8 October 2013, 6pm Taylor Auditorium, Miami University
The Richard Stallman visited the Farmer School of Business at Miami University on October 6. In his lecture, A Free Digital Society, Stallman generally spoke to the tenets for which he is known–free software. An eccentric character no doubt, Stallman began the lecture by taking his shoes off and hopping on one foot. This set the tone for the rest of the lecture–a complete mockery of serious scholarly inquiry.
In general, Stallman emits a paranoid vibe. He requests that no pictures of him be posted on any sites like facebook or Instagram. He distrusts the government, and clearly avoids every sliver of interaction with commercial software, citing the hidden back doors that these companies use to gather information on their users. Stallman further insists that these companies use this information to oppress the public, although offers no clear examples of how this has been done.
Now, our society needs it’s whistle-blowers like Stallman. Some of the claims he makes are (to my knowledge) almost certainly true. Our government does keep tabs on internet and cell-phone behavior, and companies like Amazon do add back door software into their devices such as the Kindle (which Stallman cynically calls the Amazon Swindle). But if he is going to give a lecture about these topics (which he did), he needs to start by justifying the premise of his concern–namely, why we should value our freedom from digital surveillance and control in the first place. Personally, I am unconvinced that the degree to which the government or any corporation encroaches upon our digital privacy at all warrants universal adoption of free software. Stallman’s failure to address this issue in his talk made the rest of his lecture pointless. It had no foundation, and in due course, devolved into a rambling masturbation of thoughts that ended with an explosion of angry students and faculty. What a mess…
So what is my point? After seeing first-hand the graceless way Stallman presented himself and his philosophy, I question whether he is the right person to be the figurehead of the Free Software Foundation–a movement I thought I supported. Although now, reflecting on his aplomb and self-righteous drawn-out sips from a 16oz Pepsi bottle (he went through 3 of them in 2 hours!), I wonder if perhaps he actually embodies the true personality of the Free Software Movement and if I had just been caught under a spell. Whatever the case may be, I still love emacs, gcc, and Linux. And no matter how much I criticize his lecture, Richard Stallman can’t take them away from me…because I have the source code.