Black and white

Linus Torvalds's picture

So I'm pretty well-known for not exactly being a huge fan of the FSF and Richard Stallman, despite the fact that I obviously love the GPLv2 and use it as the license for all my projects that I care about.

The reason has always been that I don't like single-issue people, nor do I think that people who turn the world into black and white are very nice or ultimately very useful. The fact is, there aren't just two sides to any issue, there's almost always a range or responses, and "it depends" is almost always the right answer in any big question. And not being even willing to see the other side makes for bad decisions.

Don't get me wrong - I love seeing people who are really passionate about what they do, and many people have something they really care about. It's just that when that becomes something exclusionary, it often gets ugly. It's not passion for something, it becomes passion against something else.

This is, just to take an example, one of the reasons I try to avoid talking much about Microsoft - I'm very passionate about Linux (obviously), but quite frankly, I really find the whole notion of Linux as being "against Microsoft" to be silly and wrong-headed. Yeah, I might make an occasional tongue-in-cheek joke or two, but does anybody really seriously think that you can put 17+ years of your life and make good decisions based on hate and fear?

That was also why I didn't (and don't) like GPLv3 - I think many of the changes weren't due to being "pro free software", but more a mindless reaction against things like TiVO, and the whole black-and-white, "good vs evil" mindset.

The reason I bring this up is that while I can't vote, I did want to say publicly anyway that I really really hope that Obama will be the US president elect after Tuesday night. I realize it probably won't come as a big shock to anybody (yes, I'm a socially liberal open source freak from Europe - so what would you expect?), and others will just be angry.

If anybody wants a reason for that, just watch (or listen to) Obama's "Call to Renewal" keynote speech from 2006. It looks like it's split into 5 pieces on youtube - the whole thing is about 40 minutes - but it's worth it, just to hear something rare: mentioning religion in the US without being black-or-white.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tdoQr3BQ1g

It's not a rick-roll, I promise. It's also probably not the best link (the thing must exist somewhere as a single video - it's how I remember seeing it originally), but it's the one I found now.

There are other reasons, but that's the one that originally made me hope Obama would take the democratic nomination. And what he has done since hasn't changed that. He's obviously smart and thoughtful, and he has a very interesting background that makes me believe that he really can see the other side not just when it comes to religion, but when it comes to international issues too.

Of course I'm biased (we all have our quirks), but I think it makes a difference to have actually lived in another culture. I suspect Obama understands the US better because he has seen something else, and has seen it from a wider background. He's not a black and white person - and ironically, that is probably partly exactly because he is a black and white person in a totally different sense.

And this really is about more than just being positive about the issues (as opposed to negative campaigning). It's about having the capability of understanding - and accepting - that others have other motivations than you do, even when you don't share them.

Not that I'm saying that I'm always a great example myself. I get angry and negative, and quite frankly, I have a really hard time understanding and accepting some of the nuts I see out there. But hey - that's why I'm endorsing Barack Obama, not myself, for president.