Posts Tagged ‘free software’

Richard Stallman and Freedom

15 November 2017

Today (Wednesday, 15th Nov 2017) I went to see Richard Stallman give a presentation on Free Software.

He was being hosted by a California State project to re-write the Child Welfare website (including backend) using Free Software. Most of the attendees were state employees involved in the project. I was there because I had gotten an email about the event from the Free Software Foundation. Though rain clouds threatened, I went ahead and made the approximately 10 mile bike ride over to Natomas where the state government has a bunch of buildings in a nice industrial park.

Richard is about 1-1/2 years older than me. He was born in New York City (per Wikipedia) and acts like it. He became proficient in writing computer programs while in high school, and was working as a programmer even as he continued his education.

In his early years, he worked at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence laboratory, then funded largely through DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).

As software and computing became more popular, Richard noticed that most companies were keeping their code (the higher-language representation of the program) secret. He objected to this on the grounds that in a free society, code should be published like other forms of literature, so it could be studied and learned from.

He started integrating his ideas into a coherent ideology with the birth of the GNU project in 1983. The NU in GNU stands for “not Unix” which was meant to emphasize that the GNU system was all Free Software, though it functioned a lot like Unix. Beyond that, the gnu is a native name for the African wildebeest, which is used as the project’s mascot.

At the presentation today, Richard went through his basic philosophy about Free Software and gave some examples of how proprietary software has been used against the higher cause of freedom in society.

Is it really all about profit?

Richard thinks that the existence of non-free or anti-freedom software can be explained by profit motive. This has been a common argument from “progressive” circles concerning many political and economic weaknesses. I think this is not an intellectually rigorous explanation.

I don’t say that because I’m so smart. I am simply aware of research that points to other factors.

But I will say this about profit:
In a political-economic context, profit is seen as necessary in order to retain investors. Who would invest in an activity that couldn’t repay the investment, with interest? Beyond the fact that this itself is a weak argument, I also see it as unnecessarily complex.

What a business has to do first to pay a profit to shareholders is to have more income than expenses. But that is just common sense. In a world of machines – and biological entities are a type of machine – you need to put more energy into the system than you will get out as work. The remainder is waste energy, which is used by biology but “dumped” by most machine systems.

If you can make more than you spend, you can pay investors a profit. Or on the scale of a single human being, you can save for a child’s education, or for old age. And by the way, did you include raising a family in your list of expenses? So, we have pressures on the producers in an economy to “make a profit” whether it’s their stockholders or their children that they are responsible to.

I believe this basically evaporates the argument of “profit motive.”

Criminality

What we have left, though, is something very obvious that the “progressives” don’t talk much about: Criminality.

As I am “musing” in this article I will opine on why the “progressives” have this problem. My theory – and not just mine, nor my origination particularly – is that an approach to life commonly referred to as “psychology” has infiltrated its way into American life, and the “progressive” movement in particular. It is not that there is something wrong with the study of the mind. It is only that the history of this particular brand of psychology we are seeing on Earth suggests it was financed and supported, if not actually created, by persons who wished to develop a sort of intellectual framework, or propaganda mechanism, that would serve to explain or justify “bad” behavior anywhere from mildly rude to morally reprehensible.

What has arisen from this effort is a jumble of loosely-related ideas, including concepts like Moral Relativism, and Situational Ethics. The bulk of these concepts are confused and under-developed, but when paired up with Psychology as our best attempt to understand human thought and behavior, they can establish a basis to justify almost any action, no matter how evil.

In short, the criminal – especially one in government or business – has a problem: How can I harm those around me while maintaining my supposedly legitimate position in society? And I am saying that one answer he has reached for was: Use Psychology.

In this wise, a criminal is explained as a person in a “bad” situation, or someone who was brought up wrong. In a company it could be someone being forced to make a profit, resulting in his making very bad choices. The answer is to be kind to everybody and make sure everyone has enough to eat, spend etc. This argument is warm and fuzzy, but I think demonstrably unworkable.

If the criminal is really a type of personality, like the psychopath of classic psychiatry (now called “psychodynamic theory”), then being kind to him will not change his behavior. He has a compulsive urge to harm secretly. Thus, my theory that modern “psychology” was produced by and for criminals, as it fails miserably to solve the problem of crime (when it addresses it directly at all).

Modern “psychology” totally ignores past lives and their influence on present-life behavior, even though this has been the most productive research avenue during the previous century that yielded new understandings about human behavior.

Self-correction?

A very major segment of the people I have been exposed to who are out there communicating ideas seem to believe that to make a person aware of a sub-standard behavior will lead to correction.

I don’t know why this idea remains so strong in people, as I see almost no support for it in the extreme cases where self-correction has been most needed and most lacking.

One example of this type of thinking is gun control. What gun control advocates seem to be saying is that if we make certain types of guns illegal or difficult to obtain, a person who wishes he could go out and blow everybody’s head off will become aware that this is wrong behavior and self-correct into some more acceptable approach. This idea is totally ridiculous.

Yet a progressive-oriented person like Richard Stallman, as fine and upstanding as his ideas are, thinks that if we just make Free Software more popular, those using anti-free software will eventually self-correct and see the error of their ways. If that were to really happen, purveyors of anti-free software might give in, simply on the basis that they could no longer sell their products to anyone. But what I am suggesting is that the criminals among them would not self-correct. They would just find alternative methods to perform criminal acts and protect their secrets.

What anti-free is really all about

Mr. Stallman, as well as many on the “right” who argue for more freedom, are not aware of the research I am aware of, I am quite sure. And while I may not be able to explain that research with total clarity here, I do think it is worth our while to at least be aware of it.

 

The point is that “psychology” never figured all this out. The ideas and methodologies that did figure it out have been around for over 50 years. They were rejected by psychology. Why? Probably because they could lead to greater freedom! But also because psychology was being influenced by criminals, who are extremely afraid of freedom. Not just mentally dull about it; VERY afraid of it. Freedom includes the ability to see through others’ secrets. This ability would render a criminal helpless. This may be the bigger reason that criminals are involved in anti-free technologies, software being just one of them.

It was good to see Richard Stallman. I had heard a lot about him over the years. His heart is in a good place, but I don’t think his solutions will get society where he’d like it to go. He needs to understand it better first. Anti-free is more deeply entrenched in the minds of men – and particularly managers – than he realizes. The solutions exist at a deeper level than he is currently aware of. That they exist in any form at all is a minor miracle.

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