Many people think that it is a reasonable limitation on the freedom of free speech to prohibit someone from yelling ‘FIRE!’ in a crowded theatre – provided, that is, that there is no fire.
That little caveat – provided that there is no fire – is often forgotten by those who wold consider this to be a reasonable limitation of free speech. This, indeed, is not surprising – failure to recognize real warnings of danger and simply treating unpopular statements equally, whether they are true or not, is symptomatic of the individuals who most loudly profess that this limitation on the freedom of speech is somehow ‘reasonable’.
According to these people, giving a warning of a real ad present peril (like, say, a fire in a crowded theatre) is worse than letting everyone sit complacently until they burn to death.
I must admit, there was a time when I was persuaded that if there indeed were no fire, then shouting a warning of it ought not happen. OK, I still think that it ought not happen – but not because there are laws against it.
To explain my change of mind, I have to digress a little bit to some examples on utilitarian morality from philosophy. Not that I am particularly versed in philosophy – my ideas are mostly self-reasoned, but a little education has made me widen the scope of my reasoning.
There is that classical moral dilema question: if you see an uncontrollable train going down some tracks where it will hit six people, but there is a lever you can pull that will divert that train onto another set of tracks, where it will only kill one person, should you pull the lever?
Most ‘utilitarians’ will say that yes, you should, because one death is less tragic than 6 deaths.
I don’t think this is anywhere near as clear cut.
If the train stays on its original track, you (presuming the uncontrollable-ness of the train is not your fault to start off with) are not responsible for the deaths of those 6 people.
If, however, you do pull the lever, you will be the direct cause of the death of that 1 person.
People are not cogs, interchangeable for each other. We are individuals. And, if you pull that lever, you will indeed be guilty of causing the death of that individual. What is more, since you have had time to consider it, that constitutes premeditation. You would therefore be commiting murder.
This means that the question itself is improperly formulated.
Rather, it ought to ask if you could pull that lever and save the 6 people – but in the process murder 1 person, with all the legal consequences this carries, should you still pull that lever?
Because that is the real question: is saving the lives of 6 people worth murdering someone – and, perhaps, spending the rest of your life in prison as a result! After all, real actions have real consequences…
Similarly, the person who shouts ‘FIRE!” in a crowded theatre has not actually killed anyone.
It is the people who act before checking whether their actions are based on fact or not, and those who put their lives above others by trampling them to death to save themselves, who are guilty of, well, the trampling. Not the person who – rightly or wrongly – shouts ‘Fire!’
It is always the tramplers who are the ones guilty of the trampling.
But, because there are many of them, and our moral compass has for too long been corrupted by the profoundly immoral Judeo-Christian doctrine of ‘scapegoating’, of ‘vicarious redemption’, that we are willing to put the blame of the many ‘tramplers’ onto the one who may not, indeed, have done any ‘trampling’ at all!
It is precisely this predisposition we have of shifting the blame for the actions of the individuals who actually carry them out onto a scapegoat who is said to have ’caused’ their bad or immoral behaviour that is going to be the downfall of our society!
It is precisely this scapegoating which is at the heart of political correctness and the erosion of the freedoms which we ought to be able to exercise unfettered.
How have we improved our lot if we have liberated ourselves from Christian religious dogmas, if we permit its worst shackles to still imprison our morality, albeit under the new name of ‘political correctnes’?
So, now, I agree with Christopher Hitchens on this point:
Lately, my browser keeps crashing – because I have just way too many windows open.
But, I cannot possibly close them: each one is about something important that had happened that I really need to blog about… Except that – I am an exceptionally slow thinker and, as an Aspie, an even slower writer. Sometimes, it takes me hours just to squeeze out 2-3 hundred words about what is going on in the world….
But, if I close the windows with the stories in them, I know so much other blogging-worthy stuff will happen, I will never get back to them. So, until I deal with them, I need to keep the windows open!
Something has to give: even though I’d love to write a full post on each and every one of these stories, I simply cannot.
So, I have closed most of the windows (ack!!!) and will take this opportunity to bring just a few (hopefully somewhat) representative ones with just a brief comment on each:
OK – this one is not Islamic – it is tribal African, but it is an abuse of girls in an effort to make them ‘chaste’ by disfiguring them….breat ironing? Really? How can anyone do this to their child…..it makes my blood boil! It’s right up there with FGM…which is why I am including the video here.
I have said this often – and in many ways.
I have lamented the disconnect that exists between the people who fight for civil liberties in general and freedom of speech in particular and those who are battling the copyright trolls and those hardly audible voices that are trying to raise alarm about the abuse of patent laws.
Part of the problem – in my never-humble-opinion is that each of these groups comes from a completely different sphere of interest/infuence and, for all practical purposes, from different cultures.
They do not dress alike.
They do not follow the same trends in popular culture.
They do not agree on what ‘societal norms’ are today.
They do not read the same news sources.
And – perhaps most importantly – they do not use language the same way: not only do they not use the same words to express themselves, when they do use ‘common’ words, they do not use them in the same sense.
Example: when Canadian Free Speech acvocate Ezra Levant was being sued for defamation by an HRC troll by the name of Vigna, one of the ‘defamatory’ statements was that Mr. Levant accused Mr. Vigna of ‘hacking’. The judge then started a bit of a lengthy discussion about what does the term ‘hacking’ really mean: the consensus – undisputed by Mr. Levant’s sounsel – was that ‘hacking’ implies an illegal act!
Sitting in the audience, I came close to screaming out: it does no such thing!!!
‘Hacking’ simply means ‘an innovative use of existing code/coding’!
I can easily say that I ‘hacked together’ a new app from bits of code I had from before: no illegal activiy implied! Sure, many people can use hacking for illegal purposes, but ‘cracking a problem’ is not the same as ‘cracking a safe’ – so the word ‘cracking’ does not, in itself, have illegal connotations.
Same with ‘hacking’.
BTW: Mr. Levant was found to have defamed Mr. Vigna for saying he had ‘hacked’ something…
No wonder that the first two groups (civil libertarians/free speachers and anti-copyright-people) as ureasonable and weird… (The last group is perhaps less distasteful to each of the first two, but, being mostly scientists, they are just not that great at communicating just how dire the situation really is….they are trained to overcome problems – not bitch about them: so, that is what they do. Which does not mean the problem is not there and is not desctroying our way of life!)
So, why is the message not resonating?
‘At this point in the discussion, the copyright industry will complain that they only take action for the illegal bitpatterns found, and that there is no infraction on the right to legal communications. And in doing so, they put themselves in the exact same spot as the old East German Stasi, which also steamed open all letters sent in the mail – but only took action on those with illegal content, just like the copyright industry describes as their preferred scenario. Stasi, too, sorted legal from illegal, and left the legal alone.’
And that is exactly what the copyright industry is demanding: decrypt and check all the communication, permit the legal bits through and hand the rest over to law-enforcement agencies!
Please, consider the following court ruling in the UK: All UK ISPs are now compelled to block access to Pirate Bay.
onsider what is necessary to accomplish this: each and every bit of communication has to be decrypted, analyzed and then either permitted to pass through or not.
That means that a private company not only has the right – it is compelled to – read each and every single email everyone sends.
What do they do with the information they receive in this manner? The ruling does not bother itself with such mundane details….
Sorry – please, insert the worst invectives of your choice here….
Because in a very real sense, this does indeed mean the end of private speech on the internet and the end of anonymous speech on the internet.
And let’s not forget our not-so-distant history: anonymous speach is the cornerstone of liberty!
Without anonymous speach, there would be no Federalist Papers.
Without anonymous speach, there would be no way to overthrow tyrants.
No wonder those who want to hold power will use any pretext that presents itself in order to eliminate private communication and anonymous speech!!!
The mainstream media is not really shouting loudly about the horrible tyranny in Belarus – which does not mean that we should simply sweep what is going on there under the rug. We must stand up for human rights of all people – even far away in a forgotten corner of Europe…
Like Mr. Hannan, I think we should stand up and condemn what is going on there and lend moral – if not more – support to those who are actively working to improve civil liberties in Belarus.
First step, of course, is education.
If you live in Ottawa or its environs, you will soon have an excellent opportunity for educating yourself about the situation in Belarus. On th 25th of April, 2012, at 7 pm, the Freethinking Film Society is going to host an information evening about Belarus at the National Archives Library in Ottawa, where they will be screening ‘Europe’s Last Tyrant’:
For those on the other side of the pond, it will also be screened at the London Film Festival on April 15, 2012 in Shortwave (10 Bermondsey Square, London SE1 3UN). For ticket info, see here. (Sorry about the late notice – just found this out myself).
For the rest: keep your eyes open for a screening in your area. This is not something we should remain ignorant about!
Of course, CISPA does not replace SOPA, it is a separate thing altogether. The backroom negotiations to re-introduce SOPA are already underway…
This is beyond the pale!
Yes, Mr. Levant is correct to raise the spectre of Pavlik Morozov: I was certainly taught in school to live up to his example. But that was on the other side of the iron curtain! There is no room for twisted crap like that in our schools now!
Let you be the first to read it!
I have a gun.
I even volunteered in a school, teaching children how to use a gun, just like mine.
A glue gun, that is.
I have a whole bunch of glue sticks in an ammo box I bought at an army surplus store – partly because I like puns and partly because it is efficient.
I also own a tape gun – it makes wrapping presents more efficient.
And I have two staple guns. (OK, one is my hubby’s, but that makes at least half of it mine, no?)
My kids own guns, too!
From the air-zooka (which ‘shoots’ air, if you are not familiar with it) through a marshmallow gun to water guns…
But if I wanted to own a firearm – an actual gun for shooting bullets – I would not feel obligated to tell ‘the state’. Why? Because I believe, to the core of my being, that the Magna Carta gives me the right to carry whatever arms I think I need to protect my person, family and property. Nothing – no law – can, in my never-humble-opinion – abrogate this natural right to protect myself.
It is precisely because I have the right to carry weapons that police has the power to carry weapons: they derive that right from me, and you, and all the other citizens. Since the government acts as our proxy, it cannot do what each and every one of us does not have the right to do, irrespective of the government.
This equation goes both ways: since the state is acting on our behalf, it cannot do anything we are not free to do. Therefore, if some agents of the state do carry firearms, it therefore follows that each and every citizen has that very same right. If we did not have that right, then the government agents would have nowhere to get that right from.
I recognize I am not expressing this eloquently – following is a video that does a much better job of it:
Here is another example of the Western governments’ war on its citizens.
This creates precisely the type of environment where hacker-vigilaties will be not just tolerated, but positively embraced by a population that feels increasingly under attack by the very institutions created to ensure their individual rights.
Let’s not make any mistakes about it: it is not Twitter and Google who are increasingly censoring us, the members of online communities. Even though they facilitate access to the virtual world of the web, they are themselves physical corporations which exist in the real world, very much subject to the whims of real-world governments.
As such, they are subject to the arbitrary rules which various governments impose on corporations operating within their physical boundaries.
It is unreasonable for us to expect that these corporations will put the freedom on the internet above their ability to physically survive…
So, you may blame them for buckling – but don’t blame them for imposing the censorship itself: the blame lies directly with our governments, our regulating bodies, and us, the citizens, who permit this encroachment!
We must all fight to prevent all governments from usurping jurisdiction over the internet, the way they have been doing!
I don’t know. Yes, I have been thinking about this for a long time, but there simply is no clear answer.
The easiest solution I suspect would be to continue the efforts to create alternatives to the ‘pipelines’ that ISPs use to deliver internet connections, but the more people try to solve this, the more actual attempts there are to make the web truly uncontrollable and impossible to be regulated by anyone or anything anywhere, the better chance there is of success.
So – keep your elective representatives responsible – and keep hacking!
Sounds so innocuous: Stop Online Piracy Act.
After all, ‘Pirates’ are all ‘bad’, so anything to get them off ‘our internet’ must be ‘good’, right?
We, surely, the Orwellian language is only a part of the trick here.
The SOPA hearings are being held today and it is difficult to believe that anyone who does not directly benefit financially from this legislation would be willing to support it. The effect of this legislation would be to chill free speech in ways to give Richard Warman and his Section 13 co-oppressors wet dreams in perpetuity!
Right now, even with the ‘moderate’, much less draconian legislation in place, the copyright infringement laws are being used to silence critics of big business – or even just independent voices (lest they become critical in the future).
In this example, a DMCA claim was used to censor a daily tech news episode which criticized a big-music corporation: under the law, a mere DMCA claim was enough to force a takedown of the episode for a minimum of 10 days. If you are running a daily news show, 10 days is an eternity… At least, under the DMCA rules, the news show could appeal to a judge…
And, of course, we all know that the US government has been known to censor a blog for over a year, denying them due process of law to get their property restored and name cleared.
Just to add injury to injury: not only are you guilty until proved innocent under SOPA, getting to court to prove your innocence will be much harder. And even if you were victorious and the courts found you innocent of all charges, you would not have a recourse to sue for damages suffered as the result of the false SOPA accusation!
Is this type of legislation even needed?
The Swiss government certainly does not think so: they have gone the opposite route. After studying the data for a long time, these legislators have concluded that downloading music/videos for personal use is not just perfectly legal, they claim it actually channels money away from copyright holders and helps the music/movie industry in the long run.
And what about the people who have been the most vociferous about the need for crippling the internet in the name of copyright protection? Surely, they themselves do not indulge in the very behaviour they wish to stamp out with knee-jerk legislation like ‘three accusations and you are permanently banned from the internet’, right?
“French President Nicholas Sarkozy is a man who has championed some of the most aggressive anti-piracy legislation in Europe. But today it’s revealed that the occupants of his very own office and home are responsible for a nice selection of pirate downloads using BitTorrent. Three strikes? Those with access to the Presidential Palace’s IP addresses have already doubled that quota. “
But, surely, those entertainment legacy industry movers and shakers who have lobbied the legislators for SOPA – the ones who claim that downloading movies and music for free would bankrupt them – surely they are not doing this themselves, are they?
“With increasing lobbying efforts from the entertainment industry against BitTorrent sites and users, we wondered whether these companies hold themselves to the same standards they demand of others. After some initial skimming we’ve discovered BitTorrent pirates at nearly every major entertainment industry company in the US, including Sony Pictures Entertainment, Fox Entertainment and NBC Universal. Busted.”
And those ‘evil Pirates’ – they must be up to even more vile things…
…but only if you call building a school and bringing high-speed internet connection to a small farming village (which only had one dial-up connected computer for the whole village before) to be a bad thing…
Let’s hope the unanimous screams of protest from the citizens of the internet get heard!