Of Lessig, my years of self-delusion and beginning of realization

I just saw the update on Lessig’s blog - he is actually considering running for Congress this year! You can find more at http://lessig08.org/.

Lessig’s announcement last year of the shift of his efforts over the next decade had significantly changed the way I look at myself. I had been involved in LUGs and FOSS advocacy for almost eight years by then. But I suddenly realized (and perhaps there are quite a few people out there who always felt that way about me) that I am nothing more than an armchair activist. Emailing about software freedom, harping about the evils of software patents from the comforts of my home, giving gyaan to people on FOSS lists mean nothing, or almost next to nothing.

For a while now, I had firmly believed that the way one can best help a cause is to use the best strength that you have - for me it was my technical skills. That might be true to some extent, but I now realize that the problems in the real world can only be solved by getting off my bum, getting into the real world myself and doing whatever needs to be done! My country faces far more serious problems than danger to software freedom. It is still an important issue touching people’s lives, but it is an issue that probably 90%+ of my country will place lower on their list of issues.

Even if you take the issue of FOSS advocacy in India, the amount on influence I am trying to exercise from my home is insignificant as compared to actually meeting real people who really need it and providing long term solutions to them. THAT would be the kind of change where I can actually make myself useful.

The issues Lessig has been targeting - the issue of the influence of money, is of course as relevant to India as elsewhere. The only difference is that our country are at a different stage of Industrial evolution. Corporate influence on policy is rising in India, but most local policy influences are still that of petty businesses and greedy politicians (sometimes really blatant ones).

As Lessig explains in the video at his campaign site, the problem is not that people do not understand the issues in question - environment pollution(e.g. the Yamuna case), or a failed public transport system in India, etc. People do understand the issues, they do understand the direct reasons behind the problems too - “vested interests’ are the catch-all words that we like to use here. The problem is that people are not tackling the problems deeper inside - e.g. in India some would be the lack of transparency in policy and political funding, a cultural apathy towards merit in all walks of life in the country, and the lack of a focused national will to move towards a more homogeneous nation.

My journey into FOSS was almost by accident in the beginning, and the only natural way to take after my first encounter. But the newest journey cannot be one. It needs awareness, study, effort and due diligence. Like the world of FOSS, one doesn’t target success as one’s motive in this area, but rather the hope that one can be useful in helping build something much bigger than our own self.

And as I re-realize the efforts of all those FOSS volunteers all around me, who have resisted the attraction of relatively “easy’ money and a cushy career to actually make a difference in our country, I salute you all. I am still not brave enough, but I at least realize now even more that I need to be.

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