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10.23.19

Why GNU Is Better Staying Top-Down, Even If Free Software Isn’t

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FSF, GNU/Linux, OSI at 12:26 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

By figosdev

Eiffel Tower from the top
Eiffel Tower from the top

Summary: “Open Source is like a broken record, and it is a broken promise. If you want to fail, follow them — they will show you the way.”

I used to hate centrists because I thought they were simply lukewarm. It took many years for me to learn that I was an issues person, not a party person — and that I don’t agree with “either side” on everything. Now that’s going to be a theme that illustrates the current situation with Free software.

Lots of people disagree on what the terms “Conservative” and “Liberal” mean. Rather than discussing the true meaning or original nature that these terms describe, they more often get caught up in the contemporary culture of whatever parties lay claim to these terms. I encourage you to put that aside while you read this article.

“Now that the top of the FSF hierarchy is (systematically) toppled, the same (larger, more powerful) hierarchies of IBM and Microsoft are borrowing and exploiting the image of liberation (of fighting hierarchy) to suggest that we should “let more people in” to Open Source and Free software.”But I’m going to say that I think of “Conservative” as defending hierarchies and traditions, and “Liberal” as fighting them as deemed necessary. This makes for interesting politics, when some hierarchies and traditions are worth defending.

I was recently told, by someone who has plenty of reason to be correct, that the Free Software Foundation has always been “Conservative” in its approach. For me this is a surprising thing to read when the FSF exists to stand against monopolies. However, its approach does create a hierarchy, with the founder of the movement as the head.

Now that the top of the FSF hierarchy is (systematically) toppled, the same (larger, more powerful) hierarchies of IBM and Microsoft are borrowing and exploiting the image of liberation (of fighting hierarchy) to suggest that we should “let more people in” to Open Source and Free software.

This should be a familiar ploy to any person on the Left with a shred of integrity, because it is exactly the sort of thing the pseudo-left does all the time to justify war crimes, corporate influence of politics and other forms of self-serving corruption.

“The Open Source Initiative already did this more than half a decade ago, and now monopolies have more control over Open Source than ever.”First you say that a truly progressive organisation is too hierarchical, too conservative, and then once it “opens up” to a more decentralised structure you let in all the bigger hierarchies. The Open Source Initiative already did this more than half a decade ago, and now monopolies have more control over Open Source than ever.

As the title implies, I’m going to continue to support the decentralisation of Free software, (it actually started with other FSF chapters, but you can still think of them as branches of the original FSF in many ways — and continued with other organisations like Dyne and SFLC) but it’s very important to decentralise differently than OSI did. If Free software decentralises the same way that Open Source did, it will bring the same failure to Free software that monopolies have already brought to Open Source.

“If Free software decentralises the same way that Open Source did, it will bring the same failure to Free software that monopolies have already brought to Open Source. “I will also get to why the GNU project is already as decentralised as we want it to be.

People have let the Left do too much to smear the concept of being conservative. As an agnostic, I have always leaned toward the idea of religious reform and the option of being unorthodox. I am against theocracy in all forms, because freedom is more important than religion. However, the one purpose that orthodoxy excels at, is preserving a culture and tradition.

Librarians in this regard, can be thought of as the ultimate conservative heroes. When people want to fight against the ways libraries work for the common good, librarians fight those changes like they have a sacred duty. In other ways, libraries do change. But it’s fair to say that librarians have a sort of constitution — and that they defend aspects of library culture (resistance to censorship, for one thing; as well as resistance to limitations on access and privacy) in a way that they do not intend to allow those to change.

“We have seen the historical tragedies that take place when revolutions go wrong and remove one bad regime only to replace it with something worse.”The Constitution of the United States has been used to create changes, such as the (eventual) liberation of a people that were born unfree. A conservative approach is far from perfect, and some of the liberation that came later was proposed in the 1700s when the Constitution was written, but there were too many states against abolition at the time. Once a right is established however, the very concept of the Constitution is to represent and enshrine such liberties. That privacy and liberty is just as important in the 21st century as the 18th century is a politically (“small c”) conservative value.

It is possible to be too conservative. While a hierarchy can do a good job maintaining a culture’s consistency, it can also fail to support the evolution of those living within that hierarchy. An overly hierarchical system leads to stifling bureaucracy, lack of autonomy and being “out of touch” with the way everyday people live their lives. People with a (“small l”) liberal disposition are right to stand up to such problems, though if we hand them the reins they may pull down the entire thing without anything to replace it with. We have seen the historical tragedies that take place when revolutions go wrong and remove one bad regime only to replace it with something worse.

“So if we continue to decentralise, it is completely vital to support organisations that stand for Free software, rather than monopolies that support compromising your freedom or organisations that sell out to those monopolies.”While decentralisation (which again, isn’t completely new) gives us the autonomy to fight against more problems ourselves, with or without an increasingly troubled Free Software Foundation, it is important to know that Free software is a tradition of standing up to powerful corporate monopolies. If decentralisation means that we abandon the principles that make Free software what it is — we will be left with nothing but the same problems that existed prior to creating Free software… And no solutions.

So if we continue to decentralise, it is completely vital to support organisations that stand for Free software, rather than monopolies that support compromising your freedom or organisations that sell out to those monopolies. Don’t let them tell you it’s about money — it’s about control. If you stand against corporate control over the user, that’s what Free software is about. If you cede the mission of Free software to the same groups that oppose freedom, you lose — plain and simple.

It is not necessary for everyone to operate under exactly the same constitution. But it is necessary for people to operate under very similar principles. Just as it was always advisable to support the real thing, “Free software” — by choosing the FSF over the Open Source Initiative, it is advisable to support organisations that care about your freedom and actually stand for it, rather than those who cede to power.

When you decentralise, it is more important than ever to pay attention to the Freedom-respecting values of the groups and individuals you support, because anything else is handing things over to the groups who would try (and already do try) to end what you do. The cost of freedom is eternal vigilance.

“When you decentralise, it is more important than ever to pay attention to the Freedom-respecting values of the groups and individuals you support, because anything else is handing things over to the groups who would try (and already do try) to end what you do. The cost of freedom is eternal vigilance.”When organisations (even the FSF, if it does not get its act together and start defending freedom again) fail in their mission you can turn away from them. We should not turn away from the FSF if we can help it, because they still have something to offer. We should work to preserve, as librarians would, everything good about the FSF.

The easy way to do that is to support the FSF. To pick up (everything) where they left off is the hard way. I would prefer that we only have to supplement the FSF by doing what they fail to. That is a far better strategy than conquering them and laying the FSF to waste — which I believe some people are interested in doing, and they should be ashamed.

“Open Source is like a broken record, and it is a broken promise. If you want to fail, follow them — they will show you the way.”There are a few people in the FSF who have failed us so spectacularly, that it would be a gain for everyone to lose them as part of that organisation. Richard Stallman is not one of those people. Most of the people at the FSF are not those people. The rest of us should fight for, fight with, the FSF. As Free software becomes decentralised, it must recognise and live up to the fact that the mission is the same as it was before. The FSF created that mission, and our goal is to sustain it even as others try to change it.

As with the left and right hemispheres of the brain, “small-c” conservatives an “small-l” liberals work together to keep political endeavours functional. They address different aspects of politics — one is somewhat focused on keeping the good things, the other is largely focused on removing the bad things. If we let conservatives run everything, we will keep too much of the bad along with the good. If we let liberals run everything, we will lose too much of the good along with the bad. History provides endless examples.

We need a Constitution more than ever, and we must maintain our constitution as Free software advocates. Open source says we should cede — they have always said that. Open Source is like a broken record, and it is a broken promise. If you want to fail, follow them — they will show you the way.

The key to success in Open Source is to redefine failure and fatal compromise as “progress” — they’ve done a completely incredible job and I’m sure they will cry all the way to the bank. But although most of us are not against commerce and trade, Free software by definition is against monopoly. We cannot afford to lose that; we can’t trade that for cash, power and fame and say we care about the user.

Because it contains the software we run on our computer, the GNU project is something we want to be conservative. In fact the GNU operating system, in the hands of Debian circa 2014, became more liberal in a way that removed power from the GNU project and handed it off to Red Hat, then IBM (via acquisition of Red Hat) and Microsoft (via acquisition of Github.) These are not old friends — IBM and Microsoft are old enemies.

“In fact the GNU operating system, in the hands of Debian circa 2014, became more liberal in a way that removed power from the GNU project and handed it off to Red Hat, then IBM (via acquisition of Red Hat) and Microsoft (via acquisition of Github.) These are not old friends — IBM and Microsoft are old enemies.”Pax Big Tech is when the war ends because you surrender to your oppressors. IBM and Microsoft do not extend peace, but serfdom in exchange for a return to life under their rule. This includes all the problems that it included in the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s, plus additional control via the “Cloud” and increasing digital surveillance, while other new regimes like Google and Amazon literally turn cameras and microphones on you 24/7 in your own home.

To be vigilant against monopolies is a long-term goal that will involve more compromise and experimentation than we can afford to have in our operating system platform. Of course you can fork the GNU project, or parts of the GNU project, because it is not a monopoly anyway. But there are already plenty of alternatives to the GNU tools and the GNU system, and we use them all the time. Guix-SD is not required to work the same way as GnewSense. If GnewSense fails, we have alternatives. But if the GNU project fails, we lose far too much.

“This includes all the problems that it included in the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s, plus additional control via the “Cloud” and increasing digital surveillance, while other new regimes like Google and Amazon literally turn cameras and microphones on you 24/7 in your own home.”We can afford to lose a couple organisations, like SFC, to the monopolies. We may even get to the point where losing the Free Software Foundation is something we could survive (I don’t think we are ready now, and I really don’t want to find out.) We don’t have replacements for the things the FSF does. People who want us to fail pretend to be more optimistic, but people who care know we are badly hurt right now.

Even if decentralising GNU was a good idea, it is the worst time for it. There is a theme of regime toppling when the regime is literally the Foundation (and founder) of our movement. Stallman should have never lost so much power at once, and we have not gained anything — his loss is our problem.

It really has to be said though, that decentralising GNU is not only less than beneficial, it is completely unnecessary. The real reason they’re trying to dismantle it is to push Stallman out further, and allow more takeover by larger monopolies. If that is not the actual goal, it will nonetheless be the result.

This is a war — the FSF is extremely vulnerable, and its opponents are using the breach to get into everything they possibly can. We should be protecting GNU, or it could become our last great stand (not the end of the war, but the beginning of the end.)

“This is a war — the FSF is extremely vulnerable, and its opponents are using the breach to get into everything they possibly can. We should be protecting GNU, or it could become our last great stand (not the end of the war, but the beginning of the end.)”But decentralising GNU further is completely unnecessary because people create GNU projects outside of GNU all the time. If they reach a point where it becomes beneficial, they can join the GNU umbrella — and the conservative GNU project can let only the most beneficial, most freedom-respecting tools and contributions into the project.

If that doesn’t work for you, there are already countless other places you can prove the value of your contribution. There are literally hundreds of distros. You can already campaign to be part of many of them. You don’t need the permission of the GNU project to do that.

I suspect, very strongly, that people want the ability to overthrow the GNU project entirely. But what’s in it for us? What’s in it for the user? Nothing but trouble and broken promises, if we look at the “accomplishments” of the people arguing against the integrity of the GNU project.

“One of the people on the petition wants to turn the FSF into another Linux Foundation — and as for Ian Jackson: as someone who has spent years dressing the systemd wounds at Debian, you really should know better!”Decentralising Free software was necessary, and not redundant — as recent events have arguably shown. But decentralising GNU is unnecessary, as well as redundant. One of the people on the petition wants to turn the FSF into another Linux Foundation — and as for Ian Jackson: as someone who has spent years dressing the systemd wounds at Debian, you really should know better!

To all the petition signers: Stop attacking Free software. If you want to fork GNU, go ahead — but don’t support its destruction. Stop gutting things that we need and replacing them with nothing, or worse. Who do you think you are — IBM?

Licence: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (public domain)

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