Sunday, June 14, 2009

"Free Entry": a new way to look at the "Culture Wars?" We may have to work to preseve it!


I talked about this on May 30, but I want to reiterate how critical the opportunity of “free entry” – unsupervised self-publication on the Web – has become in the past twelve years. It gives one person the opportunity to develop arguments about a problem, publish them with his or her name, and let them gain attention, and become a thorn in the side of “special interests” or dumbed-down lobbying. It means that the speaker does not have to "join" one side to be heard, and this opportunity is very critical.

While freedom from government censorship of speech based on content (as long as otherwise “legal”) is guaranteed by the First Amendment, the method of distribution is not necessarily so guaranteed. “Free entry”, unsupervised publication, and other asymmetric technologies (P2P) are not necessarily themselves protected. Because of some unevenly (according to certain cultural norms like family) “systemic risk”, there will be some people who will want to clamp down on free entry, whose legal protection right now largely rests with limitations on downstream liability: Section 230 in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and the Safe Harbor Provision of the DMCA (as little faith as some people have in the way it is used). Interests could want to require that bloggers have insurance or become bondable. All of these developments could shut down the free speech in practice as we have become accustomed to them.

As I noted on my trademark blog recently, however, online networking and publishing has become a way by which individuals “compete” and “brand themselves,” for better or for worse. (My father once said that I had “pinned a label on myself back in my rough college days. And maybe today I sound like a Pharisee to some people.) Perhaps the “branding” or “online reputation” element has become so well entrenched that it could provide the basis for a constitutional challenge if “reactionary” elements did pass laws that clamp down on free entry. The “branding” is certainly a major consideration for businesses as they consider blogging policies: it is certainly unfair to monopolize an individual associate’s “self brand” when you can fire him or her at will.

My own “trademark” may seem to have a component of “misery loves company” to some visitors; there is some material that I view as “irony” (perhaps unaffordable) but that to some seems like “self-effacing” material that might seem aimed at communicating “pain”. No, the point is more to realize that there are subtle explanations for bad things that have happened, even in the past; and we must understand all these “subtleties” thoroughly. How far can we really go in pursuing justice and will we know it when we see it? Someone might view some of my comments (or ironies) stated “without standing” as indirect hostility or potential contempt (and some want to challenge me to fight for their causes and participate in the social hierarchy in a more conventional way); but remember, the best antidote to the views of others is freedom, self-ownership, and the ability to run one’s own life according to one’s own inner identity, when one always finds good company, and when the opinions of others become irrelevant; they cease to matter.

The past couple of decades have certainly promoted a certain paradigm in the way people relate to others: develop your own identity first, and help others out of what you individually have to give that is really your own. The online revolution is certainly party of that. There are people, however (Rick Warren comes to mind) who see this differently, who think that it is necessary to respond to people based on need, not one own personal gifts. Is this a way to characterize the culture wars?

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