On Brexit On BBC Have Your Say

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I am currently lamenting the awful treatment of Richard Stallman by the army of useful idiots who chatter among themselves before yelling concertedly in one or two directions to bully some person or organisation on someone else's behalf.

There are times when you have to look deeper into someone's words or ideas to get rewards from them - even if the reward is a more certain refuation of someone's beliefs, there's often still a lot to learn in the process.

Not that I think Stallman will be silenced in any way, and I selfishly hope the experience focuses his thoughts on ways to tackle the increasingly pervasive power of idiots online. We would all benefit from that.

I'll use paragraphs below to share my thoughts on the, to my mind, ridiculous aspersions being pushed on RMS.

Ok, I suppose it all started with Stallman defending the late Marvin Minsky against allegations that he'd had sex with a 17 year old at an Epstein party. Whether or not he did have sex is itself in dispute - another academic at the party claims Minsky turned down the invitation for sex, and immediately told him about it. That's plausible, Minsky was a respectable 73 year old academic, surrounded by peers. He would have been a disciplined person to have achieved his success, and probably savvy enough not to risk his reputation, assuming he was even tempted.

Regardless, what Stallman suggested was that the 17 year old would have presented herself as a willing sexual partner, because Epstein and his accomplices groomed people such that they would conceal the coercion and trickery that got them there. That's plausible, in fact I'm certain that's the case - there's no conceivable scenario in which so many respected academics would tolerate being in an environment where sex-trafficked girls were obviously being peddled. Therefore, I don't believe it was obvious.

Still, it should have been apparent, eventually at least, that young women were ostensibly prostituting themselves at the party. Perhaps it was discreet, but there must have been a point at which these people realised the event was slightly more dodgy than the typical university Cheese and Wine party. There's no place for Rock n Roll vices in the tenured way of life, that's what 'respectable society' holds true, and these academics know that.

A last point on this particular allegation, the court transcript quotes the woman as saying that she had sex with Marvin Minsky, but doesn't remember when or where. While I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of her statement, I definitely question the reliability of it.

The next slur thrown Stallman's way is that he variously believes that "prostitution, adultery, necrophilia, bestiality, possession of child pornography, and even incest and pedophilia" should be legalised. The quoted list was actually a quote from a politician who was (as I recall) giving reasons why gay marriage should not be allowed (e.g. if we allow that, then we should allow all these...)

Stallman was actually defending gay marriage by trying to say that there are no limits to the forms that human relationships can take, as long as they are consensual and free from coercion. He's a painfully rational person, and his approach to a problem is to question every premise.

He was, I think, sorely misguided on pedophilia, but it wasn't the focus of his thoughts. Prostitution and incest were what he discussed. What I think he failed to consider is that there is such a pronounced asymmetry between an adult and a minor in terms of intellect and life-experience that it would be practically impossible for any reasonable interpretation of that relationship to be anything other than exploitative.

As it happens, Stallman talked to people who had been abused, and recanted his opinions on the subject. However, reasoning things like this out, provoking unpleasant thoughts, can lead to insights. Here's one.

Consider that there is a subset of abused children who really don't feel like they have been abused. In most child abuse cases the perpetrator is known to the child, often a close family member. They will have been groomed, emotionally manipulated, however we describe it. The interactions are painted in a loving way to the child, and the child reciprocates. This is what love is to some children, harrowing as that may be to contemplate.

When the child eventually, perhaps as an adult, comes to realise the truth of the situation, they have to face the fact that someone they thought loved them (and I believe the perpetrators often do, though probably not in a way we would understand), someone who they have trusted and loved back has actually exploited them for their selfish gains.

What a horrible thing to have to face up to, and what troubles me is that people find ways of blaming themselves, and I believe lots of children and adults absorb some, maybe all, of the blame themselves.

And the insight is that, when we sensationalise this subject in our dreadful tabloid press, and our pearl-clutching twitter feeds, all that pointless scorn and hate and derision is probably felt acutely by victims more than perpetrators.

So, to be genuinely compassionate to people who have had their trust and bodies abused, don't buy into the tabloid-level narrative. Certainly don't contribute to it. Treat the subject with sensitivity and with respect for the victims, don't use it as a tool to parrot trending themes for, let's face it, misguided virtue signalling.