Monday, October 29, 2007

Partisanship is vile. What loss to this country...

Seriously. I see Republicans railing on Democrats and Democrats railing on Republicans. The fighting and partisanship is completely at odds with what our forefathers intended. Benjamin Franklin must be turning in his grave at the extreme partisanship that many Americans today profess.

I do not belong to a political party. Neither should you. This is not because I am Right and you are Wrong; rather, it is a simple matter of reason. Political parties inherently divide people into differing camps of rhetoric. This is self-evident. Also self-evident is that rhetoric snuffs out free thought and discussion.

For this reason, every time I see someone who proudly declares that they belong to one party or other, I will shake my head sadly at the sorrow state of our once great nation. Powerful we have become, but divisive and hostile. So sad, and so unnecessary.

Here are a few action items for you to help improve the political climate of our country:

  • Print and distribute flyers promoting nonpartisan discussion of an issue important to you.
  • Start a discussion club at your local coffee house.
  • Unregister yourself as a member of the political party you presently belong to.
  • Pick one hot issue and start a blog about it. Discuss all possible repercussions it could have.
  • Invite your family and friends to switch parties for a single month and give themselves wholeheartedly to the opposing lines of thought. Don't vote during this experiment though!
  • Read one of Benjamin Franklin's works. There are many, and your local library will have at least one.
  • Start a newsletter for your town that promotes nonpartisan exploration of issues.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

True open source - death of the individual or celebration of individualism?

Many, many people speak glowingly of the benefits of open source software. A growing movement also seeks to make a great many other things "open source" - from the file-sharing freedom fighters at FreeCulture.Org to the unusual licensing of the newest editions of Dungeons & Dragons. Libertarianism and the concept of freely available content appears to be on the rise. However, is this necessarily a good thing? What of individualism and ego, concepts central to Western culture?

Before the Internet and the World Wide Web enabled easy, free sharing of information and data, the individual had two primary levels of protection for his works. First was copyright law, which prior to 1976 and the introduction of Fair Use was a strong wall against unlicensed propogation of content. The other was the simple and undeniable fact that content could simply not be transmitted with any reasonable speed or transparency. The advent of Betamax and the subsequent legal turmoil ended up making unlicensed (and also, licensed) distribution of content much easier.

The recent case by Regal Cinemas against Jhannet Sejas highlights a similar paranoia by an industry juggernaut targeted against a consumer and potential distributor. Ignoring the legal implications of the Regal v. Sejas case (that the possibility of infringement is equal to infringement in the eyes of the law), these kinds of events demonstrate growing pains inherent in the development of an entirely new socioeconomic system. Instead of the traditional producer-distributor-consumer model prevalent throughout the past few hundred years, we are now presented with a direct producer-consumer model - or, in some cases, a consumer-consumer model, whereby the individuality of the producer is apparently cut out of the picture.

And that, my friends, is the crux of this post. Does the removal of the producer from the cycle and the distribution and modification by consumers of their works remove the individualism from the quotient?

For my part, I say no. In fact, it seems to me that rather than removing individualism, it promotes it - albeit in a slightly different form. After all, the concept of inventor-as-hero is a fallacy, with most inventions actually developing from several different points at several different rates. Ely Whitney, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and similar inventors - while important - were not absolutely critical to the development of the technologies they became famous for. They simply became standard bearers.

Similarly, the advent of open source society is not going to crush individualism. Rather, it will promote the free exchange of ideas and, thereby, accelerate the process at which these producer-heroes arise. Further, with the free flow of information, their fame will spread far more rapidly than did their cultural predecessors'. Linus Torvalds and Matt Mullenweg are prime examples of this.

So lead on, brave open source pioneers, and may your paths be paved with cookies. Yours is the cause of freedom and of the future.