An anonymous reader writes: Debian Project Secretary Kurt Roeckx has announced the results of a closely-watched vote on what statement would be made about Richard Stallman’s readmission to the Free Software Foundation’s board. Seven options were considered, with the Debian project’s 420 voting d…

Buggaboo
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Nice to see the people at Debian are finally smartening up. Why bother with these kinds of things when there’s nothing to be gained other than losing a portion of your users and developers.

As far as I know the goal of Debian is not to attract the most users but a certain set of values. If RMS is incompatible with these values then there’s indeed something gained from distancing yourself.

Debian is political, it always has been and just pretending it isn’t won’t do good.

@Ferk
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When there’s actual proof that RMS is incompatible with the values that he himself claims to defend, then it would make sense for them to be against him.

Not issuing a statement is by itself a skeptical position. I don’t think it’s about pretending not to be political, but rather avoid getting involved in something that shouldn’t have been taken so seriously.

I didn’t want to discuss whether there is proof, I think I’m on a different side there though.

All that RMS did is in the open, what’s left is considering this either compatible (or irrelevant to) with Debian, or not.

@Ferk
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Debian values are also in the open: https://www.debian.org/social_contract and one of the points is “No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups”.

Imho, what’s missing is the aritmetic that connects the dots and proves (or disproves) that any of the points of the Debian social contract are affected by “all that RMS did”.

If the connection isn’t clear, then I think the wise move is to not move in either direction. Making a move just because “Debian is political” would not be good, imho.

Sure, that is “missing” but it’s nothing “in the dark” or “hidden that can be revealed”. Like, all information is indeed on the table. It’s up to the individual or the group to either recognise a libk if one exists or claim there is none.

There’s nothing that could be revealed worth waiting for, is what I’m saying.

Halce
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Because of Stallman’s jarring directness and language pedantry, I am open to the idea that he may have some light autistic features. Therefore, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that RMS had no malicious intent, simply a very pedantic way of expression, which does not make him guilty.

It should also be considered then, whether those who in fact say they fight against discrimination (disregarding RMS’s actual intent) do not in fact discriminate, in a certain manner against him…

Is the point about guilt or being unfit for social leadership? Indeed it’s completely irrelevant whether there’s malicious intent, as the judgment is not about “should he be in hell or heaven” but “should he be leader of the FSF”.

Furthermore, he completely rejects the idea of him being autistic. In fact, many of the signatories of the “reject him from the board” letter are autistic or part of autistic support groups. And what they say is: Being autistic is not an excuse for hurting other people. Somehow all the people who are not a relevant part of the autism community suddenly all pop up and try to protect the poor autistic RMS… .

Discrimination due to some people claiming him to be autistic is simply bullshit in this context. Even more so because accepting him to question other peoples very identity and existence in society is a far more basic discrimination on his part. Be it “in malicious intent” or not. If he indeed were autistic then measures can be found to still make him fit for leadership, there are many autistic people in high positions (also signatories of the reject-rms letter).

And this is completely disregarding that he’s not only pedantic, but also, in many ways often literally wrong. Especially when it comes to meanings of words in languages. But that’s just a side note.

Halce
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claiming him to be autistic is simply bullshit in this context. Even more so because accepting him to question other peoples very identity and existence in society is a far more basic discrimination on his part. Be it “in malicious intent” or not.

His words are that he’s neurodivergent, autistic’s just my guess. Also, see https://stallman.org/articles/genderless-pronouns.html (this may be an odd thing to write an article about, but I don’t see it rejecting the identities of other people).

He’s also not the president, nor the leader of the FSF, just an advisor. It’s interesting that these new facts are never taken into account when discussing his role. That is why I believe this is all unwarranted, if he shouldn’t be the president, or the ‘leader’ of the FSF, ok, he literally isn’t.

But now that’s not enough. This is where I am questioning people’s motivations more with regards to an attempt of blurring the line between free software, and open-source, regardless of what RMS does, regardless of what backseat position he takes, or whether he apologizes and explains himself (which he did).

Neurodivergent is a broad category. And it ain’t a free pass for being an asshole, but anyway.

He’s a major de-facto leader, the actual position does, in fact, not matter as it’s the role he is perceived to be in. And yes, this perception matters because it is this that forms other peoples opinion on the FSF.

I agree that the line b/w Open Source and Free Software is already too blurry. Ironically though, the people who invented Open Source, like ESR, are supporters of RMS in the letter.

I think the best thing FSF/RMS could do, would be to properly address the – well known – problems, and half-hearted apologies don’t fit the bill here. This would protect Free Software from malicious free riders on this letter (and there always will be some).

@federico3
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He describes himself as essentially neurodivergent and tone-deaf (his word): https://www.fsf.org/news/rms-addresses-the-free-software-community

I’ve met him and a lot of people I know and trust have been around him at conferences. In 20 years I’ve heard plenty of complains about his public behavior and I’ve witnessed various episodes of that. Nobody ever told me in person that RMS is inherently evil or malevolent, but rather unable to act appropriately around people or understand what is socially acceptable, despite having been told many times. He apologized on various occasions over the years… without changing behavior.

Public roles are different from private life. A public speaker is responsible of communicating clearly, understanding the context of conversations, acting properly, and avoid creating these controversies in the first place.

Halce
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He apologized on various occasions over the years… without changing behavior.

But this is my point. He may not be too good at evaluating whether some behaviour is in fact similar, or the same as another behaviour, which you, as a non-neurodivergent person may evaluate as something that’s quite similar. For example, a change of place, theme, or the structure of participants, may present just enough of a detail to a neurodivergent person to evaluate a situation as being in fact very much different, even if it may appear to us as reasonably (although of course not exactly) similar to previous situations, that they have previously encountered.

I am saying, despite his odd behaviour, his accomplishments and role (even as a public speaker) should be applauded in my opinion, especially, if we look at them through this lens of him being neurodivergent.

Otherwise, what’s being promoted, is essentially discrimination, by people, who therefore hypocritically claim they are for a diversity of experiences and the inclusion in society of the usually marginalised.

Halce
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Autism is a broad spectrum, and cannot be effectively evaluated by other people with another type of autism. To do that is the height of arrogance, and disregards personal experience.

I also find the position that if people are in leadership, their issues in terms of neurodivergence should not be taken into account as antithetical to any sense of justice, or inclusion. You essentially are saying that these people do not deserve the opportunity to participate, due to their condition?

I find this notion elitist, and quite frankly disgustingly discriminatory.

@federico3
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You keep putting words in my mouth and keep confusing personal life and public roles and the accountability that comes with the latter.

@Ferk
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Is there nothing Stallman could say or do that could possibly bring light on the issue?

The open letter did seem to reference there being “things that are not captured in email threads or on video”.

If Stallman deserves all the “adjectives” from the open letter, then I think ultimately there’ll be solid proof that justifies the slander, given enough time I think there should be some convincing evidence that he’s what he’s accused to be, and then (and only then) he’ll deserve to be criticised by Debian and many other projects.

If, on the other hand, it turns out that the mob accusing him was unfairly misinterpreting and dehumanizing him, then I think the opinion on him will never change no matter what he does… even if he begged on his knees crying, he’ll still be dehumanized. Any goodwill on his part will be assumed to be a farce. If that’s the case then for that mob there would be nothing else to be said that could possibly change anything.

There are some things that are referenced that way, but the majority of things were/are out in the open.

I don’t want to go down this rabbit-hole, but the accusations aren’t anything new. In fact, they’re decades old and he was given a pass, multiple times. And at some point, yes, people will start seeing excuses as a farce.

Whether you think what he said was in fact e.g., transphobic is another matter. I personally doubt that he has much of “hate” for most or any of the groups, but, at the end of the day, he treats people in very demeaning matter. And he doesn’t seem to be capable of understanding why, what he does and says, is bad. And that’s fine – but not as a spokesperson. But that’s my personal opinion. My point is mostly about

  • almost everything being on the table
  • the accusations aren’t new
  • either you can agree that the accusations are right or wrong.
@Ferk
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I personally doubt that he has much of “hate” for most or any of the groups, but, at the end of the day, he treats people in very demeaning matter.

And every time he treats people in a bad manner he should be reprimended. This isn’t about tolerance towards hurting people, but about judging if the person is actually a “misogynist, ableist, and transphobic” and all sorts of accusations the open letter claimed.

not as a spokesperson

Oh, we could agree on that.

I might have even agreed with the letter myself had it been more reasonable. But removing him from every “position of power” isn’t the same as banning him from being a “spokesperson”. The demand wasn’t as reasonable as you are.

In fact, the letter misses the point so much that even if the FSF had listened to it, it would have still been perfectly possible for RMS to abandon any and all advisory boards and end up demoted to being a mouthpiece for Free Software, doing even more public speakings… essentially making him more of a “spokesperson”, just one that doesn’t belong to the board.

The problem is, him not being a spokesperson was something that was, in fact, asked multiple times before. But somehow, him still being “in power” get gets himself into position to become a spokesperson again. This is nothing new.

@Ferk
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Too bad this time they decided to use insults and serious accusations rather make the argument you are making, which is somethig a lot more people would have agreed with.

As it is, the request from the open letter is missing the point. RMS having such position is not what allows him to become a spokeperson. He doesn’t even need the FSF to go out and make public appearances in representation of the movement he founded (even if he’s not representing the FSF, that matters little). It might have actually ended up making the problem with RMS social ackwardness and the image of the movement worse if it meant kicking RMS out and leaving him to go speak on his own (with his “tone deaf” social skills). He’s still connected to the Free Software movement, removing him from any and all organizations is not gonna change that (he’s almost more of a figure in the movement than the FSF itself is, which most likely will create division and weaken both sides). The letter was asking for the wrong thing in the wrong manner.

A lot of people could have agreed all the years before – they didn’t. full stop.

Insults? No, accusations, sure. His behavior was more than inappropriate and that was called out. I’m baffled how one can rile up so much about the wording of the letter, but when RMS said something far more insulting that’s okay, for some reason.

And no, it matters whether he’s part of the FSF. Either he’s speaking on behalf of the FSF – or not. That he’s literally “Mr FSF” is indeed bad and part of the problem.

@Ferk
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A lot of people could have agreed all the years before – they didn’t. full stop.

The signees didn’t suddenly change opinion and agreed on something they disagreed with before. Like you yourself said, “this is nothing new”, Stallman has been heavily criticized multiple times by his social behavior.

The only thing that makes this time different is that they started collecting signatures and getting organizations to sign for an open letter that was created as a knee-jerk reaction to RMS being admitted in the board of directors of the FSF. A collective campaign as public and well known as this had never happened before, but people accusing Stallman in a such a way have existed for many many years. This is nothing new.

I’m baffled how one can rile up so much about the wording of the letter, but when RMS said something far more insulting that’s okay, for some reason.

Note that I’m not saying the people who signed (or even wrote) the letter are bad, or toxic, or any other adjective. I’m saying the letter itself (not who wrote it) is misdirected and could result in toxicity. This is the same kind of criticism I throw at Stallman. It’s not in me where you’ll see the contradiction.

I’m sure who wrote the letter had the best of intentions, and most likely they were motivated by a will to improve the FSF, not hurt it. I just think the approach was incorrect. Not only in the wording but also in the demands they made.

If instead of explaining that what I say is incorrect, someone tells me that I lack capacity to reason, I see that as an insult.

The only way for it to not be an insult is if they came with solid evidence of the claim (ie. solid proof that I’m unable to reason). Then it will just be a description of what I am, based on proof. But I’ll feel insulted if you call me “fascist” and I’m antifa. Would you not feel insulted if you were accused of being the complete opposite of the values you hold dearest?

Stallman has proven more than once that he’s a person committed to the ideals he holds (and one of them is to end “racism, sexism, antisemitism, caste prejudice, and others”), and has also proven that when confronted about a topic in conversation he can change his mind (as he did about his views on child consent). So if we are to categorize him with the dehumanizing accusations the letter used, we better have solid proof that it wasn’t a mistake, that he really deserves it and that his public statements stating the opposite are a farce. Because he’s known to be misunderstood pretty frequently due to his social impairment. This is nothing new.

I’m all for criticizing him about his mistakes and confronting him, even to the extent of making him take responsibility for his social behavior. I can agree that he should not be a spokesperson for the movement, so I rather have him in a role where he can provide direction on the topics he’s good at (and he can do that as part of the board of directors) but making it so he’s banned from acting as spokesperson in situations that could result in misunderstandments or where someone could be hurt. There’s plenty of people who can take that role instead (eg. the actual President of the FSF: Geoffrey Knauth). That’s what the letter should have demanded, instead it demanded to remove Stallman from all directive positions (and not just him, but the entire board!) all while throwing unfair accusations that could lead to him being dehumanized by many when done in such a public way.

The signees didn’t suddenly change opinion and agreed on something they disagreed with before. Like you yourself said, “this is nothing new”, Stallman has been heavily criticized multiple times by his social behavior. I expected you’d have agreed with me in that.

I feel like we’re talking past each other here: I do agree! That is, indeed, part of my very point. He’s been criticized many times, but hardly ever changed (we come back to that later).

If instead of explaining that what I say is incorrect, someone tells me that I lack capacity to reason, I see that as an insult.

I never intended to insult you, by the way, if that came of as such. I very much enjoy the discussion.

However, how would you word a letter like that, when you know, from decades of experience, that the person will likely not change their behavior the same way they didn’t for years? Without implying that the person either a) lacks capacity to reason or b) is outright malicious? You ask for solid evidence, but …

The only way for it to not be an insult is if they came with solid evidence of the claim (ie. solid proof that I’m unable to reason).

The problem here is that many of the things are done, due to the nature of the org, in private. To add a personal story of my hackerspace at university: RMS was in the city and we allowed him to stay for a day in our room at university. Little did we expect him to not move out at all. The only way to get him out again was to pay for a ticket to the next conference. Sure, one can add this to the huge list, but unfortunately I hardly can provide “proof”. Nobody collects such things.

But, proof is not needed as we don’t want to judge him in front of a jury. The FSF in almost all accounts does already know what the people are talking about. This letter is not addressed to the public to hold condemnation and grudge against RMS, but addressed to those who know of the incidents. Usually this would be an “internal investigation”, however the FSF doesn’t do such thing.

Proof definitely would be nice, absolutely. But asking for proof of things that happened internally is asking for the impossible. That’s why I don’t judge people who hold him dearly, they are very much allowed to do so.

I even understand if he feels insulted or attacked. He’s confronted with the accusation that he’s not what he thinks to be. In fact, I’ve been rightly accused in the same way, and honestly, it was hard, very hard. Sometimes, I’d say, it was wrong, but sometimes the other person was indeed right. They couldn’t always provide proof, but they called out behavior in a message to me and I knew what they were talking about. The next step, though, would’ve been to call me out publicly, in case I didn’t change.

Stallman has proven more than once that he’s a person committed to the ideals he holds (and one of them is to end “racism, sexism, antisemitism, caste prejudice, and others”), and has also proven that when confronted about a topic in conversation he can change his mind (as he did about his views on child consent). So if we are to categorize him with the dehumanizing accusations the letter used, we better have solid proof that it wasn’t a mistake, that he really deserves it and that his public statements stating the opposite are a farce. Because he’s known to be misunderstood pretty frequently due to his social impairment. This is nothing new.

It’s not about “deserving punishment” but protecting others, and the FSF, from harmful behavior. And, while I agree that his changed view on child consent is… a good thing to say the least, it’s a very bad thing if people’s identities (e.g., trans, non-binary people) are invalidated and disregarded (despite scientific evidence!) because he’s being pedantic about words. His hybris to think that, just because “words” he has more knowledge on this topic than leading psychologists is telling. But worse is that trans or non-binary persons shouldn’t need to defend their very existence and identity at every corner in life. At some point (after decades of years) they cannot be expected to still talk and discuss with him, in very tiring and disrespecting discussions, what and who they are. Mind you, it’s great if minorities go out and tell people how it is to be X, but these people should be allowed to just live their life at some point.

And RMS with his stances in the FSF is… not exactly a nice space for most of them. Proofs would be nice, and him changing his opinion would be nice as well. But this is much work that we can, perhaps, expect of the society as a whole but not from the minorities that are already discriminated against.

And I agree that, in theory, the letter should demand just revoking him as a spokesperson. But do you seriously believe that this would stick? He basically made him member again w/o consulting with the board before … he speaks when he wants, and just not making him spokesperson won’t change that. Unfortunately.

@Ferk
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First of all: sorry for the huge wall of text… as you can guess I also enjoy the discussion.


I never intended to insult you, by the way, if that came of as such. I very much enjoy the discussion.

Oh sorry, that’s not what I meant. You’ve been very respectful and reasonable.

It was an example to illustrate why I called some of the accusations of the letter “insults”, I didn’t want to imply that you insulted me.

how would you word a letter like that, when you know, from decades of experience, that the person will likely not change their behavior the same way they didn’t for years? Without implying that the person either a) lacks capacity to reason or b) is outright malicious?

Why not just state the facts and let them speak for themselves?

Intentionally hurting people would definitely be a cause to remove him. I expect that’s actually against the FSF code.

The thing with making a public open letter like this is that you need to convince not only the FSF but also those that you are asking signatures from. Specially if they’re also being asked to boicot the FSF donations and events.

proof is not needed as we don’t want to judge him in front of a jury. The FSF in almost all accounts does already know what the people are talking about. This letter is not addressed to the public to hold condemnation and grudge against RMS, but addressed to those who know of the incidents.

Then it shouldn’t be surprising to see a counter-reaction from those who do not have account of those incidents and who do not think the accusations are deserved.

Like you said, this should not have been about “deserving punishment” but about protecting others. Yet the letter does not talk much about the victims, the harm and what caused it. It does not really explain how removing Stallman stops him from that abuse or what mistakes the FSF itself has done that have been a consequence of Stallman being part of the board. The letter does come off as seeking punishment for his independent behavior.

Even if they really did believe that RMS is behaving like that on purpose out of malice/phobia/insanity/other, had they made the exercise of assuming that it was a reiterated and constant mistake would have gone a long way to actually get the point across. You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

It’s also ironic that when they actually try to give examples, the only thing they show are either things that have been later corrected when brought to the attention of RMS himself (like the child consent thing, but also the GNU Kind Communication Guidelines) or things that when in context are clearly misunderstandments (he isn’t saying that by law all children with down syndrome should be forcefully aborted…) or about that publicly available email thread about Minsky where he’s really not saying anything crazy when you actually read through it.

RMS was in the city and we allowed him to stay for a day in our room at university. Little did we expect him to not move out at all. The only way to get him out again was to pay for a ticket to the next conference.

That must have been quite a thing… he also came to my University (ages ago) and I heard some things from the organizers about how particular he was. I don’t really remember the details but I can imagine there are many stories like that. He’s definitely very quirky. But I’m sure there’s more than one board of directors with a “strange” nerd on it.

Also, when he’s called to give a conference like this, normally it’s for him to talk about his philosophy and personal history in the Free Software movement, independently of whatever his position is in the FSF. Kicking him out from the FSF is not preventing that scenario.

it’s a very bad thing if people’s identities (e.g., trans, non-binary people) are invalidated and disregarded (despite scientific evidence!) because he’s being pedantic about words.

I agree, but are you referring to this? https://stallman.org/articles/genderless-pronouns.html

It’s possible that he’s trying to “respect the wishes” of non-binary people without really understanding what their wishes are. And knowing how particular he is about the correct manner of saying “GNU/Linux” I can imagine how a conversation about the topic with him could be difficult…

My understanding is that seeking a gender-neutral pronoun can actually be the wrong call, even as an heterosexual male I would find it patronizing if Stallman used the gender neutral pronoun on me, so I expect the same would happen for someone who identified as “she” / “they” or any other pronoun. But is it actually transfobic?

The open letter is locked now and they even closed the issue tracker, but before they closed it there was this comment from a trans person who actually thought accusing him of being a transfobe was too much.

But do you seriously believe that this would stick? He basically made him member again w/o consulting with the board before … he speaks when he wants, and just not making him spokesperson won’t change that. Unfortunately.

But asking for his removal and that of the entire board did not stick either. It’s actually a demand harder to defend.

And even if it had stuck, he still speaks when he wants. Not being in the board of directors is not gonna stop that. If his words are too loud is because of RMS popularity as independent “philosopher”, not because of his position in the FSF.

If the intention was to play poker and ask for something crazy to try and get anything at all then… well, it shouldn’t be a surprise if that craziness is called out and it results in mixed reactions that end up mudding the waters and missing the point.

Sure, in the end such poker move might actually work (if the real intention was to get some reaction from the FSF and not really what was demanded) but at what cost? I’m sure things could have gone better by playing it cool. Many portrayed this as a “witch hunt” and I don’t think those reactions were unjustified. This isn’t just bad image for RMS but also for the anti-RMS crowd, to the point that an anti-anti-RMS letter came up with 6000+ signatures, double than the original letter.

np, I’m glad this is mutual!


Oh sorry, that’s not what I meant. You’ve been very respectful.

phew, I sometimes have the issue of coming off condescending, which I definitely do not intend :)

Why not just state the facts and let them speak for themselves?

Those facts are difficult to state, since they are mostly related to interpersonal evens like the one I stated. Although I agree that this would’ve been preferable.

Intentionally hurting people would definitely be a cause to remove him. I expect that’s actually against the FSF code.

The thing with making a public open letter like this is that you need to convince not only the FSF but also those that you are asking signatures from. Specially if they’re also being asked to boicot the FSF donations and events.

I get your point here, but that’s, to me the crux of the situation: These are internal events and often in violation of the FSF’s own code. Thus, there should’ve been an internal investigation, but that didn’t happen. The problem then though is: What now? As with allegations of (sexual) abuse, those things are hard to proof to the public. However, the FSF board very much knows of (most of) the cases they allude to, and they are the addresses.

However, as you correctly observe, it’s an open letter since they need to build pressure on the FSF. But they can’t “just state the facts” for the reasons mentioned. This is, definitely, a difficult situation.

But I don’t think everyone ought to “decide” to support one or the other letter, especially those completely outside of the circle. As they, indeed, have very little insight into what happened. It’s an ugly situation, I totally agree with that.

Then it shouldn’t be surprising to see a counter-reaction from those who do not have account of those incidents and who do not think the accusations are deserved.

Absolutely, it isn’t surprising! The problem with the whole situation is that it should have been solved internally but hasn’t. Such things are predestined to go badly.

In the end, the immediate circle of people affected (including the FSF board) can really judge. But also, in our society, it is simply a fact that everyone needs to position themselves, despite not actually really being in charge.

Like you said, this should not have been about “deserving punishment” but about protecting others. Yet the letter does not talk much about the victims, the harm and what caused it. It does not really explain how removing Stallman stops him from that abuse or what mistakes the FSF itself has done that have been a consequence of Stallman being part of the board. The letter does come off as seeking punishment for his independent behavior.

I didn’t read the letter that way, but I can see how it can be read as punishment. I can not counter this and have to say that this shouldn’t be (wasn’t?) intended. I agree that discussing the problems the FSF had due to RMS would indeed have been a very healthy addition.

Even if they really did believe that RMS is behaving like that on purpose out of malice/phobia/insanity/other, had they made the exercise of assuming that it was a reiterated and constant mistake would have gone a long way to actually get the point across. You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Absolutely. In the end, the letter was an act of frustration long boiling and it reads that way.

It’s also ironic that when they actually try to give examples, the only thing they show are either things that have been later corrected when brought to the attention of RMS himself (like the child consent thing, but also the GNU Kind Communication Guidelines) or things that when in context are clearly misunderstandments (he isn’t saying that by law all children with down syndrome should be forcefully aborted…) or about that publicly available email thread about Minsky where he’s really not saying anything crazy when you actually read through it.

What I agree with is that they don’t properly differentiate b/w a) clear violations of other peoples personal identity or similar and b) bad PR stunts. From what I know, both things happened, while the former are usually internal issues (thus should’ve been resolved internally) and the latter, by definition, public. Taking the Minsky statement, what he said was not really crazy but uncalled-for and absolutely unnecessary pedantry. Furthermore, similar wording is also chosen in malice by those who are defending sexual abuse and belittling victims. I do think RMS wasn’t aware of what he did was basically unintentional “dog whistling” but this is very bad PR nontheless, and thus harmful to the FSF as a whole. Especially if it happens repeatedly, and no “sorry” or “correction” later can, unfortunately, fix the publicity problems that result from it.

It would have served them well if they had made a distinction b/w these two things.

That must have been quite a thing… he also came to my University (ages ago) and I heard some things from the organizers about how particular he was. I don’t really remember the details but I can imagine there are many stories like that. He’s definitely very quirky. But I’m sure there’s more than one board of directors with a “strange” nerd on it.

Sure, but quirky becomes bad rep when it ends in inappropriate behavior like pressing students with little money to pay for (quite expensive) tickets, by simply living in their “workplace”. He was told to end this behavior multiple times, but didn’t change. And that’s kind of the issue.

Also, when he’s called to give a conference like this, normally it’s for him to talk about his philosophy and personal history in the Free Software movement, independently of whatever his position is in the FSF. Kicking him out from the FSF is not preventing that scenario.

Sure, but then it’s bad rep for mostly him and the Free Software movement (bad enough), but the FSF could easily do something like distancing themselves from him. This would do them very good in all such occasions.

I agree, but are you referring to this? https://stallman.org/articles/genderless-pronouns.html

It’s possible that he’s trying to “respect the wishes” of non-binary people without really understanding what their wishes are. And knowing how particular he is about the correct manner of saying “GNU/Linux” I can imagine how a conversation about the topic with him could be difficult…

I think the key point is “without really understanding what their wishes are”, and maybe that’s the distilled version of almost all criticism of RMS. Either he doesn’t care or he thinks he knows better what people wish for than themselves. At first, this is annoying or funny (GNU/Linux pedantry), but when it comes to people and how they’d like to be addressed it quickly leaves that area and becomes downright hurtful.

My understanding is that seeking a gender-neutral pronoun can actually be the wrong call, even as an heterosexual male I would find it patronizing if Stallman used the gender neutral pronoun on me, so I expect the same would happen for someone who identified as “she” / “they” or any other pronoun. But is it actually transfobic?

I wouldn’t count the usage of it transphobic per-se, but with many things -phobic and -ist, it comes down to the power (im-)balance. That is, in current law and society, a trans person defending themselves to be called the pronoun they want has a much harder stance to defend than a non-trans, cis, person. That is, while from RMS’ pov misgendering a cis man by referring to them as “she” or whatever is the same as misgendering a trans person by referring to them with a different pronoun than asked for – from the affected persons pov this is quite different. Most cis people would definitely feel patronized by it, but they could either shrug it off or, if in public, simply demand him to behave properly. A trans person who’s regularly attacked and invalidated (in our current society) doesn’t have this luxury/privilege, and as such, these statements are hurtful and dangerous.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is: In a perfect society this wouldn’t be much more than patronizing. In a similar way, in a perfect society “black facing” wouldn’t be any different than “white facing” – but acting as if we were in such a society is wrong and dangerous to minorities.

Now, whether this is transphobic …

The open letter is locked now and they even closed the issue tracker, but before they closed it there was this comment from a trans person who actually thought accusing him of being a transfobe was too much.

… this is definitely a dividing matter. In my bubble (which, uh, contains quite some people who’re trans :p), the overwhelming opinion is that what he did, indeed, is transphobic. Obviously that’s no “proof”, but it shows that these people, who experience transphobia from other persons in the society on a day-to-day basis, have a hard time distinguishing (unintentional) dog-whistling and … patronizing behavior by Stallman from intentional attacks. Mind you, in public most transphobic people (outside of Fox News) disguise their transphobia rather well.

While similar things have been reported for RMS as well (i.e., behaving much worse to trans people in private than in public) I don’t want to dwell on it, as it’s not that much convincing. I think, in the end, it boils down to whether one counts unintentional “attacks” as transphobic or not.

To open the RMS-like jar o’ pedantry, maybe one could say that:

  • RMS isn’t a transphobe
  • However, he/says does transphobic things and
  • He has internalized transphobia

But then we need to ask ourselves: Does that change much? [to be continued since I reached the character limit… jeez]

EDIT: continuation below in comment to this comment :)

… Obviously it’s important to treat malice different from unintentional things when it comes to judging (and I know, you read the letter as judging and I didn’t but I see where you’re coming from and admit that it’s bad that it could be read that way). However, if you read the letter just as a demand to remove him to stop further harm (my reading) then, this is pretty much irrelevant.

But asking for his removal and the dissolution of the entire board did not stick either. It’s actually a demand harder to defend.

And even if it had, he still speaks when he wants. Not being in the board of directors is not gonna stop that. If his words are too loud is because of RMS popularity as independent “philosopher”, not because of his position in the FSF.

That’s true, and, honestly, kinda shameful for the FSF. The FSF would/will/… have a hard time to justify it’s sense w/o RMS.

If the intention was to play poker and ask for something crazy to try and get anything at all then… well, it shouldn’t be a surprise if that craziness is called out and it results in mixed reactions that end up mudding the waters and missing the point.

Sure, in the end such poker move might actually work (if the real intention was to get some reaction from the FSF and not really what was demanded) but at what cost? I’m sure things could have gone better by playing it cool. Many portrayed this as a “witch hunt” and I don’t think those reactions were unjustified. This isn’t just bad image for RMS but also for the anti-RMS crowd, to the point that an anti-anti-RMS letter came up with 6000+ signatures, double than the original letter.

I think, in hindsight, the way the letter was worded and prepared was the wrong step forward. Unfortunately, I also don’t really see an alternative. There were more kind, more proper, discussions before, for decades. Sometimes they even resulted in change!

But where are we now, in the year 2021? The FSF has become irrelevant, for many reasons. Some can definitely be attributed to the way the Internet and corporations developed, how Open Source became a thing (ironically ESR has signed the anti-anti-RMS letter :D) etc. But also, the FSF was kind-of at the forefront of political discussion in the technology scene, with seeing the technology as someone that should revolve around human needs and society, and not vice-versa. It was refreshing, it was new, it was progressive.

And while the FSF is still radical, it feels like that’s the only thing left. Radical, senseless (to the point it becomes annoying), repeating of anti-firmware tirades etc. Obviously, many stances are still more progressive than the political climate, but they’ve lost pretty much their target group. It feels like having Rosa Luxemburg as a leader of “The Left”: While certainly progressive, not fitting for the time.

People pressed for changes, but nothing could be heard over the deafening presence of RMS. Maybe the best criticism of the FSF is that it’s just “The RMS Society”. Which isn’t necessarily bad, but it means that we have gap there, where an FSF that wouldn’t be “just RMS” would be.

All in all, I think we agree on many points of the problem(s). And perhaps even, that such an “open letter” isn’t always bad, but simply whether this was the point of time that this letter should have been written. And also, that there are certainly some things in the letter that could’ve been phrased better, to say the least.


That was a long comment, but I felt much more comfortable quote-posting as I didn’t want to write this up from memory, in order not to talk past your points or misrepresent you.

@Ferk
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Wow… I didn’t even know there was a character limit… :P

Once again, very reasonable response(s). Honestly I think we fundamentally agree in most of the arguments, to the point that I’m running out of things to add -says as he proceeds to drop another column-

I’m sorry but in my quote-posting I’m gonna cherry-pick specific parts, not because I want to misrepresent you but because I don’t want to make it unwieldly. However, please call out at any point if I’m missing something important you said or misinterpreting something.


there should’ve been an internal investigation, but that didn’t happen. The problem then though is: What now? As with allegations of (sexual) abuse, those things are hard to proof to the public.

This is the part that still seems strange to me. If these episodes are so frequent and blatant there must be plenty of testimonials, it wouldn’t be impossible to record conversation, an email thread… or someone could prepare a public interview with him where he’s confronted about controversial behavior, maybe giving opportunity to the victims to talk (anonymously maybe even, just a recording without the face, maybe even altered voice) and see RMS reaction and response to it. Specially for things that you said were recurrent and he has not fixed for years. Confront him about the fact that those have not been fixed for years and show it to him, then show the public what he has to say.

Just having these kind of things exposed might actually spark change already, even without the need to collect signatures.

I understand that it’s still a lot of effort and it’s not as easy to prove as more public forms of abuse, but I find it hard to believe that there would be no witnesses willing to give a testimony or some form of evidence. Specially in the world of Software, where a lot of communication happens electronically, even internally. If the issue is privacy policy, RMS could be publlicly asked for permission to show his private responses in such interview… if he actually refuses then… well, that’d already look fishy and uncooperative which is something that’d be good to get exposure on.

If RMS had rejected to participating in such interview then… well, that’s something that could have been in the letter. If they cannot provide anything solid at the very least they should be convincing about why that is.

Sure, but then it’s bad rep for mostly him and the Free Software movement (bad enough), but the FSF could easily do something like distancing themselves from him. This would do them very good in all such occasions.

It would give good rep with those who were exposed to the proof. And at the same time it would also give bad rep with those who think that the removal was undeserved. This is why it’s important to be convincing.

Had the FSF listened to the letter, removed RMS and completelly changed the entire board, it would not be a total surprise to me if the same motivation that pushed for the anti-anti-RMS letter ended up giving birth to a new alternative movement, more welcome to RMS and the directors from the previous board. Maybe a new foundation would have been created, in a similar way as how the Open Source Initiative differentiated itself from the FSF. Creating more division in the movement and taking a bite of the FSF cake.

Maybe many in the OSI are secretly happy about all this drama, I wouldn’t be surprised if they got at least a small bump in supporters. After all they exist as a more pragmatic alternative to Stallman’s FSF. It’s also interesting that 4 out of the 16 people who appear as authors of the open letter are directors or former directors of the OSI.

Obviously it’s important to treat malice different from unintentional things when it comes to judging (and I know, you read the letter as judging and I didn’t but I see where you’re coming from and admit that it’s bad that it could be read that way). However, if you read the letter just as a demand to remove him to stop further harm (my reading) then, this is pretty much irrelevant

That’s sensible. I agree.

If it isn’t read as an accusation of being “misogynist, ableist, and transphobic” (although if “internalized” had been added then I’d not argue), then you are right. If I do the exercise of reading it as only a demand, that would take away most of my criticism about the “wording” of the letter, and the only thing that would remain is my criticism of whether what was demanded actually stops further harm.

People pressed for changes, but nothing could be heard over the deafening presence of RMS.

And yet this time the pressure was much louder. Why is it that? Is it because of the wording and demands they made this time? Or is it because they actually tried this time to make it more public, wrote an open letter and use their influence and position in several organizations to push for it in social media, asking others to support and sign the petition at a time when RMS was already in the news for being readmitted? Why did they not do that when they were demanding him to change?

It feels like people only decided to take a more serious and public action when they were angry and mad, misdirecting their demands by applying punishment as a form of poetic justice rather than thinking of an actual solution that could fix the problem.

Maybe the best criticism of the FSF is that it’s just “The RMS Society”. Which isn’t necessarily bad, but it means that we have gap there, where an FSF that wouldn’t be “just RMS” would be.

I agree it would be good to see a new flow of progressive change. But the sad thing is that there has not really been any loud voice inside or outside the FSF that introduced any new strain of philosophy as groundbreaking as the initial movement was in the 90s. The thing is that we aren’t talking about a new approach, we are talking about the respect for others that already has been claimed. What we are talking is not being progressive but being consequent with values we already are meant to defend.

The issue is the question “are these values not being respected?”. There’s division on the answer to that, and if the division is not solved and it keeps scalating then ultimatelly it could mean the FSF itself could divide, with a new organization appearing or maybe the OSI taking over the banner.

The problem here is that both sides see each other as the enemy (this is very clear when seeing twitter), one side dehumanizing the other, as in a sort of ideological warfare. Dehumanization sparks dehumanization. And it’s hard to talk with someone about shared ideals when they have already dehumanized us.

We will see. My hope is that RMS & the FSF will both see the mess and try and take the kind of measures that the open letter should have requested in the first place and it didn’t (things like making sure RMS controversial behavior is under leash, communicates only in written form externally or internally with those outside the board, never go to any event without some form of caretaker that knows how to deal with him, etc… or whatever measures would actually help with those problems that the letter didn’t explain). And then hopefully this whole war will slowly be forgotten.

But it could also happen that they don’t manage to address the right problems (I’m still skeptical on whether it’s true that the FSF & RMS know / understand what the problems are, since the letter wasn’t specific about them) or that even if they did address them, they are already dehumanized and the ideological war against them will never stop no matter what RMS & the FSF board do (other than removing themselves not only from the FSF but from all interaction with the community).

I didn’t expect the limit to kick in as well, but there we go … :)

I agree that we do mostly agree (whelp) and I think there is indeed not much to say but just to clarify our points to enhance mutual understanding. I think we have pretty much reached what some people call “agree to disagree” although I do not like this saying…

For the record, I don’t feel misrepresented at all, and thoroughly enjoy your responses!


This is the part that still seems strange to me. If these episodes are so frequent and blatant there must be plenty of testimonials, […]

I cannot speak for those who wrote the letter, but I fear that there’s indeed not much written record since most of the allegations I heard of (before, and outside of the letter) were with misdemeanor outside of electronic conversations in conferences. Although you’re right that such things should’ve been tried (Idk if they did, but if they did, they should’ve brought this up). However, as in many cases, the usual minorities are too tired (and also afraid) to speak up and don’t have the energy to fight for their cause. Meaning, their support group (friends, family) do the work which is in many ways unfortunate but also means that there will hardly be proper interviews or similar. It’s difficult enough to do such an investigation when there are actual crimes. Also, I think, this would’ve increased and emphasized the “guilty” part even more, while the original intention was/should’ve been to make the FSF and RMS question their own deeds.

I totally agree that this misfired though.

Part of the issue is probably the writers of the open letter not really being sure themselves whether they want to prove RMS guilty or ask for introspection, and even subconsciously looking for “justice” when that’s actually not productive going forward. After all, the human being as a whole loves to jump on the justice/revenge/guilt band wagon far too easily. And even if criticism is well-founded, writing up this criticism is no fail-guard against unnecessary allegations of guilt.

Had the FSF listened to the letter, removed RMS and completelly changed the entire board, it would not be a total surprise to me if the same motivation that pushed for the anti-anti-RMS letter ended up giving birth to a new alternative movement, more welcome to RMS and the directors from the previous board. Maybe a new foundation would have been created, in a similar way as how the Open Source Initiative differentiated itself from the FSF. Creating more division in the movement and taking a bite of the FSF cake.

Maybe many in the OSI are secretly happy about all this drama, I wouldn’t be surprised if they got at least a small bump in supporters. After all they exist as a more pragmatic alternative to Stallman’s FSF. It’s also interesting that 4 out of the 16 people who appear as authors of the open letter are directors or former directors of the OSI.

Honestly, you voiced my secret biggest fear there. I’m not a fan of the OSI at all, which makes this whole situation so tragic to me. In fact, maybe the failure of the anti-RMS letter was for the best in that sense, as that way the “creation of the alternative FSF” is initiated anti-RMS side, although I’m not yet sure or convinced by the “GNU Assembly” either :D

I agree it would be good to see a new flow of progressive change. But the sad thing is that there has not really been any loud voice inside or outside the FSF that introduced any new strain of philosophy as groundbreaking as the initial movement was in the 90s. The thing is that we aren’t talking about a new approach, we are talking about the respect for others that already has been claimed. What we are talking is not being progressive but being consequent with values we already are meant to defend.

The issue is the question “are these values not being respected?”. There’s division on the answer to that, and if the division is not solved and it keeps scalating then ultimatelly it could mean the FSF itself could divide, with a new organization appearing or maybe the OSI taking over the banner.

Absolutely agree. For what it’s worth, I think the only new “progressive” voice here is the EFF, while strictly having a different focus, it is very much in the spirit of many things copy-left: User autonomy and rights. And since it also advocates for things that aren’t as… dare I say 'esoteric… as software licenses but also privacy etc., it’s much more approachable to those who don’t have the software developer outlook on things.

But it could also happen that they don’t manage to address the right problems (I’m still skeptical on whether it’s true that the FSF & RMS know / understand what the problem is) or that even if they did, they are already dehumanized and the ideological war against them will never stop no matter what RMS & the FSF board do (other than removing themselves not only from the FSF but from all interaction).

I’m with you on being skeptical of RMS & FSF understanding the issue in the first place. It’s something that’s not even unique to RMS. My mom is definitely quite left and progressive but she has a hard time understanding most of the issues the left is fighting for, other than all the ‘old wars’ (tbf, she’s 63), if it wasn’t for me explaining to her. And it must be me, since I’m her child and have a connection I can actually use to bridge this gap—with the end result being that she understands the issues well enough to see.

But this bridge is very difficult to build if you’re online, have no family or friendship bonds, and the issue is smouldering for decades. It’s doubly difficult since the primary issues the FSF fights for aren’t related at all to the problems discussed, thus discussing them inside the FSF or with RMS will always be seen as a distraction or annoyance, taking precious time away from their actual fight.

I guess we’ll see how this plays out. While I do hope that there will be change in the existing organizations, I’m afraid that the FSF and the core of the free software movement will die sooner or later, either with a bang or silently. I do have hopes in the EFF though, as stated, in taking over many issues that should be addressed in some way.

@Ferk
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At the end of the day, you and me are not the ones who can solve this conflict, but RMS/FSF along with those who represent the victims and know of the abuse. They need to sit in a table together and actually talk about details, making sure the facts surrounding the matter are clear so specific actions can be taken.

We don’t know the details ourselves, and I think the main difference of opinion between us is when it comes to the different impressions we get when doing our “guesswork” on those details, which were left untold in the letter.

But these are just guesses and I cannot feel strongly for something that I do not have any strong evidence for me to judge how undeserved or deserved the accusations are. This is why I think the approach from Debian in this case here was appropriate, not pronouncing themselves towards any side until something more concrete resurfaces.

It would be great if the EFF takes a more active role in regards to Software Freedom and takes some of the load from the FSF.

There’s one historical detail that makes the FSF still being there kinda important: the FSF is the copyright holder assigned to a lot of free software projects.

I mean, that shouldn’t be a huge deal, since it’s all GPL after all… but the copyright holder is who has ultimatelly the power to enforce the license. Although I doubt that this will really become a problem.

Another, a more pressing one perhaps, is the “GNU GPL version x or any later version” statement of the license… it would be bad if the disinterest towards who is in control of the FSF (I believe the FSF is the license’s publisher) can result in unexpected new developments for future versions.

So I think the FSF still plays a role and it’d be better if it’s in good hands. But perhaps other organizations could take care of events or any specifics that might be more controversial for “The RMS Society” to get involved with. But this is why details need to be discussed… this is why it would have been better if the letter actually specified where, when and how did the problems happen.

Sorry for the late reply – the last week was a bit tiring and I didn’t feel able to give enough attention to a reply :)

I think you’re very right about it mostly coming down to perception. While I’d personally have wished for a more direct stance from Debian, I think I understand better now the ideas behind it. Thanks!

At least in Europe the EFF together with the Chaos Computer Club are quite successfully pushing for Free Software (and related issues). But they’re still getting there and obviously they didn’t want to “steal” the FSF topic from them. Although I guess this is what this will develop into, over long term.

I’m not good enough in anything wrt. law as to know whether this could be a problem, as this also depends very much on the country we’re talking about. But I agree that this is a minor issue.

Again, thanks for taking so much time for the discussion, it was really educating and helped me see other viewpoint(s)!

people at Debian are finally smartening up

I’d say that once they finally remove that terrible piece of software systemd

OP, any reason why you post slashdot instead of right to the source?

https://lists.debian.org/debian-devel-announce/2021/04/msg00009.html

@peppermint
52M

There’s been a lot of slashdot posts on /c/linux recently

Yeah, I don’t understand why someone would submit a link aggregator to a link aggregator. Makes me wonder if the blogspam discussion applies: https://lemmy.ml/post/60793

That said, linking to other discussions is welcome as a comment imo.

No statement is still a Statement… They just say that they don’t care enough, which is quite sad regarding the topic

@marmulak
112M

It’s not, I think it’s wise of them to reject the controversy itself. It’s a waste of time to pay attention to it or feed into it

I agree that many debates which seems similar are a waist of time, but in this case the hole debate is interwoven with sex traffic and child abuse.

@TheAnonymouseJoker
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Romeo Juliet law discussion is not pedophilia apologia. Hard conversations need to be done by someone, so they become easy for the ordinary people.

All this mob culture is achieving is anti intellectualism.

@BlackLotus
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No statement can also mean they have nuanced and/or mixed feelings.

@federico3
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The diagram and beat matrix at the bottom of https://www.debian.org/vote/2021/vote_002 tell a different story:

  • the cluster of options 1/2/3/4 are very strong and very close to winning.
  • the “support RMS” options 5/6 flat out failed
  • had the vote been between the two clusters, the first would have won.
  • Unsurprisingly, a lot of people voted “no statement” as a fall-back option, and Condorcet strongly favors options that makes most people “not completely unhappy” rather than making a relative majority with their preferred choice.
@lorabe
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To me that’s the perfect description of mixed feelings.

@maddox
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Sign an open letter in support of Richard M. Stallman https://stallmansupport.org/ https://rms-support-letter.github.io/

Debian got scared of RMS support.

@someone
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I think they just dom’t want to be a part of the drama.

@TheAnonymouseJoker
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Yes it is indeed drama, and the RMS supporters are becoming vocal and making more sense than the cancel mob with baseless semantic reductio ad absurdum stuff.

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Linux is a family of open source Unix-like operating systems based on the Linux kernel, an operating system kernel first released on September 17, 1991 by Linus Torvalds. Linux is typically packaged in a Linux distribution (or distro for short).

Distributions include the Linux kernel and supporting system software and libraries, many of which are provided by the GNU Project. Many Linux distributions use the word “Linux” in their name, but the Free Software Foundation uses the name GNU/Linux to emphasize the importance of GNU software, causing some controversy.

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