The great libertarian philosopher and teacher Robert LeFevre believed that there is a certain type of human personality who will "crouch and freeze" instinctively, like a frightened rabbit, whenever it's confronted with change, whether that change is for good or for ill.
These people suffer, he said, from a kind of existential motion sickness that only lets them observe the passage of time in frozen snapshots.
For example, it is impossible, in their stunted view, that a woman can arrive illegally from somewhere south of the border, get herself a job in one of Los Angeles' infamous "sweatshops" (whoever first called them that had no idea of what a sweatshop really is), work there for a
relatively short time, learn to speak English, get her greencard and a better job, and make herself a working part of the American Productive Class.
No, the poor women in those sweatshops have been trapped there since the Earth condensed from primordial dust, remain trapped there today, and will likely be trapped there until the sun burns out. This despite the facts, as reported by John Stossel, from whom I first learned of the process. The average worker in these places is there for nine to eighteen months and then leaves, prepared for a better life.
The same kind of people can't abide new technology. They want their phones wired to the wall, and hate to see anybody using a cell phone. Those little music-makers young people use with ear-buds -- iPods and suchlike -- are an abomination. Senator Jay Rockefeller, former governor of West Virginia, wishes the Internet had never been invented. I wonder how he feels about people who watch TV on their telephones.
The fact that most of these history-altering innovations have not occurred within the deep, inner recesses of corporations, but among young unaffiliated, undisciplined "geeks" they can't identify and find, let alone control, must have them munching the furniture and drapes.
Sometimes, progress ovewhelms the weaker sisters among us. The Amish, Hutterites, Mennonites, and other Anabaptists like them apparently wish it had stopped somewhere in the 17th century, and they do their level best, in their farms and in the fields, to act as if it had.
In my recent novel Ceres
, a group of 22nd century environmental terrorists who call themselves the "Mass Movement", appropriately headquartered in Amherst, Massachusetts, want to party like it's 1799. Politics being what it is and all, they are compelled to settle for
1950, meaning, ironically enough, that they are required to park their quiet, efficient fusion-powered automobiles on the outskirts of the "City of Five Colleges" in favor of tail-finned eight-cylinder smoke belchers.
In the deeper future, among the stars, there will be misfits who will regret that humankind ever left the Earth, our lovely Mother Gaia. Now we learn about a fellow who has carried this latterday Luddism even further. Ralph Oman, a former U.S. Registrar of Copyrights, is the latest to scream, "Stop the world! I want to get off!"
Using potential copyright infringement as an excuse, he wants to compel inventors and innovators -- who, like Charles Goodyear, having accidentally dropped a box of sulfur in a pot of rubber, to create vulcanization, often don't know themselves what serendipity is going
to cook up for them -- to ask Congress for permission before releasing any new product which, in his view (the man has a mind so narrow he can peek through a keyhole with both eyes) might violate current copyrights.
This is a recipe to end any innovation by anyone but gigantic corporations with legal departments the size of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. If it were up to this clown, most of the electronic, digital, cybernetic technology -- personal computers and printers, VCR, DVD,
and Blu-ray, the Internet itself -- that has transformed our culture, given it the only hope it has for continued survival, and brought about an end to the Age of Authority, would never have made it to the market.
Jay Rockefeller would be so proud.
A word here about copyrights and patents. In the face of a trendy socialist minority within the general freedom movement, I am known as one of the most vocal and unrelenting advocates of the concept of intellectual property and the unalienable individual, civil, Constitutional, and human right to keep the fruit of one's mental effort.
Does this mean I'm with RIAA in its effort to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from Productive Class kids and their folks for the heinous crime of d-loading a few tunes and sharing them with their homies?
It does not.
Does it mean I like the sleazy law firms that troll the Internet sniffing around for possible lawsuits that they can get paid to prosecute?
It does not.
I know the present system -- like almost everything else in our civilization today -- is broken, very likely beyond repair. That doesn't mean my rights have somehow evaporated. The question, very simply,is how to protect them justly and proportionately. It's time to follow Jefferson's advice and "provide new guards" for our "future security".
But intellectual property rights are not the focus here, only the excuse the other side is trying to use to shut us up. It's the right of ordinary people to communicate freely with one another that has all the politicians and bureaucrats rattled. That right, exercised daily, means that their days of power are numbered. They see the light at the end of the tunnel -- and it's an oncoming train. They avoided a Ron Paul presidency this time, but only narrowly and only by criminal means. The next time it will be harder, and the time after that, impossible.