Quora Answer : Why is Richard Stallman more important than Elon Musk?
Richard Stallman is the man who saw, long before most people, the danger that a world eaten by software would be to our rights and freedoms.
If everything you can do in a wired technological society is constrained by software. And software is a black-box controlled by self-interested corporations, who are backed up by draconian intellectual property laws. Then your freedom has effectively gone. You can act only in so far as the software lets you. And the software is hard-coded tyranny.
Most people are just starting to wake up, now, in the 2020s, to the risks of handing control over too much of their lives to big tech. They see what Facebook knows about them. They look across at what China is doing with social credit. And they shudder. But have no idea what to do about it.
But Stallman could see those problems coming in the early 1980s, and was already trying to organize resistance to them, and to redirect the future in a better, healthier and free-er direction.
Stallman wasn't just thinking about programmers. He has stories from the 80s and 90s warning how, say, DRM would make lending books to friends, impossible. (Which is exactly what happened with e-books. People don't lend books to their friends, and the second hand book market is effectively non-existent).
Stallman was thinking about all the ways that those who control the software control our lives, from long, long before it was fashionable.
And he tried his hardest to change the future away from that.
He had a plan :
Politically aware programmers, with a sense of moral purpose, would write software that was deliberately free, whose source-code was open for anyone to read, study, learn from and change, so that users wouldn't be controlled by it. Users would know what their software was doing. And if they didn't like it, could change it to something they did like. Software enabled tyranny would be avoided because ownership of and control of software would be out there in public. Not controlled by corporations or governments.
It was a bold and visionary plan. In many ways before its time. Too few people understood it.
(And it didn't help, that in the 90s, Eric Raymond and Tim O'Reilly came along to sabotage it by claiming that free-software was really just about good business sense and hacker culture, man. And not about morality and the struggle for freedom, at all.)
Of course Stallman comes across as having bee in his bonnet. And most people, unfortunately, ignore him. That's because he's the genuine article. A bona-fide moral visionary. One of the few of our times.
Elon Musk is a bit of an arse. Yes, he's doing good work helping to shift the world to electric cars. That's a "good thing (tm)" and I won't take that away from him. He's also, kind of a "visionary" for putting his money where his mouth is, and doing his bit to push space exploration and Mars colonization. Although I think it's too early for that and he isn't going to succeed. (It's also a "vision" that's remarkably 1950s retro. But sure, give Musk some credit for that.)
But Stallman's GPL should be up there with the Magna Carta and the American Constitution, as another major milestone in legal history and the struggle to protect and guarantee human freedom. It's the only interesting and possibly viable response to the dangers we currently face from a future of ubiquitous computing and networking.
The are only two alternatives in our future. Either our devices are open, and we control them and get them to do what we want because we can program them. Or our devices are closed and controlled by other people, and those other people control us through our devices. (And good luck "opting out" of using devices and ubiquitous social media services if you want to stay a functioning member of society.)
Stallman pretty much saw this 40 years ago. And has been fighting to bring us the first alternative ever since. He's spent his life talking about the dangers, talking about the solutions, and encouraging programmers to join the moral and political movement in favour of defending human freedom from technological tyranny.
That makes him one of the most important political and moral leaders of our times. And possibly of any times in human history.
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