03.28.21

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Pursuing Justice and Freedom

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FSF, GNU/Linux at 11:46 am by Guest Editorial Team

By Alexandre Oliva

A lie repeated a thousand times does not, by virtue of repetition, become the truth.

That thousands of people will sign an open letter that proclaims a human being guilty based on twisted pseudo-evidence says more about their respect for due process, fair trials, justice and science, than about the human being they seek to burn at the stake. Do they even know who Galileo Galilei and Giordano Bruno were?

Burning witches after a kangaroo court-styled mob trial does not signal virtue, but rather the lack thereof.

Richard Stallman may be hard to like and to work with. His extreme attention to detail and to language can be infuriating. His urges to get back to work for free software, picking up and directing his attention to a screen at a dinner table long before that became fashionable, has often been labeled disrespectful. His harshness and often tactless disregard for social conventions can be emotionally hard to swallow and forgive, even with a rational understanding of his condition.

“If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” - Malcolm XBut these are not horrifying allegations that would serve the purpose of misleading decent people into the moral panic that leads to witch burning. The allegations make such leaps as from evidence of untargeted harshness to conclusions of sexism; from cautioning against accusation inflation, and from misguided and corrected inquiries about teen sexuality to pedophilia and defense thereof; from proposing an alternative to a grammar quirk to transphobia; from passing on scientific advice about fetuses with life-impairing conditions to… what is the criticism in that, genocide, standing for informed choice, or insensitivity of science?

A couple of decades ago, he used to make women uncomfortable with staring, but after being advised by friends, he made the effort and managed to overcome the habit. It’s not that this effort would be meritorious in itself (though specific circumstances may make it so), but the acknowledgment that he made the effort and succeeded ought to cast significant doubt on the allegations of misogyny.

Some of the people who support his cancellation dare claim they are in favor of free software ideas, and that this somehow justifies demanding the collective beheading of (i) the organization he founded to promote these very ideas; (ii) the GNU operating system, whose development he started and has led for over 36 years, a system that “has won” despite those who’ve long tried to write his legacy out of history; (iii) the stubborn, loyal, inflexible, uncorruptible and dehumanized human being who has consistently and correctly identified threats to software freedom before anyone else, who has consistently attracted enormous audiences to his speeches and readership to his writings about software freedom, and who invented copyleft and implemented it in the GNU GPL, the strongest vaccine we’ve had against attackers who label it a virus or a cancer to discourage developers from adopting it.

This is what these self-identified free software supporters are trying to deprive the free software movement of, by dragging it all to the fire over shocking but false allegations, and over some very real and painful discomfort and disagreement. Their false allegations have done far more to divide the movement, alienate people and empower our historical opponents than Stallman possibly could, even if he’d devoted his entire life to it. Our opponents must be thrilled.

Even if there was any truth to any of the outrageous allegations, it would be self-defeating for the movement to force him into non-existence. When irreconcilable differences impose themselves, all of us who support the movement would likely agree that having more collectives committed to the same principles and cooperating to promote the same ideas is preferable over weakening and dividing the movement with a schism, or with indefinite infighting. However, decapitating organizations and projects he founded and leads, on the grounds that he’s there, even if the goal is not a hostile take-over, comes across as vindictive, petty and destructive. It’s very hard to see good intentions behind it.

Anyone with a comparable track record to his in untiringly and uncompromisingly pursuing and advancing the cause of software freedom is very welcome to apply for any of his positions in the movement (other than founding father, of course), and he’ll surely be glad to make room. Very thick skin is now a strict requirement. We are inclusive, and select primarily based on alignment with the core values of the movement, but, all else being equal, we would give preference to candidates who displayed these rare features in a completely flawless package.

So blong,


Copyright 2007-2021 Alexandre Oliva

Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this
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This work is licensed under the Creative Commons License BY-SA (Attribution ShareAlike) 3.0 Unported. To see a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 444 Castro Street, Suite 900, Mountain View, California, 94041, USA.

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