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Re: [libreplanet-discuss] Is Stallman nuts?

From: Patrick 'P. J.' McDermott
Subject: Re: [libreplanet-discuss] Is Stallman nuts?
Date: Mon, 16 Sep 2019 07:54:54 -0400

I've been an associate member of the FSF since 2012; an attendee of
LibrePlanet every year since 2013; and using, developing, and advocating
for free software longer than that.  I have other organizational
affiliations, however I am writing in my personal capacity and opinions
expressed herein are my own.  Also, my apologies to those on this list
who want this thread to just be over, but there have been many false
statements around this issue that are important to correct.  With all
that said...

The Vice article takes one specific quote out of context and removes key
words from it to change the meaning into a clickbait headline and story.
The article explains that Stallman insists that Epstein's victims were
"entirely willing" to be trafficked, which is a blatant misquote.
What Stallman actually wrote in the e-mail thread [1] is that, because
Virginia Giuffre was coerced by Epstein, Epstein would have surely
forced her to conceal the coercion from people like Marvin Minsky.
Therefore she would have presented herself to Minsky as "entirely
willing" and Minsky would not have needed to force himself onto her.

The article's headline and entire premise that Stallman claimed that
Giuffre was "willing" to be trafficked is completely disproven later in
the thread when Stallman wrote, in no uncertain terms, "We know that
Giuffre was being coerced into sex -- by Epstein.  She was being
harmed."  He also wrote on his Web site a month ago [2] that he believes
the accusations against Epstein of sex trafficking and that rape is
unconditionally wrong.  More recently he also agreed [3] that Joi Ito
had to resign after admitting to covering up Epstein's donations to the
MIT Media Lab (the original subject of the thread in question), and he
clarified and reiterated that he always condemned Epstein [4].

The purpose of Stallman's message is his usual pedantry, to point out
that "assault" is vague.  Since the sex between Minsky and Giuffre was
non-violent and Minsky may have believed Giuffre to have given him
consent, Stallman's argument is that Minsky's actions don't necessarily
rise to "sexual assault", a term which implies violent non-consensual
sex.  (I don't intend to defend Stallman's argument here -- only to
clarify it.)

The center of Stallman's pedantry here reads, "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."  Anyone
on the csail-related mailing list or otherwise who doesn't regularly
read his Web site or the GNU "Words to Avoid" Web page or who isn't
familiar with his linguistic prescriptivism may very easily
misunderstand this statement as condoning non-consensual but non-violent
sex.  But based on his previous condemnations of rape, I fully believe
that he condemns any form of non-consensual sex, even if non-violent.  I
suggest that he should have been clearer there to avoid such an easy

Of course, his defense of Minsky (after presuming he indeed had sex with
a minor) appears to rely on his unpopular but somewhat well known belief
that "voluntarily [sic] pedophilia" doesn't harm children [5].  He seems
to have taken for granted that Minsky should have had no reason to
hesitate over having sex with a minor, as long as she appeared to him to
be willing.  Reportedly though, Stallman's views "changed significantly"
by 2016 [6], and he confirmed on Saturday that "personal conversations
in recent years" have convinced him that sex between an adult and a
child is wrong [7].  This timeline between changing views in "recent
years" and this thread from last Wednesday would in fact suggest that
he didn't necessarily intend to exonerate Minsky at all.  Instead, it
suggests to me that Stallman's only intention was to seek clarification
of exactly what Minsky had done.  Minsky engaged in non-violent and
seemingly consensual (but actually coerced by Epstein) sex with a minor.
While such an act is ethically and legally wrong, Stallman is arguing
that violent non-consensual sex is worse.  He, pedantic as he is, wanted
only to avoid conflating Minsky's actions with more violent assault.
(Again, I'm explaining, not necessarily defending.)

Now, we could have had a reasonable debate around whether Minsky's
actions do rise to the level of "sexual assault" or we should be more
specific in our terminology.  We could argue that all forms of non-
consensual sex are equally wrong, with or without physical violence
or the appearance of consent, and that Stallman is wrong to try to
disambiguate such forms.  This is certainly a debatable topic, however
the media immediately shut down any useful debate by going off in a
completely different direction with sensationalized false claims of
something Stallman definitely did not say.  It's just a frustratingly
and obviously absurd clickbait straw man, and one that wasn't even at
all necessary in order to find controversy in what Stallman said.  There
was already a decent story in there, without having to lie about it.

Some people have also taken this opportunity to bring up some of
Stallman's other social and technical behaviors.  While I share some of
these concerns, this is not the time to conflate so many issues.  Let's
focus for now on the accusation at hand.

So, I'll express some of my own pedantry by urging readers to consider
not the sophistry woven by Vice, but what Stallman actually said.  Base
your decisions not on the false premise that he defended Epstein and
insisted that Epstein's underage victims were "entirely willing" to
be trafficked, but instead on his pedantic disambiguation of the
term "sexual assault".  Read the source material and reach your own
conclusions, ignoring what Vice puts out to maximize their advertising

I, for one, will not be ending my FSF associate membership over this
incident.  Despite any other concerns I may have regarding Stallman's
leadership of the GNU Project and representation of the FSF and the
broader software freedom movement, I will not be demanding his departure
as FSF President over the recent csail-related e-mail thread.

On a personal note, nothing in my message should be construed to imply
that I in any way condone any form of non-consensual sexual encounters,
by any name.  While I thankfully have no first-hand experience and can't
imagine the trauma endured by the victims, I do have a certain emotional
connection to child sexual assault and would neither take the issue
lightly nor defend someone I believe to be a sexual assault apologist.
I also cringe at every knee-jerk reaction against accusers (for example
the term "SJW"), so I ask that we all remain civil about what is
(understandably) quite an emotional subject for everyone.  And thanks to
anyone who managed to read this far.


Patrick "P. J." McDermott:
Lead Developer, ProteanOS:
Founder and CEO, Libiquity:

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