Legacy and Community

February 21 2024

Anyone who is a good conversationalist, who is curious will ask you at some point; "How did you get into your field?"

"What made you want to go into Computing?"

That question is mostly easy to answer. "From the age of 12, I was curious about how computers knew to do what you told them to do."

Years later, with a Computer Science degree under my belt, that question was harder for me to answer. I did what any average graduate does in my city. I went to work for the Oil Industry doing IT support.

At University I had fencing as a hobby and was Vice President and President of the Club. I had responsibility for a small community. Especially away at competition. For the first five years of my IT career though, the community part my life did not factor in my professional life. In corporate life and in big tech, we talk a big community game, but it's limited. Much like the political discussions we talk about. We avoid talking about politics and community. Because then we might have to compromise, have emotions about the people we build things with. Although shouldn't we be talking about this? Especially in FOSS?

I got into FOSS because I was introduced to it by Brett Sheffield. Although it was the Open Source side rather than the Free Software side. Although I lurked in those communities.

Online, I had other hobbies. I lurked in those communities as well. Gradually I came out and started interacting with folks. Our online platforms, scummy as some of their origins and endings were, enabled me to communicate.

What keeps me in those communities and in FOSS now? What has propelled me towards the Free Software Side, Librecast, and the communities we satellite around? What keeps me campaigning for the Public Health Pledge and the the Fedipact?

Some of it is belief in my interpretation of the tenets of those communities. Some of it is the excellent folks in those communities. But there's also a core part that is me. Not just what I get in finding solidarity with others. I think other factors drive me as well. Legacy, not my own legacy. The legacy of those who came before me. How do I live up to that? What is that legacy and what does it mean to me and to others?

I'm haunted. I'm haunted by the legacy of a man who died 8 years before I was born.

I think there are many of us Gen Xers who are haunted by the legacy of their Grandparents. Some choose to idolize it and wear bunting and butcher aprons in a fetishisation of the legacy of the Second World War while forgetting the people who fought in it. Who chose to create a social safety net for us all. Because they remembered the privations of being poor in the Empire. Who were caught up and abandoned as cannon fodder to fight other people's wars.

I recently read the recommendation for my Grandfather's Military Medal. I'd grown up with the legend of him. He'd helped courier people out of France, from Lille to Marseilles. He'd had to murder people. He'd ended up there after the capture of the 51st Highlanders at St Valerie. He escaped the marsh by rolling into a field. Farmers helped to hide them. So he helped others leave France. Eventually, he was betrayed. No one was quite sure how, either by Harold Cole or by an infiltrator pretending to be a Norwegian Airman. He then ended up in a concentration camp. Liberated and then Interrogated by British Intelligence, because British Intelligence weren't sure if he betrayed the line or if Cole did.

After the war, he married my Grandmother and took her to France for their honeymoon, where he'd leave her alone in a hotel and go and talk to folks to tell them what happened to their missing ones. There's a colourful story about the time they stayed in a brothel, where she was guarded and couldn't leave the room.

I know my complicated relationship with learning French and living in France partly comes from that history. My Grandfather learned French and integrated to the point where it was not believed that he was a British POW. He'd also been very careful to be French as he was terrified he'd be shot as a spy. So in France, he was French.

It's odd seeing that history in a record. Seeing the legend in print. Just a few paragraphs.

'''" ... captured at ST. Valery in June 1940 but escaped from the marching column near BRUSSELS. [....] This time he and several others reached MARSEILLES. ... made 6 successful trips from LILLE to MARSEILLES as well as several highly dangerous trips to the "zone interdite". He was directly instrumental in rescuing over 20 Allied Service personnel before he was recaptured.....

Although severely and brutally interrogated by the Gestapo who knew he was working for a secret organisation ... never revealed the details of his work or the names of his companions. [...] imprisoned in various civil jails where he suffered terrible privations.

This soldier has been highly recommended by the British Intelligence Officer for whom he worked in FRANCE for his unusual devotion to duty in circumstances of great danger." '''

I feel there may be some understatement there. It's awoken some curiosity again, at some point I will grab his liberation report. It has awoken some reflection in me as well.

I always knew my Grandfather's legend had influenced some choices. But I don't think my Grandfather's duty was to "King and Country". I'm pretty sure it was to the community around him. Years later he became a PT teacher and a Highland League referee. His legend loomed over him and everyone in his family.

But reading that brief report helped me realise why despite some serious community safety issues in FOSS and on the Fediverse, I'm committed to FOSS. To my spaces on here.

Both of my grandfathers' legacies influence me here. My other Grandfather became a trade unionist, led a strike, but also served his local community as a church beadle.

Both of my grandfathers gave me a legacy of being unable to ignore community safety. It's why I am vocal about the Public Health Pledge and the Fedipact. It's why I work on Librecast with Brett. My duty to that legacy of both of my Grandfathers is solidarity with my fellow human beings. To try to fight in any way I can for that. For Public Health, for Human Rights.

I do what I can, when I can, even if it's a very small thing. Sometimes it's not so bad to be haunted, so you can reach out to help other people. To fight for them in any way you can.

Legacy shouldn't be honoured. It should inspire you. If we're haunted by legacy and we do destructive things and trample on the human rights of others we should be ashamed. We should not glamorise that history or glamorise the deeds. I mean it's exciting and interesting. But we need to consider why those acts happen. Heroism comes from finding the humanity in others and helping them. It doesn't come from putting people or the memory of them on a pedestal. It needs to come from the heart, come from circumstances. It should come from solidarity with others. Neither of my Grandfathers considered themselves heroes. That was a label put on them by others. We need heroes, we need inspiration. We need to find our hearts as well though. The human connection.

Instead, we need to honour that legacy by finding the same solidarity for others that our grandparents did.