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

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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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