I previously wrote about the appropriate references to porn in lectures about Computer Science . It seemed that by providing a short list of all the appropriate ways that porn could be mentioned in a lecture some people might get the idea that the infinite variety of other potential ways that porn could be mentioned are mostly wrong.
In a separate response to the same incident Matt Bottrell wrote a list of the reasons why he thinks that porn is inappropriate for a conference . One of Matt’s weaker points in that post was “As a parent, I would be outraged if my teenage child attended such a conference to be subjected to pornographic images“. I considered writing a post in response to that pointing out that I believe that the social pressures on teenagers to perform various sex acts appears to be a much greater problem than the risk of occasionally seeing porn. But apart from rumors I heard at one conference regarding a distasteful incident at a party I couldn’t tie that issue to a free software conference, and I was not well enough connected into the gossip network to determine the facts of the party in question.
The free software community seems much more enlightened than the proprietary software community. The conference environment sets higher standards, I believe that the general reaction to the incidents of porn demonstrates the character of the community. But surely no-one would give a lecture at a conference and advocate “relieving people of their virginity“. If such a thing was to happen then surely it would come from someone who is little known and who lacks experience in giving public lectures.
But it turns out that my expectations were not correct, Richard Stallman (RMS) seriously offended many people by such antics . It’s even more disappointing that people who admire him can’t admit to the fact that he stuffed up. I personally have great admiration for all the good work that RMS has done over the course of decades. But I have to say that he’s gone too far this time.
Matthew Garrett suggests either not inviting RMS to give a keynote speech or giving an apology to the audience beforehand . I don’t think it’s a viable option to give an apology for allowing someone to speak at a conference, so I take Matthew’s post as a call to stop inviting RMS to speak at conferences.
Update: Matthew has updated his post to explain that he meant that RMS should give an apology before he is offered any future invitations – not that the conference organisers should apologise to the audience for any offense that he might cause. But as it seems extremely unlikely that RMS will ever back down I don’t think this makes a difference in the end.
I think that this is a very strong measure to take, refraining from inviting someone so influential who has contributed so much is unheard of. But one thing we know about RMS is that he is particularly stubborn. The positive side of this is that he has done a huge amount of work over 30+ years that has benefited many people. The negative side of his obstinacy is that it seems extremely unlikely that he will apologise or agree to amend his behavior. So it seems that there is no reasonable option other than to refrain from inviting him.
A major benefit that a keynote speaker provides to a conference is prestige. It seems to me that many people now regard RMS as a negative reference for the value of a conference. So even conference organisers who don’t think that RMS did anything wrong will probably be less likely to invite him.
I don’t think that I will ever attend another lecture by RMS.
PS If we are going to mention teenagers in regard to such issues, it would be best to mention the age – there is a huge difference between a 13yo and a 19yo, both socially and legally.