Odious ideas are not entitled to hide from criticism
September 17, 2019 8:08 AM   Subscribe

34 years after founding it, Richard Stallman has been driven out of the Free Software Foundation after objecting to the phrase "sexual assault" in reference to Marvin Minsky who may have been the perpetrator of a sexual assault.

Reports that Minsky has been directly accused of any wrongdoing seem unverifiable, but there is substantial evidence(pdf) to suggest that he was a client of Jeffrey Epstein's sex trafficking operation. Other prominent names in the recently-revealed testimony include that of Prince Andrew. Epstein died by apparent suicide in a prison cell last month.

Holding to an outmoded and narrow definition of "assault" is consistent with Stallman's strict insistence on linguistic prescription in other instances, such as "GNU/Linux", "per", "DRM", and "hacker".

It is seen by many as more salient that his perceived minimization of sexual assualt is consistent with his former views on paedophilia.
posted by sfenders (235 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite


 
Good.

See also: this Medium post, about the degree to which rms was essentially a missing stair at MIT for decades.

He's been getting a pass on utter bullshit interpersonal behavior, especially but not exclusively towards women, for as long as I've been aware of him (so 20 years?) because "something something emacs something gnu," but it's in NO way clear to me that his behavior hasn't hurt FOSS as much as his leadership helped.
posted by uberchet at 8:11 AM on September 17 [37 favorites]


This guy has always been a creep, right? Or am I confusing him with Eric Raymond? I pay zero attention to FSF things these days but I remember traditionally that one of the big turn offs was the actual people involved.
posted by selfnoise at 8:11 AM on September 17 [15 favorites]


RMS being taken down because he wanted to argue the technicalities and theoretical basis of real-life horrible crimes in a totally abstract way devoid of any indication of an understanding of human emotion is epically on brand.

I am 100% not surprised. He has been a giant red flag/obvious missing stair forever in the community, always a creep and always making things super awkward.

I pay zero attention to FSF things these days but I remember traditionally that one of the big turn offs was the actual people involved.

So (a) yes he's always been a creep but also (b) literally every nerd daddy figure of the '80s and '90s was an awful human being whose completely undisguised lack of social skills and moral failures were completely glossed over because of technical proficiency that rendered the immune to any kind of pushback. And I'm not saying things are that much better now -- just, holy shit, basically anyone from a "who's who" of the time's big names is gonna lead you down a rabbit hole of people we'd all be better off without.
posted by tocts at 8:15 AM on September 17 [57 favorites]


Selfnoise, both Stallman and Raymond are problematic to say the least.
posted by advicepig at 8:15 AM on September 17 [8 favorites]


See also: John "Captain Crunch" Draper.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:21 AM on September 17 [7 favorites]


Both RMS and ESR are creeps, but of different sorts. ESR is, if memory serves, the libertarian gun-rights weirdo brand of creep.
an awful human being whose completely undisguised lack of social skills and moral failures were completely glossed over because of technical proficiency that rendered the immune to any kind of pushback
In fact, in some cases this awfulness was *encouraged* or *brandished* because they were too important or too much of a genius to be bothered, etc., and so as people spent years in these roles they were given a complete pass on learning how to be a decent, acceptable human.

Fuck. That. FOSS & the FOSS community deserve better, have always deserved better, and shitcanning RMS is a step in the right direction.
posted by uberchet at 8:21 AM on September 17 [23 favorites]


And I'm not saying things are that much better now -- just, holy shit, basically anyone from a "who's who" of the time's big names is gonna lead you down a rabbit hole of people we'd all be better off without.

Hacker News (where most modern "big names" and wannabes in tech are) is circling the wagons to defend Stallman and "free speech" so just burn computers forever.
posted by Memo at 8:23 AM on September 17 [12 favorites]


I've been in several extended MIT alumni conversations about this story. Where men are wringing their hands about poor Richard Stallman, how he's just an awkward geek or maybe neuro-atypical and yeah what he said was wrong but really he's just too strange to not understand when he shouldn't be talking and blah blah blah. (Just saying; never read Hacker News.)

What's remarkable in these conversations is none of these men express any sympathy for the women who've been working in the hostile environment he's created. Stories of Stallman being "creepy" (ie: sexually harassing women) are 20+ years old. Women in CSAIL in the building with him. Women at open source conferences. Women wanting to contribute to open source. And here's the leader, a sexist creep inappropriately hitting on them. It's hideous.
posted by Nelson at 8:24 AM on September 17 [85 favorites]


His resignation announcement was rather offensive as well, claiming that he was being pushed out because of "a series of misunderstandings and mischaracterizations",and not the fact that people are finally holding him to account for his conduct.

Hacker News (where most modern "big names" and wannabes in tech are) is circling the wagons to defend Stallman and "free speech" so just burn computers forever.

Of course, because how dare he be held accountable for his behavior. Don't people understand that he's a genius?
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:25 AM on September 17 [7 favorites]


See also: John "Captain Crunch" Draper.

I went to a 2600 meetup in LA a million years ago (and didn't go back, because at some point the conversation turned to "why isn't there a WHITE history month?"), but even then I remember people specifically warning a young guy going to Defcon that Captain Crunch would looove him, and to be careful.

So much toxic bullshit from these old-school computer guys. I've head a bunch of anecdotes about Stallman creeping on 18 year olds at parties and keeping a mattress in his office. Gross shit. It reflects poorly on MIT that he didn't go sooner.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 8:25 AM on September 17 [22 favorites]


What's remarkable in these conversations is none of these men express any sympathy for the women who've been working in the hostile environment he's created.

It's worse than that. These men also never express any sympathy for the women he drove out of the discipline.

I 100% and categorically reject the idea of the indispensable asshole. 100% of the time, they do more damage to whatever endeavor they supposedly are so critical to than they ever make up for in their output. RMS is one of many whose followers always want to point to what he's created, while ignoring the giant mountain behind that of what he's destroyed, which dwarfs anything he's ever created in its magnitude.
posted by tocts at 8:27 AM on September 17 [95 favorites]


They should’ve packaged the decency library with the distribution, but I guess it wasn’t free enough.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:28 AM on September 17 [13 favorites]


Oh, and let's not forget his defenders who are demeaning autistic individuals who are decent people by defending Stallman on the grounds that he's "on the spectrum". News flash - being autistic doesn't preclude someone from being a misogynist, and it doesn't make being so acceptable.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:29 AM on September 17 [86 favorites]


Being autistic doesn't excuse anyone from anything.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:30 AM on September 17 [21 favorites]


I don't know if he's less of a shitty person by now, but at least Linus Torvalds realised he was. On the grand scale of things it might not amount to much, but it was more than the usual i.e. nothing.
posted by farlukar at 8:30 AM on September 17 [21 favorites]


the women he drove out of the discipline

RIght. It's good that the long arc of the moral universe eventually bends toward justice, but what about the damage that has been done? And finally taking action should not excuse the institutions that protected and enabled career -long predations of prominent men. Read the comments here, for example (re: UC Berkeley philosopher John Searle)
posted by thelonius at 8:33 AM on September 17 [8 favorites]


Sigh. I should have expected it.

Is any man pioneering in tech not an awful person?
posted by sotonohito at 8:34 AM on September 17


from Vice article: Stallman wrote that the “most plausible scenario” is that Epstein’s underage victims in his campaign of trafficking were “entirely willing." Stallman also argued about the definition of “rape" and whether the term applies to the victims.

When someone else in the email thread pointed out that victim Virginia Giuffre, who was 17 when she was forced to have sex with AI pioneer Marvin Minsky, Stallman said “it is morally absurd to define ‘rape’ in a way that depends on minor details such as which country it was in or whether the victim was 18 years old or 17.”


This is the deeply sexist mindset that does not respect or value women and drives women out of tech.
posted by theora55 at 8:42 AM on September 17 [27 favorites]


I somehow missed this until just now. He's been signaling his disdain and misogyny for decades with his church of emacs bullshit among many other things, so I don't even know why I'm still shocked he's pulled this, but somehow I am.

There is just no limit to how much he can just go fuck himself, forever.
posted by sldownard at 8:50 AM on September 17 [3 favorites]


I 100% and categorically reject the idea of the indispensable asshole.

100% agreed. Here’s a decent Medium post about that: Sorry, But Male Geniuses Are Replaceable
posted by bitteschoen at 8:58 AM on September 17 [23 favorites]


I'd just like to interject for moment. What you're refering to as a misogynist dipshit, is in fact, GNU/misogynist dipshit, or as I've recently taken to calling it, GNU plus misogynist dipshit.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:58 AM on September 17 [53 favorites]


In the post-MeToo world, I feel like we need some kind of ritual to officially liberate great ideas, movements, and works from the horrible actions of toxic men who birthed them. I'm glad to see in this discussion the Free Software movement being distanced from RMS instead of buried with him.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:01 AM on September 17 [13 favorites]


It's a little thing, but I keep remembering Stallman's reaction the time that one of his colleagues had a baby.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:05 AM on September 17 [40 favorites]


(Checks hacker news.) Yes, hacker news is as bad as you'd expect. There are brave souls pointing out that freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom from consequence but that certainly isn't the groupthink.

I lost patience with Stallman over the whole GNU/Linux thing, I noticed that he wasn't consistent (ha!) and didn't insist on calling it Dell/GNU/Linux (or whatever computer he uses). RMS did some good useful stuff many years ago and seems to be pissed off that it didn't make him rich and famous which is why he wants to rides on Linus' coattails.
posted by epo at 9:06 AM on September 17 [4 favorites]


No, see, all the whining and complaining is great.

Everyone who is throwing a hissyfit right now is ALSO someone who should be fire/signed from anything to do with software.

Brand them, tattoo them, attack them with permanent marker, whatever it takes so they can be identified later.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:09 AM on September 17 [26 favorites]


Ugh. I think he was trying to get ahead of this, in his way:

"14 September 2019 (Sex between an adult and a child is wrong)
Many years ago I posted that I could not see anything wrong about sex between an adult and a child, if the child accepted it.

Through personal conversations in recent years, I've learned to understand how sex with a child can harm per psychologically. This changed my mind about the matter: I think adults should not do that. I am grateful for the conversations that enabled me to understand why."

from https://stallman.org/archives/2019-jul-oct.html

(*edit: HTML)
posted by pseudotsuga at 9:11 AM on September 17 [4 favorites]


>Through personal conversations in recent years, I've learned to understand how sex with a child can harm per psychologically. This changed my mind about the matter: I think adults should not do that. I am grateful for the conversations that enabled me to understand why."

Who were the poor souls tasked with having these conversations? It's pretty impressive, I think if I were given the task of explaining to some moron why child-rape is wrong, I would just scream obscenities at them until one or both of us explode. Doubly laughable that trash people like this also go one to spread their views on humanity and reproduction. Emacs more important than a child, give me a break, emacs isn't even important if you use it everyday and are actively developing it.
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:16 AM on September 17 [21 favorites]


Is any man pioneering in tech not an awful person?

This is where people drop stories about Ted Nelson and Sir Tim and my heart breaks a bit more and my anger gets a bit deeper.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:17 AM on September 17 [3 favorites]


Barf. (to Stallman’s adult/child reconnoiter.)

And +1 to the notion that we have no idea how many people have been pushed out of various jobs, schools, careers for all these dominant transgressive assholes. Women, obviously, but men, too, who are not monsters, often get shoved out if they don’t “play along.” It’s a confusing situation to suddenly be called upon to be complicit in this kind of behavior. Most people cannot confront, they have no power or will risk their health and safety by doing so. So, they leave.
posted by amanda at 9:18 AM on September 17 [22 favorites]


But there's much more than this one this, pseudotsuga. I'm trying to find the story (maybe here?) about any women he worked near having to have lots of plants around their workspace as rms supposedly hates foliage. Otherwise he'd hang around and harass them. This is not okay in any workplace.

I'm so sorry that toxic men have driven so many people out of working with computers. The pervading lack of empathy is a feature in the FOSS community. I hope we can change that.
posted by scruss at 9:21 AM on September 17 [11 favorites]


Back in the day when I was the Linux and open source columnist in Computer Shopper (the British mag of that name, not the Ziff-Davis one) I met both RMS and ESR (Eric Raymond).

I am a cisgendered male.

Thumbnail impressions: RMS was an asshole: weirdly pedantic in an ASD way, which I could make allowances for ... but also arrogant and conceited. (Also, he didn't wash his clothes or his body nearly often enough.) My first impression was "asshole, avoid", and he didn't improve over time, so I avoided. (I didn't get to see his behaviour with female colleagues or developers but heard rumors about the grabby hands. Which I didn't pay enough attention to at the time, because insufficiently woke.)

ESR was a little less obviously assholish at first except he was a doctrinaire libertarian (back in the 1990s that struck me as charmingly ethnic-American and eccentric rather than instant-killfile fodder) and a gnu enthusiast. At one Penguicon (combo SF convention and open source conference) I went to around 2005, there was a "geeks with guns" trip to a firing range. I went along (because: author here, got to do my research somewhere) and so did ESR. Who proceeded to regurgitate the most barkingly offensive anti-muslim propaganda at me for the entire trip (at least when I wasn't wearing ear defenders). Stuff that I'd have characterized as neo-Nazi propaganda if you substituted "Jews" for "Muslims". I'm talking full blown "Eurabia" conspiracy garbage here, just a short step away from contemporary identarianism/white supremacism. I'd be utterly unsurprised to discover that these days he's golfing buddies with David Duke. But when not outing himself as a not-so-closet racist ESR was able to be superficially charming and relatable, so ouch.

TLDR: I got away unmolested but whoah if these folks are the best leaders the free software/open source world could come up with, then it's no wonder that the year of Linux on the desktop is always twelve months in the future (and maybe that's a good thing because I'm really not into swastika wallpaper with a side order of NAMBLA).
posted by cstross at 9:23 AM on September 17 [111 favorites]


But there's much more than this one this, pseudotsuga. I'm trying to find the story (maybe here?) about any women he worked near having to have lots of plants around their workspace as rms supposedly hates foliage. Otherwise he'd hang around and harass them. This is not okay in any workplace.

Freshman women at MIT were told to tell Stallman that they were vi users as well, in a similar vein.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:23 AM on September 17 [39 favorites]


I've never heard of an asshole/genius who stopped being a genius when people made them stop being an asshole.

Clearly Stallman has been a missing stair for decades, and I lament the damage to the industry when many, many talented women were driven away from the discipline entirely because nobody ever actually called him out on his shit, and also lament how much more Stallman could have done for computing had someone clouted him around the head and shoulders the very first time he got out of line with a colleague.

Lone geniuses are overrated. Collaborative geniuses who aren't assholes are force multipliers the likes of which we almost never see. Because sycophants will always contribute to the delinquency of talented assholes.

We're long overdue for getting rid of the sycophants and expecting people to act like fucking professionals. We've been driving damn near 50% of our geniuses away from these pursuits for the sake of people like Richard "Voluntary Pedophilia" Stallman.
posted by tclark at 9:25 AM on September 17 [40 favorites]


I think about all the scholars of color and especially Black women who were denied tenure or denied tenure-track positions because of some nebulous determination that they were a poor fit for the department, too adversarial, too focused on non-scholarly pursuits, too outspoken in their public comments or twitter presence, not collegial enough, etc etc.

And I think about all the famous (or even not very famous) white male professors who harass and exploit women - whether fellow faculty (however junior), graduate students, undergraduates.... and who are excused as "mostly harmless," "you just have to understand that generation has a different mindset," "yeah he's gotten out of hand before but he's such a key member of the program".... (quotations are illustrative paraphrases of comments I have read or heard about).

And then I just hulk out. At the very least, I want to yell at everyone who ever excused a dude's misbehavior but used a woman's inconvenient opinions as a reason to reject her tenure application.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:26 AM on September 17 [65 favorites]


His resignation announcement was rather offensive as well, claiming that he was being pushed out because of "a series of misunderstandings and mischaracterizations"

Can we not have both? He's right that there's been a series of bizarre misunderstandings that are the proximate cause of his woe, everyone else is right that he's a misogynist asshole. I appreciate all the comments here that have solidified my belief in the latter without resorting to anything that looks like mischaracterization.
posted by sfenders at 9:34 AM on September 17 [3 favorites]


I'm not remotely surprised to see this part of RMS go public, and I'm very happy to see RMS finally exiled. He's been given way way way more passes than anyone ever deserves - it goes beyond passes, it's enabling and support within the community. Fuck that guy, he's done a lot of damage in his life - to the people around him, and to the FOSS movement.

The only reason that he was able to be held in such high regard is because we somehow are convinced that sociopathy is a desirable trait in business and organizational leaders. The "Eccentric Asshole Genius" is an archetype that needs to die, history is far too full of people who have been supremely shitty to everyone around them, who maybe had some good ideas, but mostly lived off of the success of others who operated out of the spotlight.
posted by MysticMCJ at 9:35 AM on September 17 [15 favorites]




I think about all the scholars of color and especially Black women who were denied tenure or denied tenure-track positions because of some nebulous determination that they were a poor fit for the department, too adversarial, too focused on non-scholarly pursuits, too outspoken in their public comments or twitter presence, not collegial enough, etc etc.

I've been going on about this in the MIT/Epstein thread too, but at 48, I realize how many women and probably some men as well have just...settled for a different career path because of the heavy weight of continual, low-grade sexist and harassing bullshit.

Like, the people who actually have been denied career advancement overtly are just the tip of the iceberg of people who have just gradually, gradually, gradually either lowered their expectations or made choices -- some deliberate, some probably subconsciously -- which eventually removed them from top-flight participation in fields of work and study. Not because they were incapable or unambitious, but because the price is too high even when paid in pennies every day.

I gave the example of one of the first CEOs I encountered, who did a few really gross things. None of them to me,* and at the time all my peers and I spoke about his grossness openly and kind of rolled our eyes. I would never have considered myself a victim of his behaviour. And yet, in retrospect, those were prime career-building years where I spent a reasonable amount of time keeping my ideas to myself or skirting his office (it was a smallish start up). 48 year old me would advise 20-something me to just get out of the company faster, but at the time I did not have the experience to know what I could have been doing instead - and after all I was getting a paycheque, raises, promotions, and interesting work. I just wasn't excelling.

The only reason that he was able to be held in such high regard is because we somehow are convinced that sociopathy is a desirable trait in business and organizational leaders.

This. The costs are very high, they're just hidden, because the sociopaths will tell you how great they are and all the non-sociopaths who drop out along the way to live full and great lives (but not bring their spectacular results to light) are pretty quiet.

* Until he did, and then I had a new job within 3 months.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:41 AM on September 17 [44 favorites]


He's right that there's been a series of bizarre misunderstandings that are the proximate cause of his woe

No, he isn't. People didn't "misunderstand" when he used prescrptivism as a weapon (something he is known for doing) to defend Minsky - they found it offensive, demeaning to the actual victims, and unacceptable. Calling what happened a "misunderstanding" only serves to absolve Stallman of blame he should be deservedly shouldering.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:41 AM on September 17 [36 favorites]


literally every nerd daddy figure of the '80s and '90s was an awful human being whose completely undisguised lack of social skills and moral failures were completely glossed over because of technical proficiency that rendered the immune to any kind of pushback.

Let's face it: there is a subculture for whom this is a feature, not a bug. A lot of the bros in the free software movement are in that camp. It's the Gen-Xers who read Hackers or The Jargon File* and coded on their Commodore 64 or copy of Turbo Pascal, to Millennials and Gen Z'ers who identify with some of the worst attributes of Sheldon Cooper. There are some good stories and history in there, but it tends to tell stories that favor pure programmatic logic and The Right Way to Do Something. I can recall several instances in the first section of Hackers where what you can do on a computer dictates status and seniority, and "any system can be hacked" (i.e. you can mess with someone's rules just for it's own sake, without regard to larger social conventions). And it was all a Boys' Club. I know folks of this ilk who wear this as a badge of honor, to varying degrees.

I confess I never read any of RMS's deep cuts that have been posted, not going much beyond reading his speaking rider and a few pages on on his site. You could walk away almost admiring him: his commitment to his ideals were such that he was willing to grossly limit and inconvenience himself in order to be consistent with them. But he also spiked my asshole detection meter. I'm absolutely not surprised that he finds himself in this state, or that it has been going on for a while.

I doubt he realizes just what he did wrong. A year from now, he'll probably tell the story of how everyone just didn't get the point he was making in the abstract.

*I'm not linking to the ESR version.
posted by MrGuilt at 9:52 AM on September 17 [12 favorites]


I've never heard of an asshole/genius who stopped being a genius when people made them stop being an asshole.

Holy mackerel, tclark, this is good and I'm stealing it.
posted by jquinby at 9:56 AM on September 17 [18 favorites]


Oh--and if you go to RMS's site, you'll see that he left over a "series of misunderstandings and mischaracterizations".

Stay classy, Rich.
posted by MrGuilt at 9:57 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]


People didn't "misunderstand" when he used prescrptivism as a weapon

Well, some of us did.

But the people who reported that Minsky had been accused by a sex trafficking victim of sexual assault also misunderstood things; he hasn't. The people who wrote that Stallman claimed that all Epstein's victims were entirely willing either misunderstood or lied about that; he didn't. Stallman himself seems to misunderstand a number of things as well, of course.

Fair point though that it's not certain to what extent each of these misunderstandings fuelled the scandal, the truth looks to be enough to justify it without them, but they certainly have been prevalent.
posted by sfenders at 10:05 AM on September 17


Yeah, regarding his "getting ahead of it", I also want to state unequivocally that I 100% do not believe RMS when he says his feelings on pedophilia have changed. I believe he's smart enough to have finally conceded that even for a guy whose whole schtick is being a ludicrous curmudgeon that he nevertheless had to let that one go from his public persona to avoid being blackballed. I also believe that doesn't mean a fucking thing about how he actually feels, and that his actions for decades speak for themselves.
posted by tocts at 10:05 AM on September 17 [15 favorites]


He overstayed his welcome, like 20+ years ago. While this is welcome, don’t overlook all of those who enabled this behavior all these years. They have a lot of culpability here as well.
posted by tommasz at 10:09 AM on September 17 [5 favorites]


But the people who reported that Minsky had been accused by a sex trafficking victim of sexual assault also misunderstood things; he hasn't. The people who wrote that Stallman claimed that all Epstein's victims were entirely willing either misunderstood or lied about that; he didn't. Stallman himself seems to misunderstand a number of things as well, of course.

Futurama was wrong - technically correct is not actually the best kind of correct. Yes, if you really want to get into the nitty-gritty of things, the matter was filled with the sorts of misunderstandings that fill all sorts of discussions. But those do not take away from the actual event - in response to a proposed protest of MIT's handling of their ties to Epstein - including the allegations that Minsky was one of his "clients" - Stallman used prescrptivism to argue that it was wrong to characterize Minsky as an abuser for taking advantage of Epstein's victims, as well as arguing that he couldn't have known about what was actually going on. It was an utterly unacceptable response, further compounded by his follow-up in which he called the age of consent "morally absurd".

The problem was not "misunderstanding". The problem was that Stallman put his male colleague ahead of victims of trafficking and rape.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:17 AM on September 17 [33 favorites]


He fell down a well, actually.
posted by jordemort at 10:24 AM on September 17 [30 favorites]



Fair point though that it's not certain to what extent each of these misunderstandings fuelled the scandal, the truth looks to be enough to justify it without them, but they certainly have been prevalent.


oh my word - these are only misunderstandings if you don't believe women.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 10:28 AM on September 17 [30 favorites]


Just like every toxic narcissist RMS is representing that he is suffering the consequences of a misunderstanding, not the consequences of his actions. He's pretending to misunderstand, so that you have to argue his misunderstandings instead of the issue. It's classic bad faith arguing to make you spend your effort defining terms and laying out details in front of a seemingly slow pupil. But pretending to be stupid is not a strategy that should be available to the recipient of a MacArthur "Genius" Grant.

---

Aspiring to someday be so valuable for your skills or reputation that you can exercise whatever toxic behavior you please without suffering the consequences of your actions is the nerd equivalent of being a temporarily embarrassed millionaire, which is why you see all the Hacker News bros coming to his defense.
posted by Horkus at 10:30 AM on September 17 [20 favorites]


Vice: "Last week, Motherboard published the full email thread in which Stallman wrote that the “most plausible scenario” is that Epstein’s underage victims in his campaign of trafficking were “entirely willing."
That's not what he said though. Stallman is odious, and he's doing some impressive mental gymnastics to avoid having to emotionally deal with the fact that his friend raped a girl who was being sexually exploited and trafficked and who was not old enough to legally consent. But he didn't say Epstein's victims were willing sexual participants and I think it's a poor example of journalism on Vice's part for them to say that he did. I feel... petty... for bringing it up, but it bothered me and makes me feel like I have to fact check their claims when that's what an editor should be doing, no?

Full quote from Stallman (that Vice snipped apart):
"The reference reports the claim that Minsky had sex with one of Epstein's harem. [snip] Let's presume that was true (I see no reason to disbelieve it). The word "assaulting" presumes that he applied force or violence, in some unspecified way, but the article itself says no such thing. Only that they had sex. We can imagine many scenarios, but the most plausible scenario is that she presented herself to him as entirely willing. Assuming she was being coerced by Epstein, he would have had every reason to tell her to conceal that from most of his associates."
posted by Secret Sparrow at 10:35 AM on September 17 [7 favorites]


Freshman women at MIT were told to tell Stallman that they were vi users as well, in a similar vein.

This is awful, but hilariously brilliant.

I'm reminded of a couple of things.

The first is the saying "Just because you have Asperger's doesn't mean you aren't an asshole".

The second is that I find it sadly ironic that people who claim to be rational (or should that be Rational(tm)) can't apply that supposed rationality to their words and conclude "While this is arguably a correct statement, it's going to piss a lot of people off".

Instead, they seem to believe that everyone else will interpret their words Rationally. Which is, when you think about it, a highly irrational thing to believe. Even Spock knew that he was surrounded by emotional beings. Believing otherwise is illogical.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:37 AM on September 17 [19 favorites]


Back in his software developing days, Matt Gemmell called RMS The Software Unabomber. I thought that was a bit uncharitable, but I'm beginning to come around to his point of view.
posted by jklaiho at 10:41 AM on September 17 [8 favorites]


RMS has been dead to me for a while, but I think today is the day I stop reading Hacker News.
posted by swift at 10:46 AM on September 17 [13 favorites]


> it's no wonder that the year of Linux on the desktop is always twelve months in the future (and maybe that's a good thing because I'm really not into swastika wallpaper with a side order of NAMBLA).

RMS and ESR's work has also contributed to Google, Apple and Microsoft and I would bet many of their defenders work for those companies. Technology is not a "meritocracy" for code or morals.
posted by Poldo at 10:56 AM on September 17 [3 favorites]


The thing sometimes about the "lone genius" narrative is that these people aren't indispensable, but they aren't mentoring anyone who can quickly replace them, they aren't usually documenting their processes, and they aren't collaborating well. So when you think about replacing them in an organization or group, you realize you are going to have to find someone to do a ton of work for a few months or longer just to keep things moving until you can get a functional environment going or you are going to have to create a separate org that does the same thing and do a takeover of the functionality. At least that's been my depressing realization when it comes up with volunteer groups I work with where the cranky person isn't awful enough to need immediate replacement and we just eye them warily for a strong signal that we need to step in.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:29 AM on September 17 [10 favorites]


There's no reason to rush to be "technically correct" when you're basing your argument on an emotional reaction to someone you respect, or who is a friend, having their reputation examined in the public sphere. Especially when the public conversation is ongoing, because you have to discuss it in the terms of the public conversation or provide a way to reframe it in a constructive way while respecting the community you're addressing.

People with lower social than technical skills fail to recognize the emotional rush to defend doesn't mean finding the one technical detail that they think disproves the entire premise will help your argument. No one's going to drop everything and say, "Ah, yes, this woman was more than likely of age in some country or another, so why should we keep speaking?"

Jumping in like Stallman did, without examining his own view and how it'd be perceived, means he's dumped a bunch of poorly-formed arguments and told the world exactly what his views are ("harem"? jesus christ, dude) in his framing.
posted by mikeh at 11:38 AM on September 17 [8 favorites]


tocts, my interpretation is less charitable: I think he probably has changed his stance on pedophilia, after all it's natural to eventually get past one's sophomoric conclusions.

Thing is, that rather calls into question the degree of thinking behind many of his other stances, doesn't it?

(FSF associate member here FWIW.)
posted by joeyh at 11:41 AM on September 17 [3 favorites]


I guess the real message we're getting, and which Stallman completely fails to understand, is that if he's trying to present himself as a friend or peer of Minsky, we're learning that Minsky had peers who absolutely would have shrugged off the presence of underage women in Epstein's presence and probably wouldn't have questioned what was going on, or possibly even have approved.

The other question people tend to forget to ask before jumping into the fray is: "Am I the person who should be joining this conversation?" Stallman absolutely is not.
posted by mikeh at 11:45 AM on September 17 [7 favorites]


oh my word - these are only misunderstandings if you don't believe women.

Which women do you mean? The only witness (or person claiming to be a witness) who's said anything as to whether or not Minsky had sex with Giuffre is Greg Benford, who I know nothing about other than that he allegedly wrote "I was there. Minsky turned her down. Told me about it. She saw us talking and didn’t approach me."

I'm happy believe any woman who credibly has knowledge of what happened and says otherwise, but haven't come across any. The lawyers at the trial did not ask whether any sex took place, perhaps because they knew it didn't. Maybe they didn't ask only because it didn't pertain to their case against Epstein, but they were happy to ask for the details about other incidents similar to the one hypothesized. That Minsky may have been an innocent bystander to all this is arguably not the most likely course of events, but it is entirely consistent with the descriptions of the kind of thing that was going on and there is no evidence thus far revealed as to whether he did it. So I sympathize with RMS for wanting to defend his friend against accusations that are baseless even if they are plausible, the disbelief of which does not in any way depend on disbelieving anything known to be said by the woman at the centre of it or anyone else who seems likely to know what took place.

Stallman (apparently because he thinks sex with underage sex trafficking victims is no big deal) and lots of other people (because they believe whatever they read or have knowledge I don't?) may be happy to assume that Minsky did it, but I am not when he hasn't been accused of it by anyone in any kind of position to know. It's certainly possible, maybe even likely, that he did. I cannot claim any knowledge of his character. But people have been so eager to convict him that a hasty misinterpretation of the evidence at hand is enough. I have no personal stake in it other than being a long-time admirer of Minsky's work, but I object to that, and I resent that it has been spread around so much further as a result of all the dumb shit RMS said.
posted by sfenders at 11:46 AM on September 17 [3 favorites]


I'm happy believe any woman who credibly has knowledge of what happened and says otherwise, but haven't come across any

Um I believe Giuffre and the other victims.

And I don't think I need to remind you that I cannot convict him of anything.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 11:51 AM on September 17 [21 favorites]


shapes that haunt the dusk ...but even then I remember people specifically warning a young guy going to Defcon that Captain Crunch would looove him, and to be careful.

A similar million or so years ago (well, early 2000's) he tried to recruit me for his BSD based security company. Fortunately this was on the old El-Reg forums and one of the journos there messaged me and suggested it may not be my 1337 BSD skillz that were of interest.

Like with politics, it's amazing just how much better the youngs are doing things these days.
posted by Buntix at 11:54 AM on September 17 [8 favorites]


Is any man pioneering in tech not an awful person?

Larry Wall and Damien Conway both seem okay. At least, I haven't heard anything bad about or from either of them. Matz also seems like a decent person AFAIK.
posted by suetanvil at 12:04 PM on September 17 [6 favorites]


RMS has been dead to me for a while, but I think today is the day I stop reading Hacker News.

Isn't Hacker News somewhere in the gamut of 4chan or the Daily Stormer these days?
posted by acb at 12:04 PM on September 17


Um I believe Giuffre and the other victims.

Me too. The pertinent statement that I'm aware of by Giuffre is that she was told to have sex with Marvin Minsky, and that she went to him with the intention of doing it. If she or anyone else in a position to know has said that it was at his behest, or that he took advantage of the offer, or indeed anything at all about his actions that isn't wild speculation based on nothing better than baseless assumptions about what must have happened, then I would appreciate hearing about it.
posted by sfenders at 12:05 PM on September 17


That Minsky may have been an innocent bystander to all this is arguably not the most likely course of events, but it is entirely consistent with the descriptions of the kind of thing that was going on and there is no evidence thus far revealed as to whether he did it.

Dude. Of all the dumb hills to die on, this is an incredibly dumb hill to die on.
posted by Mayor West at 12:08 PM on September 17 [29 favorites]


Probably, but my feeling is that even a dead man deserves at least little consideration and due process in the court of public opinion.
posted by sfenders at 12:11 PM on September 17


Isn't Hacker News somewhere in the gamut of 4chan or the Daily Stormer these days?

No, I don't think it is anything like that....just libertarian/techbro/people-who-think-they-are-the-smartest-person-in-the-room
posted by thelonius at 12:14 PM on September 17 [10 favorites]


Isn't Hacker News somewhere in the gamut of 4chan or the Daily Stormer these days?
Definitely not. I scan the top headlines most mornings. It's largely technical, and has the enormous blind spots you'd expect from a bunch of (let's assume) white nerdy guys, but in its lane it can be useful or entertaining.

The louder voices on the Stallman threads are disappointing, but there are also folks there whose points of view would not be out of place here, like this one.

Of course, the top comment on the thread says "I'm so relieved to find that at least on hacker news we can evaluate this situation with reason. Out there, it's a witch hunt, and Stallman is now a witch," so it's not especially great in general either.
posted by uberchet at 12:16 PM on September 17 [8 favorites]


Me too. The pertinent statement that I'm aware of by Giuffre is that she was told to have sex with Marvin Minsky, and that she went to him with the intention of doing it. If she or anyone else in a position to know has said that it was at his behest, or that he took advantage of the offer, or indeed anything at all about his actions that isn't wild speculation based on nothing better than baseless assumptions about what must have happened, then I would appreciate hearing about it.

oh my word - what is this gibberish? Why do you keep casting a credible accusation as a baseless assumption?

You're proving the rule that if a white man and *any* woman are alone in a room and she gets assaulted, the burden of proof is on her demonstrate that she isn't lying, versus the burden of proof being on the perp to demonstrate that they didn't do anything wrong. This is so anti-me-too that I'm shaking. I'm going to button out.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 12:16 PM on September 17 [18 favorites]


[Unless there's some actual further information on Minsky, let's please leave it there, sfenders. Going ten rounds on whether "was told to do x" really-for-sure means "did do x" isn't going to lead anywhere good.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:18 PM on September 17 [12 favorites]


The deposition PDF is pretty frustrating. Large portions of it are missing (I don't know why).

sfenders is right that on a strict reading of the deposition as we have it Giuffre doesn't say that she had sex with Minsky, though it seems implied based on other examples. E.g. in the case of an anonymous French hotel owner she is asked "Where did you have sex with the owner of a large hotel chain in France..." and Giuffre responds, "I was instructed by Ghislaine to go and give him an erotic massage."

My guess though is that other parts of the missing deposition would be even more explicit. Certainly Minsky traveled to the Virgin Islands and was offered a trafficked woman, which is pretty damning in itself.
posted by crazy with stars at 12:21 PM on September 17


The pertinent statement that I'm aware of by Giuffre is that she was told to have sex with Marvin Minsky, and that she went to him with the intention of doing it.

For the record, here's part of one of the unsealed depositions (pg 278 from this documentcloud version):
Q: Where did -- where were you and where was Ms. Maxwell when she directed you to go have sex with Marvin Minsky?

Mr. Edwards: Object to the form

A: I don't know

Q: (by Ms. Menninger) Where did you go to have sex with Marvin Minsky?

A: I believe it was the U.S. Virgin Islands, Jeff's -- sorry, Jeffrey Epstein's island in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Q: And when was that?

A: I don't know.

Q: Do you have any time of year?

A: No.

Q: Do you know how old you were?

A: No.

Q: Other than Glenn Dubin, Stephen Kaufmann, Prince Andrew, Jean Luc Brunel, Bill Richardson, another prince, the large hotel chain owner and Marvin Minsky, is there anyone else that Ghislaine Maxwell directed you to go have sex sith?

A: I am definitely sure there is. But can I remember everybody's name? No.
Later on, there's some discussion of Minksy being one of several visitors to the Santa Fe ranch.
posted by mhum at 12:24 PM on September 17 [8 favorites]


Of course, the top comment on the thread says "I'm so relieved to find that at least on hacker news we can evaluate this situation with reason. Out there, it's a witch hunt, and Stallman is now a witch," so it's not especially great in general either.

Interesting. The top comment I see is this one which says "There is not a defense for what RMS was writing or how he was trying to defend Minsky."

In general, I think Hacker News gets a bit more flak on the blue than it deserves. "The enormous blind spots you'd expect from a bunch of (let's assume) white nerdy guys" is a pretty good description of its flaws. I've been reading it for a decade, and it seems to be evolving along with the rest of society -- albeit perhaps a little more slowly, because it's hard to teach anything to someone who already knows everything. Heck, look at Metafilter 15 years ago; we've changed a lot too, and I know that *I* certainly cringe at some of the comments I left a decade ago.
posted by Slothrup at 12:30 PM on September 17 [12 favorites]


Isn't Hacker News somewhere in the gamut of 4chan or the Daily Stormer these days?

Hacker News is basically what MetaFilter used to be before it became boring and started its current death-spiral - but with an emphasis on technology stuff: A great source of interesting links, along with an entertaining comment section. Well-known people in tech comment fairly often. It was the subject of this New Yorker article last month.

Comparing it to 4chan or Daily Stormer is ridiculous.
posted by JeffL at 12:32 PM on September 17 [14 favorites]


Meanwhile, back to RMS's "most plausible scenario" that, of course, there would be no reason for Minsky to think that such an encounter would be anything other than fully on the up and up. At the time, Giuffre would have been a teenager, Minsky would have been in his 70s, and they would have been complete strangers to each other. I mean... c'mon man. C'mooooon.
posted by mhum at 12:32 PM on September 17 [17 favorites]


Wow, earlier I was wondering if I'd been a bit too forceful in the Ito resignation post in indicting the tribalism of some MIT people, but...apparently not!
posted by praemunire at 12:36 PM on September 17 [6 favorites]


In the emails Stallman, did not actually let Minsky his friend off the hook. He explicitly said that it remained to be understood what Minsky's culpability was.

I can see how that framing conflicts with the principle of affirming and believing victims, but I also think it's fair for someone to want to understand what actually happened and what the actual charges would have been for Minsky given the most plausible interpretation of the available evidence. I think from the published legal notes, it would not have been argued as assault by lawyers, but as some other more complex crime, and in context of the trafficking operation as well.
posted by polymodus at 12:53 PM on September 17 [1 favorite]


scruss: I'm trying to find the story (maybe here?) about any women he worked near having to have lots of plants around their workspace as rms supposedly hates foliage.

This came up in a comment in the previous Epstein thread which linked to this twitter thread.
posted by mhum at 1:06 PM on September 17 [3 favorites]


Hacker News is basically what MetaFilter used to be before it became boring and started its current death-spiral - but with an emphasis on technology stuff: A great source of interesting links, along with an entertaining comment section. Well-known people in tech comment fairly often. It was the subject of this New Yorker article last month.

Comparing it to 4chan or Daily Stormer is ridiculous.


Your comment would have been perfectly correct, reasonable, and justified if you just hadn't written the part in bold. Instead, you wrote an unnecessary, self-martyring aside to antagonize and insult everyone who enjoys spending time on this site and thinks that it has improved over what it used to be. This is the kind of arrogance that a lot of people here, myself included, dislike about the discourse in HN. And just to head off the most obvious way to dismiss my view, I am a professional software engineer in Silicon Valley, so please do not disregard me as some hippy-dippy pinko who can't handle "facts and logic" and doesn't understand tech issues and what it's like to be a nerd.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 1:23 PM on September 17 [72 favorites]


Is any man pioneering in tech not an awful person?

Alan Turing? The world was pretty awful to him.

/as a past-obsessed person, Alan Turing is about as recent in tech as I follow.
posted by jb at 1:27 PM on September 17 [8 favorites]


I think it's more constructive to think of this as the "Richard Stallman got canned for writing a completely tone-deaf email that outed some seriously screwed up attitudes, which he sent to the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory mailing list" thread and not a thread to mitigate what Minsky may or may not have done.

Because Stallman's argument was much more about his own attitudes, and were I a friend of Minsky's or someone who had a stake in his continued reputation, I'd currently place Stallman at the bottom of the list of people I'd want as an advocate for his legacy. Framing any discussion in the way Stallman did might appeal to people who think how he does, but as someone who is familiar with people who dissect situations in this way (and have had unfortunate moments of analyzing and framing things myself), this is absolutely the worst possible way to talk about it. It's neither a legal nor moral argument, it's akin to "this code does the wrong thing, but let me talk to you about how these few lines in the middle of it are worth discussion despite our deadline."

If there's an essay to be written on how Minsky's reputation should continue or further deliberations on his culpability, if it cites RMS it's sure as hell not going to be a very good one.
posted by mikeh at 1:29 PM on September 17 [7 favorites]


What if you either die a Tesla Turing or live to become a Edison Stallman?
posted by acb at 1:29 PM on September 17 [2 favorites]


[Couple comments deleted. As always please take Mefi related stuff to Metatalk.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:37 PM on September 17 [5 favorites]


Hacker News is basically what MetaFilter used to be before it became boring and started its current death-spiral

No, Hacker News is basically what MetaFilter used to be before it began taking seriously the needs of anyone who isn't a straight white dude. Which is not to say MeFi is perfect, but HN is pretty reliably techbro bullshit that we'd be better off without.
posted by tocts at 1:45 PM on September 17 [64 favorites]


I'm a bit terrified of hearing anything from a certain person I know who I've influenced through the years... It's so weird to know that I inculcated a hacker/open-source ethos in someone, and didn't do enough to impart the LEFTism I was also ensconced in at the time...

9/11 Alex Jones turned them not to the left-ish anarcho-punk who opposes capitalism qua capitalism but someone who defends ranchers taking over a government house and "crony capitalism" (or "finance capitalism" which as we all know is right-wing anti-semitic dog whistles). Or bitcoin as panacea, idk.

And I worry this person will be out there defending Stallman just like the way they defend "Free Speech" and bigots and nazis, and whine about SJWs being the REAL problem.

That said, I wonder how much this is acting as chaff. On the one hand Stallman, not being dead, is still responsible for the actions he does while he's still alive. But being dead absolves no-one of their crimes. I think history should force us to deal with Stallman as the toxic foot munching creature he is, but pray we don't neglect the reason this story exists, and that's Minsky's role in all this.

I worry that we'll get so caught up on hate of the living that we forget to despise the much lauded dead.

Let history bear shame upon the living and the dead for their actions. I probably would have attempted to defend Stallman 10 years ago, but no longer... Unlike him I have (and try my best) to grow wiser, and more empathetic and understanding of my own foibles and problematic areas.

And let's remember that we all need to engage in honest self-criticism if we are ever to grow as a species. It's easy for me to sit here and blast RMS, the more difficult work comes in the dark, acknowledging my own sins. (I don't like using such religious syntax, but such may it be).
posted by symbioid at 1:50 PM on September 17 [7 favorites]


Hacker News is [...] A great source of interesting links, along with an entertaining comment section. Well-known people in tech comment fairly often. It was the subject of this New Yorker article last month.

Did you yourself read the New Yorker article?
social, cultural, and political conversations, which, despite the guidelines, have proliferated, tend to devolve. A recent comment thread about a Times article, “YouTube to Remove Thousands of Videos Pushing Extreme Views,” yielded a response likening journalism and propaganda; a muddled juxtaposition of pornography and Holocaust denial; a vague side conversation about the average I.Q. of Hacker News commenters; and confused analogies between white supremacists and Black Lives Matter activists. In April, when a story about Katie Bouman, an M.I.T. researcher who helped develop a technology that captured the first photo of a black hole, rose to the front page, users combed through her code on GitHub in an effort to undermine the weight of her contributions.
...
The site is now a portal to tech culture for millions of people. At the same time, it has become a punch line and a punching bag for tech workers and engineers who see it as a locus of hubris, myopia, and exclusivity. A word that comes up frequently among its critics is “toxic.”
The bulk of the article is about their moderators, who seem like nice enough fellows, but they clearly have their work cut out for them.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:57 PM on September 17 [25 favorites]


To further the thread diversion: I browse hacker news on occasion as an interesting link dump, but it's very much an artifact of its genesis as a tech blog linked to a major venture capital fund. It's neither academia nor is it a place for non-startup software workers and the perspective of submitters and commenters is perpetually skewed toward the valley mentality and social dynamic.

It reminds me most of the shared links from a mostly-software developer group of friends that were on Google Reader years ago, with the caveat that you don't get to pick your friends.
posted by mikeh at 2:10 PM on September 17 [1 favorite]


Did you yourself read the New Yorker article?

Yes. I posted a FPP about it. I thought it was an interesting article.

What you quoted from the New Yorker article doesn't change the fact that it's a great source of interesting links, and that the comment section is often entertaining, and occasionally insightful. I don't have to agree with all the comments in order for me to enjoy reading it.

On Old MetaFilter, occasionally the subject of a FPP would show up and comment. That was fun, but rarely happens anymore. It happens pretty frequently on Hacker News. I'm willing to put up with some dumb comments to read some good stuff.

My comparison to MetaFilter in the old days was snarky, but also an attempt to accurately explain the site (my response was someone's comparison of Hacker News to The Daily Stormer), because HN does in fact remind me of what I think of as the golden age of MetaFilter.
posted by JeffL at 2:12 PM on September 17 [6 favorites]


I think it's more constructive to think of this as the "Richard Stallman got canned for writing a completely tone-deaf email that outed some seriously screwed up attitudes, which he sent to the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory mailing list" thread and not a thread to mitigate what Minsky may or may not have done.

This. Please. There's a couple of points of genuine confusion. I think we've addressed them, however painfully. Let it stop now.

With the addendum that I don't think he was driven out over a single email. It brought out the stories about Stallman's behaviour and refusal to change over decades. That's why he had to go.

On that note - for anyone who read the original Medium post by Selam G - it has since been updated at least twice. There is a second linked post, Remove Richard Stallman: Appendix A, The stories of thirty years of MIT women alumni.
I had no idea that Richard Stallman has been so problematic, in so many different ways, for so long. I did not know that Richard Stallman has been making MIT a worse learning environment for decades, and that somehow, that behavior went on completely unchecked.
posted by sourcejedi at 2:12 PM on September 17 [8 favorites]


gah, sorry. uberchet already posted the Appendix A followup, in the first comment of this thread.
posted by sourcejedi at 2:18 PM on September 17


I'm willing to put up with some dumb comments to read some good stuff.

I'm trying to figure out where organized harassment of a female scientist falls in terms of being a "dumb comment". When I talk about euphemistic language, this is what I mean - language designed to diminish the impact and harm done by a group or individual, as a means to not consider the overall impact of said conduct. Personally, I find the idea of tolerating harassment of women in exchange for "good stuff" to not only be disturbing, but is also at the heart of what has been the issue with Stallman - we've been told that we have to tolerate his mistreatment of women in order to benefit from his "genius".

That has been and continues to be too high a price to pay.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:52 PM on September 17 [57 favorites]


Isn't Hacker News somewhere in the gamut of 4chan or the Daily Stormer these days?

No, I don't think it is anything like that....just libertarian/techbro/people-who-think-they-are-the-smartest-person-in-the-room


HN's "good people on both sides" behavior during gamergate made me give up on it way back then. Now? Saying HN isn't like 4chan is starting to look like a distinction without a difference.
posted by tclark at 3:05 PM on September 17 [10 favorites]


"Be logical" always means "kindly disregard the factors I consider unimportant". As I grow older, I don't need people to babysit me by "being logical", but I can see the appeal of a site where there's more agreement on what's important.

I also think rms is a sad loss. Imagine if he brought that extremist, absolutist, energy and focus to a broader conception of justice. I'd rather he be better than resign, but he's been too coddled too long and hurt too many too much. I wonder what the track record is for McCarthy "genius" grants in terms of messing people up.

Still, no-one's irreplaceable, and behaviour has to have consequences.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 3:11 PM on September 17 [8 favorites]


I've known a few people who knew Stallmann personally and always came away with the impression that he was as weird and creepy in person as he seems on-line.
posted by octothorpe at 3:25 PM on September 17 [4 favorites]


I'd rather he be better than resign, but he's been too coddled too long and hurt too many too much.

The guy had a few great ideas but - for the exact same reasons people bring up to excuse his most recent offense, insofar as his social skills and interpersonal comportment go - he was really never someone who should have been an organizational leader.
posted by atoxyl at 3:28 PM on September 17 [6 favorites]


> I've head a bunch of anecdotes about Stallman creeping on 18 year olds at parties and keeping a mattress in his office.

Adapting an office for sleeping space probably wouldn't be too weird a thing to do at an institution where crunchtime is a social mandate. Stallman's distinction was that his office was his sole and primary residence, despite being not actually affiliated with MIT in any way other than being tolerated enough by others to have IT accounts and access to computer terminals and be given an indefinite loan of an unused office.

There have been stories floating around since the late 80s, if not earlier, about rms bringing prostitutes to his office in addition to his activities already discussed in this thread. Probably not all of them are true, rumors being what they are, but what's really striking is how few of those rumors seem out of character for what's already well documented about the guy. He didn't become this way due to unchecked fame and the leniency of his supporters. They merely made it easier for him to get away with it.
posted by at by at 3:41 PM on September 17 [11 favorites]


Frankly, I never understood how Stallman kept his reputation after the toejam incident ten years ago.

You can Google that, but not when you're wanting to eat.

(I think, even at its worst, comparing Hacker News to 4chan is ridiculous. There are odious opinions on Hacker News, sure, but I'd challenge you to find someone trying to normalise white supremacy or distribute pedophilia. It's privileged, oblivious white guy talk, and for some people that's going to be exclusionary, but it's not the incitement to harm that 4chan frequently was.)
posted by Merus at 3:41 PM on September 17 [7 favorites]


normalise white supremacy or distribute pedophilia
I mean, that shows up fairly highly voted in just about any thread that has half the opportunity there. Until recently, 8chan was regularly linked as 'hey, come over here where the real conversation is' recruitment, and Gab *still* sees it as prime recruitment ground. "These companies are infringing on my right (to distribute child porn)" is an easy way to get a rollicking thread going, and "Diversity actions go too far (and what about diversity of thought, hm?), now what's so wrong about advocating for a white ethnostate at work?" seems to be way too recurrent of a popular-unpopular thought.

Not to mention how much abuse they sent esteemed Mefite sciatrix over the Damore shitfest.

I keep an eye on it, since I feel I kinda have to, but it's not a *pleasant* thing to do. It's more "Who are people I never want to find myself accidentally working for/with?"
posted by CrystalDave at 4:16 PM on September 17 [16 favorites]


… linked to this twitter thread.

Aieee. Extreme cw: rms's rhinophytonecrophilia
posted by scruss at 4:30 PM on September 17


Stallman should, at minimum, have been chased out of anywhere he had a position after the abortion joke bullshit he pulled last year, and probably long before for many other offenses. That he wasn't is a failure on the part of the free software community. Glad it's happening now, but this isn't the first or only time he's behaved inexcusably.
posted by kafziel at 4:48 PM on September 17 [3 favorites]


I hope there will be some public examination by MIT of how he was able to keep an office there for decades.

He wasn't teaching classes. He wasn't publishing scientific papers or, in recent years, writing code. He ran his own foundation that brings in revenue. And he was making generations of students, faculty and staff deeply uncomfortable.

Why shouldn't MIT have politely told him a quarter-century ago that his office was needed for actual faculty and given him the name of a good commercial real estate broker to find his own spot?
posted by smelendez at 5:34 PM on September 17 [25 favorites]


completely undisguised lack of social skills and moral failures

One of these things is not like the other.

This is of course a minor issue compared to the crimes, misogyny and apologia for same that are at issue in relation to RMS/Minsky/Epstein. Still, I think it's worth noting that this kind of casual ableism is so glibly taken for granted by many Mefites that it has been thrown in multiple times in this thread despite having literally nothing to do with said crimes/misogyny/apologia.

RMS may be an exception, but by all accounts the central figures in the Epstein rape conspiracy had/have an abundance of social skills, and one certainly gets the impression that the popular and casually-ableist equation of "socially adroit" with "good/brilliant" played a significant role in the conspiracy's success.
posted by shenderson at 5:54 PM on September 17 [9 favorites]


Saying HN isn't like 4chan is starting to look like a distinction without a difference.

Well, it hardly needs saying that "not as bad as 4Chan" is not a very robust defense. To my knowledge, no one is posting child pornography or helmet cam footage of mass shootings to Hacker News.
posted by thelonius at 6:13 PM on September 17 [2 favorites]


In context of the dismissal I think it was notable that in Sarah Mei's tweet, she argues that the senior four members of the FSF board seem rather compromised as well. When challenged with the criticisms of Stallman, one of them replied asking for proof, and Sarah Mei says, "YOU are on the board. YOU are responsible for investigating. Yet YOU are in my mentions making other people do your homework for you.". The third tweet I don't understand the reference to, I just see a slide of St. Ignucius, and I don't get what Mei is saying is wrong with the associated tweet.
posted by polymodus at 6:25 PM on September 17 [4 favorites]


Had an old college friend who had a list of common forms of argument in favor of proposition P. Stallman is embracing the one that went: "People finding gaping flaws in my argument are misunderstanding it, as I did not intend my argument to have any flaws."
posted by mark k at 6:36 PM on September 17 [20 favorites]


Was it this one? (More listed here)

this is the best one, perhaps:

Morganbesser:
If not p, what? q maybe?

posted by thelonius at 6:46 PM on September 17 [13 favorites]


[Comment and a reply removed. Not here for a round of pretending two different things aren't different to complain that people are inconsistent. If there's something useful to discuss about that Stallman abortion joke, and I'm pretty doubtful about that, this wasn't it and wasn't how to do it.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:14 PM on September 17


Thelonius: Oh my god yes, thank you! haven't seen that in so long. They are all so great even having barely a clue as to the actual philosophers' styles.
posted by mark k at 7:27 PM on September 17


I'm far, far away from core FOSS circles, and I had heard bits and pieces about RMS's awfulness by 2007 or so. I'm... actually really surprised that he still had an office at MIT. I'm, sadly, not surprised that he's more awful than I knew.

I had always kinda thought that RMS was more or less responsible for open source (not capital-F Free) software existing (via GNU and the GPL), but now that I check, BSD predates GNU by 7 years or so. So... RMS's main contributions are:
  1. a pile of massively-overengineered userspace software,
  2. a compiler that was free ("as in beer," thereby ending a few compiler companies) and specifically engineered to be difficult to modify (thereby ensuring that compiler technology advanced very slowly from about 1992 to 2012), and
  3. a license that most people have learned not to use, because it's not worth working around.
That looks like one more strike against the myth of the "difficult genius."

Good riddance.
posted by reventlov at 7:39 PM on September 17 [11 favorites]


Aren't the 1960s to 1980s computer "geniuses" a bit like the scientific geniuses of the late 18th and early 19th century in England, in that their accomplishments were more a function of access to unprecedented power (from coal and steam in England, from expensive computers in the US)?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:27 PM on September 17 [4 favorites]


Other than in the general sense that it's always better to be rich than poor, I think that would be a tough thesis to maintain, really on both ends. The percentage of people who had access to computers (or coal) and did *not* accomplish anything that brought genius accolades is awful high--I was a plenty smart kid programming on a TRS-80 in '77 and you've never heard of me for example.

(Also not seeing Priestley, Dalton, Boole, etc. as coal and steam driven geniuses. Engineers like Brunel and Watt you can at least construct an argument, but I still think the above applies to them.)

Flip side is if you drew up a list of "computer geniuses"--meaning on the technical side--does Stallman belong? His main contributions were in policy and activism AFAIK.
posted by mark k at 9:58 PM on September 17


I would like to throw Donald Knuth out there as one of the modern tech pioneers who seems like a very decent human being.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 10:42 PM on September 17 [22 favorites]


I would also like to add that Dennis Ritchie seems to have been a non offensive human.
posted by The Power Nap at 10:57 PM on September 17 [16 favorites]


I think the premise of evaluating RMS's contributions in terms of material deliverables, such as software, licenses, compiler implementation inadvertently demonstrates his philosophical concerns about the ethics and sociology of software. I think it's fair to critique him for specific choices, like the closed, unmodular design of GCC. But he has been the loudest voice out there speaking up and warning computer scientists by perspectivizing and problematizing computing as an intellectual commons. That is the main positive contribution to computer science that Stallman will be remembered for.
posted by polymodus at 11:18 PM on September 17 [5 favorites]


Should I keep using Linux, or are there ethical concerns with continuing to use an operating system associated with what appear to be a shower of creepy assholes at best and genuinely abusive people at worst?

I've been using it for years, mainly because it's just what I'm used to and I find it works better (faster, longer battery life etc) than other operating systems I could choose, but I'm not in any way wedded to the open-source "philosophy". I don't code, so I don't give a shit about being able to see the source code.
posted by winterhill at 4:47 AM on September 18


I don't think I've heard anything weird or bad about either Steve Wozniak or Bill Joy.
posted by jquinby at 5:31 AM on September 18 [3 favorites]


Steve Levy, author of Hackers which I previously mentioned, posted a good take on WIRED. I don't think it treads any new ground, but perhaps one of the better single-page summary I've read.
posted by MrGuilt at 5:43 AM on September 18 [6 favorites]


I think it would be absurd to stop using Linux specifically, or free & open source software generally, because of shitty behavior from rms, esr, etc.

Are they awful? Indisputably yes.

But many, many other sets of hands are involved in the creation of a workable FOSS ecosystem, and they're not awful. Moreover, your alternatives have nontrivial ethical drawbacks AND cost more, so...
posted by uberchet at 5:47 AM on September 18 [11 favorites]


Speaking of Levy and Hackers, one of the essays making the rounds at the moment is by MeFi's own aparrish: "Programming is Forgetting: Toward a New Hacker Ethic" (previously), which points out how Levy's work erases or dismisses women --
Levy clearly views this anecdote as an example of the hacker ethic at work. If that’s the case, the hacker ethic in this instance has made it impossible for a brilliant woman to do her work

-- including dissing Margaret Hamilton ("the same Margaret Hamilton who would go on to develop the software for the Apollo program and the Skylab program that landed astronauts on the moon").
posted by brainwane at 5:52 AM on September 18 [29 favorites]


On the flip side, as far as I can tell from her Wikipedia entry, that was Margaret Hamilton’s first ever job that involved programming & like everyone else at the time she almost certainly had to learn it on the job. A “beginner programmer” was probably an entirely accurate description - people do not spring from the egg as fully formed programming geniuses after all & Hamilton’s most influential work was years in the future at that point.

It is kind of telling that it never occurred to the author to find out anything else about the woman who had a bit part in his story (or if they did it wasn’t deemed worthy of mention which would be even worse given her record).
posted by pharm at 6:08 AM on September 18 [5 favorites]


Thanks for that, brainwane. It is a lot to think about. I read Hackers when it came out as a twelve-or-thirteen year old, when having a computer in your home was new. I hadn't made some of those connections (I'll say a combination of being 12-or-13, in the eighties, and not really reevaluating it).
posted by MrGuilt at 6:20 AM on September 18 [2 favorites]


But he has been the loudest voice out there speaking up and warning computer scientists by perspectivizing and problematizing computing as an intellectual commons.

Except that he was bad at that as well. As was pointed out in the Matt Gemmell piece linked earlier, his attempt to force the point with the virality clause of the GPL has actually undermined that intellectual commons, as code placed under a license that discourages its use is code that is useless. Furthermore, many of his complaints tended to revolve around the "problem" of him not having control and having to actually deal with other people over matters impacting both, which always struck me as being problematic.

But many, many other sets of hands are involved in the creation of a workable FOSS ecosystem, and they're not awful.

No, they just averted their eyes and pretended the awfulness wasn't there. Stallman being able to spend three decades behaving in the manner that he did doesn't happen in a vacuum - the community at large also shares blame in excusing and enabling it.

Moreover, your alternatives have nontrivial ethical drawbacks AND cost more, so...

Let me paraphrase Hannibal Buress here - I'm not going to be lectured on ethics by a community that has enabled (and, frankly, continues to enable) misogyny and harassment of women. Open source, by turning a blind eye to the way members of its community harassed, belittled, and harmed women, has lost its ethical standing. As for the cost, it seems that the "price" for open source has been numerous careers of women in programming and computer science stillborn because of harassment and abuse driving them from the industry - a price that's far too dear to pay.

This whole matter is not just about Stallman, but also about the communities that enabled him - and which need to be held accountable for doing so.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:49 AM on September 18 [17 favorites]


Computer science as a field hasn't historically been great toward women and people of color. I mean, setting aside the FOSS angle, other people have pointed out that a notable creep had an office at MIT for decades (an aside about the mattress in his office -- apparently he also told young women to get topless on it). So I think on some level it's pretty hard to escape this kind of bullshit, no matter where you go.

That said, I see less and less reason to put up with Linux as time goes on. At least Microsoft supposedly provides a good working environment for its employees. Plus, they're actually paid for their contributions.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 7:37 AM on September 18


Huh. I had never heard the Stephen Levy/Margaret Hamilton story before. I had vaguely thought I should read Hackers some day, I think I can skip it now.
posted by tavella at 7:40 AM on September 18


> Should I keep using Linux, or are there ethical concerns with continuing to use an operating system associated with what appear to be a shower of creepy assholes at best and genuinely abusive people at worst?

Despite what many claim no one in this industry actually rewards technical skill or morality over profit. Please stay and help us make it a better platform for progressive voices.

And of course Metafiler itself is part of the problem community that discounts female and minority voices in FOSS.
posted by Poldo at 7:48 AM on September 18 [5 favorites]


winterhill and NoxAeternum, when you're dissing the free software/open source movements as a whole, you should consider what kind of assholes might be involved in producing the proprietary alternatives to it. Open source is more visible because the work and communications take place in public forums and mailing lists. By your measuring stick you're going to have to just stop using computers and most other technology altogether. Also there are lots and lots of nice people in the movements -- other commenters have been listing names but there are lots more.

Also, you may not know about the women (and men!) of groups like PyLadies who are working to make the programming world more inclusive. They have been instrumental in enacting codes of conduct at Python conferences, and they're not alone.
posted by technodelic at 7:52 AM on September 18 [14 favorites]


> That said, I see less and less reason to put up with Linux as time goes on. At least Microsoft supposedly provides a good working environment for its employees. Plus, they're actually paid for their contributions.

One thing I consistently hear at open-source conferences is how most contributors to Linux do so as part of their day jobs i.e. they are paid for their contributions.
posted by technodelic at 7:54 AM on September 18 [1 favorite]


I'm a woman of color in F/OSS (previously re: a speech I gave, previously re: history of women in F/OSS). At 23:06 in this LibrePlanet keynote I gave in 2017 (very rough transcript) I talked -- in more general terms than I could have -- about how I wish I'd known, in 1998, that people I'd looked up to, including Richard M. Stallman (whom I mentioned by name), would later show their colors, and show that they did not respect people like me or consider me part of their community.

And now I'm still here, and he's on his way out.

To me the history of free software is partly the history of us making it better, on a social and infrastructural level, the same way that the history of the United States (I'm an American) is partly the history of us making it live up to our ideals. With words and actions (Outreachy, boilerplate codes of conduct, PyLadies, so much more) we've been steadily working to improve free and open source software.

I've been using Linux for, jeez, more than twenty years, free software is my profession and a huge part of my work and social communities, and I ain't stopping.
posted by brainwane at 8:31 AM on September 18 [80 favorites]


his attempt to force the point with the virality clause of the GPL has actually undermined that intellectual commons

This is a fairly tendentious claim that it's probably best not to argue about in this thread.
posted by atoxyl at 8:40 AM on September 18 [12 favorites]


> Should I keep using Linux, or are there ethical concerns with continuing to use an operating system associated with what appear to be a shower of creepy assholes at best and genuinely abusive people at worst?

You would be picking teams based on contrasting the ethics of a few people you've heard of who represent one operating system against the ethics of thousands of people you've never heard of who are working on the other operating systems. They're not all angels either.

The FSF has ejected Stallman. It's late but it finally happened. A boycott of Linux now seems ill-timed to me, at least in the sense that there's an opportunity to support a newly emerging community ethos.
posted by at by at 8:42 AM on September 18 [11 favorites]


I've been using Linux for, jeez, more than twenty years, free software is my profession and a huge part of my work and social communities, and I ain't stopping.

Hear, hear.

One response to the a-holes in the OSS world comes to me from an interview I heard with (I think) with Richard Wagner's grandson (or maybe nephew). The interviewer asked him about Wagner's music and its adoption by fascists.

He responded with something like "the fascists...they can't have him."
posted by jquinby at 8:46 AM on September 18 [10 favorites]


So, how exactly is it a "diss" to point out that the open source community has an endemic problem with misogyny and harassment? Again, you had three decades where the community treated Stallman as a moral arbiter while ignoring his treatment of women - and now that his behavior has come to light, that should be ignored? Thus is also why trying to compare proprietary software in this context is a false equivalency - sure, there are issues with misogyny and sexual harassment in the proprietary software industry as well, but Stallman literally cosplayed as a saint. Yes, it's great that open source has initiatives to make both their community and computing as a whole more inclusive - but that also doesn't change that the community also spent three decades with a misogynistic zealot making a moral case for it, and supporting him in doing so. That doesn't go away just because he finally got the boot.

He responded with something like "the fascists...they can't have him."

Except that the fascists do have Wagner, because he was on their ideological side - which is why performing his work is so problematic today.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:55 AM on September 18 [11 favorites]


I've been a big fan of Steven Levy's Hackers for a while (and it's the first place that I read about Stallman), but the link that brainwane posted above is compelling. I'm ashamed that it didn't even occur to me that the person was that Margaret Hamilton, although I don't think that I knew about her contributions to the Apollo program at the time that I read it; I'm also fairly sure that the two other women that Levy talks about at length in the book would be Roberta Williams of Sierra Online (although Ken Williams' wife, Roberta is probably far more responsible for Sierra's success than Ken) and Jude Milhon of Community Memory. I think that Hackers takes after Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff both in terms of having some of the same propulsive enthusiasm for its subject matter and also in being very dude-centric, and I think that he should have interviewed some women who'd tried to break into the boys' club without success.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:02 AM on September 18 [3 favorites]


The following command is apropos, I feel, if not truly possible in software:

M-x package-delete rms
posted by pianoblack at 9:27 AM on September 18 [9 favorites]


Not sure what your point is, NoxAeternum. I was answering the question of whether or not someone uptopic should stop using Linux and free software because of the behavior of Stallman & etc.

Should they? No, they should not.

Should the FOSS community work to do better? Yes, they should. We are watching this happen now, in real time. Even 5 years ago it was unthinkabout for RMS to be ousted from FSF and MIT, and yet here we are. 10 years ago, Lefty Schlesinger called Stallman out for his behavior at a conference, and was mostly shouted down for it. Progress is being made. People have been demanding it for a long time, but it's finally happening.

So, again: absolutely unclear on what the point of your reply to me here is.

Someone else says:
That said, I see less and less reason to put up with Linux as time goes on. At least Microsoft supposedly provides a good working environment for its employees. Plus, they're actually paid for their contributions.
What does "put up with Linux" even mean? It's everywhere. You use it even if you think you don't.

There's definitely reasons to prefer something else on the desktop, but don't for a minute entertain the idea that a legion of tech bros in AllBirds are going to create a software commons available to anyone and everyone that could replace Linux and FOSS without an enormous step backwards for the industry.
posted by uberchet at 10:24 AM on September 18 [11 favorites]


> To me the history of free software is partly the history of us making it better, on a social and infrastructural level, the same way that the history of the United States (I'm an American) is partly the history of us making it live up to our ideals.

I just want to add that, in terms of a side-thread of discussion happening here, this is the reason I do still go back and read Hacker News and try to contribute in comments when I can. I refuse to entirely give up one of the major discussion venues for the entire tech industry to the dude-bros and trolls and other assorted clueless fools. The reality is that a lot of folks just getting into the field will still go there for news and information, and the conversations happening there will help them understand what the tech industry is like, for better or worse. So I would like to imagine that a young woman or person of color or LGBTQ person (and for that matter, another dude who just hates the vileness) just getting into the field sees my comment and realizes that there are people who support them, that they don't have to fight alone, and while the environment still sucks maybe the fact that there are folks who are fighting means we have a shot. Leaving it to be a dipshit-exclusive zone unfortunately just reinforces the status quo, because the VCs and tech "influencers" and whoever still see HN as the prime source for accessing the tech collective unconscious. Which sucks, but there it is.

I'm a white cis guy and I encourage other white cis guys to write comments refuting the bullshit. I also encourage (but certainly don't expect) folks who are not white cis men to participate at the level they can tolerate. Let's take HN back from the haters and asshole sealions. The tech industry kinda sucks and has for a while, but it doesn't have to, and as someone who's been in the business since the late 90s, it's improved a lot from my (granted, privileged) perspective. I think it can improve a lot more.
posted by dubitable at 10:30 AM on September 18 [17 favorites]


There's a post on Medium by Thomas Bushnell, BSG, who used to work for RMS at MIT.
posted by kdar at 11:15 AM on September 18 [22 favorites]


So, again: absolutely unclear on what the point of your reply to me here is.

My point was twofold. First, pointing out that "there are a lot of good people in open source" doesn’t change the fact that Stallman was allowed to be a leader - both organizationally and morally - in the community for decades, nor does it change the fact that the community turned a blind eye to his (and others) behavior - behavior that pushed a lot of women out of the community. Stallman was in part a creation of his own doing - but also in part a creation of the community as well - and that needs to be acknowledged.

Second, from my time in college up to today as a working programmer, I have listened to the moral scolding of many open source advocates like Stallman, who treated their position as gospel (again, Stallman literally cosplayed as a saint.) And after this - after everything that has come out - I am done with hearing it. At least in my view, the open source community has surrendered any moral or ethical standing to criticize others because of the way Stallman and others have been protected. And yes, the community is changing - but again, that doesn't make the past go away. The path forward demands the community acknowledge its role in protecting and enabling this behavior,so that it ends.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:32 PM on September 18 [2 favorites]


Should I keep using Linux, or are there ethical concerns with continuing to use an operating system associated with what appear to be a shower of creepy assholes at best and genuinely abusive people at worst?

Do what you feel you must, but if you start burning down things because they’re contaminated by association, where do you stop? RMS is the latest headline, but this behavior is so pervasive in the tech industry and other male-dominated fields that you’re going to find this contamination literally with everything.

It was easy enough when the cleansing fire started in Hollywood to boycott Harvey Weinstein films: not only on the grounds that he made them, but on the grounds that he still profits from their royalties. With RMS, it’s less simple: the whole damn internet is built on Linux, and Stallman’s not getting royalties from GPL licenses.

So maybe the reaction can be different for FOSS? Privately owned IP has to be disavowed, but there’s nothing stopping anyone from making FOSS software their own, instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

A good interim slogan for the GNU foundation might be: GNU’s Not Stallman.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:44 PM on September 18 [10 favorites]


> The path forward demands the community acknowledge its role in protecting and enabling this behavior,so that it ends.

I think that's what we're seeing here in the statements from Thomas Bushnell and from the Software Freedom Conservancy (linked to from Bushnell's post), in aparrish's awesome post, and in groups like PyLadies. I'm pushing back against your comments because it feels to me that you want to just burn down the whole free software / open source community. I totally agree that the community needs to address some real problems that it has. That reckoning is overdue, it's taking longer than it should, and not everybody is on board, but it is happening. We need to sift out the bad parts and keep what's good and beautiful, not throw the whole thing out.
posted by technodelic at 12:49 PM on September 18 [4 favorites]


Except that the fascists do have Wagner, because he was on their ideological side - which is why performing his work is so problematic today.

According to Stephen Fry (who's at once gay, Jewish and a massive Wagner stan), that was mostly his widow (who was vehemently antisemitic and gave her blessings to the young Adolf Hitler towards the end of her life). Wagner did not live to see Nazism even in its embryonic form, and it can be argued that there's no evidence of his views being particularly heinous (his essay about Jewish composers being uncreative hacks was, according to Fry, some shade thrown at a rival composer named Meyerbeer, with whom he had a beef in the 1850s). So whether Wagner belongs firmly to the fascists is disputable.
posted by acb at 12:50 PM on September 18 [6 favorites]


It was easy enough when the cleansing fire started in Hollywood to boycott Harvey Weinstein films: not only on the grounds that he made them, but on the grounds that he still profits from their royalties. With RMS, it’s less simple: the whole damn internet is built on Linux, and Stallman’s not getting royalties from GPL licenses.

This is what's becoming increasingly the problem: a talented-in-one-area guy makes something useful/enjoyable, but proves to be otherwise awful in a ruin-peoples'-lives sort of way. The easy and obvious going-forward position is to to no longer support their work, and, instead, try to support those whose careers were ruined.

But the question becomes, what about what was already produced. As qxntpqbbbqxl observed, much of the modern world is built on Free Software, much of which was built or maintained by perfectly decent human beings. One argument for taking Rosanne out of her show but continuing it as "The Conner's" was to avoid having the rest of the cast and crew go down with her. If we reject everything made by people who were horrible outside of that discipline, who gets hurt?

(And note that, at this point, I'm talking about the stuff, not the people who created it.)

Way earlier, qxntpqbbbqxl suggested some "ritual to officially liberate great ideas, movements, and works from the horrible actions of toxic men who birthed them." I can get behind that: Minimize how much the horrible can benefit and control the works, but support the others involved in a work's creation as much as possible, as well as any new communities that arise around it.

(I'll also say there needs to be some threshold from a generic douchebag to some of the damaging people we're talking about today. I don't think either Steve Jobs or Bill Gates would be great guys to work for, but, based on what I have read to date (and, based only on the frequency these things are revealed, prepared to be proven wrong), they were equal opportunity assholes, and they kept their awfulness at a purely professional level ("YOUR CODE SUCKS!" emails rather than "casting couches").)
posted by MrGuilt at 1:03 PM on September 18 [8 favorites]


First, pointing out that "there are a lot of good people in open source" doesn’t change the fact that Stallman was allowed to be a leader [...] nor does it change the fact that the community turned a blind eye to his (and others) behavior - behavior that pushed a lot of women out of the community. [...] and that needs to be acknowledged.
Pretty much all the conversations I've seen about this, even the ones on HN, acknowledge this. Including this one, above your own comment.
Second, from my time in college up to today as a working programmer, I have listened to the moral scolding of many open source advocates like Stallman,
Pretending there is no moral component to software choice -- or any consumer behavior -- is silly & wrong, though. Sure, rms remains intransigent and absurdly doctrinaire on this point, and sure, his acolytes are exhausting, but they're not the whole of the FOSS world.
And after this - after everything that has come out - I am done with hearing it.
That's unfortunate for you, then, because the underlying ideas behind free software remain valid and real. Scolding never made any converts, but being "done" hearing about it because of the rms issue is kind of like being "done" with hearing about environmentalism because of, say, sexism at Earth First or whatever.

IOW, it seems like you're doing a little bit of a baby & bathwater thing here.
And yes, the community is changing - but again, that doesn't make the past go away.
Literally no one has said it does, at least here.

MrGuilt:
This is what's becoming increasingly the problem: a talented-in-one-area guy makes something useful/enjoyable, but proves to be otherwise awful in a ruin-peoples'-lives sort of way.
This isn't a new problem.

There are people -- most famously & recently Hannah Gadsby -- who dismiss Picasso for his grotesque behavior. That's fair. But most people don't. Miles Davis was an utter shit, and yet, well, Kind of Blue exists, and I can't imagine avoiding it because of that. Michael Jackson fans are maybe the latest in a long line of people stuck between profound and amazing work and deeply disturbing behavior from the same person. I don't know the right answer; I suspect it varies by human, especially when consuming the artist's output would benefit them financially. (So maybe Jackson fans have an out currently denied fans of Miramax films.)

But the notion that one would abandon Linux, or boycott FOSS, because of Stallman (or Raymond or anyone else) just seems absurd to me. The output here doesn't enrich anyone except the user. The good technical work they did on these projects was a no-strings-attached (well, kinda) gift to the computing world. The Internet as we know it wouldn't exist without these gifts.

It's entirely possible to keep that -- I mean, shit, I'd be fucked without emacs and OrgMode -- while also loudly rejecting the kind of bullshit Stallman and his enablers allowed, and while demanding that the FOSS community (and all communities) be better, and do better, and keep doing better.

If we've learned anything from #MeToo, it's that we can make these demands. And that people will listen. So I'm hopeful.
posted by uberchet at 2:07 PM on September 18 [11 favorites]


"ritual to officially liberate great ideas, movements, and works from the horrible actions of toxic men who birthed them.”

While I sympathize with this impulse, I can’t support it.

Ideas and technology are not neutral. How they came to be informs what they are and how they are implemented in the here and now. In my opinion, trying to sever their histories from their action in the world is to try to disappear evidence of the real abuses and harms that were baked into the idea/tech from the start. These are socio-technical systems: they are just as much social as technological and involve peoples’ real lives and careers. The communities that birthed these systems continue to reinforce inequities, perpetrate and give cover to abuses, shield themselves from critics, and to systematically exclude a lot of voices from participation.

Having one shit head founder step away from involvement in a project doesn’t, and imo shouldn’t automagically reset some metaphorical abuse tally. The harms are ongoing: e.g. in comments in the code; in crappy behavior at conferences and douchey comments on mailing lists and repros; and in hair-splitting blog posts that excuse bad behavior, to name a few.

What is needed is community self-reflection and a commitment to an inclusive environment in tech. Excluding a few notable shit heads from the discourse is necessary but not sufficient. We can’t create a respectful, participatory community by ignoring our histories.
posted by skye.dancer at 2:49 PM on September 18 [5 favorites]


I assumed the hypothetical ritual would be one that allowed the use or enjoyment of the material while still acknowledging the damage and abuse or whatever other bad acts are involved, and recognizing that we as humans must do better and demand better.

IOW, not a "free pass" to whistle along with "Smooth Criminal" and never think of abused kids or whatever. I couldn't support that either.
posted by uberchet at 3:11 PM on September 18 [4 favorites]


I just want to add my own support to what several other people have said: tossing RMS is a good step; the open source developer community still has a lot of work towards social justice (and, in some cases, basic human decency); refusing to use Linux is effectively impossible without going out and living off the grid in the woods, and wouldn't really affect the terrible people even if you did.
posted by reventlov at 3:22 PM on September 18 [1 favorite]


IOW, not a "free pass" to whistle along with "Smooth Criminal" and never think of abused kids or whatever. I couldn't support that either.

Thanks for clarifying.
posted by skye.dancer at 3:22 PM on September 18 [1 favorite]


There are people -- most famously & recently Hannah Gadsby -- who dismiss Picasso for his grotesque behavior. That's fair. But most people don't. Miles Davis was an utter shit, and yet, well, Kind of Blue exists, and I can't imagine avoiding it because of that.

Roman Polanski made some fine films—thoughtful works of the humanist eye—when, by rights, he should have been serving prison time for rape. Pretty much any human being capable of empathy agrees that a world where those fine artworks never existed would be unquantifiably preferable to the present one. Sometimes justice is necessarily harsh.
posted by acb at 3:42 PM on September 18 [10 favorites]


I'm trying to find the story (maybe here?) about any women he worked near having to have lots of plants around their workspace as rms supposedly hates foliage. Otherwise he'd hang around and harass them. This is not okay in any workplace.

This is a known thing. Women knew this. There is a really good Twitter thread from Andromeda Yelton talking about this weird world in which all women knew this and only very few men did. And it's not just a sort of "fuck all y'all" thread but offers a good chance to think about how privileges intersect. etc.

I'm a woman who would definitely have spent more time in tech if my early tech interactions hadn't been kinda shitty. And not in an actionable sexual harassment way but just in a run of the mill "You don't really belong here" way or a "You just need to do the work to understand me, I don't need to do the work to make it clear to you" way. And the minor stuff like pay differentials and then telling your boss it wasn't okay that men got paid more than women where you worked (at your very small workplace) and having your boss (who thinks he is a feminist) say "Well the men lobbied for better pay" and shrugging, and then giving him time to do something about it and then having him not do something about it and like... how much do you have to not just do your job but teach men how to not be pushing women away from your job?

I am so much happier in librarianship where even though there is a super disproportionate number of men in management positions, people are used to working with women in charge, accept women in charge and there's significantly fewer maladjusted men that other people tell you to just ignore and act like there's something wrong with you if you can't
posted by jessamyn at 4:03 PM on September 18 [35 favorites]


But the notion that one would abandon Linux, or boycott FOSS, because of Stallman (or Raymond or anyone else) just seems absurd to me.

From my perspective, Linux and FOSS abandoned us. Those of us who complained about, or got tired of the harassment, or who were the wrong sort to even get past the gates in the first place.

The good technical work they did on these projects was a no-strings-attached (well, kinda) gift to the computing world. The Internet as we know it wouldn't exist without these gifts.

Again, from my perspective, this work did come with strings attached. The strings were: “Let us continue to abuse the people who don’t matter and you can have neat new toys.” And in response, overwhelmingly, the tech community (and academia) said, “Sure, no problem. Sounds great!”

How many potentially awesome innovations do we not have today because guys like Stallman, and their enablers, chased people out of the field?

I don’t dispute the value of these folks’ contributions to the tech conveniences that we all enjoy. But I also see the value of (systematically and societally) asking the question: “What does it mean for software to be ethically produced, and does this code pass that test for me?" And if not, is there something else I can use/support? I see no reason why we can’t productively ask this about our critical infrastructure. (E.g. see all the discussions about bike and pedestrian use of roadways.)
posted by skye.dancer at 4:12 PM on September 18 [13 favorites]


“What does it mean for software to be ethically produced, and does this code pass that test for me?"

But is it possible for this reconciliation to happen, and to get to a better place moving forward, without throwing away the millions of hours of work that have gone into something like Linux?
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:11 PM on September 18 [3 favorites]


MIT and some of its faculty really mishandled this for decades.

Imagine if when he was camping out in a filthy office and printing up creepy calling cards with his work address, someone had taken him aside and told him he needed to get it together or get moving. Maybe urged him toward therapy.

Like, when he was in his 20s or 30s and might have listened to a professor he respected, or at least cleaned up his act and learned to function better in the real world so he could find another job and pay the rent.
posted by smelendez at 5:26 PM on September 18 [15 favorites]


What I don't get is what his relationship to MIT even was at this point. His official title seems to have been "visiting scientist", which according to MIT's website is a limited duration appointment of at most a year. Did they just keep extending it? Did he have some kind of grandfathered status? According to his Wikipedia page, he maintained that status since 1984.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 5:44 PM on September 18 [6 favorites]


without throwing away the millions of hours of work that have gone into something like Linux?

You don't need to rm -rf all cars and all pavement for pedestrians and bicyclists to have more equitable access to/use of roadways.
posted by skye.dancer at 5:47 PM on September 18 [2 favorites]


For that matter, did they really get him to sign their Inventions and Proprietary Information Agreement (IPIA)? I have trouble picturing that.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 5:49 PM on September 18 [1 favorite]


Hey NoxAeternum - I'm sorry that my peers - and possibly past me (I was not a graceful acquaintance in college) - have been so unpleasant and scold-y towards you. It sounds like we have burned our bridges with you really badly. My apologies.
posted by brainwane at 5:58 PM on September 18 [3 favorites]


Did he have some kind of grandfathered status?

He's a well-connected white dude "genius", which is a status that has historically meant that no rules apply to you.
posted by tocts at 7:03 PM on September 18 [13 favorites]


> He's a well-connected white dude "genius", which is a status that has historically meant that no rules apply to you.
This. One of the many complaints folks have had with the FSF board was that they would not apply FSF's own Code of Conduct to RMS, thus affirming his bad behavior.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 8:10 PM on September 18 [11 favorites]


Speaking of that, here's an article about the time RMS decided that he doesn't have to follow the code of conduct for LibrePlanet, the FSF's own conference.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:23 PM on September 18 [8 favorites]


Skye, I don't know how much more loudly I can acknowledge that Stallman and his ilk did damage to the FOSS movement. Literally nobody here is saying any differently. I feel like you're just ranting now.

I understand you feel like FOSS abandoned you, but it's really still there, and we're literally using it right now to have this conversation, so in a real sense it didn't. Shitty people did, and they made you feel unwelcome. That's awful. But the code is there, and it made something great.

People are working, even as we chat now, to make the FOSS world better and more welcoming and less tolerant of assholes. This is good. Let's encourage that.

The idea that RMS got a free pass on things like codes of conduct is FUCKING RIDICULOUS, and we can and should insist this never happens again. More, we should call to account those who were in a position to yell about it when it was happening, and did nothing. That's absolutely fair play, and those people should be called to account. They enabled a very bad actor. That's fucking gross.

But at the same time it's similarly ridiculous to insist anything RMS (e.g.) touched is now poison, unless you want to start over completely (or, more likely, make it very, very easy for proprietary software to take over completely).
I see no reason why we can’t productively ask this about our critical infrastructure.
I mean, ask it all you want, but if you conclude that (e.g.) Torvolds is persona non grata and decide to boycott his work, you're going to have a hard time using the Internet.

It's more important to work to support the projects NOW to ensure they are inclusive and ethically run than it is to deconstruct which existing infrastructure projects might have included code from an rms or esr or whatever.
But is it possible for this reconciliation to happen, and to get to a better place moving forward, without throwing away the millions of hours of work that have gone into something like Linux?
Absolutely. That's the productive way forward. (I mean, that, plus accountability for folks who directly enabled RMS & etc.)
posted by uberchet at 8:44 PM on September 18 [2 favorites]


> He's a well-connected white dude "genius", which is a status that has historically meant that no rules apply to you.

Obviously, but I wonder about the mechanics of it on MIT's side. How did they justify his continued presence there?
posted by vibratory manner of working at 9:58 PM on September 18 [2 favorites]




Red Hat: Open letter to the Free Software Foundation Board of Directors:
Red Hat urges the FSF board to seize the opportunity during its current leadership succession by appointing a president and members of its board that are more diverse, including from a national, racial and gender perspective.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:21 PM on September 18 [16 favorites]


Skye, I don't know how much more loudly I can acknowledge that Stallman and his ilk did damage to the FOSS movement. Literally nobody here is saying any differently. I feel like you're just ranting now.

Skye isn't ranting - they're pointing out that you're avoiding how much damage this has done to the open source community - and more importantly, its reputation. Furthermore lines like this:

I understand you feel like FOSS abandoned you, but it's really still there, and we're literally using it right now to have this conversation, so in a real sense it didn't. Shitty people did, and they made you feel unwelcome. That's awful. But the code is there, and it made something great.

-is you telling them how they should be feeling, which is a horrible position to take, especially when it's your community that's made them feel abandoned in the first place. Yes, shitty people hurt them - but those shitty people did so under the imprimatur of the open source community, with many members therein averting their eyes to what was going on.

I get that you feel like your community is under attack. But the point that you're missing is that people are upset, angry, and distrustful of the open source community now because for three decades, your community enabled an abusive, misogynistic zealot - allowing him to be not just an organizational leader within the community, but a moral one as well. This is a failing of your community as a whole, and it is on your community to mend the rift, not on the people hurt and distrustful - because it's not our job to fix the injuries that your community inflicted, it's yours.

The open source community needs to clean its house now if it wants to restore the trust it destroyed by turning a blind eye to Stallman and his conduct - and a good first step in that process is to force the board of the FSF - the people who most directly enabled him - to resign en masse.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:23 PM on September 18 [10 favorites]


Vice president and acting president of the FSF board Alexandre Oliva: ...[apologia for Stallman]

Oh, FFS, FSF. These morons are like a set of misogynist dominoes. I guess we just watch them blow their careers up in defense of one another and then take stock of the situation once the dust clears?
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:49 PM on September 18 [9 favorites]


As was pointed out in the Matt Gemmell piece linked earlier, his attempt to force the point with the virality clause of the GPL has actually undermined that intellectual commons, as code placed under a license that discourages its use is code that is useless.

I've seen Gemmell's advice before, and I thought that his argument is prejudiced. He's not a research scientist, and he was making assessments that are out of his depth, even if many professional programmers find his advice useful. It is also factually true that the criticisms he gives in that section do not attend to Stallman's arguments which are available at length in Stallman's published talks and articles. Note also that rather than make substantial arguments, this author literally uses name-calling. None of this is appropriate, but people circulate his advice page without second thought. To be fair, part of this is the values difference between academia and industry. But there academic literature discussing and critiquing the GPL, and sourcing that would be a better, more critical approach.

It is quite triggering to me to be given that the reason that object A (software) is X (be useless) is because there's a rule in using A that X must be applied to it. To me, it's the same kind of glib, quick, ideological logic that reactionaries use when progressives talk about fixing climate change or whatever. I think as a community we strive to be above that kind of thinking.
posted by polymodus at 12:49 AM on September 19 [2 favorites]


You don't need to rm -rf all cars and all pavement for pedestrians and bicyclists to have more equitable access to/use of roadways.

A lot of NUMTOTs would disagree with you.
posted by acb at 1:42 AM on September 19 [2 favorites]


But at the same time it's similarly ridiculous to insist anything RMS (e.g.) touched is now poison, unless you want to start over completely (or, more likely, make it very, very easy for proprietary software to take over completely).

Though it may hasten the reexamination of things held to be self-evidently sacred because of the unassailable aura of their (since fallen) patrons.

For example, I imagine LISP/Scheme's fortunes won't improve, and will probably fall further into the wilderness. The GNU C Compiler has already been knocked off its perch by llvm, with its deliberate unmodularity being seen as almost a Ballmer-era-Microsoft-level antitrust tactic to ensure that all who touch it get infected by the GPL; now that Stallman's out, I imagine it'll fall further, possibly to the point of becoming moribund; or perhaps new management will take things into their own hands and radically refactor it in ways the old boss would not have abided.

Beyond that, I imagine that there's a reexamination due at some point for the UNIX model (you know, small-pieces-loosely-joined, though with the granularity of untyped bytestreams, and everything being a file handle). It was tremendously elegant by 1970s standards, and has been spectacularly successful (largely via the GNU toolchain and Linux), though these days, untyped bytestreams, components as self-contained processes with file descriptors and command-line arguments, and everything-is-a-file are quite clunky. I was thinking that the reexamination would gain speed when UNIX's advocates passed on, but if some of them fall from grace, that may hasten it.
posted by acb at 1:53 AM on September 19 [2 favorites]


acb:now that Stallman's out, I imagine it'll fall further, possibly to the point of becoming moribund; or perhaps new management will take things into their own hands and radically refactor it in ways the old boss would not have abided.

Your arguments about Stallman and the open source projects he was part of were last valid back in about 1997: Stallman hasn’t been central to gcc development for multiple decades. The last time he is mentioned in the gcc Changelog is in 2003 and that was some kind of pettifogging Linux->GNU Linux change. The last time he contributed any code was in the 20th Century. He was left behind in the great egcs fork of 1997 when the rest of the gcc developers finally got their act together & quit en masse to start the egcs project that was re-branded the 'real gcc' some years later when it became obvious that the gnu project had lost control of gcc development altogether.

Much the same goes for emacs: although he has make the odd contribution to that over the years the centre of gravity of development does not include Stallman.

This stuff is a single github search away.
posted by pharm at 3:37 AM on September 19 [16 favorites]


So what projects has RMS actually contributed to in the last couple of decades? Just putting around with HURD?
posted by octothorpe at 4:57 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]


Scolding never made any converts, but being "done" hearing about it because of the rms issue is kind of like being "done" with hearing about environmentalism because of, say, sexism at Earth First or whatever.

Frankly we are allowed to be "done" with empty hypocritical moralizing that serves to protect terrible men at the expense of their victims under the guise of some stupid meritocracy. So yeah, unless there's accountability, there will always be complicity. We get to be "done" with accepting that.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 5:10 AM on September 19 [8 favorites]


octothorpe: Stallman himself been a complete irrelevance to any part of the open source world that I’ve ever followed, excepting historical licensing arguments (GPL2 vs GPL3 vs BSD etc etc). I don’t think he’s contributed to any major project in decades - he seems to have concentrated on small-p political campaigning more than anything else looking at his personal webpages.
posted by pharm at 5:16 AM on September 19 [3 favorites]


I gotta say, it's pretty gross to come into this thread and argue to minimize the complicity of the open source community in enabling RMS (who is, let's be frank, barely the tip of the iceberg) because he's no longer actively committing code. The dude was foundational to the movement, has been a high profile face for it during its entire existence, and has been known to be awful to all people in general and women in particular for decades. Despite that last part, he's been tolerated and/or celebrated that whole time.

FOSS has a serious fucking problem and has had it since the start. The fact that the biggest name instance of that problem got RSI and stopped writing as much code doesn't change that, nor does it change that the community needs a fucking wakeup call of massive proportions.
posted by tocts at 5:52 AM on September 19 [9 favorites]


RMS may not have committed any code for decades, though he did cast a long shadow. The fact that, even after the eggs split, GCC resisted modularisation that would have made it a more flexible toolchain (because RMS considered that to be capitulation to proprietary toolmakers), to the point where LLVM supplanted it suggests that there was a compelling force pushing back against any proposals to refactor. That force may have been RMS putting his foot down, or it may have been the respect he was held in and knowledge of his likely disapproval being sufficient to render a proposal non-viable.

A figure of sufficient stature can exude a lot of force without doing anything other than existing.
posted by acb at 6:03 AM on September 19 [2 favorites]


tocts: I didn’t read that as minimizing - I thought the point was that the toxic genius excuse also doesn’t fly because these guys aren’t notably more productive even before you factor in the contributions they scare away.
posted by adamsc at 6:03 AM on September 19 [6 favorites]


Re: the FSF VP statement: Holy fucking shit.

I absolutely and 100% do not mean to say Skye shouldn't feel the way they feel. I just mean to say that FOSS exists, and provides value that they probably enjoy, so even if they had a shitty time in the community the output still exists and provides value. IE, it's not a total loss, and the FOSS world doesn't deserve to be entirely shitcanned/set on fire/whatever because of this. It deserves to be called to account, and it deserves to be improved.

If my comment was read as saying Skye was wrong to feel that way, it wasn't my intent, and I apologize.

It's also 100% not okay that they had a shitty time in the community, felt unwelcome, or were poisoned by the actions of Stallman and people like him. IT and software are awful to women, and FOSS is worse. It doesn't have to be that way. I've said over and over that we should all demand better because we deserve better. I mean that.

And to be clear, I'm not really a "member" of the FOSS community in any meaningful sense beyond user. I maintain no packages. I haven't written real code in a long, long time. I contribute to no governance, and I donate to no FOSS charities. I just support the idea of free and open source software, because it provides so much to so many (most of whom have no idea who rms or the FSF are). Without it, we wouldn't have Metafilter or the broader Internet.

It's also unfair to treat the entire FOSS world as Stallman's, or as being lead by him, or as a monolithic unit equally as shitty as we're learning the FSF has been. Others have written in this space about FOSS projects and communities (PyLadies, e.g.) that reject the misogyny apparently so dear to Stallman and his supporters.

People have been calling him and his ilk out now for a while. It's making a difference. That's good. But the change will come in pockets, not from a top-down edict, because there is no top-down structure from which to "clean house." In a real sense, if we want the house cleaned, one great way would be to seize this moment, continue its momentum, and push for those changes ourselves.

What you suggest, i.e. a call for the entire board of the FSF to resign, sounds like a good plan. Was it here I read about the board refusing to commit to holding RMS to some event's code of conduct? That's well beyond the sort of "eh, whatever" enabling I assumed was going on. That's structural and foundational, and people behind decisions like that deserve the same public shaming that's happening to rms now.

Also: Mods, please let's not divert this thread into litigating the value, virality, or effects of the GPL, okay?
posted by uberchet at 6:35 AM on September 19 [3 favorites]


None of what I wrote was intended to minimise the ways in which Stallman has acted, but was aimed instead at the idea that he was able to do so because of some hold he had over major open source projects. This is & was a fallacy: He opted out of pretty much all of them decades ago, or else they opted out of him.

acb: LLVM exists primarily because Apple paid for its development. They wanted a compiler that was free of the patent assignment clauses that came with the GPLv3 & that would let them control their future platform choices without placing them at the mercy of any specific CPU manufacturer.

I’m not intimately familiar with the internals of GCC, but the arguments about opening up the RTL and other internal formats was won years ago. They may be full of warts and odd corners, but they are there. The documentation is online if you care to look. (I have no idea how stable those interfaces are, which would be a valid critique of this openness.)

Meanwhile LLVM benefited from being a green-field implementation that could draw on decades of compiler research, but has acquired it’s own dark corners as every large program must & even today doesn’t match the performance of gcc’s compiled code (unless that’s changed very recently - last time I looked gcc generated the fastest code out of the open source compilers over a range of benchmarks). Gcc development appears to be on-going and well supported; the existence of LLVM doesn’t seem to have had a great deal of effect in the near term, although maybe it will over the next decade or so. Regardless, the continuing development of both depends mostly on the largesse of large multinational corporations. I don’t think they really care very much about Stallman’s opinions on compiler development, although I’m happy to be proved wrong.

Stallman carried some soft influence in a specific political activist space, but next to none where any actual programming happened & it’s frankly rather weird to project blame for his actions on people working a world away who never even met the man. The vast majority of open source software has never had Stallman anywhere near it in any way shape or form.
posted by pharm at 6:44 AM on September 19 [6 favorites]


Do any FOSS or hacker communities, or individuals working in them, have a good way of handling guys like this now, given that they seem to attract them?

The historical de facto strategy of coddling them and turning them into some kind of mascots clearly doesn't work. It contributed to decades of abuse by Stallman, other sorts of abuse by Linus and people of that ilk and probably to the death of Aaron Swartz.

It's worth noting that this passage from Stallman's infamous contract rider is the only time I've seen him publicly express empathy for anyone, and it seems relevant to how he was treated at MIT, FSF, etc.:

"To acquire a parrot is a major decision: it is likely to outlive you. If you don't know how to treat the parrot, it could be emotionally scarred and spend many decades feeling frightened and unhappy."
posted by smelendez at 6:46 AM on September 19 [3 favorites]


(Meanwhile the board of the FSF and the people at MIT who kept Stallman around to bask in some kind of reflected virtuous political activist glory without ever calling him to account ought to carry a large pile of blame & should rightly be called out for it.)

smelendez: Have other organisations that depend on volunteer labour managed to solve these problems? I presume they must suffer from similar issues. One example that comes to mind is the abuse by prominent figures from left-wing movements in the UK which seems to have been endemic. It feels like those organisations have a lot of structural overlap with the ways in which some free software / open source projects have historically been run. Perhaps we simply need the structural belief in people coming forward in the first place & that’s something that’s been missing for a very long time in many walks of life.
posted by pharm at 6:58 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]


Do any FOSS or hacker communities, or individuals working in them, have a good way of handling guys like this now, given that they seem to attract them?
I am absolutely not being reductive, but isn't the answer here the same as it is anywhere: Do not tolerate this behavior, and use whatever privilege or position you have to call it out, condemn it, and reject it?

Letting little shit slide to be "cool" has a way of allowing cancerous behaviors to metastasize. I have to think cases like Stallman's don't happen in a vacuum; they happen because nobody told him "NO" enough, and so he decided that when he started hearing it he knew better and didn't have to listen.

Once that culture is established loudly enough, I suspect we'll start seeing more diversity in these nerdy FOSS spaces -- but not until.
posted by uberchet at 7:02 AM on September 19 [7 favorites]


There are lots of models for how to handle "guys like this" out there. There are reconciliation models for communities, there are anti-harassment policies, there are email list policies. Like...a major institution gave this guy an office for decades while he had "hot ladies" on his door? I just don't understand what the problem is is understanding what to do.

I'm not that familiar with FOSS or hacker communities but it seems to me from reading about them over the years, they have no problem keeping out people they perceive as outsiders or wrong-thinkers, like maybe people that believe code should be proprietary and very expensive or people who can't create things that work. Like, it's not like this some kind of utopian community that has never shot anyone down.

When organizations "can't figure out" how to deal with people who express publicly that they think children as sex objects is okay because some counties set ages differently or they didn't scream no, or who engage in patterns of conduct that are harassment it just means they actually think the guy has a point or that those views are somehow, somehow, supportable.

This is why we're at a time that people like me are just angry. People are excluded all the time, often women who say something is not okay. But then it's like "well LOGICALLY THE GUY HAS A POINT." No, he fucking does not, if you think he does, you are complicit.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:13 AM on September 19 [16 favorites]


It's also unfair to treat the entire FOSS world as Stallman's, or as being lead by him, or as a monolithic unit equally as shitty as we're learning the FSF has been.

No, it isn't. Again, the open source community treated Stallman as not just an organizational leader (who wielded power in a manner that harmed and pushed people out, as we saw with the abortion "joke" fiasco from a year ago,) but a moral leader as well. There's a reason why I've brought up his saint cosplay several times - this was him explicitly donning the mantle of moral authority - and this was treated, at best, as an in-joke within the community. (Someone had asked earlier what was wrong with this tweet - the problem is that you have a board member of the FSF asserting Stallman's moral authority, using an image of his saint cosplay.)

Stallman was not "Crazy Uncle Dick, whom we try to ignore" (and frankly, even that would be unacceptable, but more along the lines of what's been done with Watson and Crick, or Greer.) He was, up until this week, a major figure in the open source movement, whom significant people looked to for leadership both organizationally and morally - which in turn enabled his abuses. That is a failing of the community as a whole, and as such has to be acknowledged and corrected by the community as a whole. And that requires hard work by the community to show that they have made those changes. Getting rid of Stallman was a good first step on that path, but that's all it was - a first step.

There is no shortcut, no ritual that will excise Stallman's malign legacy from the open source community. What will is hard work to condemn this behavior openly in the community, the removal of those who refuse from the community, and the community showing contrition for its role in enabling him.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:32 AM on September 19 [11 favorites]


"If you don't know how to treat the parrot, it could be emotionally scarred and spend many decades feeling frightened and unhappy."

I guess Stallman empathizes with parrots more than with women?
posted by Slothrup at 7:35 AM on September 19 [3 favorites]


Yeah, Nox, I think we're just not going to get anywhere, so I'm done with that line. You have your position, and I have mine.
posted by uberchet at 7:56 AM on September 19 [2 favorites]


What exactly is the open source community? I think we might all have different conceptions of what it is and who is included.
posted by Television Name at 8:11 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]


I've recently been trying to avoid saying "community" when I really mean group, set, school, industry, project, or workplace, and Nick Bergson-Shilcock's articulation is helping me do that and to value substantive communities:
Having a genuine community requires that people know the other people around them, and that everyone shares some fundamental values and purpose.
I think there are a lot of individual communities who overlap a lot in the larger set of people and groups that, in some way, care about, use, work on, or are otherwise connected to free and open source software. And the FSF and GNU are really important and influential, and are not the whole story.

I think some of the talking-past-each-other in this thread has come from the mix of people talking descriptively about the general question of "is F/LOSS just irrevocably poisoned?", people speaking prescriptively about the responsibility of F/LOSS as a whole to make amends, and people replying prescriptively and descriptively to winterhill's question about one personal user choice ("Should I keep using Linux").

There's definitely a lot of hard work ahead to build a better industry, better groups, a better movement, building on the work many of us have already done and are doing. I'm one of the people working on improving the state of things. If you've written us off, okay, and I hope you take another look in a year or two to see whether we can surprise you. If you're upset about things we've done that hurt you or people you care about and you'd like to express your anger, I get it and I'm reading. If you want to help me take this opportunity to improve things, I can make some suggestions about some specific next steps people are working on, but I don't want to do that unless someone asks, because it might come off as telling people "go do some work to fix this thing that hurt you and isn't your fault".

This thread will be open for another ~28 days. I may not participate/read very frequently but I will read stuff here.
posted by brainwane at 8:46 AM on September 19 [5 favorites]


I don't think RMS would even consider himself to be part of the open source community.

That term was adopted by people who liked the GPL license and such, but who didn't want to be associated with Stallman or the FSF. As such, Stallman never uses the term himself and he refuses to appear at "Open Source" events. (Although he tolerates compromises such as "Free and Open Source Software".)

My sense is that Stallman is only treated as an authority within the GNU/FSF bubble, and today that bubble is tiny compared to the whole open source world.
posted by reynaert at 8:52 AM on September 19 [12 favorites]


Incidentally, brainwane, thanks for posting the link to Allison Parrish's presentation further above. I've gone through it several times now and have been thinking about it extensively for the last few days. It's added a great deal to some long-term thinking I've been doing about the ends and goods to which our tools and technology are ordered.

aparrish, if you're reading, great stuff, and thanks.
posted by jquinby at 9:03 AM on September 19 [5 favorites]


Quite. The MIT hierarchy ignored the complaints of it’s female staff and students for decades. They were the ones with both the power & the specific information required to censure Stallman & chose not to. Parts of the FSF are (probably) equally culpable.

Meanwhile people on here seem more interested in going after a bunch of programmers who never had sight of any of this, never even talked to the man & never had anything to do with the FSF & demanding that they participate in some kind of bizarre struggle session where they admit their wrongdoings. You’ll have to forgive me, but I don’t see how this is going to be a constructive way to solve anything.
posted by pharm at 9:05 AM on September 19 [3 favorites]


Just wanted to agree with all the folks who say Stallman has been largely irrelevant for many years. Not to excuse the symbolic importance of a sexist pig as a visible leader of the FSF, nor the actual harm he caused people. More just expressing my general contempt for the man (and I've been saying it for years). "Open source" displaced "free software" decades ago, and as is well documented above Stallman's coding contributions ended a long time ago. So why'd anyone keep him around?

I'm most curious about MIT and why they kept an office open for him. Coming from MIT's nerd culture it makes sense to me in a sad sort of way. MIT loves to coddle its anti-social nerds. (People tell fond stories of the professor who bumbles into people walking down the Infinite Corridor because his nose is buried in the book he's reading.) Some eccentricities are harmless, sure, but Stallman's sexism is absolutely not. Sexism is not an eccentricity, it's common as trash. Also his personal foulness was legendary.

I think a lot of this can be blamed on the old-school sexism at MIT. I'm sure MIT culture still buys into the "irreplaceable genius" fallacy (doubly fallacious, since Stallman has not been a genius in a long time.) But mostly I suspect it was just easier to leave him alone. There are some women in authority in the department, including the current Director. There are decent men in leadership too. But of all the things you can spend political capital on, is the washed up weirdo who mostly everyone ignores the thing you are going to make waves about? I fear this broken stair was problematic enough to be harmful, but not problematic enough to get fixed. That's a failure of the MIT leadership, both faculty and staff.
posted by Nelson at 9:06 AM on September 19 [9 favorites]


I don't think RMS would even consider himself to be part of the open source community.

First off, I could not care less what an abusive, misogynistic zealot thinks, and the fact that people - a lot of people - did is why we're here. Second, I intentionally refuse to use his terminology - this is because Stallman has a history of using prescriptivism as a weapon, which he has used to bully people (I've heard stories of him reducing people to tears because they refused to use his terms.) This is another part of why we're here as well - he chose to use prescriptivism as a weapon to defend a friend and benefactor against a group who had run out of fucks to give, and instead of meekly acquiescing as he expected, they instead turned around and held him to account, finally revealing Stallman for what he was.

Meanwhile people on here seem more interested in going after a bunch of programmers who never had sight of any of this, never even talked to the man & never had anything to do with the FSF & demanding that they participate in some kind of bizarre struggle session where they admit their wrongdoings.

Because it wasn't just the FSF that was enabling Stallman. I'm willing to bet that if I was to go back a week and ask what the opinion was of Stallman and the FSF, I would get a lot of positive response, and a view that was generally supportive. Again, you had a member of the FSF board speaking at a Linux conference putting up an image of Stallman as saint as an assertion of him as moral authority. The fact that Red Hat - maintainers of one of the major branches of Linux - felt it necessary to weigh in on the makeup of the board of the FSF serves to illustrate the power the FSF wields, even now.

This isn't just about the FSF or MIT, because it wasn't just the FSF or MIT that enabled Stallman - it was the larger open source community as well. And now that everything has come to light, blaming it all on a "few bad apples" doesn't cut it. Because, as the proverb goes -
A few bad apples spoil the entire bunch.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:36 AM on September 19 [12 favorites]


I'm still not clear on what is meant by "the larger open source community".
posted by Television Name at 11:21 AM on September 19 [4 favorites]


> Again, you had a member of the FSF board speaking at a Linux conference putting up an image of Stallman as saint as an assertion of him as moral authority.

You may be misunderstanding how Stallman is viewed in the larger community. The times I've seen the "Saint Ignutius" photographs in presentations the message has not been "this guy is our moral authority" but more like "this guy is is kindof a freak".

I hear people having to work in conversations to separate his good ideas (Emacs, the GPL, etc) from his weird behavior. And yes, I believe he did have some good ideas and that those ideas remain good despite their source.
posted by technodelic at 12:13 PM on September 19 [4 favorites]


I'm willing to bet that if I was to go back a week and ask what the opinion was of Stallman and the FSF, I would get a lot of positive response
Here? I doubt it very, very much. My opinion of RMS has been pretty stable -- and unabashedly negative -- for a long, long time.
Red Hat - maintainers of one of the major branches of Linux - felt it necessary to weigh in on the makeup of the board of the FSF serves to illustrate the power the FSF wields, even now.
That's a bit of a gotcha, isn't it?

The FSF exists, regardless of how much power it does or does not wield in today's FOSS world.

In the wake of Stallman's ouster, the FSF absolutely should take steps to make up for enabling him. Again, regardless of how much power they actually have 2019.

So if Red Hat calls them out, as they did, in your view it's proof of the FSF's power and influence. But if Red Hat ignores them, because at this point they're a bit player in the FOSS world, my guess is that you'd argue Red Hat was excusing the FSF's failures by not acknowledging them.

The tl;dr is that the FSF can be worth calling out -- because they were the proximate enablers of RMS's poor behavior -- while still being of relatively little import in the broader open source world.
posted by uberchet at 12:17 PM on September 19 [5 favorites]


Good news everyone: it was just this one bad apple, and he's not very important anyways.

I mean it's not like the leader of the most influential open source project of all time spent decades being an abusive asshole to community members, perpetually shielded from repercussions by sycophants, and only kinda sorta maybe decided to do something about it when a personal friend finally talked some fucking sense into him.

Oh wait ...

Also:

I'm still not clear on what is meant by "the larger open source community".

It's real curious how everyone jumping in to defend the honor of the open source community is 100% sure what the open source community is, because they're 100% sure RMS isn't at all important to it, but meanwhile we have someone "idly" wondering about what it could possibly be, implying maybe we need a really precise definition that can be debated instead of discussing the harm being done by and to the community.

"Curious".
posted by tocts at 1:07 PM on September 19 [5 favorites]


It's not just that rms rejects the term "open source" but also that a lot of people embraced it as a way to reject *him*.

Which seems exactly the thing people were supposed to have done?
posted by one weird trick at 1:15 PM on September 19 [4 favorites]


Good news everyone: it was just this one bad apple, and he's not very important anyways.
You seem to be reading a very different thread than the one I see here.
posted by uberchet at 1:16 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]


You may be misunderstanding how Stallman is viewed in the larger community. The times I've seen the "Saint Ignutius" photographs in presentations the message has not been "this guy is our moral authority" but more like "this guy is is kindof a freak".

Given that the specific picture that I linked to in the paragraph you quoted had the caption "Good grief...Stallman was right", I doubt it was being used to forward a message that he was a "freak".

I hear people having to work in conversations to separate his good ideas (Emacs, the GPL, etc) from his weird behavior.

Oh hey, euphemistic language. Stallman did not have "weird" behavior - he was an abusive, misogynistic zealot whose behavior discomfitted and harassed women, pushing many out of the field. The fact that women at MIT deployed defensive greenery as a means to protect themselves from him alone should preclude the use of terminology like "weird" to describe his conduct.

Here? I doubt it very, very much. My opinion of RMS has been pretty stable -- and unabashedly negative -- for a long, long time.

Okay - and Randall Munroe turned him into a folk hero. (And yes, Munroe is among the people I want to see respond about all this, given how he helped normalize Stallman.) Given the comments that acting FSF president Alexandre Oliva has been making in defense of Stallman, I'm left considering that he had - up until this point - an overall positive reputation.

So if Red Hat calls them out, as they did, in your view it's proof of the FSF's power and influence. But if Red Hat ignores them, because at this point they're a bit player in the FOSS world, my guess is that you'd argue Red Hat was excusing the FSF's failures by not acknowledging them.

You keep on saying that the FSF is a bit player, but everything I've seen shows that they aren't. As tocts pointed out, the FSF, along with GNU, was one of the most influential open source groups out there - and Stallman was the head. What evidence was there that influence had declined?

It's not just that rms rejects the term "open source" but also that a lot of people embraced it as a way to reject *him*.

It wasn't, and we can tell by how the terms "FOSS", "F/OSS", and "FLOSS" became popular terms for the community as a whole, combining and conflating the two. Raymond and his ilk were pushing it in order to get traction in the commercial sector, where Stallman's zealotry would scare people off. It was very much just rebranding.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:26 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]


I'm asking what you mean by the open source community because I honestly don't know what you mean by the open source community. I don't necessarily disagree with anything you are saying but I don't know the scope of what and who you are talking about. Are you including anybody with a github account as being part of the community or just people who are on a linux list serv or what? Is some rando who uploaded an npm package part of the community? I'm not jumping in to defend the honor of anybody, I just want to know who you are specifically talking about.
posted by Television Name at 1:57 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]





What evidence was there that influence had declined?

How are we measuring that? Budgets? FTE's on payrolls?

You could start combing through opensource.com and count occurrences of "open source" or just "open" versus any mention of "free software", rms, or the FSF.

I expect the site is not free of the latter set, but boy howdy they sure go in for the first set.

(Television Name slipped in there: I'm pretty sure we're going to draw the line well before "knowingly and willingly uses open source to post to web forums" because hey now.)
posted by one weird trick at 2:02 PM on September 19


[Folks, we need to turn the heat down against each other here a good couple notches. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 2:17 PM on September 19 [6 favorites]


None of what I wrote was intended to minimise the ways in which Stallman has acted, but was aimed instead at the idea that he was able to do so because of some hold he had over major open source projects. This is & was a fallacy: He opted out of pretty much all of them decades ago, or else they opted out of him.

I refer you, as I linked previously, to the abortion joke debacle of last May, where Stallman pulled rank to unilaterally revert a change to GNU's glibc documentation that to which he took affront. This, despite consensus among those actually maintaining it that the joke should be removed, and the change having already gone through. The change was, of course, trying to undo some of Stallman's own pointless misogyny, and lo and behold, Alexandre Oliva had his back.
posted by kafziel at 2:57 PM on September 19 [7 favorites]


Hmm it's probably significant that that xkcd comic references his anti-DRM efforts. In that niche he might be much more influential than in the general open source world.

My own impression has always been that outside long-time Linux folks (and of course excluding the developers of the GNU project itself), few open-source developers pay attention to (or are even aware of) Stallman. Maybe I'm mistaken.
posted by reynaert at 5:08 PM on September 19


Oh hey, euphemistic language. Stallman did not have "weird" behavior - he was an abusive, misogynistic zealot whose behavior discomfitted and harassed women, pushing many out of the field. The fact that women at MIT deployed defensive greenery as a means to protect themselves from him alone should preclude the use of terminology like "weird" to describe his conduct.

He is misogynistic and abusive. He also holds and has held some creepy opinions. He is also deeply weird. Commenting on one aspect of why he's been considered a has been since the late 00s in no way dismisses his abusive behavior, especially when the people using that language have written about his abusive behavior in this very thread.

His zeolatry and general assholish behavior has been turning a large segment of people who work on and/or identify with open source away since I was a teenager and people were asking what the hell a modem was. It would be a lie to say that there hasn't been at least some grudging respect for his persistence, his stubbornness, and his idea of using copyright law to enforce the availability of source code.

To our eternal shame, even those of us who have been over him were almost all either blind to his behavior (both willfully and otherwise) and/or failed to hold him responsible for his abusive and unwelcoming behavior and shitty treatment of women when it did register. We enabled his abuse and tacitly encouraged its escalation through our own negligence. We could have amplified women's voices and taken their concerns seriously, but instead laughed smugly at the washed up hippie wannabe and his self destructive, overly rigid, and largely outdated ideology while our group as a whole dismissed complaints with an admonishment to toughen up and just deal with it. As if tolerating abusive language is somehow a necessary part of software development. We should have done more and can't hide behind his increasing irrelevance to the work when he was still being invited to events, recognized for his past work, and allowed to remain active on many mailing lists and such despite his long history of being aggressively shitty to people and a long declared and completely conscious policy of being an aggressively argumentive bully, loudly refusing to adopt any kind of social niceties that could have at least gotten him to the point of not being actively unwelcoming.

Even if we were doing it "because free speech" and really truly believed that people should never be ostracized for "mere words" having the purest of hearts (and blindest of eyes) all the while, we cannot escape our own responsibility. We may not have been around to drive women out of computing in the first place, but we most certainly helped keep them out.
posted by wierdo at 12:56 AM on September 20 [9 favorites]


His zeolatry and general assholish behavior has been turning a large segment of people who work on and/or identify with open source away since I was a teenager and people were asking what the hell a modem was.

This. So much. His and others' behavior may have also warped the philosophies of what could be really good software engineers instead of just OK programmers.

There's so much to unpack here, and I really appreciate the discussion going here on the Blue to help.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 6:59 AM on September 20 [4 favorites]


The change was, of course, trying to undo some of Stallman's own pointless misogyny, and lo and behold, Alexandre Oliva had his back.

Oh come on: Regardless of Stallman’s other faults & whether you think such commentary ought to be part of a computing manual or it, that line was clearly trying to highlight attempts to roll back abortion rights in the US. At least do us (& him) the courtesy of going after him for things he’s actually done instead of things you’ve made up out of thin air.

(Alexandre Oliva on the other hand was complicit & deserves all the opprobrium he’s getting, given that he & the rest of the FSF board have been quietly tolerating Stallman’s antics for years.)
posted by pharm at 7:45 AM on September 20 [2 favorites]


Oh come on: Regardless of Stallman’s other faults & whether you think such commentary ought to be part of a computing manual or it, that line was clearly trying to highlight attempts to roll back abortion rights in the US. At least do us (& him) the courtesy of going after him for things he’s actually done instead of things you’ve made up out of thin air.

It wasn't, though. It was an abortion joke. The joke was "haha, this is the abort() function, this means it's about abortion, right? uh oh, maybe the feds won't let us tell you about that after all ..."

Putting that in the code documentation, and especially keeping it in thirty years after the event it's even referencing, is just a shitty abortion joke in a context it has no place being. Trying to hold it up as actually an important blow in favor of the right to choose is exactly the kind of weird, alienating grossness we've been talking about. There's a reason people wanted to get rid of it.
posted by kafziel at 1:58 PM on September 20 [16 favorites]


It can be true both that the "joke" in the documentation was intended to raise awareness of a shitty fascist thing that happened while the documentation was being written and that it is now so outdated to have outlived any effectiveness the original message may have had and thus is alienating to many people today, in the year 2019.

Even looking at it charitably to the point of considering it worthwhile at some point in the past, it was inappropriate for rms to throw a fit about his..social commentary..being removed from current and future documentation and demanded that it be restored despite multiple people having stated that they found it discomforting and inappropriate. Either way, it's ridiculous that anyone bothered to listen.
posted by wierdo at 6:04 PM on September 20 [2 favorites]


(I should note that rms was almost certainly more concerned with the overbroad restriction of speech than he was women's bodily autonomy.)
posted by wierdo at 6:06 PM on September 20 [3 favorites]


It can be true both that the "joke" in the documentation was intended to raise awareness of a shitty fascist thing that happened while the documentation was being written and that it is now so outdated to have outlived any effectiveness the original message may have had and thus is alienating to many people today, in the year 2019.

The problem is that in light of the greater context of his pulling rank to restore a tasteless abortion "joke" over the consensus of the maintaining community, saying that "actually, the 'joke' had a (very hamfisted) point" comes off at best as out of touch and unintentionally minimizing, and at worst intentionally minimizing and dismissive. As warriorqueen pointed out earlier in the thread:
This is why we're at a time that people like me are just angry. People are excluded all the time, often women who say something is not okay. But then it's like "well LOGICALLY THE GUY HAS A POINT." No, he fucking does not, if you think he does, you are complicit.
On this thread, Wired has a good article on the impact of Stallman's forced departure on tech. There was one part that caught my attention:
He was invited to speak there, though he made clear that his project doesn’t adhere to Wikipedia’s more decentralized anyone-can-edit, no-one-is-in-charge philosophy.

“The way free software works is, I may write a program, and I will put my version in a site, and I might then let some other people work on it with me, but I’ll decide who can work on it,” he told me. “I’m not going to let just any unknown person install changes in my version. But you, once you download a copy, you are free to distribute copies, you can make changes, you can post your version wherever you want. And then you control your version. And then they could use my version or they cooperate with me, or they could use your version and cooperate with you or make their own versions and post them. So every user has freedom. But every version that is being distributed is under the control of some group.”

The accounts from women about the pall that Stallman cast at MIT first appeared on Twitter a year ago—the reason then was a call to remove a joke he made about abortion in the official manual for the project he runs. When the manual describes the “abort function,” Stallman inserted a note about how federal regulations might change how the project deals with “aborting.” Not a particularly funny joke, and certainly not useful. The addition, which dates to the 1990s, represents another example of Stallman trampling personal boundaries. Those who removed the joke said they didn’t believe women should have to navigate Stallman’s thoughts about abortion while reading a coding guide.

Stallman was insistent that he would not withdraw the joke: “On this particular question, I made a decision long ago and stated it where all of you could see it. If you would like me to change it, it is up to you to convince me to change my decision.”

This is a lesson we are fast learning about freedom as it promoted by the tech world. It is not about ensuring that everyone can express their views and feelings. Freedom, in this telling, is about exclusion. The freedom to drive others away. And, until recently, freedom from consequences.
This, I think, helps explain why open source has struggled with actually resolving the many issues with inclusiveness - because the mode of conflict "resolution" was ultimately "don't like how we're running things? Go start your own version then." This is something that got baked in deep - I've seen people argue that major Silicon Valley companies are held accountable because users can just easily switch to a competitor with a click, ignoring the impact of network effects, emotional labor, and other social aspects that make these services "sticky". This has been a deeply flawed model of conflict resolution that pushes people away, and part of the hard work to move forward requires a rejection of this model in favor of a more inclusive system.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:05 AM on September 22 [11 favorites]


Your points are valid Nox, but do note that if you install the glibc documentation in Debian or Ubuntu (I haven’t checked any of the other distributions) that joke / political statement / whatever you want to call it isn’t there, because those organisations didn’t believe that it was appropriate.

I’m not sure whether counts as evidence that the influence of the FSF is perhaps less than you assert, or maybe that the belief that the right to fork is the solution to all ills may not be true but has at least some ground to stand on, but there it is.
posted by pharm at 10:57 AM on September 22 [3 favorites]


M-x package-delete rms

I rather prefer to set up my emacs in a way guaranteed to annoy him: with nyan-mode (does what you think it does) and rebecca theme (so very purple).
posted by scruss at 3:58 PM on September 24 [4 favorites]


danah boyd: Facing the Great Reckoning Head-On[1,2]
I was at the MIT Media Lab from 1999 to 2002. At the incoming student orientation dinner, an older faculty member sat down next to me. He looked at me and asked if love existed. I raised my eyebrow as he talked about how love was a mirage, but that sex and pleasure were real. That was my introduction to Marvin Minsky and to my new institutional home.

My time at the Media Lab was full of contradictions. I have so many positive memories of people and conversations. I can close my eyes and flash back to laughter and late night conversations. But my time there was also excruciating. I couldn’t afford my rent and did some things that still bother me in order to make it all work. I grew numb to the worst parts of the “Demo or Die” culture. I witnessed so much harassment, so much bullying that it all started to feel normal. Senior leaders told me that “students need to learn their place” and that “we don’t pay you to read, we don’t pay you to think, we pay you to do.” The final straw for me was when I was pressured to work with the Department of Defense to track terrorists in 2002.

After leaving the Lab, I channeled my energy into V-Day, an organization best known for producing “The Vagina Monologues,” but whose daily work is focused on ending violence against women and girls. I found solace in helping build online networks of feminists who were trying to help combat sexual assault and a culture of abuse. To this day, I work on issues like trafficking and combating the distribution of images depicting the commercial sexual abuse of minors on social media.

By 2003, I was in San Francisco, where I started meeting tech luminaries, people I had admired so deeply from afar. One told me that I was “kinda smart for a chick.” Others propositioned me. But some were really kind and supportive. Joi Ito became a dear friend and mentor. He was that guy who made sure I got home OK. He was also that guy who took being called-in seriously, changing his behavior in profound ways when I challenged him to reflect on the cost of his actions. That made me deeply respect him.

I also met John Perry Barlow around the same time. We became good friends and spent lots of time together. Here was another tech luminary who had my back when I needed him to. A few years later, he asked me to forgive a friend of his, a friend whose sexual predation I had witnessed firsthand. He told me it was in the past and he wanted everyone to get along. I refused, unable to convey to him just how much his ask had hurt me. Our relationship frayed and we only talked a few times in the last few years of his life.

So here we are… I’m receiving this award, named after Barlow less than a week after Joi resigned from an institution that nearly destroyed me after he socialized with and took money from a known pedophile. Let me be clear — this is deeply destabilizing for me. I am here today in-no-small-part because I benefited from the generosity of men who tolerated and, in effect, enabled unethical, immoral, and criminal men. And because of that privilege, I managed to keep moving forward even as the collateral damage of patriarchy stifled the voices of so many others around me. I am angry and sad, horrified and disturbed, because I know all too well that this world is not meritocratic. I am also complicit in helping uphold these systems.
posted by kliuless at 11:07 PM on September 24 [20 favorites]


Richard Stallman To Continue As Head Of The GNU Project. He's unilaterally announced he's still the head of GNU and has no intention of stepping down.

GNU has been mostly irrelevant for software for 10 years now, a lot of big projects like the compiler have been superseded by better tech outside GNU. But they still host a lot of canonical old Unix-clone tools that distributions like Ubuntu include, stuff like bison or gdb or (crucially) glibc. I'd love to see those projects all move to a new organization.
posted by Nelson at 10:58 AM on September 27 [3 favorites]


From the article, this lovely patch of shade: "But perhaps with more time on his hands now with having resigned from the FSF and MIT, maybe we'll be seeing more code contributions from Stallman to the likes of GNU Hurd."
posted by whuppy at 1:08 PM on September 27 [6 favorites]




The statement is no longer on his website, some are speculating it had been vandalised.
posted by Bangaioh at 2:59 AM on September 29


(scruss, I did not know about rebecca mode, but if it exists because of Rebecca Meyer, it warms my heart.)
posted by uberchet at 6:40 AM on September 30 [3 favorites]


He's apparently also looking for a room in a shared house or apartment, with the stipulation that "there should not be a cat (unless hypoallergenic), or a dog that jumps up excitedly on people (unless quite small), or a digital listening device such as Echo, Siri or 'Hello Google', or a card lock that records who opens the door”.

I can't imagine the pool of potential takers being great.
posted by acb at 6:44 AM on September 30 [2 favorites]


Already we're seeing Stallman's defenders now using the fact that he's looking for housing to attack the people who held him to account for his misconduct. Which is unsurprising, if tiresome and old.

There was one point that came up in an otherwise tiresome, pedantic, and hostile to those on the spectrum "defense" that I think gers to the heart of the issue:
I think everyone is overlooking a bigger issue: You don’t get the free software movement without a person like Richard Stallman.
First off, I disagree with the author's notion that this is being overlooked - it is in fact central to the whole argument in the first place. Second, from that statement we get two questions that are what is being fought over:

* Is that true?
* If true, is the movement worth the cost?

The answer to the first is "no", both in the past and present sense. As has been pointed out, the culture that birthed the movement predated Stallman, and there was movement already in that direction without him. The GNU Manifesto gave people a rallying point, but there would have been others. And even conceding the historical aspect, the movement (as many people have pointed out in this thread) no longer needs him to move forward, not even in a "Crazy Uncle Dick" sense, similar to how the scientific community dropped Watson and Crick after their abuse and mistreatment of Rosalind Franklin came to light.

(A question comes from this - if he's no longer necessary, why defend him? The answer is simple - if Stallman can be held accountable for misogynistic behavior, then anyone in open source can - and that thought terrifies people.)

The second question is in part answered with the answer to the first, but still is worth answering. If the only way you get the movement is by enabling an abusive, misogynistic zealot, the price isn't worth it. It's not worth pushing women out of tech, of making them feel unwanted and unwelcome. Fortunately, because the first question was untrue, the movement can be without misogyny.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:37 AM on September 30 [8 favorites]


Also, I think Levy made a mistake about the hacker ethos being about mistrusting authority, after rumination. While it's usually framed as such, a little digging tends to reveal that the actual sentiment is "we should be in charge" - and once they are in charge, mistrusting their authority is not acceptable.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:42 AM on September 30 [5 favorites]


exactly: once you've been in power long enough, you can get to dismiss helpful assistive technologies that you don't personally used as “juvenile” and get away with it.
posted by scruss at 9:52 AM on September 30 [4 favorites]


I don't think it's just happenstance that historically, movements that are focused on "personal freedom" have (nearly?) always been projects of the super-privileged. Even when we think of e.g. "the masses" rising up (e.g. the French Revolution), that only got started because of those already with a ton of privilege and power getting deep into the weeds in debates about who has what freedoms (but of course the "who" in their mind was restricted to the privileged ruling class), and pulling the masses in as a cudgel.

Basically: the masses weren't the ones who lit the fire, they were the tinder that was lit by those already relatively quite privileged and "free".

And so: yeah. When you have this kind of movement, instigated by and primarily for freedom as perceived by people who probably already are the most free in their given society, it turns out they're super OK with the idea that those who have historically not been free getting shat on if it enables their already privileged asses to gain more "freedom".

Which is all a long way of saying: it is 0% surprising that highly paid and highly privileged specialists in a field largely dominated by white men think that the health, welfare, careers, and social standing of women and minorities is an acceptable price for the freedom they think they deserve.
posted by tocts at 10:02 AM on September 30 [9 favorites]


scruss, I am forever grateful for you introducing me to nyan-mode.
posted by MrGuilt at 12:58 PM on October 1 [1 favorite]


Which is all a long way of saying: it is 0% surprising that highly paid and highly privileged specialists in a field largely dominated by white men think that the health, welfare, careers, and social standing of women and minorities is an acceptable price for the freedom they think they deserve.

And of course, when forced to face actual accountability, there's always a set that cries witch hunt with a side of martyr complex. It has been tiresome reading these nonsensical "defenses".
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:37 PM on October 2 [4 favorites]


Jesus christ. Add Dan Kaminsky to the list of people whose work/companies/etc I will be avoiding at all costs. What a fucking disingenuous shithead. Yes, the real problem isn't the decades of incoming freshmen women at MIT being told explicitly that this guy was gonna try to fuck them at every chance possible even in educational or professional settings, and that they were basically going to have to learn to ward him off if they wanted any chance of being allowed to be in software development. No, the real problem is that that people are persecuting nebulously defined "weird" people.
posted by tocts at 5:17 PM on October 2 [3 favorites]


The especially frustrating thing is that the narrative generally promulgated by the Stallman-as-martyr crowd narrowly focuses on his comments about the Epstein affair, but it seems abundantly clear to pretty much everyone else that his ouster at MIT & etc was the result of decades of poor behavior, and the Epstein comments were just the final straw, or the thing that finally led to fracture, or whatever.

But they ignore this entirely. They ignore the endless parade of women sharing their experiences being creeped on by RMS, or deciding to leave the open source world because of RMS and his defenders and workalikes, etc.

It's almost like they're arguing in bad faith.
posted by uberchet at 7:45 AM on October 3 [4 favorites]


 Add Dan Kaminsky to the list of people whose work/companies/etc I will be avoiding at all costs

Whoah, is he a bonafide Blue Check person? I got to trolling that thread on Twitter 'cos I thought he was just Some Creep on the Internet.
posted by scruss at 1:52 PM on October 3


He's a big deal in infosec and security research.

He's also, apparently, a big fuckin' creep, the kind of person who spends all his concern on the fact that people are making hyperbolic statements about sexual predators online as if that's going to translate to real-world action, the end result of which is that said sexual predators might become homeless which he thinks is equivalent to a death sentence but of course Dan Kaminsky has never previously expressed any concern about, y'know, the millions of people who are already homeless who aren't sexual predators that he feels kinship to due to shared interests in computer programming and technology.
posted by tocts at 2:47 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


A reaction to Stallman refusing to step down from GNU: Joint statement on the GNU Project. 20 GNU developers jointly saying
We believe that Richard Stallman cannot represent all of GNU. We think it is now time for GNU maintainers to collectively decide about the organization of the project. The GNU Project we want to build is one that everyone can trust to defend their freedom.
posted by Nelson at 10:04 AM on October 7 [3 favorites]


On one hand, it's a good first step by those developers to state that the organization needs to move past Stallman. But the statement itself, and especially the first paragraph praising him, reminds me of a comment by #MeTooSTEM founder Dr. BethAnn McLaughlin on receiving the Disobedience Prize from the MIT Media Lab:
Parts of the Disobedience award process gnaw holes at my wellness. The day before the Disobedience Awards, I was at a dinner with Ito and he was telling me that he didn’t know how to honor individuals who were “great scientists” but found guilty of sexual misconduct. I laughed in his face. I thought he was joking. I told him we don’t honor them. We give them a cardboard box to pack their shit. He seemed genuinely confused and said nothing. Like it was super weird to him that these creepers shouldn’t get retirement parties and on-campus privileges. It makes me shiver remembering the look on his face. I have beat myself up a lot thinking I should have known the decency switch wasn’t installed properly in that administration.
Prefacing a statement about why Stallman needs to step down because of his behavior with praise undermines the statement.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:53 PM on October 7 [9 favorites]


Yeah, it bears repeating to the ends of the earth: we do not owe it to abusers to give them "credit" for the good things they did out of context of the bad things they did.

Richard Stallman's life's work was not worth the cost paid for it. If you piled all the good he did next to all the bad, the former would appear to be a grain of sand next to the latter's mountain. I fully and completely believe that a world in which Richard Stallman had left academia as a non-abusive person of no note or renown and lived till today a life having no major impact on software would be a better one.
posted by tocts at 5:30 PM on October 7 [7 favorites]




Bradley Kuhn has resigned from the FSF board and Benjamin Mako Hill has resigned fom the FSF board (no public statement yet).

Andy Wingo, a co-maintainer of a GNU project (Guile), has posted to his blog and to the Guile development mailing list about his unhappiness with RMS and about recent developments. He is one of the people who cosigned the statement Nelson mentioned a week ago.

As the 30 days of this thread come to a close: I mentioned earlier and I'll repeat: If you want to help me take this opportunity to improve things, I can make some suggestions about some specific next steps people are working on, but I don't want to do that unless someone asks, because it might come off as telling people "go do some work to fix this thing that hurt you and isn't your fault". I do not think anyone in this thread asked for those suggestions, but if anyone does, I will respond here or, after the thread closes, via MeMail (although it might take a few days, partly because this isn't the only controversy I am working on right now).
posted by brainwane at 6:25 PM on October 16 [3 favorites]


Correction: I should have said that Kuhn and Hill are no longer on the FSF board. (As commenters elsewhere note, one should be more careful in one's wording, since we don't know whether Hill and Kuhn chose to resign or were removed.)
posted by brainwane at 2:02 AM on October 17


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