This show has a counter point show hpr3316 :: FSF and RMS on election of Richard Stallman
Warning This show contains information that may not be suitable for all. Listener discretion is advised.
Recently Richard M. Stallman, announced that he has rejoined the Free Software Foundation’s board of directors. An open letter on github called for him to be removed again, and for the FSF’s entire board to resign.
When he resigned in 2019, Bradley M. Kuhn (from the Free as in Freedom podcast) wrote an article titled "On Recent Controversial Events" about the issue. I am submitting that article here under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. The post contains many links and is available in the shownotes for this show. Some examples are included at the end of the blog post, and listener discretion is advised.
Tuesday 15 October 2019 by Bradley M. Kuhn
The last 33 days have been unprecedentedly difficult for the software freedom community and for me personally. Folks have been emailing, phoning, texting, tagging me on social media (— the last of which has been funny, because all my social media accounts are placeholder accounts). But, just about everyone has urged me to comment on the serious issues that the software freedom community now faces. Until now, I have stayed silent regarding all these current topics: from Richard M. Stallman (RMS)’s public statements, to his resignation from the Free Software Foundation (FSF), to the Epstein scandal and its connection to MIT. I’ve also avoided generally commenting on software freedom organizational governance during this period. I did this for good reason, which is explained below. However, in this blog post, I now share my primary comments on the matters that seem to currently be of the utmost attention of the Open Source and Free Software communities.
I have been silent the last month because, until two days ago, I was an at-large member of FSF’s Board of Directors, and a Voting Member of the FSF. As a member of FSF’s two leadership bodies, I was abiding by a reasonable request from the FSF management and my duty to the organization. Specifically, the FSF asked that all communication during the crisis come directly from FSF officers and not from at-large directors and/or Voting Members. Furthermore, the FSF management asked all Directors and Voting Members to remain silent on this entire matter — even on issues only tangentially related to the current situation, and even when speaking in our own capacity (e.g., on our own blogs like this one). The FSF is an important organization, and I take any request from the FSF seriously — so I abided fully with their request.
The situation was further complicated because folks at my employer, Software Freedom Conservancy (where I also serve on the Board of Directors) had strong opinions about this matter as well. Fortunately, the FSF and Conservancy both had already created clear protocols for what I should do if ever there was a disagreement or divergence of views between Conservancy and FSF. I therefore was recused fully from the planning, drafting, and timing of Conservancy’s statement on this matter. I thank my colleagues at the Conservancy for working so carefully to keep me entirely outside the loop on their statement and to diligently assure that it was straight-forward for me to manage any potential organizational disagreements. I also thank those at the FSF who outlined clear protocols (ahead of time, back in March 2019) in case a situation like this ever came up. I also know my colleagues at Conservancy care deeply, as I do, about the health and welfare of the FSF and its mission of fighting for universal software freedom for all. None of us want, nor have, any substantive disagreement over software freedom issues.
I take very seriously my duty to the various organizations where I have (or have had) affiliations. More generally, I champion non-profit organizational transparency. Unfortunately, the current crisis left me in a quandary between the overarching goal of community transparency and abiding by FSF management’s directives. Now that I’ve left the FSF Board of Directors, FSF’s Voting Membership, and all my FSF volunteer roles (which ends my 22-year uninterrupted affiliation with the FSF), I can now comment on the substantive issues that face not just the FSF, but the Free Software community as a whole, while continuing to adhere to my past duty of acting in FSF’s best interest. In other words, my affiliation with the FSF has come to an end for many good and useful reasons. The end to this affiliation allows me to speak directly about the core issues at the heart of the community’s current crisis.
Firstly, all these events — from RMS’ public comments on the MIT mailing list, to RMS’ resignation from the FSF to RMS’ discussions about the next steps for the GNU project — seem to many to have happened ridiculously quickly. But it wasn’t actually fast at all. In fact, these events were culmination of issues that were slowly growing in concern to many people, including me.
For the last two years, I had been a loud internal voice in the FSF leadership regarding RMS’ Free-Software-unrelated public statements; I felt strongly that it was in the best interest of the FSF to actively seek to limit such statements, and that it was my duty to FSF to speak out about this within the organization. Those who only learned of this story in the last month (understandably) believed Selam G.’s Medium post raised an entirely new issue. In fact, RMS’ views and statements posted on stallman.org about sexual morality escalated for the worse over the last few years. When the escalation started, I still considered RMS both a friend and colleague, and I attempted to argue with him at length to convince him that some of his positions were harmful to sexual assault survivors and those who are sex-trafficked, and to the people who devote their lives in service to such individuals. More importantly to the FSF, I attempted to persuade RMS that launching a controversial campaign on sexual behavior and morality was counter to his and FSF’s mission to advance software freedom, and told RMS that my duty as an FSF Director was to assure the best outcome for the FSF, which IMO didn’t include having a leader who made such statements. Not only is human sexual behavior not a topic on which RMS has adequate academic expertise, but also his positions appear to ignore significant research and widely available information on the subject. Many of his comments, while occasionally politically intriguing, lack empathy for people who experienced trauma.
IMO, this is not and has never been a Free Speech issue. I do believe freedom of speech links directly to software freedom: indeed, I see the freedom to publish software under Free licenses as almost a corollary to the freedom of speech. However, we do not need to follow leadership from those whose views we fundamentally disagree. Moreover, organizations need not and should not elevate spokespeople and leaders who speak regularly on unrelated issues that organizations find do not advance their mission, and/or that alienate important constituents. I, like many other software freedom leaders, curtail my public comments on issues not related to FOSS. (Indeed, I would not even be commenting on this issue if it had not become a central issue of concern to the software freedom community.) Leaders have power, and they must exercise the power of their words with restraint, not with impunity.
RMS has consistently argued that there was a campaign of "prudish intimidation" — seeking to keep him quiet about his views on sexuality. After years of conversing with RMS about how his non-software-freedom views were a distraction, an indulgence, and downright problematic, his general response was to make even more public comments of this nature. The issue is not about RMS’ right to say what he believes, nor is it even about whether or not you agree or disagree with RMS’ statements. The question is whether an organization should have a designated leader who is on a sustained, public campaign advocating about an unrelated issue that many consider controversial. It really doesn’t matter what your view about the controversial issue is; a leader who refuses to stop talking loudly about unrelated issues eventually creates an untenable distraction from the radical activism you’re actively trying to advance. The message of universal software freedom is a radical cause; it’s basically impossible for one individual to effectively push forward two unrelated controversial agendas at once. In short, the radical message of software freedom became overshadowed by RMS’ radical views about sexual morality.
And here is where I say the thing that may infuriate many but it’s what I believe: I think RMS took a useful step by resigning some of his leadership roles at the FSF. I thank RMS for taking that step, and I wish the FSF Directors well in their efforts to assure that the FSF becomes a welcoming organization to all who care about universal software freedom. The FSF’s mission is essential to our technological future, and we should all support that mission. I care deeply about that mission myself and have worked and will continue to work in our community in the best interest of the mission.
I’m admittedly struggling to find a way to work again with RMS, given his views on sexual morality and his behaviors stemming from those views. I explicitly do not agree with this "(re-)definition" of sexual assault. Furthermore, I believe uninformed statements about sexual assault are irresponsible and cause harm to victims. #MeToo is not a "frenzy"; it is a global movement by individuals who have been harmed seeking to hold both bad actors and society-at-large accountable for ignoring systemic wrongs. Nevertheless, I still am proud of the essay that I co-wrote with RMS and still find many of RMS’ other essays compelling, important, and relevant.
I want the FSF to succeed in its mission and enter a new era of accomplishments. I’ve spent the last 22 years, without a break, dedicating substantial time, effort, care and loyalty to the various FSF roles that I’ve had: including employee, volunteer, at-large Director, and Voting Member. Even though my duties to the FSF are done, and my relationship with the FSF is no longer formal, I still think the FSF is a valuable institution worth helping and saving, specifically because the FSF was founded for a mission that I deeply support. And we should also realize that RMS — a human being (who is flawed like the rest of us) — invented that mission.
As culture change becomes more rapid, I hope we can find reasonable nuance and moderation on our complex analysis about people and their disparate views, while we also hold individuals fully accountable for their actions. That’s the difficulty we face in the post-post-modern culture of the early twenty-first century. Most importantly, I believe we must find a way to stand firm for software freedom while also making a safe environment for victims of sexual assault, sexual abuse, gaslighting, and other deplorable actions.
Submit comments on this post to <email@example.com>.
The following posts are authored by Richard M. Stallman and are taken from his personal site stallman.org. They were linked to in the piece you have just heard.
stallman.org 31 October 2016 (Down’s syndrome) A new noninvasive test for Down’s syndrome will eliminate the small risk of the current test. This might lead more women to get tested, and abort fetuses that have Down’s syndrome. Let’s hope so! If you’d like to love and care for a pet that doesn’t have normal human mental capacity, don’t create a handicapped human being to be your pet. Get a dog or a parrot. It will appreciate your love, and it will never feel bad for being less capable than normal humans.
stallman.org 14 December 2016 (Campaign of bull-headed prudery) A national campaign seeks to make all US states prohibit sex between humans and nonhuman animals. This campaign seems to be sheer bull-headed prudery, using the perverse assumption that sex between a human and an animal hurts the animal. That’s true for some ways of having sex, and false for others. For instance, I’ve heard that some women get dogs to lick them off. That doesn’t hurt the dog at all. Why should it be prohibited? When male dolphins have sex with people, that doesn’t hurt the dolphins. Quite the contrary, they like it very much. Why should it be prohibited? I’ve also read that female gorillas sometimes express desire for sex with men. If they both like it, who is harmed? Why should this be prohibited? The proponents of this law claim that any kind of sex between humans and other species implies that the human is a "predator" that we need to lock up. That’s clearly false, for the cases listed above. Making a prohibition based on prejudice, writing it in an overbroad way, is what prissy governments tend to do where sex is concerned. The next step is to interpret it too strongly with "zero tolerance". Will people convicted of having dogs lick them off be required to live at least 1000 feet from any dogs? This law should be changed to prohibit only acts in which the animal is physically forced to have sex, or physically injured.
stallman.org 23 February 2017 (A "violent sex offender") The teenager who will have to register as a "violent sex offender" had a sexual meeting with a younger teenager. Why do people think there is something wrong with a sexual relationship between people of ages 13 and 18? The principal activity of human adolescents is sex.
stallman.org 26 May 2017 (Prudish ignorantism) A British woman is on trial for going to a park and inviting teenage boys to have sex with her there. Her husband acted as a lookout in case someone else passed by. One teenager allegedly visited her at her house repeatedly to have sex with her. None of these acts would be wrong in any sense, provided they took precautions against spreading infections. The idea that adolescents (of whatever sex) need to be "protected" from sexual experience they wish to have is prudish ignorantism, and making that experience a crime is perverse.
stallman.org 13 June 2017 (Sex offender registry) The sex offender registry treats any sexual crime as far worse than murder.
stallman.org 10 October 2017 (Laws against having sex with an animal) European countries are passing laws against having sex with an animal. (We are talking about sex practices that don’t physically hurt the animal.) These laws have no rational basis. We know that some animals enjoy sex with humans. Others don’t. But really, if you smear something on your genitals that tastes good to dogs, and have a dog lick you off, it harms no one. Why should this be illegal except mindless religion?
stallman.org 27 November 2017 (Roy Moore’s relationships) Senate candidate Roy Moore tried to start dating/sexual relationships with teenagers some decades ago. He tried to lead Ms Corfman step by step into sex, but he always respected "no" from her and his other dates. Thus, Moore does not deserve the exaggerated condemnation that he is receiving for this. As an example of exaggeration: one mailing referred to these teenagers as "children", even the one that was 18 years old. Many teenagers are minors, but none of them are children. The condemnation is surely sparked by the political motive of wanting to defeat Moore in the coming election, but it draws fuel from ageism and the fashion for overprotectiveness of "children". I completely agree with the wish to defeat Moore. Political Christianists such as Moore hold views that conflict essentially with human rights, just as political Islamists do. If Moore, with his extremist policies, gains public office again, he will harm millions of American women, and secondarily society as a whole. Ms Corfman says she was hurt afterward, and attributes this to feelings of guilt based on the belief that she had done something wrong (which, of course, she had not). Is this is another sign of Christianity at work? I sent a check to Doug Jones US Senate a few weeks ago. Please support his campaign too. You can mail a check here: (Address available at original link)
stallman.org 29 October 2017 (Pestering women) A famous theater director had a habit of pestering women, asking them for sex. As far as I can tell from this article, he didn’t try to force women into sex. When women persistently said no, he does not seem to have tried to punish them. The most he did was ask. He was a pest, but nothing worse than that.
stallman.org 30 April 2018 (UN peacekeepers in South Sudan) It sounds horrible: "UN peacekeepers accused of child rape in South Sudan." But the article makes it pretty clear that the "children" involved were not children. They were teenagers. What about "rape"? Was this really rape? Or did they have sex willingly, and prudes want to call it "rape" to make it sound like an injustice? We can’t tell from the article which one it is. Rape means coercing someone to have sex. Precisely because that is a grave and clear wrong, using the same name for something much less grave is a distortion.
stallman.org 17 July 2018 (The bullshitter’s flirting) We are now invited to despise the bullshitter for telling a 17-year-old woman at a party that he found her attractive. We can hardly assume that the bullshitter’s boasts were true. Even men who are usually honest on other topics have been known to lie about their sexual achievements. However, I wouldn’t assume they were false, or that he did an injustice to anyone at these parties. In a group of 50 models, there could well be some that would eagerly go to bed with a rich man, either to boost their careers or for a lark. If you condemn men for finding teenage female models attractive, you might as well condemn men for being heterosexual. The bully may be predatory, but it appears he didn’t display this overtly at those parties. There are indications that he arbitrarily chose the winners of the Miss USA beauty contest while he owned it. That would be a real wrong, since it would have made the contest dishonest. I understand the desire to condemn the bullshitter on every aspect of his life, but it is no excuse for ageism. If you can understand that we shouldn’t dictate people’s gender preferences, you should understand that we shouldn’t dictate their age preferences either. There are plenty of tremendously important reasons to condemn the bully. He is attacking workers’ rights, abortion rights, non-rich people’s pensions and medical care, the environment, human rights, and democracy, even the idea of truth. Let’s focus on those real reasons.
stallman.org 21 August 2018 (Age and attraction) Research found that men generally find females of age 18 the most attractive. This accords with the view that Stendhal reported in France in the 1800s, that a woman’s most beautiful years were from 16 to 20. Although this attitude on men’s part is normal, the author still wants to present it as wrong or perverted, and implicitly demands men somehow control their attraction to direct it elsewhere. Which is as absurd, and as potentially oppressive, as claiming that homosexuals should control their attraction and direct it towards to the other sex. Will men be pressured to undergo "age conversion therapy" intended to brainwash them to feel attracted mainly to women of their own age?
stallman.org Anti-Glossary Sexual assault: this term is so broad that using it is misleading. The term includes rape, groping, sexual harassment, and other acts. These acts are not merely different in degree. They are different in kind. Rape is a grave crime. Being groped is unpleasant but not as grave as robbery. Sexual harassment is a not an action at all, but rather a pattern of actions that constitutes economic unfairness. How can it make sense to group these behaviors things together? It never makes sense. News articles, studies, and laws should avoid that term.
stallman.org 23 September 2018 (Cody Wilson) Cody Wilson has been charged with hiring a "child" sex worker. Her age has not been announced, but I think she must surely be a teenager, not a child. Calling teenagers "children" in this context is a way of smearing people with normal sexual proclivities as "perverts". They have accused him of "sexual assault", a term so vague that it should never be used at all. With no details, we can’t tell whether the alleged actions deserve that term. What we do know is that the term is often used for a legal lie. She may have had — I expect, did have — entirely willing sex with him, and they would still call it "assault". I do not like the idea of 3D-printed guns, but that issue is entirely unrelated to this.
stallman.org 6 November 2018 (Sex according to porn) The unrealistic picture of sex presented in most porn harms men as well as women in their sex lives (though in different ways). Their sexual miseducation starts in adolescence, but many never learn better. Our society’s taboo cuts adolescents off from any way to learn about sexual relationships and lovemaking other than from porn and from other confused adolescents. Everyone learns the hard way, often slowly, and in many cases learns bad lessons. The more effective the taboo, the deeper the ignorance. In 18th century France, teenage girls of good family emerged totally sexually innocent from education in a convent. Totally innocent and totally exploitable (see Dangerous Liaisons). Contrast this with Marquesan society, where adolescents are not kept ignorant by a taboo on sex. They have various relationships with lovers of their choice, so they have many opportunities to see what pleases and what doesn’t. Any one lover can please them more, or please them less, but can’t mislead them — they have standards for comparison. In that society, even adolescents understand lovemaking better than a lot of American adults. Inevitably, everyone starts out ignorant; the question is, how can society offer people a path which leads them to learn to do things well, rather than learning painfully to do them badly.
stallman.org 14 February 2019 (Respecting people’s right to say no) Writer Yann Moix said that he cannot be attracted to women in their 50s, and people are condemning him, claiming he has an obligation to be attracted to them. You might as well demand that a homosexual be attracted to people not of the same sex. Or that a heterosexual be attracted to people that are of the same sex. There is no arguing about tastes. If we respect people’s right to say no, we should not rebuke them when they do. Of course, many people (especially men, but not only) despise those they find unattractive. That is a mean way to treat people who haven’t done anything wrong. But being unattracted by someone is not the same as despising per. Yann Moix understands this.
stallman.org 12 June 2019 (Declining sex rates) Many demographic categories report having sex less now than in the past. It might be due to the general stress and anxiety of life in the advanced countries. I suspect it is also due to the lack of any generally accepted way for men to express romantic or sexual interest in women. By "generally accepted", I mean that he can count on a woman who declines his interest not to revile him for expressing it that way.
stallman.org 30 July 2019 (Al Franken) Al Franken now regrets resigning from the Senate. Some senators that pushed him to resign now regret that too. The first (main) article does not state clearly whether Franken touched Tweeden in the process of making the photo, but it seems he did not. If that is correct, it was not a sexual act at all. It was self-mocking humor. The photograph depicted a fictional sexual act without her fictional consent, but making the photo wasn’t a sexual act. If it is true that he persistently pressured her to kiss him, on stage and off, if he stuck his tongue into her mouth despite her objections, that could well be sexual harassment. He should have accepted no for an answer the first time she said it. However, calling a kiss "sexual assault" is an exaggeration, an attempt to equate it to much graver acts, that are crimes. The term "sexual assault" encourages that injustice, and I believe it has been popularized specifically with that intention. That is why I reject that term. Meanwhile, Franken says he did not do those things, and the other actors he previously did the same USO skit with said it was not harassment, just acting. Tweeden’s store is clearly false in many details. Should we assume Tweeden was honest? With so many demonstrated falsehoods in her accusations, and given that she planned them with other right-wing activists, and that all of them follow a leader who lies as a tactic every day, I have to suspect that she decided to falsify accusations through exaggeration so as to kick a strong Democrat out of the Senate. I have no proof of that suspicion. It is possible that she made the accusations honestly. Also, in a hypothetical world, someone might really have done them. Supposing for the moment that those accusations were true, should Franken have resigned over them? I don’t think so. They are misjudgments, not crimes. Franken deserved the chance to learn from the criticism that surprised him. Zero tolerance is a very bad way to judge people. However, the most important point is to reject the position that if B feels hurt by what A said or did, then automatically A is wrong. People judged Franken that way, and he judged himself that way. But that way degrades the concept of "wrong" into a mere expression of subjective disapproval. What can legitimately be asserted subjectively can legitimately be ignored subjectively too. To judge A that way is to set B up as a tyrant. If B’s feelings were hurt, that’s unfortunate – but is that A’s fault? If so, was it culpable, or just a mistake? That is what we have to judge, and if we want others to think our judgments worth following, they must be based on objective facts and objective standards, including objective standards for what words and gestures objectively mean. Traister is wrestling with a solvable problem. She says, "When you change rules, you end up penalizing people who were caught behaving according to the old rules." Maybe people do, but that is a sign of carelessness. It isn’t really hard to change the rules and then judge old actions by the old rules. We just have to remember to do so.
stallman.org 27 August 2019 (Me-too frenzy) In "me-too" frenzy, crossed signals about sex can easily be inflated into "rape". If people rush to judgment, in an informal way, that can destroy a man’s career without any trial in which to clear his name.
stallman.org 21 September 2019 (Sex workers) Today’s Sex Workers, Like Their Victorian Sisters, Don’t Want "saving". Feminism today is drifting off the track into a campaign of prudery that harms everyone, except those who are asexual.
stallman.org 11 June 2019 (Stretching meaning of terms) Should we accept stretching the terms "sexual abuse" and "molestation" to include looking without touching? I do not accept it.