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Re: [libreplanet-discuss] FSF's communication, ethical discussion in con

From: Pen-Yuan Hsing
Subject: Re: [libreplanet-discuss] FSF's communication, ethical discussion in consumerism, why software freedom matters
Date: Fri, 25 Sep 2015 16:37:02 +0100
User-agent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64; rv:38.0) Gecko/20100101 Thunderbird/38.2.0

Great points, especially regarding:

a tendency amongst [some] freedom promoters to take not just what RMS says but 
also how he says it as gospel

There are two things: The message, and how you communicate it. Unfortunately some people think they have the right message, and if someone suggests a better way of communicating the message, they just say: "Well that's your problem because my message is right and just!".

Like it or not, I really think both are important and rely on each other. You can present a message really well but don't really say anything, or you might be the embodiment of justice but ruin the communication.

As for the word "monetization", I agree with hk's response that it is "a symbol of something else". But that's exactly my point: "monetize" has *more than one* meaning, and some meanings don't automatically say the asker of that Slashdot question is a "parasite" who assumes "everything" has to be turned into money, and that turning things into money is the only goal in life. Unfortunately RMS's response assumes that that was the case, and spends most of the response on sharing his contempt at a particular meaning of "monetize" that he doesn't like, without answering what can be a fair (and very important) question of how to sustainably fund (and even make a profit) out of making Free Software.

I've been reading many blogs and websites with articles advocating Free Software, which is great. But unfortunately many of them seem very sensitive to certain topics such as making money (and others). The common response is usually composed of (1) making money (or some other practical benefit) is "not the point" of Free Software, freedom is the only important thing, and (2) anyone who asks about making money (or some other practical consideration) is bad.

Frankly, to me some of those articles look like rants and diatribes, and will not serve to promote Free Software. YES, freedom is of course the most important point of Free Software and why "open source" is insufficient and why proprietary is bad. But I really don't think practical benefits like making money (or, again, some other things) have to be deliberately excluded/avoided. In fact, I think as part of the promotion of Free Software, practical benefits should be advertised along with it! Maybe something like: "Look!!! Gaining/defending freedom doesn't mean you have to live in poverty, here are some very successful business models that respect freedom".

On 23/09/15 00:20, Ramana Kumar wrote:
Dear Pen-Yuan,

I think what you have said in the message below is very important.

Assuming good faith, and, in general, aiming for effective,
compassionate communication would serve the promotion of software
freedom very well. Not to mention being good life skills in general :)

(Personally, I am a strong supporter of software freedom, but I am
often disappointed by RMS's communication techniques; also, I am
sometimes disappointed by a tendency amongst other freedom promoters
to take not just what RMS says but also how he says it as gospel. As
usual, I think it's good to always do some thinking for oneself.)


On 23 September 2015 at 04:52, Pen-Yuan Hsing <address@hidden> wrote:
Consumerism is designed to exclude ethical discussion.

I suspect the same thing. Can you elaborate a bit more on why you think this is 
the case? Is there academic discussion on the definition of consumerism and the 
ethics (or lack thereof) behind it?? I'd love to read about this.

Eben Moglen's talks are consistently excellent.

I confess I didn't know about this person, but reading your message, and 
reading his Wikipedia page, I think I should really check out his work. Do you 
have specific recommendations on which of his talks to listen to first?

Richard Stallman's recent Slashdot interview

Thanks for pointing this out, I recently read the interview, too. I agree that RMS 
replied to the first question regarding "monetization" with some fair points.

With that said, I was disappointed that >75% of the response (word-wise) was centred around the use of the word 
"monetization". According to Wiktionary [1], the word can mean "To convert something (especially a security) into 
currency". I believe this is the meaning that RMS was responding to. However, Wiktionary also states that "monetize" 
can mean "To make a business activity profit-generating, particularly in computer and internet-related activities." Isn't 
it possible that this is what the original question was referring to? They referred to RMS's own essay on selling free software [2], 
which explicitly states "if you are redistributing copies of free software, you might as well charge a substantial fee and make 
some money. Redistributing free software is a good and legitimate activity; if you do it, you might as well make a profit from 
it" (which incidentally I just quoted in my other post about education :p). If that's the meaning the original question is 
referring to, then I
sh RMS could have elaborated more on ways to make that profit. With his current 
reply, I think that might put off people who were asking an honest question. I 
remember an earlier post on this list which says that it is important to assume 
goodwill. I think that applies to this question as well!

Now suppose that first question in the Slashdot interview really did mean "monetise" as in "To 
convert something (especially a security) into currency". Couldn't this still simply mean wanting to 
make money off of distributing free software? RMS replied that "Implicit in that word is the idea that 
you want to turn everything into money. The only point in writing a program is to turn it into money. 
Feh!". But I don't think the question implied turning *everything* into money, or that the *only* point 
in programming is to make money, which further suggests to me that it actually refers to simply making a 

Next, RMS said when you use the word "monetizing", "your thoughts have become twisted in a 
direction that will lead you to be a parasite". This assumes that the one who asked the question is 
using a certain meaning of the word "monetize", but is that 100% clear in the original question?

Now, I am just as upset as the next person on this list that some software 
companies have perverted the distribution of software and made profit from it 
by restricting users' freedoms. What I am saying is simply that the response to 
that first Slashdot interview question assumes certain things about the asker 
that I think are not fully justified.

In addition, while I don't disagree with the points that RMS made in that response, I think it is another example of how sometimes proponents of free software could present the case better. Yes, free software is right and just, but saying things like "I have to exert all my self control to respond civilly after seeing the word", "Feh!", "your thoughts have become twisted in a direction that will lead you to be a parasite", or just assuming what the asker meant with one word is not effective communication. Again, like I said the asker could easily have meant something else with the word "monetise", and also that we should assume goodwill. I would suggest a response along the lines of: "Thanks for your question, but I'd like to point out that 'monetise' can be a problematic word because it can mean [insert negative meaning here]. I hope that's not what you meant! If you are referring to making a profit from the development and distribution of free software, here are several ways you
  do it effectively." followed by more elaboration on ways to sustainably fund free software (more than only 25% of the 
response!). To make the points that RMS made in the response, I am not convinced that you need to say things like 
"Feh!", "your thoughts are twisted", "[you're a] parasite", etc. Those words might only serve 
to antagonise people (who, again, might have asked an honest question) and push them further away from free software. 
Perhaps this is what Terry meant by "some lack of people skills contributes to remaining exclusionary through 
alienating many by not understanding and embracing people"???



On 2015-09-22 04:36, J.B. Nicholson-Owens wrote:
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 

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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