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Re: agreeing with the DFSG (was Re: non-free --> non-dfsg)

On Wed, Jan 20, 1999 at 12:38:26PM -0600, Ossama Othman wrote:
> It is amazing how people so are ready to snap at something that isn't as
> bad as they make it seem.  Please don't start quoting what I said.  I know
> what I said and I know what I meant.  You are taking what I said way out
> of context and taking it too literally.  Rather then ask me what exactly I
> meant you chose to lash out me.

"Please don't start quoting what [you] said"?  Are you on drugs?  "[You]
know what [you] said...".  So do we.  "[You] know what [you] meant."

Ah.  That, no one else knows.  We must rely upon your facility with the
English language to communicate your ideas a manner that properly conveys
your meaning.

Clearly you are having trouble with that.  Manoj, Marcus, myself, and
other members of the Debian community are likely all growing tired of
your rhetorical games.

You say something outrageous, like, "let's assume we all live in a police
state".  Then when someone takes you to task for presenting hypotheticals
that are destructive to the concept of analogy, you simply backpedal and
claim you were quoted out of context.

You seem content to argue for the sake of argument with anyone who dares
who dares disagree with you.  This is much closer to ideological Stalinism
than anything you could reasonably accuse the Debian Project of.

Let's not assume we all live in a police state, okay?  Debian is a
volunteer organization.  There is absolutely no way anyone is required to
be a member or abide by our rules in any context outside of Debian itself.
Even the Debian *Constitution*, for crying out loud, explicitly states that
it places no burden upon any member of Debian to do anything at all.

Debian is not a catch-all for people who don't Red Hat, or some other
Linux distribution.  Debian predates most of the Linux distributions in
existence, having been founded in 1993, and is about something.  It's
about the ideals presented in our social contract.

No one demands that you, as an individual human being with rights, accept
the Debian social contract in any way, shape or form.

Keep in mind, however, that the social contract is a *contract*, and thus
implies an exchange.  In a free society, contracts are drawn up between
parties who seek to trade things of value among each other.  This implies
mutual benefit, mutual gain.  If you don't like the contract, you don't
have to be a party to it.  That means, however, that you don't get the

The benefits of belonging to Debian are that you have the opportunity to
contribute to our project.  You have the right to create "Debian packages".
You get the right to have an account on master.debian.org and an email
account.  Perhaps most importantly, you get to belong to a movement,
however small, that would make the world a little better place, in that
strange little niche called computer software.  For some Debian developers,
all of these benefits are just perks.  They just want to be left in peace
to develop software, hack, keep machines running, or otherwise please their
muse.  They see that the DFSG and the social contract are not in conflict
with that, they have no fundamental problem with the documents, and they
go about doing what makes them happy.  No one loses.

There are many ways you can accounts on machines, an electronic mailbox,
and make the world a better place.  You can volunteer your free time to a
dizzying array of other causes.

If you want to be a part of Debian, though, you do give up a little bit
of absolute liberty.  This is true of all social contracts.  Most people
are willing to give absolute liberty to maim and kill their fellow man
in exchange for the protection of their neighbors.  (Sometimes, they
get to indulge their animal natures anyway by maiming and killing as a
member of some sactioned armed forces, but I digress...)

Debian is not the bottom of the Linux distribution seive.  We're not here
to catch all the fuck-offs and misfits who couldn't cut it anywhere else.
The fact that we're a lot more easygoing that many groups of software
developers doesn't mean we have no standards at all.  In fact, as you've
noticed, when it comes to certain ideological principles, we're a lot more
coherent than our rivals.

If you want to change Debian, that's fine.  Debian changes all the time,
sometimes in pretty important ways.  You can be a part of that process.
But first you have to make up your mind that Debian is already close enough
to what you want to see that it's worth it to you to work within its
system.  If not, there may be some other group that better approximates
your ideals, or you may have to start from scratch.  We are not all
promised an obedient horde of followers from birth.

Here's another couple of analogies for you.  Debian is a boat with many
oars in the water.  You and I are just one oar.  If no one else wants to
paddle, I can't accomplish much by myself.

Here's a better one.

Debian is inertial.  To change its velocity, you have to apply force.
The more force that is applied, the greater a change in speed and direction
you can effect.  Each individual can only contribute so much force,
however.  Some people have trouble with this.  Some people are convinced of
their personal vision and don't understand why all the developers don't go
"after bear", or refuse to upload any packages to unstable during a freeze.
Some people get so disgusted with what they perceive as the
thick-headedness of their fellows that they abandon the project in disgust.
Sometimes this means a really great idea may not get adopted by the project
as a whole as expediently as it might be.  As Debian developers, we have to
accept that possibility.

The inertia, however, also is an advantage.  A year ago, when Bruce left, I
was afraid that Debian would fragment in the wake of his violent departure.
I was naïve.  Debian has a lot of inertia, and it was able to keep going,
and even thrive, in the absence of a very visible and influential member.
Ian Murdock isn't with us anymore (though he left on amicable terms), and
Debian survived.

If you agree with the DFSG, great.  If you agree with the Social Contract,
great.  If you agree with the Constitution, great.  You may have a
wonderful future ahead of you as a Debian developer.  But try sticking to
the point, okay?  You made a proposal.  It got shot down, for the same
reasons it had been shot down before when someone else made it.  So what?
There's no need to take it personally.  In my experience, Debian folks
don't hold a bad idea against a person (especially when it's not even
implemented), as long as they don't do something silly, like keep hanging
on to it in the face of overwhelming resistance -- simply to use it as
ammunition in some kind of "war of principle" that every Debian developer
theoretically has the right to be diametrically opposed to Debian's core
statements of principle on any or all points.

Of *course* Debian developers have the right to be opposed to just about
anything they please.  No matter how fundamental.  But when you start
taking a pickaxe to the foundation of the house you share with hundreds of
roommates, don't be surprised when they look at you strangely, or even try
to take the axe out of your hands.  It's our house too.  We like the DFSG.
So do you, or so you say.  We all have the right to leave this house.  If
we all do so at once, Debian will be completely dissolved.  But that's not
likely.  Nor is any other change of comparable magnitude.

If you don't want to be taken literally, don't speak literally.  Communicate
your ideas in music or impressionistic painting.  Or write poems, like Ioannis
Tambouris did.  But don't make blunt-force statements and then hide behind some
diluted form of literary deconstructionist theory.  So what if people haven't
understood you perfectly.  Let it go.  It's not going to kill anyone.  We
can all make up our own minds as to whether we've been dense or you've been
unclear (or both).

Ranting about police states is not going to lend credibility to the next
proposal you make, but it's not going to predermine its defeat, either.  I
firmly believe that most people here can manage to be pretty objective,
when push comes to shove.  Don't feel you have to keep explaining yourself,
or you'll never be taken seriously again.  It's your continual rewording
and restating that's diminishing your credibility more than anything else.
Relax.  Come hang out on IRC sometime, perhaps.  If you're an ass you'll
get treated like one, but if you're a good guy people will take it easy
around you.

There are something like four hundred Debian developers.  Take a seat at
the table; there's always room for one more.  But in a crowd like that,
don't expect (or necessarily try) to be the life of the party.

Now, I've got a lot of work to do and I need to get back to it.  I've got
Slootman on my back about X for the Alpha again. :)

This concludes my announcement of candidacy for Debian Project Leader
*next* year, ha ha ha.  :-P

If you reply to this mail, I cannot guarantee a response in kind.

G. Branden Robinson              |    It doesn't matter what you are doing,
Debian GNU/Linux                 |    emacs is always overkill.
branden@ecn.purdue.edu           |    -- Stephen J. Carpenter
cartoon.ecn.purdue.edu/~branden/ |

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