Yesterday Google announced a global campaign to legalize gay marriage. At first I was a bit perplexed and did not know how I felt about it. I reached out to my gay cousin, Pico, for an opinion. I did this given that although my cousin is gay she never has never associated herself well with the gay pride movement. I took me a while to understand why: some folks who are gay tend to be extremely flamboyant. The word flamboyant describes it best but other adjectives can help for those lost in translation: flashy, obnoxious, and at times even rude. After long winded conversations about the subject with my cousin and her beautiful wife while I last visited for their wedding I insisted to them to blog about it, and they accepted the challenge. The name chosen is gayboring.com and it reflects on the idea that not all folks who are gay are flamboyant and in fact some gay folks hate it.
You can be gay and yet have a relatively typical normal lifestyle: take your child to t-ball, and make one of your highlights of a relative visit showing someone how to make their own hummus. Despite all this instinctively my cousin told me she supported Google's efforts, but she did not tell me why. I thought about this and I too support this, but I'd like to elaborate on why and also relate it to another movement to which I care very dearly about: Free and Open Source Software. Thinking about why I support gay rights has pushed me to finally make a huge personal philosophical breakthrough.
Gay rights movement is about that alone: gay rights. Surely if you do not have any openly gay relatives you likely have not yet been exposed to why gay rights just makes so much damn sense. If you do not have any openly gay relatives start asking relatives who you do suspect are gay and just start talking about it. I'll bet my right nut that you have a gay relative, whoever you are. When you start thinking about the gay rights movement more in terms of fighting for freedoms it just clicks and the movement makes perfect sense: the movement has its place and we need to show support and educate as much as possible on the matter.
The "gay rainbow / pride flag" has a pretty awesome history. Read about it for all the gay boring details but I'll highlight one important overlooked fact: the original flag had hot pink stripe which today is removed. The pink stripe symbolized "sex". So if you want to support the gay rights movement but not any of the flamboyant attributes that some folks have the current flag would be fair to support. Its important I clarify that its not that I do not support folks to be flamboyant -- not at all, I fully support this, its just I believe we should consider being flamboyant a completely separate attribute from being gay. Even straight folks can be flamboyant, another attribute is being sexually obnoxious, whether straight or not, there is no difference. Your typical macho at bars smacking girl's asses is no ruder than someone gay doing the same. Alfred Kinsey first started redefining what we know as sexual behavior in the 1940s and 1950s -- and a lot of this was based on empirical studies. Towards the end of of his life he started loosing funding for his research and a lot of this had to do with the fact that he started making moral opinionated claims, and some of this had to do with sex offenders. Flamboyant behavior is a sexual orientation neutral attribute and if one wants to fight for rights for it: study it and document it first, but do not try to piggy back your agenda on top of the gay rights movement, doing otherwise would only do a disservice to freedoms we need passed in legislation all around the world. Baby steps.
Moving on to free and open source software philosophy... I have written before that while in college one of my goals before I graduated was to have reached a conclusion on the ideals of free software philosophy and specifically on the Free Software Foundation's position on moral claims to free software. As I stated before, I couldn't reach a conclusion then and I have been trying to reach one, and I thought I was close but now I'm certain I've finally completed my philosophical objective and of all things I have to thank gay rights philosophy for it!
When you think about Free and Open Source software (FOSS) and only try to answer the question of whether or not users should have freedom to the software they obtain / purchase, the answer is not obvious for a few reasons. First are the exceptions: what about video games? Even though you have super awesome companies like Id Software which have released software to their game engine like... Quake III Arena, and even have released Doom 3 game engine... they are the exception in the gaming industry. A lot of this has to do with old corporate fogies who simply don't get the general alternative benefits of Free and Open Source software -- but apart from that I also believe a key issue with free software philosophy has been the very need to properly and formally justify free software in a way that people can easily relate to. Because of the difficulty in justifying free software from a moral perspective we have started another movement in the community: the Open Source movement. The movement and philosophy is simple: support opening up code not for moral reasons but for practical and empirical reasons. This movement has enabled corporations to invest millions if not billions of dollars by now in supporting the "Open Source" movement (people get surprised when I tell them Android is running on a Linux kernel with all open code, or that most of the stock markets all are running Linux), and free software zealots remain a bit content given that some free software keeps moving along and we're at least in a better place than before. Personally, I'm not satisfied with the status quo, not because of the brutally great obvious practical benefits of FOSS and shocked at how Steve Ballmer himself has not come out and admitted his position for Microsoft has been wrong all along and for Microsoft to just open up all its own damn software -- but because the philosophical aspects of free software still had issues in my head -- after all I am a philosophy minor ;) These issues persisted even when debating with lead developers and lead philosophers in the community on the subject for years now. But now its all crystal clear! Dot.
Just as gay folks can fight for freedoms, and maybe in the future flamboyant folks may want to try to fight for their own rights, geeks also have rights they want to fight for, and that's fine. Freedoms tend to not be considered until its obvious a wrong was done to someone. Richard Stallman (rms) is the pioneer of free software philosophy, and he started it after a company did something obviously wrong to him. Richard did more than birth free software philosophy, he started the ambitious GNU project, to create a completely free and open operating system. Richard did try to explain to many folks how important free software was -- some got it, some didn't. I'd wager that many folks who did get it understood the harm that could be done to them when their own freedoms were taken away, perhaps even from some own personal experiences. I realize today that one of my mentors, Joseph F. Miklojcik III whom I have written about before, likely understood the ideals of free software because of his experience with competing against Emacs with proprietary software. In short, he worked on a proprietary version of Emacs. He had to work on this even though he knew that the open and free version of GNU Emacs was far superior. It puzzled him given that even folks like NASA for a while were still using the proprietary version of Emacs! If we want people to understand why free software is important we must put emphasis on the stories of being done wrong, of your freedoms being taken away, or your freedoms being mocked, or abused. In fact I'd wager that it is not until this happens that most people do not get free software. I'm pretty sure this has happened even to folks in the BSD camp... who use a license that does not require giving you access to software modifications a third party has made to software you originally wrote.
I'm pretty sure some folks out there may still not understand why software freedom is important, even though I am trying to clarify this in simple terms, relating it to a very current modern topic, and even providing the philosophical breakdown for it. Let me provide one more example. Anonymous. Heck, even Richard Stallman has written an article on Anonymous and I encourage everyone to read it. The rights that Anonymous fights for are things likely more folks can relate to: freedom of speech, using the internet freely, allowing us to donate to groups like WikiLeaks, etc. These freedoms are not freedoms everyone takes advantage of, such as sitting down on a bus when there is a chair available regardless of your color, or not voting even though you are a female -- but they exist, and a few of us really care about them. Free Software is no different, but typically only geeks care about it. But what if you started to loose trust on your typical proprietary products? A few examples all listed on Stallman's article:
- In 2009 Amazon used a back door in its e-reader to remotely delete thousands of copies of 1984, by George Orwell from readers who had bought them!
- Apple put a back door in the iPhone to remotely delete installed applications
- Windows enabled Microsoft to install software changes without asking permission
So geeks have freedoms, and whether or not you may have realized it, some of these freedoms are actually important for you, even though you do not exercise them, when it comes to trust -- there is nothing better than having open code and demanding it. But even to this day it is not evident that we do have software freedoms. In fact I'd also like to make a relationship here that may help explain why we have had a technical community backlash against the GPL, despite its importance. Just as we have gayboring gays and we also have flamboyant gays, we also have boring geeks, and flamboyant geeks. If one is to properly use the analogy I'd likely fit into the boring geeks camp. I do not wear a pocket protector, I do not carry a GNU bible, and I at times have gotten into debates with zealots over the practicality FOSS outweighing some theoretical moral gains with "free software philosophy". There is also obviously Richard Stallman himself, who has gone to lengths, as I've written about before, of asking even University Student Linux Users Groups (LUGs) to rename themselves to include "GNU" in their organization name. We did not change our LUG's name at Rutgers. rms a zealot, our very own most famous flamboyant geek in the universe, sometimes even called the Pope. Then we also have Bradley M. Kuhn who believes so much in free software philosophy that he's been advising Free Software groups with organizational / legal structure through a slew of non profit work. Bradley deserves a medal for his heroic efforts. But there is one aspect of Bradley's work that has some corporations concerned: copyleft enforcement -- that is taking folks to court when they violate the license used in most free software projects: the Copyleft GPL license. I've written before on the importance of the GPL and why I support GPL enforcement, but I'd like to clarify that GPL enforcement is also seen very negatively by many corporations. It is seen negatively as some interpretations of the language of the GPL could be taken to a far extreme and imply opening up aspects of software some companies legally cannot for either legal purposes or current technical purposes. It really is not different than trying to work on actual legislation language for new rights for groups of folks, whether that's gayboring folks or handicapped people. The conflicts of the possible loose language of the GPL have put us where we are today with regards to corporations.
I will clarify that although I have been pushing hard on the concept of formally localizing the GPL inside the Linux kernel I cannot emphasize now more than ever on the importance of the GPL. See, the BSD camp is a type of FOSS camp that chooses to not require you to give back changes to software a third party makes of your software. I'd like to invite even the BSD camp to reflect hard on their ancient license. In fact I think a good middle ground solution has presented itself recently. Richard Fontana has recently announced the copyleft-next.git project as an independent project. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is. The original popular copyleft license (used on the Linux kernel), the GPLv2, has evolved into the GPLv3 and the Linux kernel never moved to it. There are quite a few reasons for this and I've documented a few reasons why on my blog post on the importance of the GPL, but I recently learned of one obscure possible reason I'll shyly mention but consider it important to share to understand the tensions. It seems some kernel developers were told that even if they did not want to move to the GPLv3 that they would force the Linux kernel to move to the GPLv3 somehow. For fuck's sake, that's not how this needs to be dealt with. As for the current ongoing effort on GPL enforcement, I can hope its even clearer now on why it is morally correct and extremely important to fight for the freedom of developers who did write and contribute to code under the GPL. If you are in the industry and still find reasons to object to the current set of GPL enforcement efforts, I'd love to hear why you would oppose such efforts, specially if you read this long blog post. I'd also like to incite now more developers to take the leap to join in on the SFC's compaign on GPL enforcement on the Linux kernel, I'll simply echo Mathew Garret's invitation:
No significant kernel copyright holders have so far offered to allow the SFC to enforce their copyrights, with the result that enforcement action will grind to a halt as vendors move over to this Busybox replacement. So, if you hold copyright over any part of the Linux kernel, I'd urge you to get in touch with them.
As I have expressed to a few folks: even though you disagree with the possible reasons, or approach, if you participate you can have an influence on the subject. It is only fair for the SFC to listen to you as a contributor. So it is fair to participate and to vocalize your position to be very reasonable. If you have doubts over the subject I'd love to help in any way I can.
As we move on with GPL enforcement Fontana's efforts will help us with a stronger copyleft. I believe it will be a very fair license given that he is separating himself from the church (FSF) and corporations. It can be seen as community independent project and we simply trust Fontana to be the benevolent dictator of that project. Given that there was a huge corporate interest in the editing of the GPLv3, to the extent that as I have written before even a private draft edit of the GPLv3 was made by a few corporations, I suspect there will be another huge corporate interest in the editing of copyleft-next. Given the way it is set up, the fact that we have a hopefully non partial dictator, my hope is that perhaps we can look forward to this license as something to consider for new important code, maybe even new kernel code. I invite corporate attorneys to consider engaging on the editing of copyleft-next but as individuals... If you do need to be associated with your company then simply learn to try to engage as much as possible publicly. This is how public community projects work best! Don't ruin it!
Google working on a campaign to push for legalizing gay marriage is of paramount importance, and I give them a lot of credit for it. Curiously enough though even though Google uses Linux for its mobile OS Android, its desktop OS ChromeOS, it has hired a few Linux kernel developers, has Google Summer of Code, I personally still consider Google as being in the closet with regards to Free Software. I don't blame them though, everyone has. I think the philosophy about free software is not easy to digest but I am in hopes that with time we can also openly not only talk about the benefits of free software from the "open source" perspective but also from the users's, geeks' and community's freedom point of view. It took me over 10 years to digest Free Software philosophy, so I understand its hard to get it from a corporate perspective but hopefully this personal documented philosophical breakthrough will help others. I am in hopes that copyleft-next will help remove any extravagant language and enables us to really focus on the real matter at hand: software freedom. And -- although rms can be considered a flamboyant free software advocate, I'd like to ensure everyone understands not only does rms focus on free software freedoms, I consider him a pioneer on monitoring all of our freedoms around the world, we're very fortunate to have him. If you're curious about that just read his dents on identica (dents are "Tweets" on the free software version of Twitter called indenti.ca). It is also no surprise to me why rms wrote an article on newspaper supporting and explaining the way in which Anonymous electronically protests.