Vivek Haldar

Comments on Stallman's Dystopia

It’s worth reproducing the top-voted comment on the Hacker News discussion of my last post, by user kwantam:

Freedom is almost always lost in small steps.

Sure, discontinuities happen in extreme cases (e.g., the WTC’s destruction -> the PATRIOT Act), and when they do a lot of people notice. The more subtle losses in freedom that occur gradually (the DMCA and its progeny, for example) are harder to notice until one day you look back and say “huh, how did we get here?”

The concept of the Overton Window is interesting and germane here. 20 years ago the idea that you couldn’t lend a book you own to your friend or loan them the new album you just bought would have seemed insane. Over time, a gradual shift in the concept of ownership has changed the scope of the issue to the point where many people would now accept that it seems reasonable that you can’t lend your books to someone else.

People at the edge of the Overton window are like our canaries in the coal mine. Gradual shifts in the window are hard to notice from the middle, but easy to notice as the “edge” passes over you. In that respect, to me RMS seems most valuable to us for precisely the reasons others call him a crackpot.