It’s time to talk about post-RMS Free Software

Post Syndicated from Matthew Garrett original

Richard Stallman has once again managed to demonstrate incredible insensitivity[1]. There’s an argument that in a pure technical universe this is irrelevant and we should instead only consider what he does in free software[2], but free software isn’t a purely technical topic – the GNU Manifesto is nakedly political, and while free software may result in better technical outcomes it is fundamentally focused on individual freedom and will compromise on technical excellence if otherwise the result would be any compromise on those freedoms. And in a political movement, there is no way that we can ignore the behaviour and beliefs of that movement’s leader. Stallman is driving away our natural allies. It’s inappropriate for him to continue as the figurehead for free software.

But I’m not calling for Stallman to be replaced. If the history of social movements has taught us anything, it’s that tying a movement to a single individual is a recipe for disaster. The FSF needs a president, but there’s no need for that person to be a leader – instead, we need to foster an environment where any member of the community can feel empowered to speak up about the importance of free software. A decentralised movement about returning freedoms to individuals can’t also be about elevating a single individual to near-magical status. Heroes will always end up letting us down. We fix that by removing the need for heroes in the first place, not attempting to find increasingly perfect heroes.

Stallman was never going to save us. We need to take responsibility for saving ourselves. Let’s talk about how we do that.

[1] There will doubtless be people who will leap to his defense with the assertion that he’s neurodivergent and all of these cases are consequences of that.

(A) I am unaware of a formal diagnosis of that, and I am unqualified to make one myself. I suspect that basically everyone making that argument is similarly unqualified.
(B) I’ve spent a lot of time working with him to help him understand why various positions he holds are harmful. I’ve reached the conclusion that it’s not that he’s unable to understand, he’s just unwilling to change his mind.

[2] This argument is, obviously, bullshit

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