Matthew Garrett (mjg59 ) wrote,

RMS and virgins

Many of the comments here and here are disheartening, but part of the problem is that many people didn't see the presentation. Dave linked to a previous iteration of the same presentation[1]. Here's a transcription (errors are mine and mine alone):

I am Saint Ignucius of the church of emacs. I bless your computer, my child. Emacs started out as a text editor. An extensible text editor, which became a way of life for many users because it was extended so much they could do all their computing work without ever exiting from emacs. And then, it became a religion, with the launch of the newsgroup alt.religion.emacs. Tday in the church of emacs we have a great schism between several rival versions of emacs, and we also have saints. But fortunately no god, instead of gods we worship an editor. To be a member of the chuch of emacs, you must recite the confession of the faith. You must say there is no system but gnu, and linux is one of its kernels.

Then if you become a hacker you can celebrate that by having a foobar mitzvah, a ceremony in which the new hacker stands in front of the assembled congregation of hackers and chants through the lines of the system source code. And we also have the cult of the virgin of emacs. The virgin of emacs is any female who has not yet learned how to use emacs. And in the church of emacs we believe that taking her emacs virginity away is a blessed act.

The church of emacs has certain advantages compared with with other churches I won't mention. For instance, to be a saint in the church of emacs does not require celibacy. Although for some of us hackers we wouldn't notice the difference. But it does require living a life of moral purity. You must exorcise whatever proprietary evil operating systems have posessed the computers under your control or set up for your use and then install a wholy free operating system and then only install free software on the system. If you make that vow and you live by it then you too will be a saint, and you too will have the right to wear a halo. If you can find one, because they don't make them any more.

Sometimes people ask me whether it a sin in the church of emacs to use the other editor, vi. It's true that vi vi vi is the editor of the beast. But using a free implementation of vi is not a sin, it's a penance. And sometimes people will ask whether my halo is really an old computer disk. This is no computer disk, this is my halo! But it was a computer disk in a previous life. So thank you very much.


One of the frequent counterarguments against this being sexist is that RMS has often spoken out against sexism (see here, for example). It's very easy to claim to be free of sexism. It's much harder to perform the degree of introspection required to understand whether any of your actions are motivated by viewing genders differently. Do I believe that Richard is attempting to deliberately denigrate women? Not in the slightest. But I also don't believe that someone entirely gender-blind would have made the above joke.

My point here isn't to claim that he's a bad person as a result. I've got personality flaws large enough that you could probably drive a bus through them, but I'd be slightly upset if people thought I was evil because of them. My point is that nobody is above criticism, and if someone behaves in a way that offends a large subset of the community then they should to be criticised. Failing to do so sends the signal that we don't care about those who were offended, and at the same time provides no incentive for people to change their behaviour as a result. And yes, I think those who have high profile positions in the community should be held to higher standards than others - Richard's comments on Mono carry more weight because of who he is, but the cost of this is that everything else he says does as well. And if one of our nominal leaders is perceived as sexist then that reflects badly on all of us.

[1] Note that his GCDS presentation did not entirely consist of this routine - there was also significant discussion of Mono and why he believes that adopting it is dangerous. I don't entirely disagree with him, but that's really not the point here. I'm not involved in any Mono development. I work for a company that ships Mono in the community distribution it supports, but not in the enterprise distribution that pays my wages. If anyone brings up Mono in any comments here they'll be blocked and the thread deleted, because it is not relevant to this discussion.
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