10.26.20

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The Downfall of Free Software Leaders (and Their Projects or Missions)

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Kernel, OSI at 3:44 am by Guest Editorial Team

By figosdev

Hijack, Cancel

Summary: “Cancel George Orwell, and happy hacking.”

Normally when someone says that a leader has failed, the aim is to put someone else in charge. But that’s a moot point when a leader hasn’t committed any crimes, and no one better is around to take their place.

If someone has done something so horrible for the project that they have disqualified themselves, we don’t have to pretend that’s impossible. The point of this article is the many coups taking place (or in some instances, a similar failure) and of course, in a coup the rising parties insist that the leader is no longer fit. They will launch countless ad hominem attacks that have nothing to do with the person as a leader, insisting that it is a real cost to the project — even that it is more cost to the project than it can withstand. RMS withstood two decades of such attacks, which alone should cause people to question their ultimate success.

“RMS withstood two decades of such attacks, which alone should cause people to question their ultimate success.”But we can still say that it’s possible for a leader to be that much of a problem, even if attacks for the purpose of taking over a project are more commonplace (and they are extremely commonplace).

Presumably, at one point Mozilla was an organisation that cared about your freedom. They used to offer a good browser, although they were on the “Open Source” side of Free Software, and that side really is about co-opting a movement for corporations.

Mozilla really didn’t have a “leader” in exactly the sense that GNU or Linux did; it was sort of an escape pod for Netscape, the latter being eventually taken over by AOL. Netscape had two founders, neither of which were really leadership figures for Mozilla in the way that rms or Linus Torvalds were. The closest thing Mozilla had to a leadership figure in this sense was Brendan Eich, and even then this was more apparent after the fact than during his tenure.

“For better or worse (I’d say both) Eich is the author of JavaScript. He wrote it for Netscape, and with Mozilla (which he co-founded) he rose to the level of CEO.”I never really liked Eich personally, though his importance to Mozilla is undeniable. Not every leader is a hero, and I don’t think of every leader as a hero (just look at American leadership today) though with or without the status, some of the leaders we’ve lost were nearly as vital as heroes would be. For better or worse (I’d say both) Eich is the author of JavaScript. He wrote it for Netscape, and with Mozilla (which he co-founded) he rose to the level of CEO. As the author of JavaScript at least, we can put Eich in a similar category as Python’s Guido van Rossum.

What’s happened to both JavaScript and Python is a partial but significant takeover by Microsoft and Github. However, we’re getting ahead of the story.

Eich gave money to a political (lobbyist) group that operates legally in the United States. Please note that I joined the many people condemning this and calling for his resignation. Eich did not publicly advocate his position against gay rights, nor did he mistreat his LGBT coworkers. The only reason we knew about his actions at all was due to a California law requiring such personal funding to be disclosed.

We were right at least, to condemn his actions. Whether we were right or wise to call for his resignation from Mozilla is a more difficult question now, at least for me. I’m not sure I can prove it was the wrong thing to do, but I feel that it almost certainly was.

“It is possible to support a project without liking its leader, but obviously this is a side point.”Either way, in light of the broader pattern of this sort of political tactic, the bigger picture makes this a very real and serious problem. Complicated ethical questions aside, I think we did ourselves a disservice at the behest of people who were much worse than Eich. That was clearly the goal. Complicated ethical questions aside, we owe it to ourselves to examine whether we want our values to be hijacked and used for dishonest schemes and purposes, the way they were hijacked and used to unseat Eich. If it were a single example, and didn’t lead to similar and even more frivolous instances of the same sort of issue, perhaps we could model the way we do things after that lesson. But we should definitely look at the broader context which has followed that event over the years.

Linus Torvalds of course, is an asshole. He’s also in many ways a hypocrite. I find him opportunistic and dishonest, at least politically as well as in a corporate setting. I do not like Eich personally, but my personal feelings about him are closer to neutral. I don’t like him, I don’t particularly loathe him (as a person or as a developer) either. I find Torvalds despicable at least.

Some people can separate the artist from the art — when it comes to appreciating music, I am rarely capable of doing so. Bono is an exception to this, I really think he’s a terrible human being, but when he writes he goes somewhere incredible and comes back with lyrics that (in my opinion) transcend his humanity. I can’t say I’m a fan, but I love his writing and even his performance. I certainly appreciate U2 more than Casey Kasem did.

“I don’t think it would be fair to say Torvalds led the coup against Free Software. We know who really lead that coup.”Besides, U2 isn’t just Bono, right? I mean I have nothing bad to say about the Edge or Adam Clayton (or anybody else associated with them, other than the record labels). It is possible to support a project without liking its leader, but obviously this is a side point.

I haven’t liked Torvalds for a long time, but we always knew he would eventually hand the project off to someone else if we could stand the wait. It’s worth looking at what happened with that, but even if I loathed Torvalds and thought his kernel was important to our movement (indeed I did both for quite a while) it was possible to hope for a day when someone better took over for him.

Torvalds has, since pretty much the beginning, enthusiastically supported the coup against Free Software known as Open Source. It’s possible to support it without understanding this as its real purpose, and Open Source encourages people to assume good faith — Open Source may not deserve that, but it certainly encourages it. So you can (in my opinion) support Open Source without knowing better. But I really think Torvalds was being selfish and opportunistic, and for many years he was nearly at the centre of that coup.

I don’t think it would be fair to say Torvalds led the coup against Free Software. We know who really lead that coup. I’ve spent literally years trying to get to the bottom line of what happened with Open Source, and I think it’s more fair to say that both Torvalds and ESR were led around by the ego, than to say they truly led the charge themselves. I think it’s a lesser crime to be exploited for your opportunistic selfishness than to be the true engineer of an attack on something really good — but if you think it’s less insulting to their intelligence to say Torvalds and ESR led a coup against freedom, please be my guest. It’s simply not the conclusion I’ve found the most evidence for.

“It was like that with the crusades, it is still like that with the War on Drugs. Humanity keeps falling for cures that are worse than the disease, because they make bigger promises than saner options can.”ESR was perhaps, a high ranking General in the coup — but we know (because the leadership discloses where its leaders come from) where Open Source gets its orders from today. And to anybody who has defected from the FSF to the even more nakedly corporate and ultimately fake OSI — you should be ashamed.

Perhaps the greatest sucker punch in the history of the human race, is the hijacking of morality. It’s an ingenious (and of course, dirty) maneuver; not only do people fail to see it coming, but after the fact they are convinced it was from an ally.

History has too many examples of this, from the fascism of the earlier-to-mid 1900s to crusades and holy wars:

“Hello, we’d like to go around torturing and killing thousands of random people, please.”

“You can’t do that! It’s illegal and it’s really mean!”

“No, this is different! It’s for MORAL reasons, you see…”

“Oh, why didn’t you say so? Go on, then!”

“Thanks very much!”

“In this contemporary example, the disease is intolerance. And we fall for it, and let fascists (not for the first time) hijack our morality in the name of morality itself.”We seem to fall for this again and again, which means there is clearly some deficiency (nobody’s perfect, right?) or vulnerability in the human psyche that leads us to think that if someone’s approach to morality is extreme enough, they must themselves be a moral example. Looking back from a safe distance of hundreds of years, this kind of endemic stupidity is Hilarious (just watch Mel Brooks lampoon the Inquisition).

The most cynical way to twist this is that I’m advocating lesser-evilism. In fact there are people advocating lesser-evilism right now, proposing that if we are given a choice between two fascists who support treason, we should actually work to replace one with a lesser one. In fact we should entirely reject both, and demand someone who is NOT an abject traitor to the people. Failing to do so is the worst sort of lesser-evilism. Though it’s fair if you note the parallels between that and what I am saying.

Instead, what I am saying is that if the lesser evil is already in charge, (please note that this is in the context of Free Software politics, of people like Torvalds and Eich; I only mention other ongoing pageants in contemporary politics because I realise someone will make the comparison anyway) then it’s very silly to replace them with someone who is actually worse because they make bigger, bolder promises.

“So we let immoral, dishonest, fascist and bigoted people become the thought police.”That’s the sucker punch — “We know you’re tired of all this immorality and injustice, so won’t you please let us raise the devil’s own personal army to come in and clean this up for you?” But we can’t talk about all of history’s examples of this, because Mike Godwin is a dumb fucking shit. (Just kidding Mike, but I’ll probably always say you are. Your “law” is about as useful to politics as luminiferous aether to CERN).

It was like that with the crusades, it is still like that with the War on Drugs. Humanity keeps falling for cures that are worse than the disease, because they make bigger promises than saner options can.

In this contemporary example, the disease is intolerance. And we fall for it, and let fascists (not for the first time) hijack our morality in the name of morality itself.

“Hello, we’d like to subject everyone involved in Free Software — erm, I mean Open Source to stacked moral tribunals, please.”

“What do you mean by ‘stacked’?”

“We intend to favour corporations as a rule; we will attack individuals for moral shortcomings, but give multinationals like NaziBM a pass.”

“Isn’t this a bit like the House Un-American Activities Committee?”

“Not at all! That existed to oust COMMUNISTS — we’re doing this to get rid of Bigots!”

“Hmm, that does sound entirely different. Go on, then!”

“Thanks very much!”

What could go wrong?

“Out with Eich, in with spying on users and DRM. That sounds a lot like justice and progress, be it social or otherwise.”So we let immoral, dishonest, fascist and bigoted people become the thought police. But since it’s all for a good cause, of course we let them. Isn’t that really our moral duty?

Out with Eich, in with spying on users and DRM. That sounds a lot like justice and progress, be it social or otherwise.

But it wasn’t just Eich. As I was saying, we did the same thing to Torvalds. Sure, he’s an asshole. More than Eich, he’s an asshole who attacks software freedom. But unless you can fork it into something different, it’s his kernel — I mean he’s the author. And the people who are coming closest to forking it (that is, the very foundation that Torvalds indirectly or nearly lends his own first name and certainly his registered trademark to) are not at all better than Torvalds. They’re bigger assholes and worse hypocrites.

And although both Torvalds and ESR participated in leader cancellation tactics, that alliance with the dark side did not prevent them from being disposed of in the very same fashion. Open Source even co-opts its own posterboys.

“Open Source even co-opts its own posterboys.”Getting back to waiting for someone better to take over, they attacked that person the same way they attacked Eich and Torvalds, so they could move the future of development towards someone who is far worse and far more corporate than Torvalds or Ts’o. I don’t even know one bad thing about Ts’o, incidentally. But that won’t stop us from making something up and seeing if it sticks!

So we aren’t just using this to oust assholes in leadership positions to replace them with people who are worse — we are using this to prevent perfectly decent successors (lxo?) from having the reins handed to them instead. We are doing this to fight bigotry, yes — but also we need corporate-friendly people in charge, that’s just as important. Every single time.

Fortunately Mozilla has seen the error of its ways, the FSF is no longer in any position to stand against a Microsoft GitHub hegemony, JavaScript and Python have been duly assimilated, and we are all better people.

Though somehow, for some reason — all of this “progress” screams to the very heavens of pure bullshit.

Now that we are finally liberated from backwards-thinking schmucks like Brendan Eich, who is left standing to save us from these fascist corporations?

“It’s really not a problem to have multinational corporate masters in charge of all our activism, in fact it’s for a very good cause; it’s only a problem to refer to a repository as “master”. Clearly, that’s where we need to draw the line if we want humanity to improve.”Guido von Rossum wasn’t so bad. He actually went along with all the nonsense he was supposed to, but at one point he stopped toeing the line, and really that’s the same as bigotry.

It’s really not a problem to have multinational corporate masters in charge of all our activism, in fact it’s for a very good cause; it’s only a problem to refer to a repository as “master”. Clearly, that’s where we need to draw the line if we want humanity to improve.

But as to actually having new masters? We can’t draw the line there, because they promised to cure bigotry. And if you’re against the cure, you support the disease.

“Cancel George Orwell, and happy hacking.”The article makes more than one reference to the violent act of “sucker punching”, and contains several unplusgood violations of the Code of Conduct of the LibreParty of Cambridge, Oceania.

The article you describe DOES NOT EXIST, and for the betterment of humanity we insist that you stop trying to suggest that it does.

Cancel George Orwell, and happy hacking.

Licence: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (public domain)

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