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Re: redisplay system of emacs

From: Stephen J. Turnbull
Subject: Re: redisplay system of emacs
Date: Thu, 04 Feb 2010 02:26:29 +0900

Richard Stallman writes:

 >      > This is a paradox -- an appearance of contradiction that
 >      > comes from a misunderstanding.
 >     But the misunderstanding is yours.
 > I chose not to cast blame for it; I tried to point out the shift of
 > topic in a way that didn't criticize anyone.

Indeed you did.  But that was not possible for me, since I needed to
contradict your explicit claim that my position is due to a
misunderstanding.  That being so, I might as well make my criticism

 > It is clear that the shift came from you.

There was no shift.

You see?  Even though I used passive phrasing this time, the criticism
is unmistakable.

 > Your message was a response to mine, and it shifted the topic
 > subject in the way I described -- from whether we are amoral, to
 > whether others are.

No, it did not.  Some others are amoral (and occasionally even
immoral), but that is a fact.  We are moral (if occasionally we slip),
and that is also a fact.  Who is amoral is simply not in question as
far as I can see.  My claim is that use of the word "ecosystem"
does not imply an amoral stance, and therefore we may use it.

The point is that "ecosystem" describes only one aspect of the
phenomenon of software development.  That aspect is not very
self-conscious and therefore amoral.  Nevertheless, it is powerful and
we should include it in our reckoning when we consider what kinds of
actions will advance our moral goals.  The word "ecosystem" is an aid
to that reckoning, and indeed used properly can be very persuasive, to
certain people, against copyright and patent.

 > Your message claimed to show a contradiction in the free software
 > philosophy, but my aim is not to counterattack, only to show there
 > is no contradiction.

Excuse me?  I did not mention "contradiction".  There is some kind of
misunderstanding here.  I described a similarity of the argument used
to justify copyleft to the kind of argument that uses the word
"ecosystem".  But that does not imply a philosophical contradiction in
your deprecation of the word "ecosystem".

 >     But taking a moral stance does not imply taking *your* moral
 >     stance.
 > This particular moral stance is that of the free software movement
 > and the GNU Project.  This project is based on that stance.

Certainly, and equally certainly I made no claim to the contrary.  But
I do claim that having a particular moral stance does not entitle you
to call other moral stances "amoral".

 > The term "ecosystem" is unhelpful for this goal because it implies a
 > nonjudgmental approach to that variety, and our whole purpose is based
 > on judging them.

The last part of that sentence doesn't make sense to me.

I disagree that it's non-judgmental.  Preserving ecosystems is a
positive value.  Interfering with their natural flows, as copyright
and patent clearly do in the realm of software, is bad, just as bad as
any pollution of our biological environment.

As for being unhelpful, understanding the existing modes of the
software distribution system as an ecosystem cannot replace advocacy
of software freedom for its own sake.  But it can be complementary.
It is important to the movement that people (inside and outside the
movement) understand that successes like the Linux kernel, the Apache
webserver, and the Mozilla web browser are not flukes.  These programs
were not written by "two genius programmers in a garage".  These
programs were written by a cast of thousands, including contributions
from some of the most ruthless users ("abusers", if you prefer) of
"intellectual property rights" in the world.

And they weren't written by radical reformers with a social agenda,
either.  The contribution of the GNU project is essential, as history
and the current social environment make it all too likely that the
cause of freedom will be ignored if nobody makes a point of freedom.
But the success of freely-licensed software without a social agenda is
our hope for a victory within the current term of copyright :-/, and
a proof of righteousness, if you like.

Sharing software freely *is* the natural state and equilibrium of the
"software ecosystem".  Distorting that equilibrium is wrong, morally
wrong.  Not in the same way nor to the same degree as violating
fundamental human rights, but it's still wrong.

You will probably respond that this is a variation on the Raymondist
heresy.  True, it's not an argument that software freedom is a basic
human right.  But it's different from Raymondism.  "Open source" is
based on an economic argument that software freedom is profitable.
The argument from the ecosystem is that software freedom is natural,
and that disturbing its equilibrium is *wrong*.  This is more closely
related to, and complementary to, the argument from freedom as a right
than it is to economism.


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