Today is July 4. For those in the United States, it is the day commemorated as of declared independence.
Yet for both the United States and the world, it’s more than that. It commemorates not only a declaration of independence, but one of freedom. For the world, it simply is one of the major fathers of freedom.
For the United States, both back then and today, freedom has meant a society in which a people are free to do what they like so long as they don’t infringe upon the rights of others nor the laws to which they as a people consent.
Unfortunately, this definition of freedom has been eroding as of late, especially the right half of the sentence.
Those rubbing against and wearing away the right side of the sentence don’t realize that if the right half collapses, so does the left.
You cannot have freedom without responsibility. As we’ve said before, that’s not freedom, that’s license. When every man becomes a law unto himself, you don’t have freedom, you have anarchy.
Unfettered anarchy never lasts very long in any society because people need order in their lives, and they invariably turn to anyone or anything that will provide that. Usually, such societies go from “my rights” to “might makes right.”
P2P And Gay Marriage: Taking The Law Into One’s Own Hands
A precursor and necessary condition for freedom and democracy is the rule of law. What that means is that society should be ruled by laws, not men. Put more simply, someone in power can’t do whatever they want to you juxt because they feel like it. You have to do something the society’s laws says is wrong before that happens.
This means that law counts, and it is one of the duties of people in a society to obey that law. If you don’t agree with the law, your recourse is to persuade the society through democratic means to change the law.
What disturbs me most about P2Ping is not the stealing itself, but the almost absolute ignorance and disdain for the law, and next to no desire even attempt to change it.
It’s a situation similiar to that the United States faces with gay marriage.
This is not the place to discuss the merits or demerits of gay marriage, and when you get down to it, that’s neither here nor there.
What is actually at stake is this: Does a society have the right, any right, to define terms like marriage?
Is marriage an inalienable personal right to happiness, or a societal privilege determined by law?
If gay couples are found to have an inalienable personal right to marry, what if I’m bisexual? If I need both sexes to be happy, why can’t I have it?
What if the female in this trio happens to be bisexual, too? Do we have a right to a foursome? If you say the first instance is true due to “equal protection under the law,” I don’t see how you can logically deny the others.
Let’s assume one or more of us die. Do we get Social Security survivor checks? If two of us die, do we get two checks?
Do we want to do this? Do we even have any say in this matter?
Let’s take this a bit further (and no doubt someone would if we’ve gotten this far).
I’m a senior citizen who is blind. I love my seeing eye dog (don’t worry, it’s strictly Platonic). He’s my only companion. I’m not going to be around forever, and I would hate to have my faithful dog be rewarded for his faithfulness and hard work by death just because no one else wants him and I don’t have the money to support him after I’m gone.
So why can’t I marry him so he can get a Social Security survivor’s check?
Since this is a geeky group, one perhaps less worthy scenario:
I love my server. Again, no kinkiness here. I love it because it gives me the means to provide a website which tells the world what a fine person I am, and what a shame it is that the world hasn’t caught on to this yet.
Why can’t I marry my computer so after my death, it can be my widow, and, financed by my survivors’ check, pay the ISP and upgrade bills to serve as a perpetual memorial to me?
The issue is not “Where do you draw the line?” The issue becomes “What basis do you have to draw any line, anywhere if marriage gets defined by the individual rather than by the society?”
Several European countries have handled this in a far more forthright and legitimate manner. They’ve legalized gay marriages. What they’ve essentially said is, “We have the right to draw the line, we’re just going to erase and redraw.”
Whether I agree or not with such a decision, it is one thing to know that my taxes are going to support gay or bisexual or canine or computer widows after most of the representatives of my country decided that was a good idea. It is quite another to know that my money is going to all the above just because someone decided all on their own that I have to pay for their self-proclaimed “right” and got a judge to agree.
Changing the law is the one and only legitimate way to address any injustice stemming from current law. Not breaking it. Not letting individuals lay down the law for everyone else.
What does this have with P2Ping? The P2Pers are essentially saying the same thing as the gay folk (and actually, the gay folk have a rather stronger argument). They say, “We have the right to do what we do no matter what the law or anyone or else says about it. You must accommodate us; we don’t have to pay any attention to you.”
Or, to tinker with a certain anthem, “We’re here, peer-to-peer, and now you’ll have to get used to it.”
No, we don’t. Unlike gays, there is no civil rights at stake here. Show me, “Rip, Mix, Burn” in the Constitution.
It is never good for people, any people, to think themselves above the law.
“Freedom Means I Can Do Anything I Want”
We’ve already pointed out that this isn’t true when your thing interferes with other people’s things, but this isn’t true even when it pretty much applies only to yourself.
A few months ago, there was a trial involving cannibalism in Germany.
Cannibalism is not unheard of even in the “developed” world, but usually, dinner is not at all cooperative about it.
This case was different in that the cannibal wanted a Happy Meal; somebody who WANTED to be eaten.
And you thought getting a date with Britney was tough. 🙂
He went on the Internet asking, “Who wants to be my dinner?” Amazingly, he eventually found a volunteer, who signed papers saying “Sure,” and the whole event was videotaped.
Turns out the cannibalee wanted a piece of the action, too, before becoming sick puppy chow, and well, if the tale of Lorena Bobbitt turned your stomach, you definitely don’t want to read about the appetizer the two tried to make from the link above.
Eventually, this double fantasy was terminated, and somebody had someone for dinner for a while. This fellow only got caught when he went back on the Internet looking for a second helping, and police ended up finding leftovers in the freezer.
During his trial, there were actually those who said that this was no big deal because it was an act “between consenting adults,” a sort of culinary Kevorkian.
The court didn’t quite buy that, and sentenced him to eight-and-a-half years for manslaughter.
The law says there are some things you just can’t consent to, even if you want to, and you are no freedom fighter to say otherwise.
Imagine Thomas Jefferson being asked, “That ‘pursuit of happiness’ thing you were talking about? That includes the right to be eaten if that turns you on, right?”
Free speech is critical to a free society. If you can’t talk about something bad, you can hardly do anything constructive to change that.
However, “free speech” has been getting morphed into something perverted, too, lately.
A lot of “free speech” is really free these days. It’s free of thought, of logic, of truth, of reality.
For instance, one may certainly oppose the current President of the United States and his policies quite rationally, but to call George W. Bush a new fascist Hitler simply demonstrates that you know nothing about Bush or fascism or Hitler. If W really were Hitler 2.0, you’d get one chance to say that publicly and then you wouldn’t be part of the public anymore.
Anyone saying is not being historical, they’re being hysterical.
Freedom of speech, especially political speech, has always been close to an absolute in the United States, so this isn’t anything new nor too big a deal.
However, what is at least newish is the concept that freedom of speech also means freedom from criticism. In some eyes, Criticism = Repression = Denial of Free Speech.
This is the absolute opposite of what freedom of speech is all about.
The point of freedom of speech is to get as many ideas out as possible so that the best ones can be chosen. Criticism of ideas is as American as apple pie.
It’s just like freedom in general. There are both rights and responsibilities. You can’t have one without the other. Not for long, at least.
Once the members of a nation are free to talk about matters, they tend to then want to do more than just talk about them. That’s why democracy tends to follow free speech in a society as invariably aw breathing out follows breathing in.
Perhaps it’s just because the Internet allows more ignorant people to display it, but a lot of people don’t seem to understand some of the facts of life about it.
Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” This captures the spirit of democracy quite well. It’s an imperfect system designed for imperfect people.
The hidden strength of democracy is not that it’s perfect or even necessarily good. The single greatest strength of democracy is not that it prevents governments that suck. It’s greatest strength is that it lets you get rid of governments that sucm, easily and without bloodshed.
Democracies are at best messy. They tend to be slow reacting to events, simply because no matter what the subject, odds are there will be two sides opposing each other. Sometimes they can be rotten to the core.
But they can fix themselves.
Your Personalized Presidency
In the United States (and I’m sure elsewhere), you will often hear people say something to the effect of “I’m not going to vote (or “I hate my choices”) because there’s no candidate I’m truly happy with.”
May I suggest that such people are simply thoughtless self-centered twits, for a very simple reason? George Bush and John Kerry, among others, are running for the Presidency of the United States of America. They are running for the Presidency of U.
How can anyone make fifty million or so very different people “truly happy?” How do you get that many people to completely agree with you on hundreds of issues? You can’t. You just can’t. You can make them happy enough (or mad enough at the other guys) to vote for you, but that’s about it.
If you want someone in the White House who agrees with you on everything, run.
A person is elected president or prime minister to lead a nation, not a bunch of individuals. You just can’t take a Bush or Kerry and customize either of them like your Windows settings.
This is the same problem a lot of P2Pers have (though on a bigger scale). They say in essence, “Government is supposed to represent the people. We are the people. They haven’t changed the laws to make us happy, therefore, they must be evil and corrupt.”
The P2Pers don’t realize that while they are people, they’re not the only people around, and if there were a referendum on the subject in just about any nation, they’d probably lose.
They also conveniently forget that they rather outnumber, both in votes and in sheer financial resources, all the record and movie companies along with their employees.
But even if they did organize and spent more than the RIAA and MPAA and the rest, they’d probably still lose in the long run because their uncompromised views are just too extremist for the mainstream.
Which brings us to our last point.
Good Versus Evil
Inherent in the concept of democracy is the notion of opposition. Different groups will have different views on how the world is, and how it should be, and they’ll always try to convince the majority of people that they’re right and the other guys are wrong.
However, having political opponents is one thing. Having political enemies is quite another.
An unspoken law of democracy is, “You can’t always get what you want.” Another is “You (or your party) doesn’t have a monopoly on good ideas.” Anyone who is actually a legislator is going to have to work with opponents and compromise to get things done, and do you know what? The final result is often better than if the originator had gotten it all his way.
Very often, it boils down to “Do you want to get some good done, or do you want to be pure and preen and pose and get nothing done?”
Over the past few decades, it seems like at least the main participants in American democracy are choosing door number two. The two political parties have tended to polarize away from each other, and much of that is due to what the party members think and whom they put into office.
It’s hard to talk or even think about compromise when your loudest supporters think your opposite counterpoint is absolutely insane on a good day, and absolutely evil on a bad one.
The constituents are probably crazier than the congressmen, but when you have some legislators calling the President anything and everything but Spawn of Satan (and they probably skipped that one just because they don’t believe in The Big Bad Dude), and you have the Vice-President of the United States telling one of those legislators to go “f*** himself,” things are getting out of hand. On both sides.
Democracies don’t fail because a bad bunch or two get elected. They fail when they get so paralyzed by hate that they can’t do anything constructive because they can only talk at each other, not to each other.
Conclusion: Extreme Doesn’t Work Here
In the computer world, “extreme” is used a lot, and usually used positively.
That may be fine or at least harmless when it comes to computers or sports, but if you want to watch “extreme politics” in action, just look at Iraq.
The people who are ambushing and bombing and beheading are really just campaigning. Extreme campaigning. They know they can’t really defeat the Americans army militarily, but since they believe Americans are essentially cowards afraid to die, they may be able to get the American electorate to do the job for them. Even if that doesn’t work, no matter when or how the Americans leave, they’re going to spin it into a national liberation and victory over the Americans, reality or not.
Remember, Saddam kept telling Iraqiz after the first Gulf War tbat he and they had won it, and many chose to believe that.
That’s what extreme politics eventually gets you.
Let us hope that in the long term, Western democracy in general and American democracy in particular is just going through a phase, and we keep “extreme” to video cards and snowboarding.