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07.17.20

Sacha Chua is Both Right and Wrong

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FSF at 6:26 pm by Guest Editorial Team

Article by figosdev

Summary: A response by figosdev to the graphic below

Normally when I find a new bit of propaganda from the now-Fake Software Foundation, I either ignore it with disgust, or make a pissed-off comment that rarely leads (directly) to a conversation. Sometimes I’ll talk to a few people about it. Writing articles about a specific thing the FSF has said is an exception.

What causes this one to stand out in my opinion, is its sincerity. At first I reacted like I would to any other soundbite or snippet from the FSF. It’s the context that pisses me off more than the content, most of the time. But this time around, the context is only saddening.

If I thought this was another glib attempt to gloss over what’s happened at the FSF, I would respond to it as such. Instead, I have to say that it echos many of the ways I felt about the FSF in the past — and how I would like to feel about free software again in the future. Of course this seems unlikely now that we are in the Free Software Dark Ages.

What I wanted to do was recreate the comic to tell things how they are. There’s not much to stop me, not only is it fair use, the comic is licensed for remixing. I’ve got a license that doesn’t require me to treat the subject matter a certain way, but no desire to be unfair.

Instead of some crude, angry parody, I thought I’d just address the points with an article. Besides, if I make it look like I entirely disagree, people will think there are things I disagree with that I actually don’t.

The comic is already under a free license that I don’t dislike and I intend to address most or all of its points, So to keep things simple I’ll include it here and give the same license to the article. I note with slight amusement that although the principal content of the page is licensed CC-BY 4.0 (which is non-revocable, but allowed in non-free works) the page is still stupidly licensed CC NoDerivs 3.0, along with the FSF’s usual anti-Free-Culture propaganda that led to me dropping membership in the first place.

You can find it on this page.

Love FS

So let’s get to it:

1. Free software is like having more gifts that I can even imagine.

What saddens me about this one is that it used to feel like this to me, as well. Free software has so few limits, and you can share it with anyone. This doesn’t reflect my feelings at the moment, though it does reflect my feelings about Free software in general. Hypothetically, as I don’t think Free software is very free right now.

It also saddens me that the gifts appear to be on library shelves. I’m not going to assume this was the intent of the author — they could be any type of shelves, really. But the appearance of the presents with a line down the middle, along with the height and spacing of the shelves makes them look a lot like books on library shelves to me.

What’s sad about this has nothing to do with how appropriate the image is — it’s extremely appropriate. I wish the Free software movement took more cues from libraries, because librarians are fierce protectors of free speech, inclusion (the more literal, less contrived variety of inclusion — the type that the Free software community has always offered before it became fodder for corporate propaganda) and public access to data — along with the privacy of its patrons in the face of government overreach.

Librarians are doing more to look out for your freedom than the FSF, with the exception (which I’ve bothered them about on countless occasions) of promoting DRM-infested e-books. Libraries are guilty of that, but the American Library Association is better about this than the libraries and they should have taken more cues from the ALA. The only person who can grant exceptions to the DMCA anti-circumvention clause is the Librarian of Congress. But if it were up to me, they would grant blanket exemptions for all librarians. (Tricky, but still a worthwhile goal.)

I would expect the Free software movement to agree with me on this comparison, but all I got for it was some parrot telling me that that Free software has no obligation to do what libraries do. Great, you’re really defending freedom there, buddy. Way to get the point and do something useful with it.

I mostly agree with Sacha on this point, but what it misses is how little even Free software really stands up for freedom anymore. They stand up for licenses, but in a way that I find increasingly superficial.

I’m not the only person who says the new FSF pays lip service to freedom, in fact someone just today said to me:

“And I reply to every such email: FSF is no more. It’s the Fake Software Foundation, they outsourced almost all of its projects to Microshaft and ousted Stallman, in a very ugly coup.”

I agree on the coup and they do outsourced too much to Microsoft, though I would say Most GNU projects are “dependent” on projects that are outsourced to Microsoft — rather than outsourced themselves.

It’s hard to feel good about all these “gifts” when corporations are constantly tying more strings to them. Maybe a more accurate picture would be a lot of worms on hooks, and a fish marveling at all the “free food” within reach.

But the fact remains that Free software promised — and delivered — on basically this for so many years. So we can’t say that Sacha is entirely wrong, either.

2. Each gift is a building block that I can have fun with.

Ah, yes — celebrating modularity while Red Hat wages war against it. Again, Sacha is pointing to a real advantage of Free software, but not one that we can fully enjoy anymore.

In fact I’ve argued for a Fifth Freedom to maintain this “building blocks you can have fun with” nature of free software, explaining that it was a de facto freedom that made Free software possible, and without it we are Less Free. Since this de facto freedom is under attack, we can and ought to make it more explicit. But just saying we have it when we don’t as much as we used to (because they don’t want us to have it) is a bit saddening.

I wanted to draw someone throwing the 4 fun blocks away and giving Sacha a couple of concrete blocks labelled “Systemd” and “GNOME” instead, but it made me too sad.

Lennart will save us from having too many Lego sets! Star Wars, Harry Potter, Technic, Bionicle and Mindstorms? NO, NO, NO! From now on, everybody will use Flexiblocks, and they’ll learn to like them! Flexiblocks are Far Superior and Every Piece Moves. “Not just one or two special pieces!”

So Sacha was really close: Each gift was a building block, and we had fun with that. But as even Half-President Oliva has noted, we aren’t just given instructions to build cool stuff anymore, it’s more like we are being told how to play with our Legos.

It’s time to replace all your old pieces with Lego 5! Lego 4 is deprecated and you should upgrade your creations to the new version immediately.

Also, please remove all white, black, red, yellow and brown pieces — as someone may take offense to the context in which they are used.

3. “Whee!”

Yeah, those were the days. Honestly, Microsoft and IBM are not the new kids helping us build cooler stuff. They’re the big bullies who go around kicking people’s sandcastles down. Every creation is a block in GIAFAM’s corporate pyramid now (or another Brick in the Wall.) But you can’t call them on it, because CoC forbid, and those are our Sponsors, man!

I feel bad that those of us who know better can’t have the same amount of fun that we used to. But also that it’s impossible to share as much of the fun as we had, because the companies that have taken it over are always attacking. I loved it too, but what we have to offer our kids (Sacha is a parent now) is the compromised version of Free software — the “Free but less free” version. We had more fun when we weren’t putting sponsors first, but if you take too much money from them you know they’re going to make demands in return. (Even rms concedes this.)

Where’s the fun in that?

4. More than that — each block is a glimpse into Someone else’s life.

Mostly Torvalds, though. Microsoft (the people Sacha hosts her own code with) have spent decades helping to rebrand the work of both rms and the FSF as the work of Torvalds and ultimately Microsoft. So whose life are you getting a glimpse into? People have attacked the founders personal page and professional life, and the glimpse we got into his life was full of bad reporting and unfair mischaracterisations.

People will say they were fair attacks, but as We The Web noted:

“Many failed to make any distinction between what Stallman had done, question age-of-consent laws, and an actual pedophile or child rapist. They took his questioning of the wisdom of the terms ‘First Nation’ (‘presumes that the concept of ‘nation’ was applicable to all peoples in the Americas ever since the humans first migrated there’) and ‘People of Color’ (‘endorses a racist outlook towards humanity by treating ‘color’ as a matter of essence, as if it were a substance a person is made of, rather than as the superficial detail it really is’) as proof of colonial apologia and racism.”

Was this “glimpse” accurate? The first female president of the American Civil Liberty Union contends:

“I find it so odd that the strong zeal for revenge and punishment if someone says anything that is perceived to be sexist or racist or discriminatory comes from liberals and progressives! There are so many violations [in cases like Stallman’s] of such fundamental principles to which progressives and liberals cling in general as to what is justice, what is fairness, what is due process.”

To me, this doesn’t sound like an accurate or representative take on his life or personal nature at all. If you really want a proper glimpse into Someone else’s life, try this article.

More of these days, people are “blocking” glimpses into each others lives, by cancelling some of the (who often happen to be outspoken) among us. I would count Nadine Strossen among those great and outspoken people, not just for standing up for her own principles and making excellent arguments, but for defending a great person against a terrible and very corporate attack.

5. I can combine things with bubblegum and string…

Okay, I can’t argue with this one. Many of my projects are held together with Lego, tape and superglue.

6. … to make something that fits me so well.

Referring back to #2, this used to be better. Today, people talk like you have some obligation to port all your stuff to new things, just because someone has taken over a project and forced a new direction.

Projects that let us keep or retrofit our beloved workflows, like Trinity, Devuan or Mate are often treated as second-tier citizens, when (overall) the people who preserve our choices should often be treated as heroes.

We are expected to fit the developers now, rather than use software for our own needs, and that shift is EXTREMELY Microsoft-like.

7. I try to leave notes along the way.

Yes, you leave them with Microsoft on your GitHub issues tracker. Whatever you have to say about that, it gives Microsoft more power, which they invariable use to fight against the very things you talk about loving in your comic.

So many people have put a lot of work into getting away from Microsoft’s abuse of users and freedom, just to have people drag us back to their servers and ask us to support their takeover efforts. C’mon, Sacha!

8. Sometimes I can even make my own gift.

That’s a nice feeling, isn’t it?

We should stop finding stupid and dishonest reasons to kick people out of the opportunity to share such things. I am not fond of the idea of fighting implicit and graded (and contested) exclusion with explicit (and complete, permanent and unappealable) exclusion. It denies this to people we know are good, but are no longer allowed to say so (Because the FSF censored the emails from people who did. Why have they not apologised for this? It was less than a year ago.)

We should also (despite Matt Lee’s tweet to the contrary) stop taking the gifts that the FSF and rms gave to the world, and writing “From Linus” on all the tags, because that just sucks.

When you talk about GNU, people call it Linux. When you look up Linux, you get mostly results about Windows.

What kind of gifting is this, Matt? Yankee Swap?

“We call it Dirty Santa” — The Office

9. There’s always space.

Maybe not at LibrePlanet!

10. Sometimes people find my things helpful… just as I find other people’s things helpful.

I didn’t read this one until I typed it. I think Microsoft finds it helpful for everyone to use GitHub, so they can use this as part of their (very typical, well-documented, longstanding) efforts to control and surveil competitors.

I was busy paying attention to the long road, which I pictured rms walking down. Technically he’s still the head of the GNU project, the FSF has no real president (no one I’ve talked to about it seems to disagree with me on this, but please feel very welcome to explain something to the contrary in the comments section) and technically, Elizabeth II is the British head of state.

But neither are allowed to hand down very much as a political decree, they are mostly given the opportunity to wave their hand and grant power to other people. Which is alright in and of itself, except that the power taken away was the power to defend the GNU Project from exactly the sort of corporate takeover that displaced the head of the FSF itself.

So that kind of sucks. The GNU Project may still have rms, but what it doesn’t have is any real defense against being taken over and turned into a GitHub organisation.

I hope it’s perfectly clear here that the problem has many different angles and different players. We are still waiting for IBM to make their next move, though right now they do not appear to be sponsoring the FSF (yet?) this year, as they did for the past two. Perhaps this year it will be Microsoft instead.

11. So, bit by bit, we grow.

… Corporate. Compromised. Complacent.

This is, I want to be very clear about this — not an attack on the comic’s sincerity. I frequently point out how glib and empty the rhetoric from the FSF feels these days. This is definitely an exception, as far as I can tell.

Here I think what’s said is at worst, misplaced. Not even in error, except as something a bit anachronistic.

These are, truly — the real benefits of participating in Free software.

Were. They still are sometimes, I guess.

Be nice if any of this meant more than the FSF’s horrible corporate sponsors. Together they’re turning Free software into Open Source. And these days, Open Source just means GIAFAM.

If you’re going to be GIAFAM, you don’t really need Free software. Because it won’t really be free when they control it, so all it is then is Software.

Oh well, Sacha — long live rms, and happy hacking.

P.S. Please, please move from GitHub. It will make everything you’re saying a little more true. I feel confident you mean it to be.

Licence: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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2 Comments

  1. sachac said,

    July 21, 2020 at 11:28 pm

    Gravatar

    Thanks for the long and thoughtful reply!

    I totally, totally love libraries. The Toronto Public Library rocks. They’re fierce advocates for everyone in the city. I’ve heard them be passionate about holding space for and taking care of people. They even set up pop-up food banks during the start of the pandemic.

    As for free software… Wow, I probably have a really rosy-coloured view of it because I mostly just focus on the Emacs community, which is awesome. Most of my digging-around-and-customizing is in Org Mode, a personal information manager for Emacs, so the nifty code I come across is basically formed out of people’s crystallized workflows. That’s what I meant by a glimpse into people’s lives. =) (Like that guy who’s running a bakery out of an Org Mode file!) But yeah, I can see how people might not get that from the sketch. We tend to think of just the “big names” when it comes to projects, but it’s really all the little stuff that people have added that makes me smile.

    I’m totally not qualified to comment on culture, technology, community, or recent kerfluffles.

    Moving off Github: Sure thing! I tried setting up Gitea, but I was having a hard time getting the built-in SSH server to work nicely with my docker+ufw+whatever set up. (I suck as a sysadmin!) It may have to wait until I’ve got a little more thinking time, since I’m mostly focused on childcare these days. Looking forward to getting this properly sorted out, ’cause yeah, there’s no reason people shouldn’t be able to use whatever method they want if they’re curious about such idiosyncratic things as my Emacs config.

    Also: hello fellow LEGO geek! Our 4-year-old is in the “I want all the Friends sets!” phase and I’m in the “Uh… let’s mostly build with what we’ve got and save up for a few sets or parts” phase. I am sooo glad the LEGO community’s into sharing, too. I’m tempted to write something that uses the Brickset data to find sets that are mostly like what we’ve got. My idea list gets ever longer.

    Thanks again for being passionate about this stuff!

    sachac Reply:

    For some reason, I want to add: we also make our own stuff with the LEGO we have, so it’s not all about sets and instructions. :) And we’re enjoying all these videos and tutorials, too. I often wish I could make my own pieces, but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet. Someday!

    (I guess that’s sort of related to the discussion on software freedom, if you squint at it.)

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