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EuroHacker Magazine meets Eric S. Raymond

Written by: your dearly beloved editor generalissimo

Editor's note: this was done back in August of 2004 (sorry for the delay!). Also, ESR is a bit of a nutcase, we don't necessarily share his opinions...

EHM: You're a known proponent of both the First and Second amendments. While I personally agree strongly with the notion that the ultimate right and responsibility of the people is to overthrow a corrupt regime, how would this be carried out in real life? How large would the armed opposition have to be to be morally righteous? Or is the threat of armed revolution merely a theoretical counterweight to tyranny?

ESR: If the threat is merely theoretical it ceases being a threat at all. And an opposition of a single person can be morally righteous if the regime is corrupt.

EHM: Ah, yes, but isn't that kind of a slippery slope? The current administration could very well be perceived as corrupt. Would an assassination attempt on the current President be morally righteous?

ESR: I don't think so. I'm not a Bush supporter, but the people screaming "corruption!" about him seem to me to be just crazy. The available evidence doesn't back them up.

I can imagine circumstances under which assassinating a sitting president of the U.S. would be a morally correct act, but I don't think we are anywhere near those today.

EHM: What are your thoughts on jury nullification?

ESR: The law is founded on the delegated rights of individuals. I think juries (and individuals!) have a duty not to be part of the enforcement of unjust laws.

EHM: For the readers who didn't know, jury nullification allows for the acquittal of a criminal in spite of damning evidence, if the law is found to be unjust. But isn't there a risk of abuse here? Let's say a redneck participates in the lynching of a black man. Isn't there a big risk that his peers will acquit him using jury nullification? Maybe this problem is solvable through jury screening?

ESR: Sure, that risk exists. But it has to be balanced against the opposite risk of a non-nullification system, in which control of the law passes out of the hands of the people. I'm more willing to live with an occasional redneck getting away with murder than I am with the continuation of unjust laws that kill or jail people as a matter of routine.

EHM: Do you believe a gift culture built on a platform of capitalism and free trade could work in real life? The various open source movements are a testament to the power of a gift culture, but can it be made to work in a global and monetary situation?

ESR: Gift cultures only work in a situation of material abundance. We can't scale that up to global level yet, because we have real scarcities to contend with. Some goods will *never* be sufficiently abundant to make markets unnecessary; land, for example.

EHM: Nevertheless, do you find an expansion of the software gift culture into other areas, if not all, to be feasible? If space travel and terraforming become affordable, maybe land will be abundant as well?

ESR: Maybe. I'm doubtful about it, though. I'm inclined to think gift cultures only work for goods that are (a) pure information, and (b) don't have large capital costs for production.

EHM: Do you think the US has a risk of devolving into a police state? Which threats should we look out for (Patriot acts, DMCA, military tribunals etc)?

ESR: The Patriot act and the DMCA are big, obvious threats that evoke political mobilization to counter them. I am more concerned, in the long term, with the creeping power of regulatory bureaucracies and taxation -- the freedom you don't realize you're losing.

EHM: Correct, a corrupt state will always strive to make all of its citizens criminals, in order to make everyone punishable, though it won't enforce this as long as everyone "keeps in line". Even today, it is hard to remain 100% law abiding. Is there even a solution to this problem? Or should we all construct underground bunkers in the mountains and fake our own deaths?

ESR: That's just running from the problem. I think ethics requires us to resist unjust laws more actively than that.

EHM: What are your thoughts on IP? Should we abolish patents and copyrights?

ESR: I'm not for abolishing either, but I think they both need radical reform. While I know of software patents I consider valid and can imagine an equitable software-patent system, the one we actually have is a disaster. Patents are both too expensive and too readily granted if you can pay the expenses -- this favors monopolists at the expense of the little guy.

EHM: What are your thoughts on big business? Do the corporations hold too much power (juridical persons, influence on government etc)?

ESR: I think that question, as it's normally put, is ill-formed. I concentrate on behavior. Who can send people to my home and beat me up or kill me if I do something they don't like? A corporation? No, not in general. A government? Yes. Using force is what governments do.

If a policeman or soldier uses force on me unjustly, my first concern is ending his power to do so. Whether the government behind him is, in any given case, acting at the prompting of a corporation is a secondary question.

So, when I think about politics, my first concern is to make governments less capable of performing coercive acts, whether on their own behalf or at the prompting of a corporation.

EHM: How do we solve the problem of corporate influence on government?

ESR: By making governments unimportant, so that corporations can no longer make more money through political market-rigging than by actually doing business with actual customers.

EHM: What are your thoughts on the movie Fahrenheit 9/11?

ESR: I have not seen it. But earlier exposure to Moore's work and the analytical reviews I have seen tell me what I need to know, which is that the movie is a fraud from start to finish. Michael Moore uses truth, to the limited extent he does, to perpetrate huge and toxic lies.

EHM: Pump or semi?

ESR: Not a big deal, in my opinion. In any situation where you need a higher rate of fire on a shotgun than you can get with a pump, you're already dead :-)

EHM: Which weapons would you bring with you in a post-apocalyptic scenario?

ESR: Depends on how far flat I'm supposed to assume the industrial base gets smashed in the scenario. Also depends on how much warning I have. There are enough warehouse full of bullets out there that I could keep my firearms supplied for the rest of my life. So; a .45ACP pistol, a Mossberg shotgun, and maybe a .223-caliber rifle (I don't know rifles very well). I'm not much good with a short blade but I know what to do with a katana.

EHM: Ah, this is interesting. Why a .223 cal rifle?

ESR: Easy to get ammunition for it. There are millions of rounds sitting in National Guard armories all over the U.S.

EHM: What ammunition would you choose for different targets? (Mutant critters, human bandits, government black ops etc).

ESR: I like Glaser rounds. Birdshot in oil -- no good against hard targets, but they blow huge unsurvivable holes in soft ones.

EHM: Isn't the .45 quite unreliable?

ESR: Nah. 1911-pattern .45ACPs are really rugged. They were the U.S. military service pistol for fifty years and racked up an impressive reliability record. A lot of military types still carry them -- notably, the Special Ops crowd.

Personally, I *love* the short-barrel "Officer's Model" version of the 1911 pattern .45ACP. My favorite weapon. Fits my hand perfectly.

EHM: Have you shot a .50 cal weapon? If so, tell us about your experiences.

ESR: Nope. Not yet.

EHM: Do you plan to? :)

ESR: If one wanders by :-)

EHM: What are your thoughts on Angelina Jolie?

ESR: I think padding Jolie's chest in the Tomb Raider movies was ridiculous and uncalled for, as her natural development is quite splendid enough. :-)

Seriously, I respected Jolie's attempts to do something resembling acting in the first movie. It was a noble effort made impossible by a wretched script. In the second movie she gave up, for which I can't say I blame her as the script was even worse.

But, if you wanted to hear some serious fanboy drooling, you really should have asked me about Liv Tyler in the Rings movies...

EHM: Hehe. Do you think we will ever see true AI?

ESR: I'm not sure. That's a very hard problem.

EHM: Do you think the human brain is just a really big neural net, or is there some divine spark in all of us?

ESR: I'm not a mysterian. I lean towards the big-neural-net theory.

EHM: Should we build a space elevator? Should we explore space?

ESR: Well, I think so, but I don't want to see governments screw it up yet again. I'm very encouraged by what Burt Rutan is doing. Take space out of the bureaucrats' hands and let the capitalists at it!

EHM: A lot of people seem to think economic growth is bad and that global trade is a zero-sum game. I assume you don't agree with this, but is there a hard limit to economic growth?

ESR: People who think trade is a zero-sum game are just being idiots. They're not even learning from their own daily experience of trade as a positive-sum game, let alone what economic history tells us about this issue. History tells us that free trade is the best hope for the world's poor.

The world's poor know this, too; the anti-globalization crowd is a bunch of spoiled white kids from rich countries who can't even get their Marxism right.

I'm not sure about hard limits to growth. On the one hand there are always resource limits; on the other hand, those limits seem to become less important over time as we learn how to make information substitute for matter. If there are real hard limits I think they are very far in the future.

EHM: Exactly. The problem in the third world is bad/tyrannical leadership. How do we get free trade going though? Is military intervention necessary?

ESR: Occasionally. I supported the invasion of Iraq. I consider all governments untrustworthy and dangerous by nature, but there are degrees of evil -- I'll back the U.S.'s against a regime like Saddam's or the old Soviets without hesitation.

EHM: Do you have a lot of teens running around wearing red stars and such in the states? Over here it's a commonly displayed fashion statement.

ESR: Not here, thank goodness.

EHM: What are your thoughts on monopolies and anti-trust laws? On one hand they violate the principle of laissez-faire, on the other hand, well, look at Microsoft :)

ESR: I'm opposed to all monopolies, whether private-sector or governmental. But I think anti-trust law is worse than useless. The really big monopolies buy the regulators and then use anti-trust law as a club to suppress competition.

Free markets do a much better job of dissolving monopolies. Historically, monopolies that are not propped up by governments have a half-life of about twelve years.

EHM: How should a free country organize its military? A professional army provides the government with a standing force of (often poor) soldiers to use at its will. If the Posse Comitatus Act (which prohibits the military from enforcing the laws) ever gets canned, which doesn't seem too far-fetched in these days, this could be a serious threat. The alternative is a conscript army, with soldiers drawn from all walks of life. The problem with this, of course, is that it's legalized slavery. Is there a third alternative? Maybe voluntary state militias would work?

ESR: Militias, mercenaries, and assassination. In the world I want to live in, the only equivalent of regular armies would be mercenaries hired by crime-insurance syndicates. I don't think such a world could build aircraft carriers or the other sorts of big weaponry we're used to, but that would be a feature rather than a bug.

EHM: This sounds very interesting! But I'm not quite grasping what "crime-insurance agencies" means. Please elaborate on your thinking. And assassins? Huh?

ESR: What I think I could trust to serve me is people I hire for the job. In the society I want to live in, I would buy anti-crime insurance. My premiums, aggregated with those of many others, would pay for police and defense service. This would differ from the present system in having no monopoly at any level. If I didn't like my crime-insurance terms, I would buy from another company. The crime insurance company would negotiate with competing police agencies to get the best terms. The court system would be a network of arbitration boards with agreements to recognize each others' decisions.

As for assassins, wouldn't it have been better to kill just Saddam Hussein and enough of his henchmen to make the Baathist regime collapse than it was to make war and (unavoidably) kill bystanders?

Don't get me wrong. I think the U.S. waged impressively clean wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with *remarkably* low civilian casualties by any historical standard. Still -- it would be ethically better, and less expensive, to just take out the handful of villains at the center if possible.

EHM: What are your thoughts on drugs, prostitution and euthanasia?

ESR: In general I favor abolishing all victimless-crime laws. I think laws against prostitution are bad but not very harmful; drug laws, on the other hand, are both bad and *hugely* harmful. They create and sustain a vicious criminal class, and they give governments too much power.

Euthanasia is a different issue, some of the consent issues involved are very tricky.

EHM: Yes, why hasn't the US government learned from the mistake that was Prohibition?

ESR: I wish I knew. But politicians are stupid that way, and not just about drugs either. Too many of ours have ignored all the evidence that banning firearms also raises crime rates.

EHM: Which Metallica era do you prefer (old, Black Album, new)?

ESR: I've generally liked them for a long time -- unlike a lot of metal bands, they can actually play their instruments.

I think I liked RTL and AJFA best. KEA was a little too thrashy for my taste. Load was OK, I liked the fact that they were trying to step outside their normal idiom a bit.

I like a lot of the prog-metal and nu-metal stuff -- Dream Theater, System of a Down, Tool, that sort of thing. (Tool's "Lateralis" a couple of years back was totally fucking brillant.)

EHM: Tool, huh? Explain.

ESR: What can I say? I like 5/4 time, I like elaborately layered arrangements, I like polyrhthmic drums, and I like massive guitars of doom. My only quibble with Tool is they're sometimes too dark for my taste.

EHM: What science fiction do you dig? Heinlein?

ESR: Heinlein, yes. If he wasn't the greatest SF writer ever he was way up there.

EHM: Do you like the stuff he wrote in the 80's? A lot of people seem to dislike the stuff he wrote in his old age. I like it though. Job: A comedy of justice is one of my favorites.

ESR: I think he went downhill after "Time Enough For Love" in 1980. But even bad Heinlein is better than most writers ever manage.

Generally my tastes run to the hard stuff and what is nowadays called "space opera" (the meaning of that term has changed a lot). Recently I've been enjoying Alistair Reynolds's books, "Revelation Space" and the sequels. Among other new writers I'm also a big fan of Greg Egan.

EHM: Ah, thanks for the tip. What do you read besides SF?

ESR: Nonfiction and historical fiction, mainly.

EHM: You're a musician, right? Please tell us about your mad skills :)

ESR: I'm a very capable flutist in jazz, blues, folk, and rock idioms; I've done session work on two albums. I used to play guitar but I'm very rusty at that. I sing a little and play hand drums.

I think I'm actually more talented as a musician than as a programmer, but I haven't developed anwhere near as much *skill* at music; I'm only a gifted amateur there.

EHM: Ah, so you have a natural proficiency but lack the technique?

ESR: Exactly. Superb ear, poor hands -- that's me.

EHM: Are you planning to record a solo album? Would be interesting. You could do a cover of The Free Software Song :)

ESR: No, RMS would think I was hijacking his revolution again :-)

EHM: What Linux distro do you run?

ESR: I just upgraded to Fedora Core 2.

EHM: Have you ever strayed to the dark side in order to run a special app or game?

ESR: How do you mean "dark side"? I've never stolen or cracked for that purpose. I do enjoy the occasional game of Civilization or Spaceward Ho on a Mac.

EHM: Are you a fan of Farscape?

ESR: Never seen it.

EHM: Tell us about your relationship with RMS? Are you close friends? Do you hang out?

ESR: It's complicated.

I've known RMS since 1977. We were friends at one time, I'd say close friends. I've met his family, I fixed him up with girls once or twice, I was one of the first people he told about his plans for the GNU project in 1983. (Actually, I was the person who suggested that an Emacs port ought to be GNU's flagship product.)

Since I got famous in '97 the relationship has been more and more difficult. I've found myself having to criticize RMS in pretty harsh terms. I don't enjoy this and he, understandably, resents it. But he screwed up very badly in multiple ways, and these are mistakes our community *must not* repeat. My duty and my feelings of friendship conflict, and I have chosen duty.

Nevertheless, I'd still be Richard's friend, if he allowed it. He doesn't, these days.

EHM: How would you explain the whole distrust of government thing to the average Joe, who doesn't wear a tin-foil hat?

ESR: I distrust governments because I've studied history. Ask Joe this question: who does most of the killing? Who does most of the theft? Ignore ideology and rationalizations and look at the behavior.

Even the body-count of the worst criminals and terrorists pales in comparison to the death toll the average government inflicts on its own people. And it is not criminals who tax away 5/12ths of my income.

EHM: Do you believe taxes should be abolished altogether? Or do we need to give away some percentage of our income? And by the way, where I live we give away 55 % :(

ESR: Yes, I'm an anarchist and believe taxation is theft. I don't see any fundamental distinction between a government an a large-scale protection racket.

EHM: I read somewhere that if you go through all the paperwork, you can acquire almost any weaponry legally in the US. What are your experiences with this? It sure would be nice to have a .50 cal Browning machine gun in the backyard, eh? :)

ESR: Actually, most places in the U.S. this is not true; we have a complicated patchwork of Federal, state and local laws against such things. Which is too bad; I would worry less about my freedom if it were true.

EHM: Interesting. What would you acquire if money was your only restraint?

ESR: Oh, probably something like the SOCOM version of the .45ACP.

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