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?

Stallman's RSS Feed

Poor housing ... Wed Oct 13 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Serious financial problems ... Wed Oct 13 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Used for surveillance ... Wed Oct 13 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Three levels of blacklists ... Wed Oct 13 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Thugs using surveillance threat ... Wed Oct 13 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Pandora papers and well-known billionaires ... Wed Oct 13 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Surveillance of students ... Wed Oct 13 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Victims of trafficking ... Wed Oct 13 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Hiding stolen money ... Wed Oct 13 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Greenhouse gas contributions from cement ... Wed Oct 13 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Forbidding vaccine mandate ... Wed Oct 13 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Cryin'air ... Wed Oct 13 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Polis ... Wed Oct 13 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Suing school with no mandate ... Wed Oct 13 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Urgent: Break up tech monopolies ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Gaps in evidence ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Hardship of poor people ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
(satire) Hating someone new ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Ethiopian tablets ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Critical infrastructure in the US ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Covid-19 vaccinated for the pregnant ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Wages up in the US ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Jurisdictional rules ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Mass deforestation ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Near universal vaccination ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Resistant and uncooperative officers ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
UK school laptops ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Dowries ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Hardship imposed on millions ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
A curious series of gaps ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
British Museum has kept ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Urgent: Stop Wall Street from fueling climate crisis ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Urgent: Stop funding OAN ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Urgent: ban single-use plastic in national parks ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Erosion of trade union power ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Worse than fuel shortages ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Channel for foreign interference ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Dead planet ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Advertisement urge ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Shortages ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
War on drugs ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Underwater power cables ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
The berry torture ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
COVID-19 and authoritarianism ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Biased against facts ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Critical race theory ... Tue Oct 12 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Urgent: not funding overturning election ... Mon Oct 11 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Urgent: Prison Phone Justice Act ... Mon Oct 11 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Urgent: eliminate nuclear weapons ... Mon Oct 11 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Gig labor in university ... Mon Oct 11 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Add-on to unfollow everyone ... Mon Oct 11 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Flooding help-line ... Mon Oct 11 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Subscription based textbooks ... Mon Oct 11 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Report apps reporting user location ... Mon Oct 11 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Giant sequoia trees ... Mon Oct 11 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Academic freedoms ... Mon Oct 11 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Bone Saw rehabilitated ... Mon Oct 11 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Pegasus ... Mon Oct 11 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Fast track to disaster ... Mon Oct 11 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Repression court ... Mon Oct 11 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Amazon rainforest is losing ... Mon Oct 11 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Urgent: urge Biden to move for the elimination of nuclear weapons. ... Sun Oct 10 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Urgent: no fund for trying to overturn elections ... Sun Oct 10 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Review of the book Hot Air ... Sun Oct 10 21:00:00 BRT 2021
When others stay silent ... Sun Oct 10 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Journalist murders ... Sun Oct 10 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Symbol for Build Back Better bill ... Sun Oct 10 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Too dangerous to deport people there ... Sun Oct 10 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Drug prices ... Sun Oct 10 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Asylum system ... Sun Oct 10 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Nobel Peace Prize ... Sun Oct 10 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Thugs talking about shooting indiscriminately ... Sun Oct 10 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Celebrating freedom of speech ... Sun Oct 10 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Losing parent or caregiver to Covid-19 ... Sun Oct 10 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Poland and EU ... Sun Oct 10 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Stronger action against tax-dodging ... Sun Oct 10 21:00:00 BRT 2021
Talk in Arles, France ... Sun Oct 10 21:00:00 BRT 2021