Guest Editorial by L. Neil Smith: Little Criminals — The Context of Consent
L. Neil Smith is the First Initial Middle-Name-”Neil” Last-Name-Begins-With-”S” Prometheus-Award-Winning Libertarian-Science-Fiction-Author Gun-Writer Singer/Songwriter” who is not me. Now here’s something else we agree about.
Little Criminals — The Context of Consent
Have you ever noticed — in movies, books, or real life — that when a mugger attacks someone, he never says “Give me your money!” but usually says “Give me the money!” or even “Give me my money!” instead?
There seems to be a basic human drive to justify one’s actions, no matter how heinous they might actually be. Sometimes it’s a matter of self-deception — “I’m doing this for your own good!” — sometimes it’s a matter of propaganda: “We had to destroy the village to save it.” It’s the basis on which millions of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and others were stripped of their perceived humanity in the 1940s and
I was probably only eight years old when I realized that socialism is nothing more than a fancied-up excuse for stealing other people’s property and killing them if they resist, that collectivism is just a shabby attempt to make theft and murder appear respectable. Later on, I came to understand that this is true of all “philosophies” of government.
We all live in a kleptocracy.
Lately, we have witnessed the rise of a movement — a thuggish crusade wrapped in the tattered robes of academic “respectability” against “Intellectual Property Rights” — dedicated to stripping creative individuals of whatever they create, to expropriate it for some imagined “greater good,” and to attack the creators viciously and defame them if they should be so gauche as to object to being stolen from.
Their principal “argument” seems to be, now that almost everything is digitized and can be duplicated, manipulated, and transported by means of electronics, that this somehow removes the moral obligation of civilized beings to respect the rights of others and honor their propriety. It’s fundamentally the same argument that victim disarmament advocates make when they claim — ignoring the principle involved — that the authors of the Second Amendment couldn’t possibly anticipate machine guns.
Even more, it’s like a rapist saying afterward, “Hey, if you were a virgin, at least that’s taken care of now. And if you weren’t, then you haven’t really lost anything, have you? True, I have benefited from your sexuality, but you still have it, don’t you? And if you didn’t want to get raped, you had no business going out in public and spraying pheromones all over. In fact, I think I’m the real victim, here.”
I am currently thinking these thoughts, and many more besides, because, when they thought I wasn’t looking, a small handful of literary muggers and rapists have taken something that I am fairly famous for having written — my “Covenant of Unanimous Consent” — inflicted alterations on it which they falsely claim makes it a different document, and then fraudulently passed it off as their own work.
Which means any signatures it gathered were obtained fraudulently, too. They would want me to mention who they are and give you their URL.
I’ve seen plagiarism before. In ninth grade, I won a short story contest because the guy who “beat” me had typed up something by Robert Sheckley or Richard Matheson and passed it off as his own. I’m not the one who turned him in, although I had immediately recognized the story. The idiot had to get on the PA system and confess to his crime. Whether it ruined his life forever or was the making of him, I have no way of knowing. I had no sympathy for him because what he did is a crime, in the legal sense but more importantly, in the moral sense, as well.
Back to the present.
In time, several individuals warned me about what had happened, and I contacted the plagiarists directly, myself. Imagine my surprise when, instead of apologizing humbly and abjectly, as they ought to have done, and sought to make restitution, they became obnoxious and aggressive, so that, in the end, I was considered the villain of the piece, and called names, simply for having defended my own work from theft.
You will be interested to learn — and falling-down amused, if you know me or my work at all well — that I am, officially, a “statist asshole.” In part, this is because I politely informed them I was sharing our correspondence with my attorney, to whom I had started blind-copying everything. My attorney is also among my very closest friends, and I had decided to blind-copy him to keep his Inbox clear of the heady liquid excrement (ever see the uncut final sequence of The Magic Christian?) I was having to wade through to protect my rights.
Never forget that I am a statist asshole.
Please note: I had never said that I was planning to sue this gang of little criminals, only that I was blind-copying my correspondence with them to my attorney. It was they who jumped to the conclusion that I wanted to sue them. Even when I told them that I wasn’t planning to sue them, and instead mentioned private adjudication — a process, I assume, that can legitimately involve attorneys — they childishly went on calling me a statist, not because it was true, but because it was such a swell smelly ball of excrement to smear on the wall.
This is not unlike the way, whenever they sensed dimly that they were losing the argument at hand, my grandmother Mabel and my wife’s grandmother Bertha (no, I am not kidding), both of whom were Roosevelt Democrats with minds so narrow they could look through a keyhole with both eyes, would resort to calling anyone who disagreed with them a communist.
Thus I am a statist asshole.
I have a small bet with myself that if I had informed these opponents of common, civilized behavior that I consider that what they have done amounts to an act of initiated force against me — with all of the consequences that entails — intervention on their behalf by the State, most likely in the form of badged and uniformed policemen who could prevent me from dealing with them directly, myself, would suddenly, miraculously appear a whole lot more attractive and morally acceptable.
But, statist asshole that I am, I have digressed.
At some point, I realized that the topic of intellectual property rights (about which I have never before been particularly interested) would have to be dealt with in Where We Stand, the volume I’m currently writing on libertarian policy, and that if I were to write an article about this little flapette for my editorial journal The Libertarian Enterprise, it might be suitable for the book. I conveyed that idea to the plagiarists as politely as I could, and put off any further argument with them until the article could be written and published.
The very next thing I knew, I was being defamed, by the leader of these scavengers and parasites, to all sixteen of the listeners to his Internet radio show, and all over the Internet. But, of course, had I decided to sue the guy for libel, slander, and defamation, in addition to his plagiarism, that would have made me a statist asshole all over again.
A double statist asshole.
Ever hear a mugger or rapist complain bitterly when it turns out his victim is armed and can defend him- or herself? I have. He sounds exactly like a left wing anti-gun politician. He also sounds exactly like the second-handers whole stole my work and offered it as their own.
Like many another pack of thieves, the Hole-In-The-Head Gang (to borrow a phrase) had an ideology with which to alibi themselves. The first tenet is that there is a distinction between physical property and what some — especially its creators — claim to be “intellectual property.”
They informed me, loftily, that just because I think of an idea, that doesn’t mean it belongs to me. That if I don’t want something I created stolen, then I shouldn’t communicate it to the world. Fine — and if everybody followed this “advice,” these creeps wouldn’t have any opposition to their thievery, and no stories or books would ever be published, no songs would ever be written, no music would ever be composed.
What a swell world that would be.
Believe it or not, one of these scavengers defended his crime by asserting that the Covenant of Unanimous Consent did not appear on one of the more prominent pages of my website. That’s exactly like ordering me to turn in my Yves Saint Laurent suit (believe it or not, I own one, and a nice Calvin Klein, too) because I don’t wear it very often. True, I had backed off pressing the Covenant as it became more and more obvious to me the movement had deteriorated so badly that the Zero Aggression Principle was now considered controversial, and even oppressive.
“You are a dinosaur and your assertion [presumably of my personal property rights] is invalid,” another of them informed me grandly. He, too, would want me to mention his name. “Innovation is impossible under your worldview.”
As an individualist, I’m not generally interested in Utilitarian arguments. However, it is worth noting that the past 300 years have seen the greatest progress in human history, and it’s exactly the same era in which copyright has been respected and stringently enforced. In this connection it’s worth asking, since there is no actual difference between intellectual property and physical property, when some self-appointed committee of sticky-fingered little rodents will “discover” that fact, and decide that you don’t really need your wallet, your car, your house, or especially your guns. It’s been done everywhere else, during the last couple of centuries, all over the world. Why not here?
Only we’ll call it libertarianism.
As I say, I had pretty much ignored the issue of intellectual property rights, even though arguments about it had been raging all over my blog at BigHeadPress.com, and in the virtual pages of my opinion journal, The Libertarian Enterprise. For the most part, I had been too busy creating more intellectual property, notably my vampire novel, Sweeter Than Wine and the policy guide, Where We Stand. Now I was going to have to think about it and say something coherent.
My first observation is that, in a moral context, there is no discernible difference between physical property and intellectual property. As I first learned at the age of thirteen from the pages of Jack Finney’s 1959 novel Assault on a Queen, virtually everything we have, we have purchased at the price of little bits of our lives which we dedicate to fulfilling some employer’s interests rather than our own. We trade the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and eventually the years of our lives for our homes, cars, and everything else.
Traditionally in civilized property theory, “mingling your labor with the land,” the concepts of “sweat equity,” and of “selling little bits of your life” in order to acquire whatever you need or want, abolishes any meaningful difference between physical and intellectual property. The farmer begins with a tree-covered lot that he must clear and plow and plant, and the writer with a damnedly blank page or screen.
Property is property and theft is theft. Or as my wife Cathy, who can be refreshingly straightforward, puts it, unless you can go out in a field somewhere and pee me a bicycle without reflecting on it, all property is intellectual property. Somebody had to think of it. Somebody had to build it. And somebody had to use his mind to earn the money “or other valuable consideration” that was exchanged for the bicycle.
When I first went to college as a freshly-fledged “admirer of Ayn Rand,” I was informed — by leftists deeply involved in what was billed as the “Civil Rights Movement” — that there are human rights and then there are property rights; only the former existed in reality and are legitimate. Some of them asserted mockingly that property couldn’t have rights, others that defending property rights is somehow reprehensible and evil. Doomed never to be popular at school, I disagreed. It had been my experience that those who disparage property rights most vociferously usually do it because they want your property themselves.
Almost to a man (if that’s not giving these poor creatures too much credit; I have noticed that none of these would-be looters seem to be female, perhaps because women are the ultimate creators and the fiercest guardians of that which evolution has put in their charge) these illiterati seem to be very poorly educated where history in general — and the history of the libertarian movement in particular — are concerned. One of them actually quotes one of the original ideological expropriationists for the common good, collectivist anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, in his messages: “Property is theft.”
That’s like a Jew leaning on Adolf Eichmann for support.
They seem a little unendowed in the imagination department, too. I have spent my entire adult life writing novels about how the mechanics of civilization can be re-engineered to exclude the very concept of government.
I hereby sentence them to read The Probability Broach, Pallas, and especially Forge of the Elders. Just because the state has protected intellectual property rights in the past, that doesn’t mean intellectual property rights don’t have to be protected. Just because it’s difficult to imagine how, that doesn’t relieve us of the moral burden.
Copyright © 2010 L. Neil Smith. All rights reserved. Used by permission. For reprint rights email L. Neil Smith.
My own writings on “IP” are in previous columns here on J. Neil Schulman @ Rational Review:
–J. Neil Schulman
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