Richard Stallman

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. Perhaps it was intentional. Or perhaps they stumbled into it thinking there was no meaningful difference between ‘open-source’ and ‘free software’. But there is. And the fact they don’t know, or care to know, or know and respect that difference is harrowing.

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). It is right that Google, and Microsoft, and IBM, and Apple, and all the rest act as the stewards of this community - because they’re good, and proper, and care about all the right social issues.

Do not look at the Uighurs behind the curtain, or the factory workers on the cobblestones, or the detainee in the immigration centre. Don’t think about how software is swallowing the world, or how they’re getting rich in the process. Forget about the 1% and that “occupy” thing. The 1% “care” about (read: spend money on) hot cultural/social issues now. And businesses who “care” about ${social cause} can’t be bad… right?

I’ve gone off topic.

‘Open-source’ is not good enough. It was never good enough. Which is why they like it.

But they don’t like free software. Or at least, they don’t like the moralising that goes along with it. Morals aren’t good for business, kid. Do you know how hard it is to make bank when your articles of association say “don’t be evil”? What better way to wipe free software from common parlance than to expunge the man responsible for it? We don’t even need to do the hard work - twitter users will do it for us, and then all we need to do is make a press release saying we’re excited to begin working with the new leader of the Free (as in gmail) Software Foundation. Very excited.

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 when a zygote is formed. 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.

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 and offensive. 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.