[nSLUG] Richard Stallman in Halifax

Daniel Morrison draker at gmail.com
Thu Jan 29 20:20:50 AST 2009

2009/1/29 Joshua B. <juggins at gmail.com>:
> To expand on the Catholic church metaphors used by both ESR and RMS in
> different places, (and I'm sure they long ago anticipated people like
> me stumbling onto similar little epiphanies), Free Software is akin to
> a monastic order (or the priesthood) and Open Source describes the
> laiety. I imaging between 95 to 99 percent of the audience on Tuesday
> night uses open source applications pragmatically and even
> occasionally resorts to proprietary ware for expediency sake. But
> instead of being offended by Stallmans uncomprising condemnation of
> our licentious behaviour we (I speak for myself at least) felt edified
> and somewhat gratified to be so wholesomely scolded. If I were a
> medieval peasant I'd expect my saints to be celibate without even for
> a moment thinking I was really expected to tread so exactly in their
> footsteps.

The main difference, for me at least, is that ordinary folks are NOT
expected to become priests.  For one thing, if everyone were celibate,
we'd die out.

Proprietary software companies are like this.  We are your overlords;
we have the magic source code and keys to the DRM. You, the user,
merely attend to our needs by buying our product and following our

RMS says: there need be no elite.  We can all walk the path of free
software, in fact, even if you can't program, we've arranged things so
that you can get the benefits of free software all the same, by
cooperating freely with others.

RMS doesn't scold us because we have offended him, or some God of
computer programming.  He wants us to feel scolded by our own

Proprietary software is a lot like genetically modified terminator
seeds.  Most people are offended by the idea that Monsanto can patent
an improved crop seed, and additionally arrange it so that it is
sterile.  Better food for the starving masses, they say, but you have
to keep buying it from us, because you can't have the secret genetic
code, and we've implemented genetic DRM to prevent you from
redistributing it.

We are offended by this because seeds were provided by Nature, and
seed cultivation has been practiced by the people for eons.

Computers and computer software are man-made, so source code was (in
many instances) kept secret from the get-go.  This is why someone like
RMS could only have come from a community where sharing code was
normal, like sharing your crop seeds with your neighbour.

RMS has the opinion that it is wrong to prevent someone from making
the best use of their computer hardware by keeping your operating
codes secret, much the same way that we believe that it is wrong to
let your neighbour starve by refusing to provide healthy crop seeds to
him. I also believe it is wrong to let people die of curable diseases
by enforcing drug patents that keep the cost of medicine too high for
third world countries.

This is not like the church.  For many years, the church kept the
liturgy in Latin precisely so that the uneducated masses would not
have direct access to the Word of God, thus requiring a priesthood to
interpret it for them. Also, and certainly not coincidentally, placing
all the power that comes with interpretation in those same elite

To back me up: note that there is, in effect, no real impediment to
joining the church of emacs. That is, in fact, the message: everyone
can do this; there is no elite. We are all free if we choose to be so.

Open source says: LOOKEE! FREE (as in BEER) SOFTWARE! FAST! FUN! (yes,
I guess you can join if you can program, but... yo'ud better make it


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