Archive for January, 2012


What Makes a Fascist?
by DataPacRat


Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

“If we believe absurdities we shall commit atrocities.”
— Voltaire

One of the most important lessons of WW2 is that the German people aren’t any more inherently evil than anyone else; what happened there could happen here. It’s perfectly possible for ordinary people start being part of a system performing monstrous evils — without necessarily even realizing it.

However, with all of that said, there are some differences between political systems which tend to respect peoples’ civil liberties, and those which routinely violate them; and while there are plenty of people who simply try to keep their heads down and get along as best they can, there are also some people who actively prefer tyranny. In order to fight them and keep them from accomplishing such things, it would be of a great help to understand them.

So what does make a would-be tyrant different from anyone else?

The only answers I’ve been able to figure out, are the ones I get by trying to figure out why I’m not one.

For example: Given the evidence I’ve seen, I believe that it is possible for economics to be a positive-sum game. That is, that people can create brand-new wealth, such as by creating new art and technology, and for exchanges to benefit both parties. However, if I were under the impression that life were a zero-sum game (or, worse, a negative-sum game), where the only way to improve my own situation was by pushing down somebody else… then I would find myself under much greater temptation to grab as much as I could away from everyone else, in order to try to protect myself from other people trying to do the same to me.

Another example: Again, given the evidence, if any trade I make benefits one side more than the other, I’m pretty sure that I’m more likely to be on the poorer side. Were I to try to arrange matters to take advantage of someone else, I’d likely be the one who got fleeced. However, if I thought that I really could try to get other people held to one standard while I was held to another, if I thought I could get away with things other people couldn’t, if I thought hypocrisy was a potentially useful strategy… then, again, I would likely find the temptation to make the attempt greater than I do.

Yet another example: For a number of reasons, I hold the truth to be of extremely high value, higher than almost anything short of saving a life. If, on the other hand, I believe that it was more important to get things done than to worry about telling the truth, then the lure of having the power to do stuff might start outweighing my desire to know and share how the universe works.

Those are just three thoughts, but if I had different conclusions about all three, then I would find it much more difficult to uphold my current principles — and, presumably, other people thinking similarly would come to the conclusion that respecting other peoples’ rights was a fools’ game, at best a way of convincing suckers that I was a nice guy.

Fortunately, the reverse might also be true. If some people are convinced by the negative versions of these thoughts that tyranny is a good idea — then, if they can be shown that the positive versions are truer, it might be able to convince them to start respecting others’ rights. Eg: demonstrate that science leads to new ideas that allow people to do more with less; show how the Earth isn’t necessarily a closed system, and that immense riches await us just outside our gravity well; support whistleblowing so that corrupt executives get routinely punished for malfeasance…

And, in general, keep on trying to make the future a better place for us all to live in.

Thank you for your time,


Letters from Neale Osborn and DataPacRat

Re: “Libertarian Law: The “Even If” Principle” by DataPacRat

You asserted in the issue of TLE of 1-8-12 that because governments abuse copyright laws to censor people, that it follows that copyright MUST be fully opposed. I must disagree. Copyright LAWS must be opposed, but copyrights, in and of themselves, must not only be supported, they must be vigorously and totally supported by each and every one of us, to the best of our ability. It is governments, not copyrights, that are in the wrong.

I agree that we, as Libertarians, must accept the downsides of supporting personal freedoms. I can’t count the number of times I’ve defended my stance that Social Security MUST be abolished, Welfare ended, Food Stamps stamped out, etc, without counting the short term costs. On SSI only, I have repeatedly advocated killing it for anyone not already on it or within 10 years of being on it. Being sold a bill of goods, and having no time to prepare to retire, we can’t just tell them to starve. But the rest of us must write off the thefts we experienced so far, accept the reduced thefts we will experience to finish off this system, and get on with life. This makes me evil. I understand that.

Copyright must be enforced by any means necessary. I prefer lawsuits to police actions. But enforce them we must. An artist labors to create his art, be it a painting, a sculpture, or a book. Whether his book is a dry tome teaching accountancy or a rip-roaring space adventure, he invested pieces of his life in that endeavor. He has the right to whatever compensation he may finagle. And NO ONE, NO WHERE, has the right, FOR ANY REASON, to steal portions of that life.

If we want artists to continue to produce their arts for us, we must support their OWNERSHIP of these arts. We must join to stomp out any theft of their works, and we must ALSO stomp out any abuses of copyright laws while working towards eliminating the laws and instilling a truly civil, individual, and private enterprise method of protecting the artist’s rights.

Do not stop fighting for rights, you have inspired me in many ways. But on this one, we must, respectfully, be at odds. For now, at least!

To put things in your own words (with a wry grin on my lips and no evil in my heart) EVEN IF the government uses copyright laws to censor or abuse others, we must not let that detract from enslaving artists, authors, and others who produce intellectual properties. And laboring, with others taking the results of that labor without just compensation AS DETERMINED BY THE PRODUCER is slavery.

Neale Osborn

Reply from DataPacRat

Thank you for the polite and thoughtful response. Depending on how you want to proceed, this rational debate flowchart might offer some handy ground rules for discussion. A related thought is this quote:

“If you’re interested in being on the right side of disputes, you will refute your opponents’ arguments. But if you’re interested in producing truth, you will fix your opponents’ arguments for them. To win, you must fight not only the creature you encounter; you must fight the most horrible thing that can be constructed from its corpse.”
—Black Belt Bayesian

I am not necessarily intrinsically opposed to the idea of copyright itself… as long as the laws regarding it remain within certain limits. For example, in the “Even If” article, I already mentioned that I’m still all for the part of copyright called ‘moral rights’, if not necessarily the monetary rights. And at [this PDF document] , especially pages 26-29, is an analysis of the benefits of copyright; wherein, even when every aspect is tilted to favour longer copyrights, the optimal duration is found to be no longer than 14 years, and more likely less. If it were possible to maintain a copyright system which kept to such a duration and no longer, I would consider that to be a point in favour of keeping copyrights; however, as far as I can tell, once it becomes in the best interest of even a few people to extend copyright duration, they will have an incentive to lobby their government to do so; and since the out-of-pocket harm done to any particular individual of an extended copyright is so small, the opposition to such an extension will be small, diffuse, disorganized, and no match for the copyright expansionists. This would imply that, in general, copyrights will expand beyond the limits at which they create benefit; and observation of copyright systems over the past few centuries shows that to be exactly what has happened. Therefore, even if I were to grant your point that copyright is necessary to spur the creation of new works, the harm done to me and you and all other members of the public by keeping all those works out of the public domain (that is, restricting our rights to free speech, such as to make derivative works) heavily outweighs the benefits to the authour when such a copyright system is in place.

As you might guess, I’m not necessarily going to grant you that particular point, either. Naturally, if a different form of copyright (or none) is in place, then the economic incentives will differ, and authours and artists will tend to produce different kinds of work—but that doesn’t mean that in the absence of copyright, no new work will be created. I could point to various historical episodes of ‘pirate nations’, but even in the present, we have several interesting data points. To pick a few, Cory Doctorow, webcomics such as Penny Arcade,, and work released under the the “Creative Commons” license (or related open source equivalents, such as the Firefox browser I’m typing this email out within). In such cases, the work is released for the public to read freely, without the audience having to pay any copyright licensing fees to read the work; and yet, that’s what the authour chooses to do anyway. In the cases of Doctorow and many webcomics, the creators even find ways to monetize their work without relying on copyright, and thrive and prosper.

And even if I were to grant your points about the value to authours of copyright… yet another hurdle needs to be overcome: demonstrating that said authours’ profit is more important than the rights of freedom of thought and freedom of speech are to everybody. From just one angle, part of my current thoughts on ethics are still well-described by the first two pages of the “Rationality Matters” comic, viewable at [this link] ; it’s vital to the survival of sapience itself that we try to arrange matters to maximize the number of new ideas being generated—even if the social system which causes that to happen happens not to maximize the profit any particular artist can derive from any particular art they create. I have seen great piles of evidence that copyrights and patents are used to slow down other peoples’ creation of new ideas; I have yet to see any significant evidence that a lack of copyright would slow down such creation. From another perspective, if the only way to ensure the general public has an appropriate level of freedom of speech is to minimize current copyright laws to something more reasonable than “life of the authour plus 70 years”, the nature of the forces pushing to maximize copyright are so extensive, so wealthy, so good at manipulating politicians, that trying to push for anything other than the absolute minimal copyright possible (including none at all) is like tying one hand behind your back in a boxing match with Godzilla.

With all that said, I’m entirely willing to be persuaded that my current opposition to copyright is mistaken—but that’s only likely to happen if the would-be persuader understands not just what my position is, but the reasoning I took to get to it. If, then, they can create a tower of logic that is sounder than the one I’m currently at the top of, one whose foundations can’t be knocked aside as easily, then (to mix a metaphor) I’ll jump ship and surrender to the better truth as fast as I can. That said, an attempt to persuade me which mentions only the benefits to the authour of a work being in copyright, and neglects to take into consideration the benefit to everyone of a work being in the public domain; or suggests that making a copy of an artist’s work is stealing from the artist, without mentioning that increasing the length of copyright steals part of the public domain from everyone; is unlikely to have given the matter enough thought to create such an edifice of reason. But I’ve been mistaken before and I’ll be mistaken again, so I’m quite willing to argue the matter. (At least for a while; eventually, I’ll find it more productive to argue about other topics.)

And since I have my quotefile open in another tab, here’s a couple of relevant thoughts worth considering:

“He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”

“There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.”

Thank you for your time,


Neale Osborn Replied:

Well, you certainly gave me food for thought. While I mull it over and determine if I’m gonna leap to YOUR ship or help you over the gunnels of MINE I must ask you one question for YOU to mull over. Why do you want to limit the author’s rights to ANY time limit. Letting the copyright expire with the author isn’t even a good thing (I think).

Let me use one of my favorite authors. Louis L’Amour, for an example. With the exception of his earliest magazine stories, his sole publisher was Bantam Books. Louis owned the rights to his books, he never sold them. As he got older, and had over 100 books in print, he neglected to renew the copyrights on several of his books. Another publisher, realizing this, legally printed copies of approximately 10 of his books. They ALSO hunted down earlier versions of several of his books that he allowed the copyright to expire on, since he’d corrected certain errors in the latest copyrighted version. And they bought the originals af several stories from several magazines that he’d sold the rights to, and issued “new Louis L’Amour books”. Now he acknowledged their right to do the final thing, and put out his OWN collections with added material to get his fans to NOT buy the “knockoffs” But on the other books, he actually had to fight in court to get the right to continue to publish several of his own books BECAUSE the other publisher had copyrighted them. Now, I don’t exactly know how to prevent this, but I know it was wrong for them to be allowed to do it to him. Just because a copyright of 14 years seems to be some “agreed on lifespan” for a copyright, WHY does it matter how it benefits society? What matter is how the author is benefitted by his work.

Maybe I want to write a new Win Bear novel, and Neil hasn’t written one in 14 years. Does that give me the right to take HIS NAC world and write what I want without his permission? I’m asking, NOT arguing. I think we can come to some sort of meeting of the minds, even if that meeting is a meeting to agree to disagree! have a great day, it’ll probably be a few days before I get back to you!

As a side-note- see Spider Robinson’s short story entitled “Melancholy Elephants” in a collection of the same name—it deals specifically and interestingly with this topic. I intend to find my copy and re-read it asap. It might have some bearing on this discussion. It was dealing with why copyrights absolutely CANNOT be forever!

Neale Osborn

DataPacRat Replied:

I’m about to head to bed; but as a quick reference to a decent set of answers, I can recommend that as a place to start learning about the arguments of both sides, you take a look at [this], especially the links in the footnotes.

Also, Spider Robinson has put “Melancholy Elephants” up for free reading at [his website] .

An article has just filtered into my newsfeeds, in which the previous head of the Swedish Pirate Party recently posted an article covering the anti-copyright side’s points. (I’m somewhat surprised to see that Nina Paley, creator of the movie “Sita Sings the Blues” (available for free download), is one of the first commenters.)

Thank you for your time,



A Praise Idea—Your Thoughts?
by DataPacRat


Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

One of the basic ways we try to change others’ behaviour is through condemning some actions and praising others. There are many ways to do both—including offering awards. One of the more important actions that we libertarians would seem to find praiseworthy, is disobeying an immoral command.

How many militaries have medals awarded specifically for refusing orders?

Is there any reason that we can’t start offering our own awards for such? (For example, how hard is it to find out about actions worthy of receiving it?)

Or, maybe, we could establish a pattern, which anyone could then order from a 3D printer and give away themselves. For example, in Russell’s classic story “… And Then There Were None” is the ‘weapon’, described thus: “a small, shiny plaque … an oblong strip of substance resembling ivory. One side was polished and bare. The other bore three letters deeply engraved in bold style: F.—I.W.” As we’re not used to the initial-slang, it might be better to write it in full: ‘Freedom—I won’t!’.

Does anything of the sort sound like something worth trying?

Thank you for your time,


Zazzle doesn’t seem to do oblong plaques; but these might do as reasonable starts for present-day replacements:




Libertarian Law: The “Even If” Principle
by DataPacRat


Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

“The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”
—H. L. Mencken

One of the trickier lessons of liberty is that it’s opponents aren’t always complete idiots.

If an authoritarian tries to pass a law increasing their authority at the expense of civil liberties, it would be so much easier to oppose if such a naked power-grab was the only justification for it. Unfortunately, any such law that has a chance of being passed, and thus needs to be fought against, will also come along with some appealing justification for it, such as promoting decency, providing security for the homeland, or the perennial favorite, protecting the children. Most often, those who support the law really do believe that they’re trying to do good.

There is one single reason to oppose such laws – but it’s a form of reasoning that has often fallen by the wayside, especially when ‘news’ agencies try to drum up sales by turning every issue into a battle between two equal sides. And that is that even if the reasons given are good goals, and even if the law will accomplish those goals, then the harms done to the basic civil liberties that allow society to function mean that those laws should be opposed by whatever means are available.

Libertarians do apply this principle regularly in some cases, particularly when fighting restrictions on the right to self-defense and its corollary, the right to bear arms. Even if keeping kids from shooting themselves is a good goal, and even if limiting citizens’ access to guns would accomplish that, it’s so important that the citizens be able to check government power by having the option to overthrow it if all lesser remedies fail, and such laws inevitably result in such harm being done to that citizen power, that they should be opposed on principle.

However, it appears to be much rarer for the same reasoning to be applied to other fundamental rights. For example, another vital aspect to civil society is for people to be able to say what they think is true, and why, and discuss the merits thereof – including when they think the truth is that their rights are being trampled on by a corporate or government agent. Laws that were passed with the justification of enforcing copyright are now being used to censor such opinions outright, without even the fig-leaf of being applied to copyright violations. Thus, in order to ensure freedom of thought and freedom of speech, such laws need to be opposed, even if enforcing copyright is a good idea and even if such laws accomplish that task.

(On a less firmly-established note, I seem to be developing the notion that the right to life is the primary right from which all other rights derive, and all other rights are subsidiary to it; and that it’s at least arguable that those societies which ensure that all members have equal access to the necessities of life, regardless of economic status, are closer to libertopia than they are attributed in common libertarian opinion. If this line of reasoning holds up, then ensuring that every person enjoys the right to life to the fullest can be sufficient justification to support such a system, even if there are good arguments against it.)

I’m always open to any errors I make being corrected; but until I do figure out where I’m wrong, I have to proceed on the assumption that I’m at least generally right. This makes for a certain mental discomfort, when I find that I’ve worked out an idea that’s contrary to the position of someone whose opinion I highly respect, such as El Neil. I know that the view on copyright here is not the view that he takes – but having seen some of the more egregious examples of valid opinions and important truths being suppressed with the tools developed to support copyright, I find that I simply can’t offer my support for the idea of allowing a government to have the power to create those tools, even if copyright itself is a good idea. I respect the truth, and so I intend to support authors’ moral rights. I respect other people, and so if I make an agreement with them where they assume certain things about copyright, I will try to abide by both spirit and letter of such agreements. And I have enough of a sense of self-preservation to avoid getting myself thrown in jail for flagrantly violating copyright laws (unless I’m engaging in civil disobedience where that’s the whole idea). But until any errors in my reasoning are corrected, I now find myself fully opposed to copyright laws.

Thank you for your time,

Cory Doctorow’s recent speech, “The coming war on general computation”

EFF’s article “2001 in Review”

Webcomic “Get Your Censor On”

From the Stanford Law Review Online, “Don’t Break the Internet”

The use of copyright tools to censor the Megaupload song, and then censor a news report about the initial censoring, as reported at biongbiong among other places

The article “Copyright Regime vs Civil Liberties”

An article on a blog being censored for over a year with no due process at