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Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

Hey, it’s Friday night, the weekend is here, and it’s time to paaaaaar-tay, if by paaaaaar-tay you mean find myself largely agreeing with a Christian voice article.

Seriously, I think their objections to the conviction of a street preacher for “delivering homophobic sermons” last year are basically spot on. And while this guy doesn’t sound like someone I’d generally find myself siding with, having the government take action to curtail your free speech in what seems like a pretty clear-cut case of unjust state censorship is the kind of thing that can quickly bring me on board as your ally.

I’m not going to join Stephen Green in praying that the judge in this case will repent and find Jesus, but I am going to keep looking out for chances to defend my principles at the expense of my personal biases. Threatening someone with jail time for speaking his mind in public should feel no less palatable just because I disagree with his message.

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Some people appear to truly believe that if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide. It doesn’t bother them if their communications are being monitored, or if the government can access the details of every phone call, email, or electronically communicated conversation any of us have ever had. After all, anyone doing something illegal in those communications should be caught – and so long as you’re not doing anything illegal, what’s there to worry about?

Meanwhile:

Some people have things they’ve said taken out of context, and protest that their words have been twisted in order to unfairly paint them as some sort of scoundrel. They’ve been misrepresented. Something they said as a joke got repeated around as if they’d really meant it. Someone just quoted the first bit of what they were saying, where they were just setting up the devastatingly satirical point that came later, and made them look like an idiot.

The point being:

I suspect that there is a significant crossover between the two aforementioned groups of people.

And that many of those in this intersection don’t realise how much the context issue undermines their position on privacy.

If you’ve ever been in a casual conversation where someone’s unfairly made you out to be some kind of villain, by unfairly twisting something you said or did and refusing to give you the benefit of the doubt, imagine how much worse it could get when there’s a centralised national authority with a monopoly on physical coercion which can do exactly that.

Maybe you’re not even in that second group, though. Maybe you reckon you’re just over on the left of the Venn diagram.

Maybe you aren’t bothered what the NSA knows about you, because you’ve never said anything in private which could ever possibly be misrepresented to embarrass or incriminate you.

Maybe you’ve never said anything unrepresentative of your true views in a moment of passion or exasperation. Maybe you’ve never made an off-colour joke which might seem racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive when stripped of the nuance, subtlety, and irony you obviously intended. Maybe you’ve never said anything on record which can’t be perfectly understood in isolation or could ever be seen to reflect poorly on you.

Maybe you’ve lead a really dull life, is what I’m saying.

In which case, that’s absolutely fine. I don’t mean to judge. It’s not my place to tell you there’s anything inappropriate about living with a level of caution and reservedness that suits you. So long as it’s working for you, knock yourself out. Be totally blameless. Never give anyone a chance to turn anything against you, no matter how tyrannical their efforts to use your own words to indict you. Go for it. I hope it makes you happy.

But that’s not for me. And a world where that’s the only option isn’t one I want to live in.

I want everyone to be able to make tasteless private jokes, offensive comments behind each other’s backs, and clandestine rendez-vouseses to commit acts of which someone somewhere might disapprove, without worrying about the black glove of Dominion suddenly clapping them on the shoulder.

I want creativity and personal autonomy to roam as free as humanly possible, so that every idea, however contemptible or misguided, has a chance to be talked about.

I want Chris Rock to be able to try some new material out, misfire, make some bad calls that don’t land, cause some offense, figure out what he did wrong, hone the routine until it becomes something that connects with people, and not risk being lambasted into oblivion because of an uncharitable and context-free interpretation of the ideas he had to stumble through on the way to somewhere great.

I want us not to have to constantly restrict ourselves to a narrow set of opinions known to be acceptable and uncontroversial, until we forget how to think differently altogether.

I want to have “nothing to fear”, even if I have done something wrong, because fear shouldn’t be the thing that keeps us from doing wrong, dammit.

I want privacy to be a thing.

I want some cheesecake.

Crap, I knew I’d get derailed from my original point eventually. What was I saying?

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Sometimes, as I read some new and unsurprisingly depressing political story, I can feel my own tendencies plunging ever further toward the anti-authoritarian left even as the words scroll slowly past my eyes.

I can be minding my own business, catching up on recent events in the worlds of politics and pop culture in my news feed, or watching the latest iteration of the ongoing gender politics nightmare explode across the atheoskeptosphere.

And then a North Carolina Senate Committee chairman perfectly encapsulates the inevitable feeling of superiority that festers in the ones with privilege and power, as well as the accompanying contempt for those lesser wretches who simply exist on a level of society barely worthy of recognition or respect. And he does so in a few neat, elegant phrases:

I AM THE SENATOR.

YOU ARE THE CITIZEN.

YOU NEED TO BE QUIET.

…aaaaaaaand anarchist.

But don’t blame this guy. His only crime is believing the hype.

Everything about the US political system which elevates people to these positions of authority reinforces the idea that members of elected office are better, more important, more powerful, more consequential, more right, than the unwashed masses from which they ostensibly arose.

And this system, frankly, is unacceptable.

It’s not worthy of us, because it gives us characters like Tommy Tucker, quoted above, who completely lose sight of any desire to serve the public good – charitably assuming that was something which once motivated him – in favour of telling the plebs to pipe down whenever a hint of representative democracy gets in the way of his career.

And it’s not worthy of Tommy Tucker, because he’s a human being like the rest of us, and he deserves better than to have his worst tendencies nurtured at the expense of his humanity, and to be turned into even more of a selfish, despotic, bureaucratic thug than he would have managed on his own.

Individuals like him are not the root problem. We’ve had centuries to find ways to populate our representative democracy with good people who won’t cock it up. If it was going to happen under a system remotely resembling what we have now, we’d have got there ages ago. We should be seriously looking for an alternative to this “if only the right party would win” thinking. Otherwise we’re just going to carry on repeating the same action and expecting different results. (Someone had a word for that, though I suspect it may not actually have been Einstein).

The system is not good enough. We can do better.

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Bah, I completely missed that it’s Everybody Draw Mohammed Day until Crispian’s reminder. It’s too late to do anything new about it now. Time for a repost:

You can go back and read what I thought about this three years ago, if you’re desperate for an opinion. It hasn’t shifted much since then.

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The premise of this article is that intellectual property shouldn’t be considered a “right” in the way that it commonly is, and that the current legal arrangement of IP “rights” is not a good solution to the problems they purport to address.

I find myself drawn towards ambivalence on this. It seems both highly persuasive, and simultaneously strangely unsatisfying in a way that’s hard to pin down.

Once I dig a bit deeper, though, it seems like the part of me performing a rational assessment is the part which follows the logic of the article and agrees entirely. The part that’s reacting against it seems to be coming from a place of “this is new and unfamiliar and significantly different from the world I feel I understand, and is therefore unimaginable, impossible, and ridiculous”.

I haven’t excised the latter part from my day-to-day assessment of the world yet, not by a long shot. Which is fine. I’m aware it’s there and sometimes know to look out for it, which is a start.

It’s a difficult idea to take on, that intellectual property is simply not fit for purpose, and it’s very easy to come up with a number of instinctive, knee-jerk objections. Even while I see how much sense it makes, and how much it lines up with my ideas of what a more fair, egalitarian, just, productive, and universally beneficial society should look like, part of my mind just isn’t happy with it. And I think this has something to do with a tendency to consider things individually, rather than as part of a more general set of changes.

It might be our natural inclination, on reading about an idea like this, to imagine making just one stand-alone alteration, to the particular part of the world most familiar to us, and imagine that the result represents the full extent of any possible development in that direction. This means that numerous obvious problems spring up, and they seem all-encompassing.

“No intellectual property? How will writers and artists and musicians get paid for anything? What will motivate people to research new technologies, if everyone else will be able to profit from them? Why wouldn’t everyone just steal each other’s ideas and content and creative output willy-nilly, even more carelessly than they do now, in this modern age of torrents and pirate bays and get off my lawn you damn kids!”

But sometimes, even if making a single change in isolation wouldn’t have a great outcome, that change can be a part of something beneficial.

Kicking out the crutches from under someone with broken legs might in no way make things better – but working toward a situation where those crutches aren’t there can still be a good thing.

Or, if you tried eating flour straight out of the bag, you might conclude that you’d prefer to go hungry, but that’s not a good reason to decide that flour always makes things worse. (You clearly haven’t been eating all the breads and cakes and scones that Kirsty’s been constantly baking for me for weeks.)

So, sure. Throwing out IP but leaving the rest of our international infrastructure completely intact might not be an immediate recipe for a productivity revolution or an upsurge in everyone’s liberty and quality of life. But, just because the immediate consequences would be problematic if we did that, we shouldn’t ignore the problems that the current system creates, exacerbates, and allows to persist.

The problems with the present system should be more than enough to make us take seriously the question of whether doing things vastly differently from the status quo might not be a huge improvement. At best, the tangle of intellectual property laws we have at the moment can claim to weakly staunch some of the systemic problems arising from a monopolistic government providing constant and ubiquitous support to an equally monopolistic corpocracy.

The standard objections for why we need patents, intellectual property laws, and so forth, are always framed as if change could only ever be applied in one narrow, restricted way. They warn of legitimate problems, but act as if the best defence against them is already in place, and ignore the flaws in the system that already exists.

Oddly enough, I don’t want to see artists unable to achieve recognition for their work and starving in the streets either. I want everyone to have the time and opportunity to explore their creative interests and put their art out into the world, as much or as little as they want, in whatever medium most interests them, and gain recognition among consumers with similar interests by letting their work be experienced as widely as possible. And if that work is Harry Potter fanfic, or Star Trek slash, or a cruel parody of the novel I might eventually get around to finishing, the currently popular methods of cracking down serve to stifle far more art than they protect.

This all goes for patents on inventions, too. Patents are ostensibly offered to encourage companies to put time and resources into exploring new technologies and ideas, which wouldn’t be profitable if they couldn’t maintain some kind of proprietary rights over those ideas afterwards. But that very fact – that shared breakthroughs are considered less desirable than those which are legally prohibited to all but a single group – is already an artefact of the badly flawed way we fund research.

And perhaps if the one thing you were to change about the world was to scrap patent law, the doomsayers might have a reason to be worried. But this doesn’t mean we should be content with the present system and assume any change will be for the worse. It means that there’s much, much more that needs to change as well. Otherwise we’ll still be acting as if corporate profit margins were indicative of the benefits available to humanity.

I want to see everyone have the chance to do creative, inventive, imaginative, potentially ground-breaking work. The present system of IP law says that we’d have no motivation to do so, if we don’t drastically hobble everyone else’s ability to join in, compete, or enjoy the fruits of each other’s labour. I disagree.

Intellectual property supports a state of affairs largely antithetical to that vision. Moving past it won’t be a single sweeping change which will make everything better; it’s one of many necessary ingredients to building a world worthy of everybody in it.

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#Poppycock

Someone took some of their own property, defaced it in a perfectly safe and easily avoidable manner, posted a picture of it online, and spent last night in a jail cell.

You’ve probably already heard about this, and no, I can’t make any more sense of it than you can.

The red poppy dates back to 1920 as a symbol of remembrance for soldiers who’ve died in war, and in Britain they can be seen being worn by pretty much everyone for, it seems, the several weeks surrounding November 11th, the day which saw the end of World War I.

It’s turned into something odd since then. The harmless artificial flower has started to become a focus point for an inexplicably intense sense of righteousness, indignation, and nationalism. Beyond simply something people do as a personal gesture of remembrance, it’s been turning into something you must do, and must do publicly enough that we all know you’re doing it, if you don’t want people to conclude that you hate Britain, or hate dead soldiers, or don’t care about the heroic sacrifice of something-or-other.

Those who most ardently claim to support the wearing of the poppy are also those most vocally encouraging this shift in attitudes, even though it goes against their purported interests. If it’s important to be able to wear a poppy to demonstrate your respect for the deceased, why would you work to make yourself indistinguishable from crowds of others, who bear the same emblem but don’t share your feelings – who wear the poppy more out of fear that they’d be branded “disrespectful” if they failed to do so, than from any sincere appreciation of the bravery of past generations? It seems counter-productive.

Similarly, show me an American who developed a greater respect for his country as a result of its coercive measures that prevent him from burning a flag. You can’t force people to feel the same way you do, and making them put on a show while hiding their true feelings serves no purpose except to help you live in a fantasy world, at the expense of others’ autonomy.

I’ve got a little distracted here by my opposition to certain zealously patriotic organisations and Facebook groups. What sparked my interest, though, was this 19-year-old guy being arrested and thrown in jail over an image of a poppy being set alight.

In every comment on this story, it seems obligatory to mention the nature of the sacrifice that the poppy represents, and bring to mind those who gave their lives fighting to defend the very freedoms which some people now use to defile a revered symbol.

The irony may be of some interest, but it’s irrelevant to the important point. Even if the concept of freedom had never had anybody die in an effort to defend it, locking people in a cage for burning a poppy in an act of disrespect is an insane way for any civilised country to behave.

And something else that should be irrelevant to how we respond to tyranny is the arsonist’s intentions, or how public he made his display, or how provocative he was attempting to be. A few weeks ago, when Islamic extremists were losing their shit over a blasphemous YouTube video, Penn Jillette was discussing it (I forget where) and said something like: “I wish we could all stop talking about what the rape victim was wearing”. A lot of people prefaced their condemnation of that religious violence by vociferously deploring any insult against Islam. It was an appalling, abusive, low-quality, tenth-rate film, we were told. This didn’t excuse the violence of the response, of course, but

Leave aside how apt a rape comparison is for something about poppies. It’s an analogy of principle; the details and the scale of it aren’t supposed to carry across. The point is, there’s really no good reason to give the tiniest fleck of a shred of an iota of a toss whether this guy’s a total ass, or how obnoxious a sentiment he may have been expressing in the caption to the image. What matters is that the police came and took him away from his home and forced him into a cell, because some people thought he was acting offensively by posting a picture of a burning flower online.

Our law is set up such that it’s entirely possible he’ll end up being charged with a serious crime, a conviction for which could land him in prison for a number of months, as well as branding him as a criminal for the rest of his life.

If you’re going to allow that, why not cram people into a cage against their will because they used swear words on a website that children might potentially visit? Or because they jumped into a river and got in some posh people’s way? Or because they commented that the Queen looks a bit bloody miserable in any given public appearance?

If that sounds ridiculous, it should. If it sounds like it could never happen… Don’t get complacent.

As an incidental postscript, white poppies are for peace.

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When six British soldiers were killed in Afghanistan earlier this month, I heard a number of people expressing exasperation with just how much of a fuss the media was making over it.

In particular, a common objection was that the numerous other people being killed in the conflict don’t tend to receive anything like such devoted press coverage, particularly if they’re foreigners, and particularly if they’re innocent citizens. The tally of war-related civilian deaths in Afghanistan in the past decade is into the tens, or even hundreds of thousands.

While the loss of these few soldiers was no doubt personally devastating to their own friends and families, it perhaps shouldn’t be shocking to the rest of us to learn than a half-dozen military professionals in a war zone lost their lives.

But when a white person dies, it’s a tragedy; when a village in the Middle East gets carpet-bombed, it’s four seconds of an inch-wide rolling news ticker.

I’m trying to select my words so as to make my point clear, but I worry that I’m not doing a good enough job. Which would be a shame, as somebody else “didn’t make his point very well” while discussing this very subject a couple of weeks ago, and he got himself arrested and charged with a racially aggravated public order offence.

Seems a bit harsh for a moment of inarticulacy.

Actually, what it seems like is tyrannical bullshit. He posted something on his own Facebook wall, the bulk of which calls attention to the plight of innocent Afghani people, and doesn’t mention race or anything race related. Which I suppose was tacitly admitted when the police dropped the racial aggravation charges.

Compare and contrast the backlash he received, from some of the most spitefully point-missing zealots since the Jessica Ahlquist affair:

Fucking sick twat burn his eyes out smelly fukka

Cheeky smelly pakki cunt wants tying to a tree n shooting …Smelly fukker..Lock him up n throw the key away ..Grrrhhhh…SKUM…!!

Dirty smelly greasy bastard needs fuking torturing the dirty paki bastard!!

Remember: these are things being said about the guy charged with a racially aggravated public order defense.

For his part, Azhar Ahmed is still being charged. This time with “sending a message that was grossly offensive”.

Well, maybe it was grossly offensive. I wasn’t grossly offended by it myself, on any personal level, but nobody I love has recently been needlessly killed. I can understand those who have suffered such a tragedy would feel differently. For the most part, I found Ahmed’s message not inexplicably frustrated, with an unnecessary smattering of frothing bile toward the end. He’s an angry 19-year-old. He’s not threatening anyone. He’s not attacking anyone. Even if he was being an insensitive dick, you don’t get to arrest people for being insensitive dicks.

If you think Azhar Ahmed is responsible for criminally damaging soldiers’ morale, get back to me once every member of the armed forces is fully equipped with safety gear and all those in a combat zone have a complete exit timetable. Then we’ll discuss what some teenager scribbled on his own corner of the internet.

People bothered to take to the streets with placards about this. “Jail those who insult our troops“. Is that really who we want to be? Start locking up anyone who pisses us off, even when the ability to shut them out and return to blissful silence is a mere “unfriend” click away?

I accidentally watched the first few minutes of one of the Starship Troopers sequels a few weeks ago, and thought the scene – in which a group of “traitors” were convicted and executed for failing to support the troops and damaging morale – was heavy-handed and lacked nuance. I don’t want to start thinking I ought to be taking crappy dystopian sci-fi more seriously.

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