Great parable

I found the following on slashdot today and thought I’d pass it on and archive it here. You can find the orginal here. Read on for the parable.

Once upon a time, some people lived in a cave, and no one knew that there was a world outside of the cave. The cave provided everything they needed, with plenty of fish and water. Luminous mushrooms provided both food and light. The only thing in short supply was air. All air came through a small shaft connected to the outside world. The shaft was controlled by a single company, Microshaft, which carefully rationed its flow to maximize demand and collected breathing license fees from everyone who had to breath. To save money the company hired cheap labor to operate the valves, but these laborers were often barely competent, and the air supply was unreliable. The shaft was poorly maintained, the air was often stale and laden with viruses. By selling a product that cost them essentially nothing to produce, Microshaft’s profits were enormous and they became rich and powerful.

One day, a group of daring young renegades discovered that there were other ways to get air, just by moving some rocks that blocked openings to the outside. And they offered their air free. At first people were hesitant to use Free Air, thinking something must be wrong with it since it was free. Initially Microshaft ignored the renegades, dismissing them as a fringe movement and minor nuisance. But eventually Microshaft saw them as a threat. They started a major marketing campaign to convince people that the Free Air was bad for their health. But people found that they actually felt better and healthier breathing the free, fresh air. Microshaft added more and more features to their air, perfuming it and coloring it with smoke to give it “added value”. Many people started to dislike Microshaft’s heavy, bloated air that was hard to breath and began flocking in droves to the sources of Free Air.

About this time, after some years of hard volunteer work, Open Air developers finally increased the size of a Free Air portal so that a person could actually squeeze through to the outside. The first brave individuals who ventured through it discovered that not only was there an unlimited supply of air in the outside world, there was no way you could harness and control its supply.

Alarmed, Microshaft sought to have the government declare Free Air illegal since it threatened their business model, which they had developed and rightfully earned through many years of hard work. They called the use of Free Air “theft” and claimed that the “viral” nature of the Public Breathing License advocated by many Open Air rebels would threaten the livelihood of Microshaft’s suppliers and distributors. Indeed, the whole economy of the cave would collapse, they said. Laws were quickly passed and the portals of Free Air were sealed off.

A charitable organization called the Business Air Alliance was formed to help protect businesses against the threat of Free Air portals. By proving that it was theoretically possible to fund terrorist organizations with the money saved by breathing Free Air, the BAA successfully lobbied to strengthen the laws so that any attempt to make an opening to the outside became punishable by death. Possession of shovels and picks became a criminal offense, and the BAA performed random audits to help citizens comply with the law. For their protection, everyone was required to wear an Air Rights Management security device, which would send an alarm to the authorities if it didn’t detect a secret mix of fumes found only in Microshaft air.

As time passed, Microshaft and the government became indistinguishable. To prevent future uprisings, a new feature was added to the air to keep the people sedated happily ever after.

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