I recently commented on the similarities between the Open Source community and New Age. Since then I thought more about that and it seems to me that the similarities are far from being superficial. In fact, I think I’m on to something here. But let me explain.
They both think they are saving the world
In the Open Source community, “the enemy” used to be Microsoft, but now Apple seems to be taking over that role. Essentially, what makes them evil is that they make things everybody can use and find useful, and they make a shitload of money doing it. Of course, that’s not what the Open Source advocates will tell you. They will rant about closed source and proprietary code and what not, but there seem to be two main objections that weave through the arguments. First is “I don’t feel important and special if I’m using it because everybody can do it”, and “I can’t see the source so it must be spying on me in secret and I can’t trust it”. There’s a striking parallel between that and the opinions about the Catholic Church in the smaller religious communities. It doesn’t make you feel special because there’s a billion members, and there are all sorts of conspiracy theories about Vatican and all sorts of its supposed nefarious activities. Essentially, the big bad evil Sith Lord Emperor is in power and the valiant rebels must take him down, with the help of the Force, of course, because they are the good guys. When they take down the Evil Empire, suddenly everything will be right in the world. There will be no need for money because everybody will share things equally with others and respect each other. How they imagine they will remove conflict and disagreements in the world when they can’t agree on the color of shit even in the smallest of things they are in charge of today, I have no idea.
The things that actually work in the real world are the enemy
Let’s put it this way. If you want a computer that just works – all the hardware drivers work, all the software you need works, it’s fast, doesn’t get in the way, it’s difficult to break and will reliably allow you to do other work and completely ignore the underlying bells and whistles, what will you choose, assuming that you are technically proficient enough to be able to use just anything? Will you use a Mac, a Windows machine or a Linux machine? I’m in that exact position so I know. I used everything at some point, from Commodore 64 through a DOS 3.20 PC, Windows 3.11, 95, NT 4, 98, 2000, XP, Ubuntu Linux from Gutsy to Trusty, and a Mac Air laptop. You know what I use when I want things to work reliably, without interruptions, for years? I use Windows. It’s the most stable, the least problematic OS I know – with exception of Windows 10, which is only slightly better than Linux, in that every now and then some small thing breaks and I need to restart it. On a Mac, every OS upgrade breaks something important and I have to reinstall few programs I rely on, because they stop working properly and a new version needs to come out that is adapted to new crazy and pointless shit that Apple introduced just to fuck with it.
But when you listen to people, you’d get the impression that a Mac just works, never breaks, and Windows machines always have problems with this or that, and if you have problems with Windows and you don’t want the proprietary prison that is Mac, get Linux, that will solve all your problems. My experience, however, is that you need to have Linux on your desktop if you want to keep your skills sharp because shit is always breaking down and you need to keep fixing it, and all of it’s done from the command line, and keeping current with that helps you from getting lazy; essentially, you’re constantly in the role of a system administrator, not a user. With a Mac, things just work until you install an OS update. Then everything goes to hell, then you fix it and it keeps working for another year, when there’s a new OS update. With Windows, you install it and it just works for 10 years. When there’s a service pack, you install it and it still just works. Things break as an exception, not as a rule. You need a major OS upgrade so infrequently, you will often be having two major hardware upgrade cycles in between. With 2000, XP and 7, I kept suspending and waking up the machine for so long, I’d usually shut it down only when I went away for a vacation, and rebooted only to install some major software upgrade. Essentially, the machine with Windows behaves like a toaster, only I had toasters break more frequently than Windows machines. It’s incredibly reliable. If a Windows machine is unstable, in 100% of the cases you have a hardware failure, 80% of which is a bad RAM stick. Unfortunately they broke this polished reliability somewhat in 8 and 10, and 10 GUI is now on the reliability level close to that of Mate desktop, which is the most reliable and usable Linux window manager that I know of, which means that it usually just works, with occasional stupid shit happening without any apparent reason, like quarter of every icon missing where the shortcut sign is supposed to be, because [reasons]. Fixes with reboot. Other than that, the machine behaves like a toaster, which means, it just does what it’s supposed to, quickly, reliably, every day, so that I can do whatever else I do when not fixing the computer.
The similarity with the New Age is apparent. If you say something positive about the main-stream spirituality to someone in the New Age circles, it’s like praising Hitler in a synagogue. You can say all you want about the main-stream being spiritually sterile, obsolete, corrupt, power hungry and godless, though, and just watch the audience’s eyes glow and hearts warm with happiness as you do, but if you say something positive about the main-stream religions or something negative about some New Age nonsense, they’ll turn into harpies and try to scratch your eyes out. But the smartest people usually come from the main-stream, from the exact organizations that are supposedly devoid of all spirituality, corrupt and dark, and all those supposedly creative people in the New Age communities usually just rehash other people’s ideas, write bad poetry and literature and are intellectual midgets who think they are giants.
There is a huge number of “contributors”…
…but they mostly simply copy things from the few actual major contributors, who all originate from outside the movement. Just think about it: in the Open Source community, the greatest number of “contributors” either duplicate each other’s efforts, or contribute very simple, trivial things of little use, like ten different text editors that are all either the same or they are shit. The greatest contributions come from great companies, like Sun Microsystems, IBM, Google or Apple.
Again, the similarity with New Age is striking. When I was on the Kundalini mailing list, there were exactly two people there with original techniques that were not simple rewrites or rehashes of previously available stuff: Angelique and myself. There were practitioners of Vipasana and Dzogchen who did their stuff according to tradition with little or no innovation, there were practitioners of all sorts of pre-existing techniques and systems, and those who were the most innovative, in the sense that they did their own thing, were usually the craziest one with most problems, which would be easy to correct by simply switching to some traditional approach. So basically you had a group of people that appeared to be extremely fragmented and individualistic, but when you had to summarize and see who was it that did something useful that actually worked, you got several old traditions and two original contributors who were actually proficient enough to invent techniques and approaches through their own personal practice. Out of what, six hundred people or whatever the number was? However, whenever people spoke about traditional systems, you would get the impression that traditional systems are restricting, limiting, and inferior to the freedom and individuality of New Age.
Infighting and sectarianism are rampant
Let me quote something from Wikipedia. It’s not a list of Linux distributions, it’s a tree of distribution-types:
Basically, everyone in this tree hates every other branch, and they all hate Apple and Microsoft. But when you ask them what they are all about, they’ll talk about unity, love, freedom and creativity. I don’t even need to mention similarity with the New Age communities, do I? You just can’t believe this shit.
The moment something has a chance of actually succeeding, it is denounced as the enemy
If it doesn’t work reliably, it’s a creative small independent community or an individual who is boldly experimenting with advancing [x]. When it actually works to the point of other people wanting to use it and it becoming the main stream, it’s the evil cult of money and power whose only purpose and agenda is to limit and enslave others. Replace x with [software, spirituality, food, soap, toilet paper].
It’s only seen as positive and creative as long as it’s useless or actively harmful. When it actually starts being useful, it becomes boring and is denounced by the community of thrill-seeking ego-motivated misfits. For instance, when Ubuntu started being actually useful as an end-user-oriented distribution that could actually be installed on normal people’s computers and used to do actual work, it was immediately and universally denounced by the Open Source advocates as a commercial sellout. Prior to that, the professed goal of the community was to increase Linux adoption in the general user base. However, as that started to happen, the Linux advocates no longer felt special just for using Linux, and now had to use some “pure” shit that’s not contaminated by the plebeian main stream adoption. Similarly, when each New Age person is doing their own thing and stumbling in the dark, they praise each other as great examples. However, when someone is actually successful, and others come to him in order to learn, it’s seen as a negative example of a cult following and falling to the Dark Side. I’d say it’s the same thing: jealousy of someone else’s success, and frustration because of the possibility of a realization that originality is not necessarily a good thing if it actually stands in the way of accomplishing goals. Also, different approaches that can’t make the basics work are hardly originality; more likely, they are abortive attempts. For instance, if you can’t manage to concentrate, it’s a better idea to learn some reliable preexisting method than to experiment. Experiment only when no preexisting method is available or satisfactory. However, neither Open Source nor New Age, for the most part, are actually doing things on the bleeding edge of human endeavor. Open Source is mostly reproducing shit for free that someone else had already done for money, and New Age is no better; its stated goals are mostly re-hashed Vedanta with some Buddhism and Christianity. If something is actually new and original, it stands alone outside the New Age community, rejected because it went outside the dogmatic boundaries of a group that’s supposed be free from dogmatic boundaries.