After reading “Begging the Software Gods“, I read a response that seemed genuine. This post is a follow-up to that response.
Nothing is “special about software” and nobody said that you deserve certain freedoms for software but not freedoms for your food, clothing, and other things.
There are other groups of people working on other freedoms: seed activists like Vandana Shiva who works with people in India to maintain libraries of non-genetically-modified seeds that anyone can grow (including in environments far too inhospitable for GMO seeds!). Prof. Shiva works with people worldwide to fight patents, notably taking down the patents which read on basmati rice and neem—natural food and trees (respectively) which predate any patenting system. See the documentaries “Bullshit!”, “The World According to Monsanto”, or read any of Prof. Shiva’s books for more information about her work.
Wikibooks, Project Gutenberg, and others are working on building libraries of freely available literature. The Internet Archive has bookmobiles which travel around the world showing people how to print and bind their own books.
Amazing work is done by children to help free other children from slave worker conditions manufacturing clothes (the last time I read about them was when pre-teens protested and successfully challenged The Gap to allow minders to inspect their clothing facilities to prevent sweatshop labor). The excellent documentary “The Corporation” shows Charles Kernaghan, an anti-sweatshop labor activist and Executive Director of the National Labor Committee, giving a tour of his offices. In this highly underrated documentary Kernaghan explains how the goods we take for granted were made by laborers paid pennies an hour, even after the Kathie Lee Gifford scandal broke in the US (which reminded the American public about the plight of sweatshop labor). Kernaghan does interviews on Democracy Now!. Particularly embarassing for corporate manufacturing was when Kernaghan revealed that crucifixes being sold by St. Patrick’s, Trinity Church in New York, and the Association for Christian Retail were manufactured in China in the Junxingye factory in Dongguan by women as young as 15 working 7 days a week, 14 hours a day earning 9 cents an hour.
I’m sure that in time we’ll see free software CPUs if hackers are not already working on such things. People have been working on making a free software-driven video card and there is increased pressure on integrators and manufacturers to use no proprietary software in their firmware (or use no firmware at all like some wireless cards do). This work has all been remarkably successful and I hope you’ll seek out all of these people and help them. Work like this tends to put the lie to the explanation that we can’t have free software-driven hardware because the secret software is necessary to justify continued development of the hardware. This was the excuse raised to justify work on ethernet cards until some enterprising group of hackers figured out how to talk to the majority of ethernet hardware out there.
Richard Stallman has long contended that the fight for software freedom is a part of a larger global movement for increased social solidarity and ethical treatment of others. I believe Stallman did an interview with ZMag in which he says something to this effect, but I wasn’t able to find it as I type this (I’ll update later). There’s nothing wrong with the convenience of getting one’s goods and services supplied by someone else. There is something wrong when exploitation is a part of the mix, be it poor working conditions, sub-living wage pay, or restrictions that keep us from organizing to express our social solidarity.
Thanks for the reply and the comment. There seems to be a little problem with the comment system I am using so I can’t reply to you immediately and others might not be able to see your comment.
Hopefully this will be fixed soon and I will reply as soon as I have some more time.
To look at it in a slightly different way: as software engineers, we have the ability to work on Free Software. Most of us can’t easily work on Free Hardware, Free Music, Free Movies, and so on, because we don’t have the necessary skills. Electrical engineers can work on Free Hardware, musicians can work on Free Music, and in general those with a talent in an area can work for freedom in that area. Naturally we should all collaborate whenever we can, ensuring common standards and interoperability; for instance, we want Free Software compilers and operating systems to target Free Hardware, and we want Free Software to provide tools musicians can use to make Free Music.
Perhaps someday we will all print our own circuits and other objects with a RepRap, driven by Free Software running on Free Hardware built by another RepRap. Meanwhile, we can all work to ensure freedom in the area of our expertise.