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Kuro5hin: Beyond simple activism

Jun 13, 2001, 19:17 (6 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by John Milton)

Kuro5hin has an editorial on the question of how best to promote Linux (and Free Software) in general. Its key premise is a rejection of traditional activism (defined in a way most activists will recognize as "lifestyle politics"), and its chief prescriptions are an embrace of "shareholder activism" and practical advocacy. The desktop meme has found its way in here, too.

"I think that free software could learn some lessons from this. Don't fight the system. Subvert the system. The carrot and stick method is old and remarkably effective. Unfortunately, activism calls for the stick more than the carrot. In fact, the stick has been overused; it is effectively broken. Bill Gates and proprietary software have been burned in effigy far too many times. This has the negative effect of destroying the free software movement's credibility. The free software movement, like environmentalism, has often ignored practicality in favor of altruism. Those businesses that listened before are becoming wary.

First, we should be using shareholder activism. We need to establish a non-profit foundation to buy voting shares from proprietary softare companies. Then we can be sure that our opinions are heard on a level playing field. Linux already has gained support from the likes of companies such as IBM, but this is not an equal relationship. IBM sways free software. Free software does not sway IBM. If a company's only consideration is its shareholders then we must become its shareholders.

Secondly, we must be up front and honest with ourselves as to when Linux should not be used. Most of the world uses Windows. It is impractical to ask all others to use Linux, the flagship of free software. Asking a diehard Windows user to use Linux is akin to taking a corporate executive through a commune and crooning to him about how we can all live off the land. He may realise the technical advantages, but he's not going to just chuck the keys to his Suburban. Although he would be more efficient ecologically in a commune, he would be hard pressed to find any personal gain."

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