Neil McGovern recently published an article entitled GNOME relationship with GNU and the FSF where he described parts of an e-mail exchange from Dr. Richard Stallman as “reprehensible” and called for him stepping down from his position at the Free Software Foundation. This eventually happened.
Mr. McGovern decided to close comments on his blog entry. I respect this decision, especially because the topic is bound to attract troll commenters and an attempt to moderate the discussion might just take too much effort. I might end up doing the same. However, I disagree with Mr. McGovern’s assessment and believe it shouldn’t remain without a response. I figured out that an open letter might be the right way to respond.
I’d like to stress that I’m, unlike Mr. McGovern, not speaking for GNOME, my colleagues, fellow hackers, my employer or anyone else but myself. Don’t cancel your GNOME Foundation membership because you think either of us is wrong. Engage in civilized discussion!
On your blog you wrote:
This came after the president of the FSF made some pretty reprehensible remarks saying that the “most plausible scenario is that [one of Epstein’s underage victims] presented themselves as entirely willing” while being trafficked.
I credit you for not twisting Dr. Stallman’s words and quoting them verbatim. I very much wish this was the case for the tabloid media that covered the same issue.
There’s no question that the lady in question has been subject to a terrible abuse and emotional distress. Dr. Stallman does not question that. Nor does he turn a blind eye — in the very same document as you linked to he does condemn the perpetrator.
It seems to me that Dr. Stallman has been punished by his forced resignation for the mere crime of touching a sensitive subject. This should not happen in a healthy discussion. Otherwise we’d let taboos exclude topics from discourse and we’ll all be poorer for not having them discussed.
I’m aware that Dr. Stallman has a history of making controversial remarks about topics such as necrophilia or pedophilia. Perhaps that is what you mean by claiming that “this isn’t the only incident”. I don’t know whether he’s capable of recognizing that those subjects are taboo. But precisely because of the taboo surrounding them the majority opinion has no chance but to end up getting formed without a reasonable discussion. Can you blame anyone for challenging it?
I applaud your and GNOME’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. It is also my commitment. I also do understand that sometimes there might not be a more fortunate way of dealing with those whose conduct harms others than to exclude them from the community. I’d just be somewhat happier if we grew more capable of listening and concentrated on getting the message right instead of obsessing over clumsy wording and personal quirks. We all have some.
(Thanks to those who proof-read the letter and corrected many embarrassing mistakes, though they wish not to be named.)