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Richard Stallman and the Fall of the Clueless Nerd | WIRED

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I ran across this article to Remove Richard Stallman over last weekend. Stallman’s statements in this email are reprehensible. Four days later an Appendix A was added to it. That same day Stallman resigned from MIT and also resigned from the Free Software Foundation. VICE has a writeup on this all, but this piece from Steven Levy, who wrote one of my favorite books, Hackers, that introduces Stallman at the end, frames the whole thing up.

Yesterday RMS resigned from MIT and the Free Software Foundation he founded. For those who have followed his free-software movement, Stallman leaving MIT is like the big dome on Massachusetts Avenue itself getting an eviction notice. But after decades of tone-deaf comportment and complaints now emerging from women about his behavior, Stallman’s time was up.

His time was up. I actually met Stallman once and had lunch with him. My friend and former professor John Riedl was asked to have lunch with Stallman when he was speaking at the University of Minnesota in the early 2000’s. He asked me to join them. The lunch was not great. Stallman isn’t terribly pleasant, and dissected language and questions in a way that was very off-putting. I asked him a lot about the Internet, and after a couple of questions he looked at me and said You know, computers can do things without being on the Internet.”. Okay then.

Back to the point of this article though. This all happened fast, all the better. But hopefully that doesn’t let our industry sweep under the rug some self-examination that should be happening here.

There are tragic threads to this Stallman story. His inability to understand the hurt that comes from insensitivity led to his expulsion from the world he knew and loved. I worry what will happen next for him. But the greater tragedy is how long it took for such behavior to become disqualifying. While Stallman is uniquely Stallman, he was also a representative of a culture that failed to welcome the women who could have led hacking, and computing, to even greater heights. Stallman is now more alone than I found him 35 years ago. But do not call him the last of his kind. More will fall as the reckoning continues.

That is a powerful statement, and one that is worth reflecting on. Think of other thought leaders in technology space that are routinely offensive and insulting.

Posted on September 19, 2019

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