11.17.20

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The Real Richard Stallman is Not Coming Back

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FSF, OSI at 3:09 am by Guest Editorial Team

By figosdev

Coming down

Summary: “Free Software was created to defend the freedom of every user, not to coddle monopolies or excuse actions taken against users in bad faith.”

Many people have worked to end Richard Stallman’s career, and the good news is that he will continue fighting.

While his career with the FSF has ended (he has no real authority left there, mostly people pretending to help him and others working against him directly), his activism continues behind the scenes, encouraging other parties to respect the freedom of users. We know this for a fact, and I take some comfort in it.

But while he will continue to fight, much unlike the watered down new FSF, there are things the “Real Richard Stallman” would do that this one will not.

Free Software was created to defend the freedom of every user, not to coddle monopolies or excuse actions taken against users in bad faith. It does not excuse mass surveillance, controlling users or silencing activism.

Open Source has excused and literally promoted all of these things.

And while people complained that Open Source was not promoted by Stallman, that he refused to endorse its wishy-washy corporate entryism, refusing corporate entryism was exactly what Free Software needed to do to survive.

It failed.

“Open Source doesn’t love anybody, they only love when you don’t show integrity.”Open Source does not make exceptions for its sycophants; when you cave to Open Source, you are dealing with bait-and-switch scams and shell games. Open Source pretends it is Free Software, while saying it is also something else. This “something else” is an attack on users as well as freedom. It’s much too easy to find examples of this, just say: “OK Google, violate my privacy”.

Open Source pretends to be neutral and both Martin Luther King Jr. and Desmond Tutu have spoken about the side that neutrality takes in oppression, but either way it suffices that the neutrality of Open Source is nothing more than sheep’s clothing; Open Source joined the war on users that Microsoft declared in internal memos decades ago and they also sought to rebrand Free Software so they could redefine and control it.

The tech press (which even ESR spoke disparagingly of with comments in the Halloween documents) paints this as a paranoid conspiracy theory, but even in OSI (which ESR co-founded) Microsoft has too many people in control today, and some want to literally redefine the Open Source Definition.

This is not a theory.

But we know this about the Real Richard Stallman. He has never supported Open Source as an alternative to Free Software. He even said that Open Source people “treat him like shit”.

It's comingBut as I was saying, Open Source does not make exceptions for sycophants. Torvalds promoted Open Source and slighted Free Software for years, pandering to corporations who don’t care about freedom. For Torvalds, and Open Source, this is just a development methodology. He has recited Open Source’s mantras for decades, but despite his lack of integrity as a person overall, there is one thing they couldn’t get Torvalds to do: make sacrifices in the way he maintained the kernel. This is his one good point, and it is the reason he had to go.

It’s not really because Torvalds is an asshole. All the people who control Torvalds today are assholes; they’re bigger liars and they’re slowly destroying and co-opting the Linux kernel, just as “Linux” co-opted GNU. If you talk to them, or even watch the way they’ve treated Linus, you can tell that even if Torvalds is a scumbag, these people are corporate bullies who treat Linus like shit.

Open Source doesn’t love anybody, they only love when you don’t show integrity. No exceptions are made, not even for Linus; bow to Corporate or GTFO.

If you matter to Open Source, it certainly doesn’t matter if you’re an asshole. Steve Ballmer is a HUGE asshole. It never mattered. The only “crime” of Ballmer’s that Microsoft cared about was him losing money. This is business, they care about results, not personality. IBM thinks we could do better in terms of a leader, but they happily and literally worked with Hitler. Obviously the right amount of money can buy a LOT of understanding.

Torvalds has stood year after year in the way of backdoors and other bad moves for the kernel, so credit where credit is due. But this is why Torvalds is not in control anymore. And that brings us to what they’ve done to Richard Stallman.

For a while I referred per comments made on another article to Stallman as “rms”. Today, I will do that in the past tense.

RMS was Stallman’s hacker name. Richard Stallman is, I think, when he referred to it as his “mundane name”.

RMS is dead, but Stallman is still fighting.

We know rms is dead, because he was outspoken, did not bow to false compromise, and never stopped fighting.

So at least one part of rms still lives on, because Stallman is still fighting. That really is better than nothing.

But he is no longer outspoken, and we really need him to be. The things that are happening now are just as atrocious as when they were mere outspoken (and seemingly hyperbolic) warnings. It seemed hyperbolic to equate SOFTWARE with human rights. And yet today we are being showered constantly with examples of how very basic human rights (as in the Constitution or the more globally relevant UDHR) are eroded and/or threatened by technofascist gizmos that are too popular for George Orwell not to rise from the dead and yell “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?!” Old George is coming back, folks, any day now.

“So at least one part of rms still lives on, because Stallman is still fighting. That really is better than nothing.”On a regular basis I find memes that honestly and reasonably compare the destruction of riots to the destruction of the so-called “polite society” — we live in a “polite society” that uses torture and chemical warfare (albeit mostly “softer” torture and “softer” chemical warfare, but either way, methods and chemicals that are banned for being unethical and immoral) on protesters engaged in activities which are protected by the First Amendment.

Or at least, were protected by the First Amendment. Now that Biden is in, expect those rights to continue to erode, as they did with Trump. But then we are still talking about the world here. Those who were horrified (as was I) by the recent tear gassing and rubber bullets of protesters and journalists ought to pay closer attention to the history of how G7 protesters are treated even before 9/11. This sort of corporate tyranny is nothing new (but it is definitely still getting worse and more common).

And you have people saying that Trump’s actions regarding the pandemic are akin to exterminating people.

While rioting is not the method of protest that I advocate (I still lean towards being outspoken, and I think most protesters actually prefer this to rioting) I am forced to cede that the people saying “‘polite society’ is worse than a riot” are not at all likely mistaken. “Polite society” is full of war crimes, engineered poverty, countless resulting deaths, and the mass murder and endless exploitation of civilians.

But then many of the same people who defend rioting on a regular basis are dead-set against Richard Stallman either being outspoken against corporations engaged in mass surveillance capitalism or in favour of due process.

I know I’m painting with a broad brush here, I know there are loads of exceptions. But the overlap and inconsistency is still boggling.

Anyway, the methods used to put a leash on Torvalds and Assange and the methods used to put one on Stallman are too similar to ignore. It hasn’t stopped there either, because political correctness is now being wielded as a way to yoke all developers of mainstream software (whether mainstream and non-free, or mainstream and under a free license) into indentured servants of projects that have been taken over by corporate donors who then force even original authors Linus and Guido to do things the way the monopoly wanted, or get out.

I note with great sadness that Guido showed less integrity than Linus in this regard. It’s real sadness as although I don’t love the Linux kernel anymore, I do love Python. (And PyPy more than Python, but it is still an implementation of the Python language). Guido is a talented developer and it’s very sad to watch him not only sell out, but sell every user out.

As I have said many times, I do not think Stallman has sold out. I think he was sold out by others. GNOME Guix (working together with Deb Icaza among many others) are some of the biggest traitors, but so is ESR who still has the audacity to claim to be Stallman’s “friend”.

“If you make a list of the 20 worst things about Open Source you can think of (from a Free Software point of view) you can use that as a watchlist for what’s happening to Free Software itself.”Eric, real friends don’t stab people in the back the way you did. Perens knows it, and anybody who knows what happened knows that. You’re a shameless opportunist living in the shadow of a great man, who you created a name around your jealousy of for years and years, you’re NOT a “friend”. You are far closer to being the Cain to his Abel; a person who would slay his own brother simply for being favoured.

And all of what you call “Open Source” is made in your image, much like which president after you sold OSI directly to Microsoft?

Even ESR was ultimately ousted, the same way they did to Torvalds. And while I undoubtedly sympathise more with ESR than with the people who ousted him, it is (clearly) not very much; it’s the principle of the thing. Whatever I may think of him, the way he was ousted was wrong and ultimately bad for all of us. As with Linus and his owner Jim, the lesser of two evils was screwed over by the greater.

My beef with Open Source was not created by Richard Stallman, it was created by Open Source itself. I originally, and foolishly, bought into its vapid rhetoric years ago. “We are like Free Software but more reasonable,” they said. They have a facade of being friendly, inviting, helpful, and above all Laid Back. The GPL is like slavery, Free Software is hateful, we are nice people who don’t care what you do. Stop choosing software based on licenses and just use what works for you!

What a bunch of crap. Open Source acts like Free Software is full of sacred cows (and a couple of those really are annoying) but to Open Source, every monopolistic corporation that participates in the smallest way is a sacred cow. Yet users are not. These sacred corporations can literally murder people, but Open Source advocates who catch you criticising actual human rights violations will smear you personally, and act like the Microsoft logo is a thing you can be “bigoted” against.

Open Source is one of the biggest, stupidest lies in the world. It’s not laid back, it’s not friendly, it’s not fair (it assassinates anyone whose integrity gets in its way) and it just sells Free Software out to Microsoft.

As I’ve said in other articles, I made my way into — then out of — a cult as a teenager. I know how they get people who are longing for community, I know how they gradually (and abusively) nudge people into doing their bidding, I know how they try to keep people from leaving, even when anybody is allowed to leave.

As I realised that Open Source had the same levels of bullshit and the same two-faced reality once you supported them, and that Open Source really does indoctrinate and use people, I grew disgusted with their attacks on freedom and their constant lying and apologies for companies that act in bad faith.

It would only be a service to cults to refer to things that aren’t really like them as cults, but I know one when I see one. You may find only the disguise at first, but when the lying never stops and the double standard keep piling up, you know it’s bullshit.

If you make a list of the 20 worst things about Open Source you can think of (from a Free Software point of view) you can use that as a watchlist for what’s happening to Free Software itself. And “rms” would be (and once was) outspoken about those things. I’m very sorry that rms is no longer with us. But I believe Richard Stallman is sincerely doing his possible best, and also that it is more than most people would do in your situation. Most people, including myself, would have given up a lot sooner.

“Until he was hanged, rms was a public advocate of freedom. Now the real fight and the real advocacy is done quietly, safely.”Richard Stallman should not be less outspoken, he should be more outspoken now than ever before.

But he won’t be, and this is why–

People are human.

You can’t always get a human to part with their values. That’s a strength (yes, in some instances it is a shame). I do not think that Richard Stallman has sacrificed his values. Nor do I think he has stopped trying. That’s to his credit. As I said, most of us would have given up after the 20+ years of abuse and slander he’s withstood. I’m not saying he’s perfect, fuck knows he’s loaded with faults as we all are. But he is undoubtedly a good person, and the hate of many (with the added weight of the corporate sycophant tech press even ESR used to condemn) is strong.

A lot of people in Stallman’s situation would act like more of a martyr. While Stallman acknowledges and is (of course) unhappy about the abuse he has received, the vast majority of time is spent fighting and (until recently) advocating.

Until he was hanged, rms was a public advocate of freedom. Now the real fight and the real advocacy is done quietly, safely. I’ve made it clear that in his situation, I don’t think most of us could do better, not after fighting openly and withstanding regular slander for as long as he has.

He’s got a right to be tired and he said that he would fight as long as he lives, and he’s still keeping that promise.

But there will be no more substantial advocacy (public advocacy at least) from Richard Stallman, because that outspokenness died when rms did.

Free Software advocates are under literal surveillance, not just from the NSA and GCHQ, but from Microsoft. Not only this, but 20 years ago Microsoft (read the Halloween documents) said they wanted to closely monitor Free Software developers and poach the best ones for themselves.

Now they’ve got Guido, I don’t know if Miguel de Icaza really counts as “the best”, but remember we are talking about Microsoft standards of quality here.

Of course you can cause a lot more trouble with mass surveillance than just poaching the best developers. The point is, rms the Real Richard Stallman would never be quiet or accept false compromise around Microsoft GitHub. He was openly against GitHub even before it was owned by Microsoft, and for much smaller reasons.

RMS has shown more accurate foresight than nearly any other technologist when it comes to freedom and civil liberties, but he is not without a few blind spots. I think one of them is that he squandered an opportunity to consider the full implications of what Lawrence Lessig proposed to the FSF board when he was there. To me that was always the FSF’s greatest drawback.

“RMS has shown more accurate foresight than nearly any other technologist when it comes to freedom and civil liberties, but he is not without a few blind spots.”While Oliva says that copyright has “nothing to do with free software”, I said the DMCA was a perfect example of how wrong that is and this was before Joe “RIAA” Biden came back into politics, ensuring that the next few years will not just try to fuck us harder with patents (THANKS GNOME! Assholes…) but that copyright will be standing beside patents and waiting for another turn.

For people not directly taxed by the DMCA, international trade agreements like CAFTA, NAFTA, ACTA (failed) and TPP/TTIP (failed) along with the “EEE-Eww…” have worked to establish a global system of censorship and corporate theft that makes WIPO look like Elmo’s World.

But copyright has nothing to do with Free Software. If that’s true, then neither do patents. .oO Que porra é essa?

Rather I think that Free Culture advocates actually know more about copyright than Stallman and Oliva combined (and even that is plenty more than nothing, I’m sure) and Free Software is weaker against copyright threats because of this.

Free Culture advocates, in turn, are often weak on Free Software. Stallman noticed this and it’s plain to see. But I have long noticed that Free Software advocates who support Free Culture are often stronger Stallman supporters and stronger Free Software supporters compared to the average, at least. They tend to be more informed and are often more passionate. This is what Free Software has squandered, because there are more people who care about the right to remix than the right to control their software, and they are ultimately twin rights (even if most Free Software advocates and Free Culture advocates haven’t noticed).

Stallman also truly underestimated Microsoft. Somewhere along the line, his necessary tools for converting software into Free Software became the hammer to every corporate nail, and Microsoft has often been treated as “just another nail” to be hammered with the GPL if possible. This is tragic, and its shortsightedness has led to the FSF’s downfall. Never giving up is one thing, but Free Software has wrapped itself in a warm blanket of hubris while the fortress comes down.

Today, Richard Stallman promotes software attainable only by dealing with the corporate surveillance put in place by Microsoft. His address to LibrePlanet was a watered down appeal to promote EXACTLY what the FSF has focused on of late — tools like Jami and BigBlueButton, both of which are controlled by Microsoft. One person said the video was “scripted” which I find too horrible and un-Stallman-like to contemplate. Though I don’t deny it sounds more like a script than the man himself. As holographic Whitney Houston told fans about “some of the songs ‘I did’” following her death, that video seems to betray an outside interest. Of course the differences between the new FSF and the old are sometimes subtle, even slightly plausible.

“You build GNU IceCat, Jami or BigBlueButton, Microsoft’s stocks go up and then they fight even harder against your freedom with patents and surveillance.”If GNOME has taken the fall for patents, then the FSF has taken the fall for GitHub, and some might say that Free Software has little choice if all the real alternatives to Zoom and Teams are developed on Github, what is the FSF supposed to do?

For starters, they could point out how incredibly bleak it is that ALL ALTERNATIVES involve dealing with the same company that pushes (and builds continuing revenue from) the same software patents that harm Free Software.

You build GNU IceCat, Jami or BigBlueButton, Microsoft’s stocks go up and then they fight even harder against your freedom with patents and surveillance. Not to mention that they continue to use GitHub to co-opt and steer key projects like Python.

RMS would never, ever stand for this. But Richard Stallman does.

I can’t be any clearer that I understand why he would at his age and at this level of concerted and corporate effort to betray him and his supporters decide to choose his battles.

You could even argue that he has always warned us about relying on the “Cloud” (which is what GitHub is one of the more horrific examples of very easily the most horrific for Free Software development) and specifically about GitHub, so why would he need to lead a campaign against the more recent and more horrible effects of doing so?

Instead, I argue that rms is gone. But I also said that he isn’t coming back. And here is why…

Stallman is an old man. He is still fighting, and that’s inspiring. He has fought for his entire career, which is inspiring as well. The fact that Free Software exists at all, we owe to this man and (obviously) many others, everybody knows that. Nobody has ever fought as much for Free Software as Stallman; not ESR, certainly not Linus, not Perens, Lessig, de Raadt, Eich, Guido, Roio, not even Oliva (who wouldn’t deny this is true for a moment). Though I deeply admire the practically absurd lengths that Lessig has gone to (along with his friend, Aaron Swartz) in the name of freedom.

Old men do generally soften as fighters. The exceptions are few, and I still think this has more to do with machinations than age because that’s where the actual evidence points. But age is most certainly a factor. We are up against time itself, as Stallman is mortal.

But whether it is due to his fight getting softer, or being stifled or both, this trend is only going to continue.

And if we do not lend our support to this cause, and be the outspoken advocates against the destruction and co-opting of free software that rms was, then it will not make rms fight much harder. I am confident he is fighting as hard as he can right now and that is not the mark of a sellout.

Obviously the best way to honour the (continuing) legacy of rms is to join Richard Stallman in fighting for the freedom of all users, not just the freedom granted by a Free Software license alone, but the freedom granted by a Free Software license with people defending everything that license stands for.

“The FSF tells him to promote GitHub, and he does. They give him a platform, as long he says exactly what they’re saying already.”That’s exactly what the FSF has abandoned, and why the FSF is no longer fighting for anyone. They aren’t fighting for users anymore, they are (not unlike Creative Commons, which always had this problem to a saddening degree) only fighting for the use of certain licenses. Any way you can work around the license to limit the ability for users to have control of their computing — the FSF will do VERY little to stop you, or even condemn what you’re doing. They will even promote you!

Essentially, if we do not pick up the fight that rms fought during his lifetime, then Stallman will not be able to either.

But if we do pick up that fight, as we certainly ought to, then Stallman will not need to. At this point in the game, he will let us do that part for him.

Unless someone has plans to make him immortal, now is as good a time as any to pick up where rms left off.

As for Richard Stallman, he is still an ally, he has not sold out (at least I am 99% certain he hasn’t) but he does not fight like he used to. He chooses his battles, and very key problems are not fought anymore.

The FSF tells him to promote GitHub, and he does. They give him a platform, as long he says exactly what they’re saying already.

That’s not rms. It’s just what’s left of Richard Stallman.

But make no mistake he may have been forced out of full time public activism to being something a little closer to being a politician…

(I’m sorry, having watched the video that’s what I must conclude).

He is still on our side. He INVENTED our side. And the more you learn about the layers and layers of the history of computing from the time Stallman became active onwards, the more evidence you find that this is even understated by his supporters. Because until they do extensive research, even many of them don’t know just how true it is.

That honour isn’t going anywhere. Recognition is often fickle, awards are frequently given to the wrong individuals, but honour is immortal.

“Recognition is often fickle, awards are frequently given to the wrong individuals, but honour is immortal.”Richard Stallman was and still is one of the great minds and great human beings of the 20th and 21st centuries.

But “rms” will be missed, much more sorely if we do not take up his mantle. We know Stallman Was Right, but the battles that need to be fought continue to present themselves. If we do not meet those challenges with the passion and integrity that the FSF has put aside forever, we will lose. Open Source may have “won” for the time being, though users are still becoming less free for such a cynical corporate victory.

Open Source “wins” by taking whatever side looks like it’s winning. It’s what allows people like Bryan Lunduke to smirk and slander rms, then go work for Purism and have a friendly interview with Stallman, then later start attacking Free Software (using all of Open Source’s time-tested bullshit) again.

Free Software wins differently, by staying vigilant about what we are actually fighting for, and making sure all of its reasonable compromises are reasonable and not simply giving in to a hostile corporate takeover of what is supposed to be activism.

Long live rms, long live Richard Stallman and happy hacking.

Licence: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (public domain)

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