RMS treated the problem as being “let’s make sure we don’t criticize Minsky unfairly”, when the problem was actually, “how can we come to terms with a history of MIT’s institutional neglect of its responsibilities toward women and its apparent complicity with Epstein’s crimes”. While it is true we should not treat Minsky unfairly, it was not — and is not — a pressing concern, and by making it his concern, RMS signaled clearly that it was much more important to him than the question of the institution’s patterns of problematic coddling of bad behavior.
And, I think, some of those focusing themselves on careful parsing of RMS’s words are falling into the same pitfall as he. His intentions do not matter nearly as much as his actions and their predictable effects.
I don’t want to rehash the story that leads to this; I just thought this was the best take I’ve seen about the situation, and worth capturing for posterity.
Epically-smart people seem highly disposed to self-destructive behavior, which results in alienation that they can only blame on other people. If someone writes an email like Stallman did, and utterly fails to account for the bigger picture, while simultaneously failing to make his comments in a way that doesn’t take enormous academic effort to interpret without revulsion, then, really, how smart is he?
A “public figure” like Stallman (as head of the FSF) must understand that you can’t make comments about something as serious as the Epstein/MIT connection in a casual manner. If you’re going to make a comment, you simply must provide total context. You can’t hide behind excuses, like it was part of a larger thread, or that it was on a private list. As a spokesperson, you have to understand that everyone is watching what you say. To his credit, he didn’t try to have a protracted fight about this.
I’ve watched with great sadness for almost 30 years while Stallman has squandered his beautiful idea with bad politics, and I’ve often wondered why. I suspect this whole situation is a large key to that puzzle. Not that my opinion matters one whit, but I agree with Bushnell that the correct outcome has been achieved.