Why does KDE use slaves?

Short URL: http://fsmsh.com/2075

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KDE will soon be releasing version 4.0 of its desktop environment. But KDE has a deep, dark secret – it engages in slavery. Actually it's not a secret, they tell you straight up, they use slaves throughout its infrastructure. And since February is Black History Month in the U.S., I feel compelled to speak out against this injustice. Slavery anywhere is a threat to freedom everywhere, even in software.

For those of you who don't know KDE uses routines it calls IO-Slaves to perform various interface tasks. When I first heard (about 3-4 years ago) that KDE named these routines "slaves" I thought to myself, here we go again. I went onto some KDE forums to get them to use some other terminology for these routines. I (and others) obviously couldn't convince them to change this terminology then, but maybe I can tweak their consciousness now to reconsider the message they are putting out behind the use of the slave paradigm.

While writing this piece I didn't have time to search and find some of the discussions I remember, particularly from the 1970-80s, carried out in various trade magazines letters to the editors, articles, and usenet forums, about the need to abolish the master-slave terminology paradigm, prevalent in electronics and software then. It seems the developers at KDE need to see these discussions, and understand why, almost universally now, you no longer see hardware and software processes and relationships referred to as master-slave, but rather as parent-child, client-server, and other such more socially acceptable (and functionally accurate) terminology.

And for those maybe too young (or insensitive) to remember what the big deal was be about why there was a push to have this terminology excised from the fields of electronics, software, et al, well it was simple. During the '70-80s there was a large influx of Black and women students into colleges then, which caused to be challenged virtually everything about the status quo paradigms in existence. And a lot of that centered on attacking language constructs that were demeaning and oppressive to non-whites. For ultimately, the power to define is the power to control.

As more non-whites entered the sciences and engineering (as I did) we were confronted with the legacy of offensive terminology which most whites never stopped to think about as being offensive. The master-slave paradigm of labeling hardware boards and interactions was virtually ubiquitous, which was then passed along to the software world, especially after microprocessors and digital electronics began to replace analog systems. So the language constructs used with hardware was mimicked for the new software driven systems.

So it was deja vu to see the reemergence of the term "slaves" to represent KDE's IO API, which tells you something about the mono-culture of the people who make up the KDE community. How? Well, it's hard for me to imagine any self-aware Black person sitting in a room of people trying to come up with a name to refer to their IO routines, and someone says, "hey, let's call these routines slaves" and the Black person wouldn't say, "uh, I think we should come up with a better name." But you needn't have to be non-white to recognize the destructive legacy that word conjures up.

For really, what is KDE trying to project by calling these routines slaves. After all, enslaved people are people who can be arbitrarily abused, demeaned, and killed, who have no value beside their capacity to provide uncompensated labor, who are denied all rights of person hood, and have no protection under the law. At least that's what it meant to be enslaved in the Americas.

But the KDE io-slaves seem to be a very important and essential core elements of the KDE infrastructure. They possess highly specialized functionality, are designed to provide an efficient and ubiquitous set of tools for application developers to interface to, and thus are valuable components which enhance the utility of KDE. These qualities seem to be the antithesis to those of "slaves." Maybe KDE can hold a contest to choose a better name for these routines, but it should absolutely act to free its "slaves" now.

Human slavery is still a scourge mankind hasn't been able to eradicate, as we now enter the 21st century, because it's a concept too many people still condone. The enslavement of humans will end only when the concept of slavery ceases to exist. Thus, people who produce "free" software should not promote its concept to characterize anything about the nature of their code. While we might not be able to eradicate slavery in the world of human interaction, we absolutely should be able to prevent it from manifesting in the world of free software.

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Comments

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I think your association of the work slave with "Black people" is a reflection of your own prejudices.

Google define: slave -

# a person who is owned by someone
# someone who works as hard as a slave
# work very hard, like a slave
# someone entirely dominated by some influence or person; "a slave to fashion"; "a slave to cocaine"; "his mother was his abject slave"
# slave(a): held in servitude; "he was born of slave parents"

Slave was arguably the hottest of the 1970s Ohio funk bands. Slave had a great run in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Trumpeter Steve Washington formed the group in Dayton in 1975.

Slave is a term often used in BDSM to conote a specific form of submissive. Such a person could also be a masochist or bottom, but this is not always the case.

I think your association of the work slave with "Black people" is a reflection of your own prejudices.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Thank you for your insightful, well-written article. I hope KDE will consider renaming their functions.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I understand the importance of the word and i am well aware of all that conjures up in the mind when one comes across this word or any experience that can be described by this word.
So, KDE should take you very seriously and really free us from the burden of living with it.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Are you american?, because we in latin america even though ,we are in general in any way an african descendant , we don't give a crap about that sort of things, on the hand american people are, well what they are and i think that kind of things shouldn't be an issue anywhere else.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Client-server terminology reminds me the days I was a waiter. Please don't use it.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

waiter!.. that is not funny. this is a job. but slave is NOT.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Hi

Surely this article is a parody? Or maybve not. A practical suggestion - we could remove the letters s-l-a-v-e-r-y from the alphabet to avoid any possibility negative connotations?

K

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I absolutely agree, we should also avoid using letter b, c and k, to prohibit any appearance of color discriminination.
D

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Well, the Irish didn't complain when KDE held it's conference in Dublin last year. So it must be something that only strikes a chord with certain 'activist' types, rather than people who have been slaves in general (like the Irish were).

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

What?

This has nothing to do with the terminology used and everything to do with the chip on your shoulder. 'Slave' was a common term long before the slave trade spread to kidnapping people from Africa.

I think it is utterly ridiculous that you have wasted time writing about this, when there is so much real prejudice and hate in the world to be dealt with.

I hope you are joking and I am just being a prat.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I received this article in an email from my wife, I asked her why she sent it to me and she replyed because it was written by someone she knows. *SIGH* I agree with the sentiment of several of the people who replied to this. Why is the word slave synonymous with African American. Why should it bother me that a process that is subservient to another process be called a slave. After all that is the correct term. If you want to gripe about something then complain about the Gap in pay in the IT field based on race. Talk about the fact that it is upsetting to be referred to as African American. Speak on the fact that there are not enough Blacks in the field as a whole. But please for god's sake do not make an issue where there is none. I would expect more from a Cornell Grad. *sigh*

nikolay vladimirov's picture

This reminds me of 1984 by Orwell. So part of the communist ideology is cleaning the dictionary of words that are inappropriate. You can't make a difference between black or white when there is no word for black, in your mind everything is the same - white. So with clean speech all people are the same, there are no differences between them, no racial or religious crimes and so on...

My point is that your post is(unless a joke ) very closed minded and there are many bad words, but it's not the words that enslave people, but the lack of the freedom to speak your mind by saying them.
--
NV

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

No offense but i guess u ought to use your energy in doing something useful to help kde or for dat manner open source stuff too progress further....Slave is used historically and must be in widespread use now and i see no linkage with racial prejudice

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

This has got to be one of the dumbest articles ever to be in a (semi) major publication.

By the way, I'm offended that you're offended.

kimbriggs.com

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Does not "slave" have its origins from the Slavic tongue? Slavery has been around with various ethnic and racial groups. Whether it be white on white, white on black, black on black, Arab on black, Egyptian on Jew, or any other combination. If you want to complain about the use of Slave then complain about every other terminology that may be offensive to somebody out there. soon you will not have a system to talk about. Let's see.... how about "Daemon". That is a term also to be used for "devil" a harsh and evil creature that enslaves (oops there I go using slave) others.
I am quite sure we could go through every system and find terms that we do not like, but why get upset over a word when it is used. Look at the brighter side of life.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Speaking as a very dim person, I'm offended by your use of the word "brighter".

Zarantu's picture
Submitted by Zarantu on

Greeting'z,

I thought this was a good point to add my 3 cent..

1) The word "Daemon" does Not equal "Devil", nor is it equal to "Demon",
a Daemon (the AE is a Single character), and a "Demon" are two separate,
but associative words for classes of "Spiritual Beings" Daemon's are the Masters,
and Demon's are the Slaves, or Workers who perform the tasks assigned them by the Daemon's.
Daemon's are the Commanding spirits that direct the will of the divine in action,
they call upon the worker spirits "Demons" to perform the tasks.
So the usual sense that Daemon is used in tech land is correct,
a 'Supervisory process that delegates tasks to a subprocess'.

2) As for the Concept of a Master and a Slave,
you can destroy the Words, but the Actions will persist,
Every one Is a Slave in one or more ways, we are slaves to our Nation's,
and there Leader's, slaves to our Religious ideals, slaves to the Environment,
and slaves to our Conscience,
and upon that last point I agree the words Master and Slave should be replaced by Friendlier words.

3) My suggestion, is to use the words descriptive of the parts of Tree's,
as generally the IO-Slaves work as one part of a hierarchical chain,
like the progression of the parts of a tree:
Root, trunk, limb, branch, twig, leaf, {fruit, nut, berry},
and the seed which creates a new tree,
additional, each class or type of function could be assigned a specific species of tree,
or perhaps Daemon like IO-Server processes that deliver data to there Client's could be
named for Fruit bearing trees, while those that Gather data might be called Harvesters.
( and when somebody writes a Worm, we will already know which part of the system its attacking ;D ).
Besides, the Tree analogy is already a well established concept in OS design.

Zarantu

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

You are going to have a hard time convincing KDE and Open Source developers of your point. Many, if not a majority, of KDE developers are not Americans, and have a very different frame of reference about slavery than Americans do. The world != America. Get over it.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I've been completely appalled by KDE's use of 'slave' terminology since I first heard it. "WTF were they thinking?" was my initial response, and it still is. I'm certain the developers never thought about the political and historical connotations of their language, but it is still an obvious misjudgment. Even if you think its "just a word" -- from a purely practical marketing perspective, why choose a word that has negative connotations for some people?

Also: this is NOT an issue that is fundamentally about race. Throughout history, sadly, there have been slaves and masters of every color. Considering that Free Software is about freedom, wouldn't you expect it to be a proprietary software company that decided slavery was a good metaphor for their desktop?

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

IO-slave is an internal abstraction constructed to handle different kinds of IO, it has as much practical marketing purpose as the naming of something like 'differential'.

Your hardware components are often either a slave or a master, what about throwing them away? Your system is killing children all the time, is that all right with you? Clients connect in all kind of funky ways with their peers, most times because you asked them to do it. Sure, they can close the connection, but can't avoid the contact.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

In keeping with the aforementioned sexual connotations of master/slave, I propose the following changes: replace these with f***er/f***ed. This can be shortened to 'er and 'ed, or even R & D as a mnemonic.

Now that leaves a far better taste in one's mouthed, and no one's getting f***ed. Well, at least not the slaves.

Seriously though; why call windows 'windows', why not 'boxes'? Why call buttons 'buttons' and not 'switches'? There has grown throughout the history of computing a de facto linguistic standard, and more often than not it involves jaron: technically precise but meaningful on multiple levels language.

The master/slave analogy is just that; you don't have to fully understand how the part work to understand what their relationship is: the slave never sends commands, the master never does the actual processing. A peer system on the other hand, has a body of similar partners sharing the workload. And so forth.

As the user above mentioned, there is freedom here, and you are free not to use widely accepted logical technical jargon, just as we a free to not understand quite what it is you're referring to when you describe the IO economically fortunate and culturally dominant person in the next tech meeting.

I'm pretty certain the above was sarcasm, but I have heard this voiced seriously as well, which is why I have targeted both groups with this reply. Please take no offense if I mistook one for the other.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Oh noes! I just opened up the KDE color picker, and I saw this color on there. It said "BLACK". I was offended because I'm whiny, have nothing better to do, and like to come off as "that black guy who is offended easily and must always look backward instead of looking forward".... actually, no, it's mostly because I'm whiny.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

It doesn't seem so "racially sensitive" to say that because people called their software a slave
that they must be white. I'm Mexican-American, possibly a descendent of slaves (see Indian Slavery in Latin America), and a KDE user/programmer. My point: slave!=black, kde!=white, and person!=American

I watched a television program on Discovery or TLC about race, and I was surprised when a black person was offended that a white woman called him a "beautiful black creature." They were upset saying that the word "creature" meant monster or animal. Everyone knows that there have been monsters called creatures, but it is a general term like "organism." Even the dictionary lists "human" as one definition of creature and I recently heard a white preacher refer to his white congregation (and all of humanity) as creatures. How come when white people say creature to other white people, they mean "human" or "organism", but when they say it to a black person, they must mean "monster" or "animal"??? It seems to me that black Americans are always *looking for reasons to be offended* so much that they invent reasons to be offended. You don't like rap music? You must be racist. You don't hire a black guy who looks like a gangsta rapper...you must be racist. You don't hire a white guy dressed like a head banger...that's okay because of the dress code. I used to agree that maybe the Confederate flag shouldn't be displayed because so many people were getting offended. But I am starting to think that it is just another example of over-reaction by blacks. Remember the boy who cried wolf?

Another example: whenever black people get traffic tickets they say, "I got pulled over because I'm black." I am thinking, are you sure it's not because you were speeding or because your windows are illegally tinted? I mean, I've gotten traffic tickets. I could easily say that I got pulled over because I'm Mexican...but then I remember that I was in fact speeding or that I did have illegal window tint applied.

Trust me, as a Mexican American, I know all about racism. And I have experienced as much racism from blacks as whites....so I don't give anyone any slack when talking about race. I also think that it is too easy to pull the race card.

Matthew Sharp's picture

I agree with a lot of these comments.

You can't kill a concept. Trying to is a bad idea (I think nikolay vladimirov makes this point well, even though he clearly doesn't know communist ideology). As they say "Those who forget the past are destined to repeat it". Trying to purge the concept from human consciousness almost certainly counts as forgetting it. I personally think it is offensive to all past and present slaves to try this.

I also think you are equating any kind of slavery with human slavery. We enslave animals, plants, bacteria, and machines regularly. Human slavery is abhorrent, but trying to stop all uses of the world slave when it has nothing to do with human slavery is stupid. I'm sorry, it is just stupid.

I'm all for changing KDE's use of the word on technical grounds, but what you suggest is ridiculous. Should we rename the "kill" command too? Not have zombie processes?

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

People are sick and tired of politically correct crusades that end up hurting everyone. Most (maybe all except you) people don't think of lynchings and grand wizards when the term master and slave are used in respect to computers. I will go as far as to say in my 20 years with computers I have never thought of anything dealing with race when I installed an IDE device. People like you fuel a greater cultural divide than existed before you fabricated these non-existent issues, and ultimately breed more hate and contempt. You embarrass yourself and people like you are the sole cause of racial problems today. Black (It's ok to say Black) would not even think in terms of this, but now you empower us with victimization and create a sense of general bitterness and content for something that wasn't even racist in the first place. GET A LIFE.

The KDE people should call things what they want, its their right. And I will bet my left eye they weren't think about Uncle Tom when they chose to use slave over say, secondary.

For the record the United States wouldn't have even had slavery if Africans Tribes were not selling their enemy's tribe people.
__
MP

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Ok. I'm black, 18 years old, and I've seen racism everywhere I go. From online games to walking the streets in mid-day. Yes, I know what IO-Slaves are, and I frankly never gave the word slave a second thought.

If we abolish the word 'slave', what message are we sending- "Whatever words written that offends someone, remove it." That sounds like some Fahrenheit 451 stuff. My point is that we shouldn't let the past dictate... or petrify, us from using functioning language today.

The word is used in a proper, unoffensive context, and therefore needs no change.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Ok. I'm black, 18 years old, and I've seen racism everywhere I go. From online games to walking the streets in mid-day. Yes, I know what IO-Slaves are, and I frankly never gave the word slave a second thought.

If we abolish the word 'slave', what message are we sending- "Whatever words written that offends someone, remove it." That sounds like some Fahrenheit 451 stuff. My point is that we shouldn't let the past dictate... or petrify, us from using functioning language today.

The word is used in a proper, unoffensive context and needs no change.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

what about setting a hard disk's mode to master or slave? *gasp*

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

As a orthodox Christian I demand from Unix world to stop using term 'daemons' ! That significantly harts all of us, Christians !

And yes, give voting rights to my home computer and PDA. They have intellect, that's why !

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Some people actually have found the cute lil Daemon character from BSD to be too much. I think it's a USA thing. I've heard that in the rest of the world, they don't get so bent out of shape over little CARTOON devils.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Please save us from political correctness.

Trying to bury a word does more harm than good. And forcing political correctness on people means they believe something but don't know why.

Having open sensible debate of sensitive issues gives balance and the ability to understand your views instead of just possessing them.

This gives us the increased ability to share our views and educate the uneducated.

Suppressing the word 'fire' for example will not stop people getting burnt. In fact it increases the risk as a 'fire extinguisher' will have to be labelled 'extinguisher'.

This all very much surprises me. There are holocaust museums to show how inhumane mankind has been. This is to present the past so we can learn from it.

The writer seems to be suggesting the terrible period of slavery should be wiped from history.

On the use of the word 'slave' in the context of kde, client/server and parent/child do not describe the process as well as slave.

The english language is a wondrous thing. Stop trying to damage it. The logical conclusion of this assault on common sense is;

we will be left with only half a dozen words we can use without offence and then will only be able to commincate by hitting each other.

anon.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

seriously the political correctness brigade needs to get a life, why dont they go campaign for the blackberry to change its name to the colouredberry?
they are called slaves due to the fact that the processes have no control over their own actions and are entirely controlled by the "master" hence the name makes perfect sense and is in no way against anyone. also your paranoid about blacks, slave is not equal to black, in fact through history there are far more white/asian/middle-eastern slaves than black slaves.

maybe the Political Correctness Brigade should go and get a hobby so they dont waste everyone elses time, its bad enough you cant say firemen anymore and have to say fireperson instead.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I'm all up for freeing IO Slaves from this derogative slavery! Give them freedom! Give them independence! From now all KDE programs must do the dirty IO with THEIR own hands, no more slaves! That will teach them ;-)

And by the way: return all IO Slaves to Africa!

I mean, are you silly or was the article just a joke? ;-)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

As a American Caucasian whose family was emancipated only 3 generations ago (in Italy of all places), I feel uniquely qualified to say that descendants of former slaves really don't give a crap about the M/S terminology used in the IT and Sci/Tech world.

Thanx,
Frank

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Following the same logic there are several other terms which should be reconsidered then, such as daemon (I guess some Christians don't like the fact they have daemons in their computers), zombie (some relatives of victims of voodoo might be hurt by this term), whitelisting/blacklisting (these are obvious) or killing (a process; very aggresive term).

I don't see why we should abolish slavery in software, if it is a useful way of structuring complicated systems. Programs are not human beings, we obviously have no problems with killing them, so why would enslaving them be any worse?

I would even suggest that using these terms has a positive impact, because it goes against creating unnecessary taboos and encourages conversation, like the one we have here. It makes it easier for us to realize why slavery of human beings is bad, and why it really doesn't matter when it comes to unconscius objects, such as computer programs.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

The term IO Slave is functionally correct. The Native Americans were enslaved in the Americas before the African People. At the same time being eradicated like vermin. Still to this day the US government still holds the same prejudices as they did in the 1800s. So quit your whining and quit being over sensitive about terminology. Should we quit calling plugs Male and Female. Maybe we can call them Innies and Outies?

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

"Political correctness" speech is the newspeak of these times. Perfectly well suited words are twisted and turned until they turn so "taboo" that the original meaning is lost. "Discrimination" just means that you select your actions depending on a subject - not enslaving any ethnic minority. Still, a statement like "a definition must have a discriminate quality" almost becomes incomprehensible. That is just what newspeak was designed to do.

And it doesn't help. Calling a "spokes woman" a "spokes person" still implies it is a woman. "Negro" turned to "black", "black" to "colored person", "colored person" to "Afro American" and it won't be too long until that one is tainted too. People just adjust their concepts to the word until the word has the same tainted meaning as the original had. Even worse, denying people the words to describe it doesn't make it go away. After KDE has been "sanitized", there will still be slave labour in the world.

So no, "slave" is perfect alright with me. It matches my concept of what it does, much better than any other. As far as I'm concerned KDE could stand for "Kommandant Destruktions Einheiten" and I/O slaves be renamed "Jewish forced laborers", I'd still use it, because it's just a great program. Don't try to force your own political ideology on to what simply is a technical concept. It won't do your case any good - simply because it is ridiculous.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

This is a joke, right?

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

And people wonder why there is war in the world? This is the lamest article , even remotely connectet to OSS, that I've ever seen...

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Changing the language is just another method the Cultists of the Humanist Religion use to subvert society. Author is a spokesman for the cause.