everything wrong with free software
"obedience breeds foolishness"
=> the-fool-notion-of-stating-that-copyleft-is-dead.html the-fool-notion-of-stating-that-copyleft-is-dead
*originally posted:* apr 2021
our communities have likely regressed to the point where rebuilding is necessary.
what i mean by "rebuilding is necessary", is that the ideas needed to rebuild the free software movement are not truly welcome in any community that i know of. if you want to be free, you will have to be the community you want-- youll have to look for people that want the same thing, and work with them to reestablish the links we used to have.
debian is not going to rebuild. devuan is not going to rebuild. other communities are hostages of microsoft github. there are people who care about freedom, but we dont have enough people yet to rebuild. and with everything thats going on, its not going to be easy.
something going on right now is a group of people trying once again to pressure the fsf to cancel stallman. the numbers are something like 5000 pro-stallman to 3000 against, and while the 5000 is a wonderful counterpoint to the cancel brigade, its easy to miss the point that this isnt a vote.
the "votes" against stallman are not made in good faith at all. a lot of people simply want to support their friends, meaning that (whether they realise this or not) they want to join an angry mob regardless of having access to facts or even caring about the facts they have access to. while organisations like the fsf certainly should listen to the public, they do not have to put the sort of equal weight on lies and smears as support and thoughtful defence, like that which would be necessary to turn this campaign into a vote among outsiders.
instead, the fsf ought to stand up for its principles, and not make "free as in speech" into a glib historical footnote. its stallmans freedom of speech outside the fsf that is under the greatest threat, and people still say "you dont want free speech, you just want freedom from consequences". how about "you dont want reasonable consequences, you just want to replace due process with trial and condemnation by angry mobs?"
there are two groups of people here, and one certainly cares more about truth and perspective than the other. both sides believe they are the one who does, and one side actually demonstrates what they believe. at any rate, this is an example where due process can shine.
we should talk about how our communities have regressed.
first, conflict does happen in struggles for progress. if you want to avoid conflict entirely, you will avoid progress right along with it. thats the reason our communities are becoming quasi-fascist (with a politically correct face on it)-- maybe they arent regressing psychologically, though they are regressing politically.
zero-tolerance policies and thought policing are not signs of a healthy (or progressive) political atmosphere. what they do is punish people for being human, and create policies that favour people being fake. i dont mean friendly or polite-- i mean fake. theres nothing polite about people gaslighting you and lying to your face.
all of these so-called "safe space" policies have increased the amount of gaslighting and bullying in communities, while making the tone more polite (unless of course, you trigger an angry mob and politeness goes out the window). all of it is deeply condescending and deeply dishonest. in short, narcissists and cult tactics have taken over.
ive actually been in a cult, and it included some of the nicest-seeming people i ever met. i dont mean they were all creepy smiles and cloyingly friendly, but they were certainly polite. i spent years trying to understand what they wanted, but ultimately (and in hindsight it sounds really obvious, doesnt it?) what they really wanted wasnt the outward appearance of it, but conformity and obedience.
maintaining the outward appearance was simply a way for people to survive. if you didnt act like everybody else, people knew something was wrong with you, and they would work to fix it. but if you didnt conform, if you didnt meet the ideal template that was being imposed, people politely worked to push you back into that shape they required of everyone.
ultimately however, this effort to politely help people back into their cult template was pretty superficial. for the most part, what the cult did with people who didnt fit in was a lot like reddits shadowbanning. they would still smile to your face and act like you were part of the community, but you were never really part of it again.
you were being very politely shunned and excluded everywhere you went, and nobody had to put a mark on you (or put your name on a list) because everybody was mirroring the behaviour of everyone else-- if anybody important shunned you then everybody else would do the same. you didnt fit, you would never be part of the community, but to your face they would pretend you were welcome-- or that all you had to do was follow the rules, which wasnt ever exactly true either.
the unwritten rule was control and obedience, and mirroring those in control. the written rules were only a cover (an excuse) for the unwritten rule. there was only one unwritten rule, but even though it was the only rule that really mattered in practice, following it could never be summarised into simple rules because it was all on the whims of controlling and dishonest people.
this is a deeply confusing dynamic to find your way on top of-- as with reddit, you can spend quite a while talking to yourself without realising that youre the only person who can hear you. you can even forget what its like to feel heard or understood.
a society that does this-- even a community that does this, is fundamentally broken and deeply dysfunctional. its sort of built around the penultimate form of gaslighting, where everybody who doesnt lie to your face ends up lied to their own face. this is a really effective and insidious way to dismantle communities.
because it rewards appearances and image over integrity, it ultimately puts narcissists in charge. any effort to remove narcissists from play is going to lead to more insidious bullies taking their place-- a revolution is doomed to fail, and thats by design. but there are things that can be done.
unfortunately, what is hopeless (and they sort of know this) is taking back a community that is lost to these sorts of cult tactics. many people fail to notice this happening to their community-- if everyone knew, they would not endorse it. narcissists target individuals, while building up other people that act loyal to them. this results in many people who feel their community is stronger, even as their community starts to fall apart.
to put it in simple terms, the narcissist is a monopolist-- there is one correct way of doing / seeing / believing, and they have it. your job is to adopt prescribed actions / perspective / beliefs, even when it is wildly contradicting and often made up on the spot.
every narcissist tries to build a cult, in a manner of speaking. it may have a few people, it may ultimately have thousands, and it may just be a handful of friends. there is nothing wrong with having a handful of friends, but the narcissists will lie to them, treat them all to double standards, and never be accountable for anything truly important.
sounds great, right? but the trick is they all get something they want, even if its a lie. they get "opportunities" and (sometimes) additional praise and recognition, they get a place in the cult structure if they are valuable enough to the cult leader. all they have to do is keep arse-kissing someone they eventually realise is a total liar-- someone who constructs an elaborate web of bullshit that all leads back to a thinly-veiled requirement to agree, or else not even leaving the cult will save you from the heaps of bullshit in store.
one thing that i learned from one or two free software communities is that the cult leader doesnt have to be the project leader. you can have a cult that doesnt go all the way to the top, at least not on the visible project level.
what i mean is that you can have a cult develop in the python community for example, without the actual project leader having anything to do with it-- the "cult" would exist on a tier lower than rossum himself, and the leader would be the person who runs the community rather than the person who runs the actual project.
it may seem otherwise, but you dont need a gullible project leader for this to happen. you can actually have a project leader / founder who becomes aware of-- and will even admit-- this problem exists, without having any idea how to fix it or what to do about it.
this is particularly difficult to fix given that this probably happens in the first place because the project leader / founder doesnt want to lead a community, (not because theyre unappreciative but because its not in their skill set or schedule) so they end up trusting people who seem alright, only to have the entire community side run amok.
none of this is to say that communities never have narcissistic project leaders, only that a dysfunctional community doesnt always mean a terrible or dishonest project leader. you can of course argue that an effective leader will not become a hostage of their own project; but when they didnt have the goal of building a community in the first place and left that to someone else, asking them to fix the mess that was created is asking more of them than they were avoiding (by not creating a community).
instead, they leave it "up to the community"-- and so the problem continues.
the best defence against this is to learn how to recognise corrupt and dishonest community leadership. this problem is practically oozing out of so many high-profile communities right now, but they have some very good defences and camouflage that are difficult to argue with. knowledge is power, so lets talk about a few details from an older version of this article.
narcissists take great pleasure in attacking, controlling and defeating intelligent people because it makes them feel smarter and more important. some narcissists are very intelligent people, but the word "clever" would apply more universally, and narcissism is more about control and dominance than intelligence.
misunderstandings happen all the time. as many misunderstandings are harmless (and they really are, theyre worth resolving whenever possible) a narcissist will try to make everything seem like a misunderstanding. dont let this sour you on trying to resolve honest disputes.
most people probably still think of narcissism as just an inflated sense of self. that definition may have validity but is not too useful, when every idealist is trying to find some way to save the world. oh, you dont want to use software that doesnt include source code? boom, youre a narcissist. beyond just trying to do "big things", a narcissist may:
1. pretend to care about you or other people
2. misquote you and speak for you and gaslight you
3. use smear tactics and try to intimidate you, even as a response for anything they dislike about you at all
4. constantly accuse you of things they are doing themselves-- then say they were "just kidding, lighten up"
5. play a hero, pretend to care, but have actions that never match their words
6. play people and groups against each other, often over incredibly insignificant faults
7. routinely miss the point of what youre saying and demand you consider their points (exclusively)-- all conversations with narcissists are one-sided
8. have consistently different standards for what they will tolerate vs. what they will dump on you
narcissists do not respond (initially, later on, after repeated attempts, or under any circumstances whatsoever) to logic or honesty with logic or honesty. they only ever double down with fallacy and lies and innuendo.
though they may not always appear to act in groups, narcissists do swarm together. if theres one nearby that you can discern, there are often others lurking around. they feed off your emotions and off the imaginary things they attribute to your feelings-- whether good or bad.
this is another reason why revolution wont fix this. when narcissists rule a community, people usually assume there is just one problem person where there is actually a small network that most people wont even notice. plus, if you try to eject every member who displays one or two narcissistic traits, you will also stop their victims.
you want three things for a victim of narcissistic abuse: you want to give them an opportunity to heal, you want to give them room to speak that the narcissist tried to troll them out of-- and you definitely, definitely want them to fully understand why it is self-destructive to try to go after the troll either directly or publicly.
many people think this is just about protecting emotionally fragile peoples feelings-- or creating a "perfect" code of conduct, or that this is just an opportunity to squash more free speech. unfortunately, it can be all those things, even if those things wont work.
when you increase the number of tools and policies and features for controlling people and groups, narcissists tend to find better uses for those than the rest of us. this is true whether youre talking about technology or politics.
a few years ago, my girlfriend expressed an interest in going to libreplanet. i had already withdrawn my fsf membership over its advocacy against free culture (theyve even told me they cannot misrepresent what they dont support in the first place; an argument i find not only peculiar, but unsound). and being outspoken, i found it difficult to imagine attending without making some comment about this which was sure to elicit some negative response.
having looked over the policies for attendees, i thought some of them were slightly unreasonable-- i didnt expect them to be enforced in good faith, either. of course theyre worded to be completely innocuous and seem reasonable, but many have experienced what such things are really like in practice-- i thought i had enough reason to be a bit cynical about it.
what i never would have guessed, (many years ago at least) is that the rules would be enforced to the point where people would petition against the organisations own president being there just because he made a comment and question over the head of the emcee / thought police / libreplanet pimple-faced dictator.
one of the signs youre in a cult (or a coup, or just an abusive controlling relationship) is if you spend years being absolutely convinced that your doubts are just cynical, only to find that in hindsight they were incredibly reserved and understated for the reality of the situation.
i was worried that i might pay good money to be treated like a bit of a serf by some glorified hall monitors, not that the policies were so slanted that they would lead to an actual organisational coup. and while thats a great statement if youre trying to be pithy, i am still beside myself about it more than a year after that coup was largely successful.
we are still living through the farce that a corporate overthrow of several non-profit organisations is going to be followed up by reforming and healing the devastation that happened to the fsf. this wont happen, for several reasons.
for years, the goal has been to remove people who stand in the way of corporate sponsors, including rms and linus. undoubtedly to some degree, they succeeded in this goal; even with these two leaders (and i dont like linus torvalds at all, hes a shill and a heel-- though when he was in control of the kernel he did a better job at that than anybody who might replace him now-- besides, it was his own kernel) they are both shadowbanned and ignored regarding vital aspects of their own work.
once again, a community that does this is not functional-- theyve replaced a fundamental reality with a perpetual broadcast of rhetoric and lies. rms is still the head of the gnu project, but the gnu project doesnt recognise his authority. instead it drifts closer to the sworn enemies of free software (not even sworn by the fsf, sworn by the enemies themselves). linus is still the leader of linux, even though weve known for years hes grooming his more corporate replacement (who wouldnt, at his age?) and his bosses (plural) from microsoft will tell you the same.
if this is the reality, then these shadowbans arent just a lie to linus and rms-- theyre also a lie to every supporter of the linux kernel and the gnu project. are we supposed to simultaneously hold onto the ideas that we are supporting something not corrupt, while also being lied to on a constant basis? a note, to be thorough-- this prognosis is at least slightly better than a version of this article from half a year ago-- but it isnt great.
its "funny" (but not "haha funny") that when a community does this systematically, its considered legit-- while just a single person doing this is considered someone to get away from, something to flee. if a person is constantly gaslighting you and diminishing the importance of everything you stand for, the thing to do is run away and find shelter. but if an organisation does the same thing-- better send in those donations folks, throwing more money at corruption always helps!
501(c)3 not-for-profit corporations like npr or the fsf, once corrupted through powerful sponsors, do not tend to ever get back to serving the public interest they were created to serve. (ive said this before, but remain sceptical).
they will continue to promote similar messages ("listener-supported", blah blah blah) but this is a veneer over the fact that the connection to their own mission is now deeply cynical and "just legitimate enough" to maintain their charter, while the corporate dollars (plus all other donations) keep rolling in. it would be a heck of a scandal if only the fsf succumbed to this, but quite a lot of similar non-profits eventually do.
and we didnt know red hat was still sponsoring the fsf until they pulled their funding in the past couple weeks! well, now at least we can say what we want about them? hey wait, who else is acting as sponsor but not on the sponsors page?
regardless, conflating even a non-profit corporation with a community is dangerous, because if the organisation fails there is no reason the movement itself should. some of what the fsf did has become superfluous-- it would be ideal to maintain it if it were not corrupt, but if it is going to cover up problems we cant really trust it.
if a corrupt non-profit org was someone you lived with, you would be looking for a new home. but if its a non-profit organisation that talks about "community" all the time, people will stay until the writing on the wall is set in font they can read three towns south of it.
the fsf doesnt need to promise it can change, it has already proven it can by getting worse. nor does it need to prove it can get back to what it was-- only the forging of new communities (independent of the corruption and its sponsors) can stand for what was stood for.
when i originally wrote this, i was trying to help people understand both open source and the glorified-hall-monitor thought police types that suppress the "community" in our communities. i was probably also thinking of people who have carried on the legacy of openrespect and its ilk-- so-called community leaders who also serve as a sort of propaganda marshal.
now it is also to illustrate the ways in which the fsf has turned away towards "free as in speech" (as the gnu website says at free-sw.en.html) and turned towards the vapidness of open source, which the fsf always said missed the point.
there were good reasons for free software to have a 501(c)3 and there will be other good reasons (there will likely be other 501(c)3s as well) and to be certain, many of the organisations (osi, fsfe, sfc) that are in some way or other "offshoots" of the fsf have not fared (or even tried) better. osi worked tirelessly to open up their organisation to something more "democratic", which quickly led to microsofties on the board and osi getting quieter about certain problems. this is the best effect trying to run the fsf board via angry mob will have, creating a more corporate-run fake "democracy" than what already exists via bad sponsorships.
if you are in this sort of turmoil at home, the best hope is if you can find community or shelter elsewhere. the best hope for free software then, is not just "a" home-- but a vast, volunteer (grassroots) network of "homes". not just for development, but for the community we were promised or used to have. i know interest in such homes for the community has increased, but people are still unaware that they have the tools to make it happen. this is one more effort to clarify the possibility.
some will argue that they still have a home, for example with debian or trisquel. they are entitled to their feelings of course, but they are living under occupation-- an organisation that shadowbans its own people isnt really listening, but it still gets something out of lying and pretending it cares.
a just world would give the rest of us somewhere to flee this entrenchment, or at least allow us to create that ourselves. but what would we try to accomplish, if our communities were actual communities again? thats up to us. and by "us" i dont mean those of us that agree on the same thing (such as what i propose). i mean literally, everybody who honestly cares about the future of free software.
and we wont all agree. thats why the grassroots movement that most likely serves us all is one that is decentralised, with fairly autonomous nodes, and has some common thing (like the free software definition) with a fair amount of slack between groups. and something that functions "well enough" if mostly informally, as representation.
no single group will control the rest, but the sum of the whole will nonetheless have a direction. with that said, we arent just talking about a process. the ideal is to have a (voluntary) grassroots movement and organic (naturally formed) communities that lend strength to each other.
but in the days of peak freedom, our individuality was a strength, not a sin. i try not to support cults; i would rather help people create alternatives based on people who have some degree of mutual humanity-- people who will work to improve things, but not to pretend that they (or that things) are, could be, or even should be flawless. yes, we seek an ideal. and we can generally admit (and try to correct) mistakes.
very likely the biggest mistake we have made as a movement is trusting the sponsors (and shills) far more than we should have. how many 501(c)3s do you know that would ever admit that, after being taken over?