Bonum Certa Men Certa

A Reader Explains Why the Free Software Foundation's (FSF) Silence on Particular Issues Harms Causes of the FSF


Summary: One of our readers has decided to clarify to us why the FSF is, in this reader's personal view, doing damage to itself by discouraging particular types of dissent

SOME of our readers oppose all patents. They say so themselves. I even have such a close friend with several patents granted by the European Patent Office (EPO) and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). He says patents as a whole should be abolished. He's a university professor, so there's pressure from his employer to pursue these patents. I myself am not against patents. Only software patents and patents on things in nature.

Similarly, I am very supportive of the Free Software Foundation (FSF). I also understand its limitations. Some of its members and sponsors/patrons have particular expectations and the FSF cannot alienate them, not without a high toll/price/risk. When the FSF 'bashed' Vista 7, for instance, it lost some members. They saw that as negative advocacy.

"When the FSF 'bashed' Vista 7, for instance, it lost some members."One particular reader of ours is upset at the FSF's silence regarding all sorts of risks, but "when it comes to truth," he explains, "the FSF has a GOOD track record. better than anybody. Credit is due."

Over the past few days if now weeks we've politely argued about whether the FSF should do anything. I argued that it's misguided to spend energy focusing on the FSF when the Linux Foundation (LF), for instance -- with a budget almost 50 times bigger -- does far greater damage. Unlike the FSF, passivity isn't the issue there. The Linux Foundation actively harms Software Freedom in a variety of ways. We wrote many articles with plenty of examples.

"The Linux Foundation actively harms Software Freedom in a variety of ways."Two weeks ago we clarified our position on this matter. Recognising the fact that some readers don't share our views and actively push for the FSF to "do something" (at least verbally), we've decided to air the views below. It's fine to insist that the FSF should at least say something, but the FSF saying something would not necessarily solve any of the issues.

Regardless, here are one person's views:

I know you and I differ (in small ways, because I still pay attention to your output and it's not terribly different) but I keep looking for an objective way to point out just what harm the FSF is doing -- and to whom.

Obviously, the greatest harm is being done by Microsoft. That's a given, it's basically a statement of fact. We can quibble and say its subjective, but leans closer to a fact than an opinion. Microsoft does more than any other company, perhaps all put together.

Could they do it without the help of other shills? I don't think either of us believe so. Shills do less than Microsoft does, and some of it unwittingly (not every shill thinks they're deliberately shilling, and of course the deliberate kind is worse) but shills play a vital role -- one for which they (LF for example) will be rewarded short term and ultimately discarded.

Look at all the Open Source publications folding. They were corporate -- they called it "Linux" -- in the short term that was a gain, but ultimately they folded when the hype died down. Linux is being sold off, and these publications are a disposable commodity -- a tool that is used up getting tossed out. (not to its fans, not to historical value, but certainly to the owners.) Common theme right now.

Open Source has always rewritten history, as a tactic. Offended by pretending that it all started 28 years ago, not 35? Do you know how long I've spit on that for? It's not just rewriting history, which is bad enough by itself, but it is doing it to unfairly compete and for personal gain.

I would say the FSF does very little that is "unfair" to "compete." But rewriting history is bad enough, and doing it to allow your own adversaries to move forward (even if not intentionally) is worse.

As the attacks on Free software increase, everyone is taking a softer stance -- everybody -- from OSI to Apache to LF to Canonical to Red Hat -- and mostly for different reasons. Sometimes it is about threats and harassment, other times it is about bribery, for Canonical it really is about constantly whoring themselves out, not unlike with LF. They don't like "politics" because it is too close for comfort to ethics. You don't need to look farther than Shuttleworth's hilariously dishonest justification of Unity Lens to prove that.

If I guess why the FSF is also taking a softer stance, then I do so, taking their track record into account. What is compromising them? Is it the Code of Conduct, is it an agreement someone other than RMS made regarding RYF? RYF (I always thought, and think it is a great idea) has even been criticised by the Trisquel community (Stallman parrots by the bushel) for what it has chosen to endorse.

But whatever the reason, you're far more likely to uncover it than I am. If I do, it will probably be while reading a Techrights article.

Rewriting history is an attack on truth that helps our adversaries -- if it was only helping our adversaries theoretically, if it was not actively doing so, that would not be great but it would be better than this.

As much as it helped corporations take over when they rewrote history to make "Linux" the saving grace, it is helping corporations take over when the FSF does the same.

But does the FSF rewrite history? Obviously not, in the same way nor for exactly the same reasons.

OpenRespect, Codes of Conduct, and all the advice OSI gave about "playing nice" stifled the Free software movement, all along and every step of the way. It is itself dishonest -- as you just said about Bill Gates being painted as a Saint in a recent article, you simply say your opponent isn't being "nice" and now they have to be quiet, not do whatever they were doing -- because it isn't "nice" to criticise monopolies.

But the FSF is becoming more "nice." Worse than that, we have historical accounts of the FSF coming out AGAINST things that need to be fought, if we are going to win.

Mono needed to be resisted, OOXML needed to be resisted, everything that needed to be resisted, Open Source told us to resist less.

Now the FSF is telling us to resist less.

They are changing their tune -- going from telling us that things need to be fought, to telling us many such things DON'T need to be fought.

It would be misleading if Open Source did this, but it is more misleading when trusted advocates of freedom do it.

Again, there has to be an explanation. But until we have one, the impact of this is bad.

It weakens the Free software movement, to be told that things we knew (and know) are threats, are not threats. The FSF is doing that.

If they are allowed, if it goes unaddressed, then they will have an easier time than anybody (because they are trusted) telling everyone "it's ok, don't worry, these aren't threats."

Historically, they were threats. Now they're being swept under the rug.

When you rewrite history like that, it hurts everybody who stays committed to history. It makes people committed to truth look foolish. It make it harder to talk honestly about history and about the present.

The FSF is doing harm to all of that.

It's not about attacking the FSF, but about not allowing them to prevent other people from seeking and stating the truth.

The FSF is acting like a monopoly on history, and they aren't being honest about these issues.

Considering their track record, painting them as liars is a waste of time -- one they don't even deserve. When we find out the reasons, chances are, most people acted honourably and some (perhaps even outsiders) acted dishonourably.

So it isn't about "GNU man bad" or removing all credit from the FSF. A historical account will talk about the good and bad, and the FSF is OUTSTANDINGLY, PREDOMINENTLY good!

But rewriting history is very harmful, it makes all our jobs impossible, and don't think for a minute that ideologues won't ask you to do things they have already made impossible. They will tell you to just find a way.

If you are really dedicated to journalism, and some organisation wants you to rewrite history first and then do your job despite that, you will -- ultimately -- find yourself fixing the damage done to the historical narrative first.

Because you cannot fix the world's problems with a perspective that was sabotaged to mislead.

Rewriting history is one of the biggest attacks of all. And moral courage doesn't allow it to persist, no matter how much "nice" the FSF dishes out, or demands of us.

If they are silent, we have to be louder. But we have to point out, again and again and again, that they are silent.

My opinion, you don't have to agree. But once you realise (or agree) that this is about rewriting history, you have to know that history demands debate -- while the FSF seems to want us to comply in silence.

It is truly either/or. The best weapon against the rewriting of history is to call out the people doing it, and the FSF is rewriting their own -- writing themselves out of it.

That's not something we can rightly allow -- if we play along, we are doing the same harm, adding to it. That cheats every person we talk to. It even cheats the FSF and helps whomever is hurting them.

That's one person's view (or set of views) anyway. As we stated at the top, we deem it more constructive and productive to call the those who actively harm Software Freedom. And we shall continue to do just that.

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