I was there, outside the Chinese restaurant, when Richard Stallman screamed and began to run from the raindrops.
It was early in 2001 and I was at MIT to meet and work with the nice people from Spindletop, a nascent computer hardware designer/reseller with a tiny office in the basement of a Cambridge strip-mall building, right beneath a fitness center. (Seems like a curious detail to include, doesn’t it? Will it be relevant later?) I was running a webhosting co-op at the time. The idea was that Spindletop would provide the hardware while I would provide what we now call “cloud space” for their various websites and downloads. The software that ran the computers would be Debian GNU/Linux, an operating system based on the idea of near-absolute freedom.
Dealing with GNU/Linux meant dealing with Richard Stallman, the eccentric genius who had guided the creation of pretty much everything but the Linux kernel itself. I say “eccentric”, but what I’m really saying is that Stallman is mentally ill. I don’t know the correct words to describe that illness, but it manifests itself in dozens of different ways, from extreme hydrophobia (fear of water!) to various disturbing habits of phraseology, communication, and physical behavior. Nobody who knows Stallman thinks he is sane. By the same token, nobody would doubt his intelligence. He’s the only person I have ever met in person who struck me as being measurably smarter than I am, which sounds horrifyingly egotistical but is probably more a reflection of my choice in fellow-travelers.
Stallman agreed to eat dinner with me on the condition that he be permitted to order my meal and that I eat the whole thing without complaint. I wouldn’t have dinner with a resurrected John Coltrane under those conditions but there were plenty of great jazz musicians and there is only one Richard Stallman. The meal was an utter nightmare, of course. Everything he picked had the texture, and taste, of Jell-O made from dog vomit. I told myself that if G. Gordon Liddy could burn his own finger down to the tendon that I could finish a five-course “authentic” Chinese meal. Having done so, I managed to extract some absolutely brilliant ideas from him about software design and programming principles. “Come back to my office,” he suggested, and we headed out to walk over towards the MIT Media Lab. About ninety seconds into our walk, it started to rain. Just a light sprinkling, not build-the-ark stuff. Stallman screamed like a teenage girl, pulled his dashiki (yes!) over his head, and ran in waddling fashion towards MIT.
Twenty minutes later, I arrived at the Media Lab to find him huddling on the other side of the door, shaking. “Why did you not run?” he asked, in a whining monotone. “Is it because you are heavy?” (I was 195 pounds at the time; lighter than Stallman, half a foot taller.)
“Yes,” I replied, “my weight prevents rapid locomotion.” Stallman nodded in satisfied fashion. Two hours later, in the middle of demonstrating some bizarre Bulgarian folk dance, he looked over his shoulder at me and said, “I would be happier if you were not in the office.” He did not stop dancing. I took this as my cue to leave.
I mention all of this so you know precisely the sort of person who is in the middle of being crucified for “defending Epstein’s rape island” by his institutional rivals.
“Wait,” some of you are saying, “that’s right! Jeffrey Epstein had a rape island! I’d forgotten all about it, what with Epstein’s convenient suicide and some remarkably media-friendly mass shootings occurring right as justice was about to be quote-unquote handed out!” Funny how that works. Perhaps it’s because Mr. Epstein had a full list of powerful and notable friends. One of those friends, apparently, was MIT artifical-intelligence savant Marvin Minsky, who is alleged to have had sex with a 17-year-old girl on the island.
When asked to give his thoughts on the matter, Stallman responded like any 110-octane autism-spectrum genius would: by questioning the terminology involved. He suggested that the correct word for Minsky’s alleged statutory rape was not “sexual assault”, noting that
a) Minsky had no way to know the girl was 17, not 18 ;
b) she had been coerced by Epstein out of Minsky’s presence and might well have appeared to be entirely willing.
In true Stallman fashion, this was
a) absolutely correct from a logical perspective;
b) mind-blowingly stupid from a perspective of The Current Year.
It’s no different from the thousands of logical but emotionally uncomfortable things he has said and written over the past forty years. Stallman has no way to understand how people feel about something; he doesn’t feel that way. The community of actual computer scientists and clued-in tech people has long accepted this because — and I cannot emphasize this enough — Richard Stallman is responsible for computing as we know it.
In a world where Richard Stallman did not exist, neither would Apple, or the Android phone, or “cloud computing”, or Amazon.com. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The world without Stallman would be a world where you still used a Windows 95 computer, where you paid real money for every single piece of software on it. Internet Explorer would be the browser. Computing would be limited to the upper-middle-class, the way it was in 1985. No matter how you are reading this website, both you and I are using systems which incorporate GNU software. Even if you’re using Windows, which nowadays runs on a very GNU-like operating system beneath the covers.
The idea of truly free software given to the world for humanitarian purposes would not exist without Stallman. He was the only person who ever had the thought. Which means it is more radical than calculus, heavier-than-air flight, the theory of relativity, or the atomic bomb. It took someone with Stallman’s particular blend of Promethean IQ and mentally handicapped social skills to push it all the way to reality. You live in Richard Stallman’s world, whether you like it or not. He has had more influence on how we communicate in 2019 than any other single human being currently living. Any sane society would consider him a national treasure of greater importance than Fort Knox, to be cherished and protected accordingly.
Naturally, our society has decided to crucify him. A young woman with an axe to grind has instigated a lynch mob through an astoundingly ill-conceived and illogical bit of emotionally dependent rhetoric:
There are so many things wrong with what Richard Stallman said I hardly know where to begin…
She totally can’t even!
There is nothing I have seen a man in tech do that a woman could not. What’s more, the woman would probably be less egotistical and more team-oriented about it.
This is how you know the author is a mental child. Any of us “could do” many things. I could have written any song, novel, or movie screenplay that has appeared between 1982 and now. Except I didn’t. The Egyptians could have invented the airplane and the laser and the K-cup coffee maker, but they didn’t. Only children deal in potential. Adults deal in reality.
Also, I hate to tell her this, and its embarrassing that I should be the one to lecture an MIT graduate on this, but teams are for normies, for neurotypicals, for trash people who can’t retain multiple levels of variable dereferencing in their heads while coding. Teams do not accomplish, and have never accomplished, anything of genuine intellectual value. The history of scientific progress is a history of individuals. Yes, you need a “team” to actually assemble the atomic bomb or the Intel Itanium or a commercial software product. You don’t need a team to conceive it and do the mental heavy lifting. The effective IQ of a team is the same as the lowest IQ in the team; the productivity of the team is a minor percentage of the productivity you could get from its smartest member working alone. Every once in a while you will see one brilliant person be inspired by another brilliant person in the near vicinity. This happens once for every hundred million times a “team” crushes the abilities of its members. Science, even computer science, is not football. Anyway. Back to this person…
This behavior cannot go unchecked, simply because someone is seen as a “genius”. Remove men like Richard Stallman and, I’m sure, the many others that are now hiding. #MeToo showed us that they are not safe, not as isolated as we thought in their towers of power and prestige. Remove everyone, if we must, and let something much better be built from the ashes.
Built by whom, exactly? Haven’t we seen this movie already? Didn’t this mad dash to “remove” everyone already occur in Cambodia, in Zimbabwe, in Venezuela? How are all of those countries doing? Here’s the resume of the woman calling to “remove” Richard Stallman. She is entirely and completely unaccomplished. She’s never done a thing by herself. Every “accomplishment” she cites boils down to her “involvement” with other people who did something. It’s all about the “teams” she joined. She’s probably 25 years old and she has yet to design, develop, or deliver a single thing of consequence on her own.
At her age, Stallman had already written the EMACS text editor from scratch and designed much of the GNU operating system. Can you see the difference in value here? You could reverse the genders, if you like; Grace Hopper did a lot more for computing than the rando who showed up late for all the morning scrums at Uber’s iPhone software division. This is tantamount to me calling for Paul McCartney to be “removed” from music because I was in a band once and I don’t like the Beatles.
Ms. Selam Jie Gano, the author in question, is part of the most pernicious, and reprehensible, movement in technology, namely: the cabal of people who want to reduce the American (and Western) programming and technological development base of expertise to a kindergarten political commissariat which investigates its own belly button for thoughtcrime while rent-seeking the American economy to its knees and producing absolutely nothing of value in return. This cabal is actively aided and abetted by the one-percent Silicon Valley Illuminati who are murderously intent on pulling up the ladder behind them so that the existing tech (and financial) structure in NorCal is etched forever in stone. Both of these groups have identified native-born American coders and tech experts as the only thing keeping them from turning tech into a plantation system where the San Jose crowd pursues ever-more-specific meanings of “diversity”, “race”, and “problematic” while the actual work of coding, designing, developing, and manufacturing is done overseas by lowest-bidder sweatshops where the concerns of the commissars are taken with precisely the seriousness they deserve — which is to say none.
These people secretly believe that all the major necessary technological innovation has already been achieved, which is why they are so intent on crippling any further possible achievement with insane systems like Agile and pair-programming and Russian-doll containerization. Their current fetishes, NoSQL databases and headless content, are directly reflective of their moral, spiritual, and intellectual poverty. They yearn for cash-cow garbage projects like the Obamacare website, which cost two billion dollars but which likely contained more of Richard Stallman’s code than the government’s.
Haven’t you noticed how much worse computing has gotten in the past ten years? How much slower your phone is to do something than the desktop computer of 2002, which had a fraction of your phone’s power? How every bit of software in your possession requires near-constant updating to eliminate previous bugs and introduce new ones? This are the bitter fruits of modern tech-industry stupidity. Nota bene that China has very little difficulty of this nature; their WeChat software combines the functions of Facebook, Paypal, iMessage, and a half-dozen other apps in one lightweight, fast-running platform that works effortlessly on a twenty-dollar phone. That’s the kind of efficiency, and progress, we sacrificed when we decided that Selam Jie Gano’s vision of the future is more valuable than Richard Stallman’s. The eventual reckoning implied in that comparison will not be long in coming. Oh, wait: it’s already here. While we were busy making sure that every programming team at Google looked exactly like a Benetton ad, the Chinese were putting microchips between the layers of motherboards to give the CCCP ultimate control of the world’s networks.
Perhaps the final indignity here is that Stallman should be protected by the very guidelines of Diversity And Inclusion which are being used to crucify him. Were Stallman in a wheelchair, MIT would make sure he had a near-effortless path to work. Were he blind, he would have the appropriate hardware and software to enable his genius to proceed uninterrupted. But because he is mentally challenged in social interactions — an area where the Illuminati respect, and permit, nothing besides complete and total compliance — he is going to be drummed out of the world that he single-handedly created.
Mark my words: if we continue like this, the airplanes will start falling out of the sky. Oh, wait. It’s already happening.
Which reminds me: Whatever happened to my friends under the fitness studio? Oh, it’s simple. When “some people did something” on 9/11, everyone ran out of the showers in said fitness center and left the water running because a loud noise of some type in the area was mistaken for another explosion. The water overflowed the drains and soaked the wooden floor beneath the very heavy LifeCycles and whatnot, which crashed through said soaked floor into the Spindletop offices, destroying their prototypes and pretty much every asset they owned in a hard rain of fitness equipment and “grey water” sewage. So much for the glory of Rome.