Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Politics of Force

Capitalism Run Amok

You make something or you provide a service and you get money. You use that money to buy something or service from someone else. And round it goes.

What happens to those who break the system? For instance, you do a service for me, or give to me something, and then I decide not to pay you. Or I pay you, and you don't give to me the something or the service.

Sooner or Later, it All Comes Down to Guns

I pay a tax to support the services of people who enforce agreements. If I have any sort of complaint, and I can't resolve it with you, I turn to these authorities.

Either they command one of us to pay up, or they negotiate a settlement.

If you refuse the settlement, you might get fined.

If you refuse the fine, you will be summoned to court.

If you refuse to go to court, sooner or later it all comes down to guns. I'm going to force you to comply.

If behind every threat we warn that force is going to be brought into play, it's merely an extension of actually wielding the gun yourself. Is that the way we want it?

Force and Manners

There is an alternate system that operates concurrently with our expensive legal and police system. It's called manners. Manners, in essence, comprises everything we do that does not involve guns.

All societies have a mixture of both law and manners. One tends to take off where the other ends. A great amount of tension in our society revolves around where that division line is.

Manners work very well for small groups. A small group is one in which one's reputation will precede him or her. We don't need locks on the bedrooms of houses, generally.

The larger the group, the closer to certainty that you'll have people who take advantage of the lack of physical force. It takes one rotten apple to turn a community that leaves its doors open to one that has to lock them, and that apple will come from outside the community.

Along with bad apples you get the misguided. The misguided are those who argue that unless there is force, then there is no compulsion to do something. They reject the idea of manners and see only law. They're the ones who enact more and more laws to compel people by gun.

The more law encroaches on manners, the more complex and oppressive it becomes. The more oppressive, the more people begin to try to find ways to wriggle around it. The more they wriggle, the more laws are created, until the absurd is just a distant line behind you, and no one can remember any other way of dealing with the situation.

The more force brought into play, the more resentful people become. People forced don't become convinced that they are wrong; they act resentfully.

Manners provides alternate ways of compelling people. We shun bad businesses, warn our friends. We protest and demand. We accuse and we argue. If you are faced with a near universal boycott of your person, you could argue that this is tantamount to force, but it really isn't. Not only can you still choose, you can choose at your own speed.

Manners does not always produce the immediate effect that force does. But sometimes, it produces a far greater effect over a longer period of time.

What Do You Get When You Lose Faith In Force?

What do you get when force no longer seem to be working? You're in the situation where you have created too many laws, resulting in too many annoyed and wriggling people. You get people who think that once they get around the law, nothing else stands between what they want to do. That's because the enacters of the laws rejected manners, preparing the ground for those who wriggle around the laws to do the same.

You have two choices: unravel the laws and go back to manners, ignoring or punishing the few who ignore it; or try to enforce the laws using physical force.

More force means treating people like children. It means that no one believes the law does anything, so let's try to make it physically impossible for them to do it at all.

Physical force is a hugely moral problem. What if someone has a good reason to break the law, an emergency reason, or simply a moral right to do so and thereby suffer the consequences?

As long as we're treating people like children, shouldn't we at least learn from how we treat children?

There's more to child rearing than smacking bottoms or physically taking things away from children. Unless talking about life or limb, you have to let children cross the boundary and suffer the social or natural consequences.

IP and DRM

IP laws are unnecessary in a small community. As an example, I belong to a community of board gamers that numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Although this appears to be a large community, it is small enough that your reputation becomes known if you do something particularly good or bad.

If someone in this community were to appropriate a game idea that I had developed, the bulk of the community would likely shun this person and their product, even though legally there would be nothing wrong with it. All the more so if someone absolutely copies my game or words.

As a result, I feel no particular need to back up any request not to do this with physical force.

DRM is predicated on this politics of force. It conveys that the current laws and threats of violence are insufficient, and that physical blocking is required. Since DRM can be broken, more laws are required to prevent people from doing so. Since these laws are insufficient, more physical blocking is required.

The idea that manners can have as large an effect as physical force seems to be a non-starter. Which is a shame.

The more laws and physical force used for this purpose, the more wriggling and uncomfortable the recipients of these laws and technologies become, and the less manners they exhibit. It's a doomed system heading for a crash.

Fixed Price vs Pay What You Want

A whole host of movements around the internet is trying to unravel the laws by rolling them back to only what is necessary (e.g. Creative Commons). It would serve everyone well to remember that laws and force are not the only options.

Business blogs love to point to the exceptional business models of those who offer money-back guarantees, treat their customers as adults, give their customers the benefit of the doubt, and so on.

A money-back guarantee is the vendor's means of reducing the threat of physical force. It tells the customer that he can cancel the agreement.

Even more of a return to manners is "pay what you want". Assuming that there is a basic sense of what something's value is (which there probably isn't, generally), this completely eliminates the physical force from the equation.

The Culture of Free

In a sense, this is where we're heading on the web.

I don't charge for my blog posts, of course. If for no other reason, it's because people would never have known me to begin with if I did. And if I tried to force people to pay me, they have millions of other ways to get their amusement.

On the other hand, people who read my blog and are entertained by it will spontaneously donate some money to me, perhaps equating the entertainment they get from reading my blog to how much they would pay for a book, a movie, or a subscription to a magazine.

It all happens without force. It's pay what you want. And this, despite the "culture of the free" on the Internet.

It you have been following the posts on various popular blogs, we are shifting toward this concept of the non-force business model. The music released without DRM on the Internet. The free and non-free versions of various web sites.

In this day and age, when I can listen to pretty much anything I want when I want for free, it doesn't stop me from buying music out of loyalty. When I can mock up any game that I read about, it doesn't stop me from buying games for the nicer components, for loyalty, for convenience.

The "culture of free" is a reaction against the politics of force: if you force me to pay, I will find a way to get what I want for free or do without. The same is not necessarily true in a society where manners is given more prominence. In this world, business still works, just without the threat of violence.

Yehuda Berlinger
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