Archive for August 28th, 2007

In Jungian psychology, the Shadow is a figure who is everything that you are not. Often, it is seen as evil. The Shadow can be helpful in establishing a sense of self, but a personal identity based only on the Shadow is dependent and reactive, and can easily become unhealthy.. In fact, if you define yourself only in terms of the Shadow, you risk taking on characteristics of the Shadow, partly because you are refusing to deal with the aspects of your personality that you have invested in the Shadow, and partly because anything seems justified in order to fend off the shadow.

When people in the free software community solemnly tell me that “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom,” and draw obsessive diagrams of all the ways that Microsoft is undermining the community, that’s what I see: People on the brink of assuming some of the traits they claim to despite in their Shadow.

Fighting the Shadow can be dramatic and lend purpose to people’s lives, but it doesn’t make for sound thinking, even in their own terms. It lures them into thinking in dichotomies, believing that everyone must either be a vigilant soldier or else an optimist too full of naive to see a threat. With no middle ground, they can lose allies. Similarly, in focusing on one Shadowy figure, they risk overlooking other concerns.

And let’s say they’re right: Microsoft is the Great Satan, and an apocalyptic battle is just a matter of time. What happens once the Shadow is defeated? Inescapably, a good part of their purpose in life has gone, because they have lost all that they measured themselves against.
You can’t completely ignore Microsoft’s actions, even those that are not directly concerned with free software (In previous posts, I was exaggerating for rhetorical effect). Microsoft’s influence is simply too great. But I don’t want to ignore other things while keeping an eye out for possible concerns.

The free software community has a lot to be proud of. Collectively, its members have built an alternative that, overall, is comparable to its proprietary rivals. It’s done so by developing collaborative work methods, and principled stands that give ordinary people control over important parts of their lives, and helps the poor and those handicapped by a lack of national development meet the privileged on a more equal footing. It’s changed how business is done. It’s helped to preserve minority languages. It’s green. All these are important accomplishments.

That’s how you overcome the Shadow – by building a self-contained identity that robs it of its power over you.

I don’t know about anyone else, but, at the end of my life, I’d rather look back and remember that I played a small role in those accomplishments than admit I spent my life hating a corporation. It’s not as exciting as imagining yourself locked in adversity with a Dark Lord, but it’s certainly more constructive and longer lasting – to say nothing of more interesting.

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