Free software and priorities?

Ben Finney ben at
Sat Sep 22 08:54:19 UTC 2007

On 22-Sep-2007, Carsten Agger wrote:
> ( ...
> "How would you respond to those who suggest that free software 
> activists lack a sense of proportion? Given the vast scale and 
> suffering of war, invasions, occupations, poverty, doesn't the 
> freedom to use computers pale to insignificance?"

I like Richard's response in that interview, and agree with it. 

Everyone has their particular talents; it falls to those who have 
talent in a particular area to use those talents rightly. To dilute 
one's efforts among too many areas, especially areas one has little or 
no talent for, is also indicative of a lack of proportion.

> My own background before being interested in free software was that 
> of social activism, and one thing is definitely true: Free software 
> may be a prerequisite for a free society, but does not in and of 
> itself guarantee a free society.

I'd say that's true of pretty much any element of freedom. That it is 
true for some particular element of freedom doesn't imply that focus 
on it is disproportionate.

> Corporations and states might give us free software while tying our 
> hands in other ways,

That merely implies that we must fight against them tying our hands in 
any manner. It doesn't mean that free software — software that 
actually respects the freedom of all its recipients — is somehow less 
free, or that fighting to achieve it is disproportionate.

> and we might want to work against wars, censorship, corporate 
> domination of the media and of the media agenda, etc., before 
> working for software freedom.

I reject the implied dichotomy here as false. I would replace "before" 
with "while also".

> So is software freedom the wrong place to put the emphasis in the 
> light of all the other problems we might fight, or might it be?

That depends on the individual. If someone's abilities allow them to 
do more good promoting software freedom than by fighting some other 
cause, I'd say that's a decision both rational and beneficial to 
themselves and society.

 \        "Pinky, are you pondering what I'm pondering?" "Wuh, I think |
  `\   so, Brain, but will they let the Cranberry Dutchess stay in the |
_o__)                      Lincoln Bedroom?"  -- _Pinky and The Brain_ |
Ben Finney <ben at>
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