Saving the Net

How to get past the intellectual and political logjams that threaten Linux and the Net.

At the same time that media concentration restrictions are being removed, such that three companies will own everything, so too are neutrality restrictions for the network being eliminated, so that those same three companies--who also will control broadband access--are totally free to architect broadband however they wish. "The Internet that is to be the savior is a dying breed. The end-to-end architecture that gave us its power will, in effect, be inverted. And so the games networks play to benefit their own will bleed to this space too."

And then Dr. Pangloss says, "but what about spectrum. Won't unlicensed spectrum guarantee our freedom?" And it is true: Here at least there was some hope from this FCC. But the latest from DC is that a tiny chunk of new unlicensed spectrum will be released. And then after that, no more. Spectrum too will be sold--to the same companies, no doubt.

So then, Dr. Pangloss: "When the content layer, the logical layer, and the physical layer are all effectively owned by a handful of companies, free of any requirements of neutrality or openness, what will you ask then?"

--"But Where's the Internet?" by Lawrence Lessig, MediaCon.

"I think that I could turn and live with the animals... Not one of them is demented with the mania of owning things." --Walt Whitman

Who Owns What?

That's the fundamental question, and it's going to get more fundamental as we roll toward the next presidential election here in the US. Much is at stake, including Linux and its natural habitat: the Net. Both have been extraordinarily good for business. Its perceived "threat" to Microsoft and the dot-com crash are both red herrings. Take away Linux and the Net, and both technology and the economy would be a whole lot worse.

Both the Net and Linux were created, grew and flourished almost entirely outside the regulatory sphere. They are, in a literal sense, what free markets have done with their freedoms.

Yet, there are some who do not care. Unfortunately, they're driving the conversation right now. Hollywood has lawmakers and news organizations convinced that file sharing is "piracy" and "theft". Apple, Intel and Microsoft are quietly doing their deals with the Hollywood devil, crippling (or contemplating the crippling of) PC functionalities, to protect the intellectual property of "content producers".

As I write this, SCO claims to own whatever remains of AT&T's original UNIX. They're suing IBM and spreading FUD by the trainload all over Linux, which they claim is derivative. I'm getting e-mails from technologists at big companies telling me that Linux use is now a Big Issue for their corporate legal departments. I also heard recently from a former Novell employee who says Novell intentionally held onto their UNIX patents (acquired from AT&T) so SCO wouldn't have full claims to "owning" whatever it was that Novell sold them (after buying UNIX, renamed UnixWare, from AT&T).

And I'm hearing from people who insist that Linux is not exactly ownerless, either. "Linux is a registered Trademark of Linus Torvalds" appears on 268,000 Web documents, Google tells me. In at least one sense, these folks say, Linus owns Linux. That means it is, in a limited sense, proprietary.

The Internet has been blessedly free of regulation for most of its short life. But the companies that provide most Internet service--telcos and cable companies--are highly regulated. They are creatures that live in a regulatory environment that bears little resemblance to a real marketplace. As natives of regulatory habitats, they see nothing but Good Sense in regulating the Net. After all, any regulation will help assert their ownership over the sections of the Net they control and legitimize the limitations they place on what their customers can do with, and on, the Net.

These companies have deep alliances with the big "content": industries (in the case of cable, they are one and the same) that want to see control extended beyond the Net, into the devices that connect to the Net, including PCs, which have also been blessedly free from regulation. Intellectual property protections have been built into consumer electronics devices for a long time. These guys see no reason why PCs, as a breed of consumer electronic device, shouldn't be subject to the same restrictions, in the form of digital rights management (DRM), run by content providers and burned into hardware at the factory. In fact, they're counting on the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to prevent any hacks around those DRM systems. Once those cripples (for which there is zero demand on the customers' side) are in place, you can count on Dell, HP and Gateway PCs and laptops that are much less ready to run Linux.

Two oddly allied mentalities provide intellectual air cover for these threats to the marketplace. One is the extreme comfort certain industries feel inside their regulatory environments. The other is the high regard political conservatives hold for successful enterprises. Combine the two, and you get conservatives eagerly rewarding companies whose primary achievements consist of successful long-term adaptation to highly regulated environments.

That's what's happened with broadcasting and telecom.

There are barely more than 100 channels apiece on the AM and FM bands. No region can allow more than a couple dozen local signals at most or the signals step on each other--which they do anyway, as the FCC has generally relaxed interference protections over the years to allow more stations on the air. The carrying capacities of satellites and cable systems also limit the number of available channels. If you want to operate a new station of any kind on licensed broadcast spectrum, your chances of finding an opening are approximately zero. It's a closed club.

There's also a problem with conceiving broadcast service--especially the commercial variety--as a "marketplace." Its customers and consumers are different populations. The customers of commercial broadcasting are advertisers, not viewers and listeners. In fact, commercial broadcasting mostly is an advertising business. The "content" it distributes is merely bait; the goods sold are the ears and eyeballs of "consumers". That means commercial broadcasting's real marketplace is Madison Avenue, not radio and TV dials. As a consumer of commercial broadcast programming, your direct influence is zero because that's exactly what you pay. (Paying for cable or satellite service doesn't count, because that payment is for access, not for the content itself.)

The notable exceptions are "premium" channels like HBO and public broadcasting. The reason why programming on both is relatively higher in quality is a simple one: there's little or no split in their markets between customers and consumers. As a viewer or listener, you get what you pay for.

All of which is why this talk about the "media marketplace" is highly screwed up. Relaxing broadcast property ownership rules, in the absence of making larger chunks of available spectrum for everybody, is hardly deregulation. It is a highly selective change in existing regulation that opens opportunities only to the most successful players in a completely closed marketplace.

This is all fine if you don't care about television and radio. But what if you care about the Net and Linux? What does broadcast deregulation have to do with those?

Plenty. The local ISPs that pioneered Net delivery were born under a transient regulatory protection that largely has been sacrificed to give regulatory advantage to cable and telecom industries. Ironically, both industries are in deep trouble, mostly because they have no idea how to deal with the Internet. The Net wasn't born inside their regulated environments, yet they find themselves obliged to carry it anyway because customers want it.

The Net's problem, from telco and cable industries' perspective, is it was born without a business model. Its standards and protocols imagine no coercive regime to require payment--no metering, no service levels, no charges for levels of bandwidth. Worse, it was designed as an end-to-end system, where all the power to create, distribute and consume are located at the ends of the system and not in the middle. In the words of David Eisenberg the Internet's innards purposefully were kept "stupid". All the intelligence properly belonged at the ends. As a pure end-to-end system, the Net also was made to be symmetrical. It wasn't supposed to be like TV, with fat content flowing in only one direction.

The Net's end-to-end nature is so severely anathema to cable and telco companies that they have done everything they can to make the Net as controlled and asymmetrical as possible. They want the Net to be more like television, and to a significant degree, they've succeeded. Most DSL and cable broadband customers take it for granted that downstream speeds are faster than upstream speeds, that they can't operate servers out of their houses and that the only e-mail addresses they can use are ones that end with the name of their telephone or cable company.

And why not? These companies "own" the Net, don't they? Well, no, they don't. They only "provide" it--critical difference.

The gradual destruction of the Net is getting political protection by two strong conservative value systems. One values success, and the other values property. Let's look at success first.

Liberals often are flummoxed by the way conservatives seem to love big business (including, of course, big media). Yet the reason is simple: they love winners, literally. They like to reward strength and achievement. They hate rewarding weakness for the same reason a parent hates rewarding kids' poor grades. This, more than anything else, is what makes conservatives so radically different from liberals. It's why favorite liberal buzzwords like "fairness" and "opportunity" are fingernails on the chalkboards of conservative minds. To conservatives, those words are code-talk for punishing the strong and rewarding the weak.

As George Lakoff explained in Moral Politics: What Conservatives Know that Liberals Don't (University of Chicago, 1995), conservatives consider strength a "moral value". Strong is good. Weak is bad.

In street basketball there's a rule called "make it, take it". If you score a basket, you get to keep the ball. Three-on-three basketball works the same way. So do volleyball and other sports with rules that favor achievement over fairness.

Relaxing media ownership rules is all about "make it, take it". Clear Channel and Viacom have made it. Why not let them take more? It's simply the marketplace at work, right? Again, only in a highly regulated context.

We can't change conservative value systems. But we can change the emphasis on what we conserve and why. That's why we need to figure a way around the Property Problem too.

We met that problem head-on and lost, with Eldred v. Ashcroft, a case that challenged the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. Eldred made it to the Supreme Court last year, shepherded from start to finish by Lawrence Lessig, Stanford law professor, author, constitutional scholar and former clerk for archconservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Oral arguments were heard in October. On January 15, 2003, the justices struck down the challenge by a vote of 7-2. Justice Ginsberg wrote the majority opinion. Justices Stevens and Breyer wrote dissents.

A loud hubbub followed. Somewhere in the midst of all that, I did my own thinking out loud on the American Open Technology Consortium (AOTC) site, suggesting the reasons for Eldred's failure had more to do with language than with politics and law:

I believe Hollywood won because they have successfully repositioned copyright as a property issue. In other words, they successfully urged the world to understand copyright in terms of property. Copyright = property may not be accurate in a strict legal sense, but it still makes common sense, even to the Supreme Court...

Watch the language. While the one side talks about "licenses" with verbs like copy, distribute, play, share and perform, the other side talks about "rights" with verbs like own, protect, safeguard, protect, secure, authorize, buy, sell, infringe, pirate, infringe and steal. This isn't just a battle of words. It's a battle of understandings.

To my surprise, Professor Lessig found my idea convincing. In Doc's Diagnosis, Lessig wrote:

Doc has a brilliant and absolutely correct diagnosis at the American Open Technology Consortium web site about how we lost in Eldred. Copyright is understood to be a form of simple property. The battle in Eldred thus sounded like a battle for and against property. On such a simple scale, it was clear how the majority of the Court would vote. Not because they are conservative, but because they are Americans. We have a (generally sensible) pro-property bias in this culture that makes it extremely hard for people to think critically about the most complicated form of property out there--what most call "intellectual property." To question property of any form makes you a communist. Yet this is precisely our problem: To make it clear that we are pro-copyright without being extremists either way.

So deep is this confusion that even a smart, and traditionally leftist, social commentator like Edward Rothstein makes the same fundamental mistake in a piece published Saturday. He describes the movement, of which I am part, as "countercultural," "radical," and anti-corporate. Now no doubt there are some for whom those terms are true descriptors. But I for one would be ecstatic if we could just have the same copyright law that existed under Richard Nixon...

How to change the debate is the hardest thing. But rather than philosophy, perspective and pragmatics seems the best way. Build a public domain (which Creative Commons will help to do), and show people and companies how the public domain helps them. Indeed, of all the companies out there, this is the one point Disney should certainly understand: Now that they have won the Eldred case, they should be racing to embrace the Eldred Act. No company has depended more upon the public domain. The Eldred Act would give them much more to build upon.

I agree about perspective and pragmatics, and I think Creative Commons is a brilliant institution that will change the game in the long run. But, I still think we lose in the short run as long as copyright (and, for that matter, patents) are perceived as simple property. Our challenge is to change that.

So, how do we out-simple "simple"? It helps to revisit our original concepts of property -- concepts conservatives can espouse and promote.

Duhaime's Law Dictionary defines property this way:

Property is commonly thought of as a thing which belongs to someone and over which a person has total control. But, legally, it is more properly defined as "a collection of legal rights over a thing". These rights are usually total and fully enforceable by the state or the owner against others. It has been said that "property and law were born and die together. Before laws were made there was no property. Take away laws and property ceases." Before laws were written and enforced, property had no relevance. Possession was all that mattered. There are many classifications of property, the most common being between real property or immovable property (real estate, such as land or buildings) and "chattel", or movable property (things which are not attached to the land such as a bicycle, a car or a hammer) and between public (property belonging to everybody or to the state) and private property.

In National Review, John Bloom puts the same idea this way:

Whoever turned "copy right" into one word had to be a lawyer. We don't say "freespeechright" or "gunright" or "assemblyright" or "religionright."

As a result, 99 percent of the public thinks that a copyright is some kind of formal legal document. They think you have to go get it, or protect it, or defend it, or preserve it, or buy it, or hire a lawyer to make sure you have it.

On the contrary, it's simply a right, like all our other rights, and it goes like this: Whoever creates something that has never been created before has the exclusive right to copy it.

It's not the person who registers it with the Library of Congress. It's the person who does it first. Just the act of creation makes the right kick in.

Unlike other rights, though, this one is transferable. You can sell your copyright, license your copyright, or give your copyright away. What's most often done is that you let a big company--say, a book publisher--use the copyright for a specific period of time, in return for money, and at the end of that period the right reverts back to you.

One other difference: This is a right with a specific term.

The Founding Fathers wanted that term to be 14 years, with an additional 14 years if the author [was] still alive. After 28 years, they figured you'd had your chance to exploit your creation, and now it belonged to the nation at large. That way we would never end up with a system of hereditary privilege, similar to the printers guilds of Renaissance England, who tied up rights to dead authors and tightly controlled what could or could not be printed and who could or could not use literary material.

In America, land of free ideas as well as free people, this would never happen, they said.

Well, it's happened. It's happened because for years now Congress has allowed it to happen. We now have an exact replica of the medieval Stationers' Company, which controlled the English copyrights, only its names today are Disney, Bertelsmann, and AOL Time Warner. The big media companies, holding the copyrights of dead authors, have said, in effect, that Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton were wrong and that we should go back to the aristocratic system of hereditary ownership, granting copyrights in perpetuity. To effect this result, they've liberally greased the palms of Congressmen in the form of campaign contributions--and it's worked...

National Review is a conservative magazine. John Bloom is a conservative columnist. This is significant.

What will it take to revitalize this understanding of property and to cause outrage against the damage done to it by Congress?

I think we need a galvanizing issue. I suggest Saving the Net. To do that, we need to treat the Net as two things:

  1. a public domain, and therefore

  2. a natural habitat for markets

In other words, we need to see the Net as a marketplace that has done enormous good, is under extreme threat and needs to be saved.

The Internet has proven to be a fine marketplace for all kinds of stuff. Look up any product on a search engine, and you'll see free markets at work all over the place, with power growing on both the supply and the demand sides o every category you can name.

Markets flourish on the Net or with the help of the Net because the Net is free. That's free as in beer, speech, liberty and enterprise. That freedom is guaranteed by the end-to-end nature of the Net, and the NEA principles it engenders: "Nobody owns it, Everybody can use it and Anybody can improve it."

This may sound a bit like communism to conservative sensibilities, unless it is made clear that the Net belongs to that class of things (gravity, the core of the Earth, the stars, atmosphere, ideas) that cannot be owned and even thinking about owning it is ludicrous.

Now, to the elections. Look at the two big political parties; both have existed largely as funding mechanisms. For proof, ask yourself, "When was the last time I went to a party meeting?" Whatever other functions they serve, the parties are fundamentally about The Money.

At least until the Net came along.

As I write this, Democratic candidate Howard Dean just gathered his party's largest campaign fund for the most recent quarter. The mainstream press has acknowledged that most of this money came from fund-raising on the Internet. But they avoid visiting a fact that should be deeply troubling to every candidate running (and then governing) for money rather than for voters: Dean's lead is owed to a huge number of small donations, not to a small number of large special interests. If he's being bought, it's by his voters. This is a New Thing. It's also been made possible by the Net.

I am not endorsing Howard Dean here (for the record, I'm a registered independent who mostly has voted Libertarian in recent state and federal elections). But I am endorsing a new kind of politics based on the presence in the world of a free marketplace for ideas as well as for products and services. We get to protect that free marketplace by exercising our freedom to use it.

Saving the Net and the NEA goods that thrive on the Net should be a paramount concern for technologists everywhere. Those goods include Linux and every idea that's good enough to grow when it passes from one brain to another, gaining value along the way.

Our work is cut out for us. Let's do it.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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Re: It's not just Republicans either.

Anonymous's picture

Yes -- John Conyers (D-MI), for one.

Think twice before pulling that party handle.

Conservatives run the media???

Anonymous's picture

"Liberals often are flummoxed by the way conservatives seem to love big business (including, of course, big media)."

Right. Conservatives love big media. I can't believe you can say that when every network has such a liberal bias.

I don't want to take away from the points of the article, but I do want to better define who the enemy is.

Of course, Conservatives run the media.

Anonymous's picture

Firstly, it's an urban myth that "every network has such a liberal bias." We even have our own version of Al-jazeera TV. (I won't insult your intelligence by assuming you don't know to which one I'm referring.) But some certainly do have it.

Secondly, the "liberal bias," to the extent it's real and exists, in the media is from the little guys doing the actual work of reporting. Conservatives love AOL Time Warner and its executives, not the columnist at the back of Time magazine.

Re: Of course, Conservatives run the media.

Anonymous's picture

Those are good points, to which I would like to offer one more: The contexts in which the word "liberal" and "conservative" are thrown around often define what they mean--->lots of miscommunication and confusion when contexts and meanings are mismatched. Any media that truly serves in the interest of the private individual (and, therefore, the general public) will be inherently liberal with and in its investigation, reporting, disclosure, and analysis. This includes providing analysis and perspective from both the liberal and conservative ends of the _political_ spectrum. This is what the "liberal media" was originally supposed to (and still should) be.

In all seriousness, ***** objectivity. Everything is inherently biased. The trick is to include as much bias from as many different sources as possible to put everything else into relative perspective. Like language, information only makes sense when it exists in a context--the larger the context, the better.

Re: Conservatives run the media???

Anonymous's picture

Since when has FoxNews been liberal? Since when have Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh been liberal? Ann Coulter is really a liberal too.

Even ABC (the most liberal of the big three (ABC/CNN/FOX), IMO) got rid of Bill Maher when he outspoke against the war and called Bush and company cowards for dropping bombs from 30 thousand feet.

Liberal bias, whatever.

Re: Conservatives run the media???

Anonymous's picture

Umm, when the media rips the flesh off a liberal president for lying about a blow job, and says nothing about a conservative president who lied to start a war, or a conservative vice president who lied as he pillaged a company (Haliburton), stealing the retirement funds of it's employees - I hardly think you can call that media Liberal.

Re: Conservatives run the media???

Anonymous's picture

I hate to tell you this, but for the past two weeks, I have heard nothing but the 16 words that were part of the President's State of the Union address that reference Iraq purchasing uranium from Africa. This is 16 words that the British Government still believes is true, and the media and democrats have been all over the administration trying to make it look like the whole war was based on 16 words. It has not been proved that any lie has taken place; it has however been proved that Clinton did hav s*x with that girl and lied about it under oath. So, I can say with confidence that the media does have a liberal slant.

Re: Conservatives run the media???

Anonymous's picture

I don't see how your last sentence proves your point. The Clinton scandle was EVERYWHERE for a VERY long time. I was damned annoying to turn on the TV and hear/see about it OVER and OVER again.

Now, to better vocalize your morals: "16 words that were a lie that were a PART (not THE main arguement, but a part of it none-the-less) of persuading a country to go to war without UN sanction is comparable to a man lying about having an affair." Hrmmm, I seem to think lying about having an affair isn't a "big deal" on the scale of things that going to war is a "big deal." Just my personal opinion though.

Him getting head did not cause ANYONE to die, much less any Americans to die.

Again, just my opinion.

(this rant brought to you by the repeated bringing up of Clinton stuff when A: liberals never said Clinton was perfect B: it is comparing apples to oranges - war to oral sex).

Re: Conservatives run the media???

Anonymous's picture

The real issue with Clinton was not about what he did in office...if it was just a moral dilemma, then it would have blown over much quicker. The reason the issue was able to stay in the media was that Clinton Purjured himself in a civil trial...where the only thing at stake was money. Purjury is against the law. He lied in court, and continued to lie to the public. Only in the end did the truth come out.

As for the war commments, when I first heard the coverage on the radio, I too was upset (even though I believe the war was justified by the remainder of our intelligence and the fact that Iraq defied UN resolutions and was constantly testing how much they could get away with). However, after reading the comments in the presidents speech in context, I realized that the words really were not all that important.

If we hold all presidents accountable for every promise, hope, or suggestion in the state of the union address without applying common sense, we are in trouble.

I believe that the comments in Bush's speech were unintentional, not intended to deceive, and could possibly even be true.

The words Clinton used were more carefully picked with the intent to deceive.

I may not be voting for Bush for other reasons, but I fully support what we did in IRAQ and don't feel that the 16 words swayed me or were intended to deceive. They were just poorly selected and should have been screened out...questionable judgement.

Re: Conservatives run the media???

Anonymous's picture

Oh please, the entire basis of the war was a lie. Bush has lied incessantly and there's no reason to believe he wouldn't do so in front of a court.

Iraq defied UN resolutions and was constantly testing how much they could get away with

Well, then on that basis it really is time the US was invaded. That's right the rest of the world has decided they don't like the way the US leaders behave and believe they're a threat, they must disarm immediately and allow UN inspectors to verify that they have done so.

You're telling me that the US government would just comply with foreign demands? Yeah right, they'd do exactly what Saddam did.

And what about Israel? They continue to defy UN resolutions, they have dangerous weapons and they've shown they have no compunction about killing civilians.

Saddam was the typical dictator so beloved of the US government and they were happy to let him do whatever he pleased as long he was their little puppet. Of course this meant thousands of civilian deaths during his reign, then to remove him and let another dictator take his place. But hey, they're only Arabs.

But that's what you get for making a bargain with the Devil.

Of course what this is all really about is double standards. One rule for us and another rule for them.

The US has a long history of crushing democratically elected leaders and replacing them with vicious dictators.

Re: Conservatives run the media???

Anonymous's picture

Conservatives govern the company, Liberals determine what is shown.

It only makes sense since liberals are city folk, and TV stations serve cities.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

I think I will get a subscription...
I could not deside which linux publcation to go with, but that is
a great editoral. I sent the link to sevral friends.

Understanding conservatives

Anonymous's picture

I'd like to offer some help to you on this issue. I see liberals and Conservatives as wanting exactly the same outcomes to life. Everyone should be cared for, no one should lack.

Let me see if this forum has any serious religious bias with this quote, "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods they gave to anyone as he had need." This decription of Christian community in the New Testament is the perfect example of conservatism at work.

It sounds frightenly close to communism only with one key difference. The individual controled his assets not a government. In truth a perfect Conservative society and a perfect liberal society look the same on the outside. The only difference is where the guiding morals come from. The morals that form the basis for laws and provide the flow of blessing to the needy.

Liberals want the moral power to exist in the elected govenment and Conservatives want it to rest in the hearts of the people.

Unfortunately as our Founding Fathers noted in many writings our Connsitiution and any form of really free govenment requires that the society have a firm moral foundation. It is the key element that no one can control. The Liberal utopia of the USSR failed without it and the freedoms of our Capitalist utopia of the USA is emperiled by the erosion of the same.


Re: Understanding conservatives

Anonymous's picture

Depends on what definition of conservative and liberal you're using.

In a pure form capitalism and communism end up amounting to largely the same thing - assets and capital all controlled by a few.

And what exactly is a firm moral foundation? How do you come to a core set of what is right and wrong? Most people want to draw this from their selected personal superstition.

Re: Understanding conservatives

Anonymous's picture

The thing is, unless all individuals have a LOT of spare time, they need some external organization, akin to the government, to manage that movement of assets from people in general to the needy. Perhaps a church could stand in that role as well, but many people are suspicious of the attached strings (no aid to homosexuals, for example) that might come with that avenue.

Personally, I don't think the government has any special "moral" authority to distribute aid, and I prefer it that way. Needs usually have little to do with morality. My shoes, and my roof, and the food on my table don't have overwhelming moral implications, despite there being second-order possibilities there (leather, meat, etc). But at the subsistence level of society, the immediate need for food and shelter is going to overwhelm the (in many ways secondary) moral issues. Once someone's needs are fulfilled, THEN and only then can they be engaged in making better choices.

Leaving that aside, I think it's kind of silly to claim that only Liberals want moral power to exist in the elected government. Seems to me that Conservatives are trying to get elected government to legislate on moral issues all the time (abortion, homosexuality, etc). The government is "just" another tool, and everyone spends a significant part of their time trying to influence that tool to their advantage, regardless of whether that advantage is right, wrong, or indifferent.

To turn the argument around, the government is just a "special" corporation that 1) has to take input from the citizenry and 2) has the power to use force, including deadly force, to enforce its dictates. These things make it special and different, but not enormously so. In the eyes of many conservatives, corporations should be given free hand; I fail to see how the government is hugely different, especially given the tendency that corporations with their concentrations of money can pretty easily influence government to favor them in many ways (hence turning the "force" part that makes government different into a tool of some corporations as well, and so blurring the lines between them).

Re: Understanding conservatives - Individualism vs. Collectivism

Anonymous's picture

Conservativism and Liberalism are two words that have many means to different people. A "Conservative" who wants to change the status quo of high taxes and big gov't can be seen as radicals. Liberals who want to maintain abortion rights, can be seen as conservatives. The two words have basically lost all meaning.

Two words that describe the same issues, but are much more clear in understanding are "Collectivism" and "Individualism". These are the two words that describe the issues that divide people. Collectivist consider it the responsibility of the state to care for the collective well being of the population. Individualist consider it their personal responsibility to care for themselves.

In terms of the Internet, a collectivist will want Net regulations to shepard the weak, poor, uneducated away from 'harmful' content, such as pornography, spam, and scams. They see the gov't as the protector of the Internet population. The Individualist wants to decide for themselves what is harmful, and take apporpriate actions against the harmful content.

The idea that everyone should be cared for, and no one should be lacking is a collectivist idea. An individualist will take care of themselves first, then share their wealth and power with the less fortunate as they see fit.

The original author of this posting conveys both individualistic ideals and collectivist ideals. In reality, most of life is lived in the middle. We do want everyone to be cared for, but we don't want the gov't to force us into providing the means to care for everyone.

The United States Gov't was originally set up as a structure to promote individualism. Over the past 200, the collectivist have inserted communal tendencies into every area of that gov't.

As far as the posters claim that morals are the dividing line between conservative and liberals, he is incorrect. Morals are an issue between the individual and their own God. When gov't uses morals to justify laws there is a slipperly slope towards collectivism and totalitarianism. A collectivist believes that the needs of the many outweight the needs of the few or the one. and Individualist beleives that the needs of the one or the few are equal to the needs of the many.

If one stops thinking in terms of conservative vs. liberal, which are meaningless in general and full of contradictions in the specific, and instead thinks in terms of the Individual vs. the Collective, he or she will quickly discover who they are and what they believe.

Something to think about. Gotta Go.


Re: Understanding conservatives - Individualism vs. Collectivism

Anonymous's picture

Great post. How about this: If we consider for a moment that each "collective" is, in reality, consisting of myriad individuals, then we could set our minds to take care of the individual, and therefore inherently take care of the collective. The inverse isn't necessarily so: Taking care of the collective doesn't always mean the individual is taken care of (because she or he is relegated to the realm of a mere statistic), meaning, ironically, that taking care of the collective is actually NOT taking (best) care of the collective. This is where I think our educational system went wrong.

Re: Understanding conservatives

Anonymous's picture

And to think: I didn't even know I lived in a "Capitalist Utopia"! Guess Americans must stop our whining then, huh?

Your spelling (Connsitiution) and capitalization are revealing; the word liberal is lowercase, but all the "C" words are capitalized -- except for "communism." Hmm.

Re: Understanding conservatives

Anonymous's picture

Actually I think the line is drawn differently.

Conservatives see strength and encourage it. Liberals see weakness and want to use the resources of the strong to prop up the weak. (note that even though I mylanguage seems to disparrage liberals, I tend to be one most of the time).

They want the same basic end. They just disagree about how to get there.
Conservatives thrive on finding whats working well and going with it. They value success. Liberals on the other hand value diversity.

The liberal sees people comming to the US not speaking english and sees an oppertunity to diversify our culture. The conservative sees it as a threat to the well oiled english speaking machine thats working so well. Neither are completely wrong.

Liberals see gays wanting to get married and be protected the same way as staights. They say "cool ya know thats unfair you should be treated better". Conservatives see a small group of people who value something differently than them, and see it as a threat to the very successful model that they have been using.

That is fundamentally the split. Frankly conservatives try to legislate their version of morality just as often as liberals. Whether its "Defense of Marrige" acts, or "Flag Burning Ammendments" or "Stronger drug laws" its all basically the same, they see elements of society that have different values from them, and see it as a weakness that must be stomped out.

Oh and communism does NOT mean the state owns everything. Your description is communism. The workers control the means of production, and live together in a social society. Thats it.

It stops being communism when the means of production is controlled bypeople whose interests run counter to the people who do the actual work. (which is why the USSR was but a poor attempt at a communist state - not that they ever got to communism, if you are fammiliar at all with that branch of communist thought I would call them a "Dictatorship of the Proletariat" which is a mythical form of government whose sole aim is to bring about communism and thus render itself obselete - which as we have seen, works oh so well - to put all of communism into that same braindead bucket is unfair)


Re: Understanding conservatives

Anonymous's picture

"Conservatives see strength and encourage it. Liberals see weakness and want to use the resources of the strong to prop up the weak."

Actually, I believe that in many cases this is a gross simplification. Conservatives look at people as weak and strong . And feel that the strong are strong because of hard work, diligence, etc. ie: because of some virtue of their own.

I personally believe that this is quite far from the truth as success and virtue are not really related at all. "The sun shines on the just and the unjust, etc. Therefore just because someone is successful should not give them the right to call all the shots (which is what we are talking about here after all).

There are a great many virtuous people that fail for whatever reason and a lot of low-lifes that make it big for just as many reasons. That is why we need to keep the "successful" from controlling everything- because it takes a long time to fix what a rich man or corporation can do in a very short time with their extended resources. I really feel the labels "conservative" and "liberal" are misnomers since a lot of things that "conservatives" want to do seem extrordanerily liberal to me and visa-versa.

I think the article is right on in the aspect that conservatives generally consider strength ( synonomous with success ) as a virtue, or moral quality. But I also think that that is incredibly shallow and short sighted- but then why take time to consider anything that may not support what one has already made up ones mind is correct?

Understanding stereotypes

Anonymous's picture

When you use the terms conservatives and liberals you are speaking of stereotypes. Stereotypes are generalizations which are always less than accurate at some level.

It's just not that simple. When you oversimplify things they really lose their usefulness.

I consider myself a social liberal and a fiscal conservative. I don't believe everyone to be cared for and no one should lack. I want to create my own way in the world and when I desire something I lack, I want to earn it (which means create it).

You've heard the saying, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

If you give something to a person who hasn't earned it, you actual steal their chance to create it for themselves and rob them of that deep inner satisfaction that comes with accomplishment.

So how do I care for others? By creating opportunities for them to make their own way in the world. Teach them to fish. Praise there fishing efforts. Admire their catch. Bask in there glow when they succeed. Encourage them when they fail.

This is what so many others have done for me. How can I not pass it on?


Re: Understanding stereotypes

Anonymous's picture

Well that's all very nice in theory, but sometimes there are no fish and that is where the social safety net comes in, where those of us who have generously share with those who do not.

Some people have insane amounts of money - and don't tell me it gets used to create jobs and benefit others, it doesn't. These same people will whine about supposedly being overtaxed while some mother has to scrape by at a minimum wage job and desperately attempt to feed her child, not to mention provide medical care. And of course she's lucky to get what she does because if the filthy rich had their way there would be no minimum wage and the meagre employee protections would be eliminated entirely; afterall that poor mother should be grateful that she even has a job.

Re: Understanding conservatives

Anonymous's picture


That's a very astute observation. It has always struck me as paradoxical, though, that Liberals advocate government control of society, as a means to freedom and self-actualization of the individual.

Re: Understanding conservatives

Anonymous's picture

This Sir is utterly brilliant and 100% accurate. A very wise man once said "in a free society the people get the government they deserve" . We are reaping the harvest of decades of complacency and selfish voting habits. As much as I love the internet and computers in general there actually are much bigger issues at stake. Like the survival of this country which is plunging headlong into the same decline suffered by every nation in history that has allowed decadence to gain mainstrem ascendency.
Greg - Detroit

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

Its always struck me as odd, that companies are striving to take control of the net as property to gain profit, yet no one asks the people who created it (or parts thereof). If it is property, then these are the people who should own it, not AT&T.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

"Its always struck me as odd, that companies are striving to take control of the net as property to gain profit, yet no one asks the people who created it (or parts thereof). If it is property, then these are the people who should own it, not AT&T."

No disrespect to DARPA or, if I'm mistaken, whomever hooked the first few systems together as ARPANET, but I wouldn't want them coming to my home or office to put labels on my servers which say <property of the original creators of the internet>

The main issue in my opinion is how to connect to the internet without going through these companies.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

yea, I have lots of ideas about this but I don't know where to start, or anyone to connect with. I emailed DOC, but haven't gotten a reply yet, just trying to figure out where I can help.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

I don't want to be a pain in the .... but actually this is what GNU has been doing all the time.

If you want inspiration go to:

and maybe donate, or support in some how.

RMS may be extreme, he 's not selfish ...


Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

As I understand it, the Green Party gets most of its support from people too. They don't have a widely recognized party name to help them. Will Dean be picked by the Democratic Party to run against Bush? If he is, will he continue to be funded solely by the people (and not corporations)?

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

Unfortunately, RMS comes off as too much of a nutter for me to want to start funding GNU; the guy's a liability who goes into off-topic rants at every opportunity. Keep him away from microphones and podiums and I might start feeling more generous. I agree with many of his ideals, but GNU needs an adult at the helm.

Doc Searls, maybe...

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

"I think that I could turn and live with the animals... Not one of them is demented with the mania of owning things." --Walt Whitman

Not true; some animals have a sense of possession. E.g., one hummingbird has claimed the feeder I put in my backyard, and chases all others away.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

read again and this time...think before you talk more nonsense

Read again

Anonymous's picture

Fair enough.

But once the hummingbird secured your feeder, s/he didn't cast eyes to your neighbor's feeder and plot to own that one as well.

Walt wrote, "Not one of them is demented with the mania of owning things." This is the distinguishing qualification.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture


Humans are animals. So it's perfectly logical to assume that that other organisms we are related to would exhibit similar behaviours, no?

Hell, dung beetles have "possessions", if not to the same degree of complexity as us.

In other words, I suspect Whitman's comments are irrelevant now.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

Check this out:,9171,1101030728-465798,00.html

Notice that Republican Zack Wamp is leading the charge.
Don't count conservatives out of this battle.
We need to work together to win.

Re: Saving the Net

Anonymous's picture

Maybe I'll copy right my name, and therefore, charge companies who use it on evelopes, letterhead, etc...


Ok Doc, Let's do it then.

Anonymous's picture

So... do what? And how do we get started?

I'm not being a pessimist here, I think you make some outstanding points and have a pretty clear vision of what's going wrong. But how do we fix it? Do I run naked down main street with a sign that declares 'the net IS public domain!' or 'The net is a natural habitat for markets!'? Somehow, I think the message will be lost.

How do we counter the media, when it's in their best interest to keep things moving the way they're moving, they have the momentum, legal precedent, money, and we've already been branded as communist-pirate-thieves?

Re: Ok Doc, Let's do it then.

Anonymous's picture

I was going to comment on much the same thing; the article is long on wisdom, but short on a specific course of action. It seems much like a general lecturing his troops on military history, then sending them to the battlefield without telling them which targets to take out.

"Save the Internet" is a fine rallying cry, but I hope you'll take the time in a future column to point the troops in a specific direction.

Make it, TRADE it, OK?

Anonymous's picture

You cast the sentence in a way that disparages conservatives. As if in real life "off the court" it is arbitrary who gets the basketball, and so we need a law that decides which player walks away with the prize? You say, "because they make it, they get to take more." Nobody is _taking_ anything. Arbitrarily taking things is basically stealing, and as a conservative I don't appriciate the blanket accusation against my beliefs. People are engaging in voluntary contractual agreement to purchase assets, where the seller either refuses to sell to stay in the business and keep making money or holding out until she/he can charge the supply/demand-based confiscatory prices they want. Nobody is denying the seller the power she/he holds as the "current" owner (before sale). Nothing is getting forcibly "nationalized" into some imaginary conservative insurrection - so try and use more exact analogies, please.

Those who produce are those who carry the nation forward every day. They don't ask for other people to reward them for that, but instead they ask to own what they create or be able to deal with people to buy more. I cannot fathom why that would offend so many people. Even if one man owned everything, all you would need to do is go out and start a competing business and enough people would "just for fun" root for the underdog that you would have an immediate market niche.

Re: Make it, TRADE it, OK?

Anonymous's picture

Brilliant. How could someone else possibly do anything if "one man owned everything"? You wouldn't have the means to do anything at all.
And if you actually managed to start a competing business, chances are that this "one man" would simply get you out of business by other means than competing. He just has too much power.

Competition is good, monopolies are bad. Even olichopolies are bad. Because a monopoly tends to get it's way not by making a better product, but by it's power to controll the 'market'.

Re: Make it, TRADE it, OK?

Anonymous's picture

> everything, all you would need to do is go out and start a
> competing business and enough people would "just for fun"
> root for the underdog that you would have an immediate
> market niche.

Simple fact is if all the idea's are tied up in copyrights and patents that you wouldn't legally beable to start a competing business without paying huge licencing fees probally forcing you out of that industry all together

Re: Make it, TRADE it, OK?

Anonymous's picture

I really don't believe anyone is that stupid to believe your drivel. What world do you live in OZ?

In the real world, there are people called lawyers. Lawyers determine who gets the basketball. Money is what determines who gets the lawyers.

What drives the world is those that produce something new, not those that amass ever dizzing wealth thru a series of laws that restrict the production of something new.

Re: Make it, TRADE it, OK?

Anonymous's picture

Lawyers determine who get the basketball?

No hope for you; if you have any kids, do them a favor and smother them now.

Re: Make it, TRADE it, OK?

Anonymous's picture

"if you have any kids, do them a favor and smother them now"

Do us a favor for making that terrible comment towards children and smother yourself @sshole.

Re: Make it, TRADE it, OK?

Anonymous's picture

> everything, all you would need to do is go out and start a
> competing business and enough people would "just for fun"
> root for the underdog that you would have an immediate
> market niche.

hmmm - that's pretty presumptuous...there's no real evidence that people (esp. in the US) always go for "the underdog". Indeed, Doc is right on - esp. since Reagan era, we like go-go 'winners' (aka BIG BIZ, aka MSoft, etc.), not underdogs - and that still persists today - even though companies like Enron loaded themselves with aggressive 'winner' employees - look what it got them...and I didn't get any offensive right/left, Dem/Rep overtones you people got from this a conservative, I agree completely with Doc and David Bloom. The Founding Fathers had the copyright issue 'nailed'. With so many other issues to resolve in our country, why are we 'regressing' on this copyright issue ? We know why: greed, plain and simple - make that 'legalized' greed...Thanks for nothing Sonny, MYRIP !

Re: Make it, TRADE it, OK?

Anonymous's picture

Why is selling your copy right less despicable than selling your right to vote?

Re: Make it, TRADE it, OK?

Anonymous's picture

There are a couple of points that caught my attention and I'd like to comment in reverse order...

Even if one man owned everything, all you would need to do is go out and start a competing business and enough people would "just for fun" root for the underdog that you would have an immediate market niche.

This statement ignores American history and its experiences with abusive monopolies. It also ignores the limitations of some markets and a specific example from the beginning of this article.

If you were going to compete with the big media companies and open your own broadcast service - how would you do it? Where are you going to get the piece of spectrum you need to compete with the existing broadcasters? There is none left. You can not simply open up shop and start competing.

There are times when the market is naturally limited. And there are times when monopolies artificially limit a market. In either case, competition will not happen without carefull intervention.

Which leads to the next point.

Nobody is _taking_ anything. Arbitrarily taking things is basically stealing, and as a conservative I don't appriciate the blanket accusation against my beliefs. People are engaging in voluntary contractual agreement to purchase assets, where the seller either refuses to sell to stay in the business and keep making money or holding out until she/he can charge the supply/demand-based confiscatory prices they want.

We're not talking about widgets here. Sure - you produce a widget, you get to sell it. That's not the issue.

The problem is there is more than physical objects being involved. Ideas. Spectrum. The Internet. These concepts are not produced. They are not physical objects. And they are not property. Yet they are a commons - one that is controlled in trade-offs intended to maximize their usefullness.

And that is the issue. There is supposed to be a beneficial trade-off in each case. Ideas are removed from the public domain for a limited time to bennefit those who publish them and encourage continued publishing of information. Broadcast spectrums are regulated and removed from random, public use in an attempt to keep from a chaotic jumble of interferring transmitters. And the Internet is largely unregulated and accessable by even people of modest means, providing not only a method to recieve and consume information but a platform to publish and develop new technology and ideas.

When these trade-offs are disrupted by self-interested power players is when talk of "taking" starts.

Re: Make it, TRADE it, OK?

Anonymous's picture

Somehow, I think you missed his point. The "taking" is changing
the rules. It's as if, after winning twenty games you got the judge
to rule that you now get to start twenty points ahead of everyone
else. This change, of course, has <sarcasm>nothing</sarcasm> to do with the three autographed balls you gave him last night. I don't think Doc
objects to the success of (for example) the commercial TV or radio model. What he is rightfully complaining about is that the companies who have been most successful have now been able to legislate that they will continue indefinitely to be successful.

Unless something is changed - which is the point of the article.

Re: Make it, TRADE it, OK?

Anonymous's picture

Wow, you're living in some textbook dreamworld.

Those who produce are those who carry the nation forward every day??

To what? Restriction, colsolidation, secret regulatory meetings, pumping politicians and lobbyists full of more and more money - that's where they're taking us. Doc's article is 100% spot on. We've seen it over and over - corporations and their govt. counterparts 'owning'/taking/securing/expanding more and more. And as they do this, their accountability has dropped less and less. For prime examples of this, see any of the 10 (or more) biggest mega-corps: Citigroup, Worldcom, Enron, GE, CSFB, etc..

These companies have more rights than individuals do and they have an army of lawyers to make sure it stays that way. Competition is not fair and there is ample proof of this in Microsoft vs. the world. Or SCO vs. IBM/Linux/the Net.

As far as voluntary contracts go, that becomes less and less of a reality as more and more companies consolidate and own more and more. Can you get just a plain, stripped down phone line for DSL in any of the big cities in the US from just anyone? No. How about cable? You have little choice and will have less. Have an idea for an operating system or file system algorithm? Tough, it's probably patented and its' ownership extended 100 years past your death.

If one man owned everything - I like to think of him as benevolent King - then chances are he would not let you set up shop for cheaper and better, or even cheaper and worse. You'd probably be shot and thrown in a ditch or buried in a cement foundation. On top of that, another statue espousing the illusion of his generosity and wisdom.

I've been hammered by business and the idealist notion that in the U.S. you're free to life, liberty and the persuit of happiness. It's simply not true and those who carry the nation forward everyday will run you down in a hearbeat and not even blink. They see no reason to share and will do anything to protect their oligarchy.

Re: Make it, TRADE it, OK?

Anonymous's picture

Those who produce are those who carry the nation forward every day. Unfortunately, American conservatives live in a delusion where theft is confused with production. Those who produce are mothers who care for their children, janitors who clean bathrooms, engineers who design solid structures, police who protect the innocent, doctors who heal, artists who inspire, teachers who educate. To the extent that corporate bureaucrats, in or out of government, enable the activies of those who produce, they too carry the nation forward. If, to the contrary, they only amplify avarice and domination, they are no better than thieves. Right now, you can tell who the thieves are by looking at who the conservatives adulate.