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[META] General discussion thread about the recent Stallman controversy


[META] General discussion thread about the recent Stallman controversy

This post is intended to be a place for open, in-depth discussion of Stallman's statements - that were recently leaked and received a lot of negative media coverage, for those who have been living under a rock - and, if you wish, the controversy surrounding them. I've marked this post as [META] because it doesn't have much to do with Stallman's free software philosophy, which this subreddit is dedicated to, but more with the man himself and what people in this subreddit think of him.

Yesterday, I was having an argument with u/drjeats in the Vice article thread that was pinned and later locked and unpinned. The real discussion was just starting when the thread was locked, but we continued it in PMs. I was just about to send him another way-too-long reply, but then I thought, "Why not continue this discussion in the open, so other people can contribute ther thoughts?"

So, that's what I'm going to do. I'm also making this post because I saw that there isn't a general discussion thread about this topic yet, only posts linking to a particular article/press statement or focusing on one particular aspect or with an opinion in the title, and I thought having such a general discussion thread might be useful. Feel free to start a discussion on this thread on any aspect of the controversy. All I ask is that you keep it civil, that is to say: re-read and re-think before pressing "Save".

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level 1
Original Poster15 points · 3 days ago · edited 3 days ago

I'm just going to post my reply as I've written it. Outsiders can probably figure out what you were saying from my reply, u/drjeats, but feel free to provide your own words

So, here is my reply:

I did not know that he used the word "injustice". That is definitely important in evaluating Stallman's motivation, so thank you for that information.

However, I do not think that that one word completely pins down his motivation. From what I can tell, Stallman thinks that 'accusation inflation' is a bad thing in general. He has expressed the view that one should always use unambiguous terms when describing a crime, so as not to make false equivalences - and I agree with him on that. So despite him using the word "injustice", it still seems very plausible to me that his primary motivation was not to defend Minsky, but to fight against "accusation inflation".

That about his motivation for his words; what about his words themselves? To me it seems that all he actually did was to make some valid points about how this situation is difficult to judge. IMO, more nuance in a discussion is pretty much always better, especially in situations where people are quick to judge without thinking. The only direct effect of his words that I can see is more nuance.

Then about Minsky. You argue that it is a clear-cut case of statutory rape, and therefore wrong. I think it isn't as clear-cut as one might think, exactly for the reasons Stallman points out: Minsky may, possibly, have perceived her as consenting, and he may, possibly, not have known that she was under 18. That last one is pretty crucial, because it means he might not have known he was commiting statutory rape. As such, it would be pretty hard to convict him of statutory rape, because knowledge of what you're doing is a strong prerequisite for conviction.

Of course, legality is not morality. Personally, I think no one over 60 should ever have sexual contact with anyone under 20. So from my perspective, Minsky's actions are immoral. From what I can tell, Stallman's position seems to be that as long as both parties consent and are mature enough to consent, it's fine. Even then, I think Minsky should have known that the victim was being coerced, so even from the two-party-consent perspective, I think Minsky's actions were wrong.

When I hear the words "sexual assault", I do not immediately think of violence. Given that the word "assault" is in there, though, I think it's understandable that Stallman would. I definitely agree with him that we should use precise, non-loaded language when describing a crime, as much as possible. Ultimately, though, the problem isn't imprecise language, it's making false equivalences, or implying things that aren't true. Thus, I disagree with Stallman that just using the term "sexual assault" is an "injustice" against Minsky; of course, using imprecise language to make false equivalences or imply things that aren't true would be.

Then, on the "voluntary paedophilia" quote, as you call it. IIRC, Stallman does NOT say 'voluntary paedophilia is fine'; INSTEAD, he says something like 'I've heard many people claim that voluntary paedophilia causes harm to children, but I've never seen any evidence to really support that'. That is something very different: the one is outright claiming a certain act is okay, the other is taking one common argument against that act and calling it into question. Again, you might think that his motivation is to justify child abuse, while I think it's more likely that his motivation is to fight against vague terminology and false equivalences.

Edit: "involuntary" -> "voluntary" in the last paragraph

level 2
16 points · 3 days ago

Correction on one point: conviction in a case of statutory rape does not require knowledge of the minor's age in most US jurisdictions

level 2

he may, possibly, not have known that she was under 18. That last one is pretty crucial, because it means he might not have known he was commiting statutory rape.

Minsky didn't commit statutory rape for the simple reason that he didn't have sex with her.

level 2
3 points · 3 days ago · edited 3 days ago

Regarding your last point, are you aware that Stallman has in the past literally and unambiguously said that incest, child pornography and pedophilia should be legal, and that the only reason it isn't is because of the narrow mindedness of society?

Or that he also claimed that it's only a mere possibility that a child having sex with a much older family member didn't fully consent to it (thereby implying that it's absolutely possible for such a relationship to actually be consensual and non-problematic)?

Or that your quote about voluntary pedophilia was in response to news of a Dutch movement wanting to completely abolish all age of consent laws and make it a normal thing for young children to have sex with adults?

I think that framing this as him being pedantic about vague legal terminology is ignoring the actual context and the several other controversial things he's said about this. You yourself are hammering down the point that Stallman is so concerned with semantics, terminology, being precise, and making it very clear what you're referring to. Yet now, when he repeatedly and without any stipulations says that child porn and pedophilia should be legal, that he's unconvinced that "voluntary pedophilia" harms the child, and that it's possible that a kid could freely consent to having sex with an adult (family member), we're suddenly supposed to take this as a deep philosophical take on vague legal terminology that doesn't actually refer to adults having sex with children? Sorry, but that just sounds like a load of bullshit.

Stallman literally says incest should be legal? Oh, I'm sure he's only talking about consenting adults. Stallman literally says that child pornography should be legal? Oh, he must only be talking about a 16 year old taking a topless selfie for her boyfriend. Stallman literally says pedophilia should be legal? Oh, he has to just be talking about a 17 year old (technically still a minor) having sex with his 18 year old girlfriend. Stallman says that voluntary pedophilia doesn't necessarily harm the child? Oh, he's just referring to vague terminology for older teens.

Seems to me that this is just wishful thinking and a lot of bias talking. Does he really have to say that he thinks a father should be able to have sex with his preteen daughter before we stop reading into everything he says?

I'll post sources in a bit, can't be bothered to find them on mobile, but you can already find them in a previous conversation I had this week about the same topic.

level 2

Somebody else already pointed out that knowledge of the victim's age is not a prerequisite for statutory rape.

Also, if he's using Minsky's example as a place to fight accusation inflation, then this implies that Stallman believes that the "sexual assault" allegation was, by necessity, inflated.

Which means that, yes, he does think that if Minsky is guilty, that he should be given a lesser charge, and that is what people are criticizing. You can't have the semantic debate without bringing that other baggage along without resorting to a lot of hypotheticals and effectively making the debate not about Minsky, which Stallman very clearly did not based on the contents of his initial email.

level 1
-20 points · 3 days ago(More than 7 children)
level 2

I don't get how people can just swallow everything media feeds them without question. It really looks like a sect and followers.

level 2
Comment deleted by user3 days ago
level 2
Original Poster27 points · 3 days ago

Have you read some of the arguments/analyses from people who are defending Stallman? What do you think is wrong with their point of view? Are there any particular arguments or framings that you have an objection / a counterargument to?

level 2

Agree. It sickens me to see so many people using such flimsy, toxic arguments to rationalize his shitty behavior. Hopefully him leaving sends a message to these kinds of people that their behavior isn’t welcome. Him stepping down will make our industry a more inclusive place.

level 1

The bottom line is that the guy was forced to resign because he applied nuance and logic "inappropriately" to a topic where only emotional knee-jerk judgement is considered socially acceptable. That trend is dangerous.

level 2
-5 points · 3 days ago(More than 1 child)
level 2

He was forced to resign because he was misquoted while applying logic to a sensitive topic on a closed mailing list. The actual quote is typical Stallman, and all the old "uncool" Stallman incidents and quotes that have been dredged up in this context are not new revelations, though they are certainly more damning than his saying Minsky probably didn't know the victim was being coerced. So the real question is why now?

The misquote is the fault of the click-bait press, and its new potential for quoting the opposite of what someone said and getting them fired should frighten even his enemies, never mind his defenders. It wouldn't have happened without the leak, though, and the motivations for that are more obscure.

level 1

Reminder that not only did the media coverage misquote him but we now have a witness further supporting Stallman's original argument. Summary of events that I've posted elsewhere:

In a recently unsealed deposition a woman testified that, at the age of 17, Epstein told her to have sex with Marvin Minsky. Minsky was a co-founder of the MIT Media Lab and pioneer in A.I. who died in 2016. Stallman argued on a mailing list (in response to a statement from a protest organizer accusing Minsky of sexual assault) that, while he condemned Epstein, Minsky likely did not know she was being coerced:

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.

Someone wrote a Medium blogpost called "Remove Richard Stallman" quoting the argument. Media outlets like Vice and The Daily Beast then lied and misquoted Stallman as saying that the woman was "entirely willing" (rather than pretending to be) and as "defending Epstein". Note the deposition doesn't say she had sex with Minsky, only that Epstein told her to do so. Since then physicist Greg Benford, who was present at the time, has stated that she propositioned Minsky and he turned her down:

I know; I was there. Minsky turned her down. Told me about it. She saw us talking and didn’t approach me.

This seems like a complete validation of the distinction Stallman was making. If what Minsky knew doesn't matter, if there's no difference between "Minsky sexually assaulted a woman" and "Epstein told a 17-year-old to have sex with Minsky without his knowledge or consent", then why did he turn her down? People have argued it's ridiculous to think Epstein would have told her that without Minsky being involved, yet that seems to be exactly what happened. We're supposed to consider a dead man a rapist (for sex it turns out he didn't have) because of something Epstein did without his knowledge, possibly even in a failed attempt to create blackmail material against him?

Despite this, Stallman has been pressured to resign not just from MIT but from the Free Software Foundation that he founded. Despite (and sometimes because of) his eccentricities, I think Stallman was a very valuable voice in free-software, particularly as someone whose dedication to it as an ideal helped counterbalance corporate influence and the like. But if some journalists decide he should be out and are willing to tell lies about it, then apparently that's enough for him to be pushed out.

level 2
29 points · 3 days ago · edited 3 days ago

That was the game: have the target spend time with your willing girl (groomed to be willing by Epstein), and collect the blackmail from the honeypot. If all that happened was Stallman discussing this, then he needs to be reinstated.

level 2
8 points · 3 days ago

Stallman also assumed in his argument that the girl had slept with him.

Also, while he's been misrepresented in the media that doesn't mean his comments weren't totally inappropriate. Minsky flew out on a plane colloquially known as "the lolita express" to a private island with Epstein, who at this point was a registered sex offender (and had quite the reputation). We'll never know what actually happened or what Minsky actually did/thought about the situation, but RMS was pushing the position that she could have easily "seemed entirely willing".

Can you not see how that argument is still pretty repulsive, even without the misrepresentation?

The entire situation was inherently and obviously exploitative, and it would have been morally wrong for Minsky to participate in it. RMS was arguing that it would not be. In the middle of the Epstein scandal. In an MIT mailing list. As a man with a long history of arguing that children can in fact consent and that pedophilia should be legalized.

Come the fuck on. I do think that Stallman was mangled in the media, but even when you cut through the bullshit it's still pretty evident that he fucked up. And what boiled over at MIT was not just a response to these specific comments - they're just the latest small incident (though one that comes with phenomenally bad timing) in a long history of Stallman being an obnoxious creep. He was wildly unprofessional and inappropriate in basically every way - just his personal hygiene would be enough to get him removed from most professional settings.

I honestly can't believe they kept him around as long as they did. He didn't teach, he didn't make any real contributions to anything technologically. He just kind of hung around, took advantage of free office space, harassed people on mailing lists, and made people uncomfortable in person. What has Stallman actually done in the last 10 years?

I do think he's getting a bad shake in the media and being misrepresented. But I don't think the response from MIT and the FSF is just a response to that misrepresentation. Stallman's been on borrowed time for a while for reasons that are entirely his own fault, and this is the last straw.

level 1
26 points · 3 days ago

Man, I'm worried about the future of the FSF. Has there been any news of his replacement?

level 2

It has escalated pretty quickly, I was holding my coffee in my hand and almost spewed it out when I heard the news, it hapened right before our faces. Pretty crazy that you see the man who you admire fall down right before your eyes.

level 2

The FSF associate forums are negative-to-neutral right now.

I would at least like the FSF to clarify the circumstances of RMS' resignation ("forced" or not?) and their positions going forward, whatever they may be.

The fact they didn't yesterday leads me to believe either that they don't prioritize their stakeholders at best, or that they are cowardly at worst.

I'm not impressed with their response to this incident. The fact is there's other entities and aspects of free software I can support.

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