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Guest Post: Notes on Free Speech, and a Line in the Sand

Posted in FSF at 4:59 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz


Summary: We received this anonymous letter and have published it as a follow-up to “Reader's Claim That Rules Similar to the Code of Conduct (CoC) Were 'Imposed' on LibrePlanet and the FSF

I have never attended LibrePlanet. I have considered attending several times over many years, but I have always been turned off by the policies described around the event. These are not welcoming policies, they are stifling.

They are worded in a way that is difficult to find fault with — but what is not difficult is to figure out how they might be unfairly or unevenly applied to people.

“And yes, it is unreasonable to consider RMS a person who needs to be controlled.”I don’t mean that RMS (Richard Stallman) enjoys an unfair exception to the rules. If LibrePlanet’s rules are so stringent that Stallman runs afoul of them, then the problems are clearly with the rules themselves. And while the rules themselves have always steered me away from the event, I never thought they would be used to try to exclude Stallman himself.

There is no Free Software without Free Speech — the freedom to code is a subset of the freedom to self-express. And yet today, there are people from Debian, Red Hat, GNOME, Creative Commons and even the FSF itself who would throw away freedom of speech for the need to control people unreasonably.

And yes, it is unreasonable to consider RMS a person who needs to be controlled. He is a grown man, with problems like everyone else — in fact he has the exact sort of problems that your rules suggest you don’t want to discriminate against.

If you honestly don’t know what that means, I suggest you read “When Nerds Collide” by Meredith Patterson. It is the best article on the subject, and it talks about the stifling trend of controlling speech to the point of absurdity in geek-laden communities.

“It is talked about briefly in the biography once sold by the FSF, it was used in dishonest ad hominem attacks from both OSI president Simon Phipps and OSI co-founder Eric Raymond.”Stallman did not grow up in a time when he was likely to be diagnosed with his disability or condition. It is talked about briefly in the biography once sold by the FSF, it was used in dishonest ad hominem attacks from both OSI president Simon Phipps and OSI co-founder Eric Raymond.

While a disability is not a blank cheque for allowing unwelcome behaviour, it should at the very least not be a reason to discriminate unfairly against a person who created the very reason your Free Software movement exists.

What the hell is wrong with you people? If you wish to be anything but hypocrites, you would be creating a safe space for free speech, not a Trojan horse for unscrupulous people and narcissists to kick founders out of events hosted by their own organisation.

“Some of the same people participating in that debate have tried to pressure the FSF board of directors to stifle Richard Stallman’s contributions at LibrePlanet.”In 2014, Debian used a set of community guidelines to stifle a vital debate about the future of Debian. Some of the same people participating in that debate have tried to pressure the FSF board of directors to stifle Richard Stallman’s contributions at LibrePlanet.

Since that time, the quality, reliability and security of Debian have gone downhill. It was an operating system I had relied on, and raised funds for. But what Debian decided to do was hand over a major portion of its development to an arrogant, obnoxious, condescending German developer, who now works for a monopoly that assisted actual nazis in genocide — a monopoly who (unlike other such companies, such as Siemens) has never apologised for or admitted their thoroughly-documented participation in those atrocities.

This is a developer who won a Pwnie Award not just for his poor commitment to security, but his notoriously terrible attitude about it.

“This is a developer who won a Pwnie Award not just for his poor commitment to security, but his notoriously terrible attitude about it.”Well done, Debian! And you think you have a moral right to decide whether Richard Stallman is “safe” enough for LibrePlanet.

Obviously, the future of Free Software is what’s at stake here. If there is no freedom of speech, there is no “Free as in speech” either.

The future of Free Software is corporate policy, corporate control — and monopolies influencing development and silencing even the most important of critics.

This is not about who is “welcome” at events. It is about making valuable contributions unwelcome. How far along this doublespeak has gotten, to infect the FSF itself.

This is not about safety, any more than secure boot is about security. Like secure boot, this is about making these events safer for corporate sponsors.

“This is not about safety, any more than secure boot is about security. Like secure boot, this is about making these events safer for corporate sponsors.”As much as pointless, dehumanising nonsense like putting shoes on conveyor belts is security theatre, what you are doing is creating diversity theatre — you say you are doing it to be inclusive.

There was a time when everyone was welcome in Free Software, and all you had to do was decide to participate.

Today, it is about making people feel more welcome by kicking the most necessary voices out for saying things that might make someone uncomfortable.

You are fighting implicit and perceived exclusion with explicit and actual exclusion. And unless your desire is to silence people, you are doing a terrible job.

This goes against the foundations of education. Honest education cannot be determined solely by who is comfortable. Teachers must be free to teach facts regardless of whether people feel comfortable with those facts.

This goes against science. Facts cannot be determined by what people would simply like them to be.

“This goes against science. Facts cannot be determined by what people would simply like them to be.”This goes against freedom. If you only allow participation and communication from people you like, then there is no freedom– you are simply controlling everything.

There is a comic by Randall Munroe, which implies rather plainly the ridiculous argument that freedom of speech isn’t threatened unless the government is doing it.

Let’s be serious — if there is no culture of free speech, if the people will not stand up for the rights of others to speak — then the government certainly isn’t going to either.

You are engineering a future with no freedom, with no philosophical foundation for Free Software.

LibrePlanet isn’t Libre — it is subjugated by the desire to make speech “safe” for everyone.

“LibrePlanet isn’t Libre — it is subjugated by the desire to make speech “safe” for everyone.”Freedom of speech is not safe. And as Benjamin Franklin said, “[t]hose who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither.”

I am confident that Franklin would not be welcome at your events either.

That only makes a complete sham of your event — and people should rightly boycott it and just enjoy the (very nice) videos made there.

Through your content policy about the LibrePlanet videos, others may comment and participate in a way that you don’t control. That would probably be a better option than funding LibrePlanet at this point.

This trend does not bode well for the future of Free Software, or the Free Software Foundation. They have made admirable efforts (KIND) towards guidelines that are less likely to exclude someone with Stallman’s disability and gifts.

“Without diversity of opinion and diversity of personality, there is no freedom of speech (nor reason for it).”We should continue to try to make LibrePlanet more inclusive again. But only if we are honest about what inclusion really means. Our efforts to do so must not allow narcissists to exclude the most important critics and philosophers from sharing their points of view — all we will achieve is to steer the conversation towards something that could be very wrong.

Without diversity of opinion and diversity of personality, there is no freedom of speech (nor reason for it). These codes of conduct are about uniformity and control, they are not about safety. You should be absolutely ashamed of your dishonesty and manipulation — and your attacks on freedom.

You are hypocrites as well as liars, and you will destroy Free Software if people are foolish enough to cede control to you.

It would not be possible to say these things at LibrePlanet. And that is precisely the problem.

No free speech, no Free Software — FREE RICHARD!

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  1. Canta said,

    June 13, 2019 at 6:16 pm


    I understand that writting about this issue is hard (you mention it on the linked post from April), but frankly is also hard to understand what are you talking about.

    “There was some kinda-secret CoC on LibrePlanet, with bully enforcers, and that was yet another move towards big corp culture.” That’s what I understand from both posts.

    Given that it’s you bringing the issue, I believe it. But is really weird so much secrecy around that CoC that should be very easy to get by now: just everybody that opened their mouths in front of a mic on LibrePlanet must have it. How is it not everywhere already?

    I say this because I feel there may be a valuable debate in the reader’s feelings (most likely shared by you) about free speech and its relation to… well, lots of things. But without the CoC in question the whole thing is just not serious.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Maybe the issue is being addressed a year too late.

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