Saturday, November 10, 2007

RE: Salon’s Psychoanalysis of Libertarians's Gene Callahan and Bob Murphy had some things to say about some things Andrew Sullivan had to say about the Nov 5th Moneybomb for Ron Paul's Campaign. Sullivan seems to think (or at least wants his readers to think) that geeks, being computer programmers, believe in the power of sets of rules to produce an ideal society. Somehow, governing society by rules seems to equal the libertarian position for Sullivan... however that works. Callahan and Murphy have already dealt adequately with the absurdities of Sullivan's arguments; I am going to propose a different explanation for why the Internet is such a hotbed of libertarianism.

First off, consider Sullivan's "computer programming nerds." If there is any kind of person who understands that rules and people do not interact in the fashion a rule maker imagines, it is a computer programmer. A computer programmer has, at his disposal, a machine that will follow his instructions exactly. A computer never disobeys, never argues, it just does exactly what it is told... and all to often, the result of that is counter to what the programmer is trying to accomplish. You write, run, debug, run again, debug, cycle through that process repeatedly until the program is finally judged ready for the end user, and STILL the program will have problems. Try to govern human beings by sets of instructions (that is to say, legislation) and the imperfection of sets of instructions is compounded further by the self-directed nature of human beings.

Other than "computer nerds," there's also those of us who have been on the Internet for a long time. The seed of the physical medium may have been established by a government program, and may currently be under the ownership of a small set of big corporations, but the society that has evolved within this medium was, and to a large extent still is, unregulated by government. There are, of course, rules everywhere, but these rules are developed and enforced by the mutual consent of the participants. Nobody has a monopoly on communication, on any particular subject, on anything at all. If you don't like the rules of one community, there are others to join, as well as the option of creating one's own. And there is no "police power" involved in the enforcement of these rules. The moderator of an individual community has no more or less power than that of the host of a party: the authority to exclude. Sure, people get mad at trolls and spammers sometimes, but the existing methods of dealing with problem people are fine.

Even when conflicts do get physical, when hackers and virus creaters cause damage to other people's data, the solution is nearly always technological in nature, and government rarely has any help to offer. By the time government is aware there is a problem, the locals are already fixing it. By the time the government has figured out a "solution," people have already moved on. It's as if, in the real world, somebody was robbed, the thief was surrounded by a group of neighborhood toughs as well as a few older people, testimony was offered, a verdict rendered, the property returned, the people dispersed... and right about then the cops are finally rolling up.

Simply put, we've seen how much can be accomplished without the "help" of government, and don't really see a need for it, in the online realm. How hard is it to imagine that the offline realm might work just as well if people, rather than sitting around waiting for the government to act, just got in and solved their problems without having to ask for permission first?

That's my take on this whole "Internet libertarianism" thing, anyway. This is a very rough draft of it, and I'll probably have to take some stuff back and elaborate on other points later on. I'm also sure there are others who have said it much better.

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