Thursday, July 19, 2007

Quiet Desperation
"The Mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation."

The path we walk through life is not through an untrod wilderness. It is not free from past influence nor is it free from the influence of our own footsteps. But we are often so focussed on our path that we forget that a path is a made thing and not something which arises from outside humankind. Despite this we often know the frustration of being forced upon our path, whether by individuals or society as a whole. There is a way free from this path, however deep the rut has been furrowed. In Walden Thoreau lays out how we are able to step from the path and lose ourselves and why we should. As he says, “But alert and healthy natures remember that the sun rose clear.”[111] We need only nurture those natures and we can see beyond the path and thereby free ourselves to trod new ground.
When younger I lived near an empty lot that was between the street upon which was my house and major thoroughfare, there was, when I first moved there, a small path through the lot, by the time I moved away this small path had been widened significantly by the action of myself and others. I recently met a man who lives on the street and the path is still there, and still wide and well tread. Like this, those who walk the path of society are both following the path and reinforcing the path. People are both a product of the machine and a part of the machine. They know somewhere that this path is somehow wrong. They know what they are expected to cultivate in society, but this clashes with what they must cultivate as an individual, the germs of virtue. It is the clash of these two things which gives rise to the desperation of which Thoreau speaks. We are desperate to allow our virtue to grow and yet the only path we are aware of is that of society. For Thoreau Walden represents the experience which is necessary for each of us to first see the path of society and second that allows us to find a path that lets the seeds of virtue grow. Walden is the experience of being lost, because if we are to see the path of virtue we must first lose the path of society, for like the journey home, our bodies, even without their masters, will follow the path to where it leads.

The bulk of Thoreau’s theory in Walden seems heavily informed by classical Chinese thought. Beyond referencing Confucius, he quotes both Confucius and Mencius. His use of the path as a metaphor is particularly indicative of Chinese philosophical influence. Tao, generally translated as “The Way” but alternatively as “path,” is very important in Classical Chinese thought, not just in Taoism, but also in the writings of Confucius and Mencius. The way is the path which the sage is to follow and is the basis for virtue. Thoreau takes this conception and while accepting the idea in general that society is guided as if on a path, he adds that it is individuals following the path that have created and reinforced the path and not of heavenly origin. He also veers from the classics in that he does not think that the path is here that we can follow to virtue. We must instead look to nature, and it will reveal the failings of our current path, society, and the path to virtue.
You who govern public affairs, what need have you to employ punishments? Love virtue, and the people will be virtuous. The virtues of a superior man are like the wind; the virtues of the common man are like the grass; the grass, when the wind passes over it, bends."
This, quoted by Thoreau from Confucius’s Analects, seems to be a case where Thoreau accepts a base idea of Confucius, that laws are but one part of what makes society. The other part is what Confucius describes as the wind bending the grass, that is, those who are put up as superior have a great effect on the actions and thought of others. But he is against the Confucian path for society. In Civil Disobedience he goes so far as to directly deny Confucius:

'“If a state is governed by the principles of reason, poverty and misery are the subject of shame; if a state is not governed by the principles of reason, riches and honors are the subjects of shame.” No: until I want the protection of Massachusetts to be extended to me in some distant Southern port, where my liberty is endangered, or until I am bent solely on building up and estate at home by peaceful enterprise, I can afford to refuse allegiance to Massachusetts, and her right to my property and my life.'

Thoreau does not see poverty as something which should be the subject of shame, in fact he holds it up as noble and the poor as models for right behavior. He sees poverty as closer to the natural way. He cleaves closer to Mencius in his view of human nature.

“A return to goodness each produced each day in the tranquil and beneficent breath of the morning, causes that in respect to the love of virtue and the hatred of vice, one approaches a little the primitive nature of man, as the sprouts of the forest which has been felled. In like manner the evils which one does in the interval of a day prevents the germs of virtues which began to spring up again from developing themselves and destroys them.
After the germs of virtue have thus been perverted many times from developing themselves, then the beneficent breath of evening does not suffice to preserve them. As soon as the breath of evening does not suffice longer to preserve them, then the nature of man does not differ much from that of the brute. Men seeing the nature of this man like that of the brute, think that he has never possessed the innate faculty of reason. Are those the true and natural sentiments of man.”
Man appears as a brute because his evil deeds have crushed the germs of virtue. Society is the pathway that man has created by constant treading upon the the germs of virtue, and because there is a path man follows that path, reinforces that path and thus cultivates a brutish persona. The outward signs of this path are the luxuries against which Thoreau argues. These luxuries act as guideposts along the wrong path. To become virtuous one must avoid the wrong path, that of society, and cultivate the germs of virtue, or rather, allowing the germs of virtue to be cultivated. In The Village Thoreau talks of wondering through the darkest nights trying to find his way home, or more to the point, not of trying to find his way but of not trying and simply allowing his body to find the route home, which it can do “as the hand finds its way to the mouth without assistance.” Thoreau reinforces his view of our natural ability to be know the right thing with this quote from Mencius. “I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.”[178] The path of society blinds us to the wisdom and truth in the world, but it is possible to find that wisdom and truth.

To see the path of society one must first remove oneself from society. Through nature and our interaction with it can we see society for what it is. Nature does not hew to our expectations, and so we are shown not what society wants us to see or what we want to see but simply what nature reveals. This interaction with nature is exemplified by Thoreau’s experience with the red squirrels at the approach of spring. The squirrels got under his house and “kept up the the queerest chuckling and chirruping,” while Thoreau was reading or writing. Try as he might he could not scare off the squirrels, they were not afraid nor would they leave despite his stomping. In this we find a path of action outside of society. We should be like the squirrels in some respect, we should follow our nature. As the squirrels nature is to play and make noise, regardless of the entreaties and arguments of society or individual person.

To bring this discussion to a more personal level, I just recently had the experience of driving some sixteen hours, from Santa Fe to Oakland. A more apropos illustration of Thoreau’s metaphor of society as a path could not have been found if I went looking. There I was, stuck in a car driving upon a path of asphalt. I had only the choice of which path would serve best to get me to my destination, and not the chance to blaze a new path. Moreover, I was on this literal path because of my metaphoric path. I had to get home so as to write this very paper in time, else I would do poorly in a class I require for my degree. But the drive itself illustrated further the problem of following a path, especially in the contemporary world. While driving I had no time to look at the world, no time to watch the sunset, to see the beautiful hill as I drove by at eighty miles per hour. Moreover, I was in this car, stuck interacting with the world not as a person but as a machine person, hybridized with the auto, my actions and reactions funneled through the machine. A sort of cyborg, not permanently fused to the machine, but dependent upon it. Like this my path in life is hybridized. I attend this university because I wish to learn, just as I drove because I wanted to get home. But it is what flies by along the side of this path that worries me. I have knowledge funneled through the academic format with which I interact. My responses to that knowledge, writings, opinions, etc., is also funneled through the academic path. I respond in writing, such as this essay, or in discussion in class. I often find that I lack the ability to explain the concepts and idea I learn, or think I have learned, to those outside of academia. It is the equivalent of giving walking or cycling directions in San Francisco when you have only driven a car. There are so many one-way streets and ways closed to a driver, routes so designed because it is more efficient if one assumes that driving is the norm, that one giving directions for a car is required to give longer and more circuitous directions that would eve be necessary for more simple forms of transport. Likewise, the vocabulary of academia is so laden with history that I can hardly use a word without it having be used for some thought hundreds of years that is often different and sometime opposite what I intuitively would use it to mean. To explain concepts one must first explain the layout of the language to be used, what cannot be used, what can be used the seemingly wrong way, and what is still open; the last of these of course being the simplest and shortest of the explanations, like telling a person driving in San Francisco that they should assume that they will not be able to turn left.

What worries me most about all this is that I do not see the space in the contemporary world to remove oneself to nature as did Thoreau. Yes, it is possible to return to nature, to camp and hike and such, but it has become such a mediated experience that we hardly see nature for what it is and instead see the conception of nature which society has given us. It is as Thoreau relates in Walden, when he returns to the site of his cabin after the fact and finds that others have used his path. Likewise, we use paths through nature which society has built. We lack the wild lands that existed at the time in which Thoreau was writing. We lack a place separate from society. Perhaps I am too pessimistic in this assessment, but I have searched, I have traveled to places near and far to find something outside all these expectations; but, I always feel the burden of society upon me. I see this in a way as because of Thoreau, or more exactly as a result of society’s response to the threat of Thoreau, and it is a threat. Society has altered to become more invasive, more totalitarian, extending further into our perception of the world. It has trod so heavily upon the germs of virtue that I have my doubts that we can ever escape this path we are on.

We follow these paths, created by man, reinforced by man. They lead our perception and our actions. We must first be separate from them, be lost, before we can see and understand them. We are forced on this path, by threat of force and other more insidious methods. My desperation is that we now lack for a Walden Pond to remove us from these paths.

Monday, July 09, 2007

What is the incentive to create without Intellectual Copyright?

I the comments on my previous post someone brought up the perennial question noted in the title here. And it is a decent question. What is the incentive to create without the possibility of monetary gain?

I should note first that I have only once "made money" off of my intellectual property. I put made money in quotes because I didn't really make money, but I charged. Also because I didn't really charge for the intellectual property. A few years ago some friends and I put out a zine that was all haiku. We all sold them, but would also email the full contents to pretty much anyone who wanted them, with the condition that they wrote us a haiku that we could include in a future issue. Needless to say, we didn't actually make any money, we lost some, but we got some great haiku.

Back to the point. What is the incentive?

Well, the interesting thing about this question is that it ignores the vast expanse of human history during which there was no IP law. That's right, Mozart had no control over his work. And yet people still made art, still invented. What's more, it skips over the more important question: What is the goal of creating art or inventions. Under capitalism and with IP law, there is no incentive to help people without money, so if I had the potential to create a device that would help only people who couldn't buy it, then the profit motive would encourage me to simply not create it.

But we all know that isn't how reality works. Artist create art, whether they get paid or not, and often they don't, often they lose money. I would go so far as to say that the majority of people who create works under copyright don't make money on them, or even "make money." They do it because the have a need to. They do it because the act of creation is an integral part of the human experience, whether it be the creation of a painting or the coding of a program or the invention of something simply because you know it will help people.

People created before there was capitalism. People created before there was money. People probably created before there was language.

Whatever happens, people will create. It's what we do.

P.S.This wasn't aimed at you T-Ray, you just sparked a rant that had been a long time in the making.
People Power
Federalist 51 is a daunting prospect for interpretation. It is short and concise, as are most of the Federalist Papers, but it seems to change subject from its initial discussion of partition of powers in the government to methods of preventing the tyranny of the majority by the creation of a large number of competing factions. This is however not the case. The theme of partitioning powers is constant through the paper, even in the second section when it appears otherwise. This apparent disconnect is accounted for by the fact that the people and by extension the factions which they form are internal to the government. That is to say, the partition of powers laid out in the constitution is complemented by the partition of powers among the various factions. When one reads Federalist 51 with this understanding it becomes a more coherent document.
There are two expedients which Madison proposes to maintain the partition of power as proposed in the constitution. Both rest upon the supposition of competition between people being the normal state of affairs. The first of these, which is a natural outgrowth of the structure of government already, is to give each department of government power separate from the other departments. This will check the various departments because those who make up the departments will be unwilling to give up power and thus will fight usurpations by the other departments. The second method is to have so many factions as to make any one of them unable to gain a majority and in doing so impose tyranny upon the minority. This is to be achieved by sheer size of territory and number of people included under the federal government, which is to be of such a size and include so many diverse groups that it cannot help but be composed of a number of factions too great to allow for a majority.
Part of the problem with the first provision, in terms of Federalist 51, is that it begs the question, in a way. The question Madison puts forth is specifically this:
“To what expedient, then, shall we finally resort, for maintaining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments, as laid down in the Constitution?”[Madison, Federalist 51]
The question, essentially, is what will make sure that the different branches of governments do not encroach upon each others power. Yet, later we find that it is in fact the very partitioning of power among the branches that will ensure the separation of powers. Or, to be more specific, the natural political ambition of man given the context of a government so organized will keep each branch in check. As Madison says: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” This is problematic in the context of Federalist 51 because, though Madison sees government as “the greatest of all reflections on human nature,”[ibid.] he also says that the expedients are to be internal to the governmental structure, and it is a great leap to say that government is a reflection of human nature and mean that human nature is interior to government structure. Part of the problematic aspect of Federalist 51 is that the question with which it begins is not really the question it wishes to ask. Or, if it is the question it wishes to ask, it is not the question it ultimately answers. The question it answers is what structural aspects are necessary to keep government from becoming tyrannical.
It takes as its one of its suppositions that men are flawed, or “are no angels,” and uses this to explain why the partition of power in the method laid out will stop power from accruing in one branch, which would lead to tyranny. Moreover, the second provision, sheer size as a way to increase the number of different factions, seems to be wholly outside the discussion of separation of powers. Indeed, the discussion in the paper switches tracks in the last paragraph, from a discussion of separation of power, to one of how to stop a majority in the social realm from seizing control and tyrannizing the minority. However, the opposite is the case. While it is true that the discussion of factions does not specifically mention the idea of separation of powers it is a manifestation on the social level of said separation. In the same way that the government structure is formed to play each branch off each other, in a formalized way, having a large republic, and thus a great number of factions, causes a similar competition for power. This competition does not seem to be a part of the government because it is prior to the government. These factions are not formed by the government, with possible exceptions, but are those groups for which the government is formed.
“Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger; and as, in the latter state, even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves; so, in the former state, will the more powerful factions or parties be gradually induced, by a like motive, to wish for a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as well as the more powerful.”[Madison]
In this quote Madison connects Liberty and Justice. Moreover he notes that even strong factions, analogous to the strong man, desire the protection of a government because of “the uncertainty of their condition.” This evokes the earlier claim that government is a reflection of human nature.
Despite the fact that the factions appears to be external to the government structure, it is not. In the words of Abraham Lincoln it is a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” That is to say that because it is a republican form of government the people are not external to the government, they are the constituents of the government. This may be a difficult claim to support, but without this view to connect the two sections of the paper it would seem that Madison simply decided to switch topics, which, while possible, would be unlikely. This does appear to contradict the language which Madison uses, specifically when he says: “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” This appears prima facie to rule out the idea fore mentioned, but it does not. To say that a government must first control the governed is to say in this context that it must bind people together into a governed mass, it must form a polity. Then to say that it must control itself means that that polity must constitute itself in such a way so as to minimize the possibility of tyranny. So the great number of factions are in fact internal to the government structure, by nature of being composed of men. Madison uses similar language of submission to government in numerous places, in the earlier quote about the weaker and stronger places, but he never explicitly rules out the people as an internal aspect of the government.
Even in the Constitution, which Madison defends in his paper, the preamble says that the people “ordain and establish this Constitution,” and the Constitution then lays out the way in which power is to be distributed, that is that way in which the polity has chosen constitute itself. It does not put itself above the people. It establishes the method by which the people will organize themselves so as to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” The power rests with the people, they have merely organized themselves in such a way as to secure their liberty. There is further evidence of this interpretation when Madison says “by creating a will in the community independent of the majority.” This would mean that it would be possible to have a government outside of the people, a monarchy or tyranny, but Madison rejects this.
A response to this interpretation would likely be that though Madison does not clearly say that the people are not the government, the language he uses clearly implies it. This is a valid criticism, but given the two possibilities: one, that Federalist 51 has the constant thread of forming a government using mens’ ambition as a method to ensure liberty and that said government includes the people; or, two, that Madison switches to an obliquely related topic in the second half, almost seeming to ramble on. Though one could suppose it is not impossible that Madison merely had to fill column inches in the newspaper in which the Federalist Paper was first printed, the first option seems more likely.
So we see that we must accept that when Madison speaks of the partition of powers he refers not only to the plan laid out in the Constitution, but also to the masses of people. This is because the masses of people are in fact a part of the government. The reasoning for this partition is because men are naturally ambitious, and thus the form of government must follow this fact. Despite the fact that he does not clearly state that the people are part of the government, it must necessarily be true is we are to accept Federalist 51 as a coherent argument.