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Cancel Culture and the Handbook for Destroying the Free Software Movement

Guest article by Ted MacReilly and figosdev

Bad food culture



Summary: Roasting leaders and luminaries as a strategy of choice

THE cancellation of Richard Stallman has yet to end. He remains stifled, the public remains lied to, the liars (unlike their victims) are not held accountable, and the Free software movement is still weakened.



Along with other people who contribute to Techrights, we predicted some of this, months prior to it happening. How? The easiest way to predict the future is to notice ongoing patterns and processes that repeat. Then look for the beginnings of those patterns in the present.

At worst, this is slippery slope fallacy. But argument from fallacy is itself a fallacy, and just because something is a slippery slope doesn't mean that its conclusion is false -- only that it wrongly assumes the conclusion is necessarily true.

A lot of the time, things that are moving in a certain direction continue to move in that direction -- one of the most famous laws of physics says more or less the same. Sometimes a force acts upon something and it changes, but there is a great deal of inertia in many things.

Stallman's cancellation isn't complete, and was already happening when it was predicted in June. Recently, someone online referred to a future point when Torvalds is fully cancelled. The truth is that he is already "cancelled enough" that he likely can't and likely won't stop any of the bad things that will happen to the Linux kernel from happening. The torch isn't passed, but it's now out of his hands. It's too late, and he's either tired, apathetic or afraid.

No one is likely to fork the Linux kernel, because if they do, it will be someone who cares about software freedom -- and if you ask around the community of people who care about software freedom, there is nobody who will fork it. Alexandre Oliva, being the author of linux-libre, should probably know.

If someone was capable of making a truly libre fork of Linux to counter the increasingly corporate, increasingly DRM-infested, increasingly unlikely-to-remain-copylefted (as Microsoft, via the former Linux Foundation will be in charge of license enforcement) -- Oliva would probably know them, or at least know of them. These people (probably) don't exist. It's wonderful that sometimes the most likely future isn't the one we get. In that, there is always a little bit of hope -- but it's no cause for Hubris.

You can also look at what the developers most tuned into the future of freedom are doing. They're shifting towards BSD -- probably not because BSD is better for everybody, but because it's less work to liberate it. If there isn't anybody to fork Linux, and there doesn't seem to be -- then less work means it is more likely to happen. It isn't necessarily ideal, but that doesn't make it a dumb idea. Of course, it's a possibility that after destroying Linux, they will turn to BSD. Hopefully by that time, people will be ready for the struggle.

The Handbook for Destroying the Free Software Movement could have been called "The History of destroying Free software." Except it isn't just history, it is going on right now at least as much as it was described 20 years ago. The tactics were already polished up by IBM -- a company with a history as over-the-top toxic as anybody who might get cancelled today -- when Microsoft adopted them and adapted them to fighting against Free software. Their "loves Linux" campaign is no different than the love bombing campaigns narcissists use to lure victims for sustained campaigns of abuse. These are also often called "charm offensives".

They talk of patent pools (chapter 7 of the handbook is about the patent war, which has never ended) but continue to act as if they own Android -- by continuing to demand royalties (rent seeking) and holding onto written agreements that they "own" the software we've created, with companies who merely redistribute it. Both narcissists and large corporations expend enormous energy trying to sustain their own monopolies, and recruit other narcissists (and smaller corporations) to attack anybody who stands against their abuse.

This has been used against both Richard Stallman and Alexandre Oliva. It has been used against Linus Torvalds and Eric S. Raymond. It has been used by the government -- or the corporations that run it -- against Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning. The lines between clinical narcissism, cult tactics and corporate monopolies are minor and technical. First they exploit, then they use bullying, lies and other abuse to "defend" the exploitation from anybody who stands up to it.

The handbook touches on how open source was weaponised early on against software freedom. It touches on how to isolate activists from their cause -- something that continues to happen more and more. It talks about how marketing and propaganda can be used to polish corporate turds and undermine, then gradually control grassroots-developed software, and take over communities.

And none of it is really new, or obsolete. It just keeps going. The premises of the book have only gotten worse in the 8 or so months since it was written -- more people cancelled, and suddenly every key project needs "new governance policies." Here are a few quotes about that, from last June:

"Being closer to corporations, Open Source has more corporate culture in its processes. While the 'Open source way' may look better for letting everyone be a contributor, it carries with it extra requirements and additional reasons to exclude projects from consideration or people from projects."

"Open Source brings organizational overhead and corporate culture into every project- you can be the leader of your own project and do what you want to with it, but now you shouldn't- every project should have a community, a code of conduct that may ultimately threaten the structure of the leadership in the distant future, and a dedicated website."

"Fortunately, Open Source brings all this overhead to a project in a way that makes it easier to steer or influence (or purchase) the direction of a project. And since for 20 years, companies like Microsoft have sought to buy, charge royalties for, influence or eliminate the work done by competitors, Open Source gives us (and even fights for) the foot in the door that we need to do so."

This is all about ownership -- as a synonym for control of the software we created specifically to be independent of monopolies. Their goal: as with clinical narcissists, is to make us dependent on them, their decisions, their infrastructure. We fought so hard to be able to do our own thing, just to hand the reins back to IBM and Microsoft.

We predicted the sale of Red Hat -- the cancellation of Stallman -- some of us even predicted USB drives and (compressed audio) music libraries. And it's really like predicting what a puzzle will look like, when most of the pieces are already in place. You can learn to do it too -- look at the picture, find the spot where the next step is missing, and guess what is most likely to fit the rest. You can't always be right, but be grateful for that -- we live in a world that seems to want very badly to kick off a new dark age, when the goal of intellectuals and advocates of freedom is to keep the enlightenment from dying.

Computing is increasingly the basis for modern communication, book publishing, education, entertainment, finding new medicines, discovering the universe outside our solar system -- not to mention the advocacy we do for every political cause you can imagine. The more these monopolies control our computing, they more they control everything else. Society can't afford that -- the human race itself (these days) may not be able to afford that.

Depending on whether it is controlled by as many everyday (grassroots, not astroturfed) people as possible -- which Free software supports, but "open source" sells off to the highest bidder (No? Who owns GitHub? Who owns Red Hat?) computing becomes either great power in all our hands -- or great power against all of us. With the realisation that every company wants to put "AI", facial-recognition and always-on microphones around us everywhere we go (our phones, our cars, our homes -- even hotels, stores and restaurants) our lives are more like those of cattle with every year of "progress" that technology makes.

Being Luddites won't likely help much. To actually prevent this shift in the human existence from continuing, we would have to go to space to take out all the cubesats. We live in a futuristic world where robots are flying around, murdering innocent Yemeni children -- civilians. We are already surrounded and our lives are inundated with this technology in our personal lives, and on the land, in the sea and the sky. There is nowhere left to run, and becoming Amish won't take down the network that we are enmeshed with.

Our only freedom will come from transforming (and yes, to a sane and relatively small degree, limiting) this vast array of human technology so that it exists on our own terms -- to have the technology that we consent to, rather than have our technology act as a blank cheque for the largest corporations to do practically whatever they want with us. Because they're already doing it, and for years they've worked to control even the activism we devoted decades to -- to wriggle free from their stifling electronic grasp.

To regain control of what we built to be free of theirs, they've had to use social manipulation, political and marketing tactics to wrest our own communities and our own organisations from us. What once were sponsors are now board members and project leaders. The United States certainly has its share of political problems; though to do real justice to the level of absurdity that has taken over the Free software world, the USA would have to elect the Queen of England as its president -- or simply join the United Kingdom.

The remnants of the Free software movement are whatever the monopolies are comfortable with -- minus our founders, minus anybody who might make real trouble for them. We fought for independence, we gave people the vote -- and the people were manipulated into voting for suppression and being controlled. There is no way to undo that but to struggle for a new era of digital independence. While the unwashed masses cry out that everything is alright, we know that doesn't ring true. And we know their tactics, because history proves those rarely change.

The handbook was written by recalling, off the cuff, all the dirtiest deeds, all the smarmiest lies, all the little rewrites of what actually happened -- Torvalds actually made a kernel. We gave him an operating system and let idiots pretend it was his own. Why was that stupid? Because the operating system actually stood for something.

What did Linus stand for? You're looking at it today -- the takeover and surrender of software freedom to corporations. That's all "open source" is now. Watch him wearing the t-shirt, in "Revolution OS" -- nearly 20 years later we still pretend that Linus ever gave a damn about our digital freedom at all. Oh sure, he's better than Greg. That's why they cancelled him -- they knew he would choose a better successor. They knew he at least cared about not breaking userspace -- that was the area where Linus showed integrity: as an engineer.

But as a person? He conflated our having integrity, of actually standing for something, with extremism. That was extremely self-serving, dishonest, and a complete scumbag move. Linus, you're a sellout -- and you always were. But we could count on Torvalds to bash most of the bad companies. Microsoft does that too -- before buying them.

Cancelling Torvalds is still a bad idea though; it helps the monopolies more than it hurts Torvalds. His career (the part of it we care about at least) is practically over, and it wouldn't be surprising if he were happy with that. Whatever he hoped to achieve, has more or less happened already. Like George Harrison after the breakup of the Beatles, Torvalds can do pretty much whatever he wants -- except what he was doing before. And with him out of the way, the takeover you still assist by attributing GNU to corporate sellouts and other dubious individuals, can continue without worrying about who might stand up to it.

Isn't it amazing that we all found good reasons to get rid of everyone in that category -- all in the space of a year?

It wasn't difficult to tie recent happenings -- up to June 2019 -- to quotes from the Halloween documents from 1998. The tactics are the same, but the lies to justify the tactics have evolved.

Managing a brand is a matter of storytelling. When people say "I've heard that one already", corporations just tell another one. The special effects get better, the lines get updated here and there, but the differences between the old story and the new are superficial.

Our job is to be free. Their job is to control. If we let them manage our struggle against them, what do you actually think will happen?

Slippery slope? It's more like a very long, straight drop. Welcome to hell, Free software advocates.

Now what?

Since cancel culture is at the centre of this change of ownership -- indeed it is the excuse for the change -- what follows are some insights from of all places, Youtube. Many of these insights about cancel culture predate Stallman's cancellation. Since he has more integrity than Torvalds, and more integrity then Raymond, his cancellation is the one to worry about most. Though every unfair cancellation gives our would-be masters more control, and that's why we should still fight for Torvalds and Raymond regardless of what we think of them as individuals.

It's not even about "the enemy of my enemy" -- it's simply about the objectives of control vs the objectives of freedom. If you want to fight the corporate cults, you have to understand the corporate cults. That's why the handbook was (really) written, and why cancel culture is a topic every Free software advocate needs to understand, now.

But first, the EFF recently posted a wonderful and relevant interview with Ada Palmer. Palmer talks about how censorship amounts to falsifying history -- and how acts of censorship serve to remind (and help convince) people who is really "in charge." In this sense, censorship is an act of colonialism.

You are encouraged, by the way, to refer to colonialism -- the occupation and control of a human culture by an outside (colonising) force, as colonialism or as exploitation, rather than "tribalism". The latter puts both the great occupying forces, and the people who rightfully stand against them, on equal ground -- reducing each to petty or arbitrary disputes.

That miscommunication only assists the colonisers and diminishes those who are fighting against occupation. Open source has openly instigated this miscommunication and miscategorisation for many years, acting as if the unwillingness of Free software to abandon its own mission for their book of love letters to Microsoft and Apple is due to nothing more significant than a petulant and childish attitude.

Heading for Youtube, Ayishat Akanbi talks about why cancel culture is mob culture.

Emily Katherine delivers a 15-minute, extremely intelligent rant-slash-thesis on the psychology of cancel culture, including its effects.

Dave Chappelle, in Sticks and Stones, does an impression of cancel culture -- the twist? As far as he's concerned, cancel culture is all of us: "the audience." He's probably right.

Hafeez highlights the narcissism and arrogance of cancel culture.

While Viva Frei explains (definitely start at 5:28 if you want to get to what he's really talking about) that cancel culture induces fear in innocent and intelligent people, and how it is stifling, suppressive and incredibly demanding.

A couple of worthwhile quotes:

"I believe that the likelihood of coming to the right decisions in the face of suppression [suppressed opposing opinions] are in fact decreased." (11:13)

"The free exchange of ideas is the most valuable intellectual currency" -- said during the talk, this quote is displayed again at the end of the video.

Christina Red explains that cancel culture lacks nuance, and suppresses activism -- which as we have said several times, is exactly what monopolies are using it for.

Finally, Andrew Yang says that cancel culture is "excessively punitive and vindictive" and goes on to imply that a diverse community is unlikely to agree on everything. The community he is referring to is the Asian-American community; which he says is very diverse -- thus unlikely to all agree with him.

The notion that true diversity will naturally result in diversity of opinion is perhaps central to arguments against the legitimacy of cancel culture. If you censor opinions to protect Asian-Americans like Yang, or to protect women like Christina Red, how do you ensure you won't ultimately censor the same people you are trying to protect? In practice, this is not a baseless concern.

Cancel culture is one of those ideologies that is so extreme, that applying it fairly will ultimately hurt every person it claims to protect -- either directly or indirectly. When authoritarians seek control, they usually lie and convince each person "this will only affect those who deserve it." Yet it controls who you are allowed to listen to, what you are allowed to attend, who you are allowed to be friends with -- and sometimes who you are even allowed to quote.

It seeks to control our ideas, or communication, our association. And it is being used a little too successfully against our freedom. If you're still falling for this absolute cult tactic -- take a step back, and rethink this.

How long until you're cancelled too? Do you really believe this corporate culture will still tolerate you, the moment you cease to entertain its authority over your own quest for knowledge and a better society? There's simply no evidence of that at all.

The organisations that are bringing this monopolistic control tactic into their governance, are ending any freedom you have to develop the software -- unless you can create your own version, like the Linux fork that probably won't exist.

Licence: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (public domain)

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