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Richard Stallman resigns from CSAIL at MIT (stallman.org)
342 points by arctux 31 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 323 comments



Worth noting that (as far as I know) Stallman was not a paid employee of MIT, certainly not a professor or anything. He had an office because, I believe, Gerry Sussman (and probably others) thought he should have an office. He's listed as a "visiting scientist" on CSAIL's page: https://www.csail.mit.edu/person/richard-stallman He's around on the mailing list (mostly to reply to every mention of software with a question about its license and every website with a demand that it work without JavaScript) but he replies with his GNU address. `finger rms@csail.mit.edu` calls him a "Visitor" and says "Project: mail forwarding."

Source: was at MIT a decade ago, was on the CSAIL mailing list until I decided to actually start filtering mail last week (good timing me). Also he somewhat famously left MIT right before starting GNU to ensure MIT wouldn't own the copyrights, and it would be surprising/confusing if he rejoined.

(The cynic in me believes he's resigning because it's far more newsworthy to say "resigned from MIT" instead of "resigned from the FSF," especially given all the news headlines calling him "Famous MIT Computer Scientist," and it also has far less of an impact on his life or his goals than resigning from the FSF would.)


>Stallman was not a paid employee of MIT, certainly not a professor or anything. He had an office because, I believe, Gerry Sussman thought he should have an office.

I will tell my descendants true stories about Richard Stallman, and none of them will believe me.


> it also has far less of an impact on his life or his goals than resigning from the FSF would

He did resign from the FSF as well.

https://www.fsf.org/news/richard-m-stallman-resigns


This is a very sad situation. I hope that the FSF does not lose him forever.


This is a serious question: has he even contributed anything of substance to the FSF or GNU project within the past decade or two? Has he done much of anything besides give talks scrutinizing non free software?


Advocacy is a substantial part of what the FSF does.


He can keep on coding and submitting PRs.


> (The cynic in me believes he's resigning because it's far more newsworthy to say "resigned from MIT" instead of "resigned from the FSF," especially given all the news headlines calling him "Famous MIT Computer Scientist," and it also has far less of an impact on his life or his goals than resigning from the FSF would.)

If Stallman cared about his reputation or being considered famous his entire life would have been quite different.


So he was crashing on their couch rent free, and he thanks them by posting crazy screeds on the mailing list? It's not terribly surprising it turned out like this.


Or he was lending them his name in exchange for a couch.


[flagged]


He never said that there's nothing wrong with it, which means you're lying. Shame on you. (disclaimer: I dislike Stallman a lot anyway, but this is just a typical SJW witch Hunt. Because he did in fact never say it's ok nor defended it.) Edit: typo


He has, on record, said that he thinks there is nothing wrong with statutory rape 'as long as both parties consent'.

I'm not sure he understands the concept of consent.


Read this

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statutory_rape

(see Romeo and Juliet clause)

Stallman being a defender of freedom has, obviously, a very powerful definition of consent ('cos consent is a form of freedom). It's far of ours, and in a dangerous territory. But that doesn't make it wrong.


He did say (write) that, yes. Still different to what the other poster wrote: that he's ok with non-consentual stuff. He specifically wrote that it might have _seemed_ consentual to the other guy. He nowhere implied it actually was. He also did not defend someone forcing others to do with things against there will while making it look consentual. I assume if one asked him this exactly, he'd say that yes of course it's terrible to force people do to things against their will. I guess, don't really know the guy of course. Cheers on not making stuff up btw, that's really, really cool :) and becoming a rarity :( Edit: excuse all the errors, I'm a phone poster


A little tangential, but I didn't know there was a utility called `finger`. Is this supposed to be a profile directory envisioned for an Internet back when it was more decentralized?


There was a time when nobody was "NAT"ed and basically every workstation had an Internet Address. I would sit at my office at Olivetti Advanced Technlogy and be able to "finger" people's workstations at Sun, HP, and Adobe and see what they were up to.


In my undergrad years, if the campus police got a panicky parent call, they'd send an officer to the computer club to ask us to finger every host on the campus.



Wow, I'm old


/CTCP FINGER ocschwar


Your comment is the #5 Google suggestion for "CTCP FINGER"


How else were you supposed to find out about the status of ID games?


I’m likely not as, but kids in undergrad still “finger”ed people at my school as late as 2016. Can’t say anything about after that though :)


We shall not talk about it due to the connotations of its name, but rest assured those responsible have been liquidated.


I'm pretty sure it was intended in the sense of "to finger a suspect" (cf git blame) rather than anything vulgar.

I think the tendency to take anything, in nearly any context, that could even maybe be vulgar, as vulgar 100% of the time, is actually relatively recent.


Have you ever read Shakespeare's work? Taking things in a vulgar context, especially for humor, is certainly nothing new.


No I mean just refusing to let any mention of some normal use of a word go without taking it that way. I'm reasonably up on my Shakespeare (LOL "up on" LOL) so I know of the joys of double entendre and innuendo. It just seems like any innocent word or phrase that could be taken that way now must be avoided in a way that it didn't have to be as recently as 2-3 decades ago—which is a source of a good deal of humor for us now, as we mine historical media for things unavoidably funny to the modern, finely-tuned-to-spot-imaginary-sexual-references-in-everything mind, despite (often—not always) the same slang being in use back then.


Fair point, although I think that is a function of society becoming less formal. For instance, much of the lingo in the trades (historically less formal) is purposely slightly vulgar. For example, first thing that comes to mind is male/female terminology for things like sockets & connectors. The terminology only makes sense if one considers it in a vulgar context, and it isn't a recent usage (I've seen repair manuals from the early 20s that use this terminology).

What may make it seem to be changing is that society (or more particularly, white-collar workers & pop culture) has gotten far less formal than it used to be. Even non-tech companies are moving away from suits as required office attire, the only professionals I know personally who still wear suits to the office are lawyers or in the financial industry (which have always had a conservative, slow to change reputation).

Edit: typos & formatting


Entertainment media's driven a lot of it, I think, for whatever reason. Generations X and Y have tended to make catching accidental (and not even especially interesting) double entendres a prominent feature of the humor-media they've (we've) created in a way it wasn't (yes, some, but not so constantly) before. Earliest example I can think of that did a lot of this is Beavis & Butthead, but it's been all over the place since then. I'm not sure reduced formality's behind the presence of so much of that in media, all of the sudden.


After articulating your point more, I'll definitely agree with that. Shakespeare was all about the double entendre, but cleverly writing double meaning into a turn of phrase is definitely different from forcing it into anything that would apply. Still haven't looked into the history of the naming of 'finger', but it's 100% possible that it wasn't intended to be sexual.

In a way, it cheapens the phrase 'double entendre', as AFAIK the phrase used to imply a clever, sometimes obscure, double meaning that was intentional vs. anything that could be taken out of context.

Or, as Archer would say, PHRASING!


IIRC - it's from the yellow pages "let your fingers do the walking", although I could have made up that association.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SYpJ1IgGoc0


It was a joke response to AT&T’s tagline of the era “reach out and touch someone.”


Well, then, I guess Gerry Sussmann will have to go next!


He's got tenure, but I think CSAIL really ought to have a conversation about whether Sussman's sponsorship of Stallman was a benefit to the lab or not. I don't think there's much to be gained by kicking Sussman out (as far as I've heard, Sussman himself is not the problem, and as a former student I can say he taught classes just fine), but I think there's very much to be gained with a "blameless postmortem," so to speak, of what happened and how we can prevent it from happening again. In particular, given the stories coming out about both students and faculty going out of their way to ward off RMS, could the lab have picked up on him being a problem earlier and gone through some well-defined process? (Consensus is that he was an annoyance 10+ years ago when I was there, was he more than that / could we have established consensus that he was an actual problem?) What should the procedure / norms be to review sponsorship of a lab visitor? How did he get an office when the lab was pressed for space for actual paid researchers, and why was he allowed to have a mattress there?

(If you're applying standard SRE philosophy, someone resigning after a media firestorm is absolutely the sort of atypical and unwanted event that merits an unconditional postmortem. Whether or not you agree with them leaving, it's clearly not the right outcome: either they should have stayed or they should have left before the firestorm.)


https://web.archive.org/web/20101112051649/http://www.jeffre...

"Jeffrey Epstein is one of the most amazing, interesting, and brilliant people that I know.” – Gerald Sussman, Panasonic Professor of Engineering, MIT


That is such a disappointment. The MIT ethic is all about proving yourself by doing worthwhile things, not by flashing wealth around. Cool people eat ramen and advance the world's knowledge. Losers drop out of that and work in hedge funds. (Okay, that's an exaggeration, but not by much.)

So for a long established MIT professor to show himself susceptible to a guy like Epstein showing up with a model at each arm and flashing money around is such an unbelievable letdown. Even if nothing else was wrong with Epstein.


The whole world is going to unravel like Mr Oogie Boogie in the Nightmare Before Christmas by the time all the strings back to Epstein get pulled.


I don't really think all these "strings" mean too much.


... yikes.


So Abelson left Swartz out to dry and Sussman says this !@#!. Lessig tries to put spin on the money as "complicated". While RMS spews some seriously libertarian viewpoints and defends Epstein, that we need to take a nuanced approach. I wouldn't say they were heros, but damn, that any of them even thought that what they were saying would be taken any other way ... is not fathomable.


Related earlier post:

> I want to respond to the misleading media coverage of messages I posted about Marvin Minsky's association with Jeffrey Epstein. The coverage totally mischaracterised my statements.

> Headlines say that I defended Epstein. Nothing could be further from the truth. I've called him a "serial rapist", and said he deserved to be imprisoned. But many people now believe I defended him — and other inaccurate claims — and feel a real hurt because of what they believe I said.

> I'm sorry for that hurt. I wish I could have prevented the misunderstanding.

Source: https://stallman.org/archives/2019-jul-oct.html#14_September...


I didn’t follow the story. Was Stallman taken out of context?

Anyway, he probably should have know better than to weigh in.

One’s well thought out response and subtle points can often turn out to have a few holes. In fact...

“If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged”


> I didn’t follow the story. Was Stallman taken out of context?

Yes. This statement of Stallman's:

> We can imagine many scenarios, but the most plausible scenario is that she presented herself to him as entirely willing. Assuming she was being coerced by Epstein, he would have had every reason to tell her to conceal that from most of his associates.

has been reported in several places as Stallman saying Epstein's girls were "entirely willing", completely ignoring that he was not saying they were willing--he was saying that Epstein would have required them to say they were willing.

If you have sufficient power over someone to force them to have sex with whomever you want them to, you almost certainly also have sufficient power over them to tell them to pretend to be doing it of the own free will. Epstein was massively evil, but he wasn't massively stupid, so almost certainly would have exercised such power.

Stallman was talking about Marvin Minsky's sex with a girl at Epstein's island retreat in 2001, which was a few years before Epstein's sexual atrocities became known. Stallman was arguing that from Minsky's point of view, he probably had no reason to suspect that he was not dealing with a consenting girl.


Except for the part where he got taken to a remote island by a billionaire and was presented with a very young woman who immediately wanted to have sex with him.


You mean the island that Epstein regularly invited numerous people to in order to discuss assorted legitimate things, like supporting their charities or their research?

Epstein's island wasn't some stereotypical villain lair where anyone who steps foot on it must be up to no good. It was a place that he conducted the normal business that any entirely legitimate billionaire would conduct, in addition to the villain stuff.

Based on the girl's deposition, it looks like she was there on the record to provide massages to guests, and off the record was forced to make those erotic massages including sex. It is not clear which, if any, recipients of those massages plus sex knew that the sex was something she was forced into. There are no details given on her sex with Minsky other than it happened.


> "Epstein's island wasn't some stereotypical villain lair where anyone who steps foot on it must be up to no good."

This isn't applicable to the specific case of Minsky, but I think that ambiguity evaporates after Epstein's first conviction.


Epstein's first conviction was in 2008.

The allegation about Minksky stems from a single line in a gigantic recently published deposition ( https://twitter.com/_cryptome_/status/1159946492871938048 ), covering events long before 2008.

Minsky was included in a list of people that Epstein's assistant asked one of his victims to have sex with (the deposition didn't ask if sex actually occurred). In the deposition the victim couldn't remember the date they received that request, but a third party reported that they saw the victim approach Minsky in 2002 and that he turned her down and complained about it ( https://pjmedia.com/instapundit/339725/ ).

It may be the case that the witnessed event and the content of the deposition were unrelated and at different times, but if not-- the victim was also 18 at the time...

But no one really cares about the facts, this is almost entirely a ceremonial battle over who has the sickest imagination. Because there are essentially no clear details, not even a concrete allegation, everyone is essentially making things up in order to fight over them.


https://slate.com/technology/2019/08/jeffrey-epstein-science...

> Epstein’s former neighbor, the psychologist and computer scientist Roger Schank, describes another such event that he attended: a meeting of artificial-intelligence experts, organized by Marvin Minsky and held on Epstein’s island in April 2002. “Epstein walks into the conference with two girls on his arm,” said Schank. The scientists were holding their discussions in a small room, and as they talked, “[Epstein] was in the back, on a couch, hugging and kissing these girls.”


Except for the temple in the middle of the island which had a very special room with no windows and locks on all the doors.


Hindsight is 20/20, scrutinizing our understanding of past events instead of making grandios assumptions is the key to realising justice. Misinterpretting the words of a man because you don't like the way they think is an injustice.


> Stallman was arguing that from Minsky's point of view, he probably had no reason to suspect that he was not dealing with a consenting girl.

"Consenting girl" is a contradiction. A child cannot legally give consent for sex. If he knew she was underage and if he had sex with her anyway, that was criminal.


She wasn't underage. The age of consent was 16 at the time there. It was raised to 18 later, in the Child Protection Act of 2002.

If you are traveling, and there is any possibility you will engage in any sexual activities outside your home area, it is a good idea to check the destination's laws. If you forget this and just assume they are the same, you can get screwed (no pun intended), regardless of if the age of consent is higher or lower at your destination.

If it is higher, you might inadvertently commit statutory rape with someone who is clearly old enough back home and so doesn't trigger your "do an age check" alarm.

If it is lower, you might run afoul of laws back home against against sex tourism.

(Pay attention to recreational drug laws, too. Sex and drugs are both things that are taken vary seriously. Most other things tourists might do aren't nearly as risky--nobody except maybe Singapore is going to make a big deal of it if you, say, improperly dispose of a food wrapper or something like that. Oh, and also be careful with religion).

The age of consent is 16 in 31 US states and the DC (including Massachusetts). It s 17 in 8 states. It is 18 in the remaining 11 states.

It's 18 in Mexico, 16 in Canada, ranges all over the place from 14 to 18 in South America, 13 to 21 in Asia, 14 to 18 in Europe, and 11 to 18 in Africa.

It also varies widely whether or not places have close-in-age exceptions (also known as Romeo and Juliet laws). Such an exception might, for example, might say that in a place with an age of consent of 18, a 16 or 17 year old can consent to sex if the other participants are under 21. Don't assume that because you are young that you don't have to worry about other young people's age.

Finally, it also varies widely by what kind of sex. There are places where they have close-in-age exceptions, but only for heterosexual acts, and so a 17 year old girl with a 17 year old boy is fine, given an age of consent of 18, but a 17 year old boy with another 17 year old boy is statutory rape by both of them because the close-in-age exception doesn't apply.


> Anyway, he probably should have know better than to weigh in.

That's the problem with the internet today. It's too toxic to hold any meaningful public discussion.

I'd bet that RMS was open to discussing the point he expressed. Because that's what you do on an old-fashioned mailing list. But apparently he got no response to his email. Instead Selam jumped the gun and started, essentially, a shaming campaign on medium.

This kind of attitude essentially hushes people who can actually hold a meaningful online discussion, and perhaps revising their starting opinions after one. Instead we only get to hear the voices of people that are righteous about their opinions—be right or wrong.

Internet has transformed from an open forum to a shouting contest; if you can't join a big enough shouting group, no need to waste your energy participating.


He wasn't attempting to have a meaningful discussion though, was he?

He was defending a 70 year old who had sex with a coerced child by trying to say that the word "assault" shouldn't carry either its everyday English meaning or its more specific legal meaning, but should instead have some other meaning that he created.


I sense a generation gap here. csail-related is a closed mailing list. If you disagree with a point, you are expected to come back with some arguments. Not to leak emails out with zero effort in making a discussion. That's the established mailing list netiquette for almost 30 years.

It's also funny that you complain about RMS twisting the "everyday English" meaning of "assault" while at the same time you call "child" someone who you'd most definitely call a "teenager" or "youngster" if you met in person.

This urge to abuse words in order to sensationalize an already perfectly valid argument is what RMS was pointing out in the first place.


Redefining words is basically RMS's gimmick.


At least in the case of the Daily Beast article by Blake Montgomery, enough context was included that a plain reading of the quoted material makes clear that the surrounding text and headline were radically incorrect. Journalistic malpractice if not deliberate libel. The author has since doubled down. I, for one, won't be believing a damned thing written by the man in the foreseeable future. I encourage you to make your own determination.

Stallman defended Minsky. Judge him for what he said. Don't judge him for a defense of Epstein - he unambiguously condemned Epstein with the rest of us.


Someone emailed an event for protesting Minsky, and Stallman accused her of wrongly inflating the term "sexual assault" when using it to refer to Minsky and Epstein. Stallman bends over backwards for Minsky, saying that he shouldn't be automatically to blame if Epstein forced someone to have sex with him.

It's little different than the absurd pretzel that Lessig bent himself into when trying to defend his friend Joi Ito [0]:

> Q: Doesn’t it make sense to you that people would say someone who is taking money from and cozying up with a guy who is a pedophile and who is targeting young women, maybe he shouldn’t lead an institution that includes women?

> Lessig: I’m not sure it describes the case, and more importantly, what about the institution?

> Q: What do you mean it doesn’t describe the case?

> L: I don’t know about the “cozying up to.”

> Q: Going to his house, being socially in his orbit, taking money from him.

> L: In the context of raising money — just like you would go up there and meet with him in the context of an interview...

> L: When you say that he is cozying up to him, that’s something very different from what I understand actually happened, which is: Joi, in the context of his job for the M.I.T. Media Lab, built a relationship with one of the people he’s raising money from.

I don't begrudge Lessig and Stallman for attempting to apply what they think is logic and rationality in approaching these topics. I absolutely despise them for their hypocrisy in the way they refuse to acknowledge how they themselves are tainted by irrationality when defending their friends.

[0] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/14/business/lessig-epstein-i...


> It's little different than the absurd pretzel that Lessig bent himself into when trying to defend his friend Joi Ito

It's massively different, because Joi Ito's interactions with Epstein were after Epstein's sexual atrocities were known. Minsky's were in 2001, which as far as I have been able to find is before Epstein was known to be evil.


Minsky arranged a second conference with Epstein, on Epstein's private island in 2011 [1].

What sources were you using that implied Minsky's contact with Epstein stopped 10 years before that?

[1] https://www.pr.com/press-release/383199


I wasn't clear. I didn't intend to suggest that Minsky had nothing to do with Epstein after 2001.

Before Epstein was known to be evil, Minsky accepted support from Epstein for science, and also had a sexual encounter with a girl who was ostensibly a masseuse in Epstein's employ but was actually being forced by Epstein to have sex with his guests--it is not clear which of those guests, if any, knew that she was being forced to do more than just give them massages.

It is this sexual encounter that Stallman was defending, and that the poster I was replying to compared to people defending Ito's dealings with Epstein.

After Epstein was known to be evil, both Minsky and Ito did accept support from him. Minsky, as far as I can tell, did so publicly with no attempt to hide it, and I haven't seen any suggestions that he continued to do so after MIT decided to stop accepting donations from Epstein. Ito, on the other hand, appears to have continued to do so, and appears to have tried to keep it secret.


> Minsky [...] had a sexual encounter with a girl

Can you please provide a reliable source for this claim? Last time I checked there is at least one witnessing of him turned down offering of sexual favours in that Epstein case context, and none of the opposite.


He is named in the court deposition by the witness.


You should really read that court deposition. I did and it is not un-ambiguous on the matter, there is plenty of room left to argue there that Minsky never had sex with the girl and one eyewitness who claims he turned her down.


I find this whole thing absurd. How could a Stallman that leverages a US military contractor to do good in one area of rights, exist if he could not bend his own logic into a pretzel in a way that accepts evil money and redirects it based on pragmatic logic?

The US is engaged in finding an equal hated group among the left and right and then attacking anyone who is remotely associatable with them or willing to make any argument that implies a defense of someone associated with them. We have seen this behavior before and it does not ever end well.


> Anyway, he probably should have know better than to weigh in.

RMS is not exactly famous for his keen social skills.


It really seems like his real 'sin' is not being neurotypical.

Should he try to have more tact? Sure, of course. But failing that, the correct response is compassion and gentle correction, not a witchhunt. Not driving him out of his jobs.


Matthew Garrett, who served on the FSF board of directors, wrote about the "not being neurotypical" hypothesis two days ago: https://mjg59.dreamwidth.org/52587.html

In particular, he says he did try to do the compassion and gentle correction work, and Stallman had no interest in it.

Stallman's job has a job description - leading the Free Software Foundation. If he's not leading it effectively, it is important for his own cause that he step away, and it is important that the FSF Board do their job by finding someone more effective at it. If he's not suited for it for reasons outside of his control and never will be, that's all the more reason that we should compassionately and gently get him to find another job.

(Also, I think this argument is deeply unfair to the many neuroatypical people in this world who still manage to not say the things Stallman does - which is in most cases not merely a matter of "tact," but even so, many of whom put conscious, learned effort into having tact. I have friends with all sorts of things going on in their brain who are wonderful people and in many cases also wonderful free software authors, and I think this argument does them a disservice.)


Anyone who knows who Richard Stallman is, much less cares about his opinions, could probably be classified as 'neuroatypical' in some regard. I don't think there's any point to discussing the utility of 'neurodivergence' in the context of this scandal.

I'd agree with Matthew Garrett here. Some of Richard Stallman's statements in the past have bordered on being outrightly indefensible for various reasons. Not necessarily indefensible as the opinions of an individual, as controversial as they may be, but certainly inappropriate as the opinions of a person representing an organisation. I doubt that Stallman's various eccentricities have done much to hamper the FSF's mission, but Stallman himself would certainly do little to endear it to anyone.


Stallman is to the FSF as Elon Musk is to Tesla. He is not its leader, he is the FSF - its human manifestation, for better and for worse.

Edit +1 hour: this comment certainly aged well...


I think it should go without saying that atypicality is not a binary matter.


Sure. I know people "on the spectrum," I know people with various forms of PTSD, I know people with bipolar, I know people with ADHD, I know plural folks, etc., and none of them act like RMS. I know very friendly, conscientious, and kind neuroatypical folks. I know brusque and tactless neuroatypical folks with whom it's draining to interact in certain ways. They still don't act like RMS.

So the (implicit) argument "This is just what you expect with neuroatypical people" / "If we want to be welcoming of neuroatypical people, we have to be welcoming of people who act like RMS" is even less true because of how diverse the category is. We know RMS isn't being excluded because of his (hypothetical) neuroatypicality because there are so many neuroatypical people who aren't and wouldn't be excluded.

If you want to argue that the problem with RMS is he is in the narrow category of people who act like RMS (and I would say that not even Linus Torvalds is in this category), that's a fine argument to make, but it's a bit circular to defend his inclusion on such grounds. Is this category the sort of category, like race or class or neurological makeup, that is beyond (or mostly beyond) one's control and has little correlation with whether you can do good work? Or is this a category like "asshole"?


I know a lot of people who's actions, quirks, opinions and beliefs are unique. Stallman is the only person I've ever known to eat toe-cheese, let alone do it in public. The fact that other neuroatypical people I know don't eat their toe cheese does not suggest to me that eating toe cheese isn't behavior attributable to neuroatypicality.


I expect CSAIL is bristling with non-neurotypical people who didn't take this as a good time to come to the defense of Marvin Minksy in such a frankly bizarre way. It's one thing to say I don't think he did it, but to say "if he did it, it would not have been bad, and in this essay I will-" and to then distribute that to the entire CSAIL mailing list!

I'll grant that some of the headlines about what RMS wrote were overblown, but still. You don't have to look outside the four corners of what he wrote to see why it wasn't an excusable thing to blast out to a departmental email. Once you expand from those four corners to his prior comments on pedophilia it gets way worse.

At a certain point, if you have lived as long as RMS has, you should have some knowledge of your own limitations. It would take an absolute master of rhetoric to make his argument and not have it taken badly. He is not one, and he should (at this point) have the barest humility to not subject the entire CSAIL mailing list to his half-baked ideas on how Minsky might be exonerated.


I think Stallman is tactless, and I've thought that for years. That email didn't change anything I thought about him.

I also think that being tactless is not a moral crime. It's aesthetically offensive and counterproductive from a leadership perspective, but being a bad leader doesn't make somebody a bad person.


It's always hard when people who built things you love have flaws. I remember my own reaction to hearing just how bad his behavior was. It's beyond the bounds of acceptable for anyone. Using his position to proposition women, handing it business cards to women he was interested in even in professional settings, defending pedophilia on his website as two consenting people when children can't functionally consent. Do I think he's a bad person? No. I disagree with a lot of what he's said and done and he's definitely pushed boundaries but I've never heard of him breaking boundaries, though it's highly possible. He was completely delightful when I met him in person. He's not the right person to be leading the free software movement anymore. He hasn't taken the steps required to develop the social skills needed for the role. He hasn't learned that there's a time for PR people to do the talking. He hasn't learned that there's appropriate times to not have a debate. These are all logical qualities of a leader that he doesn't have. Logically he should step back, reevaluate, and let what he's built continue to grow. It seems like he's doing that. He'll always have people willing to support him and work that he does.


> "He was completely delightful when I met him in person"

Really? That's far from my experience with meeting him. I found him to be physically and socially repulsive, but intellectually fascinating.


I was genuinely surprised myself. I've heard many of the same stories, but he was completely patient with me as I gushed my appreciation to him as he got off of a train and treated me with the utmost respect. I am not able to pick up on social cues easily myself but have worked very hard to become good at it. This is why I know it's possible to learn this skill of one puts in the effort.


If it comes down to whether RMS's position at CSAIL amounted to a leadership position or not, I'd venture that it did. Professors have institutional power that everyone else on the CSAIL list who isn't one don't have. Someone who abuses their name and position to blast screeds like that, I can see why CSAIL might not want him around anymore.


He was not a professor. He quit his job at MIT (as some sort of staff researcher/programmer) in 1984 to start the GNU project. He was an unpaid visiting scientist and had an office, although he was rarely in it (he spends a lot of time traveling). He did not have any institutional power beyond his participation as a rando on the mailing lists.


You're right, he was a "visiting scientist", whatever that means.


Being a leader of any sort makes it worse, but I don't think it's a necessary condition for justifying his removal.

Each person contributes to the flavor of the community in which they participate. It is within the right of those who lead the community to curate its flavor by adding or removing people when necessary.

In this his case, his removal was well-justified for the cause of keeping the community welcoming and safe-feeling for members of all genders.


i love this attempt to put gutter bumpers on the whole world. doomed, but adorable


MIT is allowed to use whatever behavior criteria MIT likes when determining who gets to participate in MIT.

Also don't be surprised if lots of disparate organizations agree that certain behaviors are inappropriate.

RMS and others are free to say or do whatever they please, but they aren't free from experiencing the consequences (social or otherwise) of their choices.


If Stallman's email made anyone feel 'unsafe', either that person has serious mental issues for such they should seek therapy, or they are pretending/self-generating these emotions as a way of gaining political leverage and power.

In fact, your message here makes me feel unsafe right now. Something needs to be done, call the mods.


Saying that Minsky having sex with underage girls would be morally okay is more than tactless - it is immoral.


Except he didn't say anything like this.


From another comment of mine, the specific relevant passage is on page 7. Copied verbatim - line with a '>' is Stallman quoting another e-mail in the thread.

"""

> Giuffre was 17 at the time; this makes it __rape__ in the Virgin Islands.

Does it really? I think it is morally absurd to define "rape" in a way that depends on minor details such as which country it was in or whether the victim was 18 years old or 17.

I think the existence of a dispute about that supports my point that the term "sexual assault" is slippery, so we ought to use more concrete terms when accusing anyone.

"""


His argument in this specific email- as I read it- was a variant of "Your Honor, I had no idea she wasn't willing and 18!" ie that Minsky didn't know and must therefore have been blameless.

I think it's an immoral argument too- Minsky should have known something was going on, and would be culpable. And it's very possible he did know.

But paired with RMS' prior pedophilia apologia, the combination is horrendous.


In the later e-mail, he argues that even if he knew that she was underage, it shouldn't be considered rape.


I hadn't seen that the entire email thread was published. I don't have time to read it now, but I'm hardly surprised, so I stand corrected.

This fucking guy.


I downvoted you because both the neurotypical and neuro-atypical suffer from myopia, sentimentalism, favoritism, deficits of empathy, and methods for introducing and justifying moral lapses.


I’m also just sick of hearing about how old nerds just don’t know any better even when people are literally telling them to stop. That the topic is a bad idea. That they will make themselves look bad.

And it’s deeply unfair to people who have issues to simply blame gross behavior in being “neuro-atypical”.


[flagged]


You know he's also recanted that shit, right?

> and more like he's got a horse in the race.

Has the mob now progressed to insinuating that he's a pedophile himself? Is that what the 'horse in the race' idiom means in this context?


Sure. He recanted those comments two days ago (after espousing them on his website at least between 2006 and 2013), and after his comments on the Epstein case started getting attention, which makes it look more like damage control than a genuine change in opinion.

https://stallman.org/archives/2019-jul-oct.html#14_September...


I'd say recent statements more accurately reflect somebody's current beliefs than old statements. Considering how badly he's been recently slandered by media outlets leaving out context and mischaracterizing his remarks, I am disturbed by your willingness to exclude that context from your previous comment.


They were up on his website last I checked which was a week or two ago. I think that's considered recent.


Failure to delete old blog entries that he has nevertheless disavowed negates that disavowal? I don't agree.


As a general rule, I tend to give more credit to consistent and freely offered opinions espoused over years than a sudden conversion immediately after a PR crisis. There's a famous saying: "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."


How do you reconcile

(a) your implication that Stallman is flip-flopping due to public pressure

with

(b) Stallman's lifetime as a Diogenean polemic who has been shown to stand by his beliefs, no matter how unpopular?


He's not in jail, he can continue on twitter all he wants.


If that's supposed to somehow make sense as a reply to what I wrote, you're going to have to explain it.


There's a difference between "unpopular but everyone knows I'm quirky" and "this might be an existential threat to my ability to keep running the FSF etc.".


Two things:

1. Stallman already has a lifetime of of examples of somewhat poor leadership within the GNU project, resulting in decisions that have compromised GNU and FSF's trajectory (compared to their potential), so once again, these are not new circumstances

2. How is Stallman doing FSF under threat here?


> How is Stallman doing FSF under threat here?

He resigned from the FSF presidency and board yesterday a few hours after my comment, which should answer that question.


So you believe Stallman's statements indicate he's a pedophile, not merely somebody with a long and established history of being tactless? Because I'd say there is a hell of a lot more evidence that he's tactless due to being neuroatypical. Maybe that makes him a bad leader, but it surely doesn't make him evil.


> So you believe Stallman's statements indicate he's a pedophile...

I think you're mixing me up with another commenter.


You're right, I apologize.


i believe stallman's statements indicate he thinks sex with a consenting child is okay. why does he have to have committed a crime to condemn that view?


"Many years ago I posted that I could not see anything wrong about sex between an adult and a child, if the child accepted it.

Through personal conversations in recent years, I've learned to understand how sex with a child can harm per psychologically. This changed my mind about the matter: I think adults should not do that. I am grateful for the conversations that enabled me to understand why."

- Richard M. Stallman, 14 September 2019

https://stallman.org/archives/2019-jul-oct.html#14_September...


His statements aren't merely socially unappropriated, they are grossly logically incorrect.


I assume that if he was a pedophile we all would knew it yet. If there was anything remotely naughty in the computer stolen from him in Argentina the thief would have reassured that even Santa Claus will hear about that, for a reasonable sum of money.

Absence of of evidence is not evidence of absence, but philosophizing about murder does not make you a murderer


Your unfounded accusation isn't acceptable. You ought to remove it.


It's not an accusation. It's just a comment on the optics of continuing to spout the same bad take for decades.

It looks bad.


No. His sin was what he said. His sin was having a history of pretty disturbing comments about child porn and sex with children and animals.

Sorry but you don’t get to weasel out by saying you have poor social skills.


If you'd ever met the man, you would know that Stallman being social oblivious with no tact or decorum is not merely some idle claim.


GP's point was that social obliviousness is no excuse.


Tact and decorum are how ideas are presented. No amount of tact or decorum would make it possible to defend somebody for sleeping with an underage girl.

He's attempting to find some remotely plausible scenario where the actions of his friend are morally acceptable.

No amount of tact makes that okay, and complete lack of tact just makes it worse.


Yes, but it was also awful in context.

It was taken directly as the girl being “willing” when what he actually said was that she may have been coerced by Epstein into appearing to be “willing” to Minsky.

It doesn’t help that he has a documented history of fucked up comments in this general area.


Should news outlets and social media personalities who do purposefully take this comments out of context (and I think there can be little doubt that it is done on purpose [1]) be punished?

[1] https://www.thedailybeast.com/famed-mit-computer-scientist-r...


Clearly. This is a false accusation that damaged his work and reputation. At the very least, these news outlets and media personalities must be compelled to apologize publicly.


> "she may have been coerced by Epstein into appearing to be “willing” to Minsky."

Is that not a possibility?


Would that somehow absolve Minsky? A "willing" obviously young girl seems to want to have sex with somebody she doesnt know.

If Minsky suddenly find himself in the plot to a porno, and just went along with it, then trying to defend his moral culpability is probably a lot out of the bounds of acceptability.


I didn't say it would absolve Minsky. Somebody who has sex with a prostitute is lower than dirt in my book.


Why? As long as both people are consenting I don't see an issue with it. What makes the person "lower than dirt"?


Forget the prostitution issue. A 15-year-old cannot consent to sex with an adult. Period.


Where did 15 year olds come into the discussion related to Minsky?

The person in question was born in 1983 and the events in question were in 2002 (or potentially 2001 if there were multiple incidents, but not prior).

Maybe your confusion is because the age of consent is 16 in Massachusetts?


My mistake, the Stallman e-mail referred to 17-year-olds, not to 15-year-olds.


He was dancing on a tightrope. Whether or not his statements were taken out of context requires a mind-reader to intuit what exactly he, uh, meant by them.

It's not an interesting defense, and given his prior statements on the subject of statutory rape, I'm having a hard time taking it seriously.


His statement was perfectly comprehensible no mind reading required you are just muddying the waters.


Surely this means you are either unaware of the many people who took his meaning differently, or you believe they somehow don't count?


I believe they were misled by the numerous reports by leading news sites who claimed he described the victims as willing in their headlines.


People who actually read the thread and took it differently have poor reading comprehension its all perfectly clear.


Heads up to anyone who might decide to comment in this thread. Its a great way to end your career if something gets read differently than you intended.


Is anyone else baffled by the idea that discussing something on an intellectual level, even related to a person, has to somehow be a 'defense' or an 'offense'?

I've spent basically my entire life discussing things in the abstract. I'm not a politician, I don't make laws, and frankly I wouldn't want that power.

To me it makes absolute sense that someone would attempt to "defend" even the most heinous person. It's weird to me that being considered a "defender of X" could even be a bad thing. That's the process by which we collectively make decisions, it's the basis behind stuff like fair trials for example; the lawyer acting for a defendant is not a bad person. It's what (rational) individuals do when they make decisions - even some of the most obviously correct ones - take the opposing side and see where it leads.

It doesn't seem to be limited to this case - I don't know if it's a recent thing, having mostly come of age post-Internet. It's just like, really weird. Amongst my real-life friendship groups this sort of "hate mob" type stuff just doesn't exist, pretty much any topic is up for grabs.


> It's weird to me that being considered a "defender of X" could even be a bad thing. That's the process by which we collectively make decisions, it's the basis behind stuff like fair trials for example; the lawyer acting for a defendant is not a bad person.

Except that in fair trials we have the concept of stare decisis, that once something has been decided, it's been decided. We very intentionally do not have the courtroom try to reason something out from first principles every time. We do not defend each person who runs a red light by saying, is it actually bad to run a red light. The cases which do overturn existing legal or social precedent are rare, carefully picked by the lawyers to be as sympathetic as possible (cf. Rosa Parks), and carefully timed to line up with sufficient hope of social consensus having changed around the law.

While it is absolutely your right to say "What if this bad thing is not actually bad," to do so without presenting a novel argument about it, and especially to do so for the sake of being contrarian, is not how we make decisions. You should look at the strongest arguments on both sides. You should privately take the opposing side and then see if you can knock it down.

The arguments Stallman presented were hardly arguments and were not novel at all. They're arguments that have occurred to the people he's arguing against, already. If he wants to seek the truth and not just advocate a side, he could have and should have figured that out. I still believe in his right to free speech (in the sense that I would defend his freedom to speak without government coercion), but I don't think he made a contribution to the discourse that's worth defending at a social level.


> The arguments Stallman presented were hardly arguments and were not novel at all.

You think that Minsky being unaware of the coercion would not be a mitigating factor in accusing him of sexual assault? When was that decided?


I think that the idea that Minsky was unaware (or at least had no suspicions of) coercion is highly suspect, and a bit naive.

Powerful billionaire brings you to his private island and presents a beautiful young woman to you who appears ready and willing to have sex with you, a 75-year-old man.

Is that ever credible, even in a porno?

For Stallman to push this "Minsky didn't know" narrative now, with no horse in the race, and Minsky having passed away 3 years ago, is beyond the pale. I get the idea of trying to defend the reputation of your dead friend, but... c'mon. It's not the time or the place, and Stallman should know better after decades of being "misunderstood".


So, I could certainly be convinced of that argument. But there is a middle ground between coercion and porno-plot that makes sense here: Minsky thought she was a prostitute of legal age, there by her own free choice in exchange for compensation. If that were the case, I don't think we should be calling what Minsky did assault, and I do think that that is a pretty reasonable and likely scenario.


More reasonable, perhaps, but still a bit out there. Age is often hard to tell at a glance, but just going along with the situation without asking any questions would seem to be ridiculously irresponsible.

Then again, an account from someone else at the gathering claims he saw what happened, and that Minsky rejected the girl's advances. If true, that kind makes the whole thing moot.


I genuinely don't think that was a novel argument to his interlocutors. I think they'd thought of that, and I think they have good counterarguments.

(I'd like to not get into arguing about Minsky's own actions or about mitigating factors in sexual assault in this particular thread. 'esotericn is talking about what is reasonable to discuss or not in which circumstances, not about the merits of the argument in question. And I'm also personally not interested in arguing the case.)


> I genuinely don't think that was a novel argument to his interlocutors. I think they'd thought of that, and I think they have good counterarguments.

I guess I don't understand your point about Stare Decisis, then. Is your point that Stallman knew that his argument was wrong, but he put it forward anyway? Was there some piece of social case law he was supposed to be referencing here?


So what you are saying, after a rather long discussion, is that you can't point a fault in what Stallman wrote, but you think that those who were outraged must have had a good argument to be so. And you agree with them despite not knowing what that argument was. Is that correct?


That's a deliberate misreading of me. I can find concrete fault in what he wrote. To demonstrate the fault would require engaging in a discussion on the merits of his argument, which I have no interest in doing. (I'm on the mailing list, if I had an interest in doing so, I would have replied there, where it's productive, not here.)


"Honestly officer, I had no idea the new-in-box MacBook that guy to sold me for $300 out of his unmarked van was stolen."


Certainly that would be a reasonable counter-argument, that the circumstances were such that he ought to have known. But that then invites a discussion about the exact nature of the circumstances Minsky was in. Personally I don't know what they were.

If those circumstances were unfavorable to him (as in your analogy), i'd be convinced that Minsky was at fault. If not, then I wouldn't be. But all that is to say that it seems to me that Stallman's abstract argument was fine to bring up - it just then puts the question back to his counterparts in the discussion to articulate a view on those circumstances to justify their position.


When he was charged it was determined that despite this possible defense there was enough evidence to convict him off knowingly committing sexual assault. It's possible he'll be found not guilty in the court of law, but it's unlikely a convicted sex offender with a harem of women is above coercion and the law likely find the defendant would more likely have known than not known.


You appear to be confusing Minsky, who was dead before any of this hit the news and was never charged with any crime, and Epstein.


It looks like you're right about that reader beign confused.

To clarify further, however, Minksy was not dead "before any of this hit the news"; he died in January 2016.

Claims against Epstein had significant publicity much earlier than that; as just one example, in 2015 the Prince Andrew - Epstein connection was making headlines due to the Virginia Roberts case.[1]

[1] https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/bbc-planning-panorama-...


The allegation against Minsky were made in a deposition in 2016 though, and I believe that deposition was only unsealed this year, hence making the news this year (leading to the recent resignations at MIT). I don’t think Minsky had a chance to respond to the allegation before he died, hence this mailing list thread between his former colleagues speculating about it.

You’re absolutely right that the allegations against Epstein were in the news before 2016 though, after all he was initially sentenced for his crime in 2007.


You're correct. I read deposition and made the incorrect connection.


>I don't think he made a contribution to the discourse that's worth defending at a social level.

This is a strange conclusion for you to draw because this statement applies to the majority of HN posts likely including both yours and mine. No decisions are being made here.


I have, with the best most charitable reading of your post, no idea what you're talking about.

Perhaps some context would be useful with regards to Stallman.

Edit: in my defence, is op defending Stallman, or Epstein? Honestly, I don't know how Epstein and Stallman are related. I don't follow Stallman's every statement he makes. I simply asked for some context and enlightenment in this headline and esotericn's comment.

edit: ok...finally some context from other commenters answering (finally) my question, which I think is this from 11th August 2019:

Jeffrey Epstein appears to have committed suicide in his cell. Or perhaps he was murdered — it is not unusual for prisoners to murder prisoners accused of sexual crimes.

Epstein was accused of trafficking: bringing people long distances on false pretenses and then pressured them into sex or prostitution. He also reportedly raped some of those people. I believe those accusations, and I think he deserved to be imprisoned.

Some of his victims were legally adult. Some were teenage minors. I don't think that makes any moral difference. I don't think rape is less wrong if the victim is over 16.

Ok maybe I'm really thick, how does this cause Stallman to resign? His language seems pretty much on par with newspaper of headlines in his "blog". I really don't have an axe to grind either way. I'm trying to get to the bottom of who said what?

Edit..again: so thanks to: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20990293 , this is the crux of the matter:

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6405929-091320191420...

I've not read the full thread so don't have an opinion either way. If Minsky and Stallman were good friends then I can understand Stallman coming to his defence, especially when dead people can't give an account of themselves. That said I kinda feel Stallman's dug a bit of a hole for himself, and may need a bigger shovel to get out.


Stallman participated in an online discussion of the situation in which he condemned Epstein, but questioned whether or not Minsky had done wrong. It was not clear whether Minsky was aware that the woman had been coerced into having sex with him. There was a reply on the thread which said that the woman was under the age of consent in the country where the act was said to have taken place (but not in the US, I guess). Stallman further replied that in general (but not not necessarily specifically about this case) he felt it wasn't reasonable to quibble about that kind of technicality when discussing the morality of the situation (i.e. it would have been legal in one place, but not another). After that, there were pieces written by various web media outlets where they mis-quoted Stallman, alleging that he said things which he does not seem to have said.

So I think the OP is wondering out loud why it's not OK for Stallman to have a public opinion about the morality of the situation where it is apparently OK in one country, but if you go on holiday to another country it is rape.

The OP did not mention Epstein at all and it's not related to the discussion in any way. The problem is that the media has been waging a kind of character assassination of Stallman and quite frankly appears to have slandered him rather badly.

However, to answer the OP's musings: Stallman should know better than to get pulled into this kind of conversation because he has many political opponents who will stop at nothing to drag his name in the mud. He was completely stupid to respond at all. Maybe it's not fair, but it's reality.


> where it is apparently OK in one country, but if you go on holiday to another country it is rape

No, having sex with Epstein's trafficked victims is considered rape in pretty much all countries. Protestations that the victim "presented herself as willing" are like defending a buyer of obviously stolen goods on the basis that the fence didn't overtly tell them they were stolen. Minsky was a 73-year-old man offered sex by a 17-year-old girl on his friend's Caribbean island -- he knew what the real situation was.


I think you are correct but at best this means minsky is guilty not Stallman because coming to the wrong conclusion unlike rape isn't a crime and we shouldn't be afraid to have opinions.


I have to say that I'm pretty much 100% in agreement here. I kind of understand where Stallman is coming from. The morality of the situation is completely separate from the legality of it. Things that are illegal are not necessarily immoral. Things that are immoral are not necessarily illegal. Especially saying that because you travelled from one country to another, it suddenly became immoral is a pretty ridiculous statement to make (which is what he said).

I'm also pretty much 100% in agreement that Minsky ought to have known that what he was doing was wrong. However, I know literally nothing of the situation. It was stupid of Stallman to give a "for instance" because it's always going to be construed as him advocating a really bad situation. But later he literally asks people for copies of the deposition (that he can read with free software) so that he can find out what actually happened. He also had no idea what actually happened and was basically saying that he's not willing to condemn someone without understanding the circumstances. There may be mitigating details that we know nothing about. There may not.

There are people who believe that there can be no mitigating details. They may very well be correct (again, I literally don't know), however, I hate the witch hunt against people who do not wish to pillory others without understanding the situation first.

Having said that, like I said, it was stupid of Stallman to wade into this. He's got a big target on his back and there are people who will take every opportunity to lob something at him.


Could he have thought she was "just" a prostitute?


I suppose this extremely charitable reading is possible, but it still doesn't exonerate Minsky. Not only did he fail to confirm she was of age ("I never asked how old she was" is not a defense), he maintained professional and academic ties with someone who (as far as he supposedly knew) was sending extremely young prostitutes to him and his peers.

Given that even the Virgin Islands locals took to calling it "Pedophile Island," it's a pretty good guess that most of the people who went to the parties there had at least an inkling of their true nature. But no-strings-attached money (or worse, other "favors") were a powerful motivator to look the other way.


How would he confirm she is of age? Isn't the scenario that she was forced to hide the fact she was sex trafficked from him? Would she not also have to lie about her she then too? 17 year olds can frequently pass for 18 year olds, which is a legal age almost anywhere.

> Given that even the Virgin Islands locals took to calling it "Pedophile island"

Locals almost always have more knowledge about a place in their backyard than someone flown in for a special occasion.


probably this:

> Epstein was accused of trafficking: bringing people long distances on false pretenses and then pressured them into sex or prostitution. He also reportedly raped some of those people. I believe those accusations, and I think he deserved to be imprisoned.

>Some of his victims were legally adult. Some were teenage minors. I don't think that makes any moral difference. I don't think rape is less wrong if the victim is over 16.

https://web.archive.org/web/20190903050208/https://stallman....


>>Some of his victims were legally adult. Some were teenage minors. I don't think that makes any moral difference. I don't think rape is less wrong if the victim is over 16.

Sure, but if anyone bothers to read to the end of that sentence he says:

"I don't think that makes any moral difference. I don't think rape is less wrong if the victim is over 16."

He's not defending rape in any way shape or form, regardless of age.


The link does not contain the text you quoted (possibly because it is malformed). I also couldn't find that quote on a google search. Could you provide another link?


Did you scroll down? Both quotes could be found with firefox's control-f.


Do a ctrl-F, it's there.


> Edit: in my defence, is op defending Stallman, or Epstein? Honestly, I don't know how Epstein and Stallman are related. I don't follow Stallman's every statement he makes. I simply asked for some context and enlightenment in this headline and op's comment.

Am I the OP in this context?

I think this is exactly what I'm talking about? I've made a comment explaining how this environment baffles me, and you think my comment must be somehow tribal in nature.


> and you think my comment must be somehow tribal in nature.

Tribal in what way? And I said nothing of the sort. I have no "tribal" interest in Stallman's efforts or his beliefs. I think the man has done some fine things in terms of GPLv2, less so v3, but I'm certainly not an absolutist.

I genuinely didn't understand your comment, which you still haven't answered, yet you attack me for being "tribal".


Well, you asked whether I'm defending Stallman or Epstein.

The answer is, err, "not applicable"?


Then your comment is a non-sequitur, and you seem unwilling to defend or explain it (either way).

edit: ok, so now I have some context:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20990293

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6405929-091320191420...

Which after all this was what I was asking for. Jeezo.


It came out this weekend that Stallman wrote that it was most plausible that the Epstein sexual partners were willing participants and the semantics of the word rape when used to refer to the children with whom Epstein had sexual relations in an email thread defending Epstein, Stallman also argued about the age of consent varying between different territories so not all the partners were below the age of consent where the alleged crimes occurred. Stallman also defended Marvin Minsky who went to Epstein events against victim accusations that Minsky was part of Epstein's trafficking ring.


Just in case you haven't read the rest of the discussion here, this statement

> Stallman wrote that it was most plausible that the Epstein sexual partners were willing participants

is one of the misquotations of what Stallman actually wrote that change the meaning significantly.

He wrote

> We can imagine many scenarios, but the most plausible scenario is that she presented herself to him as entirely willing. Assuming she was being coerced by Epstein, he would have had every reason to tell her to conceal that from most of his associates.

"presented ... as entirely willing" is very different to "were willing"


The conditions that apply to an "Ethics tutorial in a philosophy paper" aren't universally applicable, and that isn't a sign of something being wrong. It took me a while to understand this myself.

Suppose you wished to discuss "ethical problems" in a tutorial, people can do that, and in some other (limited) environments too. You might - to invoke a particularly awful idea - like to hypothetically explore whether what people wear had relationship to their likelihood of being targeted for sexual assault.

If you are in a position of leadership however, you incur responsibilities. People under your leadership must be confident that if someone were to tell you they have been sexually assaulted, your response would not be to wonder what they were wearing. The reason for this is, as is well established, that speculation over what women (or survivors in general) were wearing at the time they were sexually assaulted is a loaded idea that has widespread use in casting blame on the victim of sexual assault, and has been very effective at this for hundreds of years, leading to a vast amount of preventable suffering, all because of we continue to tolerate the mistaken idea that women might somehow 'invite' their own assault.

A person in a leadership or representational role doesn't get to publicly speculate about "clothing and sexual assault" in the abstract, because they have a duty to be aware of how incredibly damaging that is in the general sense, and how public speculation about that sort of relationship would clearly act to dampen survivors of sexual assault from coming forward, including in the org they are leading, in addition to being distressing for the people who have experienced it in the past, which is a significant fraction of people in general, even supposing the speculator meant well.


Thank you for this. A lot of people here don't seem to get that who says a thing, and in what context, matters a great deal.

Even though Stallman wasn't a professor, and was "just" a Visiting Scientist, he maintained an office on campus, and was afforded a certain level of status by MIT. With that status comes an amount of responsibility. Making "philosophical" arguments that appear to defend abhorrent positions, regardless of the intent behind those arguments, is not in line with that responsibility.


>If you are in a position of leadership however, you incur responsibilities. [...]

>A person in a leadership or representational role doesn't get to publicly speculate about "clothing and sexual assault" in the abstract [...]

How is this applicable to Stallman? What was Stallman doing at MIT? It doesn't seem like he's in any sort of leadership position.


1) President of the FSF is a leadership position.

2) It would take a staggering feat of mental gymnastics to suggest Dr. Stallman's idiosyncratic role at CSAIL -described variously as "visiting scientist"- absolves him of having leadership responsiblities to students.

3) Though I did not go into details at the time, the argument above applies more widely than leaders per se - it applies to people who affiliate with and represent organisations; for example, I think we could probably agree it would apply to television anchors whether or not they led a 'team' of any kind.

Stallman's relationship with MIT (and vice versa) is a public enough role that I've known about for nearly 20 years though I live on the other side of the planet.


President of the fsf. Free as in speech.


Do you have the impression that the negative response toward Stallman's recent comments have anything to do with the general concept of "defending" anyone whatsoever? I certainly don't have that impression. I think people were upset over the specifics of his comments, not merely the fact that his comments might qualify as a "defense" of another person.


This is a quote from an interview, where Norman Finkelstein discusses the subject of thought policing.

"What he should have done was in my opinion deliver one policy speech. 'This is where we stand on antisemitism. This is where we stand on the mechanisms for dealing with antisemitism in our party. Case closed.' The other major mistake he made was .. a complete abandonment of the principle of free speech. People have a right to say and think whatever they want. 'I'm a member of the Labour Party. OK. I subscribe to Labour Party's political platform. That's what makes me a member.' But that doesn't mean you have the right to troll my Facebook postings, you have the right to vet everything I say or post on Instagram. I mean that's Romania under Ceausescu, that's North Korea under Kim Il Sung. That's now going to be the mandate of the Labour Party? To be trolling in your thoughts and ideas? To see whether you are an antisemite? Everybody, including you, including your camera people harbors some antisemitic stereotypes... OK. Who cares? I mean It's very hard to extirpate, ... because it's rooted in thousands of years. I mean it's everywhere. It's part of the atmosphere, it's part of the environment, it's part of the history. Do I not harbor any anti-black stereotypes any racist stereotypes? Do I harbor no sexist stereotypes? No! And now we are going to have a Labour Party, which is going to [?] the depths of your conscience, ... looking for some evidence of antisemitism, ...? It's complete lunacy and it's a complete repudiation, abandonment of the most fundamental principles of what's called the Enlightenment beginning with as the Germans put it in that nice German folk song Die Gedanken sind Frei (Thoughts are free). People have the right to think what they believe, and since thought is inseparable from speech, you have the right to think and speak as you please. And if you don't like what a person is saying then you have the right either not to listen or try to persuade the person ... but what you don't have the right to do is penalize people, punish people, expel people for their thoughts... It's a complete political disaster because all it does is it forces people to repress what they're thinking until a demagogue comes along and starts saying what you're thinking, what you were forced to repress. And instead of your erroneous thoughts having been answered, the fact that you were forced to repress them, it validates it for you. ... And then the demagogue comes along and starts to exploit all of those repressed thoughts. So morally it's unacceptable to try to police people's thoughts and politically it's a complete disaster." https://youtu.be/OPYfLY2cAi4?t=616


Thanks for sharing this, quite timely in this context


Would upvote this a million times if I could.


This is just a common over-simplification of a position. It is easier to share and digest so it travels better than the truth. This is what social media does to public discourse.


I only takes a handful of people to escalate an abstract discussion into a direct personal attack, by claiming that the speaker's abstract discussion hurt their feelings. It's basically a weaponization of empathy, that gathers momentum by preying on a human bias to support others when they claim to have been wronged.


"weaponization of empathy", I like it. Smart coined concept for something that seems to appear everwhere currently. Should be discussed more.


It’s a natural consequence of thinking ideologically rather than rationally. You don’t care about objectivity, only about what supports or attacks your ideology.


What the hell are you talking about? What intellectual level? Stallman is quoted to have said:

Stallman wrote that “the most plausible scenario” for Giuffre’s accusations was that she was, in actuality, “entirely willing.”

How is that a rational, defensible statement in any terms?


I'm really hesitant to wade into this. I think resigning was the right move for Stallman.

What he actually said, without Vice editing the quote, is:

We can imagine many scenarios, but the most plausible scenario is that she presented herself to him as entirely willing. Assuming she was being coerced by Epstein, he would have had every reason to tell her to conceal that from most of his associates.

From the email thread reproduced in its entirety by Vice at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6405929-091320191420....

In my estimation, there's a big difference between Vice's framing of "Stallman said she was 'entirely willing'" and the full quote above. There are, of course, other poor comments in that thread.

EDIT -- I mention Vice specifically, because their article (which I'd read earlier) has similar phrasing to the wording used here (https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/mbm74x/computer-scientist... -- "Stallman said the “most plausible scenario” is that one of Epstein’s underage victims was “entirely willing.”"), and I'd thought the quote that codesushi used was from that publication. On double checking, it might be unfair to single that publication out for the given quote.


Thanks for the link, now I have some context.


I see no real difference. He said that. And there are even worse comments that he made in that thread.


There's a big difference. "Presented as" does not mean "was", and the sentence immediately after that makes it clear that he didn't mean it as such.

There are other pretty bad comments, yes. If most of the coverage focused on those rather than something he didn't actually say, I wouldn't have as much of a problem with it.


Here here, RMS is a weirdo but he's being vilified for things that do not effect his job in any way, he is by no means a representative for MIT, and his opinions on unrelated matters (no matter how misguided they might be) do not change his ability to represent the FSF.


>and his opinions on unrelated matters (no matter how misguided they might be) do not change his ability to represent the FSF

Now that I can't say I totally agree with. The free software movement is a political movement, and as such his statements and opinions on social issues of all kinds have a deep impact on whether or not he can be a good representative of the FSF.

But we should at least be truthful about his statements and opinions!


Thanks. I know we're supposed to just upvote when someone hits the nail on the head, but this comment summarises my internal conflict on this perfectly.


He is a beneficiary of having a free office at MIT like a faculty member on sabbatical there, at the recommendation of his friend, Gerald Sussman.


"Presented as" does not mean "was"

It can mean that.

sentence immediately after that makes it clear that he didn't mean it as such.

No, it is debatable. The following sentence does not clearly state they were unwilling.

Another Stallman gem:

I am skeptical of the claim that voluntarily pedophilia harms children. The arguments that it causes harm seem to be based on cases which aren't voluntary, which are then stretched by parents who are horrified by the idea that their little baby is maturing.


For the record, he retracted that statement:

"Many years ago I posted that I could not see anything wrong about sex between an adult and a child, if the child accepted it. Through personal conversations in recent years, I've learned to understand how sex with a child can harm per psychologically. This changed my mind about the matter: I think adults should not do that. I am grateful for the conversations that enabled me to understand why."

https://www.stallman.org/archives/2019-jul-oct.html#14_Septe...

Edit: just noticed that's from two days ago, so in reaction to this fiasco.


Supposing that Epstein would have told her to act willing and supposing that she was willing are two entirely different things.

The first is what was actually said the latter is a lie being repeated.


It is true, I am tired of Stallman defenders repeating the same lie.

"The most plausible scenario is that she presented herself to him as entirely willing," Stallman wrote in his post last Wednesday. "Assuming she was being coerced by Epstein, he would have had every reason to tell her to conceal that from most of his associates. I’ve concluded from various examples of accusation inflation that it is absolutely wrong to use the term 'sexual assault' in an accusation."

https://www.theregister.co.uk/2019/09/17/richard_stallman_in...


The problem here is that your quotation is wrong or misleading. The words you omitted do matter and do change the sense of it. Here is the actual paragraph:

"We can imagine many scenarios, but the most plausible scenario is that she presented herself to him as entirely willing. Assuming she was being coerced by Epstein, he would have had every reason to tell her to conceal that from most of his associates."

Say what you will about the inappropriateness of RMS's conduct or speech or timing, but you should not try to persuade people by misquoting him.


That would be completely irrational and indefensible, but it's also not what Stallman wrote. What he wrote was that Epstien had the power to force his victims to act as they were willing. Stallman said he believes the victim was being coerced, just that she was being forced by Epstein to act as if she was doing these sex acts out of her own free will.


Is not defensible, is either true or false. Would be a perfectly rational defensible statement if the facts will prove that is true, and will be demoted if proven false. Is just an opinion based on speculative reasoning from somebody that (as everyone of us) could have an incomplete picture of the facts.

We know that we are in deep trouble when the new generations start solving math formula or hypothesis democratically, by the numbers of 'likes' and 'thumbs up' that they receive.

Is a popular opinion true automatically just because is emotionally satisfying to us, and hence is popular? Not.

As long as he assumes the risk to be corrected and wrong, Stallman has the right to express an discomforting ugly hypothesis or a discordant opinion. And is just that, an opinion. I have no reason to thing that is a dishonest one, that there is malice, attempt to defamation, or that there is a hidden agenda subjacent about it


> Stallman has the right to express an discomforting ugly hypothesis or a discordant opinion

Demonstratively, he did not have that right.

Or perhaps you believe in some kind of imaginary right where you could still be held to have it if you predictably suffer terrible consequences should you attempt to make use of it?

I've commented a number of times on this subject, calmly trying to direct people back to the facts-- but each time I know that any one of those message could be misrepresented and turned into terrible false accusations about me, simply because I pissed off the wrong mob.

I think the right you imagine might exist for some people-- people who do nothing of notice, people who never challenge anyone's thinking, or people who really don't have to give a darn about what anyone else thinks-- maybe it exists for me, maybe it exists for you at least for the moment. It did not exist for RMS.


I am speculating about your specific question; NOT any specific real circumstances.

Which of these three seems more likely in GENERAL:

A) That this happened on a party island and all adults were willing.

B) That someone has been lead to believe this is a consensual act on some party island with willing people there; but in reality the victim is coerced into presenting false consent.

C) That the 'active offender' is aware of a lack of consent and that they are with a victim.

Since I choose to believe that at least a majority of humanity aren't evil; just more than likely stupid and easily tricked, I happen to believe that the set a circumstance being either A or B is more likely that C. I also believe that if "services" were legalized and HEAVILY REGULATED circumstances B and C would be FAR less likely to happen.


Wait. I've lost track of something somewhere. What was Minski doing on Epstein's party island?


> What was Minski doing on Epstein's party island?

Epstein hosted conferences on a number of occasions for scientific luminaries, which is why-- for example-- there are pictures of Stephen Hawking on Epstein's island.

Minsky was involved in an AI conference held by Epstein in 2002.


Offhand, I don't know. I believe the same is probably true of the general public discussing the actual criminal investigation / prosecution(???) that RMS was commenting on.

What I was suggesting is that there are plausible reasons someone might find themselves on such an island; which seem more realistic if those involved are rich elite who lure 'loose' individuals down with warm sandy beaches and cold drinks.

My take on the full RMS text in question is that they were (probably biased but) pointing out that they believed in a friend being a good person and thus the generic case I called Scenario B being the one that they believed was likely.

As I lack the facts to properly make a judgement on the issue I can only speculate about what //might// have happened, and hope that those who should be reaching a judgement gather all the possible facts and prove those who are guilty as such, without making more victims out of others tricked or entrapped by the actual wrong-doers.


When you’re famous enough to be considered a “representative” of a community (e.g., “hacker culture” in the case of rms) then you should be ready for anything you say to be taken at face value. There’s all the incentive in the world to write a takedown and rake in the karma (or claps).


Could you clarify what you mean by 'face value' in this sense?

I guess you mean that a position taken for the purposes of intellectual discourse (e.g. devil's advocate) could just as well be the person's "real" position?

Is there actually a difference in practice, if they're not in a position to act upon it anyway? (Or is the issue that by engaging in the discourse they are acting upon it?)

I think I understand your basic point - everyone who's a public figure is subject to the opinions of a huge number of people who might want to attack them (politically, physically, whatever), and that limiting expression of opinion is a way to protect against this. But doesn't that ultimately result in all public figures being "soft", "tame", basically politicians?

> “I have to confess, when me and my friend, sort of, used to run through the fields of wheat – the farmers weren’t too pleased about that.” - Theresa May, UK prime minister, when asked of the naughtiest thing she'd ever done


“My god” as Slavoj would say. This is an extreme example of orthodoxy gone wrong. If people aren’t even able to philosophically evaluate things and take opposing views to test their positions, we're in for some truly dogmatic times.

Just look at the state of comedy today. It’s absurd. Their jokes are taken as their actual real-life positions on things.


It has been my experience that the people who most loudly defend rational, intellectual, level-headed discussion of reprehensible ideas are often not interested in rational, intellectual, level-headed discussion of how, say, their right to speech or, say, liberty should be restricted.

It's an odd twist of irony. Everyone seems to be able to be rational, intellectual, and level-headed, when the issue they are debating does not personally affect them.

Edit: Judging by the karmic sentiment, we are probably unable to have a rational, intellectual, level-headed discussion of such a topic. Pity.


I don't really have an opinion on this, but I found your sentence interesting:

> rational, intellectual, level-headed discussion of how, say, their right to speech should be restricted

Isn't that a contradiction in and of itself?


Only from the perspective of one of the two sides in the debate.

The other side thinks that it's perfectly good and proper to not have a rational, intellectual, level-headed discussion of reprehensible topics, and would rather the first side not pull them into it.


Are you referring to a particular debate, or debates in general? If the later, I strongly disagree. There are many debates in which both sides argue rationally in good faith.


Your comment is kind of confusing and ambiguous. Could you give an example of what you're referring to? I think any downvotes are probably more due to the crypticness than anything else.


The new RMS thread is a poster child of this. His supporters do not seem particularly interested in a rationed debate about whether or not someone who is bad at public speaking should continue to be employed after being bad at public speaking. Instead, they are busy accusing their opponents of witch-hunting, and of being SJWs.

Odd, that.


I think we should be more worried about the control that media (and especially clickbait-worthy online media) can exert over our lives. It's clear to anyone who has done their research, that his quotes were taken out of context or mis-characterised to create a specific narrative meant to fuel anger and drive visitors to the 'news' websites. It's a real shame that we can no longer discuss certain topics without fear of retribution.


His personal website re-states this opinion clearly (see links in other comments). There was nothing mischaracterised or out of context about this. This time he merely made his opinion more visible, and it ended up being the last straw.


I think it's pretty clear to everyone around here that there's quite a difference between saying "Epstein coerced the girl to present herself as completely willing" and saying "she was completely willing". RMS said the former, Vice, The Daily Beast and other media reported he said the latter.


I have read all of his comments, in the context they were posted, and my position stands. I have no desire to debate his opinions with strangers on the internet, my fear is how misinformation can be spread by clickbait 'journalism' and how it paints a narrative that is near-impossible to fight.


Since I didn't see it elsewhere in this thread in a brief scan, this Vice article has some more context:

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/mbm74x/computer-scientist...


Yes, but will he step down from his role with the Free Software Foundation? I'm more concerned about that, since that's a more public-facing role.



Hum, this had escalated quickly, with all the fake news and duck hunting and the strange patterns seen in the last months about how we need a better name for gimp, for moral reasons none less, how great is that apple has now an equivalent to 'festival' and other small strange things.

Open source is in a really complicated moment for its survival. Is like we would had arrived to a sort ot 'extinguish and replace' phase.


Has there been renewed chatter for possibly renaming GIMP? I have been out of the loop but it would be such a shame for the program to be renamed


Some days ago it was discussed (here) that Gimp was forked in fact. Apparently just because some people "found offensive" the name Gimp (Something that could be seen as an obvious attempt to first degrade the brand, then appropriate as own new invention, and finally phagocyte it. Has happened before with other programs that were slightly modified and then heavily advertised).

Updated, link here: https://itsfoss.com/gimp-fork-glimpse/


Thanks for the update


Unless Epstein gave money to FSF, there will be no public outcry. Most people had never heard of Stallman until Epstein and MIT.


Public outcry isn't the only factor. For example, the director of the GNOME Foundation just requested that RMS resign from the FSF[0], and said severing ties with the FSF is a possibility otherwise.

[0] https://blog.halon.org.uk/2019/09/gnome-foundation-relations...


For what it's worth, RMS' statements on the matter don't appear to concern what is "right", "wrong", or "acceptable" - they appear to concern only the available evidence.

Then again, I've only seen the two quotes appearing in the HN threads.


They absolutely do - the meat of the outrage is at the e-mail (full thread, in awful formatting, at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6405929-091320191420...) is the claim that sex with underage girls should not be considered "assault".

EDIT:

The specific relevant passage is on page 7. Copied verbatim - line with a '>' is Stallman quoting another e-mail in the thread.

"""

> Giuffre was 17 at the time; this makes it __rape__ in the Virgin Islands.

Does it really? I think it is morally absurd to define "rape" in a way that depends on minor details such as which country it was in or whether the victim was 18 years old or 17.

I think the existence of a dispute about that supports my point that the term "sexual assault" is slippery, so we ought to use more concrete terms when accusing anyone.

"""


Throughout this whole brouhaha, I’ve been astonished at how nobody in the mainstream press, nor any of those in tech calling for Stallman’s head, ever challenged the statement that Stallman said Epstein’s victims were “entirely willing.” Indeed, quite the opposite.

From the Medium post that kicked the whole thing off [1]:

…and then he says that an enslaved child could, somehow, be “entirely willing”.

And from Vice [2, 3]:

Famed Computer Scientist Richard Stallman Described Epstein Victims As 'Entirely Willing'

Stallman said the “most plausible scenario” is that one of Epstein’s underage victims was “entirely willing.”

And the Daily Beast:

Renowned MIT Scientist Defends Epstein: Victims Were ‘Entirely Willing’

Here’s what Stallman actually wrote:

We can imagine many scenarios, but the most plausible scenario is that she [Epstein’s victim] presented herself to him [Marvin Minsky] as entirely willing.

In other words, Stallman isn’t saying she was willing, but rather that she likely acted as if she were willing. Lest there be any doubt, the next sentence reads:

Assuming she was being coerced by Epstein, he would have had every reason to tell her to conceal that from most of his associates.

So Stallman explicitly acknowledges the likelihood that Epstein coerced these girls and coached them to pretend to be willing to have sex with Minsky and others in Epstein’s circle. At no point does Stallman say they were willing—rather, he suggests the exact opposite.

Regardless of what one may think of Stallman, what else he wrote, or any of his other behavior, the wide dissemination and repetition of this lie is absolutely unconscionable. Those promulgating it should be ashamed.

[1]: https://medium.com/@selamie/remove-richard-stallman-fec6ec21...

[2]: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/9ke3ke/famed-computer-sci...

[3]: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/mbm74x/computer-scientist...

[4]: https://www.thedailybeast.com/famed-mit-computer-scientist-r...


Online media outlets are well known to lie and often do in cases such as these. They are the yellow press of our day.

Unlike 20th century newspapers, they don’t have ombudsmen or public editors who care more about truth than headlines (A traditional newspaper might make mistakes such as these, but they’d at least be embarrassed enough to issue a correction the day later). And since they publish in the USA, about US persons, they also have no fear of libel suits due to the US constitution’s commitment to free speech.

Anyone who is a public figure, or might become a subject of news coverage, needs to be very aware that their words will be taken out of context or lied about if needed to get clicks.


You're viewing the history of journalism through rose-tinted glasses. In the late 19th century, American newspapers conspired to start a war for no good reason. That dwarfs anything they've done recently (although the NYTime's role in starting the so called "war on terror" might come close.)


That’s why I said the 20th century, the “yellow press” I mentioned was the 19th century papers you’re talking about.

They did anything to sell a headline - in the 20th century, ethical standards for media were better for a while, although of course they have always been susceptible to influence by the government as you mention (whether Iraq, Vietnam, or more justifiable wars).


In the 20th century the NYTimes acted as Stalin's mouthpiece for 50 years, denying the Soviet-perpetrated genocide in Ukraine.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denial_of_the_Holodomor#Walter...

Which, again, is worse than anything they've done recently.


OK. At least, as your link shows, they eventually admitted they were wrong once the Cold War ended and the records became available.

In my experience outlets like the NYT do issue corrections - e.g. just over this weekend, they published a pretty questionable story about Judge Kavanaugh but then published a correction within a day when the article was challenged and compared to the book it was based on.

In comparison I’d be very, very surprised if VICE issued a correction for its lies about this reporting, which they boldly publish right alongside the documents debunking their faked quotes.


Many contemporaries of Walter Duranty knew he was full of shit, but for the NYTs his lies were politically convenient. That time it took them half a century to come clean. In your example with Kavanaugh, it took them no more than a year or so. So if anything, they're getting better.

Certainly some organizations have better reputations than others, and I do trust the NYTs more than I trust Vice. My point in all of this is that when talking of some sort of golden age in journalism, one needs to keep in mind the severity of lies told in the past, as well as the relative opportunity the truth had to surface in different eras. Could the NYTs have suppressed knowledge of the Holodomor so effectively in the modern era when the wrong viral video from some random bystandard with a smartphone can circulate widely without the assistance or cooperation of organizations like the NYTs?


I am not sure we differ in any more than degree. I agree even in the 20th century the media made mistakes and there were even outright frauds that went on for a while within my memory (Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, and so on).

I mainly wanted to call attention to how online outlets are so focused on headlines and clicks they have even less incentive than the past to be truthful or curate a reputation for accuracy.

When your views depend not on a base of weekly subscribers or businesses advertising in the classifieds, but on how viral your story is and how many ad impressions it can get, the truth suffers even more than it used to.

Can information be suppressed as easily now? No, as you point out the primary sources of information are far more widely disseminated than they ever have been in the past (e.g. all the videos from both sides coming out of the Syrian civil war thanks to cell phones and YouTube). But if people are still trusting in secondary sources and don’t check the primary source when it’s available, that doesn’t help as much as it could.


Thank you for clarifying this, and I have noticed and shared the same concern about these articles putting words in Stallman's mouth.

Please note, I am one of the people in tech who thinks Stallman should resign from leadership roles for the comments he made; the media coverage which mischaracterises his comments and especially so in headlines (looking at you, Vice) is unethical, and damages the assessment of what he actually said.

What he actually said, unfortunately, is in my view incompatible with him continuing in his leadership roles.


This. BS article by Vice and the like... This is terrible


There's a time and a place for philosophical arguments. RMS chose poorly in this case both in the time and place. The outcry is the social cost.


I don't fully understand the point you are trying to make. At the end of the day, Stallman is trying whitewash Minsky's responsibility by trying to pretend that a 70-something year old man didn't know that the underage girl at convicted Jeffrey Epstein's private island wasn't actually "entirely willing".

In other words, he's taking us on this garbage thought experiment that Minsky is somehow an innocent bystander. To even arrive at that talking point is asinine.


I don’t disagree with most of the points you make. Stallman was defending Minsky using rather dubious arguments. But he was not defending Epstein, and he did not say Epstein’s victims were “entirely willing.” And yet, those last two points were the crux of the case against him.

The point I’m making is that many, many people are deliberately lying or willfully misreading what Stallman wrote in order to force his resignation. Those using such tactics, in violation of their own cherished principles, ought to be ashamed of themselves. Instead, tonight they are celebrating their victory with glee.


> convicted Jeffrey Epstein

The alleged Minsky assault happened in 2001.


Something that I think most folks in this thread are missing, that's hugely important to what actually happened here:

This was not an isolated incident.

If it were, I'd look at his comments and write it off as his usual tendency to jump on a minor point and derail a conversation with some totally pedantic technicallity, and I do think the thing he actually said in this case has been wildly mis-interpreted and overstated in many places (the bits about him defending Epstein are clearly untrue, and even the author of the blog post that went viral and set off the shitstorm has said so, and sent corrections to the publications she'd spoken to directly).

I even agree with his statement that, from a moral standpoint 17 vs. 18 isn't really that important -- we set arbitrary cutoffs for age of consent and it's not like there's a legal determination to be made re: Minsky anyway: he's dead.

So from that mailing list thread alone, it reads like a typical autism-spectrum dude missing the social context, making a pedantic point that people read too much into and take the wrong way, and getting himself in trouble. And this is an angle that would naturally draw my own sympathies toward him.

But Stallman is on-record as saying he thinks there's such a thing as "consentual pedophila", and given that context, I think folks can be forgiven for reading into his current statements.

Ultimately though, the bigger issue isn't even about anything that happened in the past few days. RMS has been behaving inappropriately in more serious ways for decades. There are many stories out there about him harassing and propositioning students, making wildly inappropriate remarks to women, and generally making a bad situation around gender and inclusiveness in tech worse. Everyone I've talked to who has known him in a non-trivial personal capacity has corroberated this. The fact that this email is the thing prompted a blog post that happened to go viral and got people to make a fuss about it is incidental.

Even at the FSF's own conferences, he's one of the more frequent violators of the safe space policies that the organizers have put in place. I think the first year the conference had an explicit safe space/anti-harassment policy, he was the only person who violated it (in this case it took the form of a sexualized joke during his closing keynote).

I kinda have the same somewhat fearful gut reaction to these kinds of episodes as a lot of geeky guys do. There's a post[1] out there (which I think originally I found through hacker news) that does a pretty good job of analyzing where that reaction is coming from, and why the fear isn't totally illegitimate, but the idea that this is just a mob picking on some misunderstood misfit is just not what's happening here. Folks have been lienient to the point of negligience with him up until now.

[1]: https://medium.com/@maradydd/when-nerds-collide-31895b01e68c


> I kinda have the same somewhat fearful gut reaction to these kinds of episodes as a lot of geeky guys do. There's a post[1] out there (which I think originally I found through hacker news) that does a pretty good job of analyzing where that reaction is coming from, and why the fear isn't totally illegitimate

Considering a guy just lost two positions, one of them his life's work, for speaking incorrect opinions and being awkward with women, I would say that fear is quite legitimate!

Thank you for posting that link, because rereading it puts this whole clusterfuck in context.


Yeah, I really like that article; it articulates a part of the social dynamic that I just don't see talked about enough.

But given the sheer scale of screwups here, the number of people's affected, while I have some sympathy for stallman, ultimately I think this one really is his fault -- it's one thing to make some social gaffes now and then. It's another to actively contribute to a toxic enviornment for longer than I've been alive, to be in the public eye enough that there's no way you're not getting an earful about it from time to time, and at no point sit down and read through some of the arguments about this and consider if maybe there's something you're doing that is maybe a problem.

Again, I have some sympathy (empathy, even; I'm no stranger to being the awkward aspie guy), but there's a limit to how much you can lean on that as an excuse.

I do think angry-mob-accountability is not a very good way to deal with problems, but part of the trouble is people are going to this because the usual channels have failed them. I the way through this is to put in place systems of accountability that actually work so a civilized way of dealing with problems is even possible.


I don't think it gets talked about much because it's a tough topic that seemingly requires acknowledging each tribe, internalizing it, self reflection on your own biases, patience to remain detached, eloquence to express any synthesis achieved, and still often ends up sounding like you're just supporting the "other team" to the "cool nerds"!

This whole thread is overwhelmed with bullshit downvotes, presumably from "geek feminists" who think that defense of RMS is equivalent to supporting toxic patriarchy rape culture or whatever. Really we just don't want to be dragged into their monkeysphere games. They cannot understand this, as they cannot comprehend an existence that's not beholden to monkeysphere status games!

As someone who had to work to develop reasonable social skills, it does pain me to see people not learning basic tact. But I don't think scale of awkwardness on its own is an indictment - some people just do not "get it". And remember we are talking about a world in which they happily existed until the outsiders arrived - an "excuse" should not be necessary.

If specific boundaries are not being respected (neutrally, say B.O.), then that is a failure of management to make the rules known in a "right brain" manner. This dynamic has long existed in the professional world, even taking a step backwards under the tenure of these "cool nerds". The anecdote about the mattress in RMS's office rises to this level, and if as creepy as described, should have been shut down by the administration long ago. The failure there belongs to the Institute itself, not as dirty laundry to pile on years later.

I agree about the general lack of accountability, and I think it applies at larger scale. A few months ago everyone was all excited at the prospect of Epstein spilling his guts and taking down some associated evil fuckers generally shitting up our world. But then he got snuffed, which we all kind of knew would happen somehow but wanted to hope otherwise. So that prospect of nabbing some entrenched evil fuckers slipped away (they didn't get to their position by submitting themselves to justice!), but hey here's this weird guy who stuck his neck out to be attacked...


I suspect part of the reason others are downvoting you is:

1. It's too much suspension of disbelief for them to think that he really could not have been expected to figure this stuff out on his own. 2. Your comments are also lacking any clear acknowledgement of the real harm here, which makes it read like you're just trying to use that link I posted as a defense for him, without engaging with the details of the situation.

I'm not sure how fair I think that reading is, and I think your own explanation for the downvotes is also part of the picture -- but not the whole picture by any means.

Specifically re: this bit:

> is equivalent to supporting toxic patriarchy rape culture or whatever. Really we just don't want to be dragged into their monkeysphere games

What I think this misses is that, regardless of intent, outcomes matter, and by making excuses you do make it easier for the injustices to continue, whether you mean to or not. A lot of guys have a really knee-jerk reaction to the term "rape culture" but the idea it exists to articulate is actually really important, whatever you think of the choice of expression: There are lots of behaviors far short of committing any heinous crimes yourself that add up to contribute to a society where these crimes are allowed to happen. Ironically, this quote commits the same lack of willingness to look past an gripes with the way an idea is presented and actually engage with the idea that lots of folks are pointing to in the reaction to RMS's statements.

I can't prentend to be able to see perfectly into RMS's mind and say what was really going on. It's certainly the case that management (of both MIT and the FSF) enabled him, but I don't think that totally absolves him. But I'm also not really interested in judging him one way another. I wish it hadn't had to come to this, and I hope he learns something from it and makes good use of the rest of his years. But ultimately I'd like to just move forward and keep trying to make things better -- ideally we build an environment where the next guy gets it into his head early on, doesn't make folks miserable for decades on end, and gets to keep his job; everybody wins. But to do that we need to be willing to acknowledge that there was harm here, and not just push the one side of the argument.


I agree my phrase was overly dismissive, but it was intended to be dismissive. The point isn't to deny the validity of these concepts, but rather to reject being pulled into the drama [0]. The reason that "weird nerds" generally give "geek feminists" a better reception than the "brogrammers" is because their critiques have actual merit. But on the flip side, when those critiques are leveraged into a status play against a "weird nerd", that strikes a deep chord.

As far as downvotes, there is a steady stream of upvotes as well, in a way that a simply missing the mark or being unpopular does not incur. I interpret this as "geek feminists" versus "weird nerds", with the former being more numerous these days.

It's not that the above framework justifies what RMS did, but it puts it in a measured context where it is possible to empathize with it. As opposed to the mainstream narrative which is dead-set on dehumanizing him. And if one wants to honestly consider the "real harm" in his pattern of behavior, that measured context is the only just place to do it - what I alluded to being the ultimate job of the Institute to keep "weird nerds" in check.

But we're now well past that context, and this is a lynch mob rather than justice. If I see someone being chased with torches and pitchforks, it doesn't particularly matter what they are accused of doing - my "herd alert!!" klaxon is blaring. (And yes, I do appreciate the modern luxury of being able to comfortably speak out against the herd, rather than needing to pick up a torch and blend in).

[0] I make irreverent jokes about most of the sensationalist trash in the banal "news cycle" for exactly the same reason - their only relation to me is that of abstract symbols, and they're being used to wage an emotional attack on the audience. Man bites dog? Well, I hope it tasted good.


Can you please link some claims of him harassing and propositioning and harassing students?


The follow up to the original blog post includes a few quotes (they start in section 2):

https://medium.com/@selamie/remove-richard-stallman-appendix...


The quotes are not particularly damning: a rumor that he hit on women, a report of unsubstantiated assumptions about the mattress, and a direct quotation of his hitting on a woman. The balance of the post is about his opinions in the abstract, the (mis)quote, other sexism at MIT, and the author's personal feelings.


Here's another example, written before this whole incident: https://twitter.com/corbett/status/994012399656042496


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