We are all born into a world that operates on very old software. Software that was designed centuries ago and operates on principles and parameters that would be laughable if not for the human suffering and impediment to the advancement of the species it ensures.
Some people never really become aware of this, but one of the most important measurements of who you are as a person and whether or not you can be trusted, or have any value to a community, is determined by where your mother went into labor with you.
We used the term “where you were born” almost as if the individual in question had some say in the location. But none of us does. Where we are born is a matter of the latitude and longitude of our mother on a particular day in her life, and nothing more.
Let’s take two examples:
Norman Smith was born in San Diego, California. He works in Oregon as a truck driver. Sometimes. Most of the time he exploits various government welfare programs and insurance fraud schemes so he has enough money to drink and stay high. Norm is also an overt White Supremacist. He hates Black people, Jews, Muslims, and Hispanics. Norm is full of hate. He writes on social media about a coming Race War. He says he’s willing to fight. He’ll be a trigger puller. He’ll work the valves on a gas chamber. He can’t wait to start killing minorities when the big day comes.
Khalila Yasin was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. She’s a widow whose husband was killed when he drove his taxi past a hospital that was hit by a missile from a drone strike. He was ‘acceptable collateral damage’ and nothing more than a bystander. Khalila has two young children and works at home raising her family by running a small sewing business. She’s fairly religious but she sees every person’s beliefs as their own private business, and she deeply believes all people are equal and deserve respect and dignity. She’s known in her neighborhood as the person who can calm any baby and comfort any child. Her home is always open to anyone in trouble or in need of help. She speaks five languages. Khalila is known to hundreds of people in her community as a warm, decent, trustworthy person who loves people and does good wherever she is able.
Again, dozens or even hundreds of people can corroborate the facts relating to both Norman and Khalila. They have each left a lifetime of evidence regarding how they live, what they say they believe, and the nature of their character.
Yet, because our global social system operates on obsolete software, the sole measure of whether these two people can freely travel the world and remain in other countries for months or even years — is where their mothers went into labor. Nothing matters more.
Norm the Neo-Nazi, with his United States passport, is welcome all over the world. He can stay in Canada, Mexico, or the UK for six months at a time. He can tour Europe for six months out of twelve. He has travel and foreign residency rights that are about as good any anyone in the world. Yet he’s a Neo-Nazi, itching for a Race War, who has never supported himself financially for more than a few months at a time.
Khalila isn’t welcome in any Western country. She can’t visit a single country in the developed world without going through a long, expensive visa application process, and even then she’ll very likely be denied. She can only visit a relative handful of poor, developing countries, many of which are currently at war, and even then she can only stay for a few weeks. Yet she’s a wonderful person who works hard to independently support her family and contribute to the goodness of humankind.
Shiftless, hate-filled Neo-Nazi: welcome almost everywhere.
Productive, respected Afghan: unwelcome almost everywhere.
All of us, including Khalila, live in a technological world bristling with the ability to profile every individual with broad and deep data concerning their lifetime activities, beliefs, attitudes, and character. In any country, in any community, there are people who range from being peaceful, productive credits to humanity, to people who are a demonstrated liability and overt menace to society.
Yet we cling to an antiquated, ossified system of determining the value and desirability of people based upon where their mother went into labor many years ago, and therefore what their official citizenship is.
The reason we do this is because we also operate on an obsolete idea built upon medieval Feudalism wherein the self-proclaimed nobility made reciprocal arrangements between themselves that protected their financial and political interests and automatically bound the peasantry to their unilateral rules. This basic, low technology principle continues as the foundation of national sovereignty.
Frequent travelers and expats are keenly aware of the fact they are not only judged by where they were born, but that the documents, experience, abilities, and credentials they hold are often deemed meaningless as soon as they cross imaginary lines on a map.
For example, with my current foreign drivers license I am eligible to drive in my temporary home of Ireland for 365 days. If I want to continue a single day beyond that I need to take driving lessons as if I am 16 years old, rather than a person with 40 years and over a million miles of driving experience. And, presumably, have an entire year of experience driving in Ireland.
The empirical facts of the matter, in terms of demonstrated ability and common sense, have no gravity. All that matters is the Feudal agreement between two sovereign nations concerning all who were born in a certain place.
Again, at this time in our technological history, this one-rule-applied-to-everyone is a ridiculous throwback to an obsolete system. And imaginary lines on a map is another absurdity when it comes to evaluating the credentials of individuals.
By way of analogy, take the case of the United States and the fact it is made up of 3,144 counties and county equivalents in the form of parishes and boroughs. Each of these 3,144 counties has its own government.
Imagine for a moment that each county jealously guarded its own fiefdom the way nations do.
Here’s what might happen to a family from Buffalo, New York wanting to relocate to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The wife of the family can only visit Fort Lauderdale for 30 days because she was born in Erie County, New York. Broward County, Florida wants to keep those people from staying too long.
To remain over 30 days she’ll need an immigration attorney to file an application and that takes 18 months to process. And, in any event, she will need a living blood relative who is a current resident of Broward County or a parent or grandparent who was.
The husband was born 50 years ago in Los Angeles County and must apply for a visa to enter Broward for even one day. Broward hates people coming from California and “stealing” Broward jobs and “destroying the Broward way of life.” They don’t like lazy Californians coming into their county and going on welfare. Everyone knows people from California are lazy and can’t be trusted to work hard for very long.
Moreover, foreigners from Buffalo must pay quadruple for their kids to attend school in Fort Lauderdale, even after they begin living there and paying local taxes. After three years of probation, they might be considered legal local residents.
The husband is an experienced x-ray technician, however his education and certification from Dallas County, Texas is not recognized in Broward so he has to find work on the custodial staff of the hospital until he can be retrained to Broward standards. Even though his employer would happily accept his Dallas credentials.
Also, the husband and wife can only drive in Broward using their Erie County drivers licenses for 30 days, then they must take drivers education classes and be insured as new, inexperienced drivers.
Does all that sound absurd?
Because it’s no less absurd for Broward County to claim dominion over all of its inhabitants and all people from outside Broward than it is for the United States to claim the same thing.
And in China today, this is almost exactly what the rules are. A family from the city of Guangzhou, China does not have the equal right to move to the city of Beijing, China. If they have a ton of money they might be able to afford it, but there are legal and financial impediments at every turn.
Why should the residents of Beijing or Fort Lauderdale allow outsiders from 20 miles away? To paraphrase the genius social philosopher and champion of human freedom, Donald J. Trump, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. Somebody’s doing the raping. I mean somebody’s doing it! Who’s doing the raping?” It must be the scum from Guangzhou and Erie County!
You Are Not Chattel
The government of the United States has no more moral right than the government of Broward County or Beijing to decree the nature of every resident’s character, credentials, and social desirability, let alone that of the remaining seven billion people on this earth.
This ridiculous, outdated system of sovereignty is a cause of needless hardship, lost opportunity, malinvestment, and conflict all over the world. In a hundred places like Northern Ireland, Basque Spain, Flemish Belgium, Muslim Thailand, Kurdish Iraq, and many more, people are keenly aware that an individual’s preferences as to where he lives and what work he does can and should be recognized and respected.
We can know the detailed specifics of individuals; there is no moral reason to operate on averages and generalities.
Why should any peaceful, reasonable person care what self-serving rules the feudal lords of Broward County want to impose on all the people of the world? Blanket sovereignty over the masses is a low technology, illegitimate, and coercive way to control good people who could easily reach voluntary agreement among all the parties concerned in their transactions.
It’s time for humanity to upgrade its operating software. It’s time to migrate to a system based on voluntary interaction between known individuals who agree on the terms and conditions concerning their life and property. It’s time to supplant the old feudal system of arbitrary and generalized control over billions of individuals by force and fiat.
Every individual owns her life completely. Nobody else owns her. Let’s start acting like it.
Those of us who come from the Libertarian, Anarchist, Capitalist, Voluntaryist or similar schools of thought are used to dealing with coercive elements who lay claim to our property, particularly in the form of confiscating our “fair share” of taxes. The coercers begin with some premise that gives them, they say, the moral right to take what is ours – because it isn’t really ours.
Nothing new there. Our entire system of government and politics worldwide is based on the premise that you don’t own what is yours – including your body – and that it’s right and proper to regulate, tax, and confiscate. And if you respectfully disagree you can think about your argument while sitting in prison.
What has become increasingly shocking to me is the number of people inside the pro-individual / anti-State marketplace who have spontaneously declared the same coercive dynamic should be applied to writing, music, software, design, movies, industrial processes and a vast sector of productive human labor widely known under the term Intellectual Property.
I’d like to say at the outset that I am no defender of any State nor of any State function, including its monopoly enforcement against infringement of copyrights and trademarks. I’m also not a fan of any States monopoly enforcement against rape and murder, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
I recently had a brief exchange with one of the principle proponents of this non-ownership of Intellectual Property idea, Stephan Kinsella over on the Voluntaryist blog.
It seems that his argument, as all arguments do, hinges on a premise from the beginning. Namely, in order for something to even be property it must have the characteristic of scarcity. Once you accept that premise then it can be demonstrated that, for example, a digital copy of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven is not a scarce thing and therefore – presto – is not property and therefore said band has no rights to the song it wrote, performed and produced at its own financial expense.
Importantly, Led Zeppelin saying “I don’t agree with your premise” is no defense and given zero weight and credibility by the person taking their music without paying.
I asked Mr. Kinsella about this very example and here is his answer: “No one owns it, it has no owner, since it is not an ownable thing. Property rights simply do not and cannot apply to it. This is not a normative proposition: I am not saying there *should not* be property rights in songs or ideas. I am saying there *cannot be*–and in fact there are not, now. What we have now is the law giving Led Zeppelin property rights in other people’s scarce resources (e.g. their money) *based on the excuse* that Led Zeppelin “owns” “the song”. But this is just the excuse given for the robbery that copyright law perpetrates. The song is never owned.”
This argument is a curious mix of philosophical and US copyright law. According to Mr. Kinsella sometimes I was wrong because of the universal correctness of his scarcity premise, sometimes I was wrong because of my ignorance of US copyright law. Either way, I “didn’t know what I was talking about” and/or was “full of sh*t” and/or should “shut up.”
Again, no other opinions on the nature and identity of property were valid – only his scarcity premise is valid and that gives him all the license he needs to use the fruits of other people’s labor and financial investment as he sees fit and without paying anything to anyone. Note also that ‘my money is scarce – your labor isn’t.’ Hmmmm.
I know from personal experience that Mr. Kinsella has many young fans who embrace his arguments and feel no shame or guilt in torrenting terabytes of music, movies, software and other IP without compensating the creators under terms to which the creators agree.
I’m never sure where they think future innovation would come from should everyone adopt their convenient beliefs and premises regarding non-payment.
The Handbrake on Bad Ideas
I think it’s possible to create a society of near-zero coercion. I wrote a book about it. The fact is, in such a system, which I call a Contractual Republic, there has to be a place for ideas and philosophies we don’t like and don’t agree with.
There has to be a place for millions of people who want to have their hand cut off if they steal something. Or their head cut off if they sleep with someone they agreed they wouldn’t sleep with. There has to be a place for people who just want to be left alone to be the best Amish person they can be. Or people who want to be syndicalist communists where they have zero private property of any kind. These people matter and they have a right to live their lives as they choose.
The reality of creating global human Freedom (capital F deliberate) is that 7-billion individual preferences need to be simultaneously accommodated. Including Mr. Kinsella and the converts to Intellectual Property communism/non-existence.
But the handbrake on all of these ideologies – including the one I propose – is that people also need to be free to NOT participate in any community they choose. I don’t agree to have my head cut off for your definition of blasphemy. I don’t agree to live by your Catholic definition of morality. And I don’t agree to surrender my work without compensation because of your definition of Intellectual Property.
Mutual, voluntary agreement is the handbrake on ideas we think are bad or that we simply do not agree with for our own reasons. With agreement we trade, without agreement we go our separate ways.
Blaming the State
I think States are monstrosities of coercion and slavery. They are, by the definition I use, anti-Freedom. All of them.
But there is a logical fallacy is stating that because a State protects Intellectual Property in some way, it is therefore wrong and immoral to protect it. The States I’ve lived under also make it illegal to murder or rape an individual – and I certainly support the validity underlying that principle.
My argument is this. Suppose I define rape my own way. Maybe I say there is no such thing as rape. Maybe I say the act of rape does not affect the sacrosanct concept of scarcity. Maybe I say might makes right. Maybe I say an immoral, coercive State grants rape protection without proper intellectual foundations. Whatever. Armed with my new, superior definition, is it then perfectly moral for me to have sex with any person I want, irrespective of his or her consent to my definitions?
I say it is not moral because it’s coercive.
I say there must be mutual, voluntary agreement to the definitions, terms and conditions of the transaction. Once there is mutual agreement, it’s nobody else’s business.
But, if there is coercion we all have an interest in eliminating that coercion lest we be the next victim. This is the value and power of a Contractual Republic and of the marketplace in general. Coercers make restitution or they don’t get to participate with the non-coercers in the market – any of them.
That is the challenge for the folks who want to live in a society where they say there is no way to own Intellectual Property nor to be compensated for producing it. They have a right to form such a society, but what would be the incentive to trade with them if you create valuable Intellectual Property? And if they decide to just take it without mutual, voluntary agreement, the remainder of the productive world would isolate them until restitution was made. Because not everyone agrees with their definitions – especially productive people.
Where do new medicines and new inventions come from for this insular non-IP society when the innovators are not compensated? Where does new software come from? New industrial processes? New methods of transportation, communication, and power generation that contain important new Intellectual Property?
I think these societies would be doomed to gradual decline.
I think the same would apply to societies that redefine rape in ways that don’t respect and protect the people who disagree with the new definition, and simply imposes one unilaterally on unwilling sex partners. I think the same would apply to any society that imposes unilateral definitions regarding anything.
There is a vast difference between these two positions;
A) “Here is a digital file of my new song, I will sell it to you for 99 cents and you can use it under these specific terms. Take it or leave it. Entirely up to you.”
B) “I’m taking the digital file of your song – not respecting your terms – and not paying you anything. And you can’t stop me.”
Some people want to convince me that B is perfectly moral and builds a better world. They won’t convince me of this.
They aren’t alone.
Good people also want to convince me that Jesus of Nazareth is the source of all morality and his Father was the Creator of the universe. They have their evidence and their arguments. I remain unconvinced and do not wish to accept their terms and conditions on my life and property.
Same goes for those who earnestly and deeply believe a particular a prophet born in Mecca speaks for how I should live. Or believe that Ronald Regan was an ideal ruler for mankind. Or that Karl Marx had the definitive arguments and evidence for the correct disposition of property. Or that Stephan Kinsella does.
However, I agree that everyone who does believe and embrace these views and new definitions has a right to organize themselves into a society where they ALL AGREE to those definitions, terms and conditions and they trade amongst themselves.
I wish them well in that. Honestly. Maybe they’ll find a way to prosper and add something to the human experience. As long as they do it non-coercively, by not unilaterally imposing their beliefs on others who do not agree, they have every moral right to proceed. And they can surely live well enough without any Led Zeppelin music.
In the meantime, I’ll be over here in the marketplace where people only trade under mutual, voluntary, agreed upon definitions, terms and conditions and don’t impose conditions unilaterally. I’m betting that’s the better path to an advanced, peaceful, prosperous social system of global human Freedom that can eventually take our species into the far cosmos.
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