Richard Stallman's new article: Overcoming Social Inertia

Steven steffo at
Mon Nov 5 20:51:41 UTC 2007

On Nov 5, 2007 8:04 PM, Matthias-Christian Ott <ott at> wrote:

> Matthias Kirschner <mk at> wrote:
> > A new article is in the GNU philosophy website. For those of you, who
> > are reading your mails offline I have included the text. I hope that
> > also helps lowering the work to comment it ;)
> >
> >
> >
> Thanks for the link.
> > Overcoming Social Inertia
> >
> > by Richard Stallman
> >
> >  15 years have passed since the combination of GNU and Linux first made
> it
> > possible to use a PC in freedom. During that time, we have come a long
> way. You
> > can even buy a laptop with GNU/Linux preinstalled from more than one
> hardware
> > vendor, although the systems they ship are not entirely free software.
> So what
> > holds us back from total success?
> >
> >  The main obstacle to the triumph of software freedom is social inertia.
> You
> > have surely seen its many forms. Many commercial web sites are only
> accessible
> > with Windows. The BBC's iPlayer handcuffware runs only on Windows. If
> you value
> > short-term convenience instead of freedom, you might consider these
> reasons to
> > use Windows. Most companies currently use Windows, so students who think
> > short-term want to learn Windows, and ask schools to teach Windows,
> which they
> > do, thus leading many other students to use Windows. Microsoft actively
> > nurtures this inertia: it encourages schools to inculcate dependency on
> > Windows, and contracts to set up web sites, which then turn out to work
> only
> > with Internet Explorer.
> >
> >  A few years ago, Microsoft ads argued that Windows was cheaper to run
> than
> > GNU/Linux. Their comparisons were debunked, but it is worth noting the
> deeper
> > flaw that their arguments reduce to social inertia: ???Currently, more
> technical
> > people know Windows than GNU/Linux.??? People that value their freedom
> would not
> > give it up to save money, but many business executives believe
> ideologically
> > that everything they possess, even their freedom, should be for sale.
> >
> >  Social inertia consists of people giving in to social inertia. When you
> give
> > in to social inertia, you become part of it; when you resist it, you
> reduce it.
> > We conquer inertia by identifying it, and resolving not to be part of
> it.
> >
> >  Here is where the philosophical weakness of most of our community holds
> us
> > back. Most GNU/Linux users have never even heard the ideas of freedom
> that
> > motivated the development of GNU, so they still judge matters based on
> > short-term convenience rather than on their freedom. This makes them
> vulnerable
> > to being led by the nose, through social inertia.
> >
> >  To change this, we need to talk about free software and freedom ??? not
> merely
> > practical benefits such as cited by open source. Thus we can build our
> > community's strength and resolve to overcome social inertia.
> >
> > Copyright ?? 2007 Richard Stallman
> >
> > Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are permitted
> > worldwide, without royalty, in any medium, provided this notice is
> preserved.
> I observed this behaviour quite often when people are talking about
> free software like GNU/Linux. They focus on technical aspects of free
> software and do no value their freedom. It is more important for them
> that the software is technically superior and gratis than that it is free.
> This is paradox. Freedom is the most essential thing in your life and
> you neglect it for pragmatic aspects. I cannot understand this.
> Just take the word free. Nowadays most people's definition of free
> is gratis. How can you associate such an important value with money
> and capitalism? This seriously psychologically ill. By Adapting this
> definition you give a greater importance to money than freedom.
> And even in other languages like German people begin adapting this
> definition.
> Applying this to free software means that you give a higher priority to
> technical aspects and money than freedom and mutual aid. You focus on
> a physical thing and dissociate from your fellow men. Thus all people
> become lone fighters who are only associating for the practical reason of
> creating a certain product due to the fact that they decided that this
> would be the best solution for this specific case. This is anti-social,
> alienating and corrupts our society. And I do not want to live in such
> society. In such a society people will begin to treat their fellow men
> as things.
> I think free software is the right way to start as long as you see it
> as free software and not as open source. Once you call it open source
> (because all people do it or you are convinced of calling it open source)
> you are lost. You are "subscribing" a belief that is promoted by people
> like Linux Torvalds. And think that nobody should do this.
> We should really teach everyone about the philosophical aspects of free
> software. As Stallman mentions this is the only way of making clear what
> free software is about, why it was invented and why it should be used.
> We should all keep in mind that GNU was not created because of technical
> reasons. It was invented to have a free operating system. And we should
> impart this to everyone.
> You have to convince people to fight for their freedom by showing them
> what freedom is and that it is one of the most important things in
> life. This will influence their mind and life not only with regard to
> software. This is necessary to make the world a better place.
> Life could be really easy and pleasant for everyone if everyone wants to.
> Thus I entirely share Stallman's opinion and think it is a great article.
> But I think some people are really hard to convince because they were
> influenced from their early life and agree with theories like social
> darwinism and unrestricted capitalism or a police state.
> This whole discussion seems very similar to the surveillance discussion
> in Germany.
> We really have to do something to stop this open source movement, because
> it they succeed the free software movement that started really promising
> will get ignored and we will be lost. In 20 years nobody will remember it.
> I do not know how to solve this problem, but the approach that was
> proposed by Richard Stallman to start teaching and using free software
> at school seems very effective to me and makes sense, because in school
> you should be taught to be a good member of our society (and thus to
> behave socially). By using and teaching proprietary software they teach
> you the opposite.
> What do you think?

Open Source is based on certain aspects of some of the four freedoms. Maybe
Open Source Software could be the first step for the 'non-philosophical'
majority of humanity to accept and grow into the rather revolutionary ideas
of Free Software.

They've made the first step. We should not fear but welcome them, and show
them there is more.


Steven Ottenhoff

> --
> Matthias-Christian Ott
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