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On gratitude and free software

From: Akira Urushibata
Subject: On gratitude and free software
Date: Sun, 10 Sep 2023 07:39:46 +0900 (JST)

I have changed the title from "Truth Social as an example of the
limits of free software."

Abe Indoria wrote:

> > I understand the limits of free software.  One problem I identify is
> > that some people use free software not because they value freedom, but
> > simply because it is economical to do so.

> Why is this a 'problem?'

Simply preferring free software for its economy is not a problem.
Exploiting free software for its economy will lead to problems.  Those
who take economy too far consider gratitude a waste.  Whenever I see 
lack of gratitude, I sense a problem.

1.  I recall the days before Linux when only GNU software was
available.  GNU tools were better than those that came bundled with a
Sun workstation.  We respected the authors of GNU software.

When Linux appeared, it was promoted to the general public with a
catchy phrase: "It all started with one e-mail."  I found this highly
problematic.  What does "all" mean?  If it is "all of the kernel" then
it's okay.  However, the term "Linux" was commonly used to refer to
the entire OS.  For most people "all" meant "all of the operating
system."  Spreading a slogan like this discouraged users from thinking
about the engineers who worked on vital components in an earlier
phase.  Ever since, telling people the real development history has
been an uphill struggle.

I believe that this was a deliberate campaign to discourage people
from feeling and expressing gratitude.  It is manifest in persistent
opposition toward usage of the term "GNU/Linux."  Conversely, those
who say "Linux OS" often believe that Linus Torvalds wrote the entire
OS, or at least laid down the foundations upon which his supporters
built.  Yet, those with such misguided belief may be better than those
who don't care.

In general, understanding of a useful tool or skill or a fair social
institution is accompanied by respect toward the people who toiled to
bring it into existence.

2.  Four years ago Richard Stallman was harshly criticized for allegedly
defending Jeffrey Epstein.  Lack of understanding and respect toward
Stallman made the campaign possible.  To defend Stallman, one often
has to start with: "Please visit the site and read
'Who is Richard Stallman?'"  To those who agree that he has made
contributions toward a fair and just society we can say: "It is rude
to treat him this way.  Please do not be misled by fabrications."
Unfortunately it is difficult to request a prudent approach to the
common man who feels: "I don't see anything wrong in being sloppy and
rude.  This man deserves no better."

3.  There is an abundance of information on computers and software.
Much of it is composed by people with a stake in a particular product
and propagated without much critical examination.  I notice that the
articles fit with one another poorly.  One may read many of them only
to end up bewildered.

Indeed many people do not desire new information about information
systems for this reason.  As a result they know too little of the
technology that shapes their daily lives.  This makes them feel
powerless.  Some believe that major tech companies are exploiting
their ignorance; this is not altogether false.  Ignorance also has
security implications.  Sadly most people are not able to overcome
such ignorance, in spite of the severity of the problems it invites.

To overcome ignorance, one should keep in mind to be grateful during
the inquiry.  That way the pieces integrate better.  In the end one
gets to see the big picture.

4.  It is possible to get people to understand technology better and
respect Richard Stallman more in a single stroke.  The key is gratitude.
Tell people how the GNU project made replacements of UNIX programs
one by one.  This approach worked well because the Bell Labs researchers
had done a great job in breaking up the OS into distinct units.  When
telling this story, I stress that we should thank the Bell Labs team.

Stallman shows little gratitude toward Bell Labs; his primary concern
is the non-free nature of original UNIX programs.  I identify a
weakness here which I believe has cost him and his followers dearly.

5.  Gratitude also means gratitude toward people who read our messages
in mailing lists and such, including this one.  Some readers send
responses, and it may contain criticism.  Those who value gratitude
appreciate criticism while those who don't turn hostile.

Nobody has yet commented on the last paragraph of my opening message,
in which I summarize classical Chinese philosophy.  "Gratitude" (li) is
a word that appears frequently in "The Analects of Confucius (Lun Yu)."
According to Confucius, in the absence of gratitude, many things go

I give several examples above.  Confucius taught me where to look.

In Japan or China, instead of writing in detail like this, sometimes I
can just quote a phrase from "The Analects" and it will satisfy most
people.  This is not appropriate here where we have people with
various cultural backgrounds.

Even in East Asia, few people look for solutions for social issues
surrounding modern technology in the teachings of Confucius who is
widely considered to be a conservative philosopher.  Not infrequently
people are astonished when I demonstrate that his teachings resonate
with the doctrine of free software.

Thank you for reading.

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