Bonum Certa Men Certa

The Campaign to 'End' Richard Stallman - Part IV - The Legitimate Concerns

posted by Roy Schestowitz on May 30, 2024

Image credit: RMS, Kimiko Ishizaka, and Robert Douglass at the RMLL free software festival in France. Photo by Julie Cotinaud.

RMS, Kimiko Ishizaka, and Robert Douglass at the RMLL free software festival in France. Photo by Julie Cotinaud.

IN the first, second, and third parts we dissected and commented on some mail we had received about efforts to silence (or intimidate into silence) people who expressed support for Stallman, or merely asserted he should be allowed to give public talks about the project he created in 1983 (GNU/Linux).

Today's part deals less with the background or the resultant feedback, which culminated in veiled threats. The short story is, Stallman's talk are being canceled (part I) and people who aren't happy about it are getting trolled or incited (parts II and III), so what are they being incited with anyway? What are the common claims and is there underlying substance?

So I thought I'd share a story.

I met Stallman several times in my life. We have mutual respect. I find his behaviour unconventional but entirely un-threatening. Dave Winer (of RSS fame) compared him to a child. Stallman does not behave like most people - that much is widely known. He himself wrote about it and admitted it. This is not something he can easily control and those who tried to "train" him didn't help him (the staring is one example), they strive for behavioural assimilation (cues), to put it one way, rather than understanding. It's a bit patronising, at least in my view. Like colonies being "pacified" or "civilised" by the coloniser, or culture being wiped away.

Some hours ago someone left a comment in LXer to say:

I have had long discussions over meals, many times with RMS over the decades, though, I'll admit it's probably been a decade since our last meeting.

So, take this for what it's worth. He's pretty focused. Honest. Calm. While I've certainly seen people taken aback by what he's said to them, he was usually just trying to help them see where "they were wrong".

Not burning any of the books he has signed.

I consider him to be a colleague, even though he probably wouldn't recall my name :-), but frankly, that doesn't matter.

Some vain guys are "conventional" (in the social cues sense) but obscenely rude towards women. Some guys are outright "pests" - we saw some at conferences and we recently reposted articles from Daniel Pocock that name some people like that. They go to conferences where they basically act like pimps. Heck, the man who keeps harassing my wife boasted that men would be "missing out" (his words) if they didn't look for sex at FOSS conferences. These are the sorts of people who frequent Reddit and add a "SJW" flair to their name.

Now, when it comes to Stallman, they say that sometimes he asks women on a date, even in conferences. I think the first time I heard about that was almost half a decade ago; it was coming from Joshua Gay (former FSF) in our IRC channel. It's still in the old logs, see "jgay".

Gay said they were trying to get this behaviour under control, or at least accompany Stallman to prevent that (by presence; but he might do this even when other people are present).

Some people consider this behaviour really bad if not perverse. My wife Rianne disagrees with them. She thinks that asking a girl if she wants to go meet for coffee is quite reasonable and if the head of the FSF (or GNU for that matter) politely asks a woman to meet, it's hardly sinful, especially if he is single and not some pushy masculine sexist.

The story told to me by Gay (that was several years ago) was echoed by another person who told me: "I noticed on your site a complaint that FSF is no longer publishing RMS' appearances. There is a reason for this. I just want you to understand the why. I am not representing FSF in this, but I'm acquainted with recent events."

The source of this isn't the FSF, either. It's just someone who knows something from reliable channels.

"Richard's behavior has degraded," I was told. "One problem has been around Richard hitting on women at Free Software conferences, in a way that has made many of the women uncomfortable."

When they say "hitting on women" it usually means asking on a date or similar, politely. That's based on what other people also said.

"FSF attempted to put constraints on Richard and he has abused them, for example after he agreed not to hit on women at Free Software conferences, he asked a woman to walk across the street from the conference and then hit on her."

So at least we now know why the FSF does not mention public talks of his despite him being on the Board. I will not attempt to defend the above, but my general view on this is that every person has some weaknesses, the above weaknesses are not too severe (the lady can politely decline or say "no"), and we must remember he has cancer. I was told the above is connected to that or, to quote, "it's somewhat because of his illness but his behavior is out of control and he doesn't want to fix it."

Maybe he cannot, but we must consider the relative harm compare to the positives. If we say that a Code of Conduct (CoC) bans asking someone out for coffee or a date, will women be better off? How will they initiate contact or form relationships? Some "app" on a so-called 'phone'? Matchmakers? A drunken night in a pub? My wife reminds me that we incidentally met each other in some other person's birthday party, where we started to talk and found we had things in common, not only our background in Computer Science. The concept that chatting in some events is harassing or can make a place "unsafe" is a bit of a stretch, but we don't know the specifics about the above scenarios, so it's hard to pass judgment.

In my experience, many pushers of a Code of Conduct (CoC) are large corporations that want their employees to be platonic drones that just work and work and work (no work/life balance). The Code of Conduct (CoC) mindset is also promoted by the corporations' "useful idiots" and some oddballs who are never approached romantically by anybody. Their romantic life is either perverse or non-existent. The bottom line is, the FSF's founder may not be compliant with a "modern" Code of Conduct (CoC), but from traditionalists' point of view he has not done anything illegal, probably not immoral either. It's neither this nor the other. This boils down to optics and societal norms in a generation that frowns upon people in their 70s, who also understand that "they" is plural, "intellectual properly" is a propaganda term, and sharing code (or anything else) is good practice, not some special exception. Back in the 1970s this was the norm.

I am not trying to defend the above but merely to put things in some context.

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