Richard Stallman and the Bonfire of the Vanities

Vox Day linked to a very interesting post about Richard Stallman.

On September 16, 2019, Richard M. Stallman, founder and president of the Free Software Foundation, resigned as president and from its board of directors.

Richard who? For me, Stallman and his “products” were the heart-and-soul of almost my entire career. But his effect was much larger than little ol’ me. I’ll let the linked-to post explain.

Richard Stallman is responsible for computing as we know it.

In a world where Richard Stallman did not exist, neither would Apple, or the Android phone, or “cloud computing”, or Amazon.com. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The world without Stallman would be a world where you still used a Windows 95 computer, where you paid real money for every single piece of software on it. Internet Explorer would be the browser. Computing would be limited to the upper-middle-class, the way it was in 1985. No matter how you are reading this website, both you and I are using systems which incorporate GNU software. Even if you’re using Windows, which nowadays runs on a very GNU-like operating system beneath the covers.

The idea of truly free software given to the world for humanitarian purposes would not exist without Stallman. He was the only person who ever had the thought. Which means it is more radical than calculus, heavier-than-air flight, the theory of relativity, or the atomic bomb. It took someone with Stallman’s particular blend of Promethean IQ and mentally handicapped social skills to push it all the way to reality. You live in Richard Stallman’s world, whether you like it or not. He has had more influence on how we communicate in 2019 than any other single human being currently living. Any sane society would consider him a national treasure of greater importance than Fort Knox, to be cherished and protected accordingly.

This hides an interesting dilemma. Everything above is true although perhaps a bit overwrought. On the other hand, there is a lot of smoke, if not fire, indicating that he is/was also a creep. I’m not sure if that last sentence above shouldn’t include, explicitly or not, something about he being protected from himself.

And perhaps he was. The creator of the (increasingly more onerous) GNU Public Licence (versions) based on his Copyleft statement, he is/was a true lefty – an off-the-charts lefty when I first got to know him. Academia always protects its lefties, especially those that can bring glory, if not money, to the organization. But nowadays, there’s no glory and there never was much money and the times they are a’changin’. It was time to go.

NB, a bonfire of the vanities is not just the title of a book from the 80s, but also a historical event.

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