October 31, 2000

Information wants to be autarchic

Author: JT Smith

By Tina Gasperson
News Editor

In Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland," playing cards and chessmen come alive, at least in the little girl's imagination -- or the writer's delirium. In the world of technology, one guy and his band of merry men have personified software, imbuing it with the desire to be free. That guy is Richard Stallman, of course, and everyone knows the Free Software Foundation is full of merry men. The word free, as normally applied to inanimate objects, means without charge (as in beer). But Stallman says his software is free, as in "not subject to the control or domination of another," or "not hampered or restricted in its normal operation." That's proven to be a difficult concept, even for technologically adept people. We hear free, we think "Duff," to put it in Simpson-ese terms.

Not only that, but there isn't a ZDNET reporter, dead or alive, who hasn't called Richard Stallman a member of the Open Source movement -- and that chaps his hide a bit, since according to Stallman, Open Source people simply do not see the issue of software free-ness as a matter of principle.

You can't fault Stallman for expecting hackers to be intelligent enough to grasp the subtleties of the language. But let's face it, the free moniker just isn't working out. Perhaps the name needs to be changed. And since RMS is obviously too busy with public speaking engagements to take the time, we hauled out Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Thesaurus for him.

The synonyms for free are much more descriptive and clear for the benefit of bonehead developers. We're treated to terms like "autonomous," "independent," "separate," "sovereign." And then there are "unenslaved," "delivered," "emancipated," "liberated." Two of my favorites are "self-directing" and "self-governing." Or, we could give software personality and call it "individualistic."

Dramatically speaking, software could be "unbound," "unchained," "unfettered," or "unshackled" -- all these words are especially fit for an impassioned plea to the unwashed masses of disinterested Windows users.

But as I perused the pages of the mighty thesaurus, there was one word that struck me as particularly befitting the nature of freeness as it pertains to software, and that word is "autarchic."

It means "self-governing," but it wasn't just the definition that spoke to me; it was the uniqueness of the word itself. It's a distinctive word. It's a cool word. Information wants to be autarchic, doesn't it? Not only that, but studies have shown it is impossible to think about Duff and autarchy at the same time.

The foundation could even use the Autarchic Creed, a pagan sacred text, almost verbatim. The creed is too long to republish here, but a couple of grafs stand out as particularly applicable to the movement.

"But in this mortal life, greedy, trivial hierophants and mundane
rulers (corporate America?)have perpetrated a fraud upon humanity. They have purloined
for profit and temporal power, our legitimate heritage (source code?), and that of
all society, and have substituted for it shame, despair, and fear (EULAs?),
inventing evil deities (attorneys?) to terrify and to constrain mankind from the
exercise of his own native conscience.

"That is the apocryphal hell and the fabled satan (Bill Gates?); they are of mortal
creation; they are now, not in some remote bye-and-bye; and those who
choose to believe in them perpetuate them in this earth."

What'd I tell you? It's perfect.

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