FOSS: The Savior of Democracy

Posted by tuxchick on Oct 16, 2005 4:08 PM
LXer.com; By Tuxchick

I'm afraid I do not have an optimistic view of the future. People throw away their rights as heedlessly as pieces of litter. The one ray of hope just may be the FOSS world, because it puts powerful tools into the hands of anyone who wants them. Television, radio, and print media are lost to us, and that is deliberate, because the most powerful tool of all for liberty is free speech. The first act of any tyrant is to control broadcast and print media. "Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one."

This rant was inspired by this article http://lxer.com/module/forums/t/18947/ and the subsequent discussion thread.

It has always amused and bothered me when people say "Forget the philosophy. Pay no attention to that crazy Stallman dood. Just choose the best software for the job." Now it mostly just bothers me, because it is a short-sighted and wrongheaded perspective. Everything flows from some sort of philosophy. You don't get good stuff from bad philosophy. Of course you know my favorite poster boys to use as an example- Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, and Microsoft. Everything they do flows from a simple philosophy: their way or the highway, everyone who is not a friend is an enemy, enemies must be destroyed (notice how their friends often suffer the same fate as their enemies), and there is no such thing as making too much money. The results of this philosophy we already know.

I have always resisted the notion that the FOSS world is at war with Microsoft. It sounds so dramatic, like a silly fantasy of lonely geeks still living in their mom's basements, trying to make coding into a macho activity.

How wrong I was. It is a war, and it is a much larger war than unseating the most successful, most rapacious monopoly of all time.

War takes many forms. I divide humanity into two segments: people like me who just want to live our lives, build useful things, hang out with cool friends, and not be bothered, and people who live to mess with other folks and try to control and exploit them.

You don't get good stuff from bad philosophy. Look at what Adobe did to Dmitri Sklyarov. (Short memories, eh? Try the Wikipedia for starters.) Dmitri Sklyarov spent about two months in jail for exercising his free speech rights. I suppose we could argue that as a non-citizen he did not have the same rights. Still, Adobe had the choice to be moral, and not do what they did. I think it was criminal what they did, and the top suits at Adobe should be in jail for wrongful imprisonment and prosecution. And then the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies should also be punished. At the very least no one with a conscience should ever purchase another Adobe product.

You don't get good stuff from bad philosophy. Look at all the different companies who have no qualms about collecting, buying, and selling your personal data; it's a multi-billion dollar industry. Or installing all manner of spyware and adware on your computer. These companies have zero respect for us and our private property- to me, it is appalling and inconceivable that anyone could possibly think these sorts of activities are OK. How can anyone with a shred of respect for his or her fellow citizen think that "opt-out" is OK? This sort of invasion flows from the philosophy that our personal privacy is merely a feeble obstacle, and our personal consent is unnecessary, and indeed a silly conceit. After all, we've had decades of telemarketers to soften us up for spammers. So what's the problem?

I'm afraid I do not have an optimistic view of the future. People throw away their rights as heedlessly as pieces of litter. The one ray of hope just may be the FOSS world, because it puts powerful tools into the hands of anyone who wants them. Television, radio, and print media are lost to us, and that is deliberate, because the most powerful tool of all for liberty is free speech. The first act of any tyrant is to control broadcast and print media. "Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one."

But "nature abhors a vacuum", and the truth will out. Since the Internet became widely accessible we've had access to information like never before. I doubt I'm the only here who has long relied on newsgroups, user forums, and email lists to get the real story on commercial products. We don't have to rely on professional "reviewers" anymore, who can be bought. And cheaply- sheesh, a T-shirt, coffee mug, or backpack is all it takes.

The new kid on the free speech block is blogging. Many blogs have become famous, especially from people in various trouble spots around the world. The contrast between those and the traditional news outlets is so great they might as well be from different solar systems. In the olden days of the American Revolution they did paper blogging, - they used pamplets. Thousands of them printed and distributed anonymously. (Pampleteering is still in use in various countries today, made easier than ever by computers.) The royalists made it a priority to hunt down and destroy printing presses, because it was very effective. Without pamphleting we might today be British subjects, eating bad boiled food, drinking good beer, and having police surveillance cameras every ten feet.

You don't get good stuff from bad philosophy. All these big powerful technology companies- Microsoft, Sun, Oracle, Adobe, Intel, HP, Dell, Apple, and so forth could have made a choice way back at the beginning. They could have said "We have a chance to make a real difference. We can develop products that help individuals to control and protect their own personal data. We can help them find, store, and retrieve all kinds of valuable information that will arm them against the bullies, thieves, and scammers of the world. We can develop new means of distribution that will help the planet by not stinking it up with truck exhaust and cluttering it with packaging litter. We can help people reach out to each other like never before."

Ok, laugh at me all you want. Silly idealist. The funny part is all of these things did happen- but none of them came from the proprietary, commercial world. Not so much as one single molecule. It all came from the FOSS world. What all of these companies have in common is they have devoted considerable resources to acquiring political power and eroding our rights, both as customers and as citizens.

My crystal ball is cloudy, but one thing is clear- we cannot depend on people in power to look out for us. Which is too bad, but that's the way it is. They're too busy looking out for each other. So it just may be them crazy, unwashed, idealistic Free Software hippie freaks who have given us the means to save ourselves.

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
Not a believer, Tuxchick? dinotrac 14 1,408 Oct 18, 2005 12:55 PM
Hit the nail on the head. PaulFerris 4 1,179 Oct 17, 2005 12:52 PM
Amen, Tuxchick! Tsela 0 1,019 Oct 17, 2005 12:45 AM

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