back to article Debian devs decide best response to Richard Stallman controversy is … nothing

The Debian developer community has decided to say nothing about the new controversy surrounding Richard Stallman reelection to the board at the Free Software Foundation. The decision to say nothing came after a call for the project to support an open letter that called for Stallman’s removal from all leadership positions in …

  1. boblongii

    Not very accurate

    "Stallman resigned from the Foundation in 2019 after he questioned whether the term “sexual assault” was applicable in the case of a woman who, aged 17, was coerced to have sex with AI pioneer Marvin Minksy."

    The actual quote is:

    "You will see in this article that Giuffre was directed by Jeffrey Epstein to have sex with Minsky. Is this equivalent to Minsky assaulting Giuffre? Think about this yourselves. If A tells B to have sex with C, C assaulted B? "

    Bear in mind that the woman in question says that Minsky did not in fact have sex with her. So Minsky is being accused of sexual assault because someone was asked to offer him some sort of sexual encounter which he turned down. This mutates somehow into Stallman questioning whether non-consensual sex is sexual assault.

    At this point the attackers generally fall back on the "yes, but he's a weirdo" angle.

    The fact that it later transpired that the woman was older than 17 just indicates how little basis in real life this whole affair has.

    Likewise, Stallmans complaint that "[the] plea deal for Jeffrey Epstein was not only extremely lenient, it was so lenient that it was illegal" doesn't get a lot of airtime.

    The Debian devs decision not to support RMS against this is a very weak one but not surprising given how much grief one can get for putting ones head above the parapet on this.

    1. pmb00cs

      Re: Not very accurate

      But Stallman didn't defend Minsky by pointing out Minsky did not in fact have sex with Giuffre. Which would, under the circumstances, have been the best defence. He defended Minsky by saying Minsky would have done nothing wrong if he had had sex with Giuffre. An opinion that based on their age difference at the time would be questionable, and under the circumstances (Giuffe was being coerced, even though not by Minsky) is even more questionable.

      This "Defence" of Minsky drew attention to a number of other questionable opinions that Stallman published on his personal website.

      That attention resulted in a number of women coming forward to make accusations against Stallman of inappropriate behaviour over most of his career.

      The characterisation of this as "Stallman defended an innocent man, and is being hounded because of it" is a massive injustice to those people who he has behaved inappropriately toward, and misses a number of opinions Stallman has aired that are at best deeply questionable, some of which he has since renounced, but not all.

      1. boblongii

        Re: Not very accurate

        "He defended Minsky by saying Minsky would have done nothing wrong if he had had sex with Giuffre."

        No. He said that what ACTUALLY happened was not sexual assault. He then said that Minsky probably had no reason to think that trafficking was going on as the woman would have been told not to tell people.

        Then we have a discussion about whether "sex offender" or "paedophile" are good labels for Epstien. RMS says that "serial rapist" is a better description of what he was for various reasons.

        "An opinion that based on their age difference at the time would be questionable"

        I look forward to reading your definition of decency which clears up when people can and can not hook up without needing your special permission.

        https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-derbyshire-56525456

        I assume that Gee Atkin (26) and her husband Alan (69) will be asked to give some sort of explanation of their marriage to your Council on Morality at some point in the near future.

        "That attention resulted in a number of women coming forward to make accusations against Stallman of inappropriate behaviour over most of his career."

        At least one of these was that he had asked her out and when she said "no" he dropped the issue. One of the lynch mob posted to the gcc mailing list that this was "utterly unacceptable" behaviour.

        I've yet to see any substantial accusation from a woman about Stallman that doesn't amount to "he had the temerity to ask me out even though he has a beard", despite a great deal of effort going into whipping this storm up as far as humanly possible.

        1. pmb00cs

          Re: Not very accurate

          "I look forward to reading your definition of decency which clears up when people can and can not hook up without needing your special permission."

          They don't need my permission. That's why I characterised it as "questionable" instead of "wrong". However the society in which I have been brought up does look unfavourably upon extreme age difference between sexual partners. Denying that this is the case doesn't change the way society views these things, and attempting to attack me for a minor part of my larger point doesn't change my larger point. Stallman isn't being victimised for defending an innocent man, he is being attacked for airing several questionable opinions and for displaying a pattern of behaviour that many deem to be unacceptable.

          "I've yet to see any substantial accusation from a woman about Stallman that doesn't amount to "he had the temerity to ask me out even though he has a beard", despite a great deal of effort going into whipping this storm up as far as humanly possible."

          And that would go some way to explaining why you feel that Stallman is being unfairly victimised. I however have seen accusations that I feel, if true, would justify the removal of Stallman from public positions of influence.

          Is Stallman suffering from an unjustified witch hunt? Possibly, I'm not personally in possession of all the evidence.

          Has Stallman publicly expressed opinions I personally find abhorrent and unforgivable? Yes. Absolutely. To his credit he has renounced some of the worst of those opinions, but not all of them.

          Are the attacks on Stallman's character all based on his defence of Minsky? No, and trying to defend him by acting as if they are is disingenuous.

          1. Adair Silver badge

            Re: Not very accurate

            Which kind of leaves us with: 'Has Stallman been charged with any crime?"

            The answer, I think is: No.

            Which leaves us with a bunch of accusations from others, along with statements by Stallman (in and out of context) that many/some/a few people find reprehensible/worrying/inconvenient/disturbing/mildly distracting.

            In other words, people are free to make up their own minds, for better and for worse based on whatever they believe to be the truth, and to act accordingly. If the FSF makes a decision to re-instate Stallman, it would seem they are perfectly entitled to do so.

            Is Stallman a 'nice' person? I have no idea. In truth very few of us are all that nice, and plenty of us have plenty of reasons to be ashamed of ourselves over things said and done; and yet we still have to earn a living, look after others and try and find our way in the world in spite of our failings - hopefully a way for the better.

            That's it really - another outrage de jour will be along directly if we do not find this one adequately diverting.

            1. Alan Bourke

              Re: Not very accurate

              We all may or may not be 'nice' but not many of us are nonce apologists.

              1. martyn.hare
                Joke

                I agree

                Cryptographers are a very rare breed indeed

              2. jake Silver badge

                Re: Not very accurate

                Well, seeing as each and every one of us is a nonce, strictly speaking[0], I rather think there are quite a few more nonce apologists than you think there are. You may even be one yourself. In fact, I'd lay odds on it.

                [0] Clones haven't become an issue yet, and they probably never will be in this context.

          2. A.P. Veening Silver badge

            Re: Not very accurate

            I however have seen accusations that I feel, if true, would justify the removal of Stallman from public positions of influence.

            First make very sure those accusations are true before you condemn somebody.

            However the society in which I have been brought up does look unfavourably upon extreme age difference between sexual partners. Denying that this is the case doesn't change the way society views these things, and attempting to attack me for a minor part of my larger point doesn't change my larger point.

            I'd say that society is extremely narrow minded and should change its views. My position (and the position of the society in which I have been brought up) is very easy:

            "What two or more consenting adults do together without harming others is completely up to them."

            (submitted at 12:55:30 UTC - sometimes very long in the moderation queue lately)

      2. S4qFBxkFFg

        Re: Not very accurate

        "That attention resulted in a number of women coming forward to make accusations against Stallman of inappropriate behaviour over most of his career."

        This is the important bit.

        These accusations (the details of which I don't know) should be addressed by the relevant organisation: police, prosecutors, or Stallman's employer(s) at the time the alleged behaviour happened. Anything else risks turning into a witch hunt, or the appearance of one.

        If the above organisations don't consider there is a basis for an investigation, or one is carried out and doesn't find anything significant, or the process exonerates Stallman, that should be an end to the matter.

      3. jake Silver badge

        Re: Not very accurate

        "That attention resulted in a number of women coming forward to make accusations"

        I've seen lots (hundreds?) of accusations flying, and not just in this case. I have seen almost zero proof ... and yet I've seen a LOT of careers ruined, despite that lack of proof.

        Get back to me when we have proof. And convictions. Until then, it's all hearsay and/or malicious gossip ... and you lot jumping into the witch hunt with torches held high should be ashamed of yourselves for fanning the flames under what may very well be innocent lives.

        If there is proof, convict 'em and hang 'em high.

        Until that proof exists, shut the fuck up already. You're not helping anything.

    2. alain williams Silver badge

      Re: Not very accurate

      We are in an era where some memes receive a lot of vocal support and it can become damaging to speak out against them. If questioned: not supporting the meme can be held against you - this is why the likes of RedHat pulled away from the FSF.

      You see related actions all over: no platforming of speakers, prominent groups (not just political ones) claiming that they are more disadvantaged than others (things are not 0% or 100%), blaming others for events that happened centuries ago, denigration of those who bear resemblance to those who are seen as oppressors,...

      The evidence supporting the memes does not need to be good, indeed there can be large cracks or evidence against it - this does not matter, they will be ignored as long as the meme aligns with other popular memes.

      This is not to say that some things do not need to change, but there is often an all or nothing attitude that is very harmful: you are either for us or against us. More nuance is needed; more listening less shouting.

      Note: I said some memes, not all. I have avoided mentioning which memes as unthinking supporters of some of the more egregious memes would just down-vote my comment.

      There used to be a time when contentious issues could be discussed, but now ...

      1. Shirosaru

        Re: Not very accurate

        So we're back to witch trials - if she floats, she's guilty; if she drowns, she's innocent.

        Got it.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not very accurate

      Just underscores that this whole "controversy" is an example of lynching by slacktivism.

    4. tekHedd

      Re: Not very accurate

      "incredibly insensitive remarks" I think we know where El Reg stands on the issue. Or maybe they're (sensibly) afraid of being denounced for not being _strongly enough_ opposed to Stallman?

    5. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      I think the summary's fine

      I think the article succinctly summed up the situation OK. Stallman questioned whether the word "assault" was the right one to use while defending his pal.

      If you think you've spotted something wrong, please email corrections@ and we'll take a look, ta.

      C.

      1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        Re: I think the summary's fine

        This response looks dangerously like you're shirking as a journalist.

        RMS has been considered a horse's *** by many of us for decades for reasons that have nothing to do with sexual harassment. This makes him a ready target for trial by media, as it used to be called. It is this very fact that makes it extremely important for journalists to be circumspect when reporting on him.

        So, it's finally come: a situation has arisen such that there is a coordinated effort to take him down. Reporting on that situation is pretty much the duty of El Reg. A man's career is on the line, however. Responsible behavior is to treat this matter differently than some company's claimed about how important security is to them.

        So get the facts. Keep them handy. And don't claim it's your reader's job to do it for you.

    6. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

      Re: Not very accurate

      Why people don’t like understand that punishing people for expressing their views, even when you find those views objectionable, is what fascists do?

  2. gobaskof Silver badge

    They very nearly went for Option 2 "Call for Stallman's resignation from all FSF bodies". Option 2 only lost in its head to head comparison with Option 7, and only by 8 votes. Condorcet voting is very fair, but an arse to unravel the data into a sensible, understandable, and transparent form.

    1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

      Although, unusually for Condorcet voting, Option 7 did actually fully meet Condorcet's criterion (which is "beats all the other options when considered pairwise"). Usually Condorcet is complicated by A-beats-B, B-beats-C, C-beats-A issues - the complexity normally lies in how you then breaks those ties.

      I am not a DD but I did follow the vote and would have voted for Option 7 if I had had a vote. I prefer Debian, as an organization, to concentrate on its free software mission and avoid entering other issues.

      1. gobaskof Silver badge

        Interesting you say it is unusual for Condorcet to have an outright winner. I am in a community that is going through a lot of discussion about voting as it formalises. Everything I have read claims that there normally is a Condorcet winner, and that tie breaking is complex but rarely needed. I have no idea how true that is. I suppose perhaps what I am reading is written by people who expect 200k people are voting not 200?

  3. Tom 38 Silver badge

    Not a comment on the specifics of this case, which I don't know well enough - the commenter above says that she was actually older than 17 - just on the reporting here:

    whether the term “sexual assault” was applicable in the case of a woman who, aged 17, was coerced to have sex

    The correct term here would be "child", not "woman".

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Child not, underage, yes. And coercing is always a crime.

      But it looks there are people ready to sell everything, in exchange for some software without paying it. It's a deep selfishness - and Stallman impersonate it very well.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      In the context, that's very dependent on the country, or even state.

      For example, where I am right now, 17 is an "adult" in the context of consent to sex (with some obvious and otherwise exceptions).

      It is perhaps odd that people of a particular age can be regarded as mature enough to have sex, or pilot an aircraft, or take part in various other potentially consequential activities, and simultaneously too immature to buy a beer, or a lottery ticket, but that would be a much larger topic.

      1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. heyrick Silver badge

      "The correct term here would be "child", not "woman"."

      The correct term here would be "woman", not "child"...

      1. jake Silver badge

        Throughout all of history, until very recently, and only in some states at that, the correct term in this case would be woman, not child.

        The law is an ass.

  4. Muppet Boss Bronze badge
    Thumb Up

    A very wise decision indeed, to stay away from the politics.

  5. Khaptain Silver badge

    Everyone expected to have an opinion

    I congratulate Debian for not becoming involved.

    Some opinions are personal and don't need to be shared with all and sundry, if everyone afforded this same respect to others the world might be a little bit better?

    We really don't need to share every personal thought with everyone on the planet all of the time.. Only those that benefit from the social media platforms want you to behave in this manner..

    1. oiseau Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Everyone expected to have an opinion

      Only those that benefit from the social media platforms want you to behave in this manner.

      Ahh ...

      Finally.

      Someone saw through it all.

      Memes, indeed 8^/

      O.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Everyone expected to have an opinion

      "We really don't need to share every personal thought with everyone on the planet all of the time.. Only those that benefit from the social media platforms want you to behave in this manner."

      So true. If RMS were not a huge fan on distributing his personal thoughts to everyone, there would really be nothing to speak of.

  6. mihares

    A bit of wisdom

    Debian developers decided to use their time to develop software instead of using it to develop controversies.

    Ah, had they been so wise while considering systemd...

  7. ForthIsNotDead
    Thumb Up

    Good.

    I'm really not interested on what Debian's 'official opinion' is on this matter. I'm interested in the software that they produce. They made the right decision. No need to jump on the bandwagon. There's enough folks on it already.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Insensitive remarks ?

    Is this all that it takes to take down a person ? At least the Soviets had the decency to arrange for trials where the vilain could be unmasked in front of the people.

  9. This post has been deleted by its author

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Debian will not issue a public statement on this issue

    "Debian will not issue a public statement on this issue". This statement reminds me of the student uni at Salford way back when I attended many decades ago. The SU was very opinionated, in fact it had a handbook listing all the policies the SU had on matters from the purchase of McDonalds down the road, political affiliation, anal sex, the laws the SU supported, the ones they didn't, boycotting Nescafe coffee, in fact pretty much every subject under the sun had a very strong statement about it, over many many pages, until you got to the very last one on the last page "Abortion - It is the policy of the student union not to have a policy regarding abortion".

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Norablahblah - he doesn't seem to get the idea..

    ...he seems to side... Not much from the horse's mouth, is it ?

    So, this is about thought police. About not sharing your ideas and not toeing the line. Rest assured you're safe here at El Reg, we're not going to chastise you.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: @Norablahblah - he doesn't seem to get the idea..

        Have you stopped beating your wife, AC?

        It's a simple, straightforward question.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: @Norablahblah - he doesn't seem to get the idea..

          Interesting. Rather than answer my simple, straightforward question, the AC deleted it's post.

          Hint: One correct answer (hopefully) is "I never even started beating my wife!". This points out the idiocy of the question, and perhaps points out the inadequacy of the questioner's logical process ... unless the questioner was using it as an example to point out the illogic of the questioned.

          Another correct answer is "Mu". I prefer this one, but most folks don't understand it.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021