04.23.21

Margarita Lacabe: My Relationship with Richard (Stallman)

Posted in Free/Libre Software at 3:08 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Published on April 18, 2021. Reprinted with permission (original); By Margarita Lacabe.

Summary: Margarita Lacabe is a Doctor of Law graduated at the University of Berkeley. She met Richard Stallman at Berkeley when she was 18. She was shocked when she learned about the attacks to Stallman in 2019. At that time, she expressed her perplexity in an article she published in Facebook. In the light of the new attacks started in March 2021, she updated that article to be published here.

I met Richard when he was around 33 and I had just turned 18, the summer after my freshman year in college. We were introduced by a neighbor who studied computer science. Richard was doing some stint at Berkeley that summer, and we hang out some. He had me over to his place to listen to Indonesian music (or something of the sort), while he danced, and he came to my place or we went out for meals with our mutual friend for long conversations. While I don’t specifically recall them, I’m sure there were hugs as well—I hugged a lot of people back then.

“Earlier on, Richard let me know he was sexually interested in me—something that was true of most of the computer scientists I met that summer—but he didn’t press it, and our relationship was fully platonic. So I would not immediately assume that the so-called “pleasure cards” that he handed out at conferences were meant to be sexual come ons.”Knowing Richard, I get his point that it makes little sense that while it’d have been perfectly legal for any of those men to sleep with me that summer, it would have been statutory rape if it’d happen a few weeks earlier. I can almost understand why he made the arguments on pedophilia that he made as well. Richard likes (or liked back then) to play devil’s advocate, and to examine issues from different perspectives. At 18, I enjoyed matching intellects with him.

A lot of women seem to see Richard as a creep, but I don’t think he means to be a creep. He is someone who just has practically no social awareness. A lot of computer scientists are in the spectrum and share these traits, but in Richard they go many steps beyond. As described, he has phobias (his one, when I met him, was of having his head under water, which meant he seldom washed his hair.)[*]

Richard marches to his own tune, but in my experience, he respected boundaries when they were made VERY clear to him, and he is a good man with a good heart.

Richard literally won a MacArthur genius fellowship a few years after I first met him. This brings up the question of how to deal with non-neurotypical people in our society who break social mores and act creepy without realizing the consequences of what they are doing. Do we need to put them in the corner, even though it was that very “disability” that enabled them to make profound positive changes in society?

I don’t have an answer, but I care about Richard in the way one can’t help but caring about old friends and I guess I want to say there is some nuance here.
____
[*] We are told that in the 1990s Stallman developed a technique for washing his hair which felt safe, and since then he has washed his hair regularly.↑

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