12.17.19

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Guest Post: When You Realise the FSF is Dying, or Dead

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FSF at 1:19 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

By figosdev

Sinking Atlantis

Summary: “In the 1990s, teaching about computing shifted to application training. This enlisted mandatory education in helping the sales of proprietary software.”

This is an article with very gloomy implications, inspired by the sad tone of a short reply from a former FSF board member; a man who obviously loves and has spent his life defending the ideals of freedom.

The following things are not said to make you give up hope. They are meant to address unhappy days, and give people a way to muddle through those days.

Defending the Free Software Foundation will continue to go on, until there is nothing left to defend. Unfortunately, the only real help the FSF is accepting is from the P.R. handlers. And (financial) support from listeners like you. To remind you that reality is holographic, there are people speaking daily of an existential crisis for humanity itself. But even those who believe the species could fizzle would find it harder to consider that happening to the original Free software organisation.

“To remind you that reality is holographic, there are people speaking daily of an existential crisis for humanity itself.”The purpose of warning about it was to get people to prepare and try to prevent it. As it happens, there wasn’t much time. The FSF has acted not unlike Steve Jobs, in that it refuses to do anything that might save it, but it will accept help from liars and charlatans. Financially speaking, they have that anonymous nest egg that (by comparing it to fundraising goals through the past few years) will likely keep an otherwise-unfunded FSF running for a year or a few.

I’m not worried about the FSF losing funding, only relevance. But I mean relevance to the fight for software freedom, not relevance to the media or to the same companies that are trying to destroy software freedom. They can continue to trade relevance to what matters for favour with their destroyers, but ultimately what their sponsors will demand in return is to lay down and die. This really isn’t news, it’s the thing open source pretends isn’t a cold hard fact.

If Steve Jobs had wanted to act more like the FSF as he was dying, then instead of relying on superstition or fighting his cancer with medicine and treating it like something to defeat he might have tried to partner with it or find some way to peacefully coexist. “I can’t beat cancer” he would say, “So I might as well join it.” That’s the 20-year-old mantra of Open Source, and the FSF really should know better.

“This really isn’t news, it’s the thing open source pretends isn’t a cold hard fact.”Stallman, on the other hand, is known for saying that he will fight to eliminate non-free software “or die trying.” Some people will try to save the FSF as long as it exists, and I don’t blame them for trying. The fact that the FSF is deaf and refuses to take any advice whatsoever (all while asking to hear from you, albeit with its fingers stuck in both ears) is exactly the problem that may have killed Steve Jobs.

Still, I’m not here (not today) to prove that the FSF is dead. I know fantastic claims require ample evidence, but you’re reading Techrights, and I defy you to find more ample evidence than you will reading this website. If you do, please write! Most likely, Techrights will gladly publish that, too.

What I’m saying is, that ample evidence doesn’t always come all at once. A lot of times when I talk about something happening, I’m reporting on a lot of different things at once. If you want details, this website is where you will find many of them. And by all means, don’t limit yourself to one source — we certainly don’t. On the contrary.

“What I’m saying is, that ample evidence doesn’t always come all at once.”Here is some very interesting reading, if you wonder where the doom and gloom comes from (this is just an example though). That is about FSFE, so you may wonder what this has to do with the FSF. Again, you’re reading Techrights, so this website talks about problems related to the FSF all the time these days.

What’s the goal here? Most of us are “computer people” at least. We aren’t all “developers” and that isn’t the only hat we wear if we are. But if you have a sick and dying computer, or vital component, what do you do?

1. Get more information.

2. Do a full backup, or at least of everything important.

3. Replace faulty components (I don’t mean Stallman, dammit. Did cancelling him help at all? F- — no!)

4. Restore data.

Do redundant systems like networks and RAID help? Absolutely! So if you don’t have things like that, you might eventually upgrade.

Still, people keep trying to save the dying machine. I would try, I did try. I’ve devoted literally years to trying. One person even recommended I try to join the board (to be fair, I said the same to them. We could just be blowing smoke, but I know for a fact that I was being sincere.)

“Apple, like the FSF without Stallman, has certainly not improved without Jobs.”You couldn’t force Jobs to accept medical help (and just to be clear, I don’t think it would be ethical to.) He chose to do things his way, and refuse options that might have saved him. Apple, like the FSF without Stallman, has certainly not improved without Jobs.

Again and again, I have called for “more Stallmans.” How would you achieve that? By learning more about the man. By being true to facts and context, not merely superficial. You do not need to acquire every one of his quirks, though you should also not be overly quick to dismiss his qualities as quirks either. What some might consider weaknesses of his were in fact strengths in the proper context.

I hope it’s also clear that a cult of personality isn’t a worthwhile goal either. This is about Free software. And Stallman is just the surest path there. We shouldn’t abandon the surest path, but it doesn’t have to be the only path. Jokes aside, Stallman isn’t really a Holy Man (though he does play one sometimes during speeches.)

“Ceding to oppressors in the name of freedom is not a working strategy, it is a convoluted type of failure.”We also know that some paths are worthless. Ceding to oppressors in the name of freedom is not a working strategy, it is a convoluted type of failure. Short term, we know there always setbacks. As a strategy, failing and succeeding are completely different and should never be confused for the other.

Since it may seem like the solution isn’t stated yet, we can spell things out a little more:

1. Learn more about the founder of Free software, and the history of Free software. History always adds light to the present — it really isn’t just about yesterday, but it will even tell you things about the future.

“Don’t trust, or act like, the corporations bent on destroying Free software.”2. Don’t create idols. (Don’t mislead yourself with superficiality. Truth runs deep, as should the quest for it.) Stallman isn’t an idol, he’s a person. We are all people. It’s perfectly alright to take inspiration from heroes, of course. But remember they aren’t a different species. Also, some humans are more powerful, but humans are Turing complete.

3. Don’t trust, or act like, the corporations bent on destroying Free software. Again, this is about truth, not superficiality. Don’t be shallow and image-based, be real.

4. Don’t pretend we haven’t lost anything and won’t lose anything. We are losing, right now, and if we want the courage to win at some point, we can’t forget ourselves with too many false victories.

5. Create backups. Literally. Also, learn things.

6. Restore Data. Also, share things.

“FFS, Delete GitHub already!”7. Spread out. Not too far, but don’t create walled gardens or single points of failure like GitHub. That enabled Microsoft to control and surveil far too much of what we do. It’s telling that the FSF warned against that, but now that the damage is done, doesn’t state the major importance of fixing it.

8. FFS, Delete GitHub already! This means you. Also, these guys.

9. Invent. Share your ideas, try to build them, do it like science — not every experiment will be a success. Keep going.

10. Stop waiting for help to arrive. Do what you can on your own, because you could be the help someone else is waiting for now.

11. BE HONEST! Everybody here is human. So be as honest as you f—ing well can be. It’s vital, we are losing a lot of ground to lies. If you’re going to be full of crap, just go write for the mainstream tech press or work for Microsoft. They’ll pay you, and you can leave us the hell alone.

The FSF is making promises it can’t keep. It can’t fight for your freedom while selling you out. You don’t have to go far to find someone who feels abandoned by the FSF. Stop waiting.

But, if you have already stopped waiting, the rest of that advice is for you.

“In the 1990s, teaching about computing shifted to application training. This enlisted mandatory education in helping the sales of proprietary software.”Also, know that in the 1980s, when the FSF was founded, schools occasionally taught about computing. In the 1990s, teaching about computing shifted to application training. This enlisted mandatory education in helping the sales of proprietary software. It also created a deeper rift between the concepts of “User” and “Developer.” That rift helps proprietary software companies, as these roles were more coupled at one point.

In other words, in the 1980s you used a computer by using a computer. There were applications, but you didn’t learn computing by learning applications — you really learned some form of computing. From the 90s onward, applications and “developers” started to become intermediaries.

Learning “computing” and not just being a slave to applications doesn’t mean you have to be a developer for a living. But it makes you literate. You don’t learn to read just so you can consume books and follow signs, you also learn to read so you can write. And in my opinion, “coding” is not just about developing applications. It is about telling the computer what to do. You don’t learn to write words just to become a professional author, but because it helps immensely to learn.

“…in my opinion, “coding” is not just about developing applications. It is about telling the computer what to do. You don’t learn to write words just to become a professional author, but because it helps immensely to learn.”If you can’t tell the computer what to do, you will always be looking for intermediaries. It’s one thing to have people doing the work for you. It’s another to have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. That lack of knowledge is no advantage at all.

My advice is to treat Free software like Atlantis — a lost, advanced civilisation that we (in this narrative, at least) keep finding bits and pieces of — treasure them, and try to build the future with knowledge, even though Atlantis the civilisation is lost to the ages.

A note: I don’t have any conclusive opinion on whether “Atlantis” really existed or not. It’s an interesting story, but still a metaphor in the context of this article. This is for the one troll who takes that point literally as a sorry excuse to ignore the rest. That’s exactly the sort of superficiality threatening our movement, too — as well as Stallman’s hard-earned legacy.

Someday, that legacy may also be ours — there’s always a chance, right? But that’s no reason to write out a founder or impoverish our history. We wouldn’t do that to Alan Turing or Grace Hopper, so why do that to him?

Long Live Stallman, and Happy Reconstructing.

Licence: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (public domain)

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