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    Freedom Isn't Free culture philosophy logicmag.io
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    Even as it attacked the idea of software as property, it failed to connect its message to a wider analysis that acknowledged the role of property rights within a capitalist framework.

    Which is a shame, because the movement had the potential to be so much more.

    Well, let me quote Keith Packard:

    Unfortunately, Richard Stallman, the author of the GPL and quite an interesting individual lived at 5405 DEC square, he lived up on the sixth floor I think? Had an office up there; he did not have an apartment. And we knew him extremely well. He was a challenging individual to get along with. He would regularly come down to our offices and ask us, or kind of rail at us, for not using the GPL.

    This did not make a positive impression on me, this was my first interactions with Richard directly and I remember thinking at the time, “this guy is a little, you know, I’m not interested in talking to him because he’s so challenging to work with.”

    And so, we should have listened to him then but we did not because, we know him too well, I guess, and met him as well.

    He really was right, we need to remember that!

    A lot of writings I see like this focus on external factors on why Free Software isn’t a greater success, but I rarely see people being reflective and focus on internal factors. Richard Stallman is a highly intelligent, talented, and driven person who has said and done a lot of interesting things; but his talents and kind of intellect do not apply well to the position he was in until quite recently. There are many examples of this, the above is just a particular striking one. I think it’s very unfortunate and sad for both Stallman and Free Software in general that Stallman ended up in a position he was clearly not suitable for.

    I had hoped that Stallman’s resignation would trigger this kind of introspection, but thus far I haven’t seen it yet.

    Meanwhile, the Free Software Foundation Europe – which is independent of the FSF – is much better. This is the kind of work they’re doing. It’s from https://publiccode.eu and the brochure is aimed at lawmakers and other people in the government. Notice how it uses professional language, offers a positive “we can have a better future”-type of message, is well-designed, offers many concrete advantages instead of just vague abstracts like “Freedom”, and avoids meaningless pedantry; i.e. it calls Open Source “a marketing campaign for Free Software” (you can argue left and right up and down about whether or not this “misses the point” or whatever, but it really doesn’t matter here), and it accurately and helpfully explains that “Free Software can be complementary to proprietary software” (insisting on 100% Free Software is not a helpful path forward).

    This is how you do advocacy. This is how you actually affect change. This is how you’re taken serious. This is why various German cities are running on Free Software, and how you work towards the Netherlands committing to Free Software by default.

    Oh yeah, they also have a YouTube channel. I bet they don’t like it – for good reasons – but if you want to actually reach an audience and affect change that’s what you do. You can’t fix the world in a day.

    Unfortunately, not many people are familiar with the work of the FSFE, but I feel it should serve as a model for a new kind of FSF – possible as an entirely new foundation.

    Does the FSF even do this kind of stuff at all? Because if they do, I can’t find it. I have looked up and down on their website, and I don’t see anything even remotely come close to that. Maybe it exists, but if it does I can’t find it on that chaotic website of theirs (another problem). Much of it is preaching to the choir or just “this is the truth, accept it!”-kind of communication. It’s okay if that’s just what you want to do, but then don’t be surprised if people aren’t going to listen very carefully.

    So, to answer the “what would it take to set software free?” question in the subtitle of this article: start by setting up a non-hostile, non-pedantic, professional lobby organisation which focuses on a better future instead of what people are doing wrong, and let’s go from there. Also: maybe stop pissing in people’s face because they “recommend non-free software” and similar minor issues at every turn, and just say bloody Linux.

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      As another example of zealotism that gets in the way of convincing people: many years ago, they had a campaign to ‘DoS’ Apple Genius Bars [1]. While their criticism of Apple may be right, it is strategically totally counterproductive. People who need a Genius Bar are probably some distress and need to get their software or hardware fixed. Possibly their livelihood depends on it. And then this is made impossible by some people who fill up all slots to stick some point to Apple. People will just see them as annoying zealots rather be interested in their criticisms.

      I don’t think any of their other campaigns were that bad. But at their best they are clumsy, at their worst totally unappreciative of people’s personal situations and needs.

      [1] https://www.defectivebydesign.org/apple-challenge

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        “Let’s harass a bunch of $41k/year working class people just trying to make ends meet with complicated questions about the business practices of the company they happen to be working for that they’re in no way responsible for.”

        The total score will be out of 160 – the IQ level of Einstein, a certified genius. Rate your Genius’s iQ to the same score, and if they get over 130, they’re a genius – any lower than that, and they’re screwed. Glory and infamy awaits!

        *Groan*

        If you feel your Genius did particularly well, or particularly badly, please let us know their name, email address, and the store address – it’ll be on their business card. We’ll send prizes and information accordingly.

        Wait wait wait, what? You want to collect personal information about people who didn’t answer your questions well enough?

        Good grief, this is really bad even for the FSF. How could anyone think any of this was a good idea? I realize it’s from way back in 2008, but yikes!

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        I have always thought of RMS as a compass. It’s good to know where north is even if you wanna go south.

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          But if you’re just looking at your compass while driving you’re going to crash in to something :-)

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          So, to answer the “what would it take to set software free?” question in the subtitle of this article: start by setting up a non-hostile, non-pedantic, professional lobby organisation, and let’s go from there. Also: maybe stop pissing in people’s face because they “recommend non-free software” and similar minor issues at every turn, and just say bloody Linux.

          Free software does in fact have non-hostile non-pedantic professional lobby organizations - exactly the large corporations that fund open-source software development that this author is claiming are insufficient for securing true freedom (including freedom in a larger sense than just the ability to run software on your own computer in a way you rather than some outside organization want).

          Linux has in fact won, it’s used all over the place as a standard tool, it’s as free as it ever was - but Android smartphones that use the Linux kernel internally are not effectively free for the end user because of other elements of the software/hardware stack. The large corporation Google that runs YouTube uses Linux as one of many pieces of a software stack to do so, but that doesn’t prevent YouTube from being a de-facto monopoly such that Google’s moderation decisions on it are a matter of national and international political interest. These aren’t problems that a “more professional” institution than the FSF can solve, although I agree that the FSF has been unsuccessful in challenging this class of threats to the freedom of people to use software as they see fit.

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            It’s a long game of patiently chipping at it. I think getting governments to use Free Software is a smart move not just because of all the reasons listed on the publiccode.eu page, but also because it familiarizes lawmakers with the concept of it, which will be valuable when those same lawmakers get to decide on other matters surrounding software freedom.

            Not that I think that all software necessarily needs to be Free Software by the way, or even that the Freedom angle is a good one. I’m much more in favour of a “Right to Repair” angle, Linux and Android may be Free Software, but I still can’t install a custom ROM on it or uninstall that damn Facebook app without hacking my way through all sorts of stupid games. In other words, I can’t repair it.

            I agree that for YouTube specifically, the most pressing problems are with its business practices and sort-of monopoly position, rather than software freedom. I’m not entirely sure what can be meaningfully done about that in the current political climate, other than perhaps developing a competing platform with better UX than YouTube (and no, clones like PeerTube or dtube are not it). This is a lot easier said than done, but on the other hand TikTok came out of nowhere 2 years ago. Something like this could have been Free Software if the community would spend time and money trying to innovate rather than waste time fighting meaningless battles with each other.

            This is another thing where I feel the priorities are all wrong, the FSF does spend some money on software ($250k on GNU, only one I could find in their financial statements), but it spends $340k on their license education programme and $600k on their “education and outreach” programme. There are other organisations sponsoring the development of Free Software alternatives (hell, I’m receiving a grant from NLnet right now), but I think this should be done far more. Wikipedia is a great example of what can be accomplished here.

            Let’s focus on our own stories instead of getting distracted by what others are doing. Let YouTube be YouTube, whatever. Would you use a product where everyone would rant and rave about how much worse the competition is? “At least I’m not Trump” didn’t work out well for Clinton in 2016, and it’s not going to work for Free Software.

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              TikTok came out of nowhere

              Not quite. TikTok sure looks like state-sponsored spyware, with a lot of marketing muscle and geopolitical power jockeying behind it. There’s zero probability that any hobbyist-grade social gimmick would spread organically at that rate. Think of how much all the back-end infrastructure costs, just to start with!

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                Well, or instagram, or Slack, or a long list of other things. While all the Free Software people were saying “IRC is good enough!” Slack came along and took the world by storm and now we’re all playing catch-up games (with some very limited success, because catch-up games will always put you at a disadvantage). And who is catching up with Slack now? Discord, a Free Sof… oh no, wait.

                CouchSurfing was around for years before AirBnB was a thing, which took the concepts CouchSurfing pioneered, and added $$ to the equation. What if the Free Software community had helped them out in 2011 so they wouldn’t have to turn in to a for-profit? It could have been a great Free Software community platform instead of the flaming dumpster truck fire it is today. I guess this is easy to say with the benefit of hindsight 9 years later, but these kind of strategic things rarely get done. For the most part the best we can hope for is that some hobby project gets enough traction to form a community and get donations and/or generates revenue on their own power in some other way.

                And it doesn’t need to be a “hobbyist-grade social gimmick”; that was kind of my point: why aren’t we spending money on making professional products aimed at “the masses” and marketing them? What if we diverted those $600k to a strategically chosen innovative project that will make a difference? Hire some devs and maybe do some marketing and see where that ends up. It’s a risk that it’ll fall flat on its face, but we’ll never get anywhere if we’re not prepared to take any risks.

                $600k is a small start (and I’m sure there’s plenty more money if we want, and like I mentioned there are already some grants like this), so yeah, we need to think about funding this kind of stuff. Maybe even just serve ads. There are ways to do that which really aren’t so bad (or certainly a lot less bad) and if it helps create viable alternatives to the Tech Giants then that seems like a great trade-off. If you take a hard-line principled stand on absolutely everything you’re never going to get anywhere with anything either. Hell, I’ve gotten plenty of shit (even downright abuse) over my analytics project. If you think telling people to “never use analytics” is helpful in any shape or form then you’re just being in denial about how the world works. As it stands, all it’s achieved is leaving me with feelings of disillusion, disappointment, and cynicism about the entire Free Software community.

                If you want Free Software to exist beyond backend stuff like kernels, libraries, and server software being taken by Big Tech earning billions from it, we need to think long and hard about this kind of stuff. I don’t have all the answers either, all I know is that that keep doing what we’ve been doing for the last 40 years is probably not a good idea. There are various people/organisations that have gotten great success with end-user Free Software (Wikipedia, Wordpress, Firefox, and probably some more) but I’m not seeing a whole lot of it and it’s certainly not getting sponsored by the FSF – the most prominent advocacy group for Free Software. For the most part, it’s all sponsored on their own power. Wordpress became popular because it took the initiative and innovated, not because it made a (often inferior) copy of some crappy piece of proprietary software. There’s no reason this can’t happen again, but it’ll be a lot more likely to happen if we actively work towards it, instead of passively waiting until someone in an attic has enough spare time to make it.

                This isn’t my weblog and I’m sorry for taking up all the space here with my posts 😬 But what I’m trying to say is that I see no reason we can’t build viable profitable end-user Free Software. We just need a shift in attitude and start thinking about how we can make a change in real practical terms, whether that’s effective advocacy and lobbying like the FSFE, or spending time, effort, and money in building appealing innovative end-user software.

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                  Your posts here are valuable, don’t apologize for them. Some of this might make a good blog post, though, if you’re into that. I feel like the internet at large could benefit from more of your perspective, which is much closer to what I would call “common sense” than most positions I see taken in the internal politics of tech.

                  FWIW I think I basically agree with you, in that

                  • I find FSF-style zealotry highly counterproductive
                  • I believe in open source as a social good
                  • I’d like to see “right to repair” laws on the books
                  • I’m not anti-business per se, but I am concerned about monopoly power
                  • I’m neither cynical nor hard-line about these issues, but I think there’s a lot of context that must be taken into account

                  Part of the bigger problem, in my opinion, is the tendency of computer people to inflate their own expertise about the basic issues. Just being good at programming or operating exceedingly complex software doesn’t make anybody even competent at economics, law, or politics. As a community, we tend to self-select for chutzpah and oversimplification; Stallman’s just an especially egregious example.

                  But there’s another problem, and I’m not sure how to give it a polite name. Look at Mozilla or Ubuntu, and where their money actually comes from. If that is “success”, I don’t think I want any.

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                    this might make a good blog post, though, if you’re into that

                    Yeah, I’ve been writing one for over a year 🙃 I rarely seem to properly finish them though, not in the least because I haven’t quite figured out a lot of details yet. Posting here is a lower barrier 😅

                    As a community, we tend to self-select for chutzpah and oversimplification; Stallman’s just an especially egregious example.

                    Isn’t that the case everywhere? I’ve certainly stopped participating in the “vegan community” because of more or less the same reasons, and I find myself disagreeing with oversimplified left-wing takes quite frequently in spite of having strong left-wing leanings. Generally speaking, there seem to be 2 types of people: loud and simple, or quiet full of doubt. I think Bertrand Russel had a nice quote about this :-)

                    Interestingly, I was reading Stallman’s biography today (gotta do something when you don’t have internet), and this part stood out to me:

                    “I didn’t like the counter culture much,” Stallman recalls. “I didn’t like the music. I didn’t like the drugs. I was scared of the drugs. I especially didn’t like the anti-intellectualism, and I didn’t like the prejudice against technology. After all, I loved a computer. And I didn’t like the mindless anti-Americanism that I often encountered. There were people whose thinking was so simplistic that if they disapproved of the conduct of the U.S. in the Vietnam War, they had to support the North Vietnamese. They couldn’t imagine a more complicated position, I guess.”

                    I thought it was interesting as “they couldn’t imagine a more complicated position, I guess” would be almost how I would describe Stallman’s position on quite a lot of issues. Not entirely sure what to make of that 🤔

                    But there’s another problem, and I’m not sure how to give it a polite name. Look at Mozilla or Ubuntu, and where their money actually comes from. If that is “success”, I don’t think I want any.

                    I would define “success” as “a significant improvement over the status quo”, and it seems to me that both Ubuntu and Mozilla are that, in spite of their imperfections. That doesn’t mean nothing more can be done, just that you don’t win a war in a day, but battle-by-battle.

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                      Generally speaking, there seem to be 2 types of people: loud and simple, or quiet full of doubt. I think Bertrand Russel had a nice quote about this :-)

                      W.B. Yeats said it best:

                      The best lack all conviction, while the worst
                      Are full of passionate intensity.

                      Joni Mitchell’s version is great too, even if it’s not word-for-word.

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                  Here’s an interesting view of TikTok’s history and a stab at explaining why it’s so popular:

                  https://www.eugenewei.com/blog/2020/8/3/tiktok-and-the-sorting-hat

                  It’s the algorithm (and oodles of VC, of course)

                  I have no doubt Chinese state security can access user data from TikTok, but that’s a thing US state security can do with US-based apps. In other words they go where the data is, they don’t have to design the capture net.

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                    I think you’re missing some of the picture. From the state perspective, wouldn’t it be really handy to have a capture net in a target country? How much penetration “adoption” does Facebook have in China?

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                      My point is that security services will opportunistically access data from the app or service that’s the most popular in an adversary country at the moment, not that they will literally design a service that has as great reach there as possible.

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                        Why be merely opportunistic when you can also be proactive? Or are you suggesting that Chinese security services have the same level of access to popular US apps as US security services do? Because that seems far-fetched. In China, what you call “VC” (or, really, capital in general) doesn’t have quite the same relationship with the government as, say, Sand Hill has with Arlington or Fort Meade.

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                          I think we broadly agree. This will be my last comment in this thread. Thanks for the conversation!

                          In summary: I’m stating it’s possible that the CCP directed capital towards “strategic” investments - social media in general in this case, thus helping TikTok’s rise; not that agents of state security were intimately involved in creating Musical.ly/TikTok to specifically target an audience.

                          In other words, TikTok’s success was because its owners, investors and creators are driven by the profit motive of getting ad revenue. The market sorted out what services succeeded, and data could then be accessed by state security and law enforcement.

                          Note that I’m not really applying a value judgement here. 99% of LE access to data is entirely legitimate - investigating crimes, fraud, stalking etc. From an internal Chinese perspective, opposition to the CCP can be seen as a crime and LE has a formal right to the data to investigate it. Foreign citizens have no such “rights” though, either in the US or China.

                          As noted in this Techdirt article, opposition to TikTok specifically seems more to be driven by political expedience and xenophobia rather than a rational desire to protect American citizens from surviellance.

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            finally someone is saying this. now the hard work of figuring out what actions make sense to move things in the right direction.

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              Interesting article, but saying we can’t truly fix free software until we destroy capitalism feels at once both a bit extreme and unhelpful.

              It’s a nice idea (Who doesn’t want to live in a world where everything is free? Oh wait. A lot of people :) but I’d rather focus on ideas that help us iteratively improve the current situation.

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                I think the author’s point is that the free software movement is already a radical philosophy, but one which is doomed to failure by its individualist focus. As a movement, it doesn’t offer a solution for how to make free software the natural choice (where the structure of our systems inherently directs people to select it as the best option), preferring instead to focus on convincing individuals that it is the right choice (which may be true, but doesn’t scale, and will constantly fight against whatever the natural choice is, which is why open source has eaten free software’s lunch).

                So the choice is between an ineffective radical philosophy and a potentially effective one.

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                  how to make free software the natural choice…the best option

                  There are many things that changed since the late 1990s when free software was the dominant ideology. One is that Google, and ultimately all of big tech, co-opted open source to mean “you are free to have all of the source code to the client that talks to our centralized proprietary service.” Having done so, free software isn’t the natural choice, because the benefits of freedom in being able to change the system to do what you want is not present. Its capabilities are limited to what the proprietary service provides, and it only works if the client implements what the proprietary service requires.

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                    I’m not sure in what sense it’s the case that “open source has eaten free software’s lunch”. At the moment, free software and open-source software are basically synonymous. An open-source library developed by paid programmers working for some Microsoft- or Facebook-sized corporation is free in exactly the same way that GNU Emacs or Firefox is.

                    There are people who would like to change this situation - create and popularize software licenses that are “open-source” in the sense of having the source code be publicly available, but non-free in the sense of imposing four-freedoms-violating conditions on the use of that software. But the two main motivations for doing this are to prevent large cloud providers (such as Amazon specifically) from releasing products based on open-source software that might compete with smaller companies that develop such software, and to prevent organizations and people with political views specific activist programmers find distasteful from being able to freely use useful software. The former consideration is an attempt to limit the power of well-capitalized corporate institutions, and the latter is associated with “culturally leftist” politics but doesn’t directly help or hinder such institutions.

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                      At the moment, free software and open-source software are basically synonymous.

                      I disagree, because “free software” is actually less free (as in freedom) than open source.

                      For example, let’s say that “Bob” wants to release a videogame toolkit. He starts with the Quake III Arena source code (released under the GPL). He spends months building a complete game creation toolkit around it the likes of which could be compared to any modern AAA game engine.

                      But, there are still sections of code that are recognizably Quake. If he tries to sell this thing that he spend so long on, he could get a cease-and-desist (and likely will).

                      Imagine a similar situation where “Alice” does the same thing with the Sauerbraten engine (zlib license). She gets to sell her work (and it is hers if she’s spent months working on it). She can then decide later that she would like to release the source on her own time.

                      Who had more freedom?

                      This is a contrived example, because no reasonable person would start with GPL software who wants to sell something. The point is that “Bob” can’t use the Quake source for his own gains even though ID has decided that they are done using it.

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                        I don’t know how long you’ve been in the open source/free software realm, but these arguments were done to death 20 years ago.

                        The difference is perspective: freedom for the developer vs. freedom for the user. When GNU started, AT&T was exercising its “freedom” to maintain exclusive control of UNIX, and RMS wanted the “freedom” to control what happened on his computer.

                        From time to time this is intentionally confused by people with an agenda, as in “free software isn’t free because it doesn’t let us freely screw users.”

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                          I don’t know how long you’ve been in the open source/free software realm, but these arguments were done to death 20 years ago.

                          Well, I’m only 20.

                          The difference is perspective: freedom for the developer vs. freedom for the user.

                          As the developer you always have the freedom to not release the source. As the user, you can choose to ignore the license (at your peril). Your freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins. It’s selfish and arrogant to think that you “deserve” to control other peoples use of your product.

                          I like to draw a parallel with firearms. You have a right to not own one, but you cannot prevent me from owning one. Substitute any politically correct item for firearm if you wish.

                          From time to time this is intentionally confused by people with an agenda, as in “free software isn’t free because it doesn’t let us freely screw users.”

                          This is attributing the (perceived) malice of large corrupt corporations to people like me who prefer to keep personal liberties intact. It’s shameful.

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                            This is attributing the (perceived) malice of large corrupt corporations to people like me who prefer to keep personal liberties intact. It’s shameful.

                            I didn’t mean to attribute it to you. As I said at the beginning of the post, I’m not sure about your background (thanks for clarifying it.) I do mean to say that the argument you provided is also provided by people with an agenda, and I’d encourage you to think critically about it.

                            Your freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins. It’s selfish and arrogant to think that you “deserve” to control other peoples use of your product.

                            Very true, but consider what that means in the context of software. Software released without source is trying to exercise control over the use of the product by preventing the user from altering it or improving it. These days it often goes further with code signing, DRM, online activation, etc, which is increasing the degree of control.

                            The point of copyleft is that if we accept as a society that authors control the use of their product, then authors are free to prevent what they would see as misuse of that product, including distributing it without source code. There is an alternate universe where authors have much less control in general, but we happen to live in this one.

                            The genius of RMS, IMHO, was more about economics than software. He observed that in a market where fixed costs are high and marginal costs are low, which software takes to the extreme, the result will be a small number of vendors and a large number of users. In that context, users do not have a remedy through competition: they cannot choose a vendor that gives them the level of freedom they want. Market forces would push any user-respecting vendor out of existence. Taking your example, find a games publisher that releases source code [edit: to their new release game]. In the ultimate, he observed that the degree of vendor control would only increase over time, without limit, which has since proven to be true. In the last 15 years we’ve moved from a world where anyone can write a device driver or application to a world where these need to be approved by platform vendors, for example, and entire classes of software are unavailable to users as a result.

                            If competition among vendors can’t deliver the products users want, then the issue needs to be around restricting what vendors can do to ensure users can do what they want. As you put it, one person’s freedom ends where another person’s begins - but if we accept that anything which restricts the freedom of vendors is bad, then we accept that users should have no freedom whatsoever.

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                              Prologue: This thread has ended up way longer than I thought. Thank you for your time.

                              I think we agree on a lot of principles, we just disagree on where the line between author and user freedom is.

                              Fair warning, my firearm analogies got a little out of hand. If you are unfamiliar, feel free to ask for clarification.


                              I didn’t mean to attribute it to you.

                              Yes, I re-read the comment and I think I was being a little paranoid :)

                              Software released without source is trying to exercise control over the use of the product by preventing the user from altering it or improving it.

                              The same thing happens when somebody releases a product without specifying exactly how it was put together. For example: there are a fair amount of proprietary firearm designs, but the most popular rifle (AFAIK) is the AR-15. A modular design that pretty much anybody is allowed to manufacture and sell (well, if the government lets them).

                              These days it often goes further with code signing, DRM, online activation, etc, which is increasing the degree of control.

                              I see code signing as a net good. I appreciate the assurance that when something runs with administrative privileges that the program is (sort of) verified. DRM can be done well, but most companies do it wrong. Steam is pretty good, but if they were a smaller company I wouldn’t trust them as much (mostly because I would have no guarantee that they would stick around).

                              The point of copyleft is that if we accept as a society that authors control the use of their product, then authors are free to prevent what they would see as misuse of that product, including distributing it without source code. There is an alternate universe where authors have much less control in general, but we happen to live in this one.

                              Code authors cannot control the use of their product, in the same way that a firearms manufacturer cannot prevent people from murdering people. All you can say is “we do not warranty this software if it is used for anything other than…”.

                              The genius of RMS, IMHO, was more about economics than software. He observed that in a market where fixed costs are high and marginal costs are low, which software takes to the extreme, the result will be a small number of vendors and a large number of users. In that context, users do not have a remedy through competition: they cannot choose a vendor that gives them the level of freedom they want. Market forces would push any user-respecting vendor out of existence.

                              I agree with this statement, but I believe the solution is more information. If more people knew how corrupt big tech was then they would use them less.

                              Taking your example, find a games publisher that releases source code.

                              I think the new Unreal Tournament is “public” source. UE4 and Crytek are also “public” source (with EULAs and royalties of course).

                              In the ultimate, he observed that the degree of vendor control would only increase over time, without limit, which has since proven to be true.

                              I assume by he you mean Richard Stallman.

                              In the last 15 years we’ve moved from a world where anyone can write a device driver or application to a world where these need to be approved by platform vendors, for example, and entire classes of software are unavailable to users as a result.

                              Sure anybody can write a device driver. The approval process is IMHO necessary because otherwise somebody could socially engineer people into installing a malicious driver or application (technically still possible, but more difficult). It’s like a carry permit. It (ostensibly) proves that you are competent and stable, and that you won’t use your thing (firearm, device driver) to intentionally harm an innocent person.

                              If competition among vendors can’t deliver the products users want, then the issue needs to be around restricting what vendors can do to ensure users can do what they want. As you put it, one person’s freedom ends where another person’s begins - but if we accept that anything which restricts the freedom of vendors is bad, then we accept that users should have no freedom whatsoever.

                              How does not restricting vendors lead to users having no freedom? I don’t mean to be snarky, I just don’t understand.

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                                I think the high level observation I’d make is that each of us exist in a society that establishes certain “normal” practices. Those practices change over time. When RMS was starting in software, “normal” meant that commercial vendors provide sources, and moving away from that was a redline for him. When I was starting in software, “normal” meant closed source but no signing/activation/forced updates, and moving away from that was a redline for me. Over the next couple decades, “normal” will continue to change and the things which seem normal for you now will become more restrictive due to competitive forces. When you see it happen, RMS stops looking crazy.

                                I see code signing as a net good. I appreciate the assurance that when something runs with administrative privileges that the program is (sort of) verified.

                                “Verified” in this context means it does what the vendor intended, not that it does what you want. If it was done to verify that it does what you want, then you’d be in control of the certificates that you’re willing to trust, and would be able to use software that is trusted by anyone you trust. As it stands, you’re not allowed to run code that you wrote yourself, because the vendor doesn’t trust you.

                                Code authors cannot control the use of their product…

                                (I’m avoiding firearms comparisons since it’s a business I don’t know anything about.) Code authors have an unusually high amount of control due to things like the DMCA which give legal protection to any measure they can create. Control is just an arms race - if it can be enforced somehow, it’s legal and legitimate. The makers of devices have a lot of resources to ensure they retain control of things like the applications that run, and they are highly motivated to exercise that control since they get a 30% cut. The maker of a hammer cannot control how it is used, but the maker of a technical device can and does control the software that runs on it (although you are free to use it to drive nails into a wall, which is often its most valuable use.)

                                I believe the solution is more information. If more people knew how corrupt big tech was then they would use them less.

                                Users are given the choice to use tech or not use tech. They do not have a competitive remedy. Your cell phone company knows where you are at all times and sells that information to marketers. Your remedy is to not carry a cell phone. It is true that if everyone rejects the entire category of tech then the problem goes away, but that seems like a big societal failure that gives us a choice between dystopia or dark ages.

                                I think the new Unreal Tournament is “public” source.

                                It’s an interesting model to be sure, but note that UT4 is cancelled. You’re free to get the source code so long as anything you do with it has copyright assigned such that your contributions can be released as part of UT4. This is a volunteers-develop-a-commercial-product model. I think the reason this thread started - taking issue with the idea that “free software” is more free than “open source” - is because “open source” is often a volunteers-develop-a-commercial-product model. This one happens to be far more explicit than most.

                                Sure anybody can write a device driver. The approval process is IMHO necessary because otherwise somebody could socially engineer people into installing a malicious driver

                                To be clear, you can write a device driver, but you cannot run the thing you just wrote.

                                The argument about needing approval amounts to an argument that users cannot be trusted to make their own decisions. Logically, it applies to anything. Can you socially engineer people into installing a malicious usermode program? Can you socially engineer people to visit a website with a bitcoin miner? Can you socially engineer people to visit a phishing website? If the solution is an explicit approval step, then we’d live in a very different world - perhaps our conversation might need explicit approval, because we might be engaging in social engineering right now.

                                How does not restricting vendors lead to users having no freedom? I don’t mean to be snarky, I just don’t understand.

                                This is exactly the argument you made about one person’s freedom ending where another’s begins. It’s easy enough to illustrate by example, but that relies on examining the examples with an open mind, and remembering that in the not-that-distant past things which appear as normal today were not remotely normal.

                                Personally I’m in the strange position of developing device drivers professionally. There’s a lot of value in them - I’m paid pretty well really - but I haven’t written any open source drivers. Why not? Because nobody could run them. I have written open source applications, because people can run those. But when you’re on both sides of the same fence and realize that you have a skill which is valuable but can’t contribute it to the community, the lack of user freedom becomes very visible.

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                                  To be clear, you can write a device driver, but you cannot run the thing you just wrote.

                                  I thought that (on windows at least) you could develop the driver and run in unsigned on your own machine? I’ll take your word for it if I’m wrong because I looked at your blog and it looks like you’re a lot more knowledgeable on the subject than I am.

                                  This is exactly the argument you made about one person’s freedom ending where another’s begins. It’s easy enough to illustrate by example, but that relies on examining the examples with an open mind, and remembering that in the not-that-distant past things which appear as normal today were not remotely normal.

                                  I would appreciate an example. My point is that practically speaking a vendor cannot limit the freedoms of a user. They can get the user to agree not to do something, but what cost would be incurred in trying to enforce that agreement?

                                  Personally I’m in the strange position of developing device drivers professionally. There’s a lot of value in them - I’m paid pretty well really - but I haven’t written any open source drivers. Why not? Because nobody could run them. I have written open source applications, because people can run those. But when you’re on both sides of the same fence and realize that you have a skill which is valuable but can’t contribute it to the community, the lack of user freedom becomes very visible.

                                  You have a very interesting vantage point, thank you for your contribution to the conversation.

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                                    I thought that (on windows at least) you could develop the driver and run in unsigned on your own machine?

                                    The bootloader has no way to know whether the unsigned code it’s loading came from your compiler or came from a malicious source on the Internet. The “obvious” way to fix this is to allow for self signed code and allow the user to manage which certificates they trust, but attestation signing is doing the exact opposite of that.

                                    The way I develop drivers is by running systems under a kernel debugger, which disables driver signing requirements. A kernel debugger runs on a second machine. So you could run arbitrary drivers if you configure a machine to run multiple VMs so one can act as a debugger for the other, but realistically there’s no point writing drivers for that set of users, and nobody is going to run in that configuration to run code that’s not written.

                                    It’s hard to describe the things that don’t exist as a result of restrictions. I can’t point you to a giant repo of things you can’t run; nobody bothered to create the repo because nobody can use what’s in it. But note that every app store restriction exists to prevent some developer from doing something that users want. (If developers didn’t want to build it or users didn’t want to run it, there’d be no point preventing it, because it wouldn’t have a market.) I don’t know how you feel about this, but I don’t think my cell phone has more amazing software now than it did six years ago. Either human creativity just ended, or something is preventing that creativity from getting to our phones - and it’s not hard to find what’s between the developers and the users.

                                    Edit: To be a bit more concrete, note that most commercial phones have locked bootloaders, and most PCs are capable of booting arbitrary operating systems. As a result, there’s a large PC Linux community, but a very small Android developer community. Since the community is smaller, there’s not as much benefit to a user using a community Android distribution. I don’t know exactly what we’re missing out on, but the PC Linux community has contributed a ton of value, and there’s no equivalent on the phone, because our phones have locked bootloaders.

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                                      So you could run arbitrary drivers if you configure a machine to run multiple VMs so one can act as a debugger for the other

                                      But note that every app store restriction exists to prevent some developer from doing something that users want.

                                      Ok, I was sorely mistaken on the kernel driver point. You’re also correct that most app store restrictions are BS. Code signing would also be a lot better if you could permanently “trust” an application like on macOS (or a driver).

                                      I don’t know how you feel about this, but I don’t think my cell phone has more amazing software now than it did six years ago.

                                      The crazy thing is that I feel like we go backwards in a lot of ways. I’m with you on this one.

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                                        If developers didn’t want to build it or users didn’t want to run it

                                        One of the common complaints in the Windows world is bundled browser toolbars. While there are people who actually like the Ask Toolbar and Yahoo Search, does anybody want it bundled with the JRE?

                                        In a strict neoliberal sense, I suppose that users do willingly run the Java installer and consent to everything it installs, but describing it as something that the end users “wants to run” doesn’t ring true. The JRE itself is usually just a means to run some other app, and the bundled toolbars are probably not part of the end-user goal.

                                        After all, free software distributions like Debian and Fedora have rules about what they allow in their repositories. And plenty of people complain about those rules. But do you actually think they’re trying to be user-hostile?

                                        I don’t know how you feel about this, but I don’t think my cell phone has more amazing software now than it did six years ago. Either human creativity just ended, or something is preventing that creativity from getting to our phones - and it’s not hard to find what’s between the developers and the users.

                                        Or, as an alternative explanation, the easy and low-hanging fruit has already been exhausted. Web apps haven’t really gotten better now as quickly as they were improving ten years ago, yet it isn’t any more proprietary now than it was in the past (If you say “Google’s fault”, I’ll reply by reminding you of IE6).

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                                          While there are people who actually like the Ask Toolbar and Yahoo Search, does anybody want it bundled with the JRE?

                                          No, clearly not. But as you say, there are people who want them, outside of the JRE. Platforms which restrict classes of software will invariably exclude software that some people do want. At least personally, I did use the Google toolbar back when it added value to me by displaying Pagerank. Somewhat cynically, I can’t help but notice these things are designed to redirect traffic to obtain revenue, and platform owners would like to keep that revenue for themselves, so they have an interest in preventing things unrelated to user benefit.

                                          software distributions like Debian and Fedora have rules about what they allow in their repositories…do you actually think they’re trying to be user-hostile?

                                          No, I don’t. But as distributions, they don’t have a monopoly on software, and a feedback loop exists. If some piece of software is released that breaches a repository rule but a lot of people end up going around the repository to install it, it will spark a conversation about whether the repository’s policies are correct. That’s why people are able to complain about rules. In more closed ecosystems, that new piece of software just can’t exist, so users are excluded from the feedback loop.

                                          If you say “Google’s fault”

                                          I think the comments and criticisms I’m making here apply to pretty much all of the tech majors and are comments on restrictions that exist now among multiple vendors which did not exist 15 years ago. I don’t mean to single any one of them out.

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                            Both engines are Free Software. Both engines are Open Source. The FSF and the OSI both define their licensing criteria, and the GPL and ZLIB licenses both comply with the Four Freedoms and with the Open Source Definition.

                            You’re contrasting copyleft with permissive licensing, which is a totally different distinction.

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                              Thank you for pointing this out. I thought Stallman’s definition of free software required copyleft.

                              I stand behind my arguments for permissive licensing though.

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                                  Thank you for linking it. I’ve just read it. I still disagree with a lot of Stallman’s assertions.

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                                    I’m not asking that you agree with him. I certainly don’t.

                                    I just don’t want you to misrepresent him, or anyone else.

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                                      Understandable. We could do with less misrepresentation these days.

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                              I don’t quite follow the argument you’re making, nor what distinction you’re drawing between “free software” and “open source”. It sounds like you’re saying that even though a piece of software like Quake III Arena is “free software” (that is, released under the GPL free software license), someone forking that software, writing a derivative work, and trying to sell it would be subject to legal action from Id Software for violating their Quake-related intellectual property rights - whereas some other piece of software Sauerbraten (which I’m not familiar with), released under a different-but-still-FSF-approved license, wouldn’t have this problem?

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                                @notriddle hit the nail on the head. I am talking about copyleft vs permissive licensing, the zlib license doesn’t preclude inclusion in proprietary software. The GPL does.

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                                  I am talking about copyleft vs permissive licensing, the zlib license doesn’t preclude inclusion in proprietary software. The GPL does.

                                  Interestingly, that makes GPL software less free in its own right, copyleft people seem to disagree that this matters but its the root of why some of us dislike it. Sometimes I just want to get my job done and don’t want to involve the legal team. Its also why I don’t put anything I do up as GPL unless I have to. I want others to do the same.

                                  GPL’s virality is both a pro and a con. I lean to it being more of a con in that it imposes a philosophy of world upon source code that I find too extreme. We can differ on this but axiomatically they are approaching free from different starting points.

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                                remember that free software has no restrictions on commercial use. so when you say “if he tries to sell this thing that he spend so long on, he could get a cease-and-desist,” you are either mistaken, or employing a rhetorical trick.

                                it would be more honest to say that bob can’t prevent people from reading and modifying the source code of his game. this may or may not make it more difficult to make money on, depending on the circumstances.

                                with a clear view of the situation, people can decide for themselves whether the freedom to violate other peoples’ freedom is a worthy criteria for what makes a license “free.”

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                                  it would be more honest to say that bob can’t prevent people from reading and modifying the source code of his game. this may or may not make it more difficult to make money on, depending on the circumstances.

                                  The reason I chose a game engine rather than a game, is because the product is the source code. Sure, there are a handful of image assets for the GUI but those can easily be replicated. Am I wrong in my understanding that you cannot sell a GPL program without providing the source for free? (or at least allowing the purchasers to distribute it for free?)

                                  with a clear view of the situation, people can decide for themselves whether the freedom to violate other peoples’ freedom is a worthy criteria for what makes a license “free.”

                                  My point is that GPL violates more freedoms than permissive licenses.

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                                    Am I wrong in my understanding that you cannot sell a GPL program without providing the source for free? (or at least allowing the purchasers to distribute it for free?)

                                    yes, the latter is correct.

                                    My point is that GPL violates more freedoms than permissive licenses.

                                    yes, it violates the freedom to violate other people’s freedoms.

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                                      yes, it violates the freedom to violate other people’s freedoms.

                                      What “other people’s freedoms” does a permissive license allow people to violate?

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                                        the freedom to read/modify/share the code.

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                                          Using a closed-source program that is based on open-source software is a choice. Don’t make it if you don’t want to. Vote with your money.

                                          Here’s something I think we can all agree on: selling a program based on open-source software without putting any significant work in is immoral.

                                          My additional point, is that one can put enough effort into something that they earn the right to keep the source to themself.

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                                            Using a closed-source program that is based on open-source software is a choice. Don’t make it if you don’t want to. Vote with your money.

                                            i don’t see your point. same goes for software that was proprietary to begin with. in each case the software violates freedoms. or does it not?

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                                              Yeah, looking back I wasn’t really saying anything there.

                                              What I should’ve said is: I don’t believe that seeing how everything works and being able to pick it apart/audit it is an inalienable right. (This may have something to do with the fact that I’m a Catholic and I believe things that have no scientific explanation, and to criticize them would be heresy.)

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                                                nor is it an inalienable right to keep proprietary control over one’s modifications to a code base.

                                                that’s why complaints that the GPL is “less free” come off as concern trolling. if you care about software freedom, you would at least acknowledge that the only freedom the GPL takes away is the freedom to take away other people’s freedom. preferring a license that allows modifications to be proprietary would suggest that you don’t actually care about software freedom, so complaining about the GPL being less free seems hollow.

                                                if you simply disagree with free software and would prefer to be able to keep control over a digital artifact with no reproduction cost, fine, but you aren’t arguing for freedom at that point.

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                                                  if you simply disagree with free software and would prefer to be able to keep control over a digital artifact with no reproduction cost, fine, but you aren’t arguing for freedom at that point.

                                                  I think it depends on your definition of freedom. In a communist sense, the GPL is more free. If property rights factor in at all, then permissive licenses are still superior (even if you don’t think it’s more free).

                                                  The only issue I have with the GPL is that people who legally obtain your source code can distribute it for free, which would destroy any business that I built off of it. As an anti-communist, I won’t participate in the spread of the GPL virus.

                                                  I wish more licenses required that modified source be distributed, but only if they don’t allow users to distribute it further.

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                                                    Whether property rights should apply to intangibles like software is an open question.

                                                    “Intellectual property” is actually an artificial monopoly enforced by the state.

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                                                      The only issue I have with the GPL is that people who legally obtain your source code can distribute it for free, which would destroy any business that I built off of it.

                                                      So what’s your take on Redhat? Their product is GPL’ed, and you can even argue that it benefits them, because anyone who chooses to also use and improve their software, necessarily has to give back their contribution, so that Redhat benefits from it again.

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                                                        I wish more licenses required that modified source be distributed, but only if they don’t allow users to distribute it further.

                                                        what do you mean

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                                                          The GPL requires that modified source be available to users. That’s something that I wish caught on more. I just don’t like the part where the users can distribute the source themselves.

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                                                            so who can modify the source? only someone with a specific license agreement with the company/person that wrote the code?

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                                                              The idea would be that anybody who obtains/buys the software can modify it, but they would need a specific license agreement to distribute/sell it.

                                                              The point would be to put such a clause on an open-source project so that if somebody uses it in a proprietary application, the users can at least modify that portion of the software.

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                                                                so your idea would be like the GPL, but instead of saying “any changes you distribute must be under this license,” it would say “any changes you distribute must include source code and must allow modification of the source code by the end-user.”

                                                                this might be possible under copyright law but i’m not sure.

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                                      This point has been made may times, and it boils down to “localized” or “downstream” freedom. Do you give Alice the power to restrict/control their users? Alice could have extended the engine with a mechanism that requires her to be paid every month, or that (for whatever reason) only works on Intel CPUs. By not releasing the source, and allowing the software to be modified+shared, “Carol” is dependent on Alice, or is not allowed to port the engine to her Raspberry Pi. That’s certainly less freedom for her (setting aside that this is “just” a game engine we are discussing). And there are a lot more “Carol”s than there are “Alice”es.

                                      I’m quite pro-copyleft, and I see it in the same terms (albeit less extreme) as we would dismiss anyone who claims that the fact he can’t own a slave limits his freedom. It’s the freedom to restrict others (“permissive”) vs the freedom from foreign control.

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                                        You can also draw an analogy (I think direct but perhaps not quite) to negative vs positive rights. Permissive licenses grant negative rights to do whatever you want with the software, while copyleft grants positive rights to have access to free software.

                                        I’m rather sad that all rhetoric about rights tends toward negative rights, even though that’s not what most people care about once a baseline of negative rights is established.

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                                      and to prevent organizations and people with political views specific activist programmers find distasteful from being able to freely use useful software

                                      what do you mean by this exactly?

                                      is there any reason releasing code under the GPL would not satisfy the wants of these smaller companies?

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                                        what do you mean by this exactly?

                                        The people who promote licenses like this want to be able to write software under a license that is widely-accepted as open-source but that also bans their political enemies from using the software.

                                        is there any reason releasing code under the GPL would not satisfy the wants of these smaller companies?

                                        The GPL allows software licensed under it to be used for any purpose, and creating a SaaS product that competes with the SaaS product the core developers of the software use to fund themselves is “any purpose”.

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                                    challenging capitalism is perfectly compatible with iterative improvements. you can make iterative steps to put more resources and power in the hands of working people, and less in the hands of corporations. the importance of free software comes when you see that proprietary software is one lever of power that corporations can use against working people.

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                                      It’s a nice idea (Who doesn’t want to live in a world where everything is free? Oh wait. A lot of people :) but I’d rather focus on ideas that help us iteratively improve the current situation.

                                      Capitalism != markets. If you’d like I’d be happy to answer questions, but this is my usual recommendation for friends who have been taught that all market systems are “capitalism”. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ysZC0JOYYWw