Richard Stallman

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Richard M. Stallman, otherwise known as RMS, St. IGNUcius,[1] and the Chief GNUisance,[2] is the founder of the free software movement, which is heavily involved with the core userspace of the Linux (or, in Stallman-speak, "GNU/Linux") operating system. To this degree (and perhaps greater), he can also be considered one of the founders of the modern free content movement (although he was fired for 18 months from the FSF due to Crank related behavior in 2019, before being appointed back in March 2021). Stallman is also an outspoken individual, his views often shifting from the rational territory into the Moonbat territory.

More recently, Stallman has scaled back his coding activities[3] and concentrated more on his career as a prophet, traveling into all the world to preach the Gospel of Free Software to every creature. He that believeth and says "GNU/Linux" shall be saved;[4] but he that believeth not shall be shunned.[5] He's also a saint in the Church of Emacs, which requires that one say this confession of faith thrice: "There is no system but GNU, and Linux is one of its kernels."[1]

Stallman and the politics of free software[edit]

Stallman started the free ("As In Speech, Not Beer") software movement as part of a broader political movement of freedom for computer users. He emphasizes the moral superiority of free software rather than the technical superiority; while the parallel open source movement started by Eric S. Raymond stresses that free software has low cost, better quality, and high flexibility, Stallman emphasizes that free software allows the user of a computer to be in complete control of that computer and know what is going on "under the hood."[6] However, although freedom is the main focus of the free software movement, the Free Software Foundation has published an article pointing out how free software can be more reliable.[7]

Stallman believes that any software that does not offer this freedom is morally inferior. Furthermore, he does not believe that any proprietary software offers this freedom, since governments and large corporations have designs on this freedom of users: "Proprietary software such as MS Windows and the Macintosh system is distributed in a scheme to keep the users divided and helpless."[8] Examples of this that Stallman cites are:

  • DRM (Digital Rights Management, or as he calls it, Digital Restrictions Management), the process of restricting digital media so it can only be viewed or played in certain ways. Stallman wrote a short story on this subject, The Right to Read.[9] When it was first published it was widely ridiculed as insane, but today we have digital books that are locked away by the publisher; if the latter goes bankrupt, chances are you won't be able to access "your" books
  • The Digital Millennium Copyright Act and its provisions against tools for violating copyright, such as the one that led to the arrest of the programmer Dmitry Sklyarov.
  • Making software and drivers available only for certain platforms and refusing documentation to writers of free and open source drivers.
  • Updates to Windows Vista that the user cannot deactivate.
  • Storing files in proprietary formats that only proprietary software can read.

Four Freedoms[edit]

Stallman believes that there are four things that a user needs to be free to do with a computer program before it can be called "free." These are called the "Four Freedoms"[10]:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

You'll notice that the four freedoms only come up to three. This is because Stallman subscribes to the Programmer's Pedantry: insisting on using whole numbers as ordinals instead of natural numbers, such that counting begins at 0. So first becomes zeroth, second becomes first, and so on.

Free software can be sold for profit, but it must respect the Four Freedoms once bought. [11]

Stallman and (GNU/)Linux[edit]

Largely defensive weapon of GNU.

In 1983, Stallman started the GNU project, which aimed to write a free software operating system to be called "GNU," short for "GNU's Not Unix."

Over the next eight years, most of GNU was finished; it was generally programmed on the traditional "cathedral" model, meaning that while everyone was free to view and modify the system's code, only a small group of programmers were permitted to work on the "official" version.

The kernel of the GNU system, HURD,[note 1] was also being developed this way, but its development was going along very slowly.

In 1991, Linus Torvalds wrote the first draft of the Linux kernel and offered it and its source code for study, at first under a license prohibiting commercial use, but then eventually as free software under version 2 of the GNU GPL (as of 2012, it is still under that version, though some GNU software that is still in reasonably common use, and some other GPLed pieces of software now use version 3, released in 2007). Programmers who had previously been diverted towards the HURD project pitched in to help adapt the GNU software to work with the new functional kernel, and some GNU software became part of the 'Linux' free software operating system.

The whole operating system has become known as Linux. Stallman was sore about this: not only did that deprive the GNU project of any credit for those parts of it which are used in a working operating system,[12] but people were promoting Linux without promoting the ideals of free software.[13][14] He advocates for the use of the term "GNU/Linux," pronounced "GNU slash Linux,"[note 2] in cases where the Linux kernel is used as the core of the 'GNU operating system', which Stallman considers to be any operating system which may use a kernel with no link to GNU, system utilities that are in part derived from GNU projects but which could easily be replaced with more liberally licensed software, regardless of whether the software which runs on top of or in conjunction with any GNU software has any connection with GNU at all.

Appearance rider[edit]

Stallman is in very high demand as a speaker and doesn't charge a lot. And is, in his own words, "borderline autistic." So his rider[15] is a remarkable document. (Though Eric S. Raymond fully empathises with it.[16]) One wonders at the oddly specific paragraph about gifts of parrots.[17][18].

Security[edit]

Stallman has spent a great deal of thought on how not to expose his personal data to others. For example, he uses wget with his e-mail to read off the web instead of actively browsing it. He also uses a Thinkpad T400s as his PC that runs with completely free software, even free BIOS.[19]

Stallman sleeps with a katana under his pillow.[20] Well, sort of.[21]

Social skills and personal hygiene[edit]

Oh dear fucking God.

Crank[edit]

Stallman proves that even though you may have some good ideas on software, it doesn't automatically make you right about everything else.

Views on pedophilia[edit]

Stallman has stated on several occasions that he does not believe pedophilia harms children[27][28] and he does not believe that Child pornography should be illegal[29].

However, he has since walked back these views[30], although notably only after the comments that would later cause him to step from the Free Software Foundation were made public and people started digging up the previous comments he made. He was later reinstated in his previous role in the FSF.

Misogyny[edit]

Stallman's track record when it comes to sexism has been rather poor. In 2009, when at the Gran Canaria Desktop summit, Stallman made a sexist joke about the text editor EMACS[note 3], insinuating that if a woman had never used EMACS, it was his duty to "relieve them of their EMACS virginity".[31] When criticism arose over this joke, Stallman eventually wrote a non-apology[32] to the GNOME mailing list, where his only defense was "it was just a joke" and that he had been doing the joke and associated routine for years.

Other incidents include Stallmans habit of referring to his business cards as "pleasure cards", and they notably include a list of Stallmans personal interests. While he hands them out to people of any gender, there is a certain amount of unwanted sexual advances in listing your personal interests on a business card. A scan of one of these cards can be found in the book "Free as in Freedom"[33].

Allegedly (although mostly from anecdotal reference), Stallman's behavior eventually got so severe at MIT that every female CSAIL professor bought plants to keep him out of their office (since Stallman hates plants).[34]

Firing from the FSF[edit]

The leadup[edit]

For the longest time, Stallman was the leader of both the GNU Foundation and the Free Software Foundation. The story Stallman typically tells (and the one repeated by his fans) is that he resigned from Computer Science AI Lab (CSAIL) at MIT to start the Free Software Foundation, after hacker culture at MIT started to fragment due to proprietary software interfering with their ability to do research. There is truth to this story, but what is often left out is that while Stallman did on paper leave MIT, the truth of the matter is that after he left, Marvin Minsky, the co-founder of the MIT CSAIL lab and a friend of Stallman offered him an office at CSAIL very quickly afterwards.

As a part of the investigation into Jeffrey Epstein's pedophile ring, in September 2016 Marvin Minsky's name popped up in the investigations as one of the men that Epstein instructed Virginia Giuffre to have sex with. As Minsky had passed away earlier that year, no charges were brought against him over this. Later during these investigations, it also became apparent that MIT had been receiving donations from Epstein and as a part of this, the director of MIT, Joi Ito, resigned.

Shit hits the fan[edit]

As this information became apparent, a protest was eventually organized against the dubious funding practices of MIT and an announcement was send to the internal mailing list of CSAIL, which Stallman is a subscriber of. Stallman however has a habit of defining language in very specific ways that often don't match up with the way most people define language. One of these cases became apparent on the mailing list, where Stallman ended up taking issue with the fact that the announcement used the word assault to describe the actions alleged against Minsky. The problem is that Stallman defines assault as exclusively being physically violent, which resulted in a back and forth between Stallman and CSAIL members, which started with the following section:

The announcement of the Friday event does an injustice to Marvin Minsky:

“deceased AI ‘pioneer’ Marvin Minsky (who is accused of assaulting one of Epstein’s victims [2])”

The injustice is in the word “assaulting”. The term “sexual assault” is so vague and slippery that it facilitates accusation inflation: taking claims that someone did X and leading people to think of it as Y, which is much worse than X.

The accusation quoted is a clear example of inflation. The reference reports the claim that Minsky had sex with one of Epstein’s harem. (See https://www.theverge.com/2019/8/9/20798900/marvin-minsky-jeffrey-epstein-sex-trafficking-island-court-records-unsealed.) Let’s presume that was true (I see no reason to disbelieve it).

The word “assaulting” presumes that he applied force or violence, in some unspecified way, but the article itself says no such thing. Only that they had sex.

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.[note 4]

I’ve concluded from various examples of accusation inflation that it is absolutely wrong to use the term “sexual assault” in an accusation.

Whatever conduct you want to criticize, you should describe it with a specific term that avoids moral vagueness about the nature of the criticism.

[35]

Eventually, discussions between Stallman and the rest of the CSAIL mailing list would end up getting forwared to another student at MIT, who published the story on Medium.[35] The story started getting minor traction, until VICE ran an article on it[36]. The article, whilst mostly accurate would remove the second sentence from the emphasized paragraph, which ended up making Stallman look like he was defending Epstein. This resulted in the story blowing up and most news outlets, rather than verifying the original emails (which VICE had attached to their article[37]) simply ended up copying VICEs shortening of the headline.

While there are plenty of issues with Stallmans behavior, including later down the mailing list where he makes some appalling comments[37] about how it is morally absurd to use age of consent and the country where something took place to define whether something is rape or not, Stallman never defends Epsteins actions. What is concerning however is the fact that Stallman did defend Minsky's actions and the overall exchange was a reiteration of Stallmans earlier established views on pedophilia.

Due to the VICE article, several members of the Free Software Foundation removed their memberships, eventually causing Stallman to willingly resign from the FSF[38], but not from the GNU Foundation[39]. In response to this, several project maintainers at the GNU Foundation signed a joint statement[40] asking for him to step down.

Reappointment to the FSF[edit]

At the LibrePlanet 2021 event in March 2021, Stallman announced that he would be returning to the FSF board, having been voted back in as a member by the existing board.[41] This reappointment was met with large amounts of protests from some free software advocates.[42]

This resulted in the creation of an open letter accusing Stallman of being "misogynistic, ableist and transphobic" and calling for not only his resignation but also the resignation of the entire FSF board, which amassed a total of 3,000 signatures[43], contributed by both individuals and major free software organizations, including the GNOME Foundation,[note 5] Mozilla,[note 6] OBS Project,[note 7] The Tor Project,[note 8] the Linux distro SUSE, and the X.org foundation.[note 9] Other organizations didn't sign the letter but released statements of their own include the diversity free software internship program Outreachy, which barred the FSF from participating in its programs,[44] the IBM subsidiary Red Hat (responsible for creating the enterprise distro Red Hat Enterprise Linux) which pulled its funding from the FSF.[45]

In response, a letter in support of Stallman was created. Although it was signed only by individuals and not by any free software organizations, it quickly surpassed the original letter with more than 6,700 signatures.[46] Supporters of Stallman argued that the criticisms of the open letter were misinterpreted and out of context, and that it was backed by opponents of the free software movement.[46][47]

The FSF responded with the statement that nobody involved with LibrePlanet was made aware of Stallman's return to the organization until he announced it on stream.[48] This statement drew criticism from several major free software community members, who noted that the likely reason it didn't inform anyone was because of the expectations of backlash.[48]

Furthermore, similarly to the events that led to Stallman's initial firing, a large wave of FSF members resigned, including several board members. In response, the FSF claimed that it would be revising its appointment process for new board members[49] with the intent of putting its existing board members through the process as soon as possible.

On April 12, the FSF confirmed its reappointment of Richard Stallman,[50] and Stallman wrote an apology.[51]

External links[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. Also a mutually recursive acronym: HURD is short for "HIRD of Unix-Replacing Daemons," while HIRD is short for "HURD of Interfaces Representing Depth."
  2. "GNU+Linux," pronounced "GNU plus Linux" is also acceptable, if you feel saying "slash" makes you sound like an idiot.
  3. Stallman is a major contributor to the editor
  4. Emphasis added manually.
  5. The organization in charge of the GNOME desktop environment
  6. The developers of Firefox
  7. The developers of a popular livestreaming tool
  8. The developers of the Tor browser and the onion router
  9. The developers of the most commonly used display server on Linux

References[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Saint IGNUcius Richard Stallman's personal site. 15 August 2000
  2. GNU's Webmasters GNU Project - Free Software Foundation 6 July 2021
  3. Stallman on handing over GNU Emacs, its future and the importance of nomenclature Network World 25 February 2008
  4. What's in a Name? GNU Project - Free Software Foundation
  5. Stallman wants to meet us, if we are TC*G*LUG Twin Cities Linux Users Group 3 October 2008
  6. Can You Trust Your Computer? GNU Project - Free Software Foundation
  7. Free Software is More Reliable! GNU Project - Free Software Foundation
  8. Richard Stallman: Free Software and Sustainable Development iNSnet 19 March 2005 (archived from the original on 13 January 2014)
  9. The Right to Read GNU Project - Free Software Foundation
  10. What is Free Software? GNU Project - Free Software Foundation
  11. Selling Free Software GNU Project - Free Software Foundation
  12. FAQ - Why do you call the system we use GNU/Linux and not Linux? GNU Project - Free Software Foundation
  13. FAQ - Why is the name important? GNU Project - Free Software Foundation
  14. What's in a Name? GNU Project - Free Software Foundation
  15. Richard Stallman speaker visit mySociety 20 October 2011
  16. On not being destroyed by travel Armed and Dangerous 27 October 2011
  17. 17.0 17.1 Extreme Pornography Law in the UK Richard Stallman's personal site. 19 February 2010
  18. parrot-love.jpg Richard Stallman's personal site.
  19. How I do my computing Richard Stallman's personal site.
  20. Open Source xkcd
  21. Life Imitates xkcd, Part II: Richard Stallman xkcd - The blag of the webcomic 19 April 2007
  22. Richard Stallman's personal political notes from 2009: January - April Richard Stallman's personal site. 7 April 2009
  23. New 911 Investigation Richard Stallman's personal site. September 2012
  24. Richard Stallman's Personal Home Page Richard Stallman's personal site. (archived from the original on 29 November 2005)
  25. Richard Stallman's personal political notes from 2013: March - June Richard Stallman's personal site. 8 June 2013
  26. Richard Stallman's personal political notes from 2015: November - February Richard Stallman's personal site. 14 February 2016
  27. Richard Stallman's personal political notes from 2006: March - June Richard Stallman's personal site. 5 June 2006
  28. Richard Stallman's personal political notes from 2012: November - February Richard Stallman's personal site. 4 January 2013
  29. Richard Stallman's personal political notes from 2003: May - August Richard Stallman's personal site. 28 June 2003
  30. Richard Stallman's personal political notes from 2019: July - October Richard Stallman's personal site. 14 September 2019
  31. A Good GCDS Beginning (with a significant disappointment) Open Source to Go! 4 July 2009
  32. For avoidance of misunderstandings GNOME Mailing List 14 November 2009
  33. Free as in Freedom: Chapter 14 O'Reilly Open Books Project March 2002
  34. Star Simpson on Twitter[a w] 9 May 2018
  35. 35.0 35.1 Remove Richard Stallman. And everyone else horrible in tech. Selam G. 22 March 2021
  36. Famed Computer Scientist Richard Stallman Described Epstein Victims As 'Entirely Willing' VICE 13 September 2019
  37. 37.0 37.1 Protest against MIT involvement with Epstein (The original emails, hosted on DocumentCloud) 12 September 2019
  38. Richard M. Stallman resigns Free Software Foundation 16 September 2019
  39. GNU Project GNU Mail Archives 26 September 2019
  40. Joint statement on the GNU Project Blog - GNU Guix 7 October 2019
  41. Richard Stallman returns to FSF 18 months after controversial rape comments Ars Technica 22 March 2021
  42. Free software advocates seek removal of Richard Stallman and entire FSF board Ars Technica 23 March 2021
  43. An open letter to remove Richard M. Stallman from all leadership positions rms-open-letter.github.io 27 March 2021
  44. Outreachy bars FSF from participation in its program Outreachy 23 March 2021
  45. Red Hat statement about Richard Stallman’s return to the Free Software Foundation board Red Hat blog 25 March 2021
  46. 46.0 46.1 An open letter in support of Richard M. Stallman rms-support-letter.github.io 23 March 2021
  47. Defend Richard Stallman! Libreboot 31 March 2021
  48. 48.0 48.1 "No LibrePlanet organizers (staff or volunteer), speakers, award winners, exhibitors, or sponsors were made aware of Richard Stallman's announcement until it was public." Free Software Fndn. on Twitter[a w] 23 March 2021
  49. Preliminary board statement on FSF governance Free Software Foundation 25 March 2021
  50. Statement of FSF board on election of Richard Stallman Free Software Foundation 12 April 2021
  51. RMS addresses the free software community Free Software Foundation 12 April 2021