Free Software Foundation Controversy Status Quo

Usually I am avoiding drama shit a lá (anti-)social media, but since this time something that is very important in the open source world, is the victim of such (anti-)social media bullshit, I cannot just avoid it, too.

I am a big fan of Xah Lee – he hates Richard Stallmann for a variety of reasons. I understand most reasons and I think they are very valid.
However, the “controversy” Richard was forced into by (anti-)social media fanatics was achieved for mostly the wrong reasons.

I think, smearing and de facto cancelling, first a person, then an entire board of members which have been around for such a long time, is just going too far. This is, again, as with many cancellations, crossing the red line.

It did not happen yet, but the damage is already done and it will only get worse, as long as there is a certain group of people, which basically isn’t even a “group”, but just a random collection of people with the same type of thinking, dominant on (anti-)social media.
Cancellations like this make matters worse and do not solve any of the issues the same people who want to cancel everything normal, attack as being wrong or whatever.

I always repeat: Communication is key.

Do not cancel. Talk, discuss and exchange.

Obviously, this is considered a “controversial” topic, so please be aware that you need to reply in a strictly argumentative way, without issuing personal attacks toward anyone. :wink:
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Personally, I find it hard to take sides in this controversy.

The merits of Richard Stallmann in the FOSS world can hardly be disputed. However, the public expressions of his views, if represented correctly in the open letter, are certainly damaging to the FSF as a whole.

I don’t believe that, what is essentially a civil rights movement, should be represented by a person who publicly expresses views that do not fit anymore in the “controversial” category.
Of course, he can think what he wants about women, sex with children, disabled people or trans persons, but being a public figure bears responsibilities. In the end, as a member of the board, you stand and speak for the entire organization, and your presence within it, can create a hostile environment if you happen to be a person known to think and speak badly about certain social groups.

I can’t say, how much of the allegations against Richard are true, so I won’t be signing any of the petitions. My hope is that he and the rest of the board find a way to make sure that the foundation is a friendly and welcoming place for everyone willing to cooperate and to communicate it in a credible manner.

On a more general level, I reckon that the phenomenon known as “cancel culture” is totally overstated by its “victims” who found a buzzword to deflect attention from their personal misdeeds.

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In this specific mud fight, I cannot take a side either. I was trying to make clear, that I am opposing what those letter-writing and tweeting people are doing against Richard. That does not mean I am pro Richard – it just means I am against people doing something like that against him.

Well, that is another question actually, because as far as I have seen all his enemies were accusing him of saying such atrocious things. Though, when I read a couple of those “terrible” sentences he expressed, it seemed to me like he tried to me relatively neutral about it. That said, I fully understand how people can misunderstand his expressions, because I am sure he wasn’t careful enough about his wording, choice of words and his explanation style. Still, I think he is portraited in this specific situation worse, than he actually is. I honestly believe he is just an extreme nerd, who doesn’t comprehend how people might perceive what he is saying, resulting in a very bad way of explaining something, that perhaps is essentialy not as horrendous as many people might understand, when simply listening from our “more normal” and “less nerdy” point of view.

Even if that is true, I personally am convinced that all humans that have any position possible, no matter which one, are humans, after all.
Even if you are the president of the United States (cough cough), the CEO of a huge company or a board member at the FSF – you are still a human being. All human beings have certain things in common, e.g. each one has an opinion.
I think it would be very difficult and uncalled for to force someone, just because they have a certain job, to never express their thoughts about something controversial. I also think it would be wrong to apply such force.

For example, there is an extremely famous USA-based podcast, which also airs on YouTube. There was a time, when Elon Musk joined that podcast and smoked weed on camera and was talking about his products, etc.
After this the stocks’ values of his companies decreased drastically, resulting in a type of “loss”.
However, as far as I know, since then the situation recovered and is mostly forgotten or at least it has lost its importance over time.

That was a time when Elon Musk did something personal (I can’t imagine how he would’ve done that as a CEO) and it had real consequences for his companies. Still, he did what he did and it was his decision. It does not mean, that he is smoking weed and throwing away the stock investor’s money all the time. It just means, that this time he was human and did something. Many people called it a mistake, I call it being human. He was himself, he was personal.

Now, as I see it, this is pretty much the same case with Richard Stallmann. Except, it does not seem to water down over the years, it seems to become even worse (they now try to throw out the whole board). It seems like, he is constantly berated and harassed for things he said as himself, not as the board member (again, I can’t imagine he would speak about such topics, when the FSF has nothing to do with such topics, therefore it just seems logical to me, that he was expressing his views as himself, not the board member).
Instead of letting that person and their, in some people’s view, crazy thoughts be, they are attacking him for his controversial opinions.

(Who said they are controversial in the first place? His enemies? Why aren’t his enemies opinions instead controversial? Though, this rather philosophical question is one for another day.)

So, in summary, I want to say:

  • Humans have opinions. Other humans need to accept that.
  • Humans voice opinions, sometimes in an unfitting manner.
  • Humans fight over opinions all the time
  • Accept opinions and don’t try to kick off someone off a board about Free Software, just because they have an opinion that is absolutely unrelated to Free Software. The only opinions that should count, and probably come from him as a board member, not himself, are the opinions he has about Free Software. All other opinions shouldn’t be any of our business, as long as they have nothing to do with his job, which was/is being a board member of the Free Software Foundation.

People have opinions. People have to deal with it. That’s it.

As explained above; does it really matter? What if they are true? What does it have to do with Free Software? Literally nothing. It’s like refusing to buy apples from a cliché Chinese dude, just because he eats dogs at home.
At his home this might be normal and I am not the judge of his actions far away from my culture and mentality.

I hope so, too. But the solution is not to kick off everyone having a weird opinion about something that is in no way at all related to the topic at hand, which should be Free Software and not social misbehaviour.

Can’t agree, because there is already plenty of evidence for people literally getting fired from jobs and losing the livelihood, just because they were socially destroyed by wannabe heroes, sitting at home, doing nothing, but complain about everything and everyone that does not fit into their own worldview. It’s basically a collection of child-minded individuals who have nothing better to do and nothing better to think about, except when their iPhone is broken, Google is down or their pasta has less than 500 likes on Instagram.

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@Akito I see, you don’t like witch hunts. Neither do I. However, the more I dig into this issue, the more I understand the unrest within the FSF.

The question is: If you have a rather large organization where most communication happens in public spaces and not in closed board rooms and you feel highly uncomfortable with the behaviour with one of its key figures, what other ways do you have to address these issues? Is it really an alternative to shut up because of the merits of the “great man”?

Probably, there is some truth in your statement. Still, Richard has been accused of misogynistic behaviour at the MIT since 1983. However “nerdy” you might be, 38 years seem more than sufficient to me for developing at least some sensibility for social issues, especially if you stand in the public spotlight. I don’t accept this excuse.

Of course, everybody is free to express their personal views, but every right comes with accountability in the package. If your views hurt other people in your organization or its reputation, you might have to face the consequence that you aren’t the right representative for your organization anymore.

You can’t separate power and freedom from responsibility. It is also not always possible to separate the private from the public figure, even less so in an association dedicated to strengthen individual and social rights.
Would you like a known racist in front of the organization, even though racism has (supposedly) nothing to do with free software? Probably not.
There we are again at the question of institutional climate: How welcome would you feel, say, as a disabled person in an organization which is co-chaired by someone who speaks badly about disabled people? Or as a woman with someone who treats women like shit (if the many allegations over the course of decades are true)? Or as a person who simply believes that every human being deserves to be treated with respect?

I can’t say, I’m possession of the truth but after having read more about Richard, I’d say: The controversy is legitimate.

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I would voice my opinion, countering his. If I would be in exactly the situation you describe, I wouldn’t ignore anything. I would speak against him, loudly. However, I wouldn’t try to kick him off, just because he hurts me non-physically.

This is very ironic. Actually, if I were one of those tweeting and letter-writing people on Twitter, I would accuse you right now of being “ableist” (another neologism, they invented).
It is absolutely possible to not develop this sensibility. For some people it is even close to impossible, because they have certain mental conditions. I am not talking going to the psychiatry crazy conditions, but I am talking about slight mental instabilities and/or differences between how such people are thinking and how “normal” people are thinking.

I can give you the best example for this by letting you watch Xah Lee.
He says a lot of stuff and whenever someone watches him for like 10 minutes or reads some of his articles and hears certain things, they almost certainly will think he is crazy, utterly stupid or something like that. However, if you listen to him for hours and hours, which is what I have done over the past few years, you notice that a person like this has an extremely hard time voicing their opinion in a way that people can understand correctly. Too often he voices his opinion in a “rude” and aggressive way, however that’s just the way he is and it is partially caused by a discrepancy between his and other people’s mental model regarding social behaviour.

Basically, Xah Lee is an extremely smart guy but also an extremely nerdy guy. He has HUGE KNOWLEDGE about so many topics… But he has a lot of trouble transmitting the information he has in his head to the audience. Whether it is through voice or through writing. (Though, I guess he does a better job at writing, than talking.)

Therefore, I am absolutely convinced that it is possible to stay too nerdy for decades of one’s life, especially if they have (at least) a slight mental discrepancy, even more so when it is not officially discovered and confirmed by a psychiatrist.

I don’t know if you mean this as a general statement or specifically addressed toward what I said previously, I will clarify my statement, just to be sure.

I did not mean it as an “excuse” as in “let him do whatever he wants to, he is nerdy so he can do it, so let him be”. I meant it more like “perhaps he makes a mistake and I think I found the explanation for it”.
I do neither like nor hate him. I honestly have no feelings of such type regarding him.
I am just trying to make sense of the situation and perhaps understand the explanation for the other side, that is attacked by so many and (as it seems) defended by so few.

On the one hand, I can fully agree.
On the other hand, I cannot agree.

In a way, you are totally correct. If you represent a certain group of people, consisting mainly of a homogenic collection of individuals, this statement seems correct.
However, in this specific situation we are talking about developers. We are talking about people having a certain job or hobby. This means, that we can get all types of people into this group. Men, women, children, whatever.
Therefore, I think in this specific scenario you can never expect a leader or board member or whatever to never hurt anyone in your group, as the group is so diverse and consisting of so many types of people, that eventually someone will get hurt, no matter how nice you are.
(Ironically, the letter-writing and tweeting people would instantly kick me off, too, because they would, without question, instantly perceive my questioning and skepticism as some kind of “defence” for Richard, even though I am mostly just trying to understand the situation and also oppose the way he is treated, regardless whether Richard is fine or not.
So, by making the organisation allegedly super-inclusive, they would make it again exclusive, as people like me wouldn’t be welcome there, at all…)

I fully agree. It’s often not easy and too many things are misunderstood on our earth, every single day.

I would hate that, but even then there is a spectrum. Would I be bothered, if this dude expressed some very rude comment about someone not belonging to wherever we currently reside, while he is drunk or just forcing himself to be funny and then making a stupid joke? No.
People make mistakes all the time and I don’t want to banish someone, when someone makes a comment randomly at some point.
Would I be bothered, if this dude was actually joining a right extremist group and literally walking hand in hand with others who were actually already violent and perhaps even imprisoned for that? Absolutely.
This would be no simple mistake and is a big issue.
However, I wouldn’t be writing letters or tweeting (crying) about that on Twitter. I would voice my opinion about that issue. I would check what can be done about it. If this is in my opinion bothering so much, I would leave the organisation and let those idiots be. I wouldn’t try to burn it down and make it mine.

Though, in this example about a spectrum I would see Richard being in the top third of the spectrum, as in how radical his views are (for the sake of argument, I consider the claims against him to be mostly true), while I see the last example about a violent extremist on the absolute top.
So, if there is a single member on the board that has controversial views (not even in a group literally executing violence or anything like that) then I’m sure I could handle that. I rather have a board like this, than a board where all people have all the same clean & un-controversial views about a majority of topics. Such groups are always the weakest, because without competition your arguments won’t ever try to compete, forcing the users of such arguments to always stay on a lower level of argumentation, because nobody forces them to think about stuff, especially the things most people just accept as-is without questioning.

I would definitely not like, that someone of the board is talking in a negative way about my how I live. I wouldn’t however perceive it as “the organisation” is talking my live down, but “a member of the board” is talking my live down. And if all the board members would agree and they would all think that, I would leave the organisation, but not try to take it over after burning it down, just because I think I have the moral “truth” on my side, which is what the letter-writing tweeters most of the time assume.

I would leave the organisation.

I think that, but everyone has different opinions on what “respect” means. Respect is used all over the place nowadays, however every group of like-minded people are talking about entirely different things.
In this same way, everyone has a different tolerance and opinion on what a man like Richard is saying. To some people it is unbearable, to others it is acceptable. However, I do not see how one group that finds it unbearable should dominate whether Richard is entirely excluded from what he has worked on since decades.

Well, I don’t even want to search anything, because every time you search something controversial on the internet, you enter one of the many bubbles out there.

Just try to search your country’s most famous historian/piece researcher/humanist’s theses. You will see too many articles that just boldly display him as an evil madman, even though that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
He sees all humans united as one Human Family.
Yet, he is displayed as some kind of shit-talking idiot by so many.

Therefore, I won’t believe anything, but exclusively what Richard himself said and confirmed many times. This is the only source that perhaps can be trusted (if uncut). I deem every third party source about any controversial topic as untrustworthy to begin with.

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Point taken, far better. You convinced me.

Ironically enough, I have being accused of just that a couple of days ago in another forum for calling TERFs1 “sick”.

Perhaps not. The question is then: Are you really the right person to represent an important association?

Side note: I love Salvador Dalí.

1 If you don’t know what a “TERF” is, don’t bother: It has probably no relevance for you.

Just imagine me sighing as a response to that. :laughing:

That is perhaps a really good question. However, this is going into the direction I was describing a tiny bit in the very first post of this thread: Xah Lee had some pretty good arguments against Richard and I understand them.
For example, if there would be a civil discussion within the FOSS or FSF community about the problems with Richard and people could all voice their opinions in a civil discussion about how he is not fitting (anymore?) into the board, then I think I could befriend myself easily with the thought of Richard being released from his membership on the board, as a result of many people of the community discussing what is best for everyone, in civil exchanges, where everyone is speaking their mind.
If such civil discussion would result in something like
“Thank you, Richard, for your FSF work you have done so far, but I think it is time for you to go now, because times have changed and we do not consider you a good representative for our movement/organisation (anymore). Here are the results of our civil discussion, all documented in this 10 page report. If you care about our reasons, you can read them all in the report.”
then I could accept the kicking off much easier.
However, doing all the smearing crap on (anti-)social media is my biggest concern. It is the wrong way to kick someone off a board they were in for such a long time, especially when it to me seems like most people agreeing with the kick off aren’t even truly affiliated with the organisation/movement but are just going on a general crusade against people from a specific political spectrum and Richard just happened to stand in their way, as well.

Perhaps I worded that a bit complicated as usual, so I’ll try to summarize:

If the organisation members discuss a board member’s membership in an absolutely civil and on-topic discussion, resulting in the decision that this member should no longer be a representative of the organisation, then I would be totally fine with it.
Just don’t involve all the off-topic people from every possible group on Twitter (which ironically is already a product of a company that is extremely far away from the meaning of Free, as the movement for Free Software is claiming), trying to rile them up against Richard, even though they have little or nothing to do with the FSF or even FOSS world.

I like surrealism in general, because it is a highly philosophical art genre. It questions everything, especially the things people usually take for absolutely granted and absolutely normal. They twist and turn such things, so people are forced to think about why a specific thing is just the way it is. Like, why do we have to use legs to walk, why can’t we just float using our head or something like that. :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

P.S.:

I read through my proposal of having a civil discussion about the topic and noticed that perhaps that is already a big issue. Who will partake in this civil discussion? There is an extremely high risk, that if you select only a sub-group of members of the organisation, that they are in total leaning either toward one or the other side in this matter, before even starting the discussion, which would lead to a pretty weak discussion, with too few counter-opinions. It would be really important to get the opinion of a big majority of the organisation’s members. Else, one sub-group would take over the discussion and just kick him off, even though the majority perhaps wouldn’t agree and vice versa.

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I think, here we managed to have a civil discussion with slightly diverging views quite well, so far. Encouraging, ain’t it!?

Indeed, I already wanted to thank you for that, actually. It’s nice to see how such matters can also be discussed:

  1. Respect your vis-à-vis.
  2. Attack opinions, not people.

That said, I also want to point out that such topics are one of the reasons I generally refrain from counting myself toward a certain group/party/organisation specifically.

You are sometimes forced to have a opinion about something.
Other times, you are forced to shut up about your own opinion, because it goes too much against what the whole group decided to have as one of their goals or “lead opinions”.

If you are not specifically part of such group, you always have the freedom to say whatever you think, without a group being angry at you for doing that.

In this specific scenario it is the case, that FSF has a lot to do with Free Software (duh), so I cannot totally ignore the topic, but in the end I don’t really care if Richard stays on the board (or gets into it again, whatever) or if he stays out of it.

You can kick anyone off a board, but you can’t kick ideas off anything.

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As we can read in the very recent itsfoss-news article

the debate continues. Regardless of where you stand towards Stallman, it is now obvious that with the withdrawal of many important organizations from it, the FSF is in danger of becoming an irrelevant voice in the public discourse.

The optical comparison in the news article with the Ché (Ernesto Guevara) is rather strange, as Guevara pulled out of the Cuban revolution on time and managed to stay a legend.
I would rather compare his remaining at the FSF’s board to Fidel’s (Castro) attitude.

Just saying…

¡Hasta la victoria siempre!

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To summarize Xah Lee’s statement, as I understand it:

  1. Stallman is out of touch with software development. Rather than a programmer, he’s become part guru, part drama queen.
  2. “Stallman is weak and does not deserve to be our leader.” (Spoken like a true Klingon)
  3. In reality, he has done nothing wrong.
  4. The people who try to remove him, are bad people.
  5. Without him, the FSF is not the same.
  6. The FSF has become irrelevant, anyway, as it has become more of a political organization than a place where new technical developments come from.
  7. Political organizations are useless.

He’s probably right, but I tend to differ slightly on a few points:

  1. “Nothing wrong” is too lenient for my taste. Though, from Stallman’s verbatim statements I read, I find it hard to see him as the incarnation of evil as what some people try to paint him.

  2. Whilst some people on the “let the witch burn” side might be trying to impose their very own set of values upon everyone else, I do reckon that many people just feel that the foundation’s representatives should not be of such problematic and controversial character. I don’t see the evil motives in the latter group (How could I).

  3. I do think that the FSF matters as a political organization and that we need it in order to make FOSS the standard for all public IT. Actually, I see it more as the global version of the Chaos Computer Club than as a place where actual developments happen.

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Fully agree on that.

Fully agree on that, as well. I do understand where this specific way of thought is coming from and I wouldn’t have such a problem with the movement, if it seemed more like what I said a week ago or like the example you just gave. I just don’t want a movement, which claims to be representative for a majority of developers, as I have seen, to be hijacked by “external” people that have nothing in common with software development for solely political reasons. That’s where I cross the line, when a decade old member is supposed to be thrown out.

I’m honestly not that much inside this topic, to clearly say if it is important or not. First of all, it always depends on the perspective, i.e. on who you ask. Secondly, I know too many organisations that claim to be the representative of Group X, another one of Group Y and when you actually survey Group X or Group Y, you find out that they do not see those respective organisations as representative and some of them don’t even know “their” organisations…
Such example is another reason, why I am mostly skeptical about political/religious/ideological organisations. In a way the FSF is pushing a certain “ideology”, too.

To clarify this even more: he said not only that, but also emphasized, that without him the FSF will irreversibly change (in a bad way, as I understood him) and somehow this will affect the whole FOSS world or at least the specific Free Software movement (as I understood him).

So, I don’t know how this claim can go hand in hand with the argument that the FSF has become irrelevant anyway, but I guess one could figure, that the little relevance the organisation still has would either change things in a bad way and/or disappear entirely.

My view on this sentence is that it is one of those simplified statements, that are there to provoke rather than give a very specific and down-to-earth argument. I interpret this sentence as there are people who are hijacking this whole situation for solely political reasons, even though they aren’t even related to software development, as a whole.
Of course, software developers may swim in the same sauce, but I doubt it’s a purely software developer driven movement, that is trying to entirely purge some weird but impactful dude from a board.

The reasons I interpret all this from two simple words like “bad people”, because I have seen many times what he considers “bad people” and explained it in other streams. That’s why I assume that this is the type of people he is talking about.


There is one last statement he made and I think it is important. Xah Lee said, that he’s not only out of touch with reality, but this out of touch-ness leads him to say weird, purely philosophical thoughts in a manner, that does not account for the feelings an addressee could develop for his expressions. Basically, Richard philosophises about highly theoretically thoughts, expresses them as clear as possible and people take it verbatim, as if that were literally what he wants or is recommending, instead of understing it as an abstract thought, that is perhaps theoretical and more about making you think and less about making you do something specific, in the real world.

This is what I have been thinking in the beginning, as I explained earlier. He is so much out of touch, that he says crap, though, it’s only crap if you take it verbatim, without a single grain of salt.
I think one should be allowed to say weird philosophical stuff and people have to learn to understand it this way and not as an actual real-life recommendation.

That said, I still agree with your earlier statement that sometimes it’s not fitting to express such thought in such an easy to misunderstand manner, especially when he could be mistaken as saying that as the leader of an organisation, rather than purely his personal thoughts.
However, this is a two way track, I am fully convinced of that.

He maybe would’ve needed to learn to be more social and be more understanding of how people could perceive his expressions, but at the same time I think people should understand that some women or men are just weird and say weird shit! You can’t take everything someone says verbatim, just to make them seem like “bad people” (har har). Especially, when a bearded hobo-like ultra-nerd FSF board member says weird crap.

Another reason I think he says “weird crap” and not “evil crap” is because I am fully convinced, that if he were in the situations he was talking about, then he would’ve acted in those situations just as well as a morally conscious person would do and not in the way people try to portrait him as. He definitely would’ve been on the “good side” (if there is one, at all), if he actually would be in a situation where he has to decide between egoism, cynicism and altruism, morality.

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