During the controversy I described in Condemning Censorship, Even of Werewolves one of the parties characterized me as “nuts and in decline.”. This failed to bother me, and not because I’m insulated against such insults by my natural arrogance. OK, I am largely insulated against such insults by my natural arrogance, but that’s not the main reason I easily shed this one.
In general I’m much less bothered about people who think I’m crazy than they usually think I should be because I know a lot about the life cycle of reform movements. I studied this topic rather carefully in early 1998, just after Netscape announced its intention to release the Mozilla sources, when I noticed that a burgeoning reform movement seemed to need me to lead it. I was particularly influenced in my thinking by the history of John Humphrey Noyes and the Oneida Community.
Here is part of what I learned: There comes a point in the development of every reform movement at which it has to kill the founder. Or anathematize him, or declare him out of his mind. Or neutralize him in a more subtle way by putting him on a pedestal so high that he can’t actually influence events on the ground.
Movements that don’t do this tend strongly to remain dependent on the founder’s special nous, and don’t survive his death or incapacity. Children have to separate themselves from their parents in order to become adults. Reform movements have to kill their founders in order to survive them.
Some founders, failing to realize this, hold their movement in an iron grip of personal charisma. By doing so, they fail to allow the movement to mature and institutionalize itself properly. They generally end up being declared crazy anyway, and they take whatever they’ve accomplished down to dust with them when they die.
There are sporadic exceptions to this rule, but they’re the sort that tend to prove it. Generally the apparent exceptions happen because a second charismatic leader pulls together something from the wreckage left by the first. My favorite example of this is the reformulation of Babism into the Baha’i Faith by Baha’u’llah after the death of the Bab.
But generally, if the founder is not at least metaphorically killed, the movement does not live.
This is not the outcome I wanted for the open-source movement. I had the capability to hold it in a grip of charisma, had I so chosen; instead, I consciously engineered a different outcome over a period of years, through both things I did and things I did not do. Many of those decisions are now taken for granted by people who cannot really imagine how it could have been otherwise.
Yes, this means that more than a decade ago I knew that the day would likely come when significant portions of the movement would dismiss me as a loon, or worse. I accepted that consequence with my eyes open. I view it as normal, healthy, and even necessary that this be so.
I don’t know if we’ve actually reached that point yet, but if and when we do it won’t bother me. I did not do what I did for anyone’s approval; I did it because it was right. And then I let go.