Justice for Dr. Richard Matthew Stallman
#rms #justiceforRMS #freesoftware #freespeech #supportRMS

Table of Contents

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1 Introduction

Dr. Richard Stallman image

Figure 1: Dr. Richard Stallman talking at CommonsFest 2015 in Athens for “A Free Digital Society”

Dr. Richard Matthew Stallman (born 16 March 1953), often known by his initials rms, and occasionally upper-case RMS, is an American free (libre) software movement activist, hacker and programmer. He campaigns for software to be distributed in a manner such that its users receive the freedoms to use, study, distribute, and modify that software. Software that ensures these four freedoms is termed free software. Stallman launched the GNU Project, founded the Free Software Foundation, developed the GNU Compiler Collection and GNU Emacs, and wrote the GNU General Public License.

Richard Stallman is currently the object of an Internet defamatory campaign which forced him to resign from his position at MIT and even from the FSF which he founded himself. He has actual flaws, but the campaign is largely motivated by mischaracterizations, disproportionality and intolerance.

2 Mischaracterizations

A message was sent to an MIT mailing list calling for a protest regarding donations Jeffrey Epstein1 made to the university. Stallman then objected to wording used to describe the protest online. He is known for demanding terminological precision. His objection was that his deceased friend Marvin Minsky2 should not be accused of having sexually assaulted one of Epstein’s victims. Stallman affirmed that was accusation inflation, and that criticism should use more precise terms.

The following two false accusations were then made against Stallman based on severe mischaracterizations of the email thread (see here the original):

2.1 Stallman as an Epstein supporter

At least one large website published a article claiming that Stallman defended Epstein. No cogent argument was presented for such an accusation, only a severe misquotation (see below). In truth, on 25 April 2019 he had called Epstein a “serial rapist” who got an “extremely lenient” plea deal; in fact, “so lenient that it was illegal.” Stallman then wondered “whether this makes it possible to resentence him to a longer prison term.”

2.2 Stallman as a victim blamer

Many large websites wrote articles accusing Stallman of considering Epstein victims as “entirely willing”, in a shocking failure of reading comprehension.

In truth, talking about Virginia Giuffre (the Epstein victim whom Stallman wrote about), he said the “most plausible scenario” was that “she presented herself to him2 as entirely willing” [my emphasis] even if actually she was under coercion from Epstein, because the trafficker “had every reason to tell her to conceal that”. Then in his second email from that same discussion, Stallman said “given the circumstances, that implies she was coerced by Epstein”[my emphasis]. A few paragraphs later he reiterated:

We know that Giuffre was being coerced into sex – by Epstein. She was being harmed. But the details do affect whether, and to what extent, Minsky was responsible for that.

[my emphasis]

Therefore, Stallman said multiple times that Giuffre was a victim of coercion into sex. He just did not see evidence that Marvin Minsky knew about the coercion. Stallman presumed Minsky not to have been responsible. He did not presume Giuffre to have been actually willing.

3 Extremely liberal opinions about sex on his personal website

A true part of the story is that Stallman’s personal website has extremely liberal opinions about sex and related subjects. Some excerpts from many years ago did defend the alleged liberty of children to have sex – even with adults – “if the child accepted it”. For example, in 2003 Stallman wrote

I think that everyone age 14 or above ought to take part in sex, though not indiscriminately. (Some people are ready earlier.)

In 2006 he was skeptical of the claim that “voluntary” pedophilia harmed children. He wrote something similar in January 2013, but within limits.

This author opposes such an opinion! However, Stallman later changed his mind and, on 14 September 2019, (belatedly) retracted it.

4 Sex with a 17 year old

One of Stallman’s recent leaked emails did still imply that sex between an adult and a 17 year old is not rape – but so does all of Europe. In fact, the BBC informs that Austria, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Portugal set the age of consent at 14 and nowhere in Europe is it over 17. In this context, while this author strongly opposes sex with prepubescent children or young teenagers, I suspect 3 17 years old should be enough to legally consent to sex.

I emphasize the word legally. Legality, morality and social acceptability are different things. Even those of us who think it was immoral for an adult2 to have casual sex with a 17 year old might, taking into account that Minsky presumedly thought she was willing, consider it disproportional to posthumously make him a pariah.

And even people who support 18 as the legal age of consent should agree that consensual sex with a 17 year old is far less grave than forcing a person into sex, which is why it should be described with a separate word, not “rape”. Perhaps sex with an actual child can be called “rape”, but a 17 year old (who Minsky presumedly thought was willing) is not a child. This was Stallman’s point. He is known for demanding terminological precision.

5 Perfect storm

Stallman’s two emails contained excerpts that, when taken outside the context of the two emails and his earlier strong condemnation of Epstein but combined with his old (belatedly retracted) defense of tolerance for pedophilia, his actual flaws and eccentricity, and the current political climate, made him appear to be saying that Giuffre was actually “entirely willing”. This widespread interpretation is utterly false and has caused grave injustice to Stallman.

About the current political climate. There is a strong push to fight the objectification of women – practices such as sexual harassment and sex trafficking – and particularly MIT’s apparent complicity with the crimes of Epstein. And that is a good idea which in fact I wish had occurred much earlier. However, this situation creates very strong emotions that can easily cause harm to innocent people or inflict disproportionate punishment on those who are indeed guilty of improper acts. It is wise to take care about that danger.

Back to Stallman: he does have extremely liberal opinions about sex, did take too long to retract his previous defense of tolerance for pedophilia and does have real flaws, but does that justify the current hate fest?

6 Free speech and open mindedness

This author does not ask the reader to agree with every Stallman opinion. If fact, I am an orthodox married Catholic who am very pro-family – within a coherent and reasonably tolerant worldview inspired by the great Pope Francis. I oppose many of Stallman’s views about sex and related subjects. Yet I believe in free speech and also in “test everything and hold on to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). One learns a lot from Stallman views about civil liberties, privacy, environmentalism, social and economic justice and politics, specially (of course) software freedom and digital rights. I reject many of his extremely liberal opinions about sex, particularly that previous opinion which he thankfully retracted, but those are/were opinions on his personal website which he clearly separates from FSF and MIT. And I support many of the other opinions on that same website, just as I reject the excessive violence of the French Revolution but support separation of Church and State and the metric system.

Regarding the two emails that destroyed Stallman’s reputation: presuming (as we must, in the absence of evidence of guilt) that Minsky thought he was having consensual casual sex with a 17 year old (which is legal in every European country), then is that act so socially unacceptable that we should (posthumously) make a pariah not only of Minsky but also of those who dare defend his memory?

And if people like Stallman are made pariahs for their opinions – and in this case he even retracted the most shocking one – then how can we have an honest debate and ascertain the Truth? What happened to freedom of inquiry?

7 Fair character assessment

The author also does not ask the reader to overlook Stallman’s other sins – that is, those that are real and corroborated, since the Internet defamatory campaign generated or amplified lots of hearsay, particularly in social networks. However, the assessment of Stallman’s character ought to be based on an accurate interpretation of real evidence considered in the context of his real life. The Internet defamatory campaign leads to an atmosphere in which people exaggerate his real sins – besides believing and disseminating clearly false or uncorroborated accusations – and overlook favorable evidence, testimony and circumstances.

This is gravely unjust, like a jury trial in which the jury is contaminated by a strong campaign of character assassination. The current social network hate fest is so strong that some people there are demanding even Stallman’s (ex-)associates – and people who defend him – to get the same fate. This is a common feature of witch hunts – those who defend a target become targets themselves.

8 See also

9 Parting words

Please tolerate English mistakes (constructive feedback highly welcome!) – I am Brazilian. By the way, the current Brazilian president is incompetent, misguided, lacks respect for women, minorities, science and the sanctity of life and did not have my vote. He currently has little popular support.

9.1 Help wanted

This initiative needs help – for example, text improvements, publicity, translations. Please contribute via issues, patches, merge requests4, contact me via diaspora* (jorgemorais@pod.disroot.org) or simply publicize this initiative!

9.2 Attribution and copyleft

This website is partly based on https://sterling-archermedes.github.io/ (accessed [2019-09-28 sat]), this copy of the email thread, information from this BBC article, the English Wikipedia articles about Stallman, Marvin Minsky (both accessed [2019-10-01 tue]) and Jeffrey Epstein (accessed [2019-10-12 sat]), and quotes from stallman.org. It is published under the Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 4.0) License. The picture (published under the same license) of Richard Stallman is from Wikimedia Commons (I scaled and recompressed it). I believe the quotes from stallman.org are covered by fair use.

Footnotes:

1

Jeffrey Edward Epstein (20 January 1953 – 10 August 2019), a very wealthy trafficker of women (many underage) for sex. He developed an elite social circle and procured women and many underage girls who were then sexually abused by him and some of these contacts.

2

Marvin Lee Minsky (9 August 1927 – 24 January 2016), a pioneer of artificial intelligence and friend of Stallman. The first email in the thread accuses Minsky of sexually assaulting Virginia Giuffre. The author of this article has not carefully studied the evidence about Minsky and therefore at this moment has no position regarding whether or not Minsky did in fact have sex with any of Epstein’s victims (see the email thread for arguments for and against this hypothesis).

3

I say suspect because I have not studied the applicable legal doctrine and theory and therefore I cannot have a conviction.

4

If you cannot create an account on GitLab.com then you can still send me patches or suggestions via diaspora* or email. I also take suggestions of better hosting.

Author: Jorge P. de Morais Neto

Created: 2019-11-06 qua 18:59

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