Current focus: EndSoftwarePatents.org: wiki, mailing list, news, donate

Portrait photo of Ciaran

Richard Stallman's Philosophy

Occasional notes about how RMS thinks about certain issues.

Why terminology is so important

Anyone who knows Stallman knows that terminology is very important to him.

Someone published a petition against excessive copyright enforcement policies. When explaining their motivation, they wrote "It's not because we're crypto-pirates looking to steal digital content." Stallman pointed out that "That's what happens when you use the enemy's propaganda terms: you start making foolish concessions." The petition's authors were talking about sharing music, so why did they call this "stealing"? And why did they call people who do this "pirates"? They might have intended these words to be ironic, but the target of the petition are politicians who really do believe that sharing is stealing, so those words won't be interpreted as irony. Instead, the petition's authors validated and agreed with these terms. They gratuitously conceded that sharers are thieves. Their message was:

So, what's the point in writing:

There was no need to make this concession. It's probably doesn't even represent their opinion, but they said it anyway. They just didn't think about what their words meant.

Stallman's recommended reading

In 2003, I travelled a few thousand miles to go to FSF's first annual membership meeting where Richard was to give a presentation. I'd been thinking for quite some time about what I'd like to ask him, and I found a question that I thought was important and for which the answer would help me get involved in the free software movement: What books do you recommend?

He flustered as if it was a silly question, and then replied "1984" as if joking. He obviously wasn't completely joking, it's a good book, but since then I've kept my eyes open for better recommendations from him.

He gave a long answer in answer #19 of a 2010 interview on the reddit.com website.

February 2010, at the end of a discussion on emacs-devel about why "ecosystem" shouldn't be used to describe society, he said "I recommend people read Lakoff's articles about how the words used to frame issues affect politics."

He was talking about this guy: George Lakoff. He wrote a short book called Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. RMS also later linked to an interview with Georg Lakoff in The Guardian.

In an interview, Richard says that the science fiction books of Greg Egan are all very good or great. Richard very rarely gives individuals such general praise, so that's notable. On the subject of science fiction, I seem to remember Richard saying it might help foster idealism because it makes the reader think of the future - how it could be better or worse.

In his political notes, Richard often links to articles by Uri Avnery.

Questions for Richard

These are just notes on what I'll ask him next time we meet - hopefully in a recorded interview. Asking RMS questions can be difficult because he doesn't like vague questions - you have to be able to really pin down what you're trying to ask him.

Other quotes that I think describe his thinking

Making everyone a criminal, then prosecuting only dissidents, is the way of tyranny.
5 April 2013

See quotes.html#rms.


(Go: homepage of Ciarán O'Riordan)

Valid XHTML 1.1! Powered by GNU Made with Emacs Join FSF! (I'm member #8)

(I made the Emacs and GNU buttons. Feel free to do with them whatever you like.)

© Copyright 2013 Ciarán O'Riordan. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved. Distribution of modified versions of all or part of this article are permitted, provided that such works carry three things: (1) this copyright notice, (2) prominent notices stating the that it has been changed, and (3) information for how to obtain the original (such as a URL).