09 March 2006

Savonarola, St. Francis - or St. IGNUcius?

There's a well-written commentary on C|Net that makes what looks like a neat historical parallel between Savonarola and Richard Stallman; in particular, it wants us to consider the GPL 3 as some modern-day equivalent of a Bonfire of the Vanities, in which precious objects were consigned to the flames at the behest of the dangerous and deranged Savonarola.

It's a clever comparison, but it suffers from a problem common to all clever comparisons: they are just metaphors, not cast-iron mathematical isomorphisms.

For example, I could just as easily set up a parallel between Stallman and St. Francis of Assisi: both renounced worldy goods, both devoted themselves to the poor, both clashed with the authorities on numerous occasions, and both produced several iterations of their basic tenets. And St. Francis never destroyed, as Savonarola did: rather, he is remembered for restoring ruined churches - just as Stallman has restored the ruined churches of software.

In fact, Stallman is neither Savonarola nor St. Francis, but his own, very special kind of holy man: St. IGNUcius of the Church of Emacs.


Anonymous said...

Hi. Since I thought the same thing, I'm reposting here what I've posted at Cnet:

Hello. I think your argument is misleading. That's because you make an analogy without considering the the meaning of the words that you are comparing. "Bonfire of the Vanities" can be stated as:

1. There is thought A, considered commonsense
2. There is thought B, which is then considered commonsense
3. There is someone that tries to rescue thought A
4. People from thought B says that thought A is extremist.

To see that one size fits all, consider the counter example that begins with though A = "people should be allowed to mix open source with closed source. Freedom == commercial freedom."

1. There is thought A
2. There is an explosion of free software (not open source) ideology (say, from 1985 to 1995). The intensely ideological efforts of free software have made, for all that matters, a whole operating system possible, and created artistical and cultural explosions.
3. This, however is an assault to commercial freedom. The open source guys come into play and say that this "free as in freedom" is vanity because it's not practical. They take severe stand against GPL'd code, because information freedom is less than commercial freedom, which is and will always be their "freedom". They try to burn free software. "Creative Commons/OSS/Shared source" becomes a platform to rail against information freedom. The geeky hackers with GPL 3 have turned away from the old testament of selling or renting information. Creative Commons, or Shared Source, or whatever is a call to the faithful to reject these vanities.
4. According to Wikipedia, "Florence soon tired of Savonarola's hectoring," and and so too are many turning their backs on Lawrence Lessig, Microsoft, etc. etc. and "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

This seems a logical fallacy to me. We are making an analogy, but are not taking into account the content of the objects. Not to mention that the content, in this case, is quite a thing: freedom.

After reading my own text, I've realised that this is exactly the same king of marketing Microsoft has been doing for the last 10(?) years. They usually criticize on their competitors exactly about something they are doing. I thought you have fallen on a logical fallacy, but, I would question: were you instructed by Microsoft to say those things ?


Anonymous said...

From the link about "St. IGNUcius:"

Sainthood in the Church of Emacs requires living a life of purity--but in the Church of Emacs, this does not require celibacy (a sigh of relief is heard).

...Although it commonly results in a life of celibacy.