The Shackles of Freedom


I was recently reading Richard Stallman’s Personal Site.  Richard Stallman is a legendary software activist who promotes the idea of Free Software.  He is most famous for his GNU project, Emacs text editor, Free Software Foundation, and GNU General Public License (GPL).  His ideas are interesting and highly influential.  GPL, for example, grants people freedom to run, distribute, and modify software under the condition that the modified and distributed software is shared under the same license.  Ability to change implies Open Source Software (OSS).  The word “free” does not mean “free of charge”.  It means freedom to do anything with the code and fully examine and understand what the code does and how.

Richard Stallman tries to live according to his own principles.  He refuses to use any non-free software.  Thus, Windows, Apple, and Google with its Android, Gmail, Maps, Google Drive, and a host of other useful things are off-limits for him.  He believes these companies are unethical and exploit their users in a most outrageous way.  He also does not use Amazon, Facebook, Skype, and Spotify because these companies snoop on their customers.  Any website (such as this one) running complicated JavaScript code is an abomination and a stench in Richard Stallman’s nostrils. He abhors  ebooks as ebook distributors dictate the users what they may and may not do with their book copies.

Richard Stallman is very careful (I’d say, paranoid) about things requiring his identification:

I am careful in how I use the Internet.

I generally do not connect to web sites from my own machine, aside from a few sites I have some special relationship with. I usually fetch web pages from other sites by sending mail to a program (see git://git.gnu.org/womb/hacks.git) that fetches them, much like wget, and then mails them back to me. Then I look at them using a web browser, unless it is easy to see the text in the HTML page directly. I usually try lynx first, then a graphical browser if the page needs it (using konqueror, which won’t fetch from other sites in such a situation).

I occasionally also browse unrelated sites using IceCat via Tor. Except for rare cases, I do not identify myself to them. I think that is enough to prevent my browsing from being connected with me.

I never pay for anything on the Web. Anything on the net that requires payment, I don’t do. (I made an exception for the fees for the stallman.org domain, since that is connected with me anyway.) I also avoid paying with credit cards.

I would not mind paying for a copy of an e-book or music recording on the Internet if I could do so anonymously, and it were ethical in other ways (no DRM or EULA). But that option almost never exists. I keep looking for ways to make it exist.

How I do my computing

Stallman avoids any services requiring his personal identification: Uber (perhaps, for good reason – Uber does seem unethical), Amtrak, Netflix, Airbnb.  Apparently, he flies airplanes occasionally as he visited China, Greece, and Israel among other countries.  It’s hard to travel overseas anonymously. I wonder why he does not object being identified and searched in the airports.  I personally consider it humiliating to take off my shoes to go through stupid gates and being searched by TSA officers. He does not seem to be against filing income tax returns as he has scorned the “shared economy” companies (Uber, Airbnb) for using offshore tax havens.  This is another inconsistency as many people believe income tax is unconstitutional and a great infringement on multiple constitutional freedoms.  (Disclaimer: the author of those writings, Irwin Schiff, has died in prison in 2015 where he was put by the federal government, technically, for not paying taxes).  It would be interesting to find out how Richard Stallman reconciles flying airplanes and filing income tax returns with his principles.

I read all this and thought “Wow!  Is there a limitation that one would not be willing to impose on himself for the sake of freedom?”

Advertisements