Pearson Vs Mullenweg – Personalities And Fear

Chris Pearson

Yesterday I said that I wasn’t weighing in on the Thesis vs WordPress, Pearson vs Mullenweg debate over GPL licensing. I didn’t want to add my voice to the discussion because while I use WordPress religiously, I had little new to add to the conversation, beyond gut reactions and instincts.

This morning, in between trying to figure out how I woke up with a Pringle stuck to my face and herding children, Sara and I managed to find a little time to discuss this.

Three things I’ve learnt from that discussion:

  • To a lot of people GPL is a codeword for free (as in beer), which is of course not correct.
  • Chris Pearson suffers from hubris (which I can seriously relate too)
  • Matt Mullenweg is not the most accomplished public speaker in the world (or at least was one seriously tired bunny when recording the Mixergy interview)

In a clash of personalities (not necessarily of will power) with Chris Pearson, Matt Mullenweg is out-classed. Pwned would probably be the correct gamer term.

Listening to the interview Pearson comes off as being loud, brash, very articulate, self confident and and with a blinding pride that sounded to me like it was sheer arrogance. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I “suffer” from many of the same traits myself, but he certainly did himself no favors when he described himself as one of the 3 most important people in WordPress history.

Mullenweg was the complete opposite of Pearson. He was quiet, reserved (to a fault, sometimes he sounded like he had just been woken up and was still 90% asleep) and beyond polite. I lost count of how many times he asked the host if he [Matt] could respond to a question, which was a stark contrast to Pearsons verbal onslaught, yet Mullenweg still managed to sound determined and fully in charge of his convictions.

Listen to the interview. Really listen to it. Listen to what Pearson says about why he will not adopt the GPL (despite the fact that Thesis 1.7 contains GPL code).  His arguments aren’t about business. When it comes to business he dribbles confidently on about organic systems and the GPL being un-natural. When faced with legal arguments, lead developers explaining how themes actually work with WordPress, and examples of other developers who have gone GPL and had a positive impact on their business, he dismisses them because they are at odds with what he believes.

Really listen to what Pearson has to say.

It boils down to this: “I don’t want to let go because I don’t want to”.

I’m not having a go at Pearson here, this is simply what I get from the interview, and the reason I “get it” is because I have been there and I recognize the blindness that comes with the obvious pride Pearson has. I’ve been there.

“I don’t want to let go because I don’t want to” = “I’m afraid, I don’t want to lose control”.

“I don’t want to let go because I don’t want to” = “I don’t want to change, I fear change and I’m not sure if I can adapt”.

Pearson, much like one of the boys (the five year old) when he’s told to go to bed, feels that this is unfair. He can’t really explain why. He can make up excuses, stick his lip out and pout, complain that his older sister gets to stay up later, but in the end, can only throw a tantrum, say that it’s “not fair” and ultimately accept that he must go to bed.

If he doesn’t go to bed he can (will?) be punished and the end result will be the same.

Ultimately Pearson will either have to adopt the GPL, possibly face legal action from WordPress, definitely lose business (I would suspect based on reading the #thesiswp twitter stream this has already happened) and potentially face being shunned by the WordPress community for the damage and fear (amongst developers and clients) that this may cause.

(I’ll post a little later today about what WordPress can do to stop the use of non-GPL themes without going to court.)