Linked by Linux Review on Tue 20th Mar 2012 17:07 UTC
GNU, GPL, Open Source It's been a while since we caught up with Stallman. But a couple months ago we took a look around at what's happening with law, politics and technology and realized that he maybe perhaps his extremism and paranoia were warranted all along. So when we were contacted by an Iranian Linux publication and asked if we would like to publish an English translation of a recent interview they had done with Stallman, I thought that it was a particularly rich opportunity.
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Stallman Strikes Again
by danger_nakamura on Tue 20th Mar 2012 22:33 UTC
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I always look forward to articles on Stallman because it seems a sure bet that there will be a colorful and entertaining comments section following the article. And even in early innings that is already the case here. I even dug out my OSnews login info despite having 8 million other things to do because I wanted to jump in the fray this time.

It seems that the outbursts of vitriol that the man inspires can be generally considered to belong to one of 3 fields of objection:

1. The actual message
2. Presentation and personal disposition
3. Unwillingness to yield or compromise

Taken out of order...

Leaving the substance of the man's beliefs aside, I find no value in objections against his stubbornness. If someone truly believes that they have thought through all cases and that a particular act is "objectively morally wrong" then what else is there to do but to take a stand?

As an example (deliberately not of the same gravity as the software issue - thank you) imagine believing that impaling 6 month old babies on stakes was well and truly wrong - regardless of any considerations of cultural background or religions beliefs or personal preferences. In other words - you don't believe that its a vanilla-or-chocolate type of issue but a genuine moral issue. I hope that this isn't too much of a stretch for most people.

Should you be willing to compromise and say that its OK if some people do it, or its OK only if you really, really want to do this, or maybe its OK but only if the baby is an Eskimo, or if people can make a lot of money doing it....

Taking a principled stand on a moral issue that one believes is important is nothing to be ashamed of. It certainly has not made his life any easier. If you truly believe that something is wrong there should be no willingness to compromise. Compromise is suited to vanilla-chocolate type of differences between people, not the answers to moral questions. We may disagree on the answers, but it is unreasonable to expect the other side in these cases to be willing to compromise or yield in any way.

Other people (myself included) object to the man's style of presentation. These opinions range from bemoaning the practical effect of his presentation and appearance all the way to downright character assassination. I agree with some of the opinions that I have seen, especially the practical arguments, but It really is a separate discussion that has no bearing on the relative merits of the "Free Software" philosophy. Using them as such is cheap and intellectually sloppy and dishonest.

As for the first set of objections, I think that I understand and can even appreciate objections against the man's message. At least these objections are intellectually honest. People that value convenience over what Stallman calls freedom would consider his arguments to be irrelevant. Those that draw an income from the proprietary software model would view his beliefs as a threat. And I suppose there are those that actually believe that technology should be "locked down" for people's own good (-shudder-).

As for my own perspective, I tend to agree with Stallman. He deals specifically with software... I gravitate to the larger view of "locked down."

From my personal perspective the tinkerer in me personally can't stand things that are locked down. I know that this rankles Stallman, but I don't really agree that this is monumentally important.

However, I also can't stand that this lockdown makes it difficult to repurpose highly toxic devices for reuse. This passes over from personal opinion into the realm of fact. The fact is that for every device that is "locked down," either by it's design or by the withholding of the code that makes it work, we lose a potential opportunity to repurpose that device at the end of its useful life.

Some equipment may find their way to be recycled in a clean manner - some may be "refurbished" or updated in an expensive factory setting. But the fact remains that much of this highly toxic material ends up being burned or buried at the expense of our common environment. As someone that knows first hand that an "old" computer could be a new ___ (fill in the blank) just as an old iron could be a new doorstop, I know that it is not because there is no alternative. While not everything will prove to be reusable, "lockdown" is surest way to encourage a particular device to enter the waste stream once its design purpose has been exhausted.

Finally, as technology powers more and more of our world, it is becoming a gateway for "control." Locked down devices and software are essentially, as Stallman describes, instruments of control. While I disagree that "Binary Bill's House of Shareware" is evil, the comfort zone that it contributes to greatly benefits the cause of what I consider to be evil.

Obviously those that belong to the "safety-and-convenience-at-any-cost" crowd or the "commerce-trumps-all-moral-considerations" crowd will disagree. But I believe that a human being is a free-agent that agrees to participate in a society for mutual benefit, and therefore has certain rights that are inalienable. This concept is being increasingly threatened, and "locked down" technology is a major tool to achieve this in our Brave New Technological World.

Perhaps the most important point is this:

The "slippery slope" is in this case so slick as to be nearly frictionless. And the endgame is such that were his fears to become reality, it will be too late to do anything to fix things. In other words, before dismissing the man at least recognize that the issues at stake, if he is correct, will be difficult to impossible to mitigate against *because* of the power of the instruments involved.

I'm sorry - but I don't want myself, my family or most important to me, my daughter, to live in such a world as one can easily envision just by looking at what those that wish to Control have accomplished already.

So on balance I'd have to say... GO STALLMAN! Only please take a bath. ;-)

Reply Score: 7

RE: Stallman Strikes Again
by wannabe geek on Wed 21st Mar 2012 02:23 in reply to "Stallman Strikes Again"
wannabe geek Member since:

I agree with most, if not all, of your monumentally long post ;)

This sentence, though, got me thinking about how people's choice of words may influence their opinions:

From my personal perspective the tinkerer in me personally can't stand things that are locked down. I know that this rankles Stallman, but I don't really agree that this is monumentally important.

I'm strongly against IP, especially patents, for ethical reasons. I'm also against copyrights, given that copyright laws keep growing ever more teeth. The more powerful the corresponding laws, the more I oppose them.

On the other hand, I have no ethical issues with merely technical restrictions such as obfuscation, hardware-only DRM (unlike how actual DRM works in practice nowadays), keeping valuable information secret, and so on. I do agree it's a bad idea for people to invest time and effort in a platform they don't control, but they should know what they are getting into when they pick a closed platform.

So you may think I'm inconsistent. Do I have an ethical issue with "lockdown" or not? In fact, when I worry about patents and other forms of copyright, my concerns are more about lockout than lockdown. The effects of lockdown are temporary, and it often hurts the culprit more than the victims. After some time, users migrate to a new platform which is more open or that gives them more control in some way. The previous platform is forgotten.

In contrast, patents remove an area from the mental landscape, they lock engineers out of it. Even a single event of this kind is much more distressing than all the hassle they may get from changing platforms, and it stays in their head as a dead zone for the whole duration of the patent.

The current profusion of patents is like rocks raining on a lake. Eventually there's no water left for the fish to swim.

Of course, there's also the issue of how so-called intellectual property is fundamentally incompatible with actual physical property. But that's another matter.

Reply Parent Score: 4