I was talking with my friend, Jason Perlow, yesterday and he told me that I should back off of the free software rants because he feels that I'm entering the gray edges of freakdom. We laughed about it but it made me think: When does a strong belief in something become extremism? I've had two conversations with Richard Stallman about free software specifically and freedom generally. My conclusion is that there's a fine line between freedom and freakdom. My goal is to find that line and explore its dimensions.
My first conversation with Richard Stallman (RMS) was a tentative discussion, lasting about 18 minutes, about the software and hardware that he uses. He did, in RMS fashion, climb aboard the free software train but I diverted him back to the interview focus as best I could under less than ideal circumstances (He was travelling by car in New Zealand during the interview).
The second conversation we had was about two weeks ago. He was home after travelling to New Zealand, Bali and who knows where else. It was more relaxed and I had two full pages of questions for an in-depth look at RMS and how he came to be the world's voice of free software and why people think he's a bit loony.
What I found was a man who is profoundly dedicated to a cause. RMS is the type of person you see on TV, mostly in shows about lawyers and crime-fighting who give the long, inspiring and fictitious* speeches in the courtroom spouting dialog about freedom, what it means to be free and our Founding Fathers' original purpose.
But RMS is different. He isn't so dramatic as the aforementioned attorney. His message and goal are specific: To promote free software. A lot of people see RMS as a total freak. I see him as a single point of failure in the free software movement. Though he named several people in his list of high profile free software advocates, he told me that he has no successor and I get the impression that he feels that the free software movement will die with him.
So, is RMS a freak? Is he crazy? I don't believe that he's either. I know that he is a person filled with passion for what he believes and his arguments are above reproach. It's impossible to counter his free software ideal and it's impossible to argue with his reasoning on why software should be free.
You may be wondering at this point exactly where I stand on the subject of free software and freedom. I believe in free software. I believe in freedom whether it's software or speech. I also believe that I am aware of human nature and its shortcomings to know that a softwarefreetopia will never exist in my lifetime. Proprietary software vendors assume that their software is special and that denying your freedom will somehow boost their profits--it won't.
I'm not the voice for free software or the free software movement, RMS has that exalted position. I feel passionate about freedoms and mourn the loss of any freedom--software or otherwise. Am I a freak for having these beliefs? I don't think so.
I'm no extremist nor would I take on the role of one to fight for the cause. The free software movement is not a holy war nor is it fodder for ridicule--it is a belief, an ideal and a just cause.
Believe in it or don't but don't assume that those who do are freaks, zealots or ready for the asylum.
What do you think of the free software movement, the FSF and the ideal? Write back and let me know.
*Fictitious because no judge would ever allow such dramatic diatribes in a courtroom unless it's in the closing arguments where attorneys have a bit more 'freedom' to carry on.