It’s obligatory for me to begin this post by pointing out that Richard Stallman is so famous that I can just refer to him by his initials.
He’s currently touring New Zealand, and despite regular ninja hacks is giving a second talk in Christchurch, Tuesday October 13, Lecture Theatre A1, University of Canterbury, 5-7pm. Apparently the first speech, at the Chrsitchurch Town Hall, will run you $450 for a day registration (is this a typo? Do conferences really cost that much?). Stallman prefers talking in openly accessible settings anyway.
He also spoke on Kim Hill’s morning show last Saturday (archived here, but National Radio’s site is useless so you might have to right-click and select ‘save link as’, or open the location with a media player if you’re that savvy). This interview was hilarious; have a listen. Kim Hill doesn’t seem to believe a word Stallman has to say about abuse of surveillance and control technologies. It’s almost as if she’s never heard of the Security Intelligence Service, which spies on and maintains files on political dissidents, even if they’re focussed on the national interest, or Rob Gilchrist, the Police informant who infiltrated every harmless activist group I’ve ever been in, agitating for actions that would allow our arrests, as well as unions and other civil society groups. Not to mention the state terror raids of 2007.
Back to Stallman. He speaks about these issues in the abstract, and cites overseas examples. New Zealand has no shortage of examples of abuse of secret power, but Kim Hill needed so much convincing that Stallman barely had the chance to speak about software freedom. He also had some excellent ideas for funding media in the 21st Century, essentially proposing that creative works be made freely reproducible and available, and artists paid from the tax dollar on the basis of polls or some other way of tracking their popularity.
Most of all, I was struck by how close-minded and unimaginative his interviewer appeared, and how this mirrored my own experiences in talking about these issues with people. When pointing out that the present system is awful, and suggesting a few ideas for a positive alternative, one must expect a hostile and aggressive challenge to present a wholly-formed alternative, complete with revolutionary program and a denunciation of every paranoid fantasy presented (pogroms, terrorism, intellectual totalitarianism, women with hairy pits) with any admission of personal limits or ignorance taken as evidence that the status quo is unassailable. Stallman shows that it only takes a little bit of common sense to stop accepting the abuses of the powerful, and that stating the obvious is often a perfect response to one’s doubters.
Hopefully I’ll see you Tuesday.