Saturday, January 21, 2012

SOPA/PIPA - A small victory for the Internet and democracy

Democracy is the most difficult government to maintain. - Jean-Jacques Rousseau
A republic, if you can keep it. - Benjamin Franklin
Democracy is not a free ride, man. - Joe Wilson in the movie Fair Game
Internet users have won a small victory in fending off SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act). This was the third attempt at passing a bill to give the government greater control over the Internet. (Compilation clause removed from PRO-IP bill in 2008 and the failed COICA bill  in 2010). The third attempt came with two bills - one in the house (SOPA) and one in the senate (PIPA) under the guise of stopping online piracy. Internet users mobilized and fought back effectively killing the bills - for now. You can see why the government really wants more control of the Internet - Internet users can mobilize effectively against them. Time time around has been a been a cat and mouse game. The bills were dead and then they weren't and then they were dead again and then they weren't. Once it looked like the bills were finally going to die, the white house came out against them too - fooling no one. And a 'shame on you' to my two state senators who supported these bills: Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten GIllibrand (D-NY).

Nevertheless, it was a victory and it shows a path for which democracy can prevail - even in these times where the candidate who raises the most money wins 94% of the time.

It got me thinking about democracy.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau on democracy

From Equality and Democracy:
Rousseau is regarded as the father of the modern theory of democracy. He wrote three famous essays on the subject of moral philosophy and politics. In his first discourse, he raises his doubt about the value of social and scientific progress which he thinks brings about the loss of morality and is associated with vice, alienation, envy, and vanity. 
Rousseau's second discourse deals with the origins of inequality, from which all human vices develop. Rousseau thinks there are two forms of inequality. The first is natural inequality (such as physical differences) and the second is moral inequality (such as differences in wealth and social status). The development of inequality is an evolution from the natural inequality to the moral one. 
Rousseau presents two solutions to the problems of the third stage. The first is personal or therapeutic, which relies on family education and nurturing. Critics, however, point out that family power is limited. The second solution proposed by Rousseau, therefore, is political, which relies on the social contract and focuses on eliminating alienation through collective forces. This political solution is the subject of Rousseau's third discourse, The Social Contracts. 
Rousseau considers inequality to be the major threat to freedom. Due to people's natural tendency to compare and to envy, inequality creates jealousy, vanity, and alienation. The development from natural inequality to moral inequality is a process of moral corruption, through which the freedoms of independence and transparency are lost. 
From, "Of The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right"  by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in 1762
Book III, Chapters IV-VII Summary (link):
Democracy is the most difficult government to maintain, and few (if any) states meet the conditions required to support it. First, the state must be very small so that it is easy to hold public assemblies. Second, to prevent acrimonious debates and to expedite the public business, the people must have similar moral attitudes and habits. Third, everyone must have similar amounts of wealth, because economic inequality creates power differences that cannot exist in a democracy. Finally, there must be no luxury, because luxury corrupts public morality by making the rich vain and the poor covetous. Out of all governments, democracy is also the most prone to civil wars and internal conflict. Because of this and other reasons, Rousseau believes that democracy is too difficult for ordinary humans to maintain. He asserts that only gods could govern themselves democratically.
 Jean-Jacques Rousseau quotes

From: Wikiquote:
A country cannot subsist well without liberty, nor liberty without virtue.
Even if each man could alienate himself, he could not alienate his children: they are born men and free; their liberty belongs to them, and no one but they has the right to dispose of it.
In the strict sense of the term, a true democracy has never existed, and never will exist. It is against natural order that the great number should govern and that the few should be governed.
Good laws lead to the making of better ones; bad ones bring about worse.
From Jean-Jacques Rousseau Quotes:
Force does not constitute right... obedience is due only to legitimate powers.
Free people, remember this maxim: we may acquire liberty, but it is never recovered if it is once lost.
It is unnatural for a majority to rule, for a majority can seldom be organized and united for specific action, and a minority can.
Man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains.
Most nations, as well as people are impossible only in their youth; they become incorrigible as they grow older.
No man has any natural authority over his fellow men.
Our greatest evils flow from ourselves.  
Religious persecutors are not believers, they are rascals.
The body politic, as well as the human body, begins to die as soon as it is born, and carries itself the causes of its destruction.
Virtue is a state of war, and to live in it we have always to combat with ourselves.
You forget that the fruits belong to all and that the land belongs to no one.
Benjamin Franklin Quotes

Outside Independence Hall when the Constitutional Convention of 1787 ended, Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, "Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" 
With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, "A republic, if you can keep it."
From Wikiquote:
They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Robert Hutchins quote

From Freedoms Phoenix (also a good read):
The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.
Joe Wilson from the movie Fair Game
The responsibility of a country is not in the hands of a privileged few. We are strong, and we are free from tyranny as long as each one of us remembers his or her duty as a citizen. Whether it's to report a pothole at the top of your street or lies in a State of the Union address, speak out! Ask those questions. Demand that truth. Democracy is not a free ride, man. I'm here to tell you. But, this is where we live. And if we do our job, this is where our children will live. God bless America.
Margaret Atwood

From Orwell and Me:
Democracies have traditionally defined themselves by, among other things - openness and the rule of law. But now it seems that we in the west are tacitly legitimising the methods of the darker human past, upgraded technologically and sanctified to our own uses, of course. For the sake of freedom, freedom must be renounced. To move us towards the improved world - the utopia we're promised - dystopia must first hold sway.
It's a concept worthy of doublethink. It's also, in its ordering of events, strangely Marxist. First the dictatorship of the proletariat, in which lots of heads must roll; then the pie-in-the-sky classless society, which oddly enough never materializes. Instead, we just get pigs with whips.
For a fair debate about SOPA:

Update 1:

Glenn Greenwald, in his latest article Two lessons from the Megaupload seizure, points out  that the government assumes all powers and codifies the law afterwards (as with the NDAA):
Congratulations, citizens, on your cute little “democracy” victory in denying us the power to shut down websites without a trial: we’re now going to shut down one of your most popular websites without a trial.
Greenwald also points out that the bills were halted: the wake of vocal online citizen protests (and, more significantly, coordinated opposition from the powerful Silicon Valley industry).
William Shakespeare gets the last word from Hamlet (1.4.90), Marcellus to Horatio:
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.