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Friday, June 05, 2009

The Perils in the Meaning of Ubuntu

The problem in naming your operating system after an abstract concept is the diversity of interpretation that the word represents. This problem is essentially highlighted in online search. Doing a search for "the meaning of Ubuntu" leads you to numerous varying results, sometimes inclined to politics and sometimes inclined to racial concepts.

The Western and Western influenced world is more inclined to see the word as a representation of the operating system named Ubuntu.

This poses a slight problem when you want to project something politically bland rather than something politically colorful. For economic and strategic reasons, it poses as a slight problem if you want to present Ubuntu as the embodiment of something diverse yet capable of coexisting. Contrast that with something partisan and you have a slight problem.

Perhaps the problem is best illustrated if we are to give a concrete example of such polarization and conflict.

This is a logo you will see when you go to the website of an organization named Ubuntu
Describe to me what you see in the picture.
It provokes an idea of slavery. It is an image of a black man chained and kneeling towards somebody. Hardly an image that Canonical wishes to project when marketing Ubuntu the operating system.
The conflict in meaning is further brought into the limelight when you read the description of the said organization:
UBUNTU is a race neutral nonprofit organization which advocates reparations for Africans N' America based upon the enslavement of our ancestors between 1619-1865 and other post slavery crimes committed against black people in America. UBUNTU insists that the essence of emancipation is reparations, and WE DEMAND REPARATIONS NOW!

It is inherently contradictory in saying that it is a race neutral nonprofit organization that demands reparations NOW. Non profit huh.

First of all, if it is race neutral then might I ask that if ever the "criminals" (whoever they are) who enslaved the African people's ancestors do pay - to whom will they pay it to? Will they pay it to me an Asian? will they pay it to the African American population in whole? Will they pay it to the African Nations or government?

The organization and its cause cannot be race neutral. For some, the sensitivity of this issue should not be touched. (Since I am not in any way a part of this event that transpired with regards to other people's ancestors, I can say that I can see from the perspective of a distant observer.)

Demanding reparations NOW cannot be pragmatically addressed because the following questions are nearly impossible to establish: Who will pay how much to who specifically?

Nevertheless, the issue, organization and website is there. Canonical, cannot immediately address the situation. But it would have to. Sooner or later, questions will arise as to dominant usage of the word. Or it can choose to ignore its existence. But mark this, time will come when Ubuntu the operating system will be pervasive. When that time comes, it will find itself confronted by this issue.

It's a very sensitive issue, I am sure. This is where we will see Mr. Shuttleworth's salt so to speak.

In the end, it will be interesting to discover who the benefactors of these campaigns are. Whether they are from the genuine African community or rather a strategic dummy of something much bigger that Canonical has somewhat threatened with its operating system called Ubuntu. Or maybe it has something to do with that part of a house called a Window.

I love confabulating conspiracies.
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