everything wrong with free software
"obedience breeds foolishness"
*originally posted:* may 2022
as the free software foundation continues dying, many opportunists will move into the power vacuum left by a beaten, soft-spoken richard stallman.
the state of free software today was predicted BEFORE the coup was known about. repeated efforts by the coup to use lieplanet as a staging area for the political assault on free software have been seen, enough to establish a pattern. things continue to get worse. this was, and is to be expected.
in its favour, lieplanet is pro-free-culture. but the point of free culture is to liberate, and weaken the barriers to free expression erected and then bolstered by unfettered copyright. sadly, the point of the coup is exact opposite: to build barriers to free expression based on hypocrisy and fear. this is no revolution, it is the open source counterrevolution against free software.
there is no free software without free speech. when things like this are said, the predictable and time-worn response is to quibble about the long-known, broadly agreed on exceptions to free speech. all of this is a distraction from the most relevant fact that expressing any opposition to the status quo now requires careful planning and footwork, whereas in the past all it took was expressing opposition to the status quo.
lets talk about the sort of people who will rebuild free software as a grassroots movement, and counter this pro-corporate pseudoprogressive bullshit.
one of the most important traits to consider, and maybe the best trait to start with, is imperfection. it will be absolutely impossible for any people (plural) leading the next free software movement to please everyone. on the contrary; if they do a good job, you can count on some people being displeased about it. not everyone wants users to be free, some people trust and prefer corporate rulers, they will never be happy with anything except false compromise after false compromise. they dont want free software-- they will not like free software. we cant fix that, and we hardly want to as it goes against what we stand for.
accepting imperfection is certainly not a call for false compromise, or abandoning worthwhile goals, or throwing out key values. we have plenty of that sort of imperfection already. rather, as long as we are dealing with people, this tired bullshit in the name of "professionalism" that really means "corporate values" is a relic we need to consign to history once again. this movement was started by long-haired loudmouth troublemakers. if long-haired loudmouth troublemakers are all banned (or simply put on notice) then the movement is already too compromised. stallman wasnt brought back, he is only (and then just barely) on display. this was to be expected, as they did the same to torvalds (open source eats their own).
with that said, it is of the greatest importance that said loudmouth troublemakers (of whatever hair length) be able to collaborate, to contribute, to work together in some fashion. it wont be one-size-fits all, some people will find certain modes of collaboration more helpful than others, relying on corporate-style conformity will stifle both creativity and integrity. sometimes we can build a "friendly interface" on top of various herds of cats, and theres some point in doing so. but when all power goes to the bureaucracy, the movement is dead. some people work alone and contribute from that standpoint, in fact its common. fighting that is like trying to pound square pegs into round holes.
developer worship stands in the way of a free society. the solution is not to pretend that developers arent important (they are of vital importance) but to recognise the pattern (and not just the veneer) of how admiration and respect for developers is exploited, and who it benefits. the record labels exploit artists against everyone else the same way that tech monopolies exploit users then say its for the sake of developers. they dont mean its for developers, they mean its for the developers owners. we dont want users to be controlled, we dont want developers to be owned, so we cant fall for the doublespeak narratives that monopoly control is really for artists or really for developers-- control of users and society is for the monopolists.
just to be clear, there is nothing at all wrong with showing admiration or respect for developers. it becomes a problem when this becomes entirely about them; the developer is part of a false dichotomy. everyone is a user, everyone is a "noob" at something, and everyone has made an important mistake somewhere.
science is (supposed to be) smarter than this. we admire scientists (some of us do) because of their advancements, contributions and intellect. admiration is no problem-- its one of the reasons people get inspired to follow in someones footsteps (or stand on the shoulders of giants). this is a good thing.
but its very unscientific for this respect to take on some form of infallibility; the greatest scientists can be right about a few incredible things, and entirely correct about a hundred other various things, and none of this will ever prove their next conclusion to be anything other than bunk. the fallacy of appeal to authority is extremely important to science-- if we simply accepted the word of experts without question, there would not be much in the way of science still getting done. science (and a free society) must be able to question the world.
this aside about scientists and authority should not be difficult to understand in its relationship to developers. we can admire developers but when they try to run our lives, we really should be able to tell them to go fuck themselves. the point of free software was to get away from control and give users the power over their own computing; this is no small feat, but we were doing a reasonable job in that direction. corporations stepped in and retook control; when the previous authorities, rulers, exploiters retake control, this is the very meaning of counterrevolution.
if the movement were still doing its job, if the free software foundation of 2022 were not an absolute fraud, they would recognise this and advise people to stand against it. but this is how counterrevolution works; once the most key organisations and groups are overthrown, the rest falls down quite neatly. its been going on for years. there IS NO MORE free software foundation. it is an EX-PARROT.
the leaders (plural) of the next movement are capable of understanding this. stallman, unfortunately, either does not-- or does and wont admit it. there is a third and more likely possibility, that he is (as was the plan all along) simply beaten. hes not richard stallman anymore, not the one who led free software, but he was until they defeated him. now he is (still) a good person who used to lead, and somewhat of a template for future leaders (plural) but carbon copies arent needed (and wont happen). the point of erasing stallman is to make it easier to rewrite the history (and goals) of the movement. we need to act wisely on this.
counterrevolution has layers-- all the biggest lies do, and counterrevolution is the opposite of what free software stands for, but it wears free softwares clothing. it used to say "open source", but now osi is defunct and the opposition uses the same wording as the people who actually stand for what they say. the purpose of the counterrevolution is no longer to promote open source over free software, but to finish the job of conflating the two. thats necessary, for them to replace free software with bullshit and regain control.
the leaders of the next movement will know the difference between free software and open source calling itself "free software". they will have to, because the #1 goal of the free software movement (after freedom itself, at least) is education. and if youre going to teach people to tell the difference between free software and some bullshit fake version of the movement designed to co-opt it, you have to know the difference.
if someone takes all the corporate, bullshit values of open source and says "this is free software", what theyre doing is rewriting history. history is more about the present than the past-- its like a hash sum of all that has gone on, and when people rewrite history the hashes wont match. as with hash sums, the non-match is useless if people do not make the comparisons and check.
the opposition is not afraid to dress itself up as the movement itself; it has already had decades of practice. today, the fsf downplays (and will increasingly) the significance of that treachery. the real movement must know the difference.
of utmost importance is avoiding the superficial; veneers and superficiality reign in a counterrevolution, and we must stand against that. the demands that stallman could never possibly meet (on his best day) are superficial, corporations are superficial, progress open-source-style is superficial, and the "freedom" open source offers is superficial.
sure, there are times when youll scratch the surface of a really big lie, expecting nothing underneath, and ahha, youll find some "confirmation" underneath that (which is also superficial and a veneer, but a double veneer does not anything of substance make). the best liars will put down at least two coats of shit on anything important. if you get past the veneers, you will find it is still empty.
these are the sorts of things we need future leaders to understand.
we need to strike some balance (most likely in an ongoing, ad-hoc manner) between individuality and collaboration. not every project really needs its own foundation, board members, etc. in fact the opposition is really good at hijacking such things. the bigger projects get, the harder they are to fork and the more likely they are to be co-opted in a way thats difficult to revert.
even curl, upon receiving several thousand dollars, was forced to figure out what to do with the money. for the moment, the corporate coup has all the tools it needs to succeed. we must find new ways to outmaneuver them. we cant simply have them continue to "purchase" and control whatever non-profit is erected to handle the "finer details" of software development. the whole thing makes the goal of freedom a farce, by giving control of the user back to the sponsors.
this is an unsolved problem, though keeping projects small and forkable (and run by people wise to this sort of bullshit from sponsors) helps a great deal. we are going to lose larger projects like debian, gnome (a farce in and of itself) and libreoffice. others, we may want to salvage.
not every leader has to have the same strengths, though the more of these they have, the better. some will be more advanced when it comes to development or related scientific skills, others will be better at politics and strategy, still others will be better at understanding education and how to train a new generation of people who want to help (not just by parroting, but by helping to lead).
it also needs to be understood that quite a lot of people DO NOT PREFER to lead, and we need to help them learn how to have control of their computing and give them something they can follow. it is not condescending to say not everyone is a leader; if you give everyone the chance but keep it optional, the vast majority will turn it down. we should (continue to) offer people paths they can traverse on their way to freedom, as well as the opportunity to help lead if they wish to do so. of course some will blaze their own trails and thats frequently a good thing.
theres no way all of this will happen under a single organisation, not that it did before. some organisations have been quicker to corrupt or try to attack than others; corporations who ask us to eschew "politics" do plenty of lobbying and politics of their own-- a movement without "politics" is a charade. the fsf of 2022 is such a charade. you can get it in any colour as long as its the fucking coup.
without some of these qualities, it will probably be impossible to rebuild the free software movement, and it ought to be rebuilt-- in honour of its founder and for the sake of users (including developers).
many of the people who today claim that standing up for stallman is "hero worship" were happy to worship fake (dishonest, backstabbing) heroes like linus torvalds or some other "rock star" developer. open source was always built on hypocrisy and double standards, and everything about it today-- from the "standards" to the "expectations" to the "rules" to the culture is all based on sheer hypocrisy and doublespeak; in other words, marketing.
standing up for stallman is the alternative to letting these people rewrite history, and letting them lie to future generations. we wont be led by stallman because he is (utterly) beaten and refuses to lead. we wont be led by frauds because they (truly) wont take us anywhere we need to go, but they will swear the contrary as we are led pointlessly in circles. leadership is one of the many things we must rebuild, and here are things to think about while doing that.
of course by "leadership" i dont only mean one or more people at the top, i mean various organisations and various people lending a hand to others. mediocre leaders push people around and keep them down, while great leaders lift people up so they can contribute the most they possibly can-- not as serfs or subjects, but as people like you or me, or like the ones working to help lift them higher.
there wont be a messiah coming to save free software, obviously. we only had one stallman, there wont be another just like him. he was (on his best day) a brilliant, loud-mouthed, long-haired troublemaker, who sought a way past people controlling users by using their own computers against them.
there will however, be many pretenders and fakes out to save us from the same chaos they made (so they could take over). patient and thoughtful scepticism, rather than paranoia or fear is the solution here. this too wont be perfect; people who have good reason to be outraged will express their feelings, and thats not a problem. its simply not a pissing match to see who can have the most feelings, nor is a contest to see who can fake cold-calculating rationality with a straight face and an "even" tone. the latter would only net us a leadership of narcissists and sociopaths, which is why such people so adore the idea a dispassionate "professional" leader. they want a leader who is obedient, so they can lead people who dont question anything.
we are of course, looking for humans. they, like stallman, will be human. and anybody who doesnt understand that-- probably isnt someone we want in charge of anything. that easily goes for 90-something percent of the hypocrites around lieplanet, who need not apply. but thats simply my own take. maybe someone will change for the better, and you know, actually mean what they say.
most fakes are going to stay fake, and the least we can do is look for people who are honest. stallman put everything on the line to stay honest with people, and it cost him everything from people who arent willing to tolerate honesty or integrity and want everyone to play some sort of "game" instead. we need someone who is relatively uncompromising too-- not entirely uncompromising, necessarily-- but relatively so, compared to those who are ready to change whenever the wrong person asks and waves an opportunity in front of them.
if these are rare qualities in people, it only makes them that much more valuable. but without an above-average (even above pitiful) level of honesty and integrity, there is no movement anyway and (as with lieplanet) we might as well just stay home.