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Why the "social contract" should not be endorsed

From: Alex Taylor
Subject: Why the "social contract" should not be endorsed
Date: Sat, 22 Feb 2020 07:29:45 +0000

Recently we have been "invited" to approve a thing which is being called the "social contract".   If the text is read, it will be seen that it has three parts.

The first part is the four freedoms established by Stallman many years ago.  No problem there, we all agree with those.  Or do we?  Well I personally do.  But GNU has for many years received contributions from people who do not agree with its philosophy.  Many such contributors are even employed by proprietary software companies.   So if contributors are pressured into "endorsing" these it is likely to discourage some of the very people who have helped us.

The second part talks about basic cooperation on technical and practical matters within GNU.  That seems sensible too.  But wait!  When I became a maintainer many years ago I was also asked to agree to something very similar, and up until I stepped down, nobody told me I was relieved from that commitment.  Non-maintainers are not asked to agree to this, because they do not have to make high level decisions - that's the maintainer's job.
Nobody else has to agree, nor should they be asked to.

Finally the text has a non-discrimination clause.  Surely nobody could be against that either?   Well personally I'm not.   But I don't think we should exclude people because they have other ideals which are nothing to do with a Free Operating System.   For example, I would vehemently disagree with  a person who passionately believes that white people are intellectually, morally and physically superior to black people.    But like Voltaire, I would defend to the very end that person's right to believe it.    This is basic freedom of rights which has made GNU (until recently) the tolerant successful community it was.

I hope that all GNU users and contributors will support the free software ideals.   I also think if they want to support anti-apartheid,  the suffragette movement, pro-choice movement, animal rights, plant breeders' rights, nuclear disarmament, pro life movement or whatever other movement ...   then that's great too.   But  I will not insist upon it nor imply that non-support is somehow morally deficient.

Finally "endorsing" the text would give the rebel group a legitimacy which they neither have, nor deserve.  It's instructive to look at the track record of these renegades.   The Guile and Guix projects have both excluded and/or vilified people who disagree with the people in power (the same people who push the "social contract").    If you choose to endorse this text, bear in mind that the words are imprecise so don't be surprised if, sometime down the road, your endorsement is used as a weapon against you when you fall out of favor with the powermongers.

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