Stuart Spence Blog

Computer scientist and educator. Creator of ChessCraft. Senior computer scientist at Environment Canada.

Sat 17 April 2021

Oh, Stallman

Posted by Stuart Spence in Blog   

Richard Stallman may be a legend in the world of software, but he also has decades of history promoting a toxic environment in software communities. Due to this, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has been pressured to kick out Stallman from the board of directors, which they did, though he has recently been re-instated. From what I'm seeing online, most people are getting lost in the weeds debating the merit of Stallman's rhetoric and philosophies. Cancel culture. Age of consent. Sexism. Autism. Instead, here I briefly explore something else: is he promoting the core mandate of the foundation?

to promote computer user freedom

I saw Stallman as the keynote speaker at an event a few years ago. He was rude, intentionally late for his slot displacing others, and gave the worst presentation I've ever seen in my life at any conference. His Q&A was terrible. I later learned this is a pattern.

Forget everything else he has said or done - based on that alone he clearly should not be a top representative of any big organization. I think if you've seen him in person there's a good chance you'd agree.

Now let's look at Stallman's recent statement upon rejoining the FSF. Suppose you're hiring a brand ambassador for a big organization. In the interview they say:

I sometimes made others uncomfortable or even offended them -- especially women. This was not a choice: I didn't understand the problem enough to know which choices there were.

Do they get the job?

The FSF is clearly just a cult of personality at this point. They've been pressured to fire their long time friend and afterwards face irrelevancy. I'm not surprised by the outcome at all.

If you're interested in reading more I recommend: Why (Almost) Everyone Wants Richard Stallman Canceled