Richard Stallman is neither a leader nor a Messiah

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It seem to be quite a common phenomenon that detractors of Free software will attemp to bring up Richard Stallman and specifically something he might have said at one time or another, most usually quoted out of context and with the most uncharitable intepretation possible. This is then used as some kind of proof for the sinister motive of Free Software. Here’s one such example:

Stallman has repeatedly said that he thinks that programmers are overpaid and that skilled laborers should do their jobs for free or for a pittance (and therefore unskilled management is the only way to justify large salaries from technology), and it isn’t too hard to draw the inference that the GNU license, the philosophy of which makes it much harder for coders to get paid for their work, is his way of acting on his opinions.

Notice how we do not get to see exactly what Stallman said or in what context. Rather, we get the quoter’s personal interpretation which basically asserts a specific set of outcomes which looks to be the worst possible. It furthermore  inserts a sinister motive behind the GPL which is really requires a huge stretch of the imagination.

This is pure rhetoric people, and it’s the kind that displays intellectual dishonesty which rivals the Barefoot Bum. I can’t avoid getting annoyed when such a stunning amount of bullshit is said with a straight face because I can immediately, subconsciously even, see the logical fallacies and attempts at misdirection.

However it is important to counter the basic point of anti-Free Software tirade.

Stallman’s words are not infallible

Even if we accept the absurd intepretation such as the above as being true, even if we accept that Richard Stallman has some sinister motive behind the conception of the GNU Public License, it would still not make it the driving idea behind Free Software. The reason for this is simple: Richard Stallman is not a Messiah. Yes, he is a very influential figure in the free software movement. Yes, he is the one who can be said to have started it all. Yes, he does really follow what he preaches. But that’s it!

The arguments that Stallman makes, stand on their own accord and not because Stallman said them. However the rhetoric above tries to imply exactly that: That because he said it, it must be a part of the free software movement. But we are not a pack of sheep. We do not blindly follow what Stallman or RMS or Torvalds says (atlthough you will certainly find some individuals who are like that, same as with any public figure). We look at the arguments each of them presents, judge them and then espouse or reject them.

Thus even if Stallman’s secret plan was indeed to “eliminate independent coding as a profession”, the people would modify and implement his core idea in a way that it wouldn’t achieve this result. This is because such a result would be against the best interests of the coders that embrace it. Of course such a sinister plot is absurd on its face and the free software ideology is embraced on its merits as one promoting greater freedom for users and developers.

It is then that people with an axe to grind against FOSS imply that we’re simply being naive and being led like lamb to the slaughter by promises of freedom. There is not argument to back this up however, only shaky correlation and misunderstood economics. But this serves only as a handy personal delusion for those who make these arguments as they are incapable of explaining why people would embrace an idea that they consider obviously evil. It can’t be that they’re missing something, it must be that everyone espousing it is either stupid or evil.

The ironic part is how the people making such accusation have a double standard when public figures from the SW development paradigm they support say obviously wrong stuff such as wishing to take all the fun out of making video games. But it’s ok to quote mine and misinterpret Free Software figures because, after all, you have a point to prove.

To summarize, Stallman says a lot of things, some of the objectionable. I disagree with a lot of what he says, much like I disagree with a lot of what Torvalds or Raymond say. I may disagree with less things that Stallman says than any of the previous two figures, but this very far from deciding that the uncharitable interpretation of a paraphrased quote mine is representative of the whole free software movement and its purpose.

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