the freely available open source implementations, it would have been impossible for the truth to be communicated to the American people who would have been successfully misled by Mr. Rather.

The Threat to Open Source

Public, open, non-encumbered standards and their Open Source implementations are under attack today using a system which was originally intended to promote the general welfare of the public but which has become a tool to stifle innovation and free speech. Article I, Section 8, clause 8 of the United States Constitution grants Congress the power:

8) To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

Today, large multinational corporations are securing patent rights for many basic techniques used in computing. Unfortunately, the United States Patent Office does not understand software and grants patents for obvious techniques which have a long history of prior use. It seems that the only requirement for obtaining a patent today is the ability to pay the intellectual property lawyers and the patent application fees. Unfortunately, normal citizens no longer have the financial resources necessary to obtain patents. Employees of multinational corporations are forced to sign away their intellect as a condition of employment. Employees must assign ownership of every creative thought to their employer and today are little more than intellectual slaves.

If today's trend of multinational corporations misusing the patent system to suppress open standards and open source continues, then Open Societies will not be possible and nameless, faceless corporations will control not only our technology but our lives as well.

These multinational corporations and their paid representatives in the United States Congress are, by definition, Bad people who do not respect the freedoms of others.

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