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Posts Tagged ‘law’

Murder is illegal in this country.

But I couldn’t tell you where it says that in the statute-books without doing a bit of research. I can’t cite the exact law off the top of my head, or provide the precise codified wording which strictly speaking makes it illegal to murder another person.

But it’s definitely illegal. I could look all that up if I wanted to. But even if I don’t want to, I’m still justified in believing that murder is illegal. My indirect observations have led me to place a very high probability of truth on that statement, and I don’t think that’s an indicator of poor calibration.

This is relevant to yesterday’s discussion of how homeopathy doesn’t work.

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It goes like this: In 1893, a couple of lines of music were published in a book. The piece of music is eight bars long, and consists of a single-note melody which can be hummed in its entirety in about six seconds.

In 1927, this song was published in a separate compilation of similar musical pieces, with different lyrics which are known to have been informally attached to it for some time.

And now, as a result, if you want to reproduce the song Happy Birthday in any kind of media, you need to pay the Warner/Chappell Music Group for the right to do so, or risk being sued.

They collect millions of dollars every year this way. By claiming some bizarre kind of “ownership” of a universally familiar melody composed well over a century ago by some person or persons entirely unconnected with the people now profiting from it.

I’m trying to imagine a basically worse person than someone who’d demand money from someone else for the right to sing Happy Birthday. If you can think of anything more viscerally contemptible, let me know.

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If you’re in favour of the continued criminalisation of drugs, and you support law enforcement’s efforts to punish those people you’re defining as criminals, be aware of something.

People are doing what you want, in your name, on your mission, in a way that is cruel, unconscionable, vicious, and should make you feel ill.

A New Mexico woman claims she suffered for weeks after a Bernalillo County corrections officer strip-searched her and sprayed mace in her vagina.

Sadism” is exactly the right word, in fact.

This isn’t an unfortunate side effect of a necessary policy. This isn’t a tragic but unavoidable consequence of a general strategy which it’s important we maintain. And this sure as fuck isn’t an isolated incident.

This is just abuse. There’s not even a morally commendable goal being worked towards in unpalatable ways. If anything’s evil, this is.

Now, if you support drug criminalisation policies, you didn’t do this. You haven’t assaulted anyone. You didn’t ask for any police officers to sexually assault anyone on your behalf.

But you really should look into some ways of supporting the policies you want to see enacted, which won’t tacitly endorse the whimsical torture of the innocent.

Classroom discussion questions

1. Is it conceivable, even in theory, that a “war on drugs” might be effective in its goals without shit like this being commonplace?

2. How many individual instances of hard drug use do you think lead directly to physical effects more traumatic and unpleasant than being subjected to a forced anal probe or being pepper-sprayed in the vagina?

3. What the fuck is wrong with America, seriously, I mean, Jesus, you know?

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If I tried venting about every part of Peter Hitchens’s output of the last couple of months which has bothered me, I wouldn’t get to bed until it was 4am and I couldn’t feel my fingers any more. “Addiction” doesn’t exist, apparently. No, I’m not explaining what he seems to mean by that. I’ll let you extrapolate from there. (The case of Mark Duggan also demonstrates why we should bring back hanging. Somehow. Oh god, I’m losing myself down a spiralling pit of inanity. Break away, break away.)

There’s one thing he said that I do want to touch on, though, if I can do so without getting carried away. In talking about the effects of illegal drugs, he uses the phrase “unearned chemical exaltation”.

Of specific interest is the word “unearned”.

Peter Hitchens has a great moral objection to the use of drugs. That itself isn’t so bizarre or insupportable, but what’s interesting is that the “unearned” nature of the high they provide seems to be a significant part of his complaint.

He’s not alone in this; it’s an attitude I’ve seen before. Part of what some people find unacceptable and morally abhorrent about this particular form of artificial manipulation of one’s brain state is that it’s unearned. You haven’t worked for your right to feel good. You just took some drugs.

Never mind any damaging side effects that drug use might have on yourself and society; the bottom line is, you don’t deserve any chemical alteration of your mood.

You think you can just shortcut your way to physical pleasure or mental stimulation, without undergoing the toil and pain associated with the traditional ways of achieving such states? That’s cheating.

And so on.

And then this is used to justify laws against such cheating. And thus a staid, parochial attitude becomes global tyranny.

If you believe the outcomes of a liberal approach to certain intoxicants are so negative that a centralised authority needs to step in and crack down on their usage, that’s an argument to be made. But don’t just sweepingly decide that nobody deserves to feel good until they’ve earned it by suffering enough first.

Classroom discussion questions

1. If a hypothetical drug provided the “chemical exaltation” of, say, cocaine, but without the addictive nature or risk of harmful overdose, is there any reasonable grounds on which it could be outlawed? Could its use even be considered immoral?

2. How little attention does someone have to be paying if they really think that caffeine does not “in any way alter consciousness or perception”?

3. Why is Peter Hitchens?

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The justice is my penis

WHEREFORE, Captain Justice, Guardian of the Realm and Leader of the Resistance, primarily asks that the Court deny the State’s motion, as lacking legal basis.

It’s good that there are lawyers out there who appear to be having some fun. It’s not the only appropriate response to some of the more ridiculous aspects of their profession – a little more direct activism to unfuck the system would also be nice – but it’s still encouraging to see.

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My particular sheltered corner of the internet has been abuzz with European Court of Human Rights news lately. And it’s news with a non-trivial reach outside my own narrow echo chamber, for once; the mainstream media has also been covering the recent rulings on religious discrimination in the workplace, to some extent or another.

There are four cases whose judgments have just been published, focusing on four people who felt that their religious rights weren’t given due respect and deference in their place of work. One counsellor and one registrar both refused to work with same-sex couples; the other two weren’t allowed to wear some sort of ornamental cross as part of their uniform.

Lots has already been written about this, from the lucid to the utter bollocks. Andrew Copson has been kept very busy quashing some of the rumours and countering the misinformation which has accompanied these cases, and seems to have been largely alone in the most prominent news outlets as a critic of the popular “Christian persecution” narrative.

But even some of the most reliably insightful and coherent commentators seem to be blithely accepting some premises of the religious argument which don’t merit it. Nelson Jones is as worth reading on this as ever, but his passing mention of practices being “central or mandatory in a faith tradition”, in the context of Article 9 of the European Convention, raises more questions than he asks.

Here’s my concern about having legislation in place to enshrine religious rights:

Religion is an entirely personal thing, which nobody is obliged to share. If you’re a Christian, swell, but I don’t accept any of the truth-claims based upon your “faith”, and I’m not obliged to treat them differently than any other unfounded assertions about the world. I don’t believe in your God, and see no reason to act as if I should. I’m not a Christian.

(This is important, in part, because it also means your religion can be whatever you want, defined by you and you alone. Letting corporations or governments decide the legitimacy of someone’s religion – be they devout Christian or casual Jedi – and thus rule on how far the rest of us should go to “respect their beliefs”, is the kind of precedent that can’t not go horribly wrong.)

So, given that your religion is, to me, on that level, utterly meaningless… why should I care whether or not your religion affects your motivations, when I’m judging your actions?

If you want to blow other people up, it doesn’t matter to me at all if you’re doing it because you think God wants you to do it or for some other terrible reason. At least, not in terms of evaluating whether you should be allowed to do it. Being religiously motivated neither helps nor hinders your case when you seek to justify harming others.

Similarly, if your deity is a bit more chilled out and just wants you to wear plain black socks all the time, that’s fine, but it’s fine anyway, regardless of whether you consider it a religious obligation or just a personal preference. Your socks are no more or less my business when you claim God’s interested in them than they were before.

Religion is just another motivator, a reason why people feel strongly about certain things, and want to act in certain ways. It’s not a health requirement; a diabetic doesn’t take insulin because they have faith that it’s required of them.

Central point: Claiming the right to a certain behaviour should have no more moral force than claiming the right because you really want to.

And sometimes, that’s a good enough reason. “Because I really want to” is a fine reason for all sorts of things. It’s why I’m eating Toblerone right now. There’s nothing wrong with feeling strongly about taking a particular personal action. But sometimes taking action comes with consequences, and feeling strongly about that action doesn’t let you off the hook for those consequences, even if you’re calling it a religious motivation.

So when judging these “religious discrimination” cases, try imagining that religion doesn’t exist. Imagine that people are just choosing to act a certain way, in the context of doing work they’re getting paid for. Is it reasonable for them to expect to be granted the freedom to act in a way important to them (and nobody else) every time?

In the first two cases, it’s pretty clearly not. The job description for a registrar involves conducting same-sex partnerships, and for a counsellor, to offer counselling (because occasionally the world makes sense). Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane both actively declined to do their jobs, which is not usually something you can choose to do and expect to still have a job.

There were no reasonable grounds for them to make such a refusal. They weren’t being asked to do anything with any significant health risk. They weren’t having to go above and beyond their job description. Offering similar services to same-sex couples is a wholly reasonable expectation for people in their roles, and the only reason they had not to do it was “It’s against my religious beliefs”.

Which, remember, means not an iota more than “I really don’t want to”.

The other cases centre on the wearing of jewellery, which is where the notion of “central or mandatory in a faith tradition” becomes a truly powerful irrelevance. Many people like to wear jewellery, and for the most part this is absolutely fine. There are some things, however, with which it is incompatible. These may include medical practice.

My fiancĂ©e is going to start training as a midwife soon. She’s currently wearing her engagement ring, which includes a number of pointy shiny rocks. Now, when she gets to the practical part of midwifery, she’s not going to be allowed to keep wearing that ring, and I don’t suspect anyone will even bother to ask whether it’s a religious matter for her. She does have some strong feelings about that ring – I count myself immensely lucky to be so high on the list of things that my love feels strongly about – but in her role as a medical professional, this carries just as much weight as if it were religious, i.e. none. Hospital rules are what they are, and there are good reasons not to let people keep wearing pointy shiny rocks on their fingers when they’re putting their hands up women to take babies out.

Similarly, if there’s a blanket rule against dangling neck jewellery in a hospital, it’s a safe bet that it’s there for health reasons, and has zero correlation to how badly someone really wants to wear something pretty – regardless of which grisly death of a rabbi from two millennia ago that pretty something represents. This rule pays no heed to religion, doesn’t even notice it’s there. It would apply in the same way to the same shaped piece of metal on a chain, if Christianity didn’t exist and it was just a treasured family heirloom.

It’s nothing to do with your rights as a Christian. You have rights as a person, and as an employee, and while they’re important and may often need defending, they only go so far. And you don’t get extra ones just for believing really hard in stuff.

Okay. I wrote this far yesterday evening, realised it was past my bedtime and I still had more to say, so shelved it until this evening, and now I’ve completely lost the rambling, incoherent plot and have no idea what else I was planning to add to this. So… you’re welcome, I guess.

Read this, it’s shorter and smarter and makes more sense. I guess I could’ve opened with that.

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Gun pride

Something else I heard on the news in the last couple of days stuck with me. The Connecticut school shooter’s first victim was his own mother, who was found dead at her home. It was (at least partly) her guns that Adam Lanza used to take another couple of dozen lives, and she was quoted as being “proud” of her gun collection.

I don’t want to make this particular comment about gun safety, as such. I have no idea how responsible this lady may have been with her collection. I have zero information on how securely the guns in her house were kept, and no reason to start criticising the way she went about trying to keep herself and her family safe.

What I do want to comment on is the use of the word “proud” when people describe their gun collections.

I think it’s a bad idea for that to be something to take pride in.

Well, maybe not in everyone’s case. There are no doubt enthusiasts of history out there, and people with an interest in their technological development, and so forth, whose interest in guns is sincere, learned, and intellectual, who find an appeal and satisfaction to studying their function, recognising and categorising them, understanding the details of their safe and proper use. That can be all well and good. It doesn’t do anything for me, but I know people who go birdwatching to a degree that bewilders me. There’s no accounting for taste, and that’s fine.

But there’s a different flavour of pride some people take in their guns, where it becomes a macho, posturing thing. In many cases, it’s a distinctly masculine way of bragging about how powerful you are, how dominant, how much harm you could do to others if you chose.

That’s an attitude that worries me.

I’m not saying you should be ashamed, or feel like a bad person, if you own any guns, or even if you enjoy owning them. And I’ll even stipulate, for now, that you’re perfectly entitled to own whatever weaponry you’ve got your hands on so far. You want to protect your family from potential threats, intruders, attackers. Sure. There’s a noble sentiment motivating what you do, I’ll give you. This isn’t about shaming anyone.

But the fact that you need, not just guns, but a gun collection to protect your family? That shouldn’t be a point of pride. If such things really are necessary for you and your loved ones to be adequately defended against the world, that’s deeply regrettable. It should be an unfortunate truth, against which you grit your teeth and grimly accept the tragic nature of reality.

At best, a gun collection should be seen as a necessary evil. I can’t see a good reason for it to inspire pride.

Would you feel as proud of your guns as you do now, if you had to use them? If a twenty-year-old tweaker broke into your home in a desperate frenzy one day, wanting to grab something he could sell to get a fix that afternoon, and you shot him dead because you legitimately feared for your family’s safety – would you be proud of what you’d done?

Or would you feel sad and shaken by something like that? Even if you were sure you’d done the right thing, the only thing you could have done in the situation, would you regret the necessity of it? Would you agree that the outcome was a terrible one, even if there was nothing else you could do to prevent it in the moment?

If it’s the latter case, I think that’s understandable. And I think you would do well to extend that attitude toward the ownership of deadly weapons in the first place.

If not… well, if killing someone who broke into your home and attacked you is something you reckon you’d feel positive about, you’re probably such a different person from me that you don’t read this blog a whole lot. If you are, I’d strongly urge you to reconsider your feelings on the value of human life.

There are also those with concerns, not about personal defense against individuals who wish us harm, but about the increased power of centralised authority, if we vote to let them take everyone else’s guns away (which, let’s remember, is not the only thing that “gun control” means, by any stretch). The gist of the argument seems to be that living in a country where the only firearms are in the hands of the government-run military and police forces is a scary notion.

And there’s a lot of truth there, but I’m also deeply unnerved by the blithe acceptance of a police force who need to be stood up to with armed violence. I mean, if the police and the army are such a threat to citizens of their own country, that those citizens need to defend themselves against them with guns… then why the hell do you have such a scary, power-mad police and military?

It’s not that I don’t think abuses of police authority are a serious worry, but surely there are other methods of recourse to deal with the problem. I’m not sure I want a police force or a military around at all if I’m going to have to carry a gun to make sure their behaviour doesn’t get out of hand.

I guess that’d be the right-libertarian ideal, where everyone is no more than a quick-draw away from ending the life of anyone who might pose a threat, so that we can all live in perfect peace under a comforting omni-present blanket of mutually assured destruction. But I’m willing to bet that, if I bothered to do the research, I’d find that the safest places in the world aren’t the places where the most people are armed and ready to shoot each other if anyone else tries starting any shit. I suspect the safest places are those where people don’t tend to own guns, and don’t think about guns all that much.

Things need to change massively before they’re going to stop being awful. I’m rarely crazy about government intervention, but I’m having a hard time seeing the idea of state imposition of gun control laws as a more sinister prospect than the condition of the US as it currently is.

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So, a horrible thing has happened.

That’s nothing new. Horrible things of one sort or another are always happening. Often, the most horrible things happen on such a scale you can’t even really understand them, or react appropriately.

This particular horrible thing isn’t on that scale. This horrible thing was something we can all understand and react to. And perhaps we should be more outraged about the horrible things in Rwanda and Syria and Darfur and Pakistan and Somalia than we generally are. But this horrible thing isn’t made any less horrible by its not being the worst thing in the world.

I don’t have too much to say about this, and if I don’t cover the obvious bases in much detail – that this is unspeakably tragic, that everyone involved deserves as much compassion and help and respect and privacy as we can give them – please understand that my own words are intended to be supplemental to these facts, not to supplant them.

With the proviso, then, that these are far less important than many other things to be said, I have some scattered thoughts related to the recent school shooting in Connecticut.

Gun control. Some people want it, some people don’t. Some people on both sides of the argument in the States are talking about it more loudly now than they had been before. I’ve talked about it in the past, without coming to any particular conclusions.

But there’s one thing in particular that I wish people who are deeply pro-gun, and have been vocally so in the time since the shooting, would understand:

You know that other lot who you don’t like, who are calling for more gun control laws right now? They’re not doing it because they’re liberal fucking assholes. They’re doing it because eighteen children just got shot dead by a gun.

Trying to get someone to truly and sincerely understand where another person’s coming from, when they’re politically at odds, is always a challenge. But this really should be an easy one for you guys. Someone broke into a school and just kept murdering people with the guns he owned, and many liberals responded by proposing legal measures to curb gun ownership. It should not be that difficult to take a charitable view of these liberals’ motivations, and to understand why they might be suggesting such a thing.

You don’t have to agree with them, but they’re not fucking assholes for thinking that way. A bunch of kids are dead. It doesn’t make someone a moron or an authoritarian ideologue if they come up with “not letting people have all the guns they want all the time” as an idea which might conceivably stop so many kids from dying in the future.

And yes, yes, the government imposing limits on the rights of citizens is a dangerous precedent and a slippery slope, blah blah blah. Sure. But eighteen children just got shot and killed. And what that means for you right now is that you need to work pretty goddamn hard not to seem unforgivably petty, if you’re going to spend more time talking about protecting your right to own guns than about protecting children’s right not to get shot dead by those guns.

The other guys are sincerely trying to act in the interests of innocent people. You’re spending most of your own effort defending your right to own the weapons that just massacred them. I’m not saying you’re entirely without a point, but have some perspective on the argument and be aware of how you sound.

Would it even work? The point of gun control is to reduce gun crime and save lives; the only point in supporting it is to achieve that end. But the correlation between lax laws and more deaths isn’t necessarily as straight-forward as all that.

Someone observed on Twitter earlier (I’ve got to stop half-remembering people’s tweets and failing to credit them) that many conservatives, who oppose gun control laws on the grounds that they wouldn’t even be effective in reducing gun ownership and crime, nevertheless support such demonstrably counterproductive endeavours as the war on drugs. A draconian set of laws is clearly doing nothing to seriously reduce the drug problem over there, and the frequent right-wing hypocrisy is clear.

But the argument goes the other way, too, and I’ve not seen any liberals giving the corresponding syllogism its due. If, like many on the left, you recognise what a dismally failed effort the drug war is, and the extent to which it exacerbates many of the problems of drug use and creates scores of new ones of its own… then why assume that restricting gun ownership will be drastically different?

Whatever the answer, it’s not too soon to have the conversation, about gun control or anything else which could help. If eighteen dead children doesn’t make it a good time to start seriously examining our options, I don’t know what will.

– Final point. Fuck the Constitution.

Seriously, you colonials over there. Get over the fetish for this ancient piece of paper.

Okay, maybe that’s harsh. I guess I don’t have a massive problem with much of the document. It’s got some good ideas and some stuff which was reasonable at the time. And I’m not saying I think it’s terrible because any particular part of it does something I don’t like, or there’s any specific legal principle within that I find disagreeable.

But it was one bunch of people’s ideas of how to run a country, which they came up with in the 1780’s. Smart people with a positive vision for a glorious and thriving egalitarian democracy, they may very well have been. Their ideas should be given due consideration. But you’re allowed to move on.

If you’re trying to decide what laws you should have in your country, have laws that are good laws. Don’t have laws solely because they seem to line up well with what some guys two centuries dead thought would be good laws.

You’ve had nearly a quarter of a millennium now, as a country, to consider and reflect on the original Constitution, and think about how its contents might best be updated in the face of an ever-changing set of societal requirements and conditions.

Particularly, say, in the case of the rather significant advances in handgun technology that have come along since the invention of the musket.

There was much to admire about Thomas Jefferson but we might, collectively, be able to make better decisions than him on the subject of waiting periods and background checks before people are allowed to purchase an M1941 Johnson Rifle and set of armor-piercing .30-06 Springfield cartridges. The founding fathers had some smart ideas, especially about the importance of freedom, and it’s true that many politicians are too keen to second-guess them and assume they know better… but I really think us 21st century folk are in a better position to make the call on this one.

It’s a really, really good time to have a conversation about guns, and about any possible ways we might be able to minimise horrible things that happen because of guns in the future. An honest conversation needs to consider all the options, including gun control, no gun control, or just somehow persuading the entire USA to be a little less batshit insane about firearms.

And a worthwhile conversation about gun laws actually needs to be about gun laws, and not – please, for the love of bacon – about the placement of fucking commas in the Second Amendment. For fuck’s sake.

More not unrelevant things about this can be read here, and here, and it may also have come up in conversation elsewhere on the internet.

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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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