rms resigns


For such a notoriously self-proclaimed rational guy, Richard Stallman doesn’t know how to write a proper resignation letter. His makes no sense.

A renowned MIT computer scientist resigned Monday amid outrage over his remarks describing a victim of financier and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein as seeming “entirely willing” and posts to his personal blog advocating for the legalization of pedophilia and child pornography.

In a post on his personal site, Richard Stallman, a visiting scientist at MIT and well known open source software developer, was unapologetic: “To the MIT community, I am resigning effective immediately from my position in CSAIL at MIT. I am doing this due to pressure on MIT and me over a series of misunderstandings and mischaracterizations.”

Every critic of Stallman misunderstood and mischaracterized him. He’s the victim here, according to rms.

OK, let’s grant him that. Let’s assume everyone got everything all wrong, and is falsely abusing the poor man. Then why resign? Does he think the stories and quotes (errm, “misquotes”, I guess) will end? Does his resignation resolve anything? If he were being harassed to the point that he could no longer do his work, that would be one thing; but he doesn’t say that. He’s getting some vague “pressure” due to “misunderstandings and mischaracterizations”.

Here’s what I think is going on. He’s dug himself into a deep hole with his record of saying stupid things, and he doesn’t see a way out, because ultimately he still thinks he was totally right about everything, and trying to defend himself would involve making more stupid statements. There aren’t any misunderstandings, we all understand perfectly well what he was saying, we just think he’s wrong. And he’s sort of aware that trying to change our mind about that would require reaffirming many of his previous stances, yet he’s a smart guy who knows the wind is blowing in a new direction, so he’s just going to get more dissent.

He’s dug this hole, so now he’s going to just sit in it and tell everyone they’re poopyheads who don’t understand him. That’s fine. Go right ahead. I think rms has found the right position for himself at last.


In case you’re wondering what repulsive things he said that warranted the scorn levied at him, here’s a recap.

Last week, Motherboard published the full email thread in which Stallman wrote that the “most plausible scenario” is that Epstein’s underage victims in his campaign of trafficking were “entirely willing.” Stallman also argued about the definition of “rape” and whether the term applies to the victims.

When someone else in the email thread pointed out that victim Virginia Giuffre, who was 17 when she was forced to have sex with AI pioneer Marvin Minsky, Stallman said “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.”

Never, ever be that guy who nitpicks about whether rape might be acceptable depending on how many birthdays a woman has had.

Comments

  1. Roberto Alsina says

    RMS has an advantage over most people.

    He has little to no contact with the Internet at large.

    He doesn’t use a web browser
    He only interacts via email

    So, by resigning he can more or less cut off contact with the people talking about him.

  2. says

    The reaction to Stallman’s resignation shows how much toxic masculinity and sexism there is. This is not even 1% of the all-male trash I found on facebook pages and groups:

    “Typical of american zealots: lynching someone to satisfy their little ego.”

    “not only their egos, but their bank accounts #metoo”

    “Although Richard Stallman wouldn’t be my first choice of babysitter this seems mental. Disagree with something woke and you’re cancelled. It’s a vague accusation against a dead man, all he did was opine about it. Awful to see him hounded out.”

    “This post is very misleading and telling. Obviously the author is biased. Stallman didn’t support pedophilia, he was attempting to provide his ex-colleague [Minsky] with fairness and justice.”

    “This is insane. PC has gone too far. And I don’t mean personal computing.”

    “Stallman is punished for exercise his rigth to speak and express his beliefs, it seems democracy is dying and we’re arriving to an ochlocracy as defined by Polybius.”

    A bright spot from one individual:

    “Are we now doing outrage about firing someone defending a child rapist?”
    [following up a reply to his comment]
    “so now defending a child rapist is political opinion. What a novelty!”

  3. Robert Serrano says

    And how many of the people whining about him resigning even know who he is, versus just jumping through the usual outrage hoops they’ve been trained to jump through?
    Stallman’s had several good ideas that have benefited many. That doesn’t make him immune from criticism when he says stupid or simply wrong things.
    So, maybe the rms fanboys should grow up already. Hero worship is for children.

  4. drew says

    This is the context in which RMS showed himself to be a big hairy “entirely willing” monster:

    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.

    He was trying to defend his dead friend from the accusations that somehow just didn’t seem in character for Marvin to him.

    There are also reasons beyond cloying paternalism (the children! the women!) to want to remove RMS, the staunchest defender of software freedom from the arch-villains FAANG and their ilk. He has often been the target of lies from profit-driven corners. And, yes, he’s a human and often also wrong.

    But by all means, destroy nuance. Off with his head! Not just Minsky’s corpse but RMS’s, too!

  5. PaulBC says

    But by all means, destroy nuance.

    Nobody asked for Stallman’s nuanced take. If he wants to dispute the facts of the case, go for it. If his entire point is Minsky “didn’t know she was underage” that is not a defense that would work for a 19-year-old dropout let alone a world renowned AI researcher. And here’s the thing. People wind up as registered sex offenders for reasons like that. Whatever you think of that, Stallman leapt to the defense of someone who very, very clearly should have known better. The hypothetical 19-year-old dropout is far more likely to face penalties in fact.

    And holy fuck, say a creepy guy invites me to his private island and introduces me to some oddly young-seeming women. I’m suspicious enough to wonder if he’s setting me up for blackmail, and I’m a very trusting person. WTF was wrong with Minsky’s judgment, or did he in fact, just not care?

  6. PaulBC says

    I’ll say it again. I am sick of creeps. I am sick of those who defend creeps. I am particularly sick of “nuanced” defenses or those that presuppose it is more important to enable adult-minor hookups than to protect the most vulnerable from exploitation.

    Call me a prig. I don’t give a fuck. This shit has to end!

  7. veryfeministprogrammer says

    Last week, Motherboard published the full email thread in which Stallman wrote that the “most plausible scenario” is that Epstein’s underage victims in his campaign of trafficking were “entirely willing.”

    I think RMS would probably say that the “misunderstanding” is that he didn’t say that the victims “were” “entirely willing” but that they presented themselves to Minksy as entirely willing.

    Of course, he should be removed from society regardless, and all of his works destroyed. I personally have already removed Emacs and GCC from all of my computer systems.

  8. barbaz says

    Well, I think you did misunderstand what he said about the age thing. He claims that the victim was willing. Under this assumption, the number of birthdays does make all the difference. With 18 it’s just regular sex, with 17 it’s rape-by-definition depending on your geographical location.

    This reminds me of this recent deGrasse Tyson tweet, that the Amazon forest doesn’t even produce that much oxygen. Yes, you’re technically correct(TM), but it isn’t really relevant for bigger picture.

  9. PaulBC says

    barbaz@9

    17 it’s rape-by-definition depending on your geographical location.

    I’m missing your point here. That’s the law, right? And people go to prison and even get stuck with registered sex offender status for violations thereof, even if Richard Stallman thinks the law is stupid.

    I have zero sympathy for Marvin Minsky. Why would he be “naive” as a man in his 70s? More likely, he thought he could get away with something (and did) that some 18-year-old has probably gone to jail for and started his lifelong career with the US criminal “justice” system. Laws good and bad apply to everyone. Actually, if Stallman wants to be an activist on this issue and try to change the law, it’s fine with me. It’s a free country. But please don’t expect me to buy his defense of Minsky.

    Personally, I think that the public benefit of protecting vulnerable teens far outweighs the benefit of letting 70 year old creeps get their rocks off without sufficient due diligence to determine consent. When you get to the boundary cases of an 18-year-old and a 17-year-old, I can begin to care, but that’s where the excuse-making should start, not with the old and the privileged.

  10. barbaz says

    PaulBC@10:
    You did get my point. It’s a corract observation of a fact that has little relevance to the actual issue.

  11. maeve57 says

    I must be in the Twilight Zone, where words mean the opposite of what you think they mean.

    Stallman WASN’T nitpicking about the age of a rape victim, his interlocutor was. Stallman was making an even stronger statement in the same vein as PZ’s above: don’t be that person.

    Think he’s creepy and want him fired? Fine. Can we please tell the truth about what he said?

  12. methuseus says

    Stallman is nitpicking in the worst possible way. He’s debating whether Minsky did have sex with her. Either way, he was involved in a situation that was, at best, questionably legal, let alone morally ok. Everyone trying to defend rms is grasping at straws in a completely different bin.

    To everyone involved in the free software and open source community had known for decades that rms is insane. Sometime its cute and funny, other times he tries for decades to accomplish something with no real progress (Hurd). Other times he just says completely bat shit stuff, and we just nod and smile, since he doesn’t have any real authority anywhere. At least to many open source people.

    His ousting from MIT is ultimately a good thing. That he is not a very noticeable person much of the time is why he hasn’t been ousted sooner.

    I will agree that it’s sort of insane that one day a person has hardly any rights, and the next they can vote, own real property, etc. But the cutoff had to be somewhere. We can argue about what the law should be, but in this case the deed has been done. Even if laws changed, it’s not like they automatically exonerate anyone that has broken the repealed law in the past.

  13. numerobis says

    rms was in the whisper network as a creep when I was in undergrad late last millennium, and I wasn’t even at MIT.

  14. says

    I wonder how many people think it would have been totally ok to traffic underprivileged women from all over the world, for the use of wealthy men, if all the victims were over 18.

  15. hookflash says

    I agree with maeve57@12, PZ is essentially making the point rms was trying to make (that the definition of rape shouldn’t hinge on geographical location or “number of birthdays”).

    veryfeministprogrammer@7: rms’s argument was that the victims were likely coerced by Epstein into “presenting themselves as willing.” At no point does rms argue (as people seem to be assuming) that the victims were actually willing, or that they aren’t victims.

    People like methuseus@14 need to go to the source here and read the original email exchange. rms may be a creepy asshole, but his views are absolutely being misrepresented here and elsewhere (e.g., the usual Twitter mob).

  16. PaulBC says

    hookflash@18

    If you come up with a legal definition of consent that distinguishes between adults and minors but doesn’t depend on the “number of birthdays” please let us know. I don’t see how PZ could be interpreted as saying it should not.

    Whatever rms meant, he certainly folded fast. This isn’t usually a guy who backs down easily from a defensible position. But to be clear, that’s between Richard Stallman (a 66 year old who could retire now anyway) and his former employer. I don’t really care enough to reread and parse his words.

    I do think it’s extremely important to have laws intended to protect minors, even if they get into some problematic boundary cases between teens very close in age, but that is not the case we’re discussing here. I still favor these legal definitions, because the importance of protecting minors far outweighs the “importance” of enabling adults by any definition to have sex with minor teens. The latter is not an important consideration at all. In the case of a 70 year old man of means and reputation, he should know better, and in the event that he violates such a law even with a “willing” partner (by somebody’s definition, but not a legal one), he does not have my sympathy.

    Laws are blunt instruments, but they’re there for a reason and apply to all (yet in fact, it’s the 18 year old who’s less likely to have good legal representation and more likely to pay a severe penalty).

    If rms wants to defend Minsky, that’s his business. It seems at best in poor taste to me. I am not interested in hearing it, regardless of the reason.

    Ian King@17

    I wonder how many people think it would have been totally ok to traffic underprivileged women from all over the world, for the use of wealthy men, if all the victims were over 18.

    Probably nobody who posts regularly to PZ’s blog (some trolls maybe?). Another good question is why Minsky didn’t consider whether the women were being trafficked and unable to free themselves from Epstein. No matter how you slice it, no matter what your opinion of Minsky’s research accomplishments or in Stallman’s case a direct friendship, this was a privileged man behaving badly and it is in poor taste to try to defend him.

  17. methuseus says

    @hookflash I read the original email exchange. It’s no less creepy or weird when I read it there. It reads like a guy who has memorized the age of consent in each state and country.

  18. PaulBC says

    In fact, these are Stallman’s words, and it’s enough context to understand and disagree:

    Stallman said “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.”

    A legal definition is not a “moral” definition. Laws need to set clear boundaries, because the alternative of some kind of common sense discretion makes their determination ambiguous and intractable. When pressed, most people will insist that their excuse is a reasonable excuse and the rigidity of the law is “absurd.”

    The definition of statutory rape is at least as reasonable as other inflexible boundaries set in law. If you’re 70 years old and want to avoid the “absurd” consequences of such rigid rules, then just apply an excess of caution. There may be good reasons to rewrite laws, but they do not need to be rewritten for 70-year-old privileged creeps.

  19. veryfeministprogrammer says

    Misrepresenting what RMS said is fine. It is just a way to show how strongly you oppose his misogynistic rape apologism.

  20. John Morales says

    @22, you might care to rephrase yourself, lest you be perceived as trolling.

    (Whoever imagines misrepresenting someone is fine?)

  21. PaulBC says

    I intentionally said “he” because I don’t think “veryfeministprogrammer” existed before this thread and it was created just to troll with a strawman portrayal of what a good strident anti-rms person should be.

    If I’m wrong and a woman is trolling like this, then saying “he” is a risk I’m willing to take.

    Anyway, I only see 27 results on this https://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Afreethoughtblogs.com%2Fpharyngula+veryfeministprogrammer I don’t know if there is a good way to find out the creation time of different users.

  22. John Morales says

    PaulBC:

    If I’m wrong and a woman is trolling like this, then saying “he” is a risk I’m willing to take.

    (sigh)

    Fine. You take the risk — me, I don’t care to. I never do, because I never need to.

    (Habits are acquirable)

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