Saturday, January 07, 2012

Saturday Post

So there's this guy who really likes video games and Disney World, go listen to him talk about computers for a bit. I really recommend it if you have a free hour. His name is Cory. Cory Doctorow.

So Doctorow talks about DRM and touches on how it relates to censorship and the free market and such. He mentions that DRM and censorship tend to be the tools of tyrants and dictators who lock down freedom of expression and information and whatnot.

There are some sayings out there.

"Knowledge is power." -- Thomas Hobbes

"Information wants to be free." -- Stewart Brand

"Information wants you to give me a dollar." -- Bruce Sterling

Knowledge really is power. Tyrants clamp down on the pipelines of communication because it allows people to coordinate their efforts, to spread the word of atrocities or freedoms, to live their lives outside the tyrants' control. If you want an example of the result of the increased freedom available from communication, look no further than Occupy Wall Street. The media have been thoroughly stymied trying to understand this group because they are decentralized. Once upon a time, protests and organizations were 98% stuffing envelopes and 2% deciding what went in them. Now, thanks to the tubes, people can communicate and organize and decide to act without having to have a central, top-down organization structure. Action follows desire rather than command.

Take a look at the benefits of unions. Without unions, we wouldn't have minimum wage, weekends, or overtime. The working poor wouldn't even be that posh; they'd just be working. An employer, by virtue of having many employees and many applicants for each job opening has a great deal of information available to him; he knows how many people want a job and how qualified they are and how much they're willing to work for. The applicant knows only the information about himself and that there's a job available. The employer has much more information and much more power, and that's not a coincidence. The union levels the playing field by unifying the workers to give them collective bargaining power and by getting them to share their information.

The printing press, Renaissance, and Enlightenment are all associated. Again, this is not an accident. While the so-called medieval period was in fact a time of slow development and progress, but the development of the printing press was contemporaneous with the Renaissance, which saw a rebirth of classical ideas when ancient texts, newly rediscovered from Islamic West Asia, became widespread. This added a definite style and direction of development for the flowering of art, science, and literature of the following centuries. This led inexorably to the Enlightenment, in which education and information began spilling out, overpowering that which sought to constrain it. Of course, this was the traditional and still ever-present enemy of education and discovery; religion.

"But Herr Gutenberg, should you print your bible quickly and cheaply, anyone could read it!"
"That, Herr Priester, is exactly the point."

Lest you think I'm speaking hyperbolically, the heads of church and state were very ambivalent about the spread of the press (as were the old guard of industry, the calligraphers). Henry VIII (head of the Church of England) and the Catholic church were among those who sought to limit the spread of information. It is further no accident that the printing press was contemporaneous with the Protestant Reformation. As ideas spread, those associated with religion, which are entirely unfounded in reality, are free to mutate. No longer entirely controlled by a central authority and disseminated through the slow mechanism of hand-copying, even religious ideas were free.

The printing press freed scientists and laity from the church and broke down the centuries-old mechanisms of control by which it had influenced Western Europe. In so doing, it also (as part of the same process) freed us from tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of years of superstition, terror, and lunacy. Those who had the ability and the will to truly understand the world and share that knowledge with all finally had the means to do so. Civilization begain with writing, but freedom began with printing.

As knowledge and all forms of information become cheaper and easier to disseminate, freedom will inexorably follow. The Arab Spring of course could have happened without the internet, but what caused it? Discontent with economic decline against a backdrop of increasing education. Look at the Iranian Revolution; though it ended in theocracy, it began with students.

What of America: discovered during the Renaissance and founded during the Enlightenment. The first public schools in the New World, perhaps the world as a whole*, began in the colony of Massachusetts. In the 1640s it mandated free public education for all children to townships of more than fifty families. The earliest years of the union were filled with examples of the new states insuring an educated public. Freedom begins with education, with free information. Information doesn't want to be free, it makes you free.

* A quick search appears to indicate that this is the case. I suspect patriotic bias on the part of the internet.
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