Who says having an opinion doesn’t pay? I earned the magnificent sum of $45.36 over the past week from advertisements placed on this website. It costs me about $4.10 per day to host said site, so my true net-out was about seventeen bucks. How did I make this cash, you ask? It was by writing “The Passion of Saint iGNUcius,” an opinion piece that was picked up by Vox Day and Steve Sailer, among many others. Unfortunately for me, it’s the habit of most commentary sites nowadays to excerpt pretty much the entire piece, so I probably lost out on a few hundred dollars that would have come my way had Vox et al. simply linked rather than excerpted. Don’t cry for me about this; I got enough money to buy a hundred balls.
As you might expect, any criticism, or defense, or someone like Richard Stallman brings out the Aspies in force, particularly at places like YCombinator. I’ve now read at least fifty detailed and hugely condescending essays on the precise errors I made in my characterization of the man, his influence, and his legacy. Most of them make the classic Aspie mistake of reaching their halting state, so to speak, the minute they find something they believe to be incorrect; one fellow told me in very superior fashion that today’s Android developers are not using the gcc compiler for their work, so therefore my claim that mobile computing is beholden to Stallman is 100% wrong. How we got to a situation in this world where there are multiple free-of-charge compilers is a minor historical detail which seems completely lost on him. A few others got on their high horses and told me that FreeBSD and OpenBSD would have taken the place of GNU/Linux if Stallman hadn’t existed; this sounds reasonable from a modern perspective but I was there on the ground in 1999, I sold multiple OpenBSD-based systems as well as running OpenBSD myself for years, and I can forthrightly tell you that such a claim is ridiculous. The WhateverBSD projects were doomed almost from the start by a lack of leadership which led to endless “forking”.
That being said, most of the minor-detail arguments made against what I wrote have at least a tenuous foothold in reality, so there’s no need to break any butterflies on a wheel where they are concerned. What I’d like to do instead is consider the above criticism made by an anonymous user at The Unz Review.
As nearly as I can understand what this fellow is saying, it boils down to:
0. My suggestion that Stallman’s statement was “mind-blowingly stupid from a perspective of The Current Year” is cowardly, because it is cowardly of me to note that speaking in an unguarded and forthright fashion is dangerous nowadays;
1. People are keeping their mouths shut because they fear job loss and social ostracism.
I would humbly suggest that he is making the same point using different words. Later on, someone I believe to be the same commenter says, in response to someone else:
You cowards have forgotten what it is to speak the truth. “He had no social filter.” Why don’t you grow a pair.
There are two responses I’d like to make here. The first is to note that human beings, as a rule, do not appreciate being told the raw truth at all times. An example: This past weekend I participated in the 46-50 age group of a bicycle race. My two competitors were, ah, a bit grizzled. They had the hard-edged faces, stringy muscle, and patchwork skin of men who have performed hard physical labor their entire lives. I was a little frightened of them, to be honest. I expressed something along these lines to my brother, who flatly replied, “You don’t look any younger than they do.” This really struck at my personal vanity; I know I’m unhandsome and out of shape but I like to flatter myself that I don’t look as old as a forty-eight-year-old construction worker with blue-ink tattoos. My first impulse was to say something really unpleasant in response but I remembered that the previous night I’d described this meme to my brother and Danger Girl, both of whom claim to be five foot nine:
It’s not a virtue to be able to dish it out but not to take it. My brother doesn’t want to be told that he’s really five foot eight. My wife doesn’t want to hear that she is actually five foot ten. I don’t like being reminded of the fact that I’m not Tom Cruise or Keanu Reeves and that most people would have no trouble accurately estimating my age. The same is true when dealing with people in corporate or public situations. I was on a phone call the other day with someone and all I could think of to say in response to one of their assertions was, “You’re the laziest God-dammed idiot I’ve ever met, which is probably a good thing because if you bothered to do any work the sheer incompetence of that work would likely be dangerous.” Given the likely consequences of saying something like that, I chose to say nothing. Was that cowardice? Perhaps. Is that sort of cowardice necessary for surviving in any society? Absolutely. Normal human beings spend a lot of time obfuscating the truth in the cause of getting along.
That’s why Stallman is so frustrating in conversation; he has no filter, like a small child. Had he lived in another time and place besides here and now, someone would have slain him out of hand long before he reached adulthood. That’s probably a big part of why, for example, the Greeks and Romans accomplished very little technologically. It took the framework of Pauline Christianity to create nation-state environments where people were not killed for minor offenses. Ironically, if I were to expand on that statement to any great degree, I would probably end up sounding like Dennis Prager, who has been forcibly unpersoned for saying positive things about “Judeo-Christianity”, whatever that is.
My second response to this fellow, in a nutshell, is this: You’re using the anonymous feature of a website to criticize me for cowardice? FOH with that, as the kids say. I write a defense of someone who has been, in a broad sense of the term, a colleague of mine and a personal inspiration to me. I publish it under my real name on a website that also has my real name as the URL. (This won’t fly with the Aspies at VWVortex, who for some time have been floating a bizarre conspiracy theory I “changed” my name to Jack. The fact that Shakespeare did the same thing hasn’t registered with them, because they don’t read Shakespeare. They’re also probably still working on the fact that I extended the conspiracy further by naming my son after myself — or did I name him after John Pastorius?) Isn’t there something hugely ironic about not being willing to use your name or identify yourself when you’re criticizing me for things I put under my name?
Trust me, I have plenty of experience with the “cancel culture” that dominates modern political and social life. I’ve been “doxxed” dozens of times. I’ve had so many people call my employers and contract partners that I now start all potential business relationships with something along the lines of “You’re probably going to get some calls and emails about me…” Some of you may remember when a major magazine editor-in-chief felt humiliated by an exchange we had online and, in retaliation, called Honda in an attempt to get me fired from a technical contract I was working there. My son was two years old at the time, not that long out of his plastic NICU box, and hugely dependent on me to do things like pay for his meals and medical treatment. If that fellow had been successful and my child had suffered as a result, I think it could have lead to some remarkable unpleasantness on my part.
My willingness to do, say, and write what I feel to be truthful on a variety of topics, from healthy parenting to the intermediate shaft bearing on the Porsche Boxster, has cost me dozens of fabulous opportunities and, conservatively guesstimating, a couple of million dollars in lost earning potential. It will probably continue to cost me money and opportunities until the day I die. I’m okay with this. There are compensations. My reader and commenter base is a couple standard deviations above that enjoyed by other people in the autowriting business. I am occasionally gratified by a nod of the head from someone like Stallman or Vox Day, to name two people who share very little besides improbable IQs. I’ll go to my eventual reward or punishment knowing that I didn’t spend a lot of time knuckling under to conventional wisdom or prevailing opinion. Still. Every time I see some grinning nonentity in journalism or tech earning seven figures or traveling in an Emirates suite because of his (or her) willingness to parrot garbage or repeat obvious stupidity, I have to choke down a bit of annoyance. Not with them, mind you — with myself. Why did I ever think I could speak my mind without suffering the complete and total suite of potential consequences for every single time I did so? In other words: Who, if anyone, told me that having an opinion doesn’t cost?