From Riverside Green:
Weekly Roundup: The Passion Of Saint iGNUcius Edition
Posted on September 16, 2019 by Jack Baruth
I was there, outside the Chinese restaurant, when Richard Stallman screamed and began to run from the raindrops.
It was early in 2001 and I was at MIT …
Dealing with GNU/Linux meant dealing with Richard Stallman, the eccentric genius who had guided the creation of pretty much everything but the Linux kernel itself. I say “eccentric”, but what I’m really saying is that Stallman is mentally ill. I don’t know the correct words to describe that illness, but it manifests itself in dozens of different ways, from extreme hydrophobia (fear of water!) to various disturbing habits of phraseology, communication, and physical behavior. Nobody who knows Stallman thinks he is sane. By the same token, nobody would doubt his intelligence. …
Stallman agreed to eat dinner with me on the condition that he be permitted to order my meal and that I eat the whole thing without complaint.
… The meal was an utter nightmare, of course. Everything he picked had the texture, and taste, of Jell-O made from dog vomit. I told myself that if G. Gordon Liddy could burn his own finger down to the tendon that I could finish a five-course “authentic” Chinese meal. Having done so, I managed to extract some absolutely brilliant ideas from him about software design and programming principles. “Come back to my office,” he suggested, and we headed out to walk over towards the MIT Media Lab. About ninety seconds into our walk, it started to rain. Just a light sprinkling, not build-the-ark stuff. Stallman screamed like a teenage girl, pulled his dashiki (yes!) over his head, and ran in waddling fashion towards MIT.
Twenty minutes later, I arrived at the Media Lab to find him huddling on the other side of the door, shaking. “Why did you not run?” he asked, in a whining monotone. “Is it because you are heavy?” (I was 195 pounds at the time; lighter than Stallman, half a foot taller.)
“Yes,” I replied, “my weight prevents rapid locomotion.” Stallman nodded in satisfied fashion. Two hours later, in the middle of demonstrating some bizarre Bulgarian folk dance, he looked over his shoulder at me and said, “I would be happier if you were not in the office.” He did not stop dancing. I took this as my cue to leave.
I mention all of this so you know precisely the sort of person who is in the middle of being crucified for “defending Epstein’s rape island” by his institutional rivals.
… Perhaps it’s because Mr. Epstein had a full list of powerful and notable friends. One of those friends, apparently, was MIT artificial-intelligence savant Marvin Minsky, who is alleged to have had sex with a 17-year-old girl on the island.
When asked to give his thoughts on the matter, Stallman responded like any 110-octane autism-spectrum genius would: by questioning the terminology involved. He suggested that the correct word for Minsky’s alleged statutory rape was not “sexual assault”, noting that
a) Minsky had no way to know the girl was 17, not 18 ;
b) she had been coerced by Epstein out of Minsky’s presence and might well have appeared to be entirely willing.
In true Stallman fashion, this was
a) absolutely correct from a logical perspective;
b) mind-blowingly stupid from a perspective of The Current Year.
It’s no different from the thousands of logical but emotionally uncomfortable things he has said and written over the past forty years. Stallman has no way to understand how people feel about something; he doesn’t feel that way. The community of actual computer scientists and clued-in tech people has long accepted this because — and I cannot emphasize this enough — Richard Stallman is responsible for computing as we know it.
In a world where Richard Stallman did not exist, neither would Apple, or the Android phone, or “cloud computing”, or Amazon.com. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The world without Stallman would be a world where you still used a Windows 95 computer, where you paid real money for every single piece of software on it. Internet Explorer would be the browser. Computing would be limited to the upper-middle-class, the way it was in 1985. No matter how you are reading this website, both you and I are using systems which incorporate GNU software. Even if you’re using Windows, which nowadays runs on a very GNU-like operating system beneath the covers.
The idea of truly free software given to the world for humanitarian purposes would not exist without Stallman. He was the only person who ever had the thought. Which means it is more radical than calculus, heavier-than-air flight, the theory of relativity, or the atomic bomb. It took someone with Stallman’s particular blend of Promethean IQ and mentally handicapped social skills to push it all the way to reality. You live in Richard Stallman’s world, whether you like it or not. He has had more influence on how we communicate in 2019 than any other single human being currently living. Any sane society would consider him a national treasure of greater importance than Fort Knox, to be cherished and protected accordingly.
Naturally, our society has decided to crucify him. A young woman with an axe to grind has instigated a lynch mob through an astoundingly ill-conceived and illogical bit of emotionally dependent rhetoric:
There are so many things wrong with what Richard Stallman said I hardly know where to begin…
She totally can’t even! …
This behavior cannot go unchecked, simply because someone is seen as a “genius”. Remove men like Richard Stallman and, I’m sure, the many others that are now hiding. #MeToo showed us that they are not safe, not as isolated as we thought in their towers of power and prestige. Remove everyone, if we must, and let something much better be built from the ashes.
Built by whom, exactly? …
And here are Richard Stallman’s instructions on how to host him as a speaker, including this:
If you can find a host for me that has a friendly parrot, I will be very very glad. If you can find someone who has a friendly parrot I can visit with, that will be nice too.
DON’T buy a parrot figuring that it will be a fun surprise for me. To acquire a parrot is a major decision: it is likely to outlive you. If you don’t know how to treat the parrot, it could be emotionally scarred and spend many decades feeling frightened and unhappy. If you buy a captured wild parrot, you will promote a cruel and devastating practice, and the parrot will be emotionally scarred before you get it. Meeting that sad animal is not an agreeable surprise.