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Re: [rain1 at airmail dot cc] Delete abortion joke

On Thu, May 3, 2018 at 4:11 PM, Alexandre Oliva <> wrote:
> I'm very disappointed and baffled that an allusion to a taboo topic
> that's two-levels removed, in a context in which the taboo topic is
> already established and unavoidable, is enough for people to gang up
> against not only the founder and leader of the movement, but also its
> most fundamental value, and to take the opposite side, practicing
> censorship and, by removing the criticism, taking the side of the
> censors that established the denounced censorship law.

My day job is all about monitoring, researching, and engaging in
advocacy against online censorship.  As such I take exception to
cheapening the word "censorship" by applying it to the present

The "gag rule" which the original passage was intended to comment on
is indeed an act of censorship.  It was imposed by a sovereign state,
on ordinary citizens and organizations, restricting them from saying
certain things, without exception or recourse, backed up by an
explicit threat of withdrawal of funding, and an implicit threat of
violence (as all state acts are).  That's the central meaning of the

It is legitimate to expand the definition to non-state actors who are
also in a position of significant power, capable of imposing similar
bans on entire types of content, groups of people, or subjects of
discussion, without recourse.  Facebook, for instance, is in a
position to act as a censor, and arguably does censor with its "real
names" policy which excludes entire groups of people from a public
forum because either they wish to remain anonymous, or their actual
names don't look sufficiently "real" to whoever is making the call
today.  Another historical example is the Comics Code Authority, a
cartel of comic-book publishers who, for several decades collectively
refused to print anything that didn't fit a narrow, socially normative

But what's happening here and now is not censorship.  I committed a
patch which I believed to have consensus of the active maintainers.
The original author of the text removed by the patch objected to the
change, and we are now discussing whether the text should be
reinstated or replaced with something new.  Nobody in the conversation
has any particular power over anyone else, and no decisions are being
taken in secret or without recourse.  I still won't back the patch out
myself, but if you or anyone else does, I can't stop you.


> that the patch was rushed in after less than 48 hours of debate when
> most of us know his email cycles are often longer than that, and that
> the person who installed the patch, in spite of expressing regret for
> not contacting RMS first, does not offer to correct the mistake and
> allow for consensus to be built, insisting on the fait accompli until
> someone else offers to revert the change.

It's fair to ask why I didn't consult RMS.  First off, I honestly did
not know that he reads and replies to email in batches with a day or
more of lag.  I cannot remember the last time I had any reason to
communicate with him about _anything_, and my current email archive
(which goes back to 2005ish) contains only a handful of messages from
him prior to this conversation, all of which were addressed to mailing
list threads that I wasn't involved with.

The passage that was removed did have an annotation in the Texinfo
source specifically saying that it was written by RMS and was not to
be removed.  However, that annotation (and the passage itself) is so
old that the git history does not record when it was added; it has
been untouched since before 1995.  I assumed that he would not care
any more, perhaps not even remember, and it did not seem important
enough to bother him about.  Again, I regret this incorrect assumption.

Despite that, I don't think I did anything wrong procedurally.  RMS
may be the project leader, but he is not a glibc maintainer.  His
wishes regarding glibc are perhaps to be given _some_ more weight than
those of any other individual, particularly when he is also the author
of text under dispute, but we have never, to my knowledge, treated
them as mandates.


> most of the appointed stewards seem to think it's reasonable to
> disregard it, to betray the core values, to practice the opposite of
> what we should stand for, so that we can have bland, pasteurized,
> neutral purely technical documentation that won't bring anyone any
> moral discomfort.

Speaking only for myself, it is not moral discomfort that I am
concerned with when I say that the manual should avoid the topics of
abortion and abortion-related censorship.  I am concerned with
personal trauma.  I know people who have actually had abortions.  I
also know people who _didn't_ have abortions despite significant
family pressure to do so.  For all of them, the incident is long in
the past, but the nerves are still raw enough that it is not something
casually discussed, certainly not joked about.

But this is just another anecdote, similar to those several other
people have offered.  And to be frank, I _don't_ know what they would
think of either RMS's original joke or any of the suggested
replacements.  This brings me to an important meta-point.  Almost
everyone involved in this thread uses a stereotypically male name.  It
seems likely that most, if not all, of us can at best claim to _know_
people who have been directly affected by either the gag rule, or the
restrictions and controversy over access to abortion, birth control,
etc. more generally.

I have been taking a hard line here -- these are not appropriate
topics for the manual _at all_ -- because I don't think any of us is
qualified to write a _good_ joke on this topic, one that would
actually be cathartic for the people most directly affected by either
abortion- or censorship-related trauma, when they happen upon it
unexpectedly in a document that isn't about that. I suppose we could
hire Leslie Jones to write one for us.


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