What’s Your Bible?
I just spent the day in what I thought was a business negotiation with a man I’ve known as a libertarian anarchist, conducted by email, only to find out after hours of trying patiently to explain some business principles related to my profession that it wasn’t a business negotiation at all. Near the end, I was told I didn’t get what was going on because I hadn’t read A Book. If only I would read This Book it would explain what I was missing.
Now, I have a journalistic dilemma here. On the one hand I need to quote a pretty big chunk of text written by someone else in a private email. On the other hand, the person who wrote this to me has made it quite clear in public writings that he does not subscribe to the concepts of intellectual property or copyright. On the third tentacle — as my old buddy Sam Konkin used to say — I feel a need not to embarrass my correspondent because I value his friendship and possible future collaborations.
The fear of embarrassing my correspondent has nothing to do with the quality of what I wish to quote — which is really very literary — but with the arguments I need to make in opposition to its author, and the syndrome I believe this writing represents.
Since 1998 I have maintained on my personal website, The World According to J. Neil Schulman, a page titled, “Personal Statement of Information Policy.” I put up this page after another correspondent took issue with my using an email sent to me alone as the basis for a business proposition to a close circle of other associates whom I worked with regularly. The person who wrote to me knew all these others personally; I did not think there was a problem. Yet it caused a rift that lasted many years. So to prevent a repeat of that I posted the following, quoted in part:
I am a writer, a journalist, and a publisher. I consider that all information given to me is for my use in those professions, unless the information contains a notice of copyright or a request for privacy.
I respect copyrights, but operate under the Doctrine of Fair Usage, interpreted liberally. Reciprocally, a major portion of my writings are available free on the World Wide Web to anyone who wants to read them. I’ve placed copyright notices on my writing to define what rights I’m maintaining and what uses I’m granting.
Persons conveying information to me do so at their own risk. Sources requesting secrecy are hereby given notice that I will maintain such secrecy at my sole discretion, according to my utilitarian considerations and personal ethics. If I make a promise to maintain secrecy or privacy on a particular piece of information, I will keep that promise except under duress, or unless in my judgment revealing that information will result in the net saving of lives or property. Don’t expect me to keep your secrets under torture, or under threats to my family. I won’t do it. I’m not a soldier pledged to any cause. But I am a human being with high ethical standards and will try like hell not to cause unwitting harm to others.
If material is sent to me in email, I consider that I have the right to forward it to anyone I choose, or to publish it in any form I choose, unless a specific copyright notice or request for privacy is made within the body of that email message. I take no responsibility for my unwittingly forwarding private email in which no specific request for privacy has been made, or copyrighted materials in which the copyright notice has been stripped from the material. If you “cc” or “bcc” me on an email, I reserve the right to reply as I see fit. If you don’t want me to reply to someone, either don’t include me in the email or conceal the email address of anyone you don’t want to receive a reply. My email software includes in its design the one-click ability to reply to the sender or “reply all” or “forward.” The inclusion of those features means the software designers contemplated that I and millions of others would want to use it and often enough I do. Accusing me of violating “netiquette” because I use features designed into my email software is snobbish, Pharisaical, and lame-brained. Do that to me and the stream of profanity you get will likely be the last email you will ever receive from me. I’ve never suffered fools gladly.
So I feel comfortable in quoting the relevant text here, and not identifying the writer. The writer is free to claim authorship and I’ll be happy to verify it.
Here’s what was written to me:
A lot of my thinking may seem inexplicable if you’ve never read up on the generational cycles theory of history put forth by William Strauss and Neil Howe.
To make a long story short, we’re currently in an approximately 20 to 25 year period in which revolutions are possible, called a Crisis. A
lot of the reason for why that is simply the relative ages of different recurring generational types that can be characterized by certain archetypes. Baby Boomers such as yourself are the Prophet generation, from which arises the visionary leadership in a Crisis that leads by articulating ideals. GenX is a Nomad generation and a Nomad generation contributes the mid-level leaders in a Crisis. The Millenial Generation born after roughly 1985 are the Hero generation — the NEXT “Greatest Generation” of foot soldiers who will make nearly unfathomable sacrifices to secure social change and put their elders to shame with their own good-natured teamwork.
Because of this hidden underlying dynamic of social change that Strauss and Howe articulate, particularly in their book “The Fourth Turning”, people seeking to be effective leaders in revolutionary social change during a Crisis must attempt to cultivate the correct archetypical qualities in themselves.
To be blunt, you need be FDR here. Me, [Person 2] and [Person 3] — we’re Patton, Al Capone and Sgt. Rock (not necessarily in that order).
Logistics and organizational policy are our domain. Period.
You don’t have to get with the program if you don’t want to. We’re going to keep doing what we must, though, and won’t be browbeaten or emotionally blackmailed into deviating from that path.
Click through to the Wikipedia link my correspondent provided me. That — plus my correspondent’s excellent Plain English Executive Summary — makes it unnecessary for me to read any of Strauss and Howe’s books to know what I’m dealing with: another Marx and Engels, Adolf Hitler or — more benignly — H.G. Wells or Oswald Spengler.
Strauss and Howe don’t see billions of free-will-endowed individuals making moment-by-moment value-judgments on what each of their needs and desires are, which will change the moment the menu changes. Strauss and Howe — and my correspondent — see abstract collective “generations,” “movements,” grand “sweeps of history” — which look very impressive, especially when you see them all shouting in unison at a rally, or marching in goose step.
But Messrs Strauss and Howe can tell you absolutely nothing useful about what will happen tomorrow or the day after that. They don’t understand that the only certainty is the utter and unpredictable uncertainty of each individual participant in the human drama.
My correspondent thinks he’s a libertarian. He heads up a libertarian institution. I just learned today that he’s wrong.
For all the strategic causes he and I have in common — which may yet lead to us working together in common cause — his fundamental understanding of his own species and its Human Action is utterly anti-libertarian.
Perhaps I should have guessed because of the specific discussion we were having. I was offering to write future articles for his institution’s website. They have a policy in place that anything published on their website is released under what’s called a Creative Commons Attribution License. The Creative Commons Attribution License this website uses authorizes anyone to republish the writing under the following conditions:
You are free:
* to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
* to Remix — to adapt the work
As a professional writer whose name is his commercial brand, I can no more allow someone else to rewrite me as they like and put my byline on it than the Walt Disney Corporation can allow someone else to publish cartoons of Mickey Mouse buggering Donald Duck.
So I tried to explain to them — giving extensive examples from close to four decades in the business of how even experienced professional editors and other writers had managed to screw up my writings — why if I was going to release my work under a Creative Commons Attribution License — it would have to be this one:
You are free:
* to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
Under the following conditions:
* Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).
* No Derivative Works — You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work.
With the understanding that:
* Waiver — Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder.
I tried to explain — over and over — that while part-time writers, academic writers living off their teaching salary, or ideologues writing merely to express their views wouldn’t have a problem with the first Creative Commons Attribution License, any media professional with experience in reaching millions of people at a time — expanding outreach into the major marketplaces of ideas — would be unavailable without some accommodation of this policy. In essence I said: fix this or continue to work on the margins.
The response I got from this “libertarian anarchist” was an intransigent and continuous restatement of a policy that amounted to “My way or the highway” — and a psychological projection that in my attempts to protect my writing from vandalism or outright sabotage from parties unknown I was being a bully.
I don’t need to go any further, here, on the question of why libertarianism without individualism is a contradiction in terms and a metaphysical impossibility.
The most important reason I have not identified my correspondent — and sincerely hope he does not choose to identify himself — is that it would utterly foil my intent to be as ecumenical as possible in encouraging as big a tent as possible in welcoming any and all who think of themselves as libertarians into the fold.
In strategy my correspondent functions as a libertarian in many, many ways. I would hate to exclude him from libertarian activities and causes, even from his position of leadership.
So I make my point in principle, and by example, but without any intention of actual exclusion.
But what I do need to say something about is that libertarians, anarchists, and socialists of every stripe who make fun of people who use the Bible as their life’s guide are as prone to adopting other Bibles — and that word, if you look it up, means no more nor less than “Book” — as any religious acolyte.
My correspondent, who thinks of himself free from religious dogma, has chosen Strauss and Howe as his apostles, and their books as his gospels.
I also write books.
God save me from the unintended consequence if I ever — like some of my favorite authors have come close to doing — spark my own religion.