Posted on 2021-03-24
Update: After weeks of radio silence, both FSF and RMS have issued statements. The statements acknowledge that mistakes were made, apologize for certain things, and overall seem sincere. I will take them as such and thank them for their sincerity.
I'm still not going to support the FSF, however. My criticism of their drift in focus from advocating for Free Software (capital F and S) to bullying and belittling un-Free software, and those who make a free choice to use it, stands, and I don't see anything in these statements to indicate that either the FSF or RMS intend to change their approach. Again, I believe the Free Software idea is strong enough to stand alone as the FSF's focus without jeremiads against the un-Free world detracting from it. If anything, I think it's stronger now than it was when I first raised the issue at LibrePlanet, in spite of the FSF's drift in messaging. Should FSF and RMS (who, as I said before, is the FSF, with all apologies to the other board members, staff, and supporters) choose to moderate their approach and return to their original focus on Free Software, I might consider being a supporter again. Since I, the FSF, and RMS would likely all agree that this is unlikely to happen, my non-support stands.
My original post follows.
I think it is possible to acknowledge and admire the good deeds of a leader while acknowledging that they hold/held beliefs and/or do/did actions that make it impossible to be an effective leader.
RMS' idea for GNU was brilliant. The software he produced, and the software that others produced because they were inspired by him, created not just a movement but an entire class of operating systems and applications. His position in computing history should not be in dispute, or subject to erasure due to factors that have nothing to do with computing.
I once was an FSF associate member. In that capacity, I went to one of the Libreplanet conferences. In an open Q&A session, I rose to express concern that the FSF's tendency to refer to unfree hardware by names like "the Kindle Swindle" and "iBad" constituted name-calling and thus bullying, and that (a) the Free Software idea was strong enough to stand alone as FSF's objective without belittling the unfree world, and (b) as a parent I wanted Free Software to be the predominant idea of my kid's generation, and being associated with name-calling and bullying didn't advance that and in fact hurt the FSF's position. tl;dr "We're better than this" (or we should be.)
The FSF staff moderator (I don't recall now who it was) replied that RMS was behind this and the question should really be addressed to him. In a later session, RMS basically dismissed the question, calling these bullying terms "their true names" or something to that effect.
FSF started to lose me at that point. I was extensively bullied as a kid, and I recognize bullying when I see it. To see bullying dismissed as no big deal by the FSF's founder and leader, and his staff decline to go against that position, poisoned the well for me. I let my membership lapse some years ago.
Seeing the current FSF board reseat RMS didn't surprise me. It didn't surprise me because, to paraphrase Louis XIV, "le FSF, c'est lui." There are good people in the FSF, but ultimately, if they're not willing to go against RMS, then RMS is the FSF. That he is returning to the FSF after leaving due to his repugnant opinions reinforces that he always was the heart and soul of the FSF. And now, even though that heart and soul is infected with this controversy, the FSF has apparently realized they can't survive divorced from him. Who can survive without a heart and soul, really?
I didn't sign the "open letter", and won't, because as a lapsed FSF member, non-GPL developer, and all-around nobody in the greater scheme, I don't think I'm in a similar position to the other signatories. I also think this open letter is ultimately doomed to be ignored by the FSF, although I will happily eat these words if they act upon it. But I agree with the gist of it: that RMS' divisive opinions and actions on matters unrelated to the FSF, repeatedly acted out and publicly stated by the man himself, make him unsuitable as a leader of an organization that seeks to unite people behind a cause. He should resign (again), and the FSF should figure out whether it can continue to exist independent of his leadership. I hope that it can - in spite of my disagreements with it and its founder, I feel like it has a useful purpose and, with some new blood and appreciative inquiry, could do great things. But having RMS and his opinions and actions on board is like a pair of cement overshoes at this point. As someone said on the bird site, yes, he accomplished a lot, but think of all the accomplishments we missed by people who were otherwise sympathetic but whom he drove away.
A leader can't drive people away. That defeats the entire purpose of leadership. It's to inspire, not to repel. If you believe that people who were repelled by RMS had and have no place in Free Software, well, that's your opinion and you're entitled to it. But I, clearly, disagree.
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Copyright 2021 Mark Cornick. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Also at gemini://mcornick.com/posts/2021/03/24/fsf-rms-wtf/