Oct 052016
 

Introduction

There has been much discussion about “property rights”, “human rights”, “self-ownership” and the “non-aggression principle” or N.A.P. Most of the ideas on these subjects that seem worth discussing are existential in nature. For instance one often hears questions like,

  • Does “property” actually exist?

  • Do “rights” actually exist?

  • Does anyone really “own” anything?

  • What does it mean to both “be oneself” and “own oneself”?

  • …and what implications do these questions have concerning the validity of the N.A.P.?

While many academic philosophy buffs like to argue who has the best answers to such questions, the significance of their arguments is more a matter of ego aggrandizement than one of applying ethics in a practical way.

This body of subject-matter leaped into the minds of modern libertarians when Murray Rothbard introduced it as a way of understanding the libertarian perspective. Briefly, he opined that self-ownership is self evident… axiomatic. And based on that assumed logical starting point, deduced that therefore anything one’s body produces is also one’s own property. From this he went on to define property rights and expanded the definition to include anything found unclaimed in nature or acquired by voluntary trade. His logical equivalent of the N.A.P. was a further logical outcome of this thought path.

Rothbard’s reasoning is a good example of weak logic leading to correct conclusions. Some of the weaknesses include:

  • Rights” are not actually things…you can’t put them in a wheelbarrow.

  • The clear definition of “property acquisition” doesn’t actually explain the existential relationship between property and its owner.

  • And, most importantly, most people don’t intuit self-ownership, because they were indoctrinated as preschoolers to believe that their parents “owned” them, and later their teachers “owned them”, and in many cases their employers subsequently “own” them.

A consequent weakness in the N.A.P. is the common belief that it constitutes a complete ethic rather than a principle based on an ethic. While the N.A.P. forbids behavior deemed “bad”, it fails to define behavior deemed “good”. Thus use of the N.A.P. as the sole determinant of ethical behavior leaves much to be desired.

An Alternative Algorithm for Ethical Behavior

For a much more comprehensive discussion on this topic, check out this article on Ethics, Law & Government. Here I summarize some of the article’s conclusions without including the derivations covered in the linked article.

An act is said to be ethical (synonymously good, just, right, or righteous) if it increases truth, awareness, love, or creativity for at least one person, including the person acting, without limiting or diminishing any of these resources for anyone. An act that does diminish any of these resources for someone is said to be unethical (or synonymously bad, wrong, unjust or evil). An act that has neither effect is said to be “ethically trivial”.

Based on the foregoing definition, is is a simple exercise in logic to derive a set a dozen or so principles that can assist one in making ethical decisions on a day-to-day or moment-to-moment basis. Foremost among these is the fact that ethical “ends” require “ethical means” …which in turn must be ethical ends in themselves.

At this point, I hope you can see that the N.A.P. effectively defines unethical acts while leaving trivial acts and ethical acts undefined. So an act that complies with the N.A.P. could be either ethical or trivial. For anyone wishing to live their life as ethically as possible the N.A.P. fails to deliver the best guidance available. In other words the N.A.P. tells us what not to do but leaves us in the dark concerning what to do.

The ethic that I’ve recommended above not only tells us what specific resources are most worth amplifying, but it also opens the door to a way of organizing human institutions so that they make consistently ethical decisions. For a comprehensive explanation of how this can work, I invite you to read FLOURISH…An Alternative to Government and Other Hierarchies.

May 132013
 

U.S. Government vs. DEFCAD: You Can’t Fix Stupid

| May 12th, 2013

There’s nothing quite so funny as the sight of the authoritarian functionaries of a dying order trying to suppress a revolution they don’t understand — and failing miserably.

The State Department’s attempt to censor 3-D printable gun files from DEFCAD is the latest — and one of the most gut-bustingly hilarious — attempts by the Lords of Scarcity to wrap their minds around the revolution of Abundance that threatens their power. Less than a day after DEFCAD was forced to remove them, the files appeared on The Pirate Bay and Mega. The latter is especially funny; Kim Dotcom is probably laughing himself silly over it.

Anyone who’s ever heard of the Streisand Effect could have told you this would happen. Attempting to suppress information on the Internet just draws more attention to the original information — which remains readily available — as well as embarrassing the would-be suppressor as the attempt at suppression becomes a story in its own right. I lost count of the number of people yesterday who said they’d never heard of Cody Wilson or 3-D printable guns until the story of the State Department’s action came out, but intended to go to TPB and check it out. Thanks to the U.S. government’s inadvertent promotional efforts, probably a hundred or a thousand times more people know where to get Cody Wilson’s printable gun files than did before.

But the clowns who congratulated themselves a couple days ago over shutting down those printable gun files aren’t exactly the sort of people you’d expect to have heard of the Streisand Effect — obviously. They’re the straight men in this piece, just performing for our amusement. They’re like the Society Matron who walks into the dining hall in a Three Stooges short and demands “What is the meaning of this?!!” To them the Internet is just a big Series of Tubes, and all they have to do is shut off a valve somewhere to control the flow of information. Only the Internet doesn’t work that way. In the memorable phrasing of John Gilmore, it treats censorship as damage and routes around it.

Remember Joe Biden’s quip about “theft” of “intellectual property” being no different from a “smash-and-grab at Macy’s”? The U.S. government’s approach to DEFCAD illustrates the same fundamental misconception. It treats infinitely replicable digital information as if it were a finite, excludable good existing in one physical location, that one can exert physical control or possession over just like a shoe or a chair.

Their legal rationale — export control legislation — displays the same conceptual failure. They couldn’t quite grasp that the “goods” that DEFCAD was “exporting” arrived in their destination ports around the world the second the files were uploaded to the website.

A digital file can be replicated infinitely at near-zero marginal cost; the same pattern of information can exist in an unlimited number of places simultaneously. A digital file can be replicated infinitely at near-zero marginal cost; the same pattern of information can exist in an unlimited number of places simultaneously. See? I just did that with the copy-and-paste function of my browser. Try doing that with jewelry from Macy’s. You can’t “steal” a digital song or movie — the act of replication doesn’t affect the copies already in others’ possession, but only increases the number of copies in the world. That’s why copying is not theft. Likewise, you can’t deny the world access to information by removing the copy from one website.

Watching these people try to use scarcity-age conceptual tools to combat abundance is like watching Napoleon try to defeat Heinz Guderian or Erwin Rommel with hub-to-hub artillery and massed infantry in line-and-column formations. They lack the conceptual tools to understand, let alone fight, the new society they’re attempting to prevent the birth of.

This is why the government’s attempts to impose artificial scarcity fail every time, no matter how many times they change the name — ACTA, CISPA, etc. — and try again. You can’t fix stupid.

So to you Lords of Scarcity — represented this time around by your flunkies in the U.S. Departments of State and “Defense,” I have a message: You have no authority that we are bound to respect.