ESR Takes A Long Walk Off A Short Pier

Twenty-two years ago, when your humble author was a minor participant in the eventually-derailed-and-co-opted revolution known as “Linux”, we spent a lot of time talking about the Holy Trinity Of Linux Guys. Three authentic geniuses whose vision extended into the future just a little farther than everyone else’s:

  • Richard M. Stallman, who had invented the concept of a “free operating system” and built a framework to create the GNU programs which would eventually make up most of what we call “Linux” today;
  • Linus Torvalds, who did the one thing that Stallman’s team couldn’t quite manage, and that was to build a decent operating-system kernel around which Linux could coalesce;
  • Eric S. Raymond, who was the first person to truly understand the power of what we’d eventually call “Open Source Software” and whose The Cathedral And The Bazaar served as a Bible of sorts for those of us who truly believed that software could change the world.

Take any leg away from this stool, and your life would be different in ways that you cannot readily conceive. Billions of people who use the Internet today simply wouldn’t have the ability to do so. Computing would be much more like it was in 1995: restricted to people who could pay for $5,000 computers and $50,000 servers. Both the iPhone and the Android phones, for example, rely heavily on “open source” to operate. Without Stallman, there’s no iOS; without Torvalds and Stallman there’s no Android; without all three of them, you wouldn’t have the infrastructure necessary for “the cloud”.

All three of these men are known for speaking truth to power, which was acceptable when “power” meant functional and admirable institutions such as IBM, Xerox, and the United States Government. Nowadays, as WokeCapital notes, we “speak power to truth”, allowing our culture’s frankly insane delusions to trample the good, the true, and the beautiful en masse. This is not a world in which outspoken and socially awkward geniuses can possibly survive. The Western World loves “EQ” now and values it far higher than it does IQ, which it prefers to import in very limited quantities from Asia whenever doing so is absolutely unavoidable.

Here’s an example: Maya Angelou, whose vacuous mumblings form the heart and soul of our modern catechism, actually wrote that “…I believe talent is like electricity. We don’t understand electricity. We use it.” Note that this is considerably stupider than the Insane Clown Posse’s “Fucking magnets, how do they work?” because magnetism is not all that well understood but electricity, by contrast, is. Think about that for a minute, if you will; this country awarded more than fifty honorary degrees and multiple Presidential commendations to a woman who didn’t understand the universe as well as “Shaggy 2 Dope” or “Violent J” and who furthermore reveled in every chance she got to demonstrate that inferior understanding to the American people. I think the edgy kids say “HONK HONK” now in response to that sort of thing.

It follows, therefore, that Clown World would eventually reward all three of these fellows with a public dragging. Linus was first: his lack of tolerance for midwittery ended up in him apologizing for being mean to people and leaving the Linux kernel. That’s right: the man who invented Linux and gave it to the world free of charge had to quit because of hurt feelz. Stallman was next, being shamed out of Free Software for giving a technically correct but politically ignorant opinion about Epstein’s Rape Island.

This left only Raymond, an omission which has now been rectified.

Full disclosure time: “ESR” has always creeped me out, and frightened me. When he writes about software and computers, he is often brilliant. When he writes about sex or martial arts, my whole body shudders. This reaction, by the way, is fairly widespread among those of us who are three standard deviations above mean IQ. We see this five-foot-six cross-eyed pedo-mustache fellow who looks like he just got done spraying “Free Candy” on the side of an ’83 Econoline covering these intimate and challenging topics with precisely the same language he uses for discussing the vagaries of software licensing and we just cringe, thinking: “Is this how I look to people, too?” The universal fear of Very Smart People isn’t that we could be wrong, but that we could be right and yet be so far away from the normie opinion on something that they’ll burn us at the stake as a consequence.

It was also far easier to mask autism-spectrum behavior in an era when many people simply spoke their minds. In today’s world of garbage language and mandatory corporate niceness, the unavoidably forthright are dropping like flies. And so we arrive at ESR’s inevitable fate as the third crucifixion among three. I’ll let the man speak for himself:

I – OSI’s co-founder and its president for its first six years – was kicked off their lists for being too rhetorically forceful in opposing certain recent attempts to subvert OSD clauses 5 and 6… It shouldn’t be news to anyone that there is an effort afoot to change – I would say corrupt – the fundamental premises of the open-source culture. Instead of meritocracy and “show me the code”, we are now urged to behave so that no-one will ever feel uncomfortable.
The effect – the intended effect – is to diminish the prestige and autonomy of people who do the work – write the code – in favor of self-appointed tone-policers. In the process, the freedom to speak necessary truths even when the manner in which they are expressed is unpleasant is being gradually strangled.
The cost of a culture in which avoiding offense trumps the liberty to speak is that crybullies control the discourse. To our great shame, people who should know better – such as the OSI list moderators and BOD – have internalized anticipatory surrender to crybullying. They no longer even wait for the soi-disant victims to complain before wielding the ban-hammer.
We are being social-hacked from being a culture in which freedom is the highest value to one in which it is trumped by the suppression of wrongthink and wrongspeak. Our enemies – people like Coraline Ada-Ehmke – do not even really bother to hide this objective.
Wake up and speak out. Embrace the right to be rude – not because “rude” in itself is a good thing, but because the degenerative slide into suppression of disfavored opinions has to be stopped right where it starts, at the tone policing.

Emphasis mine. I recently had a conversation with someone — let’s call him “Bark” — in which I lamented the fact that I’d been censured for saying some things which were unpleasant but true, at which point he replied: “There’s no amount of success you can have, no amount of money you can earn for a company, and no amount of right you can be which can make up for not being nice nowadays.” This would be admirable, were there not a Challenger Deep’s worth of difference between being nice and being kind. Between nice and honest. Between nice and true. “Nice” is a mask worn by power. And what happens when the mask is removed? You get Chapter 19.

The Eloi don’t care that people like Stallman and Raymond are being silenced. They preach “progress”, but what they want is stasis, an eternal preservation of their current place in the world. True innovation is disruptive to that. It turns aristocrats into paupers even as it performs the reverse. So the less innovation we have, the better. Thus you see that “niceness” and “codes of conduct” are simply ways to keep the world from changing. There’s just one problem: the world will change around us, regardless. What response would the Party have had to COVID-19 and its successors? Could they have floated off the ground and survived? Or would they decide that perhaps people like Eric S. Raymond aren’t so unpleasant after all?

38 Replies to “ESR Takes A Long Walk Off A Short Pier”

  1. AvatarJohn Van Stry

    I saw this coming as soon as they rolled out ‘Codes of Conduct’.
    Codes of conduct are there solely to allow people who have no fucking talent or abilities at all, to attack those that do.
    ‘Cause my feels!’
    This is why you don’t let losers into your organizations, even out of kindness. They will always stab you in the back.

    • Avatardejal

      I lost my stuff after that came out. 1st heard it here. The code has no religion or ideology. It is not male, female or a variation of the 2. It is not evil, it is not kind. It is code.

  2. AvatarCJinSD

    Rejection of tone policing by President Trump is why can be effective at all while speaking truth to power. It is astoundingly depressing just how many people aren’t smart enough to understand that.

  3. AvatarDavid Florida

    I’ve been expecting this day since I first read “Gramscian Damage.” I’m only surprised that it took fourteen years (since that essay went up on his blog.) In a world where my colleagues who are candidates for a PhD in Engineering habitually start sentences with the words “I feel like…”, it is difficult to be surprised.

      • AvatarCJinSD

        Although he didn’t recognize the danger that China has posed at least since the day they succeeded in buying Slick Willy Clinton the presidency. Otherwise, he is deadly accurate. I imagine that the fourteen years between publishing that piece and being deplatformed have seemed rather long to ESR.

        It is possible that back in 2006 I was still one of those people who thought our institutions could be reformed and post-modernist-pedophiles could be sent scurrying back into the dark, but the ugly truth is that Lenin was right about poisoning young minds. In 2006, the imbeciles who fell for the climate hoax were a fringe group of buffoons. Here we are with an additional fourteen years of empirical evidence that it is all a fraud, and the general population is dense with people so malleable and vacuous that they can’t genuflect any more violently to demonstrate the rigor of their belief that the sky is falling.

        • AvatarJohn C.

          What was so brilliant about blaming things in 2006 on a Regime that had failed on the other side of the world 15 years before. Typical old man rumblings. How does that give any insight to the young who have to face future problems? He goes on and on on modern art for example and yet he was totally wrong on it. It emerged in Weimar Germany not the Soviet Union as a gruesome if understandable reflection of the failure of the old order.
          In the early 1960s, Khrushchev said that while he was President, the Soviet Union would support great art, but would not have one Kopeck for the art of jackasses. The vapid art he decried had many Kopecks, but it wasn’t coming from the Soviet Union

          • AvatarJohn C.

            Don’t bother. Maybe just have Stingray send you stuff from that great Hoover Institution. People there are so smart and know exactly how to tell you what you already know in exactly the way you like to hear it.

  4. AvatarBeccaria

    American culture’s fixation on individual genius and the cult of the manager (two sides of the same coin) is one of its biggest weaknesses. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve stopped being able to deliver effective public goods, among other maladies. We’ve lost sight of the fact that a functional society is necessary to take advantage of the discoveries that genius brings to the table. That being said, the author has a point about speaking truth to power versus power to truth. Speaking truth to power is a prerequisite for building consensus that something needs to change. Speaking power to truth builds a false sense of security that things are already as good as they can get- until an exogenous event shatters that illusion. Hope everyone has enough toilet paper.

  5. AvatarJohn C.

    Interesting that this cancel culture is almost always directed at giants of a previous generation. This makes it far less dangerous. If we were to equate this to music. If they tried to cancel say Paul McCartney, yes it would be disrespectful to the legacy of this now elderly man. It is hardly likely that the music scene would be damaged by missing out on his next great song on some future album. Nobody expects another good song from Paul.

    It would be more damaging if instead the young genius was not allowed an opportunity to deliver. What we are short of now is genius itself rather than opportunity. This is true for tech as well as music. Apple lacks a young Steve Jobs, not labs where he could work. Similarly in music, there are still plenty of recording studios.

    Some of us watched jeopardy James Holzhouwer. No doubt a younger genius, but he spends his time gambling and figuring out a new way to win on a game show. His cancellation, no biggie.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I think you’re missing the point of these cancellations, which is to make sure that the potential successors to these geniuses stay quiet and off the radar. They are less worried about cancelling ESR and more worried about making sure the hundred +3SD young men who might be inspired by his rise are instead daunted by his fall.

    • Avatardanio3834

      Basically, we have a hyper-feminized society suppressing low-SMV men who won’t otherwise serve the female strategies. “Ally” men simply adjusted their sexual strategies to one they think best serves them, open-cuckoldry in multiple forms.

  6. AvatarGreg Hamilton

    I think I’ll have to follow Omertà on this one. Anything less would get me into trouble. I will say Gary Killdall was a genius and is missed and never got his due.

  7. Avatarstingray65

    If you have ever done any gardening you will observe that grass and hedges never grow uniformly at the same rate. Variations in seed quality, soil quality, shade, watering, etc. lead some individual plants to grow faster or slower than others and create a chaotic lack of order. As a gardener you could try to solve this problem by adding fertilizer or optimizing the watering and sun exposure to each individual slow grower so that they can catch to their taller “siblings”, OR you can take you hedge trimmer and lawn mower and quickly hack off the tops of the fast growers so that they no longer stand out and every plant is even. Guess correctly which strategy makes it easier to keep a tidy garden, and you will know the strategy that most gardeners follow (hint – it involves the lawn mower and hedge trimmer).

    The gardening analogy applies nicely to our woke society of today. For the past 50+ years we have tried to fertilize, and water, and give shade to various “victim” groups who grew slower than others. These supposed growth enhancers are more popularly known as affirmative action, gender/racial quotas, equal rights/anti-discrimination legislation, and mentoring programs were all designed to help women overcome patriarchy, blacks overcome racism and legacy of slavery, gays/transgenders to overcome various phobias that have kept them from breaking the glass ceilings in politics, industry, and education and close income and achievement gaps with males/whites/heterosexuals. Yet many of those pesky glass ceilings and gaps remain intact despite all the extra fertilizer the groups have been given over many decades, which means that creating our desired tidy garden will require the lawn mower to chop down and cancel all those pesky fast growers who refuse to voluntarily check their privilege, and the woke mower will come first to those who are the most politically incorrect and arrogant, but eventually it will chop down to everyone that dares to stick out above the crowd.

  8. Avatarhank chinaski

    I claim no knowledge of the hierarchy or due process in these industries, but why are these men seemingly taking this lying down? Are there legal challenges to be made? If Theodore Beale is right about one thing, it’s that going on the offense with tools like Corey is the thing to do.

  9. AvatarRich J

    This may be slightly off topic, but bear with me. Some years ago when I first took up with your blog, I started becoming much more cognizant of where things are made, or, perhaps more significantly, where they weren’t. I make a pretty good living, so have the luxury of spending more for something made in the US (tools come to mind, but shoes, clothing, home furnishings, vehicles are also in there), and have been voting with my wallet for such items (and domestic manufacturing) for a solid 5 years now. Because of your input, I now own a pair of AE Horween loafers (yes, they are delightful), two US made suits (which didn’t cost any more than something off the rack at the Banana Republic), and a Ram (nee Dodge) Power Wagon. I found new ways to bend search engines to my will, and bought a GG mountain bike with a US made fork (especially proud of that one). I mitigated the shame of being an early Yeti adopter by buying my Dad an Orion cooler for his birthday (made in TN by the same folks who roto-mold Jackson kayaks). Alas, for years, I’ve been a pawn of the pome, a slave to Apple via my iPhone and mac, simply because they were more intuitive and widely supported, as well as sort of inherently resistant to viruses and other attacks. My first MacBook ran for something like 6 years, and was still working with a second battery when I wiped it and gave it away. The second one is still chugging along as well. These overlapped a 7 year litany of deployments to some seriously sporty places with dirt, heat, humidity, and abuse heaped upon them with little regard for protection (I bought a pelican case (USA!) for the first one but quickly abandoned it because it was too big and space was an issue). The longest I’ve ever had a PC last was maybe 2 or 3 years. Also, seriously, the first ipod interface was a true ergonomic gem (so they shitcanned it for the touch or something–figures).

    So, on to my questions / request for advice: is there something at least partially domestically produced (or, at least not made in China with the requisite backdoor in the processor) that you would recommend for a phone and computer for a guy who couldn’t program his way out of a wet paper bag at gunpoint? Your savvy and experience in this matter is considerable (and many of the commenters have similar skills, it seems), and mine is nonexistent. As a bonus, perhaps it is made by a company without an honor code, which just seems like one more nail in the coffin of meritocracy (how long before that word triggers the ungood warnings).

    I had an organic chemistry professor who would have fit right in with these guys (especially Stallman); blizzard of dandruff, same clothes every day, possibly afraid of water, but astonishingly clever and truly a delightful and hilarious guy to have a beer with.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      A) THANK YOU for all you’ve done so far;

      B) Let me start trying to figure out what the most “domestic” phone and computer might be.

    • AvatarNoID

      Depending on what generation it is, that Power Wagon may have been built in Mexico (but hey, it’s still technically Made in America…)

    • Avatarbenjohnson

      If I could offer my $.02 – I would say that you should enjoy your Apple devices. The majority of the profit, engineering, and benefit of those devices flows to America, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. As I understand it – only the manual labor is done in China and even then – the payroll goes to people who would otherwise be on a collective farm.

      Ideally – you would want it to go to America, but at this time, there’s no alternative if you have the requirement of the ease of use that you have grown accustomed to.

      You could try to source an iPhone with final assembly in the Czech Republic (pay attention to cellular bands) – and if you have the money, get a new Apple Mac Pro – they’re made in America in Austin.

      • Avatardejal

        Buy from them IF you have to buy from them. If you need a cell phone there are other brands. I’d rather pay 10-15 percent higher for everything than this shit-fest. I think companies like SamSung have moved some cell phone making to Vietnam. Fine by me. Vietnam hates the Chinese with a passion. “But labor is only a small portion…” Fine bring it home, move it somewhere else if not home, we are pissing the money away on balance of payments deficits anyways.

        Stay away from Pirelii tires. GE appliances (just a licensed name) . Smithfield hams. Yeah, stuff not made in China but owned by China. Sorry small hog farmer in the Carolinas that sells to Smithfield. Not going to do it. The “KING” Richard Petty wouldn’t race in the Busch Clash because of beer. He had no problem putting a Chinese ham company on this cars. Yeah, he’s just a figured head . Tough.

        They will threaten and hold back medicine (their state controlled press has already threatened that) if they aren’t treated with respect. Yes sir, thank you sir, can I have another sir.

        WHO up until February was tweeting (based on Chinese supplied info) that it was no big deal. In January there was no proof human to human contact was possible. Stay calm and carry on. Unfortunately, I think some gov agencies around the world believed that. I don’t think the Chinese bio-weaponed this, I think they wanted to save face and hoped it would subside all by itself when they couldn’t handle it. We are paying the price for that.

  10. Avatardejal

    Steven King, who I detest, in the last few months stated that talent which may take a lot of effort should be the only thing that counted. He was made to where a dunce cap and was criticized by the masses after he was paraded through the village. His reeducation has worked, Comrade King is now back on the path.

  11. AvatarNoID

    This isn’t directly linked to your article, but I’m reading through “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” and the concept of the Plausible Promise from the section “Necessary Preconditions for the Bazaar Style” has me wondering if there’s an application to the rise of Tesla, and their seemingly bulletproof stock price.

  12. AvatarNorman Yarvin

    Linus Torvalds is still very much in charge of the Linux kernel. He took a month off and came back a bit mellower but still his old self in all essentials. And there really were times prior to that where he’d let loose at someone who didn’t deserve it, so the mellowing is welcome. The atmosphere on the linux-kernel mailing list is still one of not tolerating fools gladly.

    Oh, and magnetism is quite well understood.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      If you understand magnetism, you’re ahead of most people, and most scientists for that matter. I’m particularly fascinated by the idea that magnetism doesn’t occur without particle motion, but since all motion is relative it’s apparently dependent on the observer, who could perceive electricity or magnetism. This leads all the way through relativity to quantum mechanics, and unless I am misreading and misunderstanding (very possible, I am barely a computer scientist, much less a real one) there are still questions to answer, like “is there a monopole?”

      With regards to Linus, I think you’re missing the point. The act of power consists in the power to shame and remove. If he is magnaninously permitted to return after time out, it doesn’t really matter. The fact that a sheriff can let you out of jail doesn’t mitigate the fact that he can put you in there.

    • AvatarRonnie Schreiber

      Understood in the sense that humans know how to make and use magnets, but not in the sense of knowing exactly how they work.

      What I find fascinating about magnetism and some other phenomena is that so many of them work in both directions.Move a magnet past a wire and you generate a current in the wire, run current through a wire wrapped around some iron and you create a magnet, so a DC motor will work as a generator if you spin it. Piezoelectric effect also works both way- put a current into a crystal and it vibrates, vibrate a crystal and it generates a current.

      Just coincidentally, I’ve been working with Adams Magnetics on finding the ideal lodestones to use for the Harmonicaster’s pickups. Unfortunately, the Chinese Communist Party Virus means that Lace, my pickup vendor, located in southern California, has been unable to complete some prototypes they’re supposed to go in.

  13. AvatarNorman Yarvin

    Linus is the one who decided to take a break, and who decided in advance how long it’d be; his email announcing both was a surprise to the whole community. Yes, he was presumably influenced by others in that decision, but no man is an island. You can think of it as bending where others have broken, and regret that he even had to bend; but little if any damage was done. You can also think of it as him realizing that he now has serious power, and with power comes responsibility: that he no longer needs to be as entertainingly abusive as he once did to keep Linux development on track.

    As for magnetism, yes, different observers perceive it differently, as usual in relativity, but also as usual, you can analyze it from any observer’s perspective and get the same result in terms of what actually happens. (That is, the result is of course different on its face, but once you apply the standard transformations to convert it between observers it’s the same.) It is rather amazing that the whole complicated mathematical system is self-consistent in this way, but it is.

    Magnetic monopoles could exist, but nobody has ever found one.

    • AvatarJohn C.

      You mentioned that Linus still has the power regarding Linux kernel. Are there any folks involved a generation younger with the smarts to take the ball he got rolling to higher levels?

      • AvatarNorman Yarvin

        I’m not a big one for collecting names, but Lennart Poettering comes to mind; his work (primarily systemd) has been in Linux user space rather than the kernel, and has annoyed a lot of old Unix hands, but it seems to me like a good solid cleanup, consolidation, and improvement.

        • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

          Count me among the people would rather willingly run Windows ME than any variant of systemd.

          Intellectually, I understand why it’s useful. As a sysadmin, I think it’s trash and it always seems to be at the root of problems.

  14. AvatarArk-med

    Regarding quantum computing: a leap has reportedly been made.

    “Central to the [nuclear electric resonance] phenomenon is the idea of controlling the spin of individual atoms using electrical rather than magnetic fields. That means more precise and more miniaturised management of nuclei, which could have profound impacts in a variety of fields.”

  15. AvatarOne Leg at a Time

    I was a bit surprised to see that you are aware of ESRs blog – although, given the Stallman story, I should not have been.

    I agree with previous commenters that this was a long time coming. He has no patience for cancel culture, and even less for SJWs who contribute nothing to society. Alas.

    I think he is going to struggle to find any defenders. He is unquestionably brilliant, but his self-promotion was off-putting to some. He also has the “voice from on high” tone in his speaking and writing that I recognize from the vast majority of alpha nerds from that era. (To be fair, he is one of the most alpha of alpha nerds…)

    I don’t see him stepping away, however. He has tended to be pretty project oriented, and has disappeared from his blog for weeks on end. I doubt it will have any real impact.

    And hey – I know what you mean, but the unnecessarily mean swipe at his looks should probably have come with the caveat that he has some congenital health issues (Cerebral Palsy?)

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I wasn’t trying to pick on ESR’s looks so much as discuss the fact that a lot of autism-spectrum men are terrified that they might unknowingly be another example of that rather cringe-worthy disconnect between self-image and physical reality. Yes, he was very sick as a child, and like Hemingway he chose a deliberate immersion in “manly” pursuits as a compensation for that. Unfortunately “Papa” turned out to be a lot better-looking than ESR.

      I’d further suspect that for many of us, the worm turned on Mr. Raymond in December of 1999 when he was “Surprised By Wealth” during the VA Linux IPO. I’ve never seen an educated man accept good fortune in such an awkward fashion. The fact that someone immediately wrote a “Surprised by Cock” parody probably illustrates how most hackers felt at that moment. The “ESR Wealth Clock” was also a great source of joy to a lot of people.

      Looking back, that pre-2001 Linux Era was such a great time. All of us hacking on everything we could, really thinking that we were making a difference. I would give a lot to have that kind of optimism today.

      • AvatarOne Leg at a Time

        Makes sense – I may have been projecting a little regarding ESR’s appearance. And I agree, I have always felt uneasy with the way he moves discussions into TMI territory.

        I graduated in ’94, but really fell out of touch with that community once I committed to Engineering. My last serious programming was for engineering control projects, my last (un-serious) hacking was probably in ’92, when I realized that my aptitude for languages, systems, and thinking around corners did not meet the standards of the ‘real’ CompSci intelligencia. I have never really been back in touch. I remember running into CATB in a Barnes and Noble around 2000, and thinking “Hey, why do I know that guy…”

        Except – I “rediscovered” ESR via his blog around ’04 while looking for the jargon file. Since I was so far removed from everything – I appreciated the little window into a world I used to know. Of course, he is quite opinionated, and the commentariat there tend to (mostly) align with his thinking, so it is a bit of an echo chamber.

        I wasn’t aware that there had been a ‘falling out’ or that he had ever ended up mis-stepping. He seemed much better at pretending to be normal than most of the programmers and hackers that I knew.


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