Monday, April 28, 2008

ReiserFS developer convicted: should commodities have a moral value?

Hans Reiser guilty of first-degree murder | Tech news blog - CNET News.com

It feels somewhat strange as I have a Suse 9 box with the file system developed by Hans Reiser. And this is because I chose to go with the default.

I got to know of this conviction only today - nearly two years after he was charged. The interesting question is - did people change file systems after this news?

Which brings me to a larger question: how much importance do people attach to the moralities of the originators of the software they use? Taking it even further - when people consume any commodity, is importance attached to the perceived morality of the producer/source? Should it be?

For one of the Indian perspectives on it, I now recall an anecdote from the life of a holy man (I don't recall where I got this story from and I remember it only broadly). This holy man used to deliver illuminating lectures to his disciples every day. One day, however, the holy man's lectures were not well delivered and his utterances were far from normal. A curious disciple who normally followed his teacher everywhere started investigating. Nothing had changed that day apart from the saint eating his favorite vegetable during lunch. When the cook was asked where he got that vegetable from, he mentioned the name of a person. When that vegetable vendor was asked about the source of that vegetable he confessed that he had stolen those from a garden. The disciple then warned the cook to ensure that all food came from good sources.

This perspective takes the morality of the source to be very important.

If this view were followed everywhere, we shouldn't be consuming half of what we consume nowadays (food, newspapers, television, water.. you name it).

Certain follow on questions:
Will you continue patronizing a store that sells quality stuff for really low prices but the owner of which is unscrupulous?
Will you continue patronizing a restaurant where the food is not bad but whose owner was convicted for involvement in illegal activities? (I know I stopped going to such a place)


Is the software question on the same level as these two?

I don't think so - because I believe Reiser didn't get monetary or other benefits from my use of his software (open source). But my patronizing the restaurant would have given money to that owner to indulge in further illegal activities and so I stopped.

Am I right here? Am I being needlessly fussy here? It would be pretty interesting to get some other perspectives on this.

3 comments:

Aram said...

Very interesting thought.

However, in the modern complex world with immense international trade, it is very difficult to determine the sources of commodities consumed.

The story narrated must have been coined specially to drive home the message of this idea.

In my childhood, I vaguely remember a story in Chandamama or somewhere about consuming rice grown in a cemetery ground. But of course, as I grew older, I saw around me farmers, especially Veerashaivas, burying their dead in their farmlands.

Coming to the crux of your post, that is, about a product perceived to be corrupt if coming from an immoral or undesirable source, here is my take for whatever it is worth.

Many amongst us are Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hydes - curing people and doing good in the day but harming people in the night. Does that in any way diminish the good that we do?

We have amongst our own midst, a very holy man who has hundreds of thousands of devotees from all over including many prominent personalities. Yet, there have been many allegations of unnatural sexcapades, murder in the premises, etc.

The holy old man has done lot of good work benefitting millions of people by providing drinking water, education, healthcare, etc. Countless people have found spiritual solace in him, even after the scandals broke out. Would that have been possible if your theory was true?

What does the law say about buying things from certain bad sources? If I were to buy stolen jewellery because it was good and cheap, I would not be able to claim my rights as purchaser if subsequently it is proved that the jewellery was stolen. Caveat Emptor!

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