Love your neighbour as you love yourself. And choose your software accordingly

In a previous post on this blog, I looked at the mindset of the early Church; in this post, I intend to look at something a little more fundamental.

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In a previous post on this blog, I looked at the mindset of the early Church; in this post, I intend to look at something a little more fundamental. In Matthew, Chapter 19, verses 16 to 22, we have the story of a rich young man who asks Jesus what it is he needs to do. Jesus tells him that in order to be good, he must obey a set of commandments:

“Do not commit murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not accuse anyone falsely; respect your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

In order to be perfect, Jesus continues, the man needs to follow two further commandments:

“If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me.” At this, the young man leaves, unhappy, because he was very rich.

However, for the purposes of the present discussion, I would like to focus not on the young man, but on the “love your neighbor” commandment and how does it apply to software; specifically, how does it apply to one’s choices of which software to use?

Love your neighbour as you love yourself

Here the choice of software becomes important. One should choose not only the software that gives the greatest benefit to oneself – but also the software that gives the greatest benefit to one’s neighbour. Who is one’s neighbour? One’s neighbour is (as illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan – note that this commandment is reiterated there) not only the person in the house next door.

Your neighbour is the man who smiles a greeting as you walk past him in the morning; the boy who delivers your newspaper; the little old lady who greets you at the bus stop every morning. Your neighbours are many different people; in some cases, people with whom you have only the most fleeting contact. So which choice of software gives the greatest advantage to your neighbour?

There are two seperate ways in which your choice of software has a direct effect on your neighbour. The first is in the matter of formats: if you produce a helpful document that your neighbour is unable to read, then this harms your neighbour. The second is in the matter of the software itself; if you can give a copy of the software to your neighbour, then this helps your neighbour. Naturally, if you give your neighbour a copy of the software which you used to create a document, then your neighbour will be able to read that document
(assuming that your naighbour speaks the same language, and that you have not encrypted the document).

Free software (free as in free speech) fulfils this requirement. So does a certain amount of non-free software; most non-free software, however, does not allow this. (Note that thus requirement is fulfilled by any software that obeys freedom 2 in the Free Software Definition).

There is one further way in which your choice of software can help your neighbour; and this is if you are able to provide software that allows yourself, and your neighbours, to make and redistribute improvements to the software (freedoms 1 and 3 on the Free Software Definition).

This, then, is another reason why free software and the Catholic Church are very compatible with each other.