In which I consider the latest example of Richard Stallman’s utter lack of human empathy.

Dramatis Personæ

Richard M. Stallman (RMS)
founder of the GNU project and the Free Software Foundation, head developer of GNU Emacs, etc., etc., etc.
Stefan Monnier
Professeur adjoint, Université de Montréal, and Emacs developer
Luc Teirlinck
Professor, Auburn University, and Emacs developer
Nick Roberts
Emacs developer

Act I

Luc proposes a small change to Emacs:

I propose to change paragraph-start in Shell mode and Ielm[…]

I can install if desired.

After some discussion, the change is made, but problems with the change are soon discovered. (You can read the whole thread over at gmane if you’re interested in the technical details, which are irrelevant to my purpose here.) RMS sensibly decides that reverting the change is best, and asks Stefan to implement:

This is very disturbing news.

There are only two ways out of this squeeze: to back up to the previous consistent design, or move forward to a new one. One advantages in moving back is that we know where the changes would have to be made. We don’t know all the places that would have to be changed to move forward.

Since the change was not made intentionally, and since there is no great advantage in this alteration in the specifications of paragraph-start, I think it is best if we move back.

Stefan, can you work on that?

Stefan is very understandably busy with his new daughter, and thus can’t help just now:

I just got a baby girl and am kind of swamped.

RMS fails to offer the customary congratulations, or in fact any amount of human understanding:

I am sorry to hear it. Unless someone else can figure these things out, I guess the release has to wait until you have time. [Emphasis mine.]

Now at this point you might assume that RMS is only disappointed that Stefan doesn’t have the time to work on Emacs, and that he’s not disappointed in Stefan’s particular reason. Such an assumption would be mistaken.

Nick very reasonably offers Stefan the opposite sentiment:

Congratulations, Stefan! I suggest that you spend any spare time with your daughter as she will grow up before you know it. Emacs, on the other hand, will still be around after she has left home.

RMS believes he didn’t make himself sufficiently clear before, and expounds upon his earlier callousness:

It doesn’t take special talents to reproduce—even plants can do it. On the other hand, contributing to a program like Emacs takes real skill. That is really something to be proud of.

It helps more people, too.

Finis.

Commentary

I’m not even sure where to start with this one. Yes, I realize that RMS most likely suffers from a fairly extreme form of Asperger’s syndrome, and as such is probably quite unaware of how offensive he is. But seriously people, it’s not hard to treat other people with respect. In fact, it’s pretty easy. And this is by no means an isolated incident; the history of the free software movement is littered with good people parting ways with RMS over behavior like this. I hope that Stefan continues to contribute to Emacs, but I would certainly understand it if he quits.

Addendum 1

After alerting the kind folks in #emacs to this post, bojohan pointed me to this 1993 flame from RMS on the common practice of posting birth announcements to mailing lists (emphasis mine):

Could people please not use this list to announce information of no particular interest to the people on the list? Hundreds of thousands of babies are born every day. While the whole phenomenon is menacing, one of them by itself is not newsworthy. Nor is it a difficult achievement—even some fish can do it. (Now, if you were a seahorse, it would be more interesting, since it would be the male that gave birth.)

[…]

These birth announcements also spread the myth that having a baby is something to be proud of, which fuels natalist pressure, which leads to pollution, extinction of wildlife, poverty, and ultimately mass starvation.

I wonder if RMS is a member of the Church of Euthanasia, who encourage us all to save the planet; kill yourself.

Addendum 2

Here’s an example going all the way back to 1978, replying to the hoopla over the first mass, unsolicted, commercial email, the very first spam (emphasis his):

I didn’t receive the DEC message, but I can’t imagine I would have been bothered if I have. I get tons of uninteresting mail, and system announcements about babies born, etc. At least a demo might have been interesting.

Addendum 3

In August 2007, this post got a flurry of attention on reddit, digg, and on blogs all over.

I’ve written three posts in response to all of the comments and emails I’ve received: one on empathy, one on hypocrisy, and one on overpopulation.

Comments

  1. Kris M

    As a woman, I see nothing wrong with RMS' statements. I couldn't agree more.

    Kris M, 11 August 2007

  2. she

    Emacs is not only an editor.

    Its a religion.

    When do people realize this finally - emacs shalt be thy only kid. :-)

    she, 11 August 2007

  3. um

    Stallman is a nutjob. No surprises here.

    um, 11 August 2007

  4. You'd think RMS would at least appreciate the fact it's an intelligent person breeding and not some random 14-year-old kid on Maury Povoch who "is gonna keep mah baby" or whatever.

    Plus, free software parents might bring up their children on free software, too. Doesn't that also help his crusade? Be fruitful and multiply and all that rot?

    fluffy, 11 August 2007

  5. Jim

    This isn't about a lack of empathy or respect. There's nothing about fathering a child that intrinsically deserves respect. Congratulating a new father is merely customary, a cultural expectation. If overpopulation is something you are concerned with, then why should you be expected to condone this ultimately meaningless congratulation ritual? It's like demanding that an atheist pray, lest he not "respect" the religious people he is surrounded by.

    Quite frankly, I'm far more offended by the fact that you are demonising him for not sharing your values. It's pretty offensive to demand respect for something that a person can legitimately fundamentally disagree with.

    And for what it's worth, I disagree with Stallman on the issue of reproduction. I just think he's entitled to his opinion and shouldn't be forced to pay tribute to something he fundamentally disagrees with.

    Jim, 11 August 2007

  6. will

    I recall reading that RMS had an agonizing childhood/family life, and that this played a large part in his retreating into academia/computers. His parents were not trailer trash. I hope he opens up about it some day. There's a lot of people who can relate.

    will, 11 August 2007

  7. AN

    > Quite frankly, I'm far more offended by the fact that you are demonising him for not sharing your values. It's pretty offensive to demand respect for something that a person can legitimately fundamentally disagree with.

    He demonstrates a lack of respect for other people and their values; why should we show any special respect for his?

    AN, 11 August 2007

  8. Troll

    Ironic hypocrisy there, disrespecting someone for being disrespectful.

    I've spent a lot of time being a callous asshole myself lately... considering "respect" at least retarded, if not actively harmful. I've considered social norms && conventions, political correctness, && everyone's hyper-sensitivity to anything they perceive to be unsavory (e.g., profanity, nudity, violence [either actual or depicted (e.g., video-games, cinema, pulp-novels, etc.)], cruelty, discrimination, prejudice, etc.) as all complicit in the grossest injustices we human beings routinely visit upon each other && our environment. I've thought average United Statesians share enormous blame for the massacres our wealth && soldiers have committed against Muslims && other "aliens" (probably best defined as anyone who doesn't speak our latest United Statesian variant of the English language) while we felt justified in infiltrating && occupying our victims' home-lands indefinitely. So easily distracted by the terrorist threats of our local government agencies && media-outlets. Focused on fitting in with the blind, deaf, && dumb herd, flocking like sheep so easily startled by our own timid fearfulness of diversity, of free thought, of rapid progress, of risk, of death... unable to hear the voices of any good shepherds. We've condoned torture, blithely constructed the prisons we now inhabit, prostrated ourselves to our common dollars && common-senselessness, voraciously devouring celebrity gossip, militantly enforcing the harshest penalties against anyone who doesn't look like we think we look, doesn't talk like we think we're supposed to talk, doesn't act like we expect everyone to act. I have hated this asinine world. I have tried to savagely threaten complacency, self-assuredness, uncritical patriotism, blind faith... even among my friends && family who love me. I have damaged many relationships with my anti-social non-conformist tendencies && outlook. I'm reflecting upon the effectiveness of my approach, the tallied costs && benefits, as well as those likely to accrue if I were to continue along a similar course... && I'm reconsidering whether my crass "Fsck this G-d-forsaken world!"-attitude is serving my goals most effectively. Maybe there is a better way to effect great social change than to be grossly disruptive, provocative, threatening, cavalier, abrasive, arrogant, && charismatic in confronting identifiable ills... but, if so, it's probably a vastly more elusive road to tread, especially when you have a mind to see myriad potential futures flowing out of every unharnessed instant.

    So, in summary, I don't know if any prevalent concept of "respect" (i.e., appreciation of, participation in, or defense of the purported sanctity of simple && mundane practices, beliefs, conventions, or traditions which govern average interpersonal behaviors within the context of a particular cultural world-view) has any real lasting value... but I'm highly skeptical. That said, even if respect is ultimately a poison, it is clearly one of the many ingredients of the cocktail we are presently submerged in... so please forgive me if my ideas have offended you with reckless abandon. I am primarily motivated by my desire to contribute to the collective betterment of everything && I respect ;) diverse thought as invaluable towards those ends. I doubt Mr. Stallman needs (or could care less about) any respect or sympathy from any of us. I consider him a brilliant thinker && doer && I feel privileged when I remember to imagine how much worse our present world would likely be, how much more hostile I imagine it would feel to just live && think as I do, had he been "normal" enough not to contribute so powerfully (&& polarizingly) to all here that has captivated his interest. I don't think this brilliant man deserves the constant ire which has become so popular to heap upon him, but I'm also glad he solicits it && manages it so gracefully because this world is only barely ready to handle the freedoms he continues to bless us with. It's easy to make fun of a principled person, but much harder to fathom their machinations or comprehend their motivations. Scoffing at brilliance betrays your own deficient void. Do what you will. =)

    Pip, 11 August 2007

  9. emacsuser

    I agree 100% with RMS.

    I absolutely loathe it when people email large groups of other people about their newborn. That aside, "I'm swamped" isn't a very helpful response. Specifying when it will be completed or "No. I can't do that" is much more straight forward.

    Pip: use your enter key more.

    emacsuser, 11 August 2007

  10. gnuser

    "Plus, free software parents might bring up their children on free software, too." -Fluffy

    I don't see how this could work except for mentally programming your children. Everyone has free will. As soon as your children get a job or leave home, there is nothing stopping them from using or making proprietary software.

    gnuser, 11 August 2007

  11. If you value quality of human life over quantity of humans, you should be just as rude as rms. It's worth it to get the point across: Human overpopulation is the root cause of every environmental problem in this world (not to mention quite a few wars), and there's an enormously simple, painless and moral way to solve overpopulation: As many people as possible should stop breeding and live until they die of old age.

    Encouraging other people not to breed, and not breeding yourself, is one of the most laudable things that any human could do. We should be celebrating rms for getting more people to pay attention to this fact, especially since he presents the idea in a way that gathers attention.

    You might want to go to http://vhemt.org/ to learn more.

    Ari Rahikkala, 11 August 2007

  12. Gwenhwyfaer

    Score another person who's entirely in sympathy with RMS' comments. Oddly enough I recall Bill Hicks saying much the same thing; was he also "callous" and "utterly lack[ing] human empathy"?

    Meanwhile, I'm also in full agreement that you're a hypocrite - a trait notably absent from Stallman, and a far more lamentable trait than the inability to compromise one's principles in order to make others feel better.

    Gwenhwyfaer, 11 August 2007

  13. Unsigner

    I, for one, am only happy that my children won't share the world with RMS' offspring. With a little bit of luck, emacs might be extinct too in 10-20 years.

    Unsigner, 11 August 2007

  14. DavidM

    It takes no great skill to post ridiculous comments about other people either. If you don't care that he had a daughter then don't post.

    I hate to break it you but having a kid is easy, raising one is not. Furthermore it is a 'higher calling' than working on some text editor and yucking it up with others online.

    Perhaps you don't think having and raising kids is some great task, but maybe thats because you haven't done it yet. Yes, I know until you are holding your own child YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT. If you believe programming is more important than the continuation of humanity, you need to seek some help.

    Its funny how anyone can do it but RMS has yet to. Perhaps he should stick with programming and keep his trap shut about other things.

    DavidM, 11 August 2007

  15. Andrew

    There's a half-acre in the United States for every single person in the world. The US agriculture industry produces enough food to feed the world. So, no, overpopulation is not the cause of human suffering. It is a contributing cause. Misallocation of resources is another contributing cause. So, go ahead, have kids. Let these other idiots die out!

    Andrew, 11 August 2007

  16. Ed Heil

    This is hilarious. Usually when people post things they dislike about rms, I read them, and think, "there's nothing wrong with that. That doesn't make me dislike him at all."

    This time, though, I'm totally in agreement. I really dislike this about him.

    And guess what? I find a gigantic baby-hating geek horde in the comments rabidly agreeing with him.

    So the one time where I'm in agreement with people disliking something about rms, I find that he's virtually in the geek mainstream on this issue (if the comments are any indication).

    Ed Heil, 11 August 2007

  17. Jim

    > He demonstrates a lack of respect for other people and their values; why should we show any special respect for his?

    On the contrary, Stallman does show respect for the person. He admires them for their coding skills (an actual accomplishment), he just finds their child irrelevant.

    But this post dehumanises Stallman, saying that he is lacking in human qualities. There's a world of difference between the two. You are far worse than he is, and hypocritical to boot.

    Jim, 11 August 2007

  18. Anon

    Is this what we pay professors to do now? Hack on a 1970s text editor that no one should be using anymore? Why don't we fund aerospace engineering departments to tweak the Wright brothers' plane.

    Anon, 11 August 2007

  19. josephusm

    Anon: I too think that we should throw out all our crufty old technology dating before the 1980s. Who uses Pythagoras' theorem anymore?

    josephusm, 11 August 2007

  20. AN

    > On the contrary, Stallman does show respect for the person. He admires them for their coding skills (an actual accomplishment),

    That would seem to imply that people are unworthy of respect in the absence of useful skills. Only holding contingent respect for other human beings based on their possession of certain traits or accomplishments is something I would definitely call a lack of respect for other people.

    > he just finds their child irrelevant.

    "Irrelevant" is an awfully kind way of putting it, given that he finds the "phenomenon" of having children "menacing."

    > But this post dehumanises Stallman, saying that he is lacking in human qualities.

    Interesting claim. Is the problem in claiming that certain qualities are "human qualities", or in holding the belief that Stallman has demonstrated the lack of them?

    Oddly enough, your comment seems to imply that the problem is the latter -- there may be "human qualities", but believing that someone lacks them, even given evidentiary support, is a deeply immoral thing to do.

    What a strange claim.

    > You are far worse than he is, and hypocritical to boot.

    Hypocrisy is wildly overrated as a failing. All it takes to avoid hypocrisy is to espouse no values at all. Does that make one a better human being?

    AN, 11 August 2007

  21. Gwenhwyfaer

    > Hypocrisy is wildly overrated as a failing. All it takes to avoid hypocrisy is to espouse no values at all. Does that make one a better human being?

    I think so. But that's just my value system... on the other hand, some guy who once said "let your yes be yes, and your no be no" did seem to feel the same way.

    Gwenhwyfaer, 11 August 2007

  22. Jim

    > > On the contrary, Stallman does show respect for the person. He admires them for their coding skills (an actual accomplishment),

    > That would seem to imply that people are unworthy of respect in the absence of useful skills. Only holding contingent respect for other human beings based on their possession of certain traits or accomplishments is something I would definitely call a lack of respect for other people.

    Don't be ridiculous. Admiring somebody for something might prove that somebody respects that person, but it doesn't imply that they wouldn't respect them otherwise. You need a course in logic. a -> b does not mean that !a -> !b. You are attacking him for something he hasn't said.

    > > But this post dehumanises Stallman, saying that he is lacking in human qualities.

    > Interesting claim. Is the problem in claiming that certain qualities are "human qualities", or in holding the belief that Stallman has demonstrated the lack of them?

    The two together. By stating something is a human quality and them claiming that Stallman utterly lacks it, the implication is that Stallman is inhuman.

    > Oddly enough, your comment seems to imply that the problem is the latter -- there may be "human qualities", but believing that someone lacks them, even given evidentiary support, is a deeply immoral thing to do.

    There is no "evidentiary support" for the claim that Stallman lacks empathy. Believing that having babies is a bad thing and refusing to condone it does not mean that you cannot recognise the emotions of others.

    I'll repeat the analogy I posted above: this is like accusing an atheist of having "an utter lack of human empathy" for refusing to pray in the company of religious people. Those religious people could well be upset by the "lack of respect" shown by the atheist. Can't the atheist legitimately both recognise their feelings and still refuse to condone their values? Then why doesn't the same logic apply to a different belief; that reproducing is a good thing? Why does the event of having a baby deserve instant kowtowing by those who don't believe it's a good thing?

    > Hypocrisy is wildly overrated as a failing. All it takes to avoid hypocrisy is to espouse no values at all. Does that make one a better human being?

    All other thing being equal, yes.

    Jim, 11 August 2007

  23. > This isn't about a lack of empathy or respect. There's nothing about fathering a child that intrinsically deserves respect. Congratulating a new father is merely customary, a cultural expectation. If overpopulation is something you are concerned with, then why should you be expected to condone this ultimately meaningless congratulation ritual? It's like demanding that an atheist pray, lest he not "respect" the religious people he is surrounded by.

    I think that after someone puts their hard work and valuable time into an open source project, it's probably a good idea to share good will with them when something very joyous occurs in their live. The author isn't criticizing Stallman's intellectual argument, just saying that he is severely lacking in empathy. Leaders and prominent figures of any community are a lot better off when they empathize with the members of that community.

    Pat Maddox, 11 August 2007

  24. RMS is a dick, and always has been. A child is a real thing, and a wonderful thing. I love coding, but in the end its bits. It's electrons flowing through a processor. None of its real, and none of it matters. A kid is important and matters far more then emacs ever has and ever will. Strange my fellow geeks are so back asswards on this.

    Brock Weller, 11 August 2007

  25. Pauly

    Complaining about rudeness is the last resort of people who are wrong.

    Anyway, Stallman's first few comments were hilarious. I am also irritated by people saying things about being swamped with a kid, or how drunk they are, or any other thing, especially when people insist that it is a 'higher calling' (religion!) or the greatest thing, and derail off a subject into sentimental platitudes. RMS becomes irrational, though, when he tries to justify his position by talking about humanity and overpopulation. Completely discredits the preceding sarcastic witticisms used appropriately to shake off inane cookie-cutter conversation. GREAT WEATHER GUSY LOL?

    Pauly, 11 August 2007

  26. Chuck

    I'm not a great lover of children and never intend to have any, but anybody who hates the idea of childbirth so much that he would chastise a good man for taking the time to raise his daughter should just go ahead and kill himself. Not because I hate him so much I want to see him dead, but otherwise his anti-population stance is horrendously hypocritical and self-centered.

    Chuck, 11 August 2007

  27. james

    > this is like accusing an atheist of having "an utter lack of human empathy" for refusing to pray in the company of religious people.

    Your analogy is faulty.

    This is like finding out that your Jewish friend can't help you out on Saturday -- and informing him that his behavior is "menacing". I happen to think such a thing is a little silly, but what kind of dick would I be to tell him so?

    Why is it so hard for people here to realize that you can both dislike the idea of having children, and respect other people's feelings about it? Jim, your attempts to defend RMS as if AN were attacking his humanity are ludicrous and (dare I say it?) hypocritical enough in their own right.

    james, 11 August 2007

  28. NM

    Man, that's awful, imagine that spend time and effort for this project and the project manager tells you that, I mean, RMS could have his beliefs and thougths but you cannot talk people like that. People are more important than a piece of software specially if they work for you and with you.

    Maybe you're against breeding because of the overpopulation problem, that's OK, but this person gives you a super important time and effort why should you say something like that, is his daughter for christ sake.

    I don't blame the guy if he wants to quit.

    NM, 11 August 2007

  29. Quoting things out of context is not fair. You have picked this thread with the sole intention of showing RMS in a bad light.(not that I think he cares).

    You are not the intended recipient of that mail. The actual recipient might have had a different reaction than the fit you are having over the matter. Perhaps, he had a chuckle. Perhaps, he sulked for a day. In either case, it is up to him to react to the mail in a way he sees fit.

    You have an axe to grind. Thats all.

    benki subba, 11 August 2007

  30. jj

    Stallman seems to think a "normal" productive human is an assexual geek like him without any family life. Furthermore, he seems to think that expressing hatred towards human babies is something to be taken as "funny."

    Unfortunately, this is far form the truth. The most productive and intelligent human beings I know are individuals who have a full life.

    As Stallman grows older, we come to understand that this is a man with deep-rooted personal problems which took form in his political views about software. His all-restrictive GPL hurts free Unix-like operating systems more than helps.

    He really can stand freedom to work, love and share (I guess this aspect reveals why he thinks something's wrong with the BSD license). He just gets a kick out of being rude and showing contempt for a co-worker's baby girls. And a lot of adolescents (or having the mental age of one) are expressing the same type of comments. This is just as well, because fanboys are really the type of crowd anything to do with the FSF or Linux seems to attract.

    Asshole.

    jj, 11 August 2007

  31. Gwenhwyfaer

    Jesus, you people!

    You know what? If you don't like RMS, [i]don't read his stuff[/i]. Especially not the stuff that's addressed to someone else.

    Did Stefan express any annoyance, or distaste, or anything similar? No, not in that thread. And you know what? [i]Nobody else[/i] has any right to, and those of you who did have no business calling anyone else "rude", "assholes" or "dicks". What you're doing is the equivalent of picking on the weird kid in the playground because you don't like the way he looked at you.

    I swear, it's people like you lot that make me wish for a fucking big rock to hit this planet...

    Gwenhwyfaer, 12 August 2007

  32. Paul Prescod

    I love the claims and counter-claims and counter-counter-claims of hypocrisy.

    Gwenhwyfaer: why does Richard Stallman have the right to be an asshole but Edward O'Conner does not have the right to point it out? If Richard Stallman has an absolute right to define his own value system without criticism then surely O'Connor does as well.

    If there exists any universal value system that would justify any of the screaming one way or the other in this thread, it surely includes the component that a father has a responsibility to his wife and daughter that takes precedence over his volunteer activities. It is not just "weird" but actually immoral for Stallman to try and manipulate someone into an inversion of their responsibilities. It would have been quite different if he had said: "I would really appreciate it if you could find a way to squeeze this in despite your other important responsibilities."

    Paul Prescod, 12 August 2007

  33. AG

    No matter if he's right or wrong. He has the right to be just that (right or wrong...).

    What cought my attention though is he's lack of 'leading' skill. I mean, I guess having a child is one of those things that really changes people and give them an enormeous sense of pride. I believe that if you want somebody to do something for you, telling him that you are sorry that he (read: was stupdid to) made a child - which is probally the most beautiful thing in that persons life - would be a mistake in my oppinion. I really do such behavior can backfire in the longrun.

    AG, 12 August 2007

  34. LKM

    I thought RMS' comments on this were hilarious. Sure, probably somewhat insulting, too, and probably a bad idea coming from a team leader (don't know the people involved, so can't judge how they take it), but I actually had to laugh out loud when I read them. And they're honest. Most people do indeed probably not care if somebody they will never see in real life gets a baby, so why pretend?

    And yeah, congratulating somebody on having a baby is indeed somewhat strange if you think about it. I have nothing against babies. I think they're cute, and I'm happy if intelligent people have them - even happy for them. But it's really not such an incredible achievement. I'll congratulate them once they've raised their children into responsible, intelligent adults.

    Oh, and AN... Yours is the most absurd comment I've read in this whole thread. I shall congratulate you on having achieved an unbelievable level of hypocrisy :-)

    LKM, 12 August 2007

  35. Ryan

    "the latest example of Richard Stallman’s utter lack of human empathy. "

    From my understanding, given the fact that RMS criticizes (or simply doesn't congratulate) human reproduction, you argue that RMS lacks human empathy. I think that his statements imply the opposite-- he is very empathetic. Furthermore, his empathy is the motivation for his statements.

    "These birth announcements also spread the myth that having a baby is something to be proud of, which fuels natalist pressure, which leads to pollution, extinction of wildlife, poverty, and ultimately mass starvation."

    His beliefs are clear from this statement: excessive human reproduction will cause more pollution, wildlife extinction, poverty and starvation. This statement demonstrates an incredible empathy for presently living humans. The most basic instinct of a living thing is to reproduce; yet, he can recognize the consequences of excessive reproduction, overcoming this base instinct. He recognizes, through empathy, the pain that will be inflicted on the presently living humans. If he were not empathetic, why else would a presumably wealthy man care about poverty and starvation?

    Regardless of RMS's empathy, it seems that the author disagrees with RMS's ideas. If you disagree with a person's ideas, criticize the ideas, don't attack the person's mental health.

    Ryan, 12 August 2007

  36. Troll

    Quoth Paul Prescod: > Gwenhwyfaer: why does Richard Stallman have the right to be an asshole but Edward O'Conner does not have the right to point it out?

    (Were you not sure about the spelling...?)

    Stallman has the right to be himself, as does any of us. Asshole? The jury's clearly still out on that one; you wouldn't even get the 10:2 required for a majority verdict.

    And had O'Connor mailed Stallman and said "I think you're an ass", that would have been fine. Had he done so in the discussion, at the time, no problem. In short, had he actually had the courage to tell Stallman that he was an arse, I wouldn't have a problem. (I might disagree, but that isn't the same thing.)

    Indeed, the difference between Stallman and O'Connor is that Stallman doesn't lack that courage - that Stallman will tell a new parent that any fool can spawn - that he won't change his tune merely to save someone's feelings. Stallman acts like someone who has the courage of their convictions; O'Connor acted like the typical high school bully, bitching behind people's backs, whining about what turns out to be one of Stallman's more widely shared beliefs, throwing in casual insults about Aspergers (I guess bashing an individual is no fun if you can't take an entire class of people down with it), and generally being a dishonest, cowardly hypocrite.

    And the rest of you? Après la merde, les mouches.

    Caring about people is not the same thing as caring about people's feelings. The latter is all about what they think of you - a purely selfish endeavour. By all means sugarcoat the truth, be tactful when describing your position - but don't compromise it to save someone's blushes.

    > If Richard Stallman has an absolute right to define his own value system without criticism then surely O'Connor does as well.

    O'Connor wasn't doing that; he was simply criticising someone else's, for no other reason than to enhance his own popularity. That's a particularly distasteful thing for anyone to do.

    Can someone truly assert a value system without demonstrating integrity?

    Quoth AG: > What cought my attention though is he's lack of 'leading' skill.

    I have to agree with you there... and yet it doesn't seem to have stopped him, does it? The thing is that Stallman didn't set out to be a leader; he set out to ensure at least one person was standing up for what he believed in. He stood still, and a crowd gathered around him. Linus Torvalds did much the same thing, and oddly enough, also has a reputation for abrasive bluntness.

    And for someone who actively sought a leadership position? Look no further than Eric Raymond...

    Gwenhwyfaer, 12 August 2007

  37. Virna Jones

    Why are we debating all of this? Maybe because we can't agree on the subject of having babies being a real threat to the environment and qualitiy of life of the human species?

    If Stallman were a smart guy at least when emotional intelligence is concerned he'd knew most people in the world have not made their minds on the subject of new births being a real threat to humanity and he should still make his point backing it with scientifical data but being way way more polite than he is.

    Let's say it's a myth and having babies is perfectly OK from an environmental point of view. Then, RMS would be, first of all, an ignorant person felling he has the right to be unpolite based on a false belief.

    We have plenty of evidence to think he's smart but it looks like intelligence is very fractional so you can be really smart in some areas and a complete asshole in others so we can't generalize here.

    Now let's say the current trend in human births is leading to an unsustainable situation for the environemnt and seriously threatening our quality of life. Let's even explore the posibility that after a serious ethical analysis one person's best choice to counterattack this problem is to put down your own aspirations of having babies and that in fact if people in the world massively adopt this practice most human demographics problems would have been importantly reduced in, say, 50 years.

    In this other scenario maybe RMS would still be seen as an unpolite person and to most people's standards he would certainly be unpolite but the facts would be absolute on his side and the whole story would make much more sense since the ignorant natalist would be all of us, the people not raising the issue for discussion and betting life as we know it by living an irresponsible present.

    Now let's say the whole thing is unclear. Most of us just say "who knows!" and try to continue with our life and forget the concern in a few days, maybe minutes. Maybe most of us should show real concern and try to look for scientifical answers, at least raising the issue for discussion in order to learn more from the point of view and research made by other people. But I best we don't, at least most of us.

    To me, it looks like RMS is in strong belief that this issue is a major major problem. Is he right? Have no idea. But I had replied asking him for links and information on research backing his beliefs.

    I've heard from personal friends in free software who have meet RMS in several occassions he can be sooo little respectful of the social standars of others to the point of farting noticeably during formal dinners with university representatives and stuff like that. But let's say this are just urban legends.

    We as an species and even at the individual level do not behave based on purely logical reasoning. I can recall a TV show we're a couple of psychiatrics easily admitted we as a species were doomed and it was a pitty since we at some point showed some promise due the intelligence and the ability to love. The whole issue is a bit disturbing.

    Can WE be more responsible about this and post RIGHT HERE some links that could clarify the issue from a scientifical point of view? At least as to spot the trend as an agreement, disagreement or doubt.

    That would be a smarter behavior from our part than just bashing one another based on no facts.

    Ok, maybe there's not a thing such a pure universal fact, but i'm talking currently scientifically accepted facts here and that could be enough.

    Virna.

    Virna Jones, 12 August 2007

  38. Fast Eddie

    Geeks are the ultimate narcissists. As if they deny where they came from, and where those that replace us might emerge.

    We aren't the ultimate in human DNA expression. Just a link in a long webbed chain.

    Having and raising children is the most important thing any human can do. Otherwise all of this is just a selfish waste of the brief time we have before we die.

    Besides all that, I don't see the contributions as amounting to very much. Mostly selfish, self centered musings of the socially inept.

    Fast Eddie, 12 August 2007

  39. JJ

    For one, Stallman sucks as a team leader (is he one, by the way?) if that's how he traeats other contributors. I guess that sort of explains why this guy barely codes anymore and his life is all about politics nowadays (politics, huh? How typical of assholes). It probably explains how he never was able to come up with a kernel for the Linux operating system. Who wants to work with a schmuck like that? It's not like he is an uber-genius. If he was, he would have fixed that stinking lisp Emacs has with dynamic scoping and its funarg problems. Lazyness got us here with that stupid badly-designed Emacs.

    And another thing: you do need skills to procreate. First, you have to convince a female that you are not an utter asshole. I don't think Stallman scores big on this one. Then, you got to have a minimal sort of physical condition say, an erection. Even if you are thinking of test tubes (which he probably is).

    Stallman gets a kick out of being rude and conveying that image of "rationality." Get outta here. Act your own fucking age. Show some politeness. If you haven't got it in you, then fake it. Study the issue if you've really got Asperger's Syndrome (I doubt that...I think he's just emotionally stunted, maybe). Learn: when you go to your job, you say "good morning." When humans have babies, you congratulate them. In fact, if it's someone you respect and like, it'll come naturally but he can learn to play by the rules of politeness in Western countries, can't he? This guy is too smart not to know this and since he displays a lot of concern about diverse issues and abstract political issues such as "Freedom", I am not quite sure he qualifies as having Asperger Syndrome. That is why I think he is an immature asshole.

    I guess this makes for Yet Another Reason I should just fucking forget Emacs and just gradually move everything we were doing with it to Eclipse. Not to generalize, but these FSF/Linux folks are all about making a fuss about everything! To me, that is an important reason as to why I prefer an environment where people work (FreeBSD, NetBSD) instead of this atmosphere...

    JJ, 13 August 2007

  40. Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts & comments. Instead of replying individually, I lumped feedback into three categories and have replied: on empathy, on hypocrisy, and on overpopulation.

    Also, I’ve closed comments on this post — if you’d like to discuss empathy, hypocrisy, or overpopulation, please do so on those specific posts. Otherwise, you can always drop me an email, or comment over on reddit or digg.

    Edward O’Connor, 16 August 2007