Richard Stallman

This is a rambling exposition of my thoughts on Dr. Stallman, and the unpleasant situation the free software community is currently in. The summary of my views as to whether Stallman should remain on the board of the Free Software Foundation is below.

My views are, as with everything else on this site, my own. If you take issue with my views, you're welcome to contact me through the email on my homepage.

I ask that people don't reproduce my views in any capacity, and instead should point people at my site where they can make a voluntary choice as to whether or not they read them. There's enough space in the world for competing beliefs, and forcing your ethics onto others (both in terms of opinion and action), is not something one should be wont to do.

The Free Software Foundation

I believe there is no-one better suited to sit on the board of the Free Software Foundation than Dr. Stallman. I disagree with Dr. Stallman on many things, and some are given in example later in this post. But I can think of few individuals who have exerted as much time and effort as he has selflessly fighting for software freedom. If Dr. Stallman is willing to spend more of that time fighting for freedom, I can think of no better position for his experience than on the board of the Free Software Foundation.

The Corporations

Through the back door of ‘open-source’, corporate interests have slowly made their way into the free software community. This isn't all corporations. Canonical is one name I can think of that has, broadly speaking, managed to balance the line between their buisiness goals and free software. Gitlab is another. However most have not, and most have little interest in the difference between free software and open source.

To these corporations, it is perfectly reasonable to create something like the ‘Server Side Public License’. It is absolutely fine to prevent users modifying software on a device they own (provided you send them an unusable source tarball after 6 months of requests). They put forward the view that it is right for Google, and Microsoft, and IBM, and Apple, to act as the stewards of the free software community, as they are the stewards of the open-source community.

The assertion that organisations who push open-source software are suited to extend their control to free software, simply because the two are linked through history and culture, is a nasty one. ‘Open-source’ is not good enough. It was never good enough. Which is precisely why they like it.

We [the free software community] do not need to reject business. But we must be cautious of those businesses that use free software as their means to an end without subscribing to its ideals. The exchange of code between community and corporation must be framed within the context of an honest social transaction. We should not pretend that Google cares about free software when they've banned the Affero GPL. We should not extol them when they give code back. Because that is their obligation, not a gift they should be thanked for.

The Open Letter

A variety of individuals and organisations have signed an open letter to have not only Dr. Stallman removed from the board, but the entire board itself. Some of the names are unsurprising. My views on the claims the letter makes are below.

The claims against him in regards to Epstein and Minsky are in the most generous light, unintentional hit-pieces. To state that Minsky had knowledge of Epstein's position as a serial rapist is about on-par with Pizzagate conspiracy theories.

It is entirely right and proper to presume Minsky was unaware, especially given what we do know of Epstein and his vile manipulation of his victims. If someone I was tangentially associated with was found to be such a person, I would sincerely hope that the people around me would defend me in the way Stallman has defended his colleague.

In respects to his other views, the vast majority are pedantry. Pedantry is not a crime, even if the implications it brings up makes people uncomfortable. His views on the age of consent make me uncomfortable, and I'm glad to see he has apologised for what I felt was the most egregious comment.

I'm against his views on abortion. If I was forced to state when I would support abortion, it would likely only be when another person (the mother) is endangered. This is a consequence of my belief that life has intrinsic value, and begins at conception. Stallman argues it is right to terminate a foetus with Down's Syndrome. The prevalent opinion on when abortion is acceptable does not account for this - rather, the prevalent opinion is in a persistant state of cognitive dissonance whereby a foetus is both a life and not a life, depending on whether one wishes to express sympathy for the loss of an unborn child, or downplay the implications of a choice. Stallman's point illustrates that problem by following the view to its logical conclusion (as with almost all his contentious views). A foetus is not a life, therefore abortion is simply a medical procedure, and while advocating eugenics may upset a few people, it is a practical and logical good.

I disagree with that. Both abortions and miscarriages are life-altering events for a lot of people, and Stallman is wrong to say something as off-handed as ‘try again’. His comment likening people with Down's Syndrome to a pet was crude, offensive, and largely ignorant. I wish he'd apologise for it.

Finally, the charge of being transphobic for not using ‘they’ in the singular is moronic. Especially given he goes as far as to support nonsense pronouns like zhe. I do not. I will call anyone by any proper noun or common pronoun they ask of me - but I'm not going to start artificially patching the English language. You can have him, her, they (in a group), or the third person. Putting my own beliefs aside, I think the support of Leah Rowe (of Libreboot fame), and the confirmation of a non-technical trans friend that the evidence presented against Stallman is spurious, make for reasonable grounds to dismiss the claim against him.