If Harvard Has A Worthy Purpose, It’s Nurturing The Occasional Richard M. Stallman
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Earlier: And Then They Came For Richard Stallman...

A friend who is a little famous is getting ready for his 50th college reunion by going through lists of his old classmates. Harvard is extremely good at picking applicants with potential to burnish the Harvard brand name, and then at encouraging them to help each other out. So I recognize quite a few of the names. But he’s decided that his classmate who accomplished the most in life is a guy he can’t recall ever meeting, Richard M. Stallman. He was probably too busy acing Math 55 homework problem sets. From Wikipedia:

Richard Matthew Stallman (born March 16, 1953), also known by his initials, rms,[1] is an American free software movement activist and programmer. He campaigns for software to be distributed in such a manner that its users have the freedom to use, study, distribute, and modify that software. Software that ensures these freedoms is termed free software. Stallman launched the GNU Project, founded the Free Software Foundation (FSF) in October 1985,[2] developed the GNU Compiler Collection and GNU Emacs, and wrote all versions of the GNU General Public License.

Stallman launched the GNU Project in September 1983 to write a Unix-like computer operating system composed entirely of free software.[3] …

In 1991, Linus Torvalds, a Finnish student, used the GNU’s development tools to produce the free monolithic Linux kernel. The existing programs from the GNU project were readily ported to run on the resultant platform. Most sources use the name Linux to refer to the general-purpose operating system thus formed, while Stallman and the FSF call it GNU/Linux.

In 2019, Stallman got cancelled for nerdishly defending Marvin Minsky in the Jeffrey Epstein scandal. 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. …

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. …

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? …

My friend says that if Harvard has a worthy purpose, it’s to provide an environment in which the occasional Richard M. Stallman can flourish.

[Comment at Unz.com]

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