[glugot] A Q&A session with Richard M. Stallman.

  • From: Joe Steeve <joe_steeve@xxxxxxx>
  • To: glugot@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 01 Mar 2004 16:38:28 +0530 (IST)

A Q&A session with Richard M. Stallman.
January 23, 2004

RMS' answers to questions put forward by Samuel Abraham of `The
These questions were mailed to RMS and he patiently answered them in
great detail. He was asked these questions after his talk at the CUSAT
campus in Kochi, January 23. 
What is your philosophy in life? What shaped it? Any single
event,person, book? Or was it evolutionary? 

I can't describe my philosophy of life in a nutshell because I do not
follow any particular system or leader. We should be on guard against
thinking that "the answer" is to be found in any one place. So I am
not a follower of any single person, or any single school of
thought. I have been influenced by many people, and many books. 

The philosophy of freedom that the United States is based on has been
a major influence for me. I love what my country used to stand for, so
it breaks my heart to see what Bush has done to it. Science is also an
important influence. Other campaigns for freedom, including the French
and Russian revolutions, are also inspiring despite the ways they went

When we learn about the facts of the world, we should do it
scientifically, which means that we should continually cross-check our
views for errors. Science fiction is also an important influence for
me-from it I learned to imagine worlds different from our own. The
movement that opposed the Vietnam War was also important; from that, I
learned how to see my own government as a possible oppressor. At the
same time, I learned from seeing the errors of the antiwar movement,
such as when some Americans foolishly supposed that if the US side in
the war was wrong, its enemy (North Vietnam) must be right. 

Overall, I think that the goals worth striving for are truth, beauty
and justice. Goals such as success and fun are not bad, but they are
not everything. To adopt them as one's primary goals, as many people
do, is a fundamental error: it is to aim too low, to have too small an
ambition in life. One you have taken care of your needs for survival
and some basic comforts, it's time to try to put some of your effort
into making the world a better place. The better off you are
personally, the more you should focus effort on helping others,
instead of enriching yourself. 

I heard someone mention you as the Gandhi of the software world and
you taking objection to it. Do you consider your movement similar to
what he did to gain freedom from colonisers? What is your impression
of Gandhi? 

Our movement has much in common with Gandhi's; both are movements for
freedom and to end a form of oppression. Gandhi sought to end the rule
of the British over India, and we seek to end the rule of the software
developers over cyberspace. 

However, I feel uncomfortable when people compare me with Gandhi,
because I have not earned such praise. I have not had to face the
hardships that Gandhi had to face. And where Gandhi and his movement
succeeded in ending British colonialism, we have not yet succeeded in
freeing computer users from the domination of non-free software. We
have only made a beginning. 

I hope that by the time my life is over I will deserve such a

Any other person or movement you consider is close to your movement or
you hold dear to your heart? 

Along with Gandhi, I admire others who have fought for justice, such
as Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Aung San Suu Kyi. And I
admire Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, even though I
criticize some of the things that they did. Today I support the
movement against business-dominated globalization, which is also the
movement for democracy, since corporate power reduces democracy to a
fiction. I also support the rationalist movement, which fights for
clear thinking against superstition. I support the movements that
oppose various forms of bigotry (based on race, religion, caste,
gender, sexual orientation, or whatever), and I support the movement
for sexual freedom, birth control and abortion rights. 

Traditional knowledge in countries like India have been patented in
the US. Is it not akin to restricting knowledge as in cyberspace? 

Patents raise different issues in different fields. The old Indian
patent law was wisely designed to encourage progress in fields that
would be useful in India. However, foreign countries have forced India
to adopt a new patent law that is not good for progress in India at

This requirement was imposed through a part of the World Trade
Organization, called "TRIPS", but I think that TRIPES
(Trade-Restricting Impediments to Production, Education and Science)
is a more appropriate name for it. The World Trade Organization's
overall aims are to drive wages down world-wide, and to make
democratic governments powerless against global corporations. Every
country should try to escape from the WTO. 

Should not intellectual property rights be protected? 

It is a mistake to use that term at all. The term "intellectual
property rights" is fundamentally misleading, because it lumps
together disparate laws, such as copyright law and patent law, which
have little in common. 

This blurred picture leads many people to imagine that copyright law
and patent law are instances of one general principle, and that they
exist as natural rights. The fact is, copyright law and patent law
developed independently. Copyright and patent apply to different
entities, have different rules, and have different effects, so they
raise different public policy issues. Far from being natural rights,
they are artificial restrictions, imposed for the sake of indirect
benefits that it is hoped will result for the public. 

But do copyrights really benefit the public? And do patents really
benefit the public? Those two questions are important, and they are
separate. Each one may have different questions in different areas. 

To think about these various issues intelligently, the first step is
to avoid blurring them together. I have no opinion about "intellectual
property", and I hope you will also decline to have one. Let's inquire
which copyright policies are good for society, and separately, let's
ask which patent policies are good for society. 

Do you think your movement will be successful in taking the fight of
the non-free software movement? 

It is a mistake to ask me this because the outcome depends on you. If
you join in and help, we will win. So instead of asking me whether we
will win, you should be asking yourself, "Will I do my share in the

You were at the World Social Forum. Some critics say it was a Babel of
ideas. Your comments. 

Activists from many different social movements were present there, but
I was focused on my work, which was to inform them about free
software. With my speeches and the FSF India's booth, and especially
because the WSF's web site and media center were run entirely on free
software, we showed other social justice activists the ethical
importance and practical readiness of free software. Professor
Nagarjuna of the Homi Bhabha Institute, one of the FSF India leaders,
said that many activists who are trying to spread IT to the poor now
understand why it is necessary to do this with free software. 

I also enjoyed eating pudla, which is a Gujarati pancake made from
gram, flavored with tomato, onion, and spices. 

Could you give us some personal details, your childhood, family, early
education, etc. 

I was the only child of two parents who divorced when I was 3 years
old. My childhood was filled with emotional pain, so I don't have many
memories of it; I took refuge in studying math and science. 

I heard you speak of the consumption pattern in the US and you
mentioned about how you developed inexpensive habits. That included
children. Why? 

Which does more good: spreading freedom for millions of computer
users, or raising a few extra children in a world that is already
suffering from an excess of them? The question answers itself. Why in
the world would I do the latter, when I have the chance to do the

Human overpopulation is the often-disregarded factor behind many
social and environmental problems, including global warming and
habitat destruction, which together threaten extinction of a quarter
or more of the species of life on Earth in this century. Population
growth also makes it harder to end human poverty. In such a situation,
social pressure to have children is insane. I encourage everyone who
has doubts about wanting children to make the decision to have none.


Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are permitted
world wide without royalty provided this notice is preserved 


Free the code, free the user.
visit : http://www.joesteeve.tk/

Other related posts:

  • » [glugot] A Q&A session with Richard M. Stallman.