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GNU/Linux: Too Much about Hate, Not Enough about Pride

Negative Identity

  • April 7, 2008
  • By Bruce Byfield

Ever since I wrote "It's Time to Get Over Microsoft," people have demanded in blogs and emails how I could ignore the obvious threat that Microsoft represents to free software. Usually, I ask them to read the article more carefully, and note that it suggests that free software has grown strong enough to take care of itself. The fact that so many free software supporters persist in a negative identity--that is, one defined by not being a Microsoft user--frankly puzzles me when the community has so much to be proud of in its own right.

As a citizen of Canada, a country whose national identity is too often defined in terms of anti-Americanism, I'm all too familiar with the limitations of a negative identity. Admittedly, Microsoft bashers, just like Canadians who are hostile to the United States, are in little danger of losing their identities through the disappearance of the object of their hate, but other dangers remain.

With a negative identity, you tend to focus on whatever defines you so intensely that you overlook other things that are equally important, such as the fact that other monopolies, such as Adobe or the Recording Industry Association of America, are just as much a threat. Even more importantly, you are unable to see yourself or your accomplishments clearly. Self-knowledge and an integrated personality remain beyond your reach, because, instead of taking pride in your accomplishments, you are forever distracted by establishing what you are not, rather than on what you are.

That is why, aside from the occasional curse in the direction of Microsoft, I usually prefer to focus on what the free software community has accomplished.

Think about it: Starting from nothing, the free software community has achieved the impossible, confounding all sorts of expectations. In doing so, it has not only changed the way that business is done, but empowered millions, combining technological and social change in a way that has never been seen before. These accomplishments, I suggest, are long overdue for acknowledgment and celebration. We hear too much about hate, and not nearly enough about pride.

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