As I understand it, I was wrong about CISPA -- it's apparently quite a lot worse than SOPA, not better but still bad. Fortunately, Obama has explicitly stated an intention to veto it. Unfortunately, there's talk that he might back down from that stand. I talked last time about why I think it's important to maintain information barriers between organizations, especially those with executive power.
Today, I want to address why the government shouldn't have the kind of power CISPA affords, and why it's not necessarily a good thing for the government to be too safe.
I want to start off by saying I'm not a libertarian, I'm not an anarchist and by most definitions I'm not a revolutionary. I don't think that politicians should be afraid for their lives. I do think, however, that they should be afraid for their jobs, if they're doing them poorly, and afraid of incarceration, if they're breaking the law. Like everyone else.
That seems pretty boiler-plate to me. But the other major reason the government shouldn't be too strong is that people often have bad ideas. I'm sure I've got hundreds of bad ideas. The history of society can easily be structured as the progressive exchange of bad ideas, building towards less bad ones.*
Often, it's a slow crawl of cultural shift from bad ideas to good ones. And that's fine. That's the way change happens. I wish that everything could be made better overnight, but we've got only the tools we have and the world we live in.
That means that, at some point in the growth of every good idea, there are enough people who believe it to make a real impression, but the overwhelming majority of society still disagrees.
People don't like being disagreed with, so this is always a tense situation. Which, again, is fine. Not ideal, but we've only got one species with whom to negotiate for our collective wellbeing.** We've got to work within the way they operate.
In a well-calibrated society, this means long culture battles, a lot of pain, a lot of mean things said one way or the other, but eventually, most people being on board with the better idea.
The risk with an overpowered democracy, though, is the fact that the majority has the influence to control the law. So if they're in a position where they can get anything passed that ticks them off, painful but ultimately peaceful and reasonable civil change turns very quickly into revolution, insurgency, and, in extreme cases, civil war.
The U.S. and world governments, who are scared and confused by the sudden importance of the internet, are engaging in a power grab. They're trying to grab the reigns of a system they don't understand in order to keep the control they have. But what they're asking for isn't the same amount of control as always (which is already too high for my taste), it's significantly more control.
An underpowered government has its flaws, but the overpowered government that CISPA would create, that SOPA sought to create, that the copyright and digital protection movements are about, would be an inherent threat against the wellbeing of all oppressed, marginalized, or even needlessly inconvenienced people. It's even a threat against democracy, which suffers every time it's shown to work poorly, the way it does when the democracy has too much power.
*I won't go so far as to take the modernist position that this is the only possible narrative for history, nor make the claim that we're approaching some sort of species-wide perfection. I just think that we've got a relatively higher concentration of usefulness to idea than we had in, say, 1400. **That's not strictly true, but for the sake of flow I'm not going to take this opportunity to hop up on the speciesism soapbox.