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Re: python.el changes in emacs-24

From: Stephen J. Turnbull
Subject: Re: python.el changes in emacs-24
Date: Thu, 24 Jul 2014 16:18:09 +0900

David Kastrup writes:

 > > On the contrary, Tim's argument, while expressed in buzzword-like
 > > terms, is well-founded in human psychology and the expertise of
 > > marketing (without relying on the distasteful aspects of marketing).
 > I quote:
 >     So isn't the best way to get people to experience the freedom they
 >     could if they used Emacs is by convincing them via its transparent
 >     awesomeness? :)
 > What does he mean with "transparent awesomeness"?

Who cares?  It is indeed a buzzword, but there's nothing wrong with
buzzwords as such.  The problem is when buzzwords are used to conceal
a lack of content.  As I understand Tim's usage, the buzzword
represents the fact that Emacs provides a lot of advantages to its
users, and those features are often a criterion for selection of
applications.  (Do you disagree with those characterizations of Emacs
and of application selection?)  If Emacs satisfies more use cases, it
will attract more users (no?), and some of them will learn to value
software freedom for itself.  The logic turns out to be fallacious
(see below for the standard analysis of why it's not a good idea), but
it's not absent.

Now, Tim was in a hurry, so he created a buzzword that to him evokes a
certain feeling of wonder.  From introspection, I suppose he
experiences it from time to time when he realizes that Emacs is doing
something cool that he hadn't even known he wanted.  That's when I
experience something like "transparent awesomeness", anyway. :-)

Presumably some such value (to potential users or to existing users)
is why Stefan permitted the commit.  Tim just offered his opinion that
appealing to potential users as a vehicle to introduce them to free
software, and thus to software freedom, might be a good strategy.
We've heard that before, of course.

 > Now you claim that this an argument on par with the explanation
 > "Think of Free Speech, not of Free Beer" that is actually so
 > marginal to Free Software that it is not even part of the Gnu
 > Manifesto.

No, I claim that "free as in speech" is a buzzword.  The content of
that buzzword is hardly marginal -- it's the whole chimichanga, the
notion that software freedom, like freedom of speech, is a fundamental
right.  And that is one of the associations that "free as in speech"
is intended to evoke.

Calling something a buzzphrase, as if that defeats the argument all by
itself, is neither good logic nor good strategy, unless there really
is no content.  But in Tim's case, there is content, it just doesn't
work well in practice.  You should point out the practical problem,
rather than focusing on the buzzword.

 > The Declaration of Independence sets forth values that the Founding
 > Fathers have _chosen_ to be so important to them that they will not
 > accept systems that assign them secondary value.

Indeed.  And the Free Software Movement elevates software freedom to
that same level (ie, where assigning secondary value to software
freedom is unacceptable), arguing that no government exercising its
just powers would franchise patents or copyrights in software.  No?

 > Not every effective use of human psychology is a good thing solely
 > because it is effective.

I didn't say it was (nice try at invoking Godwin's Law, by the way).
I implied that an effective use of psychology to help spread the value
of software freedom (understood as a fundamental right) to more people
would be a good thing.  Do you disagree?

The problem with this kind of use of psychology[1] is that it's simply
not terribly effective, and can even be counterproductive.  Far too
often the result is that such users experience the benefit of free
software (in a particular application), but don't learn to associate
it with software freedom.  Many even become rather confused about the
relative importance of "free as in beer" vs. "free as in speech".

It's also a nasty temptation to (some) advocates: it can evolve into a
deliberate strategy of avoiding reference to software freedom to get
more users (especially corporate users) to accept the software.
Indeed that has been advocated by (some) "open source" advocates, as
you point out.  So overall it's best that free software advocates
avoid that strategy completely.

So far the best known strategy avoids "psychology" entirely and goes
directly to talking about software freedom.  On the development side,
just develop the software that serves needs best as the developers
understand it, and encourage users to join in as they can.

[1]  Ie, trying to get people interested in software freedom by
providing them with "free samples" (which they can not only "try with
no obligation," but "keep with no obligation" as well) of free
software with attractive features.

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