Friday, February 24, 2006

Cure for apathy - Ranting!

Libertarianism = Misguided & Wrong

Ahhh... The cure for apathy - ranting about policy and politics, particularly as they pertain to the digital realm...

In the mid 1990's, Wired Magazine led the charge that the Internet, that newborn frontier, would run in a stateless, deregulated manner evoking old-guard libertarianism. The key to this belief was the lack of any emerging control mechanism: liberty came from the absence of control. The cybersociety was free from all regulation: let the market take control and keep meddlesome government out of the way, and economic prosperity would be unstoppable. This mirrors the language of libertarians, who believe that market forces, through competition, produces the best of the best. In government regulation, they feel, lies inherent repression and true mediocrity.

What they seem to ignore is that in market forces lies a repression of sorts as well. Forces of commerce, by tailoring production to the lowest common denominator, do not provide an atmosphere for innovation. If something new is developed, it will never reach the public until it has been "Interest Grouped" to death. Human services are not served by commerce: they will pay as little as possible to serve as many as possible, a notion that notoriously fails time and again when applied to public education and health. YOU WILL PAY, they shout, while squeezing you for every drop of sweat in your body - sweat that without government regulation would have no basic value at a minimum wage.

Deregulated commerce - with no governmental intervention so long as taxes were paid - was a prevailing notion during the reign of Queen Victoria. Industrial Capitalists were so keen on making money that the government had to pass a law to ensure that children below the age of ten were not working sixty hour weeks. It was not an uncommon sight to see a five-year-old child with three fingers remaining on his hands, which were ideally sized to clean recalcitrant gears. People were paid what the market would bear - no minimum wage - and the slums of London were notorious for stench and disease. Take a look at the photographs and newspaper accounts from Saint & Darley's The Chronicles of London if you don't believe me.

Witnessing all of this, a young German scholar studying in London, named Karl Marx, working with Friedrich Engels, penned the bane of capitalists everywhere, The Communist Manifesto. Ironically, then, it was deregulated capitalism that produced communism, which produced Soviet Russia. The next stroke of irony makes me cackle with glee: in response to the nuclear threat during the Cold War, the Department of Defense created ARPANET, designed to keep research and information secure if any one of the many sites performing such research was destroyed. ARPANET became the Internet. Communism led to the Internet. HAHAHA!

Despite the political and historical ironies leading to the creation of this ultra-free market space, public perception did display a marked belief that this was a regulation-free zone. As Lawrence Lessig points out in Code, and Other Laws of Cyberspace, this ungovernable space is one of the most regulated in the world: The Internet is completely dependent upon code. Code is the software and hardware that make cyberspace what it is. Under the influence of markets and governments, cyberspace is indeed becoming regulated. Embedded in most servers is code that displays visitor IP addresses (and even with a "masking" piece of software, these servers are inaccessible unless IP is available).

Lack of control will only ensure that observation and recording become ubiquitous: liberty, then, can only come as the result of regulations of a certain kind. Freedom will stem from governments - not government as state, but government as cultural construct. Freedom will have to be constructed by a social body, a human body, and impediments to that freedom will have to be quashed by that same body. So - contrary to libertarian belief - free spaces must be governed - regulated in a way that allows for freedom. Much as the US Constitution prevents governmental intrusion on personal privacy, and allows for a military force to protect the rights it grants. Trust is an essential element in such governance, as is the duty of individuals to question policies & leaders in order to maintain trust.

hmm. More on this at some later point.
currently playing on miPod - Cosi Fan Tutte, Act I scene 4, by W. A. Mozart.

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