07.24.20

Social Justice Hooey Killed the Free Software Movement

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FSF, GNU/Linux, IBM, Microsoft, OSI at 10:15 pm by Guest Editorial Team

Article by figosdev

Sevilla at night

Summary: It’s important to distinguish “social justice hooey” from social justice itself

Many people in our community are in favour of some degree of social justice. The Black Lives Matter movement, launched again into the spotlight by protests against the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, is easily as strong as it has ever been. Techrights has run several articles related to some of the more outward effects of this political climate. It’s important to distinguish “social justice hooey” from social justice itself.

“It’s important to distinguish “social justice hooey” from social justice itself.”I am not someone who believes that Free Software needs to cater to a particular swath of the political spectrum exclusively — nor do I think that its leaders (or members) need to pretend they support no other causes than Free Software. If a Free software project wishes to support BLM, I’m okay with that. Others may not be.

What I call “social justice hooey” is limited to certain artifacts that I consider tangential to the movement. I am well aware that others may consider these tangential artifacts to be integral to the whole thing.

“Corporations have always co-opted legitimate social movements.”Although Open Source has always looked for ways to paint itself as more hip, more aware, less bigoted and more progressive than Free software, I consider this an opportunistic ruse. Corporations have always co-opted legitimate social movements.

It’s too far back in progress to imagine Coca Cola trying sponsor the sit-ins of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, but it’s not hard to imagine now. “Sitting In? Have a Coke!” The 30th anniversary of the Woodstock music festival was a fine example of big corporations cashing in on events that originally stood against corporate fascist culture.

I consider the pandering of Open Source to any who will listen to be a bug and a feature, dating back to its beginnings when Co-founder Bruce Perens said that he was resigning from OSI due to Free software being overshadowed by its work. He did not mean that OSI’s work was more important, rather that the importance of freedom was being ignored.

My goal with this article is not as much to react to the current events by themselves, but as part of a long-standing pattern that dates back more than a decade — Black Lives Matter only goes back to 2013 as far as I know, so while they’re extremely relevant right now (and if I blamed them for this, I would just say so) the real problem is when progressive causes are co-opted and weaponised against us — not the progressive movements themselves.

“…the real problem is when progressive causes are co-opted and weaponised against us — not the progressive movements themselves.”Free software was always about freedom, while Open Source was created specifically to couch the products (the software) produced by the movement in terms that avoid and sidestep the movement’s revolutionary terms and positions. It existed to make Free software friendly to corporations that didn’t want to hear about why “Intellectual Property” is a term designed to mislead and confuse people, for example. In order to justify co-opting Free software, it had to paint the movement in increasingly unflattering terms, which it did so frequently and dishonestly.

By no means is the movement perfect — freedom attracts all sorts of people, including those who wish to thwart progress. But for the most part, the Free software movement was always comprised of thoughtful and gifted individuals.

Like BLM, which has supporters from every race and many creeds, many of these individuals were outspoken and iconoclastic. In its narcissistic fashion, Open Source has always reserved the right to exhibit an iconoclastic veneer, while complaining that Free software won’t ever be understood, can’t represent its own movement unless everybody acts like a professional (the author of the Linux kernel can’t code in a bathrobe, what will people think?). These sorts of nags are exactly what hypocritical perfectionists do.

“In its narcissistic fashion, Open Source has always reserved the right to exhibit an iconoclastic veneer, while complaining that Free software won’t ever be understood, can’t represent its own movement unless everybody acts like a professional (the author of the Linux kernel can’t code in a bathrobe, what will people think?).”“Good speech. Be sure to stand up straight! It went a little long. Don’t be so rigid, be personable.” Note that the criticism about standing up straight and “don’t be so rigid” is almost contradictory. This isn’t because of nuance or caring, it’s simply arbitrary.

The problem isn’t that Open Source is critical, but that it’s dishonest and conniving. You could never establish this from a few fairly innocuous examples, but when there are decades worth of the same pattern it would be ridiculous to ignore. Whatever the goal of Open Source was, the effect was to sell Free software out to Google, IBM, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft.

So what is social justice hooey then?

Social justice hooey is the superficial veneer of things that do actually matter, that will turn all progress into disposable corporate campaigns and slogans. Like McCarthyism, social justice hooey provides a cynical measuring stick for humanity that you either attain (via appearances and conformity) or you don’t. It sorts the “believers” from opportunists — using criteria that puts the opportunists ahead — How “American” was the House Un-American Activities Committee? How “Patriotic” is the PAT-RIOT Act?

“Social justice hooey is the superficial veneer of things that do actually matter, that will turn all progress into disposable corporate campaigns and slogans.”Hooey has nothing at all to to do with sincerity, integrity, humanity, tolerance, honesty, equality, reform, or decency. It’s purely for show; it’s the little flag pin that every presidential candidate is expected to wear to show they’re patriotic. But whether you really care about the things that really matter can’t be determined by what kind of pin you wear. It’s nothing but social cause theatre.

There are lots of ways to address social change, but hooey demands conformity and change that is skin-deep. It’s ironic (or it’s deliberate) that the same injustice based on mistreating people over differences that are only skin deep leads to some people proposing solutions that treat the problem in only a skin deep fashion. This kind of superficiality is exactly where injustice comes from.

“Agreeing on everything” isn’t what “progress” or “progressive” means. Years before Erykah Badu brought “woke” back into popular culture, an acquaintance and shaman told me about people who were “awake.” This was a spiritual matter, and a mind matter, which “woke” has every potential for being as well. You can be politically “woke” and be an atheist, just as you can be “woke” and part of practically any religious background. “Awake” is a state of mind, though I like to think it means you frequently (if not always) work to see past the superficial.

“Full, unquestioning agreement is such a shallow measure of awareness or humanity.”Hooey demands we do the opposite — it demands that we become prostrate to symbolism and conform to superficial expectations.

Full, unquestioning agreement is such a shallow measure of awareness or humanity. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X didn’t agree on everything, and if we are “real” (I remember when “real” was a bigger thing than “woke” — I liked “real…”) then we know that no two people actually agree on everything. If we all agreed on everything, we wouldn’t “need” rights at all! (Don’t assume this is a coincidence.)

Freedom means that people who care about a cause (and even those who don’t) retain the freedom to disagree, and to say so. This freedom won’t last if we create the thought police, and it is the corporate thought police — not real social reformers, that are destroying our movement. They are wolves in reformer clothing.

Nobody who really cares about freedom is going to stand by silently while the racist police are replaced with thought police. If you care about freedom, you will ultimately seek solutions to both of these problems.

“Freedom means that people who care about a cause (and even those who don’t) retain the freedom to disagree, and to say so. This freedom won’t last if we create the thought police, and it is the corporate thought police — not real social reformers, that are destroying our movement. They are wolves in reformer clothing.”It’s certainly alright if some people focus on the problems of brutality and racism exclusively. But “solutions” that involve thought conformity and militant thought policing are not the answer, and yet these are exactly the weapons being used (as predicted and warned against more than a year ago, when George Floyd was still alive) to dismantle the Free software movement. If you force people to think the same way, you are forcing them not to think — and not to think about real freedom, but just a hollow shell of it.

I certainly don’t blame George Floyd (RIP) and I don’t blame BLM either — I blame people who are more immediately close to what we do, who are using events and outrage with things like these events opportunistically to take control and attack good people who are real reformers — reformers who may not bow to whatever cynical superficiality and conformity is sometimes proposed.

Iconoclasts aren’t like that just because they’re stubborn and obtuse; they’re stubborn and obtuse because they actually believe in something, and it isn’t just about image.

Systematic injustice has many different angles. Just because you reject a false solution that won’t help, doesn’t mean you’re “for” the problem.

“When rights are not respected, rebellion is inevitable.”Black Lives DO Matter, and everybody has the right both to be free — and to petition for a redress of grievances. That’s simply what the U.S. Constitution says, and lots of people know that it’s been used as toilet paper by every administration since at least the year 2000 (I would say longer.)

When rights are not respected, rebellion is inevitable. The preamble to UDHR warns of this, and while it is particularly applicable to the current climate of protest, I hope we might agree that a climate of rebellion with an expectation of complete agreement is a contradiction in terms.

We are not a corporation, we are many different people who don’t (in any circle) all consider ideas in an exactly identical fashion. Corporations expect much greater conformity than a real community — and that’s the dystopian future of the FSF, sadly. Any side-politics that demand complete conformity should be rejected, and treated as some level of threat to what we do. It’s clear that many have ignored this threat, and have let it take over and partially dismantle our political work already.

None of which is necessary or useful to the sort of reform that Black Lives need to be as free as everyone else. Though I will say that the level of passion, anger and occasional destruction in these protests is most likely justified at this point. What really impresses me is that most people seem to think so as well.

Don’t let Coca Cola, or anything like it, steal this movement and use it against Free software. And if Open Source tries, just tell them they’re not even a social movement — they’re a sold out branch of Microsoft that pays ZDNet to conflate GNU with Linux, Linux with Windows, Stallman with Epstein (who is closer to Bill) and Free software with bigotry. That kind of dishonesty calls for protest and rebellion as well.

“And if Open Source tries, just tell them they’re not even a social movement — they’re a sold out branch of Microsoft that pays ZDNet to conflate GNU with Linux, Linux with Windows, Stallman with Epstein (who is closer to Bill) and Free software with bigotry. That kind of dishonesty calls for protest and rebellion as well.”IBM has put away its racist spy toys which tracked minorities on surveillance cameras as well as minorities, various races and political enemies during the Holocaust, though they are sporting a "woke" flag pin themselves.

Is this really any better than Coca Cola (another Nazi collaborator, which rms has protested for years) co-opting the Civil Rights movement to sell soda?

It doesn’t bother me that Free software dabbles in other aspects of progress. It’s hilarious that Bradley Kuhn has held it against rms for having political opinions outside of the subject of Free software, when Kuhn’s own politics are right on display even while he’s saying this. The introduction of side politics, far from emanating from rms alone, is being used as a tool to silence him and other Free software supporters.

The problem for Free software in general, is that these other aspects of progress are being used as a form of political blackmail. Open Source didn’t invent that sort of dishonest, opportunistic ploy —

They’re simply borrowing it, and after 20 years of hypocritical gestures, people should decide they’ve had enough. Smarter people ought to be dabbling in progress without letting hooey come between some of our best people, and their opportunities to work with us.

It’s no surprise then, that some of our best people are women, racial minorities and former ACLU directors (who are also women) that defend rms against the dishonest, contrived, political blackmail used to manipulate not only the structure of the FSF — but all of its members as well.

“Smarter people ought to be dabbling in progress without letting hooey come between some of our best people, and their opportunities to work with us.”This isn’t a new ploy, even for Open Source and its victims — rms is simply one of the more recent and most prominent losses. I don’t like Linus Torvalds or ESR, but they did the same thing to both of them, and that was dirty too. Torvalds (more recently his boss, Jim Zemlin) did the same thing years ago, comparing Free software to “extremism” and “hate” — which is exactly why no one should fall for the same dishonesty when Kuhn or the FSFE do it to rms himself.

Superficiality is dishonesty — and dishonesty isn’t progress. When we are expected to comply with dishonesty, this is a giant step backwards for a movement — on the verge of systemic failure. Such dishonesty is used as a weapon against us, against our movement — and also against the other movements that it exploits, while distracting us from the more legitimate aspects of these good causes.

Long Live rms, and happy hacking.

Licence: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (public domain)

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