This Saturday is Independence Day in the US,
celebrating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July
4, 1776, which was the colonies' farewell to King George III and
Those were more dramatic times than now, with people risking
their lives and taking other great risks for the cause of
independence. But one thing has not changed, and that is the
eternal fight between freedom and tyranny. The contemporary version
is much less bloody, and more sneaky and insidious. It's big
businesses invading our personal privacy in every way they can get
away with, and buying and selling our personal data with no
oversight or accountability. We don't even get a cut of the swag.
It's the erosion of our civil liberties, aided and abetted
enthusiastically by business in pursuit of profits, no matter how
unethical. It's the manipulation and ruination of the courts, for
example the insane unchecked litigation by the RIAA that has
brought ruin to so many people, and the never-ending SCO saga. It
is absurd that these weiners should have so much power for
destruction and obstruction. In a sane world their top executives
would spend their weekends in the stocks in the public square,
being mocked and pelted with offal.
Back when the Internet was brand-new, the paint wasn't even dry
when governments and special interest groups started putting up
fences, and trying to control citizen's online activities. I don't
know what I loathe more, this pathological busybody-ness and
control-freak interference in our lives, or the near-ruination of
this fabulous invention by spammers and marketers. I think it all
springs from the same root cause, which is a total disregard and
disrespect for other people, and a willingess to exploit them for
any purpose. What's the difference between a spammer, a marketer, a
government censor, and a vandal?
We've all heard the scornful criticism against idealism, as
though it were something to be ashamed of, and mocking of the
fundamental ideals of Free Software. I'm not embarrassed to have
ideals, I am proud. Ideals elevate us above situational ethics.
Ideals guide us into trying to be better people, and give us strong
bases for making difficult decisions. (Such as No, little Bill, it
is not OK to do anything in the name of making a buck.)
This may seem like reading apocalyptic meaning into Free
Software, and I think it does have nearly-apocalyptic importance.
Openness, accountability, honesty, success based on merit,
community---hey, call me a nasty red Commie, but that sure sounds
like the fundamentals of democracy. Who in the proprietary world is
looking out for us? If it weren't for Free Software we'd be shorn
skinless. Tor, OpenSSL, OpenSSH, PGP, open standards, formats,
code, protocols, free intellectual inquiry and sharing, a culture
of stubborn resistance-- they're more important than ever.
Technology is part of the foundation of modern life, and it's too
important to let the greedy exploiters control it.