Philosophical Musings

January 9, 2008

America, Corporations and the Police State

Filed under: capitalism,Democracy,Freedom,police state — Elad Kehat @ 9:20 am

There’s growing talk about how America is becoming a police state. Here’s just one little example that I ran into today.

The questions is: whatever happened to the American spirit? Why are Americans willing to take this?

The answer might be in corporate culture. With most people working for large corporations today, they get trained to accept orders from above, without questioning, and with a threat to be terminated (from work) if they go against company policy. If you spend most of your waking hours in that kind of culture, there’s no wonder that an authoritarian regime seems like the norm.

Check out this hilarious video, and notice how no Starbucks employee stops to questions why it’s really wrong for DaVido to do his thing in their shop. Nobody gets hurt. Everybody has fun. And what’s that about not filming – why not? Isn’t America supposed to be a free country? But the worse is 4:32 minutes into the video – Starbucks Police ???!!! Corporations have their own police forces now?


December 24, 2007

Morals, Law and Belief

Filed under: Copyrights,Democracy,Freedom,religion — Elad Kehat @ 11:36 am

Two seemingly unrelated posts I read this morning combined in a beautiful way.

Seth Godin is insightful as always, saying:
* Most people want to believe.
* And we’re most comfortable believing what everyone else believes.

Add to that the fact that “everyone else” isn’t really everyone else, it’s just your peer group. That’s why we mostly hold the same religious views as the community we grew up in.

The related post is from TorrentFreak: Piracy, Morals and The Need for Change
Ernesto discusses a NY Times article that tells of the generational divide in the moral perception of copyrights – today’s college students just don’t see anything wrong with copying digital files.
This is only surprising if like most people you (wrongly) assume that morals should be based on the law, and not the other way around. Morals aren’t a constant, they’re just the sum of what we believe to be right and wrong. They exist because we want to believe that there are such things as right or wrong, but their content is usually whatever our peers happen to believe in in that time and place.

So, asks Ernesto, should sharing copyrighted material be leglized?
Wrong question. The right question is “should there be such a thing as copyright?”. Well, the future generation has voted, and their answer is “definitely not”!

August 10, 2007

Strike Back for Freedom

Filed under: business,capitalism,Copyrights,Democracy,Freedom — Elad Kehat @ 2:01 pm

Finally, someone is trying to use the media industry’s own weapons against them.

TechCrunch reports that Veoh, an online video website, is suing Universal Music, after being continually threatened by them.  While their chances in court are probably not very high, its heartening to see that some entrepreneurs aren’t easily intimidated.

Incidentally, I ran into this quote of a judge today:

“There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute nor common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back, for their private benefit.”

Unfortunately, the speaker isn’t a real judge, he’s a fictional one, in Robert Heinlein’s classic short story Life-line, written in 1939! (I’ve been reading some classic scifi lately). Too bad that this paragraph, written 68 years ago by a true libertarian to criticize corrupt business, is still relevant today. Even worse, no real life court today would say the same.

May 23, 2007

Couldn’t say it better myself…

Filed under: Copyrights,Freedom,music — Elad Kehat @ 3:35 pm

NewsFlash! - Amazon Now Has DMR Free Mp3s

July 17, 2006

Copyrights first, Democracy second

Filed under: capitalism,Copyrights,Democracy,Freedom,society — Elad Kehat @ 8:52 am

Today I stumbled upon the website of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), where I found something that made me explode with anger.

The quote the U.S. Constitution’s Patent and Copyright Clause:

“The Congress shall have Power . . . To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries . . .”

And then land the bomb:

“Before free speech, before freedom of assembly, before freedom of religion, there was copyright protection in our Constitution. The founding fathers knew copyright protection could improve society by preserving the economic incentive for people to come up with brilliant ideas and inventions.

That as far as the RIAA is concerned, copyright protection is more important than our freedoms is nothing new. But that they’re willing to hijack the Constitution and the founding fathers to support that claim goes beyond fair.

Consider this: the RIA of America is a body that thinks America is first and foremost all about the protection of their economic interests. Forget freedom of speech – that comes later. Forget freedom of assembly – democracy is secondary. First pay the music industry, then we’ll give you some rights.

Silly me: I always thought that America was about freedom first. Thanks to the RIAA I now know that it’s about narrow economic interests and outdated business models first, freedom second.

April 15, 2006

The Real Danger in Third World Labor

Filed under: capitalism,economy,Freedom,society — Elad Kehat @ 8:58 pm

“The fact is, that civilisation requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.” (Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism, 1895)

The use of cheap labor from third world countries by the west is counter-productive for the west’s own future development and hegemony. The masses of human beings willing to work for what a western person has grown to regard as far less than his bare necessities seems like a boon in the short term, but would prove a disaster in the long term. Billions of Asians sweating for a dollar-a-day or less may seem cheap, but it translates into billions of dollars-a-day making their way from the west to the east. This transfer of wealth is irreversible. Just as Imperialism has once transferred the wealth of the world to Europe, bringing about its prosperity while leaving the rest deprived, it is now the wealth of Europe and North America that is transferred east, making it prosper on the west’s expense.

Do not let the employment conditions fool you. Sweat shops could be found in New York, capital of the Empire State, little more than a hundred years ago. It may be merely a necessary step in the process that has once led to the American Century, and may lead to the current century being named The Chinese. In the process, America shall be deprived not just of title, but of the cultural, economic and military hegemony that it has come to believe as its own by right, forgetting that it is might that makes right.

If you are a believer in Democracy, you should fear this outcome, since liberal democracy is born of western thought. It is the culmination of humanism in an individualistic society. As western hegemony wanes, so shall the prospects of human rights and just government in the developing world.

Keep in mind too that the current system, and as a consequence democracy that goes hand in hand with it, arouses the objections of all of the cheap laborers of the east, the deprived laborers of the west who cannot compete, and the more socially-oriented intellectuals in the west. This is evident by the mounting criticism of globalization.

It is therefore not just our wealth that is at risk, but our very way of life and the values that we hold dear.  The deprivation of human rights from cheap laborers may yet bring about an era of less human rights for all.

February 25, 2006

Law and Freedom

Filed under: Freedom — Elad Kehat @ 7:09 am

I read Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” today. The last time I read it was many years ago, as a teenager, and I’ve been meaning to re-read it for a while now. I was interested in seeing how the imprint of his wonderful discussion of the mysteries of the universe on my older and more learned mind would differ.

One thing that has changed, though it has nothing to do with me personally, is the ability to user the web to get more information whenever the discussion of some topic is not comprehensive or comprehendible enough for my taste. Wikipedia is an amazing resource, and combining it with a good book such as this overcomes the inherent problems of the medium – the brief and disconnected discussion of every one article on the one hand, and the chaotic nature of further research based on following links on the other. The methodical examination of the subject, provided by a well written book puts you in the context of the big picture, whereas you can use the infinite depth and relative up-to-date nature of the web for further exploration.

It is common for people to answer the question of why something behaves like it does with a reference to some law. Scientists are no different at that (at least when writing popular science), and I just encountered that phenomenon reading Hawking.

While discussing the directed nature of time, he mentions that the common explanation given to the fact that we never see broken glasses jumping from the floor back to the table and becoming whole again is the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

The explanation of one fact by another fact, causality, forms the basis for science, and is probably a process that is deeply embedded in human nature. However it is all important to remember that it is in fact no answer at all. Explaining the effect by a cause can always lead to another question – about the cause as an effect, which should lead to another answer, explaining the original cause with a prior one. Since we don’t have a scientifically proven Big Answer yet, or for that matter any answer that would be acceptable to most intelligent people (thus banning out religious answers, if only for the fact that different intelligent people can evidently hold very different religious views), we cannot really explain anything. The answers that we’re able to give are very good at providing us with a better understanding of how things work, enabling us to manipulate that knowledge and create technology, but without the big answer, the ultimate cause, we have no better understanding of why.

For some reason, possibly because facing the truth – that we don’t really have an answer, or simply because providing the answer to the next why in the chain gets increasingly harder, we tend to stop at some point and content ourselves with a partial explanation.

Hawking provides a good example for that in the story of an old lady who once rose in a public lecture on astronomy and told the speaker that he has just told them rubbish, and that the world is actually a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise (a theory shared by any avid Terry Pratchett reader). The speaker’s clever reply: “What is the tortoise standing on?” was easily countered by the claim that “it’s turtles all the way down!”

Regardless of whether this story is true, the failure to see that the answer should only lead to another question (“and what’s down there?”), is emblematic of human behavior in everyday life. Science and philosophy are different, in that they relentlessly ask more questions, but the tendency to rip some characteristics of scientific method away from their context, and apply them to everyday life (in what might be called scientificism) has a dangerous effect on human behavior.

Let me explain by going back to the Second Law of Thermodynamics example given above. A physical law is nonchalantly give as a reason for an everyday situation. Examples abide: why does a rock fall back down to earth after I throw it? because of the law of gravity; why do we have a cycle of day and night? because the earth is spinning on its axle; etc. Causality here serves to describe a situation – the how, and not the why. We didn’t’ answer why there is a law of gravity, or why there’s a sun and why earth is turning, but most people would suffice themselves at that. For science to develop it may be enough that some people won’t, but for humanity to improve itself, the consequences of this tendency are dire.

It is too often that people mix the existence of a law, that is, the law in the legal sense or the norm in the sociological sense, with a sufficient cause. In other words, the mere existence of codes, de facto or de jure, is often mistaken for a good enough reason to follow them, whereas in many cases that reason should only be the implications of not doing so. It is the edicts of one’s morals, ethics, conscience, arrived at in one’s course of life through reason and experience, that should be the primary guide. Thus, barring implications, such as in acts done in the private, our actions should only be dictated by our own views, and when those views are strong enough in our mind and heart, it is imperative that we battle the code and eradicate the implications of acting in public according to our conscience. Only then can we truly be free.

The success of the scientific and technological revolutions, which has led empiricism to take hold on our minds in the place of more abstract thought, may have taken religion’s former place as the source of laws, but has merely imbued us instead with an equivalent concept of scientific law, rather than provide us with science’s penchant for critical thinking. We confuse thus scientific law’s claim for absolute truth (according to the naïve empiricist view of science still accepted by the masses), as a replacement of religion’s claim for divine truth, with the temporal, man-made laws of society and state.

Evidently, personal conscience and public law are compatible in many cases. Murder, rape, or theft of physical property, are frowned upon by both, as are most behaviors that endanger the fragile fabric of society. But most laws and norms are merely there because they made sense at some point in time, or because they are, or were in the past, beneficial to the powerful classes of society. Many are being changed around us all the time. I was not so long ago that women couldn’t vote and homosexuality was a crime. But these were man-made laws that reflected what was seen as the truth at a time, not an absolute truth. They still hold in many places of the world, where either the majority of the population, or the more powerful parts of society hold them as true, and they may yet change again in western societies, if our world view on those matters changes. The important lesson is that when we do not agree with the law, and have strong arguments to back our claim, we must do our part to change that law. It may be little: mere disobedience when the implications are bearable, letting our views be known, creating a discussion around the issue and persuading others. We must realize that in most cases, if not all, there is nothing divine or universal about the law, and we must bear in mind that change is possible.

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