Richard Stallman, longtime free and open source software (FOSS) advocate, has resigned from the Free Software Foundation and MIT following remarks on Jeffrey Epstein and AI expert Marvin Minsky. Good riddance. At the very least he’s an unpleasant, rigid ideologue with petty hangups, with a side of That Roommate from your early twenties who never grew out of it. Stallman has a history of insensitivity toward social issues, frequently hiding from blowback by diving into semantic games, and there are repeated instances of casual sexism played off as “jokes.”
In the ensuing fallout more information has emerged. This Medium post alleges that he was skeevy as hell even thirty years ago in its second section – a grown man threatening to kill himself if an undergrad won’t go on a date with him is not a person I want leading anything. But even suspending that I’d argue the state of Stallman’s reputation outside a cult of braying weirdos trying too late to circle the wagons around him is not bound to any single factor. His downfall has been in the making for years.
There’s the rider fiasco from 2011, outing him as an exacting prima donna. There’s Stallman on video eating something from the bottom of his foot during a speaking engagement. There’s the pedophilia stance he offered a soggy, belated apology for in the past few days. There’s his brittle intolerance for just about anything that could conceivably rub him the wrong way. And ultimately there’s the impression that he’s been enabled to live in a filthy little bubble for decades, heedless of the effects of his words, his appearance, or his inability to compromise in any way on the community he’s vociferously insisted on representing.
I don’t know what Stallman will do at this point, and don’t particularly care. “Genius” can’t be defended when the bearer of that honor is also responsible for alienating and discouraging countless others. While I hope the FOSS community moves past him, his removal from power is going to create drama… Let’s just hope things continue moving in the right direction going forward.