Hacker and FreeSoftware activist.

Founder of the FreeSoftwareFoundation, creator of the GnuGeneralPublicLicense and wrote much of the modern version of the Emacs editor.

Quora Answer : Why is Richard Stallman more important than Elon Musk?

Dec 15

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.

See also :

Phil Jones (He / Him)'s answer to Will the Free Software Foundation become irrelevant if Clang makes GCC obsolete?


Me on Twitter https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1355518981214523392.html replying to GrahamLally


@6loss

I think Stallman's politics is left and libertarian (where libertarian is "extreme liberal"). The intuition most of us had originally is that with enough freedom, the good drives out the bad. As you know, I think we might be discovering that that is "wrong" in some sense ... \1

But it's still a viable and attractive intuition.

And, yes, the GPL etc. is built on that. So freedom is more important than trying to constrain people to do good. \2

Furthermore ... pragmatically, this appeal to pure freedom clearly engages and recruits more people than if Stallman had tried to use GPL to enforce his own wider political views. You have "right-libertarians" (ESR, or Lessig) on-board with GPL. \3

Finally, I think there is a question whether you could legally codify and enforce restrictions on use. GPL is all about hacking existing copyright law and its definition of "derivative". Because derivation is a well established legal idea, that bit is "easy". \4

Obviously other things like CC or GPL Affero start putting more restrictions (Eg. non-commercial, or "can't use the software on a server without sharing") which push the envelope a bit. I'm sure others have tried to put restrictions eg. "can't use for military" into licenses \5

Whether those have ever been tested in court, I'm not sure.

I'm inclined to think that this is right. You try to undermine copyright through the legal GPL, and address other politics / morals through community practice, codes of conduct, culture rather than enforcing \6

That feels right to me ... but I admit maybe that's my libertarian bias showing through.

What I think certain is that law isn't a viable substitute for politics and community. If people want to be racist, a license in the blogging software can't / won't stop them \7

OTOH, I do think that platforms like Twitter and FB can and should enforce standards in their users, and chucking people off for dangerous disinformation or hate speech is fine. Just as a pub has the right to chuck out an aggressive drunken customer. \8

But that's based on a different principle. If you create a communal space, you have rights and responsibilities to keep that space healthy.

In summary, GPL is actively against imposing restrictions on particular uses. And I think that's fine. That's how it should be. \9

But that's because of the kind of thing the GPL is and software is.

People running platforms / communities can and should worry about the codes of practice, netiquette, policing abusive behaviour and the political fight against fascism.

That's where it should happen \10

Most importantly, EVERYTHING we face today was predicted in web.archive.org/web/2005061408… and everyone should go back, read, and think seriously about that. You cannot separate tech. from politics. \end

Stallman's RSS Feed

Urgent: New York Times article on Stacey Abrams' campaign ) ... Fri Sep 23 04:32:38 BST 2022
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Workers that walk off the job because of disasters ) ... Fri Sep 23 04:32:38 BST 2022
Crime under Texas law ) ... Fri Sep 23 04:32:37 BST 2022
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School uniforms with PFAs ) ... Fri Sep 23 04:32:37 BST 2022
Putin declared partial mobilization ) ... Fri Sep 23 04:32:37 BST 2022
Attorney General Letitia James of New York State sued the corrupter ) ... Fri Sep 23 04:32:37 BST 2022
Geology of UK makes it unsuitable for fracking ) ... Fri Sep 23 04:32:37 BST 2022
Poverty is a political choice ) ... Fri Sep 23 04:32:36 BST 2022
Republicans want to ban abortion nationwide ) ... Fri Sep 23 04:32:36 BST 2022
Russian nuclear sabre-rattling ) ... Fri Sep 23 04:32:36 BST 2022
International criminal court complaint about killing of Shireen Abu Akleh ) ... Fri Sep 23 04:32:36 BST 2022
A lagoon designated as a "person" ) ... Fri Sep 23 04:32:36 BST 2022
UK mass forestry scheme threatened by drought ) ... Fri Sep 23 04:32:36 BST 2022
The special master is not subservient ) ... Fri Sep 23 04:32:36 BST 2022
How to beat a book ban ) ... Fri Sep 23 04:32:35 BST 2022
Relabling incinerators as "advanced recycling" ) ... Fri Sep 23 04:32:35 BST 2022
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Truss's plans for policy changes ) ... Thu Sep 22 05:17:40 BST 2022
Protests in Iran continue ) ... Thu Sep 22 05:17:40 BST 2022
Undersea deposit of natural gas ) ... Thu Sep 22 05:17:40 BST 2022
Burning all known fossil fuel reserves ) ... Thu Sep 22 05:17:40 BST 2022
Biden pandered and claimed "the pandemic is over" ) ... Thu Sep 22 05:17:40 BST 2022
Keeping college expensive so poor Americans would join the military ) ... Thu Sep 22 05:17:40 BST 2022
Republican Representative Bowers denounced trumpery ) ... Thu Sep 22 05:17:39 BST 2022
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Difficult situation men and boys face ) ... Thu Sep 22 05:17:38 BST 2022
Lawyers rip "special master" decision to shreds ) ... Thu Sep 22 05:17:38 BST 2022
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Reappearance of polio in the US ) ... Wed Sep 21 10:32:41 BST 2022
Ron Johnson uses China as target for posturing ) ... Wed Sep 21 10:32:41 BST 2022
Trading defense stocks while making national security policy ) ... Wed Sep 21 10:32:41 BST 2022
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Vineyard'> Migrants shipped to Martha's Vineyard ) ... Wed Sep 21 10:32:40 BST 2022
The cult of positive thinking ) ... Wed Sep 21 10:32:40 BST 2022
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Fossil fuel companies acting to perpetuate fossil fuels ) ... Wed Sep 21 10:32:39 BST 2022
Russian overseas assets as reparations for Ukraine ) ... Wed Sep 21 10:32:39 BST 2022
Russian pop star speaks out against war in Ukraine ) ... Wed Sep 21 10:32:39 BST 2022
Tories plan to adopt another excuse to tax business less ) ... Wed Sep 21 10:32:39 BST 2022
Mahsa Amini's funeral ) ... Wed Sep 21 10:32:38 BST 2022
Correlation between Facebook and depression ) ... Wed Sep 21 10:32:38 BST 2022
Tying global heating to capitalism ) ... Wed Sep 21 10:32:38 BST 2022
Corrupter publicly endorse QAnonsense ) ... Wed Sep 21 10:32:37 BST 2022
New Pun ) ... Tue Sep 20 05:32:44 BST 2022
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Australia must set higher climate ambitions ) ... Tue Sep 20 05:32:44 BST 2022
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DeMentis lied to migrants to get them to board plane ) ... Tue Sep 20 05:32:43 BST 2022
Long Covid struck cooks, teachers and medical workers ) ... Tue Sep 20 05:32:43 BST 2022
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Putin forces took away Ukrainian veterans ) ... Tue Sep 20 05:32:43 BST 2022
Whether to spend federal funds on ShotSpotter microphone system ) ... Tue Sep 20 05:32:42 BST 2022
Plastics plant permit revoked ) ... Tue Sep 20 05:32:42 BST 2022
Fossil fuel industry wants to expand free speech for corporations ) ... Tue Sep 20 05:32:42 BST 2022
Deregulation to let businesses in Britain have their will ) ... Tue Sep 20 05:32:42 BST 2022
Republicans want to privatize Jackson's water system ) ... Tue Sep 20 05:32:42 BST 2022
Schumer won't let Senate vote on antimonopoly bills before election ) ... Tue Sep 20 05:32:42 BST 2022
Using migrants as pawns ) ... Tue Sep 20 05:32:41 BST 2022
US ranked 41 at meeting people's basic needs ) ... Tue Sep 20 05:32:41 BST 2022
Bullshitter's investigation into Hillary Clinton ) ... Tue Sep 20 05:32:41 BST 2022
What will NATO do if Putin uses nuclear, biological or chemical weapons? ) ... Tue Sep 20 05:32:41 BST 2022
Putin forces make children study a brainwashing curriculum ) ... Tue Sep 20 05:32:41 BST 2022
Banning cluster bombs ) ... Tue Sep 20 05:32:41 BST 2022
Criticism intensifies after big oil admits ‘gaslighting’ public over green aims ) ... Mon Sep 19 04:17:32 BST 2022
Putin’s ally stole my democratic victory in Belarus. Now the west must help us fight back ) ... Mon Sep 19 04:17:32 BST 2022
Ukraine depends on morale and Russia on mercenaries. It could decide the war ) ... Mon Sep 19 04:17:31 BST 2022
Governor Newsom has signed two bills that California lawmakers claim will protect children online ) ... Mon Sep 19 04:17:31 BST 2022
What If Anything Will US Military Learn From Putin's Disastrous Ukraine Invasion? ) ... Mon Sep 19 04:17:31 BST 2022
Trussonomics is a fanatical, fantastical creed, and the last thing Britain needs ) ... Mon Sep 19 03:47:35 BST 2022
Some bodies found at mass burial site in Izium show ‘signs of torture,’ Ukraine says ) ... Mon Sep 19 03:47:35 BST 2022
Opinion: DeSantis chose Martha’s Vineyard for a reason ) ... Mon Sep 19 03:47:35 BST 2022
Why Poor Neighborhoods Suffer More From Extreme Heat and Pollution ) ... Mon Sep 19 03:47:34 BST 2022
(satire) Apple Announces New iPhones Will No Longer Be Compatible
With Human Hand. applenewiphonehumanhand)) ... Mon Sep 19 03:47:34 BST 2022
Louisiana woman carrying unviable fetus forced to travel to New York for abortion ) ... Sun Sep 18 04:17:19 BST 2022
‘Unstoppable’ bird flu epidemic causes growing alarm among Dutch farmers ) ... Sun Sep 18 04:17:18 BST 2022
Health groups call for global fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty ) ... Sun Sep 18 04:17:18 BST 2022
Deadly flood-water ‘tsunami’ sweeps through Italian towns ) ... Sun Sep 18 04:17:17 BST 2022
Why future sea levels matter to Suffolk’s Sizewell nuclear plant ) ... Sun Sep 18 04:17:17 BST 2022
Urgent: call on Congress to extend the Radiation Exposure and
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The UK media project an image of rapt devotion towards the monarchy, More than half of Republican Senate nominees have rejected, cast
doubt tried to overturn 2020 election results. ) ... Sun Sep 18 03:02:29 BST 2022
Republicans are working very hard to take workers off the voter lists. ) ... Sun Sep 18 03:02:29 BST 2022
Why did the Queen’s death receive saturation media coverage while the future of the Earth goes largely ignored?
) ... Sun Sep 18 03:02:28 BST 2022
Ukraine mass grave with 440 bodies discovered in recaptured Izium. ) ... Sun Sep 18 03:02:27 BST 2022
Renaming bases, ships and other things ) ... Sat Sep 17 05:32:28 BST 2022
Putin forces had list of people to capture and disappear ) ... Sat Sep 17 05:32:27 BST 2022
Supreme court decisions that will kill Americans at random ) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:04 BST 2022
Child poverty tax credit ) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:04 BST 2022
Stock trades that overlap with committee work ) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:04 BST 2022
Protective order against harassment by local thugs ) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:04 BST 2022
(satire) Emmy for best profits Emmyforbestprofits)) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:04 BST 2022
Putinite occupiers believed they were liberating from Nazis ) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:04 BST 2022
DNA samples in San Francisco ) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:03 BST 2022
Subpoenas seeking communications about plotting ) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:03 BST 2022
Renaming bases ships and other things ) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:03 BST 2022
(satire) Shower sex limited to once per week Showersexlimitedtoonceperweek)) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:03 BST 2022
Overloading election officials ) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:03 BST 2022
Residents where Australia floods systematically ) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:03 BST 2022
Indiana and West Virginia ban abortion ) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:03 BST 2022
Children that are more likely to get asthma ) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:02 BST 2022
Putin forces fire missiles at dam ) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:02 BST 2022
Patagonia company is donated ) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:02 BST 2022
Amazon sued by California ) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:02 BST 2022
Put forces had list of people to capture and disappear ) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:02 BST 2022
Blue light from LED bulbs ) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:02 BST 2022
European Parliament votes to reduce felling of trees ) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:02 BST 2022
Hydrogen made by electrolysis ) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:01 BST 2022
Protests at ceremonies of the monarchy ) ... Sat Sep 17 03:38:01 BST 2022
Urgent: Funding for Covid-19 treatment and vaccination ) ... Fri Sep 16 02:02:28 BST 2022
Putin forces accused of war crimes ) ... Fri Sep 16 02:02:28 BST 2022
Military-industrial complex captured US Congress ) ... Fri Sep 16 02:02:28 BST 2022
Battle between humans and sulphur-crested cockatoos ) ... Fri Sep 16 02:02:28 BST 2022
Green party supports striking workers ) ... Fri Sep 16 02:02:27 BST 2022
US hit by vaccine patents ) ... Fri Sep 16 02:02:27 BST 2022
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Legal harassment against climate-defense activists ) ... Fri Sep 16 02:02:27 BST 2022
Benefits for workers who don't join union ) ... Fri Sep 16 02:02:27 BST 2022
Interview with Symon Hill ) ... Fri Sep 16 02:02:27 BST 2022
Bullshitter's claims of "executive privilege" ) ... Fri Sep 16 02:02:26 BST 2022
Sanders rebuked the medical industry ) ... Fri Sep 16 02:02:26 BST 2022
Amount Russia has spent to influence foreign officials ) ... Fri Sep 16 02:02:26 BST 2022
Australia weakened influence of planet roasters ) ... Fri Sep 16 02:02:26 BST 2022
We need to preserve large mature trees ) ... Fri Sep 16 02:02:26 BST 2022
Rebuking Palestinian leaders ) ... Fri Sep 16 02:02:26 BST 2022
UK needs better insulated homes ) ... Fri Sep 16 02:02:26 BST 2022
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Officials in Russia calling for impeachment of Putin ) ... Wed Sep 14 23:32:24 BST 2022
Hong Kongers sentenced to prison for publishing a book ) ... Wed Sep 14 23:32:24 BST 2022
Merchant codes for credit card charges ) ... Wed Sep 14 23:32:24 BST 2022
Queen Elizabeth II blamed for evils of British Empire ) ... Wed Sep 14 23:32:24 BST 2022
Payment strikes ) ... Wed Sep 14 23:32:24 BST 2022
The US "Business Roundtable" ) ... Wed Sep 14 23:32:24 BST 2022
Food price increases ) ... Wed Sep 14 23:32:23 BST 2022
Curb surveillance empire ) ... Wed Sep 14 23:32:23 BST 2022
Monitoring when you ovulate ) ... Wed Sep 14 23:32:23 BST 2022
Prison for talking brashly to thugs ) ... Wed Sep 14 23:32:23 BST 2022
Bully insisted he had won the election ) ... Wed Sep 14 23:32:23 BST 2022
Arrested for calling for elimination of the monarchy ) ... Wed Sep 14 23:32:23 BST 2022
Law that restricts video recording of police ) ... Wed Sep 14 23:32:22 BST 2022
Low-carbon chemical industry ) ... Wed Sep 14 23:32:22 BST 2022
Last reactor of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant shut down ) ... Tue Sep 13 22:17:13 BST 2022
Number of people living in slavery today ) ... Tue Sep 13 22:17:13 BST 2022
Liz Truss suppressing dissent ) ... Tue Sep 13 22:17:13 BST 2022
Alabama jailing pregnant marijuana users ) ... Tue Sep 13 22:17:13 BST 2022
Teaching thugs to be police officers ) ... Tue Sep 13 22:17:13 BST 2022
Won't try to restrict abortion in this state ) ... Tue Sep 13 22:17:13 BST 2022
Princeton University is now gratis ) ... Tue Sep 13 22:17:12 BST 2022
For Democrats to win in November ) ... Tue Sep 13 22:17:12 BST 2022
Urgent: Strengthen protection of North Atlantic right whales ) ... Tue Sep 13 04:32:13 BST 2022
Inexpensive new malaria vaccine ) ... Tue Sep 13 04:32:13 BST 2022
Sewer system privatization rejected ) ... Tue Sep 13 04:32:12 BST 2022
Not enforcing drug laws against psychedelic drugs ) ... Tue Sep 13 04:32:12 BST 2022
US thug departments purchase data about people's movements ) ... Tue Sep 13 04:32:12 BST 2022
Stop big oil, tax windfall profits ) ... Tue Sep 13 04:32:12 BST 2022
Making results of federally-funded research available ) ... Tue Sep 13 04:32:12 BST 2022
Swapping household roles ) ... Tue Sep 13 04:32:12 BST 2022
Environmentalists are suing US Forest Service ) ... Tue Sep 13 04:32:12 BST 2022
High costs of operating nuclear power plants ) ... Tue Sep 13 04:32:11 BST 2022
When British people mourn the queen ) ... Tue Sep 13 04:32:11 BST 2022
Danger of vague state laws prohibiting abortion ) ... Tue Sep 13 04:32:11 BST 2022
Wrecker's officials subpoenaed for fundraising to undermine elections ) ... Tue Sep 13 04:32:11 BST 2022
Ukraine captured strategic rail junction ) ... Tue Sep 13 04:32:11 BST 2022
Making Jackson, Mississippi's water drinkable again ) ... Tue Sep 13 04:32:11 BST 2022
Monitoring employees minute by minute ) ... Tue Sep 13 04:32:10 BST 2022
Damage to Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant ) ... Mon Sep 12 00:47:22 BST 2022
Boulders in sea to prevent trawling ) ... Mon Sep 12 00:47:22 BST 2022
Debunking reasons to build Mountain Valley Pipeline ) ... Mon Sep 12 00:47:22 BST 2022
Households struggle to afford enough food ) ... Mon Sep 12 00:47:22 BST 2022
Pressure to stop supporting Russian oil companies ) ... Mon Sep 12 00:47:21 BST 2022
(satire) Low-speed targeted rockets Low-speedtargetedrockets)) ... Mon Sep 12 00:47:21 BST 2022
Jan 6 insurrection participant knocked off ballot ) ... Mon Sep 12 00:47:21 BST 2022
Bills to defend and assure voting rights ) ... Mon Sep 12 00:47:21 BST 2022
Republican poll working training people to break rules ) ... Mon Sep 12 00:47:20 BST 2022
Rule overturned for employer-funded medical insurance covering HIV medicine ) ... Mon Sep 12 00:47:20 BST 2022