Periscope Depth

the clock’s ticking, I just count the hours

I’m happy my corner of the Internet has risen in unison to protest SOPA. I really am. I’m happy people seem to recognize, today, finally, that putting powerful weapons in the hands of the powerful only serves the interests of the powerful. I’m glad people are doing whatever they can, even if it’s within a rather narrow band (writing their Congresspersons, rewriting their .htaccess files), to check the effects of hundreds of millions of dollars in lobbying money.

My only hope is that today makes an impact. Not on Congress, but on everyone else.

My sincere, I’m-not-being-sarcastic-this-time hope is that people investigate the process that led to SOPA being written in the first place and realize that it’s not an accident. Nothing this big is an accident. SOPA emerged from a deliberate confluence of factions conspiring to protect their power. Congress isn’t endorsing a bill that expands the already draconian provisions of the DMCA because no other option appears available to them to stop piracy. They’re not idiots. Congress is endorsing this bill because people with millions of dollars, such as the MPAA (and their chief lobbyist, former Senator Chris Dodd), want it to happen. And the MPAA wants it to happen because they want to turn third-party filesharing into a revenue stream through a constant barrage of torts.

Does your average member of Congress care about lobbyists and campaign contributions more than they care about their constituency? Obviously Perhaps not. But they know that you’re going to vote for them anyway. Most people are. Your Congressional representative knows that he has an eighty percent chance of keeping his job whatever he does, slightly less if he’s a Senator. You aren’t going to turn your back on him over one trivial bill. But the MPAA might. And when the MPAA takes a member of Congress off their list, that’s a thousand-dollar haircut. More if he has a valuable committee seat.

One of the ways that people get confused about evolution – even the people who defend evolution against creationists – is that they think it’s “accidental.” It’s not. There’s a difference between undesigned and accidental. Evolution produces speciation through the forces of natural and sexual selection, with a healthy dose of mutation thrown in at random intervals. While there is no divine intelligence behind it, that doesn’t mean the process is a complete roll of the dice. Humans (and other animals) fit so well on the planet Earth because an animal that didn’t fit well wouldn’t have survived here. Evolution is a product of forces. It’s no more accidental than a waterfall.

Similarly, the convergence of money and power in the form of destructive regulation is not accidental. It’s not like Lamar Smith woke up one morning, found a monstrous censoring blade on his desk and decided to start swinging it before reason overtook him. It’s not as if Eric Cantor hates Google and wants it destroyed. Rather, you have many unrelated actors – filesharing sites, search engines, content aggregators, members of Congress, the MPAA – and a vast institution that notionally connects them – the law. The law is not a bulwark against the powerful. It’s a giant, flashing beacon. It tells the powerful, “If you want your voice to be heard, make your checks out to this address and no other.”

I have to stress that SOPA and PIPA are a natural outcome of the regulatory process, not some accidental aberration. I have to stress it because every law is like that. All of them. Even the ones you like. Especially the ones you like. Every bill whose passage you’ve ever cheered has been the result of either a multi-million dollar lobbying effort or, rarely, a massive coordinated push by an obstreperous faction that decided results were more important than tact.

If you object to SOPA, you object to the system that created it. If you don’t object to the system that created it, you don’t really object to SOPA. And don’t tell me that you understand the potential for corruption, but you hope that by electing “more and better” Ruling Party members that you can get good results, etc, because you can’t. It doesn’t work. You want a super-intelligent shark that’s not going to eat Samuel L. Jackson. Well, I’m sorry, but the super-intelligent shark will always eat Samuel L. Jackson.


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