07.30.09

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Time to Drop the Word “Zealot” from Software Debates?

Posted in FSF, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Mono at 8:39 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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It’s Free as in Freedom, not Religion

Summary: If software is applied science and engineering, then comparing it to politics and religion should be deemed inappropriate

THREE DAYS ago we wrote about the use of the word "zealot" to describe anyone whom you disagree with. This strategy is not new and it is extensively utilised for political goals. Other words that can substitute “zealot” are “neo-fascist”, “dictator”, “fanatic”, and even “terrorist”.

We try not to be distracted by personal attacks that make systematic use of such labels. Going by the same rules, one might as well describe Microsoft as a “freedom-hating zealot”, but this is not a good way to construct a rational argument. In an excellent new post, the awkward perception that the Free Software movement “hates” Microsoft is being dismissed. Here are some portions of the argument:

Recently, Richard M. Stallman, the founder of the free software movement, expressed some genuine concerns regarding the use of C# to create programs and the use of Mono as free implementation of the .Net framework. Then, something interesting happened. Many people in the open source group were upset at him! Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel, made a reference to “Microsoft hating” and linked it to the free software movement.

Excuse me???? Is Microsoft hatred identified with the “free software” community?

[...]

Microsoft is not “evil” ethically speaking, it is just a corporation. However, Microsoft is not a friend of the free software and the open source movements. It has declared itself an enemy of the GNU/Linux operative system a number of times, and it has determined publicly and privately its erradication from the market. Remember the Halloween documents? These are memos that circulated within Microsoft which revealed several strategies to drive GNU/Linux out of the market, many of which include deceiving the public. These documents have been recognized by Microsoft as being authentic. Don’t we remember Bill Gates saying that the GNU GPL was a plague and that the open source community was a bunch of communists? Or don’t we remember that just recently Gates purposely misled people saying that the GPL prevents people from improving software? Don’t we remember the bogus suit by Microsoft against Lindows over trademark rights because Microsoft thought that it was the owner of the “indows” part of the name? Don’t we remember the repeated threats made by Microsoft against companies that distributed GNU/Linux with patent suits? And hasn’t the Software Freedom Law Center reported just a few days ago that Microsoft still continues to shake companies with patent threats?

As the above notes, some of the Stallman bashing began at the end of June when Stallman publicly presented his views on Mono. One person from Debian, for example, cursed Stallman, who merely formalised an existing issue that can be dealt with politely. As the following short essay notes, using the very same mental filters, Mono proponents can be described as “zealots”, based on their pattern of behaviour alone.

Pro-mono Zealotry

[...]

What this does illustrate, I think, is something that is already obvious to anyone that has been following the Mono controversy: there are people that are just as “extreme” and unwilling to listen to reason as the most zealoty charactertures painted by the Broad Brush of the Most High and (Self) Righteous Community Gatekeepers.

You can spot these people by the mindless regurgitation of other people’s talking points and the inability to make even the slightest concession to any opposing argument; the gleeful participation in any manner of attack or disinformation; the uncritical embrace of anyone or anything that supports thier position. A sure sign is charging the opposition with the very crimes they themselves are in the act of commiting.

It would be best to drop the word “zealot”, which by convention refers to political and/or religious controversies. The arguments here are technical (and sometimes legal) by nature, so no heated debate about software deserves to be called “zealous” (or “zealotry”). It is just a daemonisation term, a propaganda term. Let’s give it a rest because comparing programmers to religious people is what leads to satires and parodies about religion.

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8 Comments

  1. zatoichi said,

    July 30, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Gravatar

    As soon as you folks drop the word “shill”, Roy, and stop insisting that Stallman is a figure above any criticism, that anyone who touches a Mac or a WIndows machine is “not a real Linux person”, and, in general, using your little “purity tests” to determine who’s on which side of this “war” you imagine you’re fighting.

    But you first, Roy.

  2. JohnD said,

    July 30, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    Gravatar

    2. zealot – a fervent and even militant proponent of something

    Don’t see anything in this definition that restricts the use to religious or political conversations. So I’d say the use is “technically” correct and should continue.

  3. Needs Sunlight said,

    July 30, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Gravatar

    Mono proponents have always responded with attacks since the beginning to change the topic. Name-calling is the best they have.

    The Mono technology sucks and the best non-attack counter ever offered is along the lines of ‘ooh, it will be so full of mono goodness Real Soon Now”. The licensing sucks and, aside from a little doubletalk from time to time, the best non-attack counter ever offered is, well, silence.

    Oh how time flies.
    http://www.javaworld.com/javaworld/jw-08-1998/jw-08-volanomark.html

    The original J2EE just keeps getting better:
    http://java.sun.com/javaee/

    JohnD Reply:

    There are guilty parties on both sides of the “discussion”, personal attacks are hardly limited to Mono supporters.
    I have tried to refrain from such remarks as they seldom provide positive/logical support for a point of view.
    Several weeks ago I made a post about the title of one of Roy’s posts. I felt that it could be easily misinterpreted by a casual reader. Roy agreed that it was possible, but stated that the wording was “technically” correct so he refused to alter the wording.
    This was a simple reminder about how the sword can cut both ways.
    Personally don’t find the word zealot offensive. I happily wear the title of zealot, disciple, geek etc for the products I like: OS/2, Netware, Lotus….
    It goes back to the whole sticks and stones thing.
    Now equating supporters/detractors to terrorists – that was the truly offensive statement.

    Roy Bixler Reply:

    Agreed. In older times and other forums, that was known as invoking Godwin.

    JohnD Reply:

    Exactly – 10 points and a gold star for Roy B.

    zatoichi Reply:

    Godwin’s Law specifically applied to comparing your opponents to Nazis. I’ve seen that on the IRC channel, not on the site so far. I wouldn’t be surprised to find it, though.

    JohnD Reply:

    I think it was mentioned in the marathon thread the other day.

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