I Am Bismark

2005-07

stallmanism and religion

warning: read this only if you are really bored!!! i have no idea why i am posting this. maybe i just feel the need to publish my work to the world (and by world i mean the five people that occasionaly read my blog).

Stallmanism and Religion

“Free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer.”

The above statement comes from “The Free Software Definition” on the GNU Project’s webpage. Richard M. Stallman began this project in 1984 with the goal of creating a completely “free” operating system. With the GNU Project as its genesis, an entire movement has begun to create this “free” software. While there are differing motivations behind this movement, ideology, as can be seen from the quote above, plays an integral role. Many varying factions exist within the movement, yet one of the main ideologies is that held by Stallman and the GNU Project. As this ideology has its beginnings with Stallman’s work, I will use the term “Stallmanism” when referring to it. In this paper, I will discuss similarities between some characteristics of Stallmanism and those of some major religions. While the analogy obviously doesn’t hold perfectly, my purpose in doing this is to show that a connection between the world of computer science and religion can be made, that Stallmanism should be recognized as a distinct ideology, and that this is an interesting topic which deserves continued research and study. After establishing the originality of my argument, I will discuss in particular the existence of the Golden Rule in Stallmanism and religion, similar characteristics of leaders and followers in Stallmanism and religion, similarities between the basic texts of religions and Stallmanism, and the existence of the concept of “Good vs. Evil” in both.

Originality:

I have previously studied the scholarly work that hasbeen done concerning motivations within the open source/free software movement. Various surveys have been conducted to discover why programmers participate in the movement. The motivations found could be broken into the categories of personal, social, ideological, and economic. I found a number of articles discussing the personal, social, and economic motivations, yet very few were dedicated to the ideological motivations within the movement. Much has been written concerning these ideologies, yet this has been done mostly on an informal level outside the realm of peer-reviewed scholarly work. Therefore, there is a gap within the academic works concerning the topic of the open source/free software movement’s ideology, and one of my aims in writing this paper is to show how interesting and deserving of further research this topic is.

Though my argument that non-religious ideologies have similarities to religion is not original, as, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “ideologies, such as Soviet Marxism, Maoism, and Fascism, may have analogies to religion” (“religion, study of”), I am the first to make such a comparison with Stallmanism.

Golden Rule:

Stallmanism is similar to other great religions in that the “Golden Rule” is one of its basic tenets. According to H.T.D. Rost, “Golden Rule statements are found in virtually every major world religion today” (Rost, 8). The Golden Rule, in a general sense, is the moral that one should always treat one’s peers equal or better than oneself. In Christianity, it is “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself” (Palmer et. al. 245). In Confucianism, it is “Do not unto others what you would not they should do unto you” (Palmer et. al. 245). In Hinduism, “Do not to others what ye do not wish Done to yourself; and wish for others too What ye desire and long for, for yourself” (Palmer et. al. 245). In Islam, “None of you believe until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself” (Palmer et. al. 245). And in Judaism, the Rabbi Hillel is claimed to have said “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor; that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof,” (Palmer et. al. 245). The Golden Rule can be found within Stallmanism. One of the four basic freedoms listed in the GNU Project’s definition of free software is: “The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor” (GNU Project “Definition”). The idea of using the tools available to help a neighbor is quite similar to the many statements from religions above.

Often while speaking on the beginnings of the GNU Project, Stallman relates an anecdote of his first experience with another programmer not helping a neighbor. The story goes that the MIT AI Lab received a laser printer from Xerox as a gift. While this printer was much more technically advanced than their previous printer, it often became jammed. So, the programmers at the Lab decided to modify the printer’s software to alleviate the problem, but Xerox refused to give them the source code. Stallman heard that a programmer at Carnegie Mellon University had received the source code, so he asked for a copy so the MIT programmers could modify it. The man at Carnegie Mellon refused because he had signed an agreement to not distribute the code. Stallman says that this experience taught him the wrongs of not helping one’s neighbors (GNU Project “Cooperation”). In lamenting the world of proprietary software that he feels is against the Golden Rule by making sharing a crime, he says, “I am working to build a system where people are free to decide their own actions; in particular, free to help their neighbors,” (Stallman, “Why Free”). Thus, Stallmanism shares with other major religions the basic moral tenet known as the Golden Rule.

Leader:

In a study of many of the world religions, one sees that many began through the leadership of one head figure. Christianity had Jesus Christ, Islam had Mohammed, Judaism had Moses, and Buddhism had Siddhartha Gautama. Similarly, Stallmanism began with one man: Richard M. Stallman. There are a number of similarities between these religious leaders and Stallman.

Intelligence is a common characteristic among the religious leaders. For example, while little is known about Christ’s younger life, one story preserved in the Bible is of Jesus sitting in the temple as a child speaking with the scholars. According to the story, “all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers,” (Holy Bible, Luke 2:46-47) showing he was a person of great intelligence. Stallman also displayed many characteristics of a child prodigy. Sam Williams, Stallman’s biographer, speaks of him reading calculus textbooks at age 7, confusing adults with his overly complicated language, and seeming “scary” to his peers. One person who knew Stallman as a young man is quoted as saying, “I’ve known a lot of smart people, but I think he was the smartest person I’ve ever known” (Williams 3) Stallman studied at Harvard and MIT (Williams 6), and was also awarded the MacArthur Fellowship in 1990 (Williams 2), which is popularly called the “genius award.”

A number of religious leaders experienced some sort of trial or hardship at some point in their lives. For example, Confucius, from age 3, lived a life of poverty after his father passed away (Palmer et. al. 100). Mohammed as a child was orphaned and lived in poverty into his adulthood (Palmer et. al. 214). Stallman experienced similar trials in the divorce of his parents, and then in the death of his grandparents (Williams 3). As in the religious leaders’ lives, these events triggered the beginning of his separation from the world around him and his beginning to question what he saw in society.

Almost all religious leaders began their search for truth because of dissatisfaction with the society and world they lived in. Particularly famous is the story of Siddhartha Gautama seeing an old man, a sick man, and a dead body, and then going on a spiritual journey to discover the reasons for the suffering he saw (Palmer et. al. 50). Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism, became disenchanted with the government aristocratic life of China, and left to discover a new life (Palmer et. al. 89). Zarathustra, founder of Zoroastrianism, lived as a priest, but felt that the religion of his culture failed to answer the problems he saw in life, so he left on a journey to find truth (Palmer et. al. 149). Stallman’s story is surprisingly similar. He worked as a programmer at the MIT AI Lab for a number of years and watched as the community of sharing that had developed broke down due to the growth in proprietary software. As stated before, he felt that not sharing code was against the Golden Rule, so he decided to break away from the developing world of proprietary software to begin his own movement in response (GNU Project, “Cooperation”).

Richard M. Stallman, as the founder of the free software movement, displays many characteristics similar to the founders and leaders of the major world religions.

Followers:

There are some interesting similarities between the followers of Stallmanism and the followers of the various religions. One aspect of many Western religions along with Buddhism, etc, is the belief in self-denial. Followers of these religions practice this system of self-denial in order to gain the promised rewards. Stallmanism also has a sense of self-denial in it. In his essay entitled “The Free Software Community After 20 Years: With great but incomplete success, what now?” Stallman talks about why free software should be used over proprietary software, even when the proprietary software is more usable and advanced. He claims that using the proprietary software is supporting the system that destroys freedom. According to him, though it may be a sacrifice, using free software is the only way to promote freedom. So followers of this movement believe that by denying themselves the luxuries sometimes related to proprietary software, they are furthering the cause of freedom, including their own.

Many religions have a method of proselytizing to spread the system and increase its popularity. Many times, followers of a particular system take it upon themselves to teach others of and proclaim the goodness of their beliefs. Similarly, those followers of Stallmanism display similar tendencies to spread their system to others. If one goes to a popular, “geek” website such as Slashdot.org and reads any news story concerning free/proprietary software along with the reader comments, this is readily visible. Readers vehemently debate the viability of free software, the need for individual freedom, and the evils of proprietary software. Obviously, not all of the readers agree with Stallamanist ideology, so those that are followers are continually proclaiming the benefits of free software such as better security, the ability to modify, and most fundamentally, freedom.

Texts:

Most of the world religions have texts concerning their various belief systems. Within Christianity, there is the Bible, within Islam the Koran, and within Buddhism, there is the Tripitaka. The texts contain such various things as stories about significant figures within the religion, doctrinal essays, and administrative instructions. In this way, the teachings of the particular religion are preserved, spread, and learned. Similarly, Stallmanism has various basic texts concerning the movement. Though these texts are not in any way considered sacred, they are considered authoritative. Probably most basic of these texts is “The Free Software Definition.” This text contains the GNU Project’s and Stallmanism’s beliefs of what freedoms are required to make a piece of software “free.” In a sense, it is a basic declaration on the doctrines of the movement. This can be compared to the creeds of early Christianity such as the Nicene Creed. These were declarations of basic doctrines used to avoid confusion and misunderstanding.

Beyond the basic declarations, documented on the GNU Project’s website are a number of histories of the project and the movement. Most of these have been written by Stallman himself, but resemble the historical aspects of the four Gospels found in the Bible. The histories tell the tale of the humble beginnings of the project as Stallman declared his purposes and began looking for supporters. Slowly, the movement began to gain followers and popularity. Eventually, “persecution” from various places such as propriety software companies and disagreements within the movement began. All of this follows closely the story of Christ beginning his movement 2000 years ago in Palestine.

Also, there is a large collection of Stallman’s and others involved in the movement’s writings concerning philosophy and other related topics such as intellectual property and freedom of speech. All of these bear similarity to the latter half of the New Testament’s letters written by the leaders of the early Christian church. These letters were used to clarify and deepen the doctrines of the religion, much in the same way that these texts do with the Stallmanism movement.

Additionally, listed on the GNU Project’s website are a large number of speeches and interviews given by Stallman. Because he plays a leadership role in the movement, these transcripts too are considered almost canonically as declarations of the movement’s philosophy. Whenever Stallman makes a statement on a particular topic, a headline is posted on popular, “geek” news websites such as Slashdot.org and Newsforge.org with a link to the text. These stories also tend to draw hundreds of comments from readers, some agreeing and some critical. Similarly, when major religious leaders such as the Pope make statements, it makes headlines on major news sources, and also draws in commentary both positive and negative.

As can be seen, both Stallmanism and religion share a similar characteristic of having basic texts outlining the tenets of belief and treat their leader’s statements as authoritative.

Good vs. Evil:

One basic theme throughout religion is that of good vs. evil. “Evil” is found in various forms whether it is a being such as Satan in Christianity, or something more intangible such as human nature in Buddhism. This idea of good vs. evil is also basic to Stallmanism. According to Stallman, proprietary software is the basic evil of the software world. In his essay entitled “The GNU Project,” he says:

The idea that the proprietary-software social system, the system that says you are not allowed to share or change software, is antisocial, that it is unethical, that it is simply wrong, may come as a surprise to some readers. But what else could we say about a system based on dividing the public and keeping users helpless?

Words such as “antisocial,” “unethical,” and “wrong” all demonstrate this belief. Many times, the Microsoft Corporation is used as a symbol for this evil. Throughout Stallman’s essays and speeches, small jabs at Microsoft and Bill Gates can be found. There is even an essay on the GNU website entitled “Is Microsoft the Great Satan?” While it says Microsoft is not the one and only corporation working against Stallmanism, it does state that there is a high amount of antagonism towards the company, especially “since Microsoft expressed active hostility towards free software” (GNU Project, “Microsoft”)

Conclusion:

Stallmanism is one of the ideologies that have grown up surrounding the free software movement begun by Richard M. Stallman in the early 80s. This ideology has many similarities between major religious movements around the world. While a wide variety of topics could be discussed, I have focused on four in particular. First, in both most major religious movements and Stallmanism, there is a variation of the Golden Rule, where helping others is considered a basic tenet of belief. Second, many founders of religious movements and Stallman have similar characteristics such as intelligence, childhood trials, and dissatisfaction with society. Third, the followers of religions and Stallmanism are similar in many aspects such as the practice of self-denial and proselytizing. Fourth, there exist texts outlining basic beliefs, doctrines, and history in both religion and Stallmanism. Finally, the concept of “Good vs. Evil”, with the practice of giving “evil” some form exists in religion and Stallmanism. These similarities show that comparisons can be drawn between the world of computers and religion, that Stallmanism has many interesting characteristics making it deserving of being recognized as its own ideological movement, and the need for further research and study into this topic.

Works Cited:

The GNU Project. “The Free Software Definition.” 03/21/2005. 04/19/2005. http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html

The GNU Project. “Free Software: Freedom and Cooperation.” 05/29/2001. 04/19/2005 http://www.gnu.org/events/rms-nyu-2001-transcript.html.

The GNU Project. “Is Microsoft the Great Satan?” 2001. 4/19/2005. http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/microsoft.html

The Holy Bible, King James Version. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. 1979.

Palmer, Spencer J., Keller, Roger R., Choi, Dong Sull, and Toronto, James A. Religions of the World: A Latter-Day Saint View. Provo UT: Brigham Young University, 1997. “religion, study of.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2005.

Encyclopedia Britannica Online?19 Apr. 2005 http://search.eb.com/eb/article?tocId=38039

Stallman, Richard M. “Why Software Should Be Free.” The GNU Project. 04/24/1992. 04/19/2005. http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/shouldbefree.html

Stallman, Richard M. “The Free Software Community After 20 Years: With great but incomplete success, what now?” The GNU Project. 05/21/2004. 04/19/2005. http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/use-free-software.html

Stallman, Richard M. “The GNU Project.” 2001. 4/19/2005. http://www.gnu.org/gnu/thegnuproject.html

Williams, Sam. Free as in Freedom. O’Reilly & Associates, March 2002. 04/19/2005. http://www.oreilly.com/openbook/freedom/index.html

more of my writing

here is some more stuff that i write. it was meant to be better than the other stuff i posted, but that doesn’t neccesarily mean that is true. my professor liked it though. she gave me an A and had me enter it into a writing contest (results still pending!).

My First Writing Assignment

I’ve had some bad nightmares. The worst, I think, was when I was four. I was sitting in my parents’ room and I looked down the hallway, and out of a black abyss all of these monsters started floating towards me. It looked like they wanted to eat me, and, of course, I couldn’t move. Seventeen years later, I’m standing here thinking my second worst nightmare is about to begin.

I am in a place called the HGB. I’m not sure what the real name of the building is, because I was told that no one else knew, so it was pointless for me to find out. It sounds like an acronym for some evil government agency, or perhaps some sort of illegal drug. In front of me is a huge, wooden door, probably a relic from some ancient civilization, circa 1954.

“Sigh…” I crack open the door and slowly walk in. The sight of the room does very little to improve my mood. A clock is the only thing hanging on the wall. My physics classroom at least has a periodic table to spice things up. This is my English class. Ah, my old nemesis… It has been a few years. I slip into the desk that I hope will offer the greatest protection from class participation.

The other desks fill up with students, and then a young woman walks in. Instead of flopping into one of the open desks, she sets her bag on the table in the front, turns to us, and starts talking about something. I assume she must be our professor. She seems normal enough as she begins, not like those other English instructors with their “I-did-too-much-LSD-but-now-I-teach” long, curly hair (ponytail optional). This gives me hope. For two and half years of my high school career, Mr. Patton was my English teacher. Of all the things I got out of those classes, I wish I had learned some better synonyms for “extreme dislike,” because I have trouble articulating my true feelings about him. But, maybe this time around, words like ‘compassion’ or ‘mercy’ will be within the vocabulary of my instructor.

“Can any of you tell me the difference between a personal narrative and a personal essay?” No one knows, so she tells us. Our first assignment is going to be a narrative portraying an internal change in our life.

I have no good stories. Even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to write about it. What little confidence I had wanes as I think back through the catalog of my memories and am confronted with banality. The other students are all sitting up straight, listening attentively, while I start sliding lower and lower into the desk.

“What are some characteristics of a bad personal narrative?” Professor Spencer continues. I’m only partially listening as I think.

Well, I guess I could just do it on something easy, like about how I became a better runner, or maybe even my first kiss. I sit up straight in my desk again. Yeah, those stories we read in middle school always had something about first love in them. Why can’t I pull something like that off?

Next she sets up the projector and holds back a laugh as she places her example of a “bad personal narrative” on the screen. The story is about some guy who gets his first kiss. I start slouching again.

“Bad personal narrative, bad personal narrative, bad personal narrative…” drums through my head as class ends and I walk outside. Snow is falling. The sidewalks are slushy and my feet are quickly soaked through as I trudge back towards the dorms to find some place to hide. If I were a good writer, I bet I could make a great comparison with this weather and how I feel.

I have horrible visions of a class next semester, listening to Professor Spencer.  ”Now for an example of a bad personal narrative. Yes, here is one of the most cliched, uncreative pieces I’ve seen in my entire teaching career. And guess what? It was written just last semester! I usually wouldn’t tell you the name of the person who wrote this, but this is just so bad, I have to. His name was…”

I have to swerve to avoid a couple holding hands. They don’t bother to make room for anyone else, not that there is any less snow on the grass than on the sidewalk. I walk with my head down to keep the snow out of my eyes and also with the hope that someone will have pity on me.

English has always been the one subject that I struggle with. It’s the kind of thing that at its least, ruins a weekend due to a four-page essay. At its worst, it keeps one from an elite university due to a poor ACT/SAT score. Math makes sense to me. A few numbers and letters on a page that actually have a logical flow. English is seriously worse than a root canal, and I am justified in using that analogy, because I’ve had a root canal. I get a cool story about nitrous oxide from the root canal; all I get from English is possible hair loss.

“I hate English!” I catch myself before my thoughts become public to the people passing by.

A thousand curses upon my professor and any other person who has ever thought English is a thing to be studied. Once I reach my dorm room, I open my laptop and turn on music, something dark and depressing. I get on my bed and stare at the ceiling. I feel completely empathetic with Thom Yorke as he moans, “What the hell am I doing here?” through my speakers. What in the “heck” am I doing in an honors-level writing course?

Professor Spencer sends the class syllabus to us by e-mail a few days later for those of us who didn’t take the time to look it up online. I take my laptop along and glance at it during the few minutes I have before physics class starts.  ”Aww, crap.” My audible groan causes some nearby students to turn and look. I glance at their quizzical stares and can tell by the healthy shine in their eyes that they haven’t been staying up until insane hours of the night writing. Obviously, they are completely ignorant to the things on my computer screen.

After class, I weave my way back into the deep recesses of the library. I open my laptop and the file is still up on the screen. I scroll down the seven-page syllabus that describes what my life is going to be like for the next four months. Sucking in a deep breath, I look around. The other students sitting nearby are doing various things. One guy is playing solitaire. A table over, a girl is planning out her weekend with her friend. As my eyes return to my screen, it’s apparent that I won’t be doing anything of the sort if I stay in this course. I will definitely have to rethink that plan of having a hot date every night of the week. Maybe this isn’t what I had bargained for when I first registered for classes.

I log onto the web site where I can change my class schedule. There it is: Honors 200, Section 007. I stare at it for a little while, and run my finger over my track pad. My mouse cursor hovers over the ’D’ (for “Drop Course”) button. That heavy feeling in my gut that I always get before I do something drastic kicks in. I put my finger down to the mouse button. It would be so easy to do… Just one click, and it would all be over.

For some reason, I think back and remember how “You can do hard things,” always ended my mother’s letters to me during my missionary service. I had to tell myself that a thousand times some days just to get by. Amazingly, I did, and it ended up being some of the best experience that I have ever had. So if I can survive two years of waking up at 6:30 AM, riding through pouring rain on a bike in a suit, and trying to explain why the article “a” is a required part of English grammar to a Japanese person in my English conversation class, maybe I can do hard things.

Someone walking by pulls me out of my thoughts, and I look back down at the screen. With another deep breath, I close the website and go back to the syllabus to remind myself what I need to start writing about, I carry my laptop into the dorm’s day room and flop down on one of the couches.

It’s 6 o’clock AM and I’m still just wearing a pair of surfer shorts and an old t-shirt. I’ve found over the years that early mornings seem to be when I can write the best. Perhaps it comes from an equal dislike for both, or maybe it’s just because I’ve procrastinated writing a paper until the morning of its due date so many times that it is just habit now. The night before was spent playing video games with the guys on the floor until 2 AM. I have been able to find a semblance of a social life, though I’m still working on those hot dates. The first rough draft of my personal narrative is due at ten and I have Book of Mormon class at nine. I haven’t done my hour’s worth of reading for it yet either. Though my brain is fuzzy and my eyes are puffy, I force myself to type. Sounds of people stumbling out of bed and turning on showers fill the background, and slowly the page fills up clumsily with words.

“What are you doing up so early?” asks one of the guys before he gets on the elevator to go to his janitorial job.

“Oh, just working on a paper for my writing class which is due in 4 hours.”

“Oh, that stinks.”

I smirk and half-chuckle. “Eh, it’s not too bad.”

If any of you are interested in my writing…

here is something i threw together for my freshman writing class. it is meant to suck:

The Day I Became a New Man

Many years ago, I was a young man who wanted to be someone special. Looking through my catalog of talents, I chose to more fully develop my running skills. So, I joined the middle school cross country team. This continued on up until my senior year of high school, where I found myself on the varsity track and field distance squad. On one particular day, I was warming up to get ready for a race. One must understand that this was not just any other race. This was a race to determine if I had really become what I had always desired to become. This is what I thought as I warmed up before heading off to the starting line. I had been sick for the entire season up until that point. It was hard to believe just how poorly I had performed, even though I was a senior. In my senior year, my peers and I felt that I should be running at my peak performance, which unfortunately wasn’t the case. I went through the typical warm up routine, though my heart seemed to want to jump out of my chest as I did my stretches. I slathered on the Icy Hot pain cream as was the custom at the time, and I also downed a few ibuprofen, a bad habit that carried over from previous years of bad knees. But even as I attempted to stick to routine, I couldn’t help but think that today was different. So as I toed the line, a flood of thoughts rushed through my head. Was this going to be just like every other race so far that season? Or was I going to be able to push through this rut and really prove myself as a runner? I knew that only time would tell as the official told us to be on our marks. Then I heard the gun shot and off we went like a pack of cheetahs. The initial excitement wore off as the 6 of us (this was a small race) came up onto the second corner. It was then that I had to start making decisions. My body ached from head to toe, begging me to slow down, even though we had hardly reached the ? mark. But then I saw my coach’s face as we flew by the starting line, concerned, and yet with a glimmer of hope in his eyes. I knew then that I would not give in to my weaknesses any longer! My legs screamed back at me as I pushed ahead of the others. But this time it didn’t matter. I pulled away from the slower, less driven competitors, and I took a dominant lead. The fans cheering on the sides seemed to blur and all other sounds besides my breathing faded out to nothing. I was all alone on the track, essentially running a race against myself. It was no longer about beating other people, but beating my own weakness, my own inability to achieve. As the laps flew by, I fell into what we runners like to call “the zone.” I no longer felt anything. I might as well have been floating along 2 feet above the ground. But, as all good things do, this feeling came to an end as reality came crashing back at about the 6th lap mark. Thankfully, by this time the race was already in the bag and it was only a matter of finishing things up. The last two laps flew by and I saw the finish line looming ahead. As I crossed the line, the only thing I could think of was, “I did it!” My coach ran up to me cheering and whooping, showing me the time on his stopwatch. I started taking off my racing spikes as my friends and teammates gathered around, patting me on the back and congratulating me. But really, I wasn’t listening to any of them. It didn’t matter what they said anyway. It was about me and my achievement. It was about how I had finally done what at one time seemed so far out of reach. This was truly a great day in my life I thought as I slowly put on some heavier clothing and started out on my cool-down. I did a few laps around the outside of the track and savored my victory. I would never be the same person after that. I looked to the future with confidence and excitement. I had achieved what I had always wanted to achieve. I was a new man!

i have a job..woo hoo

ok, well, i have a job now. i work at a place called Kernel Popcorn’s Factory in the Wisconsin Dells. I am going to work the cash register, and restock the shelves. Man, it is going to be so sweet. I just wish I could get a cool shirt to go along with it. my sister sent this to me today..i love it:

Prev - Archive - Next