The Rape of Eric S. Raymond

esr tells us the heart breaking story of his violation:

http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=556

…there are people in the world who think they can persuade me to give proprietary software a second look by making rational, utility-maximizing arguments of their own. One of my regular commenters wrote this recently: “Eric, you may want to give MSDN, Windows, and their developer tools a second, unprejudiced look; they really are better than what Linux has to offer.”

It’s not going to happen. Ever. And the fact that anyone could say that to me, and believe for a nanosecond they might get any other answer, means that I need to explain something in public: why I hate proprietary software.

More precisely, I hate the proprietary software system of production. Not at the artisan level; I’ve defended the right of programmers to issue work under proprietary licenses because I think that if a programmer wants to write a program and sell it, it’s neither my business nor anyone else’s but his customer’s what the terms of sale are.

No, what I hate is when that system scales up into what left-wingers call soulless corporate machines. Unlike them, I’m OK with soulless corporate machines in general; they’re positively good for you compared to the things governments get up to. It’s the specific things that happen when the management of programming gets separated from the art of programming that I hate.

And yes, the emotionally-loaded word ‘hate’ is the rignt word to use, in contrast to all the cool rational-maximizer reasons I like open source. It’s not a lofty idealistic loathing like Richard Stallman’s; it’s a bitter, gut-clenching personal hatred. I’m not a moralist, and am not arguing that everyone should share my feelings about the matter at peril of being damned. Still, I’m going to put my feelings on the record so that the next time some idiot feeds me a similar line, I can point him at that record.

I’ll start with a deliberately melodramatic simile, then explain it. When you tell me I should give proprietary software a fair technical evaluation because its features are so nice, what you are actually doing is saying “Look at the shine on those manacles!” to someone who remembers feeling like a slave.

From 1979 to 1985, and then briefly in 1988-89, I was a component in the proprietary-software system of production. In that world, the working programmer’s normal experience includes being forced to use broken tools for political reasons, insane specifications, and impossible deadlines. It means living in Dilbert-land, only without the irony. It means sweating blood through the forehead to do sound work only to have it trashed, mangled, or buried by people who couldn’t write a line of code to save their lives.

If you love programming, trying to do work you can be proud of in this situation is heartbreaking. You know you could do better work if they’d just goddamn give you room to breathe. But there’s never time to do it right, and always another brain-dead idea for a feature nobody will ever actually use coming at you from a marketing department who thinks it will look good on the checklist. Long days, long nights and at the end of it all some guy in a suit owns all that work, owns the children of your mind, owns a piece of you.

And you know what? Comparatively, I know I had it good. Truly incompetent or evil bosses abused some of my peers far worse. Mine weren’t a bad lot, as these things go. All of us were ensnared in a system of production that could only rarely rise above shitty code and shitty outcomes because the logic of the system trapped us in dysfunctional roles. I’m not naming companies and people because the dysfunction was, in a horrifying but undeniable way, nobody’s fault.

Some of us, including me, dreamed of completely “free” software environments before the public launch of FSF not for abstract moral reasons or because of some soi-disant social problem, but because the conditions of our craft were intolerable to us. We were suffocating, being ground down into unfeeling cogs taught by repeated pain that we must not care about our art because to care was to lose.

The stupid and the timeservers were lucky. It was the really bright, creative people among my peers that hurt the most. And we were all very young and malleable and eager to please; it took me years after I’d escaped to understand that I had a right to feel angry about how I had been used, and many of my peers never figured that out at all.

Yes, I’ve written a lot of intellectual arguments for open source. And they’re both true and sufficient. But now hear the emotional subtext — what lights the fire beneath me, personally, when I make those arguments. And that is this: nobody, ever again, should have to eat that kind of shit. Never again! If it takes seizing control of the craft of programming back from the suits, that’s what it it takes. If it takes blowing the entire system of production to smithereens…well, then it’s long past time.

I have all the usual reasons open-source fans give for refusing to have anything to do with Microsoft or any other proprietary tools: I don’t trust their reliability, I don’t want to be in a single-vendor jail, I won’t have my data locked in closed file formats, I refuse to write in languages that aren’t cross-platform portable…and so on. Those are rational reasons, and I have rational flexibility on them. On that level, it is possible in principle that I could be persuaded by cool features and a winning cost-benefit ratio. Or even if somebody offered me a sufficiently huge pile of money — enough, say, to finance a space program run from a Bond-supervillain-style fortress on my own Caribbean island.

But it doesn’t matter. Because there’s an emotional place where I have no give, and that is in is my visceral, steaming hatred of the production system that Microsoft exemplifies. I refuse to support it in any way, no matter how shiny the products look to other people. I will have no part of helping it do to the young, malleable, innocent programmers of today and tomorrow what was done to me and my peers.

Because two decades later, my scars still ache.

The tone of it sounds as if it is written by a rape victim! Many programmers of the same time period didn’t get such scars, and I bet that he would feel violated working as a bus driver too. Some people are just not made for the work place. That could explain the motivations of Stallman, esr and the like. These people had disorders like aspergers, and should have never ever been allowed in a competetive environment. While most people could take it, they just “snapped” (like school shooters for example) – and have sworn eternal vigilance at their “tormentors”.

esr for example has “Cerebral palsy”, a disease which can have wide ranging symptoms:

http://www.emedicine…sy/page3_em.htm

“Mental retardation” (to various degrees) being one of them.

From 1979 to 1985, and then briefly in 1988-89, I was a component in the proprietary-software system of production Most programming veterans feel that this time period was the best of their career. The industry was still young and experimental.

being forced to use broken tools for political reasons, insane specifications This sounds like the FOSS world now! Mono is only hated for political reasons. Worse tools are used just in spite. Insane specifications – well, how about that most linux distros are incompatible with each other?

Esr himself admits that he never will use MS tools, despite them being maybe superior, just because of some bad experiences at his working place more than twenty years ago! If this isn’t political and insane, what is?

a system of production that could only rarely rise above shitty code and shitty outcomes because the logic of the system trapped us in dysfunctional roles Again, this sounds more like the FOSS world of today. It seems like the worst of the proprietary world 20 years ago became the FOSS world of today. Compare Ubuntu with Win7 and OS X, which one is obviously worse?

Some of us, including me, dreamed of completely “free” software environments And? Has it succeeded? Where is the result? Freetards recently boasted that most programmers on the Linux kernel are employees of some corporation. Are their working conditions better than those of their proprietary colleagues? Somehow I doubt it. While Microsoft gets regulary the best workplace award:

http://www.microsoft…ePR_210509.mspx

Corporations that got heavily into Linux are the worst outsourcers and job cutters:

https://penguinday.wordpress.com/2010/08/10/the-most-effective-terror-
weapon-against-its-own-work-force/

Especially IBM (and the now dead SUN). And anyway, just WHY would the life of a corporate programmer become so much better if FOSS would be used? What esr described has nothing to do with FOSS or proprietary software, but just a bad management structure. That’s all. if in a bad environment FOSS software would be written, it would be still a bad environment. Maybe worse, because the money issue could be more problematic, which would add to the stress.

esr’s rape story sounds a lot like the “trauma” Stallman got, when his utopia at MIT went downhill, when most of his peers started commercial careers. Jerky bosses and colleagues who leave the work place are nothing unusual, but, if such situations happen to people with mental issues, it’s traumatic to them.

I mentioned school shooters; Seung-Hui Cho (virginia tech massacre) said: “You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option…You just loved to crucify me. You loved inducing cancer in my head, terror in my heart and ripping my soul all this time”. Was he really crucified? No, he just experienced common situations in a university. But he shouldn’t have been admitted into one in the first place. Esr’s descriptions: “incompetent or evil bosses abused some of my peers … my scars still ache … nobody, ever again, should have to eat that kind of shit. Never again!” are not that far away from Cho. To be absolutely clear: I am not comparing the actions of both men.

Odd, but it seems to be indeed how GNU-FOSS started: Some oversensitve people had experiences THAT EVERYONE EXPERIENCES sometimes, and they couldn’t take it. That would explain the mad and vengeful tone towards something unimportant (in the grand scheme of things) like proprietary software. As if the well being of the whole world depends on the annhiliation of it. And it explains why Linux attracted so many borderline insane people (just read my archeology posts) in the early stages of the movement.

Oh, and this frighteningly fits Stallman:

The Virginia Tech review panel concluded that because of Cho’s inability to handle stress and the “frightening prospect” of being “turned out into the world of work, finances, responsibilities, and a family,” Cho chose to engage in a fantasy where “he would be remembered as the savior of the oppressed, the downtrodden, the poor, and the rejected.”[1] The panel went further, stating that, “His thought processes were so distorted that he began arguing to himself that his evil plan was actually doing good. His destructive fantasy was now becoming an obsession.”

http://en.wikipedia….a_Tech_massacre

Stallman WANTS that programmers get paid less:

https://penguinday.wordpress.com/2010/08/10/only-starving-programmers-
are-good-programmers/

He even wants to “ban” corporations that pay decent salaries. (“evil plan”, huh?)
His policies and ideas in full force would be destructive to employees. But in Stallman’s mind, programmers on mininum wage would be a good thing, and liberating. Not to mention that Stallman’s crusade started when he got frightened when his colleagues started careers and families, just like Cho.

But back to esr:

it took me years after I’d escaped to understand that I had a right to feel angry about how I had been used, and many of my peers never figured that out at all. The last line says it all. They didn’t “figure it out” because the experience was nothing that someone with a sound mine couldn’t deal with.

But this one takes the cake: “it took me years after I’d escaped to understand that I had a right to feel angry about how I had been used”.

This line is offensive to any person who really was victim of a terrible crime. It sounds as if esr literally got repeatedly gang raped in prison, while in reality, he just had tight schedules on a white collar job. As I said once: Freetards are ultimately the product of decadence: Growing up in wealthy environments (you won’t find a freetard from the slum), most of them never experienced real hardships and real evil.

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3 responses to “The Rape of Eric S. Raymond

  1. I’d like to add something to your response:

    ESR: “But there’s never time to do it right, and always another brain-dead idea for a feature nobody will ever actually use coming at you from a marketing department who thinks it will look good on the checklist. Long days, long nights and at the end of it all some guy in a suit owns all that work, owns the children of your mind, owns a piece of you.

    Please, someone, tell him that the very base of working is that everything you produce during your work time belongs to your employer. It’s the only reason your employer pays you. Whatever, wherever your job is, it is the same rule everywhere in the world.

    If he wants to own what he produces, there’s a very simple solution: he leaves his work, doesn’t get paid, and everything he writes belongs to him. Oh, what, he wants to be paid to work for himself?

  2. As we all know, having observed the FLOSS world from a safe distance, there seem to be a lot of high-profile advocates with what, to put it politely, appear to be sever mental problems. (I’m not being insulting. I mean “mental problems,” as you do, as “mental problems.”) But I think the appeal goes further than that, or at least to a subset of mental problems that are transient and typically affect the young. Eric nails it when he says:

    The stupid and the timeservers were lucky. It was the really bright, creative people among my peers that hurt the most.

    I think it’s fair to say (although difficult to justify, given ESR’s woeful programming) that he regards himself as one of the Bright and Creative. It’s fair to say that he doesn’t regard himself as a member of the Stupid and the Timeservers.

    And, you know what, he may actually be right (although as a 20 year veteran, I don’t find “creative” to be a particularly useful metric in my profession).

    Thing is, everybody wants to be Bright and Creative. Nobody wants to be a drudge. Eric’s insight here (and it is an insight, and it applies to FLOSS in general) is that you can sell this attitude (but not as in “money”). ESR’s genius is not the RMS way, where Richard says “I am a genius hacker! Join me!” It’s more subtle than that, more a passive-aggressive approach.

    What he’s saying here is not that he’s Bright and Creative (though that may be inferred). He’s saying that you are Bright and Creative and that he recognises that. Something must be holding you down! And over on this table here, I’ve got just the magic elixir to stop people, ever again, from telling you that you are not, in fact, Creative, and possibly not even Bright.

    RMS only attracts freaks and lunatics. ESR has very cleverly modified the message to attract the normal detritus of everyday corporate life.

  3. Fucking excellent post and deconstruction. Thank you for putting it on the Internets.

    Something that struck me about esr: for someone who’s trying to paint themselves as a libertarian, his arguments against proprietary software read like socialist complaints:

    Long days, long nights and at the end of it all some guy in a suit owns all that work, owns the children of your mind, owns a piece of you.

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