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Re: Support RMS

From: Aaron Wolf
Subject: Re: Support RMS
Date: Fri, 16 Apr 2021 09:09:58 -0700

Hi Jean, I think your summary here is thoughtful, insightful, and
overall helpful. Thank you for sharing your perspectives and aiming to
focus on the unarguable facts such as what you did or didn't read or
what you can or can't know.

You have helped me see where I have missed some important clarity in my
post, thanks.

A few in-line comments:

On 2021-04-15 11:56 p.m., Jean Louis wrote:
> * Aaron Wolf <> [2021-04-16 09:05]:
>> I see boy-cried-wolf dynamics at play in all this. And there *are*
>> witch-hunt dynamics.
> Aaron, from conversation with Deb, Danny and Alexander, I can see
> there are some problems that some people experience, and I am sure
> that there is no perfect public speaker, but those problems so far I
> have understood from asking and getting questions are so rare, that
> they cannot find it on video, and number of people complained about
> interruption of women being approached is so slow.

I find RMS to be a generally remarkable public speaker who has inspired
me even as I do not agree 100% with him always (but vast majority
agreement). His various quirks do not both me directly, but I wish they
were minimized only because I wish for his message to reach the most
people, and biased people will dismiss speakers who are "weird" or
whatever. That's not RMS's fault, and it's no reason to want him to step
down. I want him to continue his public speaking.

I don't think the critiques are about his public speaking, they are
primarily about his behavior outside of his speeches.

Furthermore I don't have any significant negative experiences of him
even outside. And the 2nd-hand stories I have heard are literally not
much more detailed than I shared. I don't even know names of people
involved in most cases. I know the names of the people like Deb and
others who told me about their experiences.

Every time I've heard such stories, I've been skeptical. I've just heard
them enough to say, "okay, a lot of different people I know and respect
have told me about RMS being a real hassle or turning people away or
hitting on some woman awkwardly, so I suppose it's probably true, I
don't have much reason to doubt it".

And all these people consistently seem a bit exasperated, like they
personally tried to tolerate or work with RMS for years and got tired of
it. But that's a bit like hearing someone tell you about their
complaints about their former roommate. Sure they had more experience
and know the person, but they're also filtering their stories through
some pent-up frustration. I don't doubt them, but I also know that it's
complex, and if they were in a mood to talk about the virtues of their
former roommate, they might do that too. Surely, the roommate had some

All in all, I give it something between a shrug and a sincere sympathy,
wanting to listen and care and be open to hearing about people's
complaints and experiences.

> So I keep the summary of fact finding here:
> - not first hand, but second hand story exist of more than 6 people
>   who told how they did not find something appropriate, none of those
>   people ever talked about it on this mailing list, and we do not know
>   their names; there is mentioning of virgin jokes; we know that it is
>   impossible for everybody to find something funny, it is how it is;
>   there is mentioning of women being approached by RMS, but nothing so
>   far illegal or problematic. There are no evidences for those, as
>   those are second hand stories, not first hand stories;
> - RMS once interrupted young man in speech; and will continue doing so
>   most probably when there are frictions in the context of free
>   software; it comes from second hand story, but is very irrelevant as
>   one can assume that in debates people interrupt each other;
> - RMS did not wear sandals; Danny did not smell his feet; as she was
>   not so close to RMS; question is how did she see RMS not having
>   sandals if she was not that close; that is one first hand experience
>   that I find proper to mention;
> - RMS talked angrily from behind on Libreplanet 2018, but there is no
>   URL to the video yet, please find the URL here:
> like which video was it>
> Is there something I missed? Please add more to it, let us make a list
> that is of first hand experiences as when people bring generalizations
> into public space and call for virtual character lynch, then it is
> best to bring the specifics, that we demonstrate we are better than
> the mob dynamics.

Amen! The core problem as I see it here is that many RMS-critics just
want to get their way by numbers or the positions of organizations or
whatever. In some ways, this is *internal* stuff, it's like imagine if
all the staff of FSF went on strike and said RMS needs to go… and then
when you ask why they say "well, he yelled, people don't like him, he's
weird, and actually there's all these other issues but I don't feel like
getting into the details".

At best, you might just say "maybe they are right, I just don't work
there myself, and they aren't telling me enough details for me to judge,
so I just have to stick to saying I don't know, but I'll take their word
for it somewhat since I know and trust them, still feels weird though".

And combine that other people making outright exaggerated and unfair
attacks. The overall thought I have is that it's entirely possible
(likely by my view) that all these internal critics of RMS have concerns
that are serious enough to merit deep consideration. However, it's
baffling to me that they often seem to imagine that outsiders are
willing to take their word for it without enough evidence.

A good example is RMS' "church of emacs" shtick that he did for years.
It's a mockery of religion with a mention of "emacs virgins" which
obviously comes from the emphasis various mainstream religions place on
virginity. Regardless of all this charitable interpretation, it's also
just factually true that this sort of joking can make some women
uncomfortable (though it's not explicitly gendered, the virgin reference
in religions tends to be female-focused). Maybe also some people don't
like that he's mocking religion.

I'm *completely* open to discussing fairly the question of whether his
sort of joking in that way is a detraction for the movement. I am
uncomfortable with it on *behalf* of others who I am worried feel
uncomfortable. I'm *sensitive* to wanting everyone to feel welcome and
comfortable. I wouldn't personally mind any of this if nobody else
minded it.

But using this example in an emotional "RMS has to go, he's outrageous,
sexist, etc" type of appeal almost backfires. It's can be seen as
triggered, sensitive people who can't deal with humor. There's an appeal
that looks like, "why won't everyone share my outrage? If you don't find
this outrageous, it must be because of your own bias and/or privileges"
and it's a bit self-righteous which is not really a successful frame to
reach skeptics.

I certainly do not want a world in which self-righteous outrage is seen
as its own justification. Innocent until proven guilty is a good
principle. My position is strongly supportive of that of the traditional
ACLU such as

I think it's fair for the RMS-critics to have the burden of recognizing
that these types of mob dynamics, witch-hunt elements *exist* and
therefore they must rise above them. It's fair to ask them to show
everyone that this is not just another case like that. It's fair for
them to *expect* that because these dynamics are happening, they will be
seen with extra skepticism. They cannot expect that people will just
validate their self-righteous outrage without question.

Unfortunately, I see people with likely reasonable concerns about RMS
falling into these patterns where they write off any RMS defenders as
unreachable, closed-minded, cult-of-personality, etc. And that sort of
attitude, the attitude where you presume the "others" are hopeless etc
becomes self-reinforcing. Why take the burden to explain everything?

It's like the feminist who says "it's not my job to explain feminism to
you" or the black person saying, "it's not my job to explain all my
subtle experiences of racism to you, it's exhausting, if you're
interested, there are ways for you to go learn and not expect my time
and energy given freely". And those statements are entirely fair and
true! And yet, in our totally unfair world, it remains the case that if
you don't take the time and energy to carefully, fully, thoughtfully,
and tactfully explain something, you can't reasonably expect people to
just accept whatever claims you make, especially claims that have a
tinge of self-righteous outrage.

If we just accepted any claims that came from self-righteous outrage,
we'd be falling for all manner of conspiracy theories and nonsense and
be mobs of useful idiots susceptible to all sorts of propaganda and

As completely unfair as it is, in a world of mob mentality, tribalism,
rumors, conspiracies, exaggerations, it just takes WAY more effort than
it otherwise would and should to make a fair point about any concern.

I'd like to see all the RMS-critics start out by recognizing this burden
and condemning those broad problems and accepting the need to distance
themselves as far as possible. And even then, people do indeed need more
than some hearsay and anecdotes without details before they will be
convinced about something. And that's how it should be.

> I think that it is good to speak to Deb and Danny, but what I find
> kind of tiresome is to get the fact finding straight, but I am
> thankful that they brought it up in better detailed manner; now I am
> experiencing it as cultural differences, clash of different behavior;
> and I still cannot see how those personal disagreements on how human
> should behave are in conflict with the overall job done; I hope both
> of them will tell us more particulars.
> RMS have merits. Those personal disagreements do not justify character
> assassination and destruction of created merits. The outcome is far
> worse than what accusers wanted to bring up as an issue.
> Accusers are doing that what they are accusing others for.
> Aaron, I do not experience any war of people, neither much of
> conflict, what I experience is lack of communication between people
> and lack of tolerance to understand differences between people.
> For me it summarizes that people don't travel enough. They come to
> Libreplanet, not understanding the actual planet. Travel more, visit
> India, go through slam streets of Nagpur, eat with people who have
> long and dirty nails, swim naked in lakes around Oslo in Norway, or
> turban wound and face covered Muslim women serving in post offices,
> visit some mosques, Greece, Africa, nudist beaches in Croatia, South
> America, go around the world, dance and sing with people, do some
> projects together. Get a different view point. Libreplanet conference
> is not my home, I am meeting variety of people and is impossible that
> it fulfils my personal expectations.
> Maybe for Deb, Danny or others, this may be also disappointing effect
> due to affection to RMS, as maybe they had illusion that RMS is more
> than human. This is similar effect with any public or prominent
> person. We love them until we meet them, as then we may find something
> not appropriate for us personally, and start talking about it to
> others. 
> In general I see these issues as unspoken communication that has to be
> spoken out once in a while.
> When people cannot speak their mind out in the moment, they will tend
> to speak about it later to other people.
> But problems are solved better if those who feel in some way offended
> when they speak to the alleged offender themselves. Lack of
> confrontation in communication is what makes them lose self esteem and
> they may need years to speak out what happened to them. But those
> personal experiences do not justify character assassinations.
> I would like to know more about those anecdotes.
>> I do not feel comfortable naming names because I do not have
>> permission to share stories that were told to me privately.
> And why you did it?
> I don't value any generalizations, pumped up stories, drama without
> end.
> Please be concrete and do it how Danny did it. I know people like to
> talk behind the back, but why not say:
> - do you have first hand personal experience? Tell us the story.
> - to be fair, tell us also some good stories, or tell us, if there was
>   no good story at all, as compared to the bad story you have.
> - do not bring up anonymous, second hand story, story that is not from
>   your personal experience, as this way you just create more rumours
>   and rumours, there is no fact, no fact finding possible.
>> Also, most of the stories did not go into details, so I don't even
>> really know.
> But you said it in several paragraphs that you are raising tensions
> without any necessity, you are contradicting to yourself that you
> don't want to raise tensions, but you do raise tensions, in the end
> you say you don't even know. You are getting nervous but create other
> people getting nervous.
>> Like here's one story: I was at Libreplanet 2014 and RMS was speaking
>> and mentioned offhand how a certain sort of older computer with no disk,
>> they used to joke and called it a dickless computer. 10 minutes later he
>> apologized for the crass joke in a sincere manner before awarding some
>> sort of women-in-free-software award. I heard second hand that he had to
>> have someone pull him aside and emphasize the problem before he realized
>> the issue and apologized.
> Good story. But what I find wrong is that thought police stops RMS
> calling on that dickless computer joke. Hahahahhah. You people there
> are very very strange. Here comes the song "Sound of Silence" at
> proper place. As if you continue undeveloping civilization this way,
> one day you will not even speak between each other.
> Well, one common behavior and expectation for public speakers is not
> to mention obscene words, but other expectation is that when speaker
> is known  to make jokes is that it is expected and welcome. Would RMS
> be stand up comedian, none of you would be complaining for nothing.
> How many stand up comedians make such and more obscene jokes? And
> people like it. Please....
> Problem is that RMS is not a stand up comedian, but he makes jokes
> occasionally and some find it out of context. But that same audience
> would like to hear obscene jokes in a stand up comedian show.
> Admit it. It is hypocrisy.
>> This is troublesome, and you know straw-that-broke-the-camels-back
>> is another parable.
> That is troublesome my ass. That is what you say witch hunt,
> troublesome for joke? LOL. You really develop unreasonably as human
> society there, maybe in Boston, where was it.
> Would some Russians would be there, they would be laughing
> out. Problem is your development there, and desire to make every
> person same, same, same, let us all be same, and thus normal, normal,
> normal, don't do anything out of the normal way, as otherwise you are
> not normal, normal, normal.
> And you will never see how deeply you people are brainwashed.
> By the way none of you have converted proprietary Windoze computer to
> free software system during this discussion, I would give you all
> yellow card.

I wouldn't express things quite with the style of language you are
using, but Jean, I am saying that you SHOULD be skeptical. It makes
sense that you haven't seen enough clear significant issues or even
clear charges/accusations that would help you recognize any deeper
magnitude of issues with RMS.

I do not expect otherwise. I do not want otherwise. I don't want you to
just accept claims without evidence.

I *do* want you and everyone else to treat Deb and others with a sort of
fairness that says, "maybe it's as bad as you say, but I'm just still
not seeing it" which doesn't need to include any judgments or
presumptions about Deb. We can presume that it might really be as bad as
she says or that maybe we would feel differently if we knew the whole
stories or were there ourselves. We can respectfully say, "I hear you,
but it still seems too vague or too minor to me based on what little I
have to work with". We can be sincerely open to learning more if people
are willing to share more with us. We can also tactfully and patiently
request that people like Deb recognize where some accusations are
exaggerated and unfair.

In short: we can engage by trying to learn, trying to find common
ground, and so on. This does not mean dropping all skepticism and just
accepting hearsay and anecdotes or kowtowing to mob pressure etc.

I said I'd be short, but Jean, you really showed me that I had not made
my position clear. I should go back and edit, and I would like to have
written far LESS but I can't prioritize the time it would take to make
this shorter right now.

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