BT et C

Monday, May 16, 2005

"The Unspoken Third"

Inspiration at last, and from a source I increasingly rely on for exactly that:
Eben Moglen
29:30 -- "every system continues to maintain that government must control how spectrum is used. Sometimes, quite explicitly, for the purpose of remaining itself in power. Sometimes in the claim of some civilizing mission on the belief that government and only government can really artfully determine who ought to speak to the masses in the interest of the expansion of knowledge. And sometimes, as in my society, out of sheer venality: we, the politicians, have taken bribes from you, the media owners, and we will faithfully reflect the interests of our masters who have put us in. But whatever the reason ... spectrum allocation is an evil whose time has come"

Around 35:00 we get a lovely passage [i]contra[/i] the notion that building/supporting free software, even for moral/political reasons, is a mythical realm of academic dreaming
Out of those parts -- free software, free hardware, free culture, and free spectrum -- we build a society of justice, of equality, of liberty. Not in the belief that if we somehow force the aristocrats outs, later society will become perfect. Not out of a belief that there's some class needing liquidation, and then we imagine human beings can change. Not a dream about nowhere, but an attempt to move what we have within our apartments, within our workplaces, within our schools, out into the karger world where it can begin to fulfill its perfectly legitimate, necessary, inevitable work of liberation.

And the usual high quality humor: "It is true that up until now we have dealth with unshrewd opposition. The Microsoft monopoly was not smart in its dealings with free software. More stupid than the recording industry it would be difficult to get."

Imm. following (46:25): a hilarious tale of Moglen liberating a Starbucks.

And then the meat -- the stuff I want to talk to the libertarians about.

"Security is one aspect of the claim made in support of [trusted computing] hardware. Privacy, the control of personal data from inappropriate use is yet another. And of course the protection of the content manufacturers against distribution competition is the unspoken third."

shortly thereafter "it is less about 'can we make manufacturers do what we want?' than about whether we can make consumers demand what they need."

"The problem for the telecoms companies is they have very high fixed costs of construction and we can build more cheaply than they can. This is the fundamental difficulty in their model. I grant you that their model is smarter than the recording industry model -- they have not yet decided that the way to deal with this is to put children in jail. But we can make them go that way, you understand, by building over them, and that's what we're gonna do. And then they will face, ultimately, the same problem that is now faced by the dead distribution businesses: how much coercion can they get the state to apply in support of their business model."


  • not having listened to that stream, and not planning to, you will have to give a little more context to the quotes. especially the last two that you want to talk to libertarians about, but have apparently left out any of your own talking?

    By Blogger luke, at 2:30 PM  

  • Of course I'd prefer you give it a listen, but that's alright.

    Politically, Moglen's work makes an excellent case that government regulation of this or that industry by this or that annoying, fruitless commission is not our biggest problem vis-a-vis individual liberties.

    The biggest problem is the long history of using State Power to enforce longstanding, broadly intellectual categories that range between dubious and ludicrous -- e.g., "intellectual property" via copyright extension.

    Now Greg London has made the case that long copyrights (esp. "Life+N" terms) are dubious. W/r/t works already made, copyright extensions are ludicrous. No additional incentive is needed to create works that have already been created.

    Economically, I think Moglen and Doc Searls are forcefully asserting that businesses entrenched in such concepts are going to have a hard time of it. They inhabit the technosphere, as Stephenson would say (like how I'm tying everyone we've talked about together?)

    example: Moglen created a "liberated Starbuck's". If you didn't know, Starbuck's (and BNoble) offers customers WiFi access subscriptions for $20/mo. or something. Well, Moglen got a couple of people to donate hotspots and installed them near a Starbuck's. So in this location it's not necessary to pay. "Renting switching equipment is not a good business model when switching equipment is ubiquitous."

    What I would suggest to libertarians is illustrated in the last two quotes: we continue in the habit (and expand the habit) of legislating support props for outdated and inflexible businesses, e.g. putting Bruce Lehman at the top of the PTO and Orrin Hatch at the top of the IP Commission.

    By Blogger Matt Crouch, at 4:03 PM  

  • and you are expecting libertarians to disagree? if so, you still have the perception that libertarians are just corporate cheerleaders. you are reading and speaking to the wrong libertarians.

    libertarianism is about individual rights - to self and to property. whether or not property includes digital goods is a subject of remaining contention between us. my take, in one sentence, is that because the definition of property in digital goods is of a philosophical nature, it should be LEFT TO INDIVIDUALS to decide how they will treat digital goods.

    you see that this is congruent with what you described as Moglen's "big problem" - the State enforcing laws to define things like "intellectual property."

    if you say the gist of Moglen's talk is that the state should not be using legislation to crop up failing businesses and business models, you'll find your greatest supporters among libertarians.

    By Blogger luke, at 9:17 AM  

  • No, I'm not expecting disagreement from libertarians. And I well know that the principles here are widely supported in libertarian theory. I only mean to show -- as your last link does -- the common ground between libertarianism and the left.

    In fact I think we're fast approaching a recognition that there are in fact two major political parties in the US: the old one (republicans & democrats) and the new one (libertarians, leftists, some others).

    Anway, I will wrestle with you a bit on digital property, because I find your statement evasive.

    "because the definition of property in digital goods is of a philosophical nature, it should be LEFT TO INDIVIDUALS to decide how they will treat digital goods"

    I guess I don't see this definition as any more philsophical than a definition of physical property. But then, I'm kind of a philosopher. As such, I'm pleased to read the first sentence of wik's article on property: "The concept of property or ownership has no single or universally accepted definition." And Proudhon famously asserted there was no foundation at all for it: "Property is theft".

    So physical AND digital property rights are problematic, intellectually. I don't understand how you can have a theory of one, but not the other. It's one thing to say "I'm not imposing MY theory of X on people," but that's what laws pertaining to physical property do...

    By Blogger Matt Crouch, at 11:49 AM  

  • sure, all definitions are subject to argumentation when you're a philosopher. hell, philosophers would love to just detach themselves from the real world altogether and think only about thought itself, without the pesky confines and limitations of physical existence.

    but at some point, they have to take on reality. and the reality is that people are physical, and, because of this characteristic, interactions are possible. every person may have their own idea about how interactions should take place. sometimes, thru human advancement, 250 million people (group A) will agree on a certain method. 250 million other people (group B) agree on a different method. this is okay, until some people from group A start/want/need to interact with people from group B. at this point, the involved parties can establish a new or different hybrid method of interaction compatible with both A's and B's, they can choose not to interact, or they can form a new group C.

    what we've (libertarians) done is establish methods of interaction (contracts and laws) regarding persons, property, etc. we have some particularly good fundamental ones that people all over the world agree with. however, if some group chooses not to agree with them, that is (should be) fine. we can either interact with those people on other terms we all accept, or not interact. but every interaction occurs in the physical universe, and is therefore subject to some kind of agreement - even if that agreement is to have no agreement at all.

    instead of determining the truthful basis for all interactions of everyone, let's you and I decide what truths we need to establish for our interactions only.

    but rather than get sucked into philosophical banter which makes discourse completely useless (which seems to be the ultimate goal of all philosophical discussions), I'm content to believe that libertarian concepts of physical property ownership could and will be agreed upon by every individual on the planet in contrast to alternatives. for all practical purposes then, it's correct and true.

    it may not be a philosophical truth, but philosophically, everything is up for argumentation - Hitler is only evil because he lost, war is peace, and the chicken came before the egg. or was he? is it? did it?

    By Blogger luke, at 2:08 PM  

  • Your characterization of what philosophical work consists of is at least as reductive and offensive as the idea that all libertarians are corporocrats.

    By Blogger Matt Crouch, at 4:27 PM  

  • I suppose I feel a mild sense of vindication.

    but of the two of us, only I have wasted cycles of thought constructing logical defense against an attack on my beliefs.

    By Blogger luke, at 6:37 AM  

  • Did I attack your beliefs?

    By Blogger Matt Crouch, at 10:33 AM  

  • since we broke down the libertarian principle of (physical) property all the way down to philosophical terms, I acknowledge that it is not an absolute truth. as such, my position of agreement with that principle must be labeled as a belief - I believe it to be true although I cannot prove it.

    and the libertarian principle of property has been challenged, has it not?

    By Blogger luke, at 1:32 PM  

  • yes, the libertarian definition of physical property can be problematic, but those who do not agree with it can interact on terms derived from different definitions, if interact they must.

    I submit that it is only required for people to agree on the definitions, or truths, necessary to facilitate their interaction, and they may hold different definitions for different interactions.

    a large number of people, let's call them Americans, may agree that property means X, and interactions will occur based on that definition. others, let's call them the free software community, agree that property means Y and interactions occur based on that definition.

    notice someone can interact with both groups, accepting differing definitions in differing situations. in the same way a person could interact as landlord to a tenent of an apartment in America. but that same landlord may choose to build and SELL a building, if definitions of property in another society do not permit the interaction of renting.

    it seems to me the stated goal of philosophy is to discover and learn about the truth behind all physical and abstract notions that we perceive in our human existence. and that the application of it is to construct perfect systems of morality, interaction, knowledge, etc. in accordance with that truth.

    I don't think it's necessary to know the truth in order to interact.

    By Blogger luke, at 2:42 PM  

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