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We Legislate Morality All the Time

Published March 31, 2015 in Government , Philosophy , Politics - 0 Comments
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There’s a particular kind of complaint against particular laws that goes something like this:

I don’t like it when people try to legislate morality.

On the surface this makes a lot of sense, and the person who makes the statement usually comes off as very moderate indeed. “Oh, I agree with you that that’s bad. I just don’t like to legislate morality.” The arguer here is attempting to placate both sides. On the one hand, it allows him to say: “Oh, I really agree with you. I’m not arguing. This is definitely what everyone should do.” On the other hand, it allows him to pretend to keep peace with the other side: “But I don’t see how we can legislate that. We can’t actually enforce morality, can we? If we made a law about that, it would just be silly.”

And so the first, obvious, problem is that it’s an attempt by the arguer to have his cake and eat it, too. He’s trying very hard to please both sides and appear that he agrees with them. Indeed, as mentioned, the goal of anybody making this statement is almost always to appear as the moderate voice of reason.

But there’s a much bigger problem: we legislate morality all the time. Indeed, the vast majority of our legal code is ultimately based on legislating morality.

When you get right down to it, most of our legal code deals with some very basic issues:

  • Protecting life and health. Obviously we have laws against murder. But we also have transportation safety laws (seat belt laws, helmet laws, speed limits, etc), workplace safety laws, product safety laws – even environmental laws at the end of the day are there to protect life and health.
  • Protecting property rights. Almost the entirety of contract law. Copyright and trademark laws. Real estate laws. Laws against theft, robbery, and squatting. Environmental laws (again).
  • Protecting individual liberty rights. Anti-slavery laws. Minimum wage laws. Labor laws and anti-trust laws.

All of this – every bit of it – is nothing more or less than legislating morality. And if you ask random people on the street what the basic functions of government are even the most hardcore libertarians will pick at least a handful of the items on these lists. In other words, everybody agrees that the government should legislate morality.

But that’s not really the issue anyway. When people raise the “I don’t like to legislate morality” argument, what they universally mean is, “I don’t want you to legislate your morality.” They are perfectly fine with legislating some other version of morality. But your morality is inconvenient for them in some way. Even more importantly, this is not a valid dialectical argument. It’s a rhetorical argument, and it’s meant to shut you up and get you to stop arguing and concede whatever point of view the person who plays this card is putting forth.

Don’t let them shut you up. We live in a democracy – one that, as demonstrated above, already legislates morality. If we’re legislating morality anyway then yours is just as good a candidate as anybody else’s. Make them argue for or against your version on the merits rather than trying to pretend in some crazy amoral vision of government that doesn’t exist, never has existed, and never could exist. And don’t fail to point out that if our government truly were amoral, they wouldn’t want to live in it either.

Technological Dystopia

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Editor’s note: this post was originally published on another blog in 2011. In the wake of the “net neutrality” decision, it seems relevant once more. It has been reposted here with minor modifications.

Once upon a time, in the Good Ol’ Days we refer to as the 1990s, this newfangled thing called The Internet made a jump from an obscure tool that only academics and computer geeks even knew about to a mainstream tool that everybody was using. The world was full of promise. The Internet would set us free! Information wants to be free! You can’t control the ‘Net! Finally we have an end to all censorship! Power to the little man!

I got caught up in it pretty easily. After all, I was young. I had Internet access in high school, a few years before it was really known to the public. It was just the right age to get caught up in all the libertarian utopian ideas of how great the Internet would be.

I’ve spent my whole adult life working with computers, and in recent years I’ve come to an entirely different conclusion. In the long run, the Internet will lessen our freedoms, not increase them. Yes, the Internet of yesteryear was a wild, wild west where anything went. The Internet of today is already being tamed, and the Internet of tomorrow is going to trend toward fascist land. Here are some things we can expect in the future of the Internet, many of which are already here or coming:

  • DRM will fundamentally limit our usage of any and all media. “Fair use” exceptions that we take for granted today will be technologically unavailable. Sure, a handful of people will be able to crack the system and get past it. 99.9% of the people won’t know how or care to learn. Increasingly harsh laws (worldwide) will be in place to enable this and to crack down on the folks who try to circumvent it – laws pushed by gigantic Mega Corporations. This is already starting to happen thanks to DMCA, and there’s an ongoing push for even more draconian world wide copyright treaties.
  • Our digital devices will increasingly be used to track everything we do. This is already happening to a huge degree. Use web mail? It’s free and convenient, and I use it myself. But your mail’s being tracked. Google’s already tracking it digitally so that they know what ads to send you. Other companies are doing similar things with it. That handy dandy GPS in your phone? It can be used to track you, too. Those internet sites your browsing that helpfully remember your information? They’re using web “cookies” to track what you do.
  • Watch out for free speech limitations. We’ve already seen it with sites being threatened with de-hosting or more for “hate speech.” The DMCA requires sites to take down content on the mere accusation of copyright violation, and we’ve watched that happen as well.
  • Think Wikileaks is a bastion of freedom that proves the Internet can’t be tamed? Think again. Wikileaks will, over the next 5 years, be the driving force that gives governments around the world the excuse they need to tighten down the reigns on the Internet. Remember this, kids: there is nothing fundamental about the Internet that makes it immune from censorship or government control. It exists this way today because it was designed and built that way. Designs and construction can change. If the laws force them to, the big companies that control most of the Internet can and will change those protocols that make the Internet so hard to control. Many of those companies will do so gladly, because it will improve their bottom line. Some of those companies will even lobby governments in favor of these kinds of regulation.
  • Very little that you do online ever goes away, and most of what you post – the content that you create – is no longer yours from the minute you post it online. Major web sites like Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress.com (who hosts this blog) rarely delete anything, even if you “delete” content. They can’t. Federal law requires them to keep that content around for a minimum of 30 days so that the police can subpoena it for an investigation. Some sites will actually delete content after 30 days. More and more are moving to policies of never deleting anything. Hard drives are cheap. Having to tell the government that you don’t have what they want might kill your business.
  • Nothing is truly private online. Anything you post online could potentially become public. There are hackers out there who would love to make your private, locked LiveJournal posts public. Not because they care that you told off your boss or fucked your girlfriend’s roommate. They don’t give a shit about you. They’d just love to hack LiveJournal for the hell of it. Or big corporations like Facebook might decide, “Nah, we don’t give a crap about our so-called-privacy policy anymore. Let’s sell everybody’s data to the highest bidder.” Think it can’t happen? It already has. How do you think your phone number or e-mail address ended up in the hands of so many telemarketers and spammers? Failing all of that, governments around the world can just demand the data anyway. In the US we have this little thing called the 4th amendment that requires due process in order to do such a search or seizure. But what about in other countries? Some companies, like Google, have gone to bat for the little guy to protect their rights against foreign governments. Many more companies haven’t. And when it starts to seriously impact Google’s profits, you’d better believe they’ll fall in line like everybody else.

The world is changing, my friends. And not to the digital utopia we all thought it would be. The only reason it hasn’t happened already is that the Internet originated in the United States, a country that still has some serious constitutional protections for free speech, free assembly, free press, and freedom from search and seizure. Other countries have been trying for a decade to remove Internet control from the US government’s hands. And how long will the US government and its people retain the will to maintain these freedoms? If history is any judge the answer is certainly, “not forever.” Indeed, we’ve already witnessed the willingness of our fellow citizens to give up all kinds of freedoms in the name of “security,” “health care,” and “safety” – nevermind the almighty “profit.”

My vision of the future is not inevitable. It can be stopped. But only if the people have the will to stop it. I’m no longer convinced they do.

Who Shot Down DMSP-13?

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Who shot down DMSP-13?

Who shot down DMSP-13?

A 20-year old military space satellite was shot down this week.

Air Force Space Command said DMSP-F13’s power subsystem experienced “a sudden spike in temperature” followed by “an unrecoverable loss of attitude control.” As DMSP operators were deciding to “render the vehicle safe” the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, identified a debris field near the satellite.

Sudden spikes in temperature don’t “just happen” in space. In fact, there must be an energy source to cause such an event – even here on Earth. The energy has to come from somewhere. What kinds of events can cause such a thing in near Earth orbit? There really isn’t much in the way of natural phenomena that can do it. Solar flares maybe, but they wouldn’t be precise enough to hit just one satellite.

But there is one thing that can do it: ground based anti-satellite lasers. Although there is very little public information about such weapons it’s widely acknowledged that several nations have experimented with them. There’s been quite a bit of speculation over the last fifteen years about such weapons, and a few other tests are believed to have happened. Nothing else really makes sense as a cause for this event.

So the question is, who shot it down? Was it a test of a US system, shooting down an old, unused satellite because we knew nobody would miss it? Or was another nation attempting to send us a message? There is a very real chance that either Russia or China wanted to let us know that they could shoot down our GPS satellites if they wanted to, and that there isn’t really anything we could do about it. Given how much we rely on those systems, that would be a huge tactical and strategic loss to the US in any conflict.

My money is on Russia, shooting it down as a warning for us not to get too involved in the Ukraine. Odds are good that whoever did it has found a quiet, plausibly-deniable way to let the White House know that they did it.

Ukrainian Ceasefire Violated

Published February 19, 2015 in Europe , Military , Politics - 0 Comments
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It took even less time than I expected for us to see the Ukrainian ceasefire violated.

The city of Debaltseve effectively fell to rebel fighters days after the cease-fire was signed last week with the heavy involvement of European leaders.

I’m shocked, shocked to see that Putin signed a cease fire he didn’t intend to live up to.

But U.S. lawmakers say the latest developments only underscore the need for greater involvement by the U.S. and its allies.

Do they want a world war? Because that’s how world wars get started.

Don’t Pass the AUMF

Published February 11, 2015 in Politics - 0 Comments
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President Obama has requested that Congress authorize the use of military force against ISIS. There’s a lot of argument going on right now about the specific language of the AUMF. It’s an irrelevant side show. Congress shouldn’t pass it, no matter the language.

Both the left and the right in American politics fundamentally misunderstand ISIS but for completely different reasons. The left believes that ISIS poses us no threat. They are blinded by ideology that simply doesn’t match up with the real world. ISIS most definitely poses a threat to the western world. The right understands that ISIS is a threat but wants to face it with the same “strategies” – or lack thereof – that have already failed us in the middle east.

First and foremost, we have no defined objective in our fight against ISIS. What are we actually trying to accomplish with military strikes? “Stop ISIS” is all I ever hear. OK, fine. But what does that actually mean? How are we going to do stop them? What does “stopping ISIS” even mean? Containment? Eliminate their fledgling empire?

Forget trying to figure out how – we don’t even know what we want to accomplish.

And that leads to the second point. Are we prepared to invade the middle east again, spend another decade or more with boots on the ground, and completely overthrow what looks to be a de facto empire forming (whether we admit it or not)? No, the American people aren’t ready to commit to this.

The closest thing to a strategy that I’ve heard is “fight them over there so that we don’t have to fight them here.” This is wrong for two reasons. First, it’s a tactic – not a strategy. I say again – how are we going to actually stop them? Second, it’s not what will actually happen in reality. Without a defined objective and a plan to accomplish it, we will get sucked into a war of attrition that will only benefit ISIS and its recruiting while depleting our own capability to fight them when we’re actually ready to fight.

Preserve our energy, preserve our resources and most importantly, preserve the lives of the young men who always pay the ultimate price. Let ISIS exhaust itself, let it show itself for the true threat that it is, and we’ll face it with allies behind us – and, more importantly, with the American people fully behind it.

Don’t pass the AUMF.

[And don’t for a minute pretend that this post changes anything. We all know that it will pass anyway.]

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