Right now there is a war brewing in your backyard. You may not be aware of it. You may not even realize that you are a part of it. But it is there. A grassroots movement which threatens the fabric of governments, businesses, human liberties, and the very nature of how we view our social culture. And it is going to be the largest shift in human consciousness for over 2000 years.
I’m not talking about religious or political ideology, albeit both play a role. What I am talking to is the nature of copyright, intellectual property rights, and ownership and how it impacts on the way cultures reconcile differences.
Over the next several months I am going to be expanding out on this concept as I don’t have it completely clear in my own head right now. But what worries me, or excites depending on your point of view, is the fact that a number of ‘signals’ have been present in society for the past 10 years or so – and made far more manifest due to the nature of chaotic systems and how the Internet has changed the way individuals react to change within this chaotic system.
The general gist of what is happening is this: We live in a society that is based on political and governmental rules dating back thousands of years. It doesn’t matter if you live in a socialist or democratic state – the fundamental principles we all operate on have been established through tradition and passed on generation over generation. Those traditions are based on a world where the sphere of influence of ideas was determined by the number of miles a person could walk in a day. And because ideas were localized, political, ideological, and religious systems could establish ‘reasonable’ limitations on threats to the established power base simply through the control of movement of individuals and groups.
Today, we are well past the point at which ideas are restricted to political and geographic boundaries. Beyond this however is cultural thirst for more. The human mind craves stimulation and in doing so will latch onto new ideas that – while they may be second nature to the culture in which they were derived – are new and innovative to the culture that has never experienced them before.
We know for example that the thoughts and ideas of Chinese culture differs from that of Western culture based in part on both language and those social narratives which define the cultural idioms to which the culture relates. In short – group think. Culture constrains innovation and creativity and not necessarily for bad purposes. Consistency of cultural tradition is a stabilizing factor in ensuring that human social groups limit physical danger to themselves and hence are a competitive factor in different societies becoming more or less prosperous than others. It is a survival tactic which has worked well for centuries.
When ideas cross geographic and political boundaries however, radical elements are introduced which may have a destabilizing effect on cultural make-ups. Now, instead of a homogeneous culture, we are faced with a heterogeneous culture with varying demands that are not necessarily capable of being reconciled. Do you, or do you not, for example, pledge your allegiance to the Queen in Canada – or to God in the US – if you don’t happen to believe in the symbolism that they represent to both the culture and the traditional values on which each society was originally based?
Political correctness assumes we should be all encompassing but the reality is that each postmodern ideology which introduced challenging the status quo destabilizes almost every aspect of a society and how it functions. The implication is that we are headed towards a global culture – one in which there are no geographic or political boundaries. Unfortunately that type of dramatic cultural change means threatening the established power bases not through force of arms but through people’s social constructions of what they see as being their reality.
Governments and businesses may be able to impact on this using the political tools at their disposal – legal systems, monetary policy, and force of arms. The reality however is that economic systems, while they may be influenced by these measures, are only capable of influencing populations in so far as the population has a belief that their system is protecting the greater good. Governments that lose that battle over the belief in their economic and governance policies lose the war by a thousand cuts – not by a single blow.
Essentially the core rots from within despite outward appearances of strength. Civil wars begin long before the first shot is fired or the first dissident is placed in jail for their beliefs. Chaos theory shows us that as an idea gains momentum there is a point at which policy makers have influence and a point at which it doesn’t matter what they do, the train is going to run them over no matter what types of policies, rules, and threats are put in the way. Usually that point is well before the halfway point.
Currently I believe we have passed that point when it comes to intellectual property and copyright law. These provisions are well and truly outdated considering the global marketplace and the entire system needs to be dismantled and rebuilt from scratch. The problem with this is that it is a two edged sword. If governments do nothing, the wave of popularist ideology towards open source and public accessibility will eventually reach a breaking point at which government regulation and legal threats from businesses can no longer threaten people into submission. Current legislation before numerous governmental bodies is trying to strike a balance between the interests of business and content creators, and those seeking to use and create derivative works based on those new ideas. This is the other edge to the sword. If governments open up legal and policy restrictions then the interests of those content creators will also be damaged and there will be little incentive for people to invest in new ideas if there is no hope of being compensated reasonably for the effort they put into the development of those ideas.
While the primary conflict seems fairly straight forward the issue is by no means black and white. Copyright legislation impacts on just about everything from monetary and government policy to the very fabric of almost every system of economics whether it is based on a socialist or capitalist ideology. In the meantime however, the individuals making up these economic systems are not standing still. Such is the nature of a chaotic system. People are making their own ideological decisions in real-time. It is the nature of economics that flows of wealth do not wait for the regulators to finally make decisions which are already 10 years out of date before they become policy, or worse, law.
It is here we are going to see the next civil war. It is not going to be fought over territory, or politics, or religion. It will be an economic war, a cultural war, a global war, and one in which the civil populations those beliefs support the power base of the status quo will shake those institutions to their very core.
Issues over DRM are not the opening shots fired. They are a wake-up call that something radical needs to change – that the fundamental nature of how we value and distribute knowledge and ideas will, in the long run, not be subject to the traditional economics of today’s society. Once we hit that tipping point the change will be fast, it will be radical, and it will leave the old guard scratch their heads as to how things could have gotten ‘out of control’ so quickly even through the signals that this change is coming have been there for those that care to look.
We are that generation that is living in interesting times. – K