04.28.21

Testimonies, Letters, Writings, and More About Richard Stallman

Posted in Deception, Free/Libre Software, FSF, FUD at 11:02 pm by Guest Editorial Team

Published on April 27, 2021. Reproduced with permission.

As we keep working on this website, we are getting feedback from readers who send us their own writings and testimonies, or point us to writings by other people. We are grateful to all of them for their contributions. We can’t publish all of the materials, but here are some.

Professional Interaction with Richard Stallman #professional

by Andy Farnell – March 2021

Attackers of Prof. Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and GNU project, accuse him of “unprofessionalism.” My experience has been different. I recently had reason to speak with Richard Stallman while researching a new book, as I needed to interview an authority on the subject of “Software Freedom.” Of course, this is my personal experience over a short time. Some people say that he is difficult to get along with, but here’s why I feel any labelling of Stallman as “unprofessional” is undeserved.

As I hit send on an email to Richard Stallman, a person famed for “being weird,” I sighed with resignation at the fact it would likely go unanswered. Five seconds later a reply appeared. Obviously it was an automated response, including some boilerplate addressed to any NSA agents enjoying our conversation. Weird, yes! Check one! But in good humour. Were I an NSA worker it would cause no offence and make me smile. His email was polite, concise, informative and sensible. It explained Richard’s workflow for processing mail and when I might expect a reply.

Now, some might say that a “professional” would delegate their public interface. Having dealt with many prominent people I know it sometimes takes weeks and many attempts just to get through to an agent or handler, let alone win a personal audience. Often when trying to interview other writers or public figures one encounters a fortress of aloof discouragement—just go away, I am way too busy for you. Those who have a great deal to say, often take such pains to hide themselves and make sure nobody gets to speak back. As I see it, Stallman shares with the legendary Noam Chomsky, in being approachable by anyone, whether a professional reporter, student, blogger, or critic.

So, within a few days I received a thoughtful and detailed reply from Richard himself, who suggested we talk, and some choices of technology for a meeting. We found a mutually agreeable solution, being Jit.si, over which Richard devoted hours to helping me with my questions. I had expected a great fuss about encryption, and to find myself awake past midnight recompiling a kernel or fighting with encryption keys in order to talk to Stallman who would be nit-picky, weird and patronising about my weak security practices. That didn’t happen. It’s a character strength of Stallman I have heard others praise, that while ideologically rigid, he is absolutely pragmatic.

Before we were scheduled to talk, Stallman took the initiative to reach out and remind me we had a meeting, pre-emptively suggesting we test the link, and that I should record the meeting on my side as a reference, thus saving me the awkwardness of asking permission. Professional? Certainly well organised and mindful of the needs of others.

Then came the actual meeting. I get to talk to a lot of smart people, but rarely do they engage like Richard Stallman. He listens. Being into communication theory I pay attention to styles of interaction. In several hours of online connection Richard Stallman never once spoke over me, showing extraordinarily adept use of timing and tone for voice communication with latency while clearly thinking about each question. He ended each session by asking if I needed a follow up session and whether the recording had been successful.

At this point, Richard had no idea who I “really was.” He remarked that he was helping a student publish an article on software freedom in higher education—but he had no time to devote to editing the students prose. I took this as a subtle invitation to quid pro quo, and so I offered to edit the article. That lead to a long, productive and very interesting interaction that inspired an article for the Times Higher Education.

My experience of Stallman seemed the very model of consummate professionalism—exemplary use of technology and language, far, far better manners than I expect from many corporate encounters. Contrary to commentators who paint him as socially clumsy, I found his rather charming way of advancing agendas and connecting people for mutual benefit quite skilful.

The word “unprofessional” has been co-opted as an accusation in modern witch-hunts. It is very hurtful to call another person unprofessional, partly because the concept is so poorly defined, and gets conflated with “bad character.” Often the accusation is levelled at someone who is indeed acting at the absolute height of professionalism, following
the true spirit of their profession, but standing against the status quo. Whistle-blowers or those advocating for organisational change toward better ethics come to mind as obvious victims. We must stop abusing the word “unprofessional” as a vague smear against anyone whose opinions we dislike.

A Letter to the FSF #letter1-fsf

Date: Apr 6, 2021, 14:12
From: [Email address redacted]
To: info@fsf.org
Subject: In support of RMS

Dear FSF,

I support Richard’s return to the FSF, and hope that he will continue providing momentum to the Free Software Movement in all ways possible, especially through the FSF and GNU.

I am a doctoral student of condensed matter physics at Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune, India, and a regular user of free software for almost a decade now. I would like to express my gratitude to Richard’s initiative for software freedom, which has directly and indirectly enabled my research in more ways than one.

Pradeep Thakur
Pune, India.

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