Should organizations relating to the defense sector being able to sponsor NixOS?

Moving the conversation from the NixCon 2023 Sponsorship Situation thread to here. The context for the original thread is at the top.

The past and current event situations circle around one particular entity. However, this will be an issue for the community in the foreseeable future as FOSS is adopted across many dimensions of technology adjacent areas.

As this is likely a sensitive topic, I would like to remind people to keep things civil and adhere to the Code-of-Conduct. Further clarifications on the CoC can be found here.

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I think, since NixOS is a software community and not a political organization, companies from all industries should be allowed to sponsor. The commonality of the community is using and/or developing NixOS and not one single political view.

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I’m going to offer my somewhat moderate perspective and then bow out because I really don’t feel educated enough in this discussion.

I grew up around a lot of what I would now call military propaganda in the US. Every year in elementary school, army members would show up to give us “cool” presentations and show us the MREs they have to eat and the equipment they were trained to use. In high school, a very large percent of my fairly large school were members of the NJROTC (a program designed to teach kids about the military and encourage them to join later). Nowadays, many of my friends who were in that program have joined and left the military and are now activists against many things the US military does.

It makes me uncomfortable to be seeing what I would call military propaganda at NixCon. So to me this isn’t about NixCon taking any political stance. It’s about making sure its members are comfortable in the space it is curating. The absence of Anduril’s sponsorship will not lead to any discomfort the same way its presence does.

That said, I understand that sponsorships “keep the lights on” so to speak. So a small amount of discomfort for me may be worth it to ensure the best NixCon possible. It’s hard for me to say. And so I don’t have a hard stance on the matter. I just wanted it to be noted that, to me, this isn’t even a political discussion. It’s a discussion about making a welcoming environment for our community.

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Yes. NixCon 2023 was because the host institution was academic and explicitly forbid having such a sponsor. Made sense to me. In general, we should allow defense contractors.

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Being open to use by and even receiving code contributions from various sectors is primarily a code licensing question, and can’t really practically be forbidden under a traditional OSS model anyway. Use of the tech is not the same essential thing as the sponsorship relationship and the latter is not something anyone has been guaranteed or should feel entitled to.

Thus, providing a platform and an audience to organizations (as part of the quid pro quo expectations that are informally attached to most sponsorship agreements) should be considered separately than “would we reject their PRs”. As an end user I personally don’t really want to be advertised to by arms tech, since I’m a staunch pacifist and I recognize that “defense contractor” is generally a euphemism used to substantially downplay the ramifications of what they do and what they sell.

I likewise believe that if I were a vendor considering a sponsorship commitment, I would also want some transparency and clear guidelines about who my logo and reputation might be sharing a literal or metaphorical stage with. Palmer Luckey of Anduril has some exceedingly fraught behavior that I certainly wouldn’t want associated with my hypothetical brand even by implication. I wonder how many of the current or potential sponsors have had concerns there, if any.

We should also consider which people are being made to feel unwelcome and unsafe by the event organizers embracing companies that explicitly work to make current and future violence more effective and more deadly, since it may be not-so-hypothetically applied against themselves, or their family members, or their homelands in the future. One can argue to be impartial for impartiality’s sake, or take the rather flawed stance of “let’s be ‘apolitical’, this is a technology-centric space”, or even focus on “what kind of good can we do with the [blood] money”. It’s simply not apples to apples versus other sectors that may be subjectively disreputable, when “this technology made us better/faster/more reliable as a company” has a direct connection to literal warfare.

To come at it from a different angle - what would the foundation and more importantly the ecosystem miss out on by not accepting money from/providing a platform to anyone willing to open their checkbook? What would be needed to keep things moving along sufficiently without having to make deals like this one - twice in less than a year?

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I do not want any of my work associated with arms dealers and/or the deaths of others. Having any sponsorship from a military entity steps over that line. I would much prefer that the NixOS Foundation set ethical guidelines for accepting sponsorship. I do not believe it is absurd to suggest that we shouldn’t take money from people who are responsible for the slaughter of others. Rejecting sponsorship from weapons manufacturers should be a reasonable standard.

I would like to be clear here: this is a significant problem for myself and many others and will result in community fracture if it is not resolved. I’m sure we would all prefer to not split into two groups of “people okay with killing others” and “people who think killing others is bad”.

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I think using personal political beliefs to gatekeep and dictate who is allowed to contribute to open source communities is counter productive. Should we ban companies that sell private user data? Should we ban companies that contribute to global warming? Should we ban companies that don’t have high enough diversity metrics? Should we ban companies that have customers or offices in countries we find oppressive? Where do you stop? This seems ridiculous and over dramatic to me.

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Actively deciding to take on a sponsor, which includes publicly associating NixOS with them, e.g. through advertising them in official material, isn’t a “politically neutral” decision either. It’s just as political as saying no. Even if some people would really like this not to be the case in order to escape responsibility for decisions or pass of their personal opinion as an self-evident “politically neutral” truth.

Where to set the line concerning what sponsors should be taken on is a very hard question I can’t and don’t want to try to solve here, but in my opinion, this one crosses the line, for reasons other people already explained before. A precise definition of what sponsors we take on should be worked out in the future.

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Where do you stop?

Somewhere. You gotta stop somewhere. I fail to see why this would be an argument against the current discussion point in any way. Please read up on slippery slopes and fallacies related to them.

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Nobody is suggesting that anyone should be banned from anything or be prevented from contributing.

The question is whether arms dealers should be able to run ads on the nix foundation.

I personally do not think that they should.

However, if a majority truly is in favour of an “apolitical” arms-dealer-friendly stance, I would repeat my suggestion from last time around:

Acutally follow through and own that, making bank in the process. Just taking on one US dealer is not only short sighted and way too political - it is leaving so much shooty-shooty-boom-boom cash on the table.

To name a few, both the Chinese & Russian sectors would be very interested in having visibility, a presence, and undoubtably pay significantly for the priviledge. Failing to explicitly invite them would be a disgrace.

I have more ideas for other opportunities & sectors if this is the path chosen.

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My position: the security situation in Europe is precarious. There are continuous debates how to best support Ukraine with military equipment. There are real and tangible concerns about a wider military conflict here.

I don’t like it but I see it as neccessary for European countries to invest in defense and this includes weapons.Given all this my opinion is that defense companies play an important role and I don’t mind their sponsorship.

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I don’t think that the Nix community should be a space for the military to advertise its killing services. It’s inevitable that work we do will eventually end up in the hands of people we disagree with or consider nefarious, but we still have a choice in who we associate ourselves with and how we present ourselves. Having the logo of Anduril plastered next to every video coming out of NixCon, and listing them as a sponsor, would demonstrate that we’re a community who are happy to associate with war profiteers. I think that would have a negative impact on the public image of Nix. Certainly I wouldn’t feel comfortable associating myself with any media that is advertising Anduril.

I would like to see the NixOS Foundation make an official statement on their ethical position on this matter, given that the event is officially organized by them.

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Pretty much on board with @jakehamilton says here. This is not cool.

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As someone who knows people in warzones(not someone in them myself), and as someone who is left-leaning politically, I believe anything Nix-related should not accept contracts or sponsorships from companies whose main business is killing others. I find those kinds of companies to go against my personal beliefs, and I believe that many others(as indicated in this thread) hold that belief as well.

Also, many friends of mine(along with myself) who may attend these events otherwise may not feel comfortable with coming to events sponsored by such companies. In general, these companies don’t seem very good for humanity in general, and I feel that as an organization, the NixOS Foundation should be trying to position itself and the community at large as a community that cares about accepting others(of any gender, race, age, creed, etc) and cares about human rights for all. These companies are antithetical to that, and so I vehemently believe that it would be a bad decision to accept any defense contractor or other company that relies on killing as their primary business.

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I think it’s important to keep in mind that the ‘defense sector’ is not homogeneous. Some entities specialize in specific applications and methods. A person can think that providing arms for traditional warfare to the armed forces is on one side of an ethical line, and providing equipment designed to target noncombatant refugees to immigration enforcement departments is on the other side. A person could also think that some entities are more responsible about which states they choose to do business with than others. It isn’t necessarily appropriate to have a single ruling on whether the entire ‘defense sector’ is an ethical sponsor to court.

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TL;DR: No, the Nix community shall not accept any military companies working on immediately violent projects.
It’s never easy to exactly figure out where to draw the line between slightly acceptable and slightly unacceptable, but that is no excuse when it comes to excluding obvious cases.

NixCon was and still is a community conference. A conference of various people¹ interested and involved around the wider Nix ecosystem. (Human) Beings from different backgrounds coming together due to their shared interests.

This means that the design of such a conference should be focused on the event being welcoming to all these human beings first and foremost.
Others in this thread have already outlined that the offensive presence of military actors can be off-putting to people at different levels – or not. There are former military filks like @jonringer who feel positive about the presence of military actors. Others might not care at all in any way. Then there are folks who feel uncomfortable because this conflicts with their ethics or politics.
But those which a caring community needs to consider explicitly are marginalised people who might not just be made uncomfortable, but are affected so strongly that they do not feel safe at the conference and thus cannot take part. People like those described by @shanesveller.
In the specific case of Anduril, it’s not just the military part that might ostracise certain marginalised groups, there are also Palmer Lucky’s right-wing ties that can make the event even more hostile. [that’s a different can of worms though]
It is unlikely that folks like Jon won’t contribute to NixCon when military corporations are banned as sponsors. But it is likely that larger parts of the community won’t come when such sponsors are permitted.

Because sponsorship of such an event might be partly rooted in the honest desire to give back, but there are of course additional perks of being a sponsor.
Having your company logo all around normalises your presence, frames all visitors of the conf to be somehow part of the same community as you.
Also, buying into such a conference inserts a sponsor at a central interaction hub visitors cannot really avoid. As an individual community contributor you have a more fine-grained choice in which projects to be involved in and with whom to interact. When visiting a conf, you cannot avoid having to deal with their sponsors.

At NixCon23, Anduril employees where still among the visitors, one of them even held a talk. But there, he was only responsible for exactly this work he presented. By being a sponsor in contrast, you make the full conference in-scope of your name.

¹Yes, I know the idea of corporations being people in the US-sphere, but even there the people representig that corporation are still humans.

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A concrete suggestion for a sponsorship along the stated lines would be Shahed Aviation Industries.

They have certainly gotten media exposure, but a sponsorship would definitely be in their interest - not just to help diversify income streams/client base, but certainly for community networking & recruitment.

I think that the correct course of action would be to heavily disrespect military contractors:

  • Allow them to sponsor events
  • Do not allow them to advertise, set up booths, give special talks, or distribute swag
  • Bury the list of sponsors deep in the programme, perhaps only available by request
  • Set up a special working session, titled something like “How to prevent military contractors from influencing Nix,” which will focus on how to minimize their effects in the ecosystem
  • Distribute an open letter condemning military contractors and invite folks to sign physical copies at a special session
  • Expressly make at least one keynote include the topic of how to minimize corporate influence on the Nix community
  • For bonus points: invite a keynote speaker to give an openly anti-military-industrial talk

In general, the idea is to take their money, refuse their influence, and shame their choice of occupation. If that means that they suddenly don’t want to give money, then let them walk away.

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To clarify my personal position. There’s no hard obligation for corporations to contribute back to FOSS. I would rather have them contribute back, than give nothing at all.

This would be a broader scope than just defense, but any entity which has had a [potentially] “dark past or present” ethically. E.g. Nestle, Bayer, Monsanto, facebook, google, etc.

People and corporations should be incentivized to the do the right thing. Pushing them away from contributing seems to hurt both Nix and their desire to do better.

This is what the companies get in return when buying sponsorships. Awareness.

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This is a classic case of arguing in bad faith and derailment of the discussion.

gatekeep and dictate who is allowed to contribute to open source communities

Not the topic of discussion. This is about sponsorship, which is not a unilateral action but essentially, at the end of the day, a form of paid advertisement.

Should we ban companies that sell private user data? Should we ban companies that contribute to global warming? Should we ban companies that don’t have high enough diversity metrics? Should we ban companies that have customers or offices in countries we find oppressive?

Ridiculous line of reasoning and barely coherent. What does “ban” mean? Not taking money from these companies? Strange definition. But something tells me you don’t care that much about global warming, diversity or oppressive governments anyway.

Just to get back to what this is actually about: companies making killing machines for killing people. Pretending that opposition to this line of business is stepping over some sort of line does not make sense. I suggest you have a look at the reasons why many academic institutions refuse to take money from defense companies.

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