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Richard Stallman: Software Freedom Pioneer

Richard Stallman is a computer programmer turned political activist, who founded the free software movement, the Free Software Foundation, and the GNU Project (GNU is pronounced g'noo with a hard 'g', and is a recursive acronym for 'GNU's Not Unix') to develop an operating system for computers that was free to use, copy, modify, and distribute. This was - and is - in sharp contrast to the software industry's tight controls on operating systems. Thus, the GNU Project aims to shake up the system and place it on a different philosophical foundation.

Stallman is well known in the computing arena not only for his software contributions but for his jocular style of presentation, and his love of humour. His detractors maintain that he espouses an extremist philosophy of software freedom, however Stallman follows his own ethical code, based on his own values.

He has gained a reputation for three things: his advocacy of freedom and ethics, his skills as a computer programmer, and his sense of humour. Let's look at his birth chart and trace these themes there. What motivates and inspires Richard to focus so much on freedom?

The diagram below shows Richard's chart calculated for noon on his day of birth, since no time of birth is available. The house cusps are therefore not shown, and we must be careful when considering the Moon's position: it may be approximately 6 degrees behind or ahead of the position shown here.

Richard Stallman - Birth chart

With both Sun and Mercury in boundariless Pisces, we have the first piece of a complex jigsaw puzzle. The Sun corresponds with a person's sense of identity, and Mercury to their perceptions and outlook, so it's natural for Richard to be sensitive to unnecessary and harmful restrictions. Pisces is also the sign of the imagination and the poet, the misfit and the one who sees things differently.

In astrology, septile aspects show what inspires a person, and thus what motivates them deeply, and sometimes compulsively. They show what visions a person is responsive too, what fires their imagination. In Stallman's chart, the Sun is in septile to both Jupiter (expansion) and Neptune (boundarilessness). Here are two more jigsaw pieces that show how Richard is personally inspired by being unfettered.

What's more, though, is that these planets are also associated with social conscience and beneficence, and Jupiter is one of the planets associated with humour and playfulness (Richard began his career as a hacker - the original meaning of hacking/hacker was to play with something that is difficult to do: "hacking means exploring the limits of what is possible, in a spirit of playful cleverness"
). Stallman's passion for software freedom is motivated by the desire to do good in society, shown here very clearly by the astrology, and reinforcing his Sun-Mercury in Pisces, the sign of selflessness and communality - the common weal.

Further reinforcing this are, firstly Neptune on the Sun/Jupiter midpoint (i.e. placed halfway between the Sun and Jupiter, as measured around the Zodiac circle). The fact that the Sun is septile Jupiter, and Jupiter is septile Neptune, makes this a very powerful midpoint configuration indeed. And secondly, Neptune conjunct Saturn - this brings together the planet of boundarilessness with the planet of boundaries, the planet of loosening with the planet of tightening, the planet of surrender and selflessness with the planet of restrictions and barriers.

Another aspect of Saturn's is a septile to Mercury. Whilst this could be used to restrict information or put limits on copying, in Richard's life it seems to manifest as being inspired by the issue rather than the practice of these things. It is also likely that, in order to be a good code-writer, the diligence and order of Saturn must be brought together with the language capabilities of Mercury.

The final aspect we will look at here is Saturn septile Uranus. This aspect is intriguing because Uranus is a planet of computing, and of freedom, and of communality (along with Neptune). Linking Uranus with Saturn (control, tightening, boundaries, corporate values) by the septile shows that Stallman was born at a time when these two apparently contradictory themes were brought together in a way that inspires and motivates. The relationship between the two - control versus freedom, corporate versus communal - inspires Richard Stallman to do his work and, on a deeper level, to live his life.

'Free as in Freedom, not Free as in Beer'

The free software movement was conceived on 27th September 1983 when Richard Stallman announced the GNU project, the goal of which was to build a complete operating system for computers.
The project began in earnest on 5th January 1984 when Stallman resigned from his job at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology in the USA so that they could not claim ownership of GNU through intellectual property laws.

The difference between the GNU system and other systems like Windows, or Unix, or the Mac OS, is that with GNU the user would be free to copy, distribute, and modify it as they wish; freedom was the touchstone of the project, and was built into the licence. This is, of course, completely different to the other operating systems which are strictly proprietary with many restrictions built into the licence. Thus, the GNU Project was not only intended as a useful software package, but as a philosophy and approach that would stand out from the corporate software approach that had come to dominate - and some would argue, strangulate - the computing market.

By 1991 the GNU operating system was almost finished. A programmer named Linus Torvalds, who was and is completely independent of the GNU Project, developed what's known as a software kernel, and put this with the GNU system. (A kernel is the part of the operating system software that allocates the machine's resources amongst the programs that are running, and deals with the starting and closing of programs.) Torvalds named his kernel Linux. This combination of GNU and Linux formed a complete and integrated operating system, which has since gone on to become very popular.

However, it is often referred to as Linux, which omits the essential and extremely large contribution that GNU makes to the operating system. Without GNU, Linux would be useless (the same cannot be said in reverse), as Linus Torvalds recognised and explicitly stated with his very first release of his kernel:

"Sadly, a kernel by itself gets you nowhere. To get a working system you
need a shell, compilers, a library etc. These are separate parts and may
be under a stricter (or even looser) copyright. Most of the tools used
with linux are GNU software and are under the GNU copyleft. These tools
aren't in the distribution - ask me (or GNU) for more info." - extract from Linus Torvalds' release notes.

Consequently, 'Linux' is a misleading and unfair term for the complete integrated operating system currently distributed and sold under the title 'Linux'. More accurate and fair names are any of the following:
  • GNU+Linux (where + means 'plus' or 'and' or 'in addition to')
  • GNU/Linux (when / means 'combined with', as in the phrase 'input/output')
  • GNU-Linux (where - means 'combined with', as in any hyphenated phrase)
GNU Project - Birth chart

Again we have no time of birth so the house cusps have been omitted in this diagram, and we must be careful of the Moon's position. Space precludes going into this chart in depth, however the following comments will suffice here.

Whereas Richard was born when Jupiter was in septile aspect to Neptune, he founded the GNU project when Jupiter was conjunct Neptune. This is interesting to note, because it shows a theme repeating. Whereas the septile is a phase of inspiration, the conjunction is the 'new beginning' phase of the cycle, where what has gone before can be summed up and channelled into a fresh start, and what is to come is given birth to.

Jupiter was on the Sun/Uranus midpoint, while Neptune was on the Mercury/Jupiter midpoint, both accurately describing the nature and purpose of the project.

In 1991 when Linus Torvalds linked his kernel, Linux, with the GNU system, Jupiter was in sesquiquadrate aspect with Neptune. Also at that time, Neptune had moved to 14 degrees Capricorn, almost exactly with the GNU Project's Sun, also at 14 degrees Capricorn. During major Neptune transits such as this we often glimpse wholeness and what it would be like to be complete, to fulfil our reason for being, but we also often experience some kind of disappointment or disillusionment, and we feel let down or undermined in our progress towards our goals.

The challenge is of Neptune transits such as this one is to maintain our vision, without compromise, without self-delusion, and whilst keeping our feet on the ground. We can then stay true to ourselves while living in the real world, testing (Capricorn, Saturn) our visions (Neptune) and making them manifest (Capricorn, Saturn). This way, the 'free as in freedom, not free as in beer (i.e. cost/price)' philosophy and practice can do its work to challenge the status quo and show that it is indeed not only possible but also practical to organise the industry another way.

Useful links for more information:
NB These are links to external sites, and will open in a new window
Richard Stallman's official home page
GNU Project official site
Free Software Foundation official site
On a related topic you may also be interested in the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Applying astrology to political life Hutton Inquiry, Tony Blair, Iraq, Israel, European Union, USA,
War on Terror, Uranus in Pisces & Neptune in Aquarius, & more

Applying astrology to business life Euro Currency, NHS, BBC,
USA economy, Ofcom, Concorde,
W Edwards Deming, European Central Bank, Anita Roddick, & more

Applying astrology to people's lives Health, emotional intelligence, zodiac elements, understanding change, Angelina Jolie, Gwen Stefani, Germaine Greer, & more

Astrology for the 21st Century - Bringing the sky down to Earth


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