Comment on "Nine Attitude Problems in Free and Open Source Software"

Noah Slater nslater at
Fri Oct 24 03:19:46 UTC 2008

On Fri, Oct 24, 2008 at 02:50:19AM +0300, Yavor Doganov wrote:
> > An organisation can "care for freedom" or popularity in shades of
> > grey,
> Yes, I agree.  The second name for this is "double standards".

The standards are only double if you lump yours in with theirs.

Don't you see? There is only contradiction from your point of view.

>From Debian's point of view there is none.

You cannot assign your value system onto someone else and then judge the
rationality of their behaviour based on that. This clearly makes no sense.

> > Note that I quoted "care for freedom" as this implicitly judges
> > Debian and Ubuntu from YOUR ethical position,
> Of course!  During my all conscious life, I have always evaluated
> things from MY ethical position.

I am not expecting you to evaluate things under any other premise.

You have your value system and I expect you to judge things by that. Similarly I
have my value system, and perhaps my email address might indicate to you that it
is not too dissimilar to yours.

My real problem here, and this is not levelled at you directly, I respect the
work you do for the Free Software movement and for The GNU Project. My real
problem is with intolerance towards other people's perspectives.

It is one thing to say:

  "Distributing non-free device drivers is bad, please don't do that."

And it is another thing to say:

  "Because you distribute non-free device drivers, you are the enemy."

Is it not best to tolerate differences in opinions? To work towards furthering
your goals? Not to alienating the very people who may share, and may be working
towards those very goals?

> If it doesn't, you feel unconformatble so you can either (1) don't do it; (2)
> tweak your ethical principles.  The latter is what's happening with Debian,
> and to the community at large.

Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may be, things change. Organisations
have a tendency to change in response. This is entirely natural.

Is it not Richard Stallman who blindly criticises networked service, and by
definition, the Web at large, primarily because he does not understand it? Was
this an explicit part of the original Free Software movement, or is he
responding to the changing climate?

Admittedly, this is an unfair example. I appreciate that Richard does not
represent the entire Free Software movement. In fact, Mako Hill and others are
making an extremely valiant effort to address these very issues.

For more information, see:

> > I consider it reasonable to shorten this to the assertion that
> > Ubuntu cares about popularity more than Debian does.
> I agree, mostly.  I also think that Ubuntu cares more about popularity
> and less about freedom, although the result is really the same.  Both
> distros do not teach users to value their freedom.

Again, you are making a false dilemma.

  The informal fallacy of false dilemma (also called false dichotomy, the
  either-or fallacy, or bifurcation) involves a situation in which only two
  alternatives are considered, when in fact there are other options. Closely
  related are failing to consider a range of options and the tendency to think
  in extremes, called black-and-white thinking.

                                          -- Wikipedia, False dilemma

Cannot Debian teach users about freedom, simply because they also provide means
for installing non-free software? Must things be so black and white?

> > You are not considering that Debian may share a different value
> > system from you,
> I am considering this very deeply, in fact.  For years.  That's my
> personal ethical dillema with Debian.

You are free to have an ethical problem with Debian, I would not deny you
that. To turn around and lambast Debian for not exactly meeting your
expectations is both counter-productive and very, very harmful.

> > Another false dichotomy, resulting from YOUR value system, not
> > theirs.
> Once again, of course MY value system!  How could you possibly allign
> with another value system and apply it unconditionally in all cases?
> We are humans, not parsers.
> > Again, you are illustrating your inability to consider other
> > perspectives.
> How?  The goal of the free software movement is to eliminate non-free
> software, and I realize many people disagree (even strongly) with that
> goal.

Here we get to the heart of the matter.

Getting back to the No True Scotsman fallacy:

  Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning
  Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes
  Again." Hamish is shocked and declares that "No Scotsman would do such a
  thing." The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again
  and this time finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions
  make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that
  Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not
  likely. This time he says, "No true Scotsman would do such a thing."

                        —- Antony Flew, Thinking about Thinking, 1975

I hesitate to use my self as an example, in case it seems like I am trying to
make a big deal about it. In fact, I am a very humble free software supporter, I
simply do as much as I can.

I am working on some free software for GNU, I work on free software for the
Apache Software Foundation, and I maintain a collection of free software
packages for Debian. Additionally, I have attended Defective By Design protests,
try my best to educate people about free software and am writing a book about
free software which will be released under a free licence.

I run Debian on all of my systems and never install non-free software.

Except, unfortunately, I have a non-free wireless driver installed. Without it
my laptop wouldn't work like I want it to. It is an unfortunate situation, but I
face three choices: have no wireless access, install a non-free driver, or buy a
new laptop. Unfortunately, I am not very wealthy and I like my wireless access.

The way that you argue, like so many others, says this to me:

  "You support non-free software, you are the enemy."

Does this one fact, this small and almost inconsequential fact, invalidate all
of my other work towards free software? Can I not support free software and the
ideals that the FSF and GNU stand for without being able to make some personal
compromise? Must I choose entirely free software else be considered of the same
ilk as a non-free software supporter? Is there no middle ground?

Put your self in my shoes and consider how each one of these would make you feel:

  You are using non-free software, therefor you could not possibly stand for
  anything I agree with. You are part of the problem and I wash my hands of you.

  You are using non-free software. I wish you wouldn't do that.

  You are using non-free software. It is a shame that you have to. Can you
  explain what has forced you into making this compromise? Maybe I can do
  something to help out?

For sake of completeness, this is how I react, respectively:

  I have no patience for intolerance. I value free software and I want to do my
  best to further its cause. It is a shame that so many free software followers
  show such a lack of perspective. Maybe I should distance my self from this?

  I guess he has a point, I wonder if there is anything I could do to rectify
  the situation. I don't like using non-free software, what can I do about it?

  Wow, what a refreshing attitude. Let me see if I can send him some details
  about my problems, maybe he has some pointers for me. While I'm at it, I bet I
  could afford to donate some more money to the FSF.

Okay, so maybe I'm exaggerating, but I am doing so to make a point.

Saying to me "no free software supporter would do X" is a logical fallacy and it
alienates me. Saying to me "you have some involvement in non-free software,
therefor you are the enemy, no questions" is intolerant, and short-sighted.

I apologise if this feels like it is directed towards you, that is an
unfortunate consequence of timing. Like I already mentioned, you do a great deal
for the free software movement and I am deeply grateful for that.

However, the arguments you have been using and symptomatic of a deeper problem
with the free software movement as a whole. A subject which is, finally, apropos
the original topic of this thread.

I only wish that the "hard" free software supporters could open their eyes a
little bit and realise that Debian, and even Ubuntu, are all doing there bit
towards the goals of free software. Even if they are doing it a little
differently than you would like, or even if there are bits that you think are
harmful, it does not invalidate the effort in its totality.

There is so much infighting within our small community. It's such a shame.

To sum up, and in case you hadn't guessed, my philosophy is:

  Free Software is great, let's do more of that!

The rest, well, the rest is up to everyone else.

Who am I to foist my values?


Noah Slater,

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