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[libreplanet-discuss] FSF's communication, ethical discussion in consume

From: J.B. Nicholson-Owens
Subject: [libreplanet-discuss] FSF's communication, ethical discussion in consumerism, why software freedom matters
Date: Mon, 21 Sep 2015 22:36:30 -0500
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Terry wrote:
The FSF has incredible geniuses who understand code, technologies,
future directions and social implications. Their philosophies are
incredible, however some lack of people skills contributes to remaining
exclusionary through alienating many by not understanding and embracing
people, varying intellects, marketing and rates of comprehensive shifts
to new philosophical adoptions.

I'm not clear on precisely what you're referring to and I don't see examples of your point. If you don't like what the FSF says, it would be fine to say that you don't agree with it. But you should point to what specifically you disagree with and explain why. I don't know how many people you are speaking for when you say "many" and I don't see any examples of what your criticizing. What did the FSF say when you tried telling them specifically what messages you didn't like and how you thought they should pose those issues instead? They're hiring a Deputy Director, and I think that job would include plenty of chances to explain software freedom better.

I've found the FSF to be forthright and to not suffer fools gladly (which requires a clarity I appreciate). They rightly speak up about their cause, write very clearly, and when people use language that frames an issue in a way they don't agree with their representatives point it out. Richard Stallman's recent Slashdot interview has an example of this in the first Q&A -- a response from Stallman where he pointed out what was wrong with framing an issue in terms of "monetization". Stallman's response struck me as a well-stated and entirely fair rebuttal to an attempt to justify bad behavior because it might make more money than earning money ethically. Eben Moglen's talks are consistently excellent. They're packed with detail and they really earn a re-read/re-listen, but they're eminently understandable even for non-technical people I've played them for over the air on community radio (or so the listeners who call me tell me). I went to an FSF gathering some years ago and Moglen's talk alone made the trip worthwhile for my travel companion.

I think most people haven't begun to contemplate software freedom not because the message of software freedom was put to them somehow indelicately, but because the message of software freedom hasn't been put to them at all. It's hard to repeat a message as frequently as the billionaire proprietors repeat their ads, or even as frequently as open source supporters say some proprietary software is okay.

We're constantly told that our proper role in society is to buy something. This immediately circumscribes us as consumers rather than citizens. This means reducing people to accepting choices set out for them (if they can afford it) and never discussing doing what's just, ethical, and beneficial for society such as pointing out systemic corruption (what if all the choices are bad?), inequity (what if some people are too poor to participate even as consumers?). Consumerism is designed to exclude ethical discussion. When I try to behave ethically by purchasing the most ethical option available, I usually face greenwashing or I find I'm outspent by the wealthy who want unethical results. The narrow terms of debate are set up this way on purpose, not by accident, and this makes for a very one-sided way to live.

For example, in popular computing my choices come down to two nonfree software distributors and a "choice" of which proprietor's interest to cater to. When viewed from a perspective of software freedom, that's no choice at all. Any differences between the proprietors are overwhelmed by the similarities that one is basically picking who gets to keep me from having software freedom. All of the important questions about software freedom are immediately outside the allowable range of debate when the ends are staked out by proprietors. There's simply no room left for a serious discussion of ethics; other related issues (such as computer security) are off-limits too as one can't have computer security without software freedom.

But I know better things are possible because I can look at history. Apparently through hard work and political insistence free software hackers built a better system: there was a time when GNU was not a complete operating system and I had to run GNU programs on a nonfree OS. Now GNU/Linux is a complete self-hosting OS, thanks in part to Linus Torvalds distributing the Linux kernel under a free software license, and the Linux-libre team for distributing a free version of the Linux kernel. I didn't have hardware on which I could run a completely free OS. Now I can buy hardware which runs a free BIOS thanks to all the reverse engineering and work I'm probably not fully aware of. Sure, I have to accept that things take time to develop and I can't use the latest hardware in freedom, but things are demonstrably better now than they were just 20 years ago. I don't want those gains to be lost for me or anyone else who uses a computer.

There are, quite literally, life and death issues one can resolve with software freedom (the recent VW emissions fraud discovery, and keeping people safe from spying while they're telling us important details about what's really happening like Snowden did, to name a couple recent examples). Saving lives, preserving privacy & civil liberties, and introducing ethics into people's use of computers strikes me as far too important to grant anyone social permission to dismiss a message because they don't like how it was delivered instead of objecting to what the message said. If the discussion raises questions, by all means, ask! And feel free to state your mind, but expect to justify your statements too.

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