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Sex and Lectures about Computers

I previously wrote about the appropriate references to porn in lectures about Computer Science [1]. 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 [2]. 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 [3]. 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 [4]. 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.

5 comments to Sex and Lectures about Computers

  • Matthew Garrett

    I could actually have been clearer on that point, but I was actually saying that RMS should apologise before conference organisers consider inviting him places.

  • I want to offend

    “I don’t think that I will ever attend another lecture by RMS”

    Isn’t this an overreaction? Shouldn’t one consider every action of person instead of the only the last one?

    Last put things into context.

    USA has for last half century elected presidents that have direct and active participation into the killing, torture, kidnapping, pillaging and destruction in several countries. Do you refuse to talk to americans? Do you refuse to use, see, eat anything that comes from USA?

    Why do people from english speaking countries have such a fear of sex, nudity?

    Why is it that you’re so brainwashed by political correctness, that promotes hypocrisy and falseness?

    What is the reason for the condescending and patronizing behaviour towards women? Do they lack character and personality? Are they “stupid” or ignorant? There was no problem before because it was only a “boy’s club”?

    Why do you classify anything and everything that has nudity and/or sex as “pornographic”?

    Why is it that “offensive” is the measure by which everything has merit or not?

    What a wonderful world it’s… A grey world without anything “offensive”. Offensive that is to those that lack character, moral courage and honesty.

    Yes, I’m offended… offended by hypocrisy, offended by the arrogance of those who think that can dictate to others what has merit based on their fear, ignorance and taste… Subjective “values”, undefined qualities. Let’s get ourselves managed by the lowest common denominator.

    Finally, I find it an ironic coincidence that this happened (this overreaction, the righteous indignation) during the “Monogate” debate and right after Mr. Stallman made some comments against the use of Mono. It was just the excuse that the not only pro-mono party needed but also those with old scores to get even.

    Yes… lets ostracize Stallman and welcome with open arms Microsoft.

    It’s the same kind of hypocrisy that happens right now in American’s politics. See how the same people that criticize GWB now remain silent or supportive of Obama while he does the same things only with different names.

  • etbe

    I want to offend: I have not found RMS lectures to be particularly informative or entertaining, the “Church of EMACS” and “Saint Ignusius” jokes didn’t even work for me the first time I heard them.

    I agree that the US government has a history of doing bad things – regardless of which party happens to be in power. It does decrease the incidence of me doing things that would result in money traveling to the US (that means buying US products and doing business with US companies).

    I agree that there is excessive fear of sex and nudity. But the purpose of a computer conference is not to address general issues in society. I’m sure that there are some good conferences about psychology that address such issues.

    Your “boy’s club” comment is strange and makes no sense to me, I’m not going to try and address any issues related to it.

    I don’t classify everything that has nudity or sex as porn, but regardless it is generally off-topic for a lecture about computer science.

    If you can make a stronger point without being offensive then why be offensive? Is it some sort of alpha-male thing, being offensive to show that you can get away with it?

    http://etbe.coker.com.au/2009/07/06/journalism-age-mono/

    Regarding your mention of irony, I generally agree with RMS about Mono (the above is my only public comment on the issue so far). I’ll praise RMS for the things he does well and criticise him for the things he does badly.

    I agree that Obama is not a left-wing politician. The Liberal party (the main “conservative” party in Australia) used to be more left-wing than Obama. But Obama is a lot better than GWB.

  • ben

    It is a pity that you do not mention that RMS meant this as a joke. While it might still be offensive when said as a joke, the situation changes completely and different considerations need to be made.

    Please, do a bit more research before such a post. This would give your post some value. As it is, it is just nonsense and a waste of disk space.

  • etbe

    ben: I don’t need to mention all the details, I provided adequate links to allow the readers to learn as much as they desire.

    Naturally I read the posts that I linked to as well as the web pages linked from them and the blog comments. So I believe that my research was adequate.

    If someone was to attend a “Rodney Rude” performance and hear such jokes then they would have no reason to complain. But it’s not what the audience of a computer lecture desires. RMS should be providing the audience what they desire.