tl;dr: I think Stallman got misinterpreted to say the least, had to face unreasonable consequences, and I fear the right to speech is being taken over slowly.
Read on for more.
The key points of outrage/discussion has been:
- Use of word “harem”
- Use of the phrase “entirely willing”
- Questioning age for a person being called an “adult”
- Saying age is a minor detail when defining rape
- Being rude and generally unpleasant towards people
- Having held controversial opinions for a long time
Let us not get into the question of agreement with his statements in the email - you and I may or may not agree with him on all or some of the topics. What I want to focus on, is a person’s right to question and discuss all matters. It is fundamental to a well-functioning democracy to allow people to openly debate and express their opinions in a civil manner.
The initial scene was that media/people “misinterpreted” RMS as a supporter of Epstein; as defending Minsky on the basis of a child’s age. To me, these are terrible misinterpretations, and he did not say any of it.
Afterwards, in free software related groups, people expressed their concerns about RMS being so stubborn, rude and arrogant at times, that it was causing many newcomers, women and long time supporters of organisations such as FSF to stay away from the community. On this, I understand the concern - he comes off rude at times, but I’ve been able to empathise with him.
I think it is necessary to question, as I mentioned before, laws and norms of a society. For example, I do not know (at the time of this writing) why the age of 18 is chosen as the legal age of being classified as an adult in my country! I have some “natural” understanding and obvious questions about it - but I do not know the official reasoning. I would like to pose the question right now - why that specific age?
If a university is going to take actions based on the potential of bad publicity because someone expresses questionable opinions, it is a failure of the system in my eyes. Social pressure is unavoidable - and at times desirable. But the social pressure (which some have categorised in this case as “lynch mob”) must not cause such rash actions. It should be taken as an invitation to debate the said topics, a healthy and logical discussion can help the entire world. The guy has been forced to resign from FSF as well, which shows that an organisation such as FSF is also not able to avoid the consequences of the current social dynamics - people being afraid of the masses, the questions that may come, past decisions they had taken etc.
I hope this has given you a basic and rough idea as to what I think of the situation with RMS. I believe he has been misinterpreted and wronged. He should be put to his presidential position in FSF.
Do not try to comment on individual sentences of this post. In fact, the entire post is a mere flag of my stand on the matter. It is incomplete, probably full of flaws and devoid of rigorous treatment in terms of words.
I would like to briefly mention my concern on a matter on similar lines. At some level, RMS incident showed that people may not be allowed to speak openly. I want to make sure the situation does not arise in my country, as there are things going on which are highly questionable (detention camps in Assam for example). I do not have full trust in the government (nobody should have that, always keep questioning), and if people are not allowed to talk, it will be hell. Let us make sure it does not come to that.