Motive for this post
I have, in the past, been accused of having religious tendencies. That is to say, people have viewed me as a zealot, blindly believing in something someone says in order to fill a hole in my understanding. I am here to say that it is not true.
What is religion?
I obviously need to define what I’m not, in order to explain the ways it doesn’t fit me. First, we need to define a religious pursuit as broadly as possible, or at least define the ways in which religion and my interest in living freely might *potentially* be akin.
First, religion must be blind. Faith is, by definition, incapable of being proven. There is no method for proving that religion is true, and there is no method for proving that it is wrong. In this way, it is like any pseudoscience (see e.g. Karl Popper) in that the followers can always escape argument and refutation.
Second, religion is for the greater good. Religion aims to better its followers, not hurt them. The aims of religion must be benevolent in order for it to gain followers. Even in the case of suicidal cults, the leaders of the cult were able to convince people that suicide was in their best interest. Even if men make mistakes, and the religion causes harm, there must be an explanation for why the harm is ultimately benevolent to everyone.
Third, religion must involve some form of practical advice. All religions do this in one form or another, in order to indicate to the people of the time what the “moral” or “right” way is. The Hebrews have kosher, the Muslims have halal, and the Christians have the gospels that teach them about being good people. Buddhism and Taoism have simple stories that teach good morals.
Fourth, a religion needs rituals. While a bit archaic, something about our bodies appreciates simple, repetitive actions that incur good feelings (such as the feeling of being listened to by God), so the religion needs a ritual or two.
I attest that the Free Software argument, while not yet refuted, is refutable.
Refutation, in this case, is proving that in at least one case, not using free software is preferable to using free software, disregarding all other factors. If I were ever presented with that example, I would reconsider my position and come back to the Internet with a new theory–but I am sorry to say that I have not met that example.
The reason that others have as yet failed to disprove the Free Software arguments is the lack of objective opinion surrounding this topic. People generally bring with them experiences using nonfree software, free software, and everything in between. They usually do not offer arguments to refute the Free Software arguments, but instead offer arguments of a personal nature–”I need Adobe Flash because it’s an industry standard.” Of course, in an ironic twist, these same people cannot define what makes it “standard”, and so are subscribing to a pseudoscience in the sense that they blindly believe what they just said.
However, I am afraid that the Free Software argument will never be disproven. It has stood through many years of discussion, and no arguments have hurt it so far. I still invite people to try, but it appears to me that being able to do more things will always be better than doing no things at all.
There are people who have attempted to make more company-, industry-, and client-centered arguments, but those people are equally as blind as the others. The problem is not that free software is insufficient for their uses, but instead that the industry/company/client should be making a shift in understanding in order to be more free.
Religion, I have said, must be a good force in the lives of its followers. I contend that Free Software is not always good in the end, and that nobody tries to explain away the bad things.
First, free software is often excluded from schools, companies, and other organizations for being “incompatible” with one thing or another. This can cause people to be unable to use websites, printers, or web services.
Second, no-one explains those things away as benevolent in the end–we aren’t challenged by free software, it just so happens that others in this world don’t like our ideas, and we can’t really stop that. We can explain what needs to change (that those sites need to use more standard practices and not rely on nonfree software), but we can’t explain their actions as ultimately good.
Religions often give advice not pertaining directly to their system of belief. For example, the Ten Commandments were essentially laws, but did not convey any spiritual meaning.
Free Software, however, is specifically *not* a practical argument, as told by the article The Advantages of Free Software. The FSF actually tells people that Free Software cannot be evaluated on the same level as other arguments, and needs to be treated as a higher priority. That cannot be interpreted as practicality.
The final criterion is rituals. Religions need rituals to survive, because it inserts the religion into everyday life. It gives people something to bring them back to the religion every (Sun|Satur|Wednes)day.
The Free Software movement has no such ritual. In fact, there is no church. There are practices that work best (commenting code, following X or Y code style), but there is no set ritual that gives people a warm feeling inside that they can’t understand.
So, if you’ve made it this far, hopefully I’ve convinced you that my interest in freedom is not religious in nature. I have made a rational, informed decision to follow the ideal of freedom because it is a good idea.
If you skipped ahead, I’m sorry to inform you that I don’t construct TL;DRs. My points above cannot be condensed.