I have been hesitant in renewing my membership to the Free Software Foundation for a while, but now I never want to deal with the FSF until Richard Stallman, president and founder of the free software movement, resigns. So, like many people and organizations, I have written this letter to cancel my membership. (Update: RMS resigned before I even had time to send this letter, but I publish here to share my part of this story.)

My encounters with a former hero

I had the (mis)fortune of meeting rms in person a few times in my life. The first time was at an event we organized for his divine visit to Montreal in 2005. I couldn't attend the event myself, but I had the "privilege" of having dinner with rms later during the week. Richard completely shattered any illusion I had about him as a person. He was arrogant, full of himself, and totally uninterested in the multitude of young hackers he was meeting in his many travels, apart from, of course, arguing with them about proper wording and technicalities. Even though we brought him to the fanciest vegetarian restaurant in town, he got upset because the restaurant was trying to make "fake meat" meals. Somehow my hero, who wrote the GNU manifesto that inspired me to make free software a life goal, has spoiled a delicious meal by being such an ungrateful guest. I would learn later that Stallman has rock star level requirements, with "vegetarian meals served just so" being only one exception out of many. (I don't mind vegetarians of course: I've been a vegetarian for more than 20 years now, but I will never refuse vegetarian food given to me.)

The second time was less frustrating: it was in 2006 during the launch of the GPLv3 discussion draft, an ambitious project to include the community in the rewrite of the GPLv2. Even though I was deeply interested in the legal implications of the changes, everything went a bit over my head and I felt left out of a process that was supposedly designed to include legal geeks like me. At best, I was able to assist Stallman's assistant as she skidded over icy Boston sidewalks with a stereotypical (and maybe a little machismo, I must admit) Canadian winter assurance. At worst, I burned liters of fuel to drive me and some colleagues over the border to see idols speak on a stage.

Finally, I somehow got tangled up with rms in a hallway conversation about open hardware and wireless chipsets at LibrePlanet 2017, the FSF's yearly conference. I forgot the exact details, but we were debating whether or not legislation that forbids certain wireless chipsets to be open was legitimate or not.

(For some reason, rms has ambiguous opinions about "hardware freedom" and sees a distinction between software that runs on a computer (as "in the CPU") and software that is embedded in the hardware, etched into electronic circuits. The fact that this is a continuum that has various in-between incarnations ("firmware", ASIC, FPGA) seems to escape his analysis. But that is besides the point here.)

We "debated" this for a while, but for people who don't know, debating with rms is a little bit like talking with a three year old: they have their deeply rooted opinion, they might recognize you have one as well (if your lucky), but they will generally ignore whatever it is you non-sensical adult are saying because it's incomprehensible anyways. With a three year old, it's kind of hilarious (until they spill an bottle full of vanilla on the floor), but with an adult, it's kind of aggravating and makes you feel like an idiot for even trying.

I mention this anecdote because it's a good example of how Stallman doesn't think rules apply to him. Simple, informal rules like listening to people you're talking to seem like basic courtesy, but rms is above such mundane things. If this was just a hallway conversation, I wouldn't mind that much: after all, I don't need to talk to Richard Stallman. But at LibrePlanet (and in fact anywhere), he believes it is within his prerogative to interrupt any discussion or talk around him . I was troubled by the FSF's silence on Eric Schultz's request for safety at Libre Planet: while I heard the FSF privately reached out to Eric, nothing seemed to have been done to curb Stallman's attitude in public. This is the reason why I haven't returned to Boston for LibrePlanet since then, even though I have dear friends that live there and were deeply involved in the organization.

The final straw before this week's disclosurse was an event in Quebec city where Stallman was speaking at a conference. A friend of mine asked a question involving his daughter as an example user. Stallman responded to the question by asking my friend if he could meet his (underage) daughter, with obvious obscene undertones. Everyone took this as a joke, but, in retrospect, it was just horrible and I had come to conclude that Stallman was now a liability to the free software movement. I just didn't know what to do back then. I wish I had done something.

Why I am resigning from the FSF

Those events at LibrePlanet were the first reason why I haven't renewed my membership yet. But now I want to formally cancel my membership with the FSF because its president went over his usual sexism and weird pedophilia justification from the past. I first treated those as an abhorrent eccentricity or at best an unfortunate intellectual posture, but rms has gone way beyond this position now. Now rms has joined the rank of rape apologists in the Linux kernel development community, an inexcusable position in our community that already struggles too much with issues of inclusion, respect, and just being nice with each other. I am not going to go into details that are better described by this courageous person, but needless to say that this kind of behavior is inexcusable from anyone, and particularly from an historical leader. Stallman did respond to the accusations, but far from issuing an apology, he said his statements were "mischaracterised"; something that looks to me like a sad caricature.

I do not want to have anything to do with the FSF anymore. I don't know if they would be able to function without Stallman, and frankly at this point, I don't care: they have let this gone on for too long. I know how much rms contributed to the free software movement: he wrote most of Emacs, GCC and large parts of the GNU system so many people use on their desktops. I am grateful for that work, but that was a long time ago and this is now. As others have said, we don't need to replace rms. We need a world where such leaders are not necessary, because rock stars too easily become abusers.

Stallman is just the latest: our community is filled with obnoxious leaders like this. It seems our community leaders are (among other things) either assholes, libertarian gun freaks, or pedophilia apologists and sexists. We tolerate their abuse because we somehow believe they are technically exceptional. They aren't: they're just hard-working and privileged. But even if they would be geniuses, but as selamie says:

For a moment, let’s assume that someone like Stallman is truly a genius. Truly, uniquely brilliant. If that type of person keeps tens or even hundreds of highly intelligent but not ‘genius’ people out of science and technology, then they are hindering our progress despite the brilliance.

Or, as Banksy says:

We don't need any more heroes.

We just need someone to take out recycling.

I wish Stallman would just retire already. He's done enough good work for a lifetime, now he's bound to just do more damage.

Update: Richard Stallman resigned from the FSF and from MIT ("due to pressure on MIT and me"), still dodging responsability and characterizing the problem as "a series of misunderstandings and mischaracterizations". Obviously, this man cannot be reformed and we need to move on. Those events happened before I even had time to actually send this letter to the FSF, so I guess I might renew my membership after all. I'll hold off until LibrePlanet, however, we'll see what happens there... In the meantime, I'll see how I can help my friends left the FSF because they must be living through hell now.

pulling at straws

[Comment defending rms' position at being "misunderstood" deleted. Further comments of the kind will also be deleted.]

I frankly don't care about rms feeling "hurt" or "misunderstood" at this point. He's a big boy now and should be capable of taking and understanding criticism. He seems obviously incapable of that, even though numerous people have repeatedly documented decades of sexism and abuse from Stallman over the years. Numerous people have tried to explain those problems to him. To quote Garret:

I've spent a lot of time working with him to help him understand why various positions he holds are harmful. I've reached the conclusion that it's not that he's unable to understand, he's just unwilling to change his mind.

He never acknowledged those problems or tried to address them. That he feels "misunderstood" is the least of my problems now: we have a community to rebuild and lots of people that are actually the victims to help. Stallman is not the victim here, he's the unapologetic perpetrator. At least Torvalds acknowledged his problem and stepped down for a bit to try to fix it (even though he kind of failed).

Yes, it's unfortunate that vice.com and other media outlets said he defended Epstein (which is incorrect: he defended Minsky but that is not much better). But that's really a technical detail, a typical journalistic mistake of someone that's in a rush. It. Does. Not. Matter. He defended child abuse. When confronted by how bad that sounded, he dug in his heels, first privately at CSAIL, then publicly on his blog. That is just unacceptable.

Besides, I haven't linked to those articles: I linked to the original source of the accusations. Bringing up the headlines is just moving the goalposts at this stage. Anyone wishing to defend rms at this point should first come up with reasonable explanations for everything details in selamie's posts, especially the appendix A. Then, once you have come up with explanations, reflect on why you need to do that at all instead of talking and helping those victims. If you still feel like you need to defend him, go back to step one.

I am not going to hear semantic arguments about age differences, "willingness" of sex trafficking victims or the definition of rape on this site. My story here was a personal one, and that is the topic here. People who want to debate semantics of those words to defend their dead idol can take their toys and go play somewhere else. I've had enough bullshit bickering and posturing from rms-like fanboys for a lifetime, thank you.

This stops now.

Comment by anarcat
Created . Edited .