May 18, 2004

Linus and Linux: The big lie versus the small truth

Author: David Sugar

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," or so Wendell Phillips
reminds us.  Similarly, the cost of purchasing a lie may be measured in
dollars, but vigilance is part of the price to protect truth.

Today we find that those who wish to attack software freedom now wish to
do so by attacking truth.  "The big lie" is a classic form of
propoganda.  Pioneered by Goebbels, the idea is simple enough: by
telling a lie, no matter how outrageous, and repeating it loudly and
persistently, people will begin to believe it is the truth.  Today,
adding to the big lie that the very basic human freedom to share and
exchange knowledge, expressed, by among other means, through software
freedom, somehow devalues the marketplace when in fact it expands it, we
now have a new lie, that Linux was not started by Linus.

In the end I have always believed in the force and strength of the
marketplace and capitalism.  Unencumbered markets actually do prefer
freedom, because freedom enables the most efficient means to produce
products and enables the most fair and efficient price between a seller
and buyer, in part by enabling the greatest number of potential suppliers into a market
with the fewest barriers to entry.

Similarly, it happens that our software, free software, not only offers
greater freedom to our users, but also often offers superior
products and services as well.  This is in part because we can continue
to incrementally improve and share in each other's work.  While free
software improves incrementally just as science does, in the proprietary
software world, each product offered by a different entity must often be
recreated from scratch.  Given a free and unrestrained marketplace, free software will ultimately win.

While a free marketplace favors software freedom, there are some
who would choose to compete not in a free marketplace, but rather by
making the market less free, whether by lobbying for laws that
add artificial restraints or by other means.  Some, like those
who fund the Alexis de Toqueville Institute, are so afraid of software
freedom that they are willing to resort to the lowest forms propoganda
and methods that one normally associates with thugs and war criminals.

In a way, I am glad they have chosen this method to fight software
freedom. First, it shows them for exactly the kind of people that they
really are. Second, I believe the "big lie" can work only when it is
used in a vacuum. For this reason, in this case, it will fail.  The best way to
fight the big lie is not to directly address its originators
but rather to fill the vacuum around it.  As a community we must use our
resources, not to outright challenge the messenger alone, but rather
to fill the void around the message with truth.  A big lie cannot overcome the truth, distributed, told by millions.

I do remember the mantra, of "at first they laugh at us," but before
responding to this latest bit of low FUD with the contempt and
condemnation that it wishes to attract, instead consider
what happens if at first we allow ourselves to laugh at them?

David Sugar is the maintainer of GNU Bayonne.


  • Linux
Click Here!