[Haskell-cafe] Why Not Haskell?

Brian Hulley brianh at metamilk.com
Sun Aug 6 19:38:06 EDT 2006

Piotr Kalinowski wrote:
> On 06/08/06, Brian Hulley <brianh at metamilk.com> wrote:
>> Therefore I think this distinction between concepts is just
>> sophistry.
> The distinction is there and relies on the community and people being
> honest to avoid situations as you described. If you don't want it
> however (well in this case relying on honesty seems ... naive, to say
> the least), you may choose a different license. You're free after all
> :)

True, but then I'm faced with the worry that someone at FSF may think I'm 
not ethical or that I don't care about human rights! :-)

Ok I can live with that, but to continue with an exploration of the ethical 
implications of GPL, consider this hypothetical situation between two 
law-abiding neighbours:

     Ned : Howdy Homer! Come and see this new supperty-dupperty 
wimbly-wambly program I've just bought from Nick [who's now a software 
developer living in a tumble down shack on the edge of town]!

     [Homer follows Ned inside and Ned types something into the program and 
a funny animation appears on the screen.]

    Ned : It can do lots of other stuff too!

    Homer: I want a copy

    Ned: It's really cheap. Only $20 from Nick.

    Homer: Come on Ned! We're neighbours! Just give me it!

    [Ned checks the license and finds it's GPL]

    Ned: Well I could give you it, but ...

    Homer: But what? [Jumping about trying to contain his excitement at 
being able to make funny animations at home]

    Ned: [Knowing that Nick is struggling to pay his bills] Well if I gave 
you it then that won't help Nick.

    Homer: I don't like him anyway! Come on Ned, we're friends...

    [Ned can see that if he refuses to give Homer a free copy, Homer is 
still so excited about the program that he'll go out and pay Nick the $20.]

So now Ned, who's a very conscientious person, is faced with an impossible 
moral dilemma, ie a choice between helping Nick establish his business or 
losing Homer (who's a bit slow when it comes to matters of conscience) as a 

If Ned is strong enough to just tell Homer that Nick needs the money and 
that Homer is being selfish and can easily afford it, then GPL would have 
played a positive role in forcing more honesty between neighbours so deeper 
friendship could develop in the community.

However if Ned is not that strong, and just agrees to give Homer a free 
copy, then he'll feel guilty about poor Nick, and he'd have GPL to blame for 
removing the only excuse that Homer would have understood.

>>         The system of owners of software encourages
>>         software owners to produce something---
>>         but not what society really needs.
>>         And it causes intangible ethical pollution
>>         that affects us all.
>> Is this not designed to stir up feelings of guilt in proprietary
>> software developers? And is it desirable to limit the production of
>> software to "what society really needs"? Eg I'm glad the Coca-Cola
>> company chooses to produce Coke because I like drinking it but in no
>> way could it be said that I actually *need* it, and I wouldn't
>> expect them to reveal their secret recipe so endless other companies
>> could instantly start competing with them.
> The Coke is not the best example. First of all you don't expect that
> Coca-Cole gives you right to modify the drink to suit your needs.
> Nobody knows even what that would be supposed to mean :)

Continuing the example, neither Ned nor Homer knows anything about computer 
programming so it never occurs to them to want to be able to alter the 
program. They just want to use it as it is.

Proprietary 3d art programs like 3ds Max and AliasWavefront's Maya allow 
users to write scripts or use third party plugins. This is not the same as 
the ability to completely re-write everything in the program or fix bugs 
etc, but perhaps it is enough for many people - after all, everyone only has 
so much time and it would be hard work trying to understand the code of such 
a large program anyway - why not just let the company that produced it do 
that work? If all else fails, people are always free to write their own code 
from scratch or pay someone else to do it.

> Secondly, even if Stallman's philosophy is quite idealistic, there is
> number of practices in software industry that make ethical doubts
> arise (at least when I'm concerned). Yet still it is customers' choice
> that they allow to be fooled.

I think the choice of whether or not to engage in unethical practices is 
orthogonal to the choice of whether or not to follow the course of action 
that Stallman wants to enforce using GPL.

However a positive aspect of his writings is that he draws attentions to 
issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, regardless of whether or not one 
agrees with his conclusions, and it certainly makes interesting reading 
(I've got RMS's book "Free as in Freedom" here in front of me as I type 

>> I can't entirely dismiss GNU/FSF/GPL but it poses a fundamental
>> conflict with the only way I can see of earning a living so it's
>> like a continuous background problem which drains some of my energy
>> and enthusiasm hence the length of my rambling post where I made
>> another attempt to understand my relation to it.
> Well, setting aside usefulness of GPL in a commercial world, it did
> serve a purpose not allowing anybody to buy out the opensource world
> and kill it, didn't it?

FSF (as well as other organisations) continues to serve a purpose in raising 
awareness of the ridiculousness of software patents and the dangers they 
pose, so I'm grateful to them for that.

Also, I'm still open to new ideas so ... who knows what business model I'll 
eventually come up with...


Logic empowers us and Love gives us purpose.
Yet still phantoms restless for eras long past,
congealed in the present in unthought forms,
strive mightily unseen to destroy us.


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