Three years ago I had said that we were in the opening engagements leading to the next global war.

Specifically, I mentioned that

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.

SOPA is the next round in that battle and is evident proof that the wake-up call has not been heeded. In a nutshell, SOPA is an attempt to reinforce traditional values of copyright and ownership on a system that doesn’t want to be forced in that direction. Rather than trying to work within the direction the socio-informatics wants to naturally go, large corporations are trying to bring those values back in line with the establish processes because that is what they know. Laws, policy, policing.

What is missing is the human element. It is also what makes SOPA so dangerous as a framework from which individuality and the expression of ideas could eventually be eradicated.

Legacy is the essential problem.

The way you keep populations in control is by ensuring that their needs within a society are being met. Let’s take the simple example from Maslow. Those core needs being, in order of importance, physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. To this list one has to add an additional more primal basic need that supersedes all of these others and that is the need to propagate.

The philosophical statement, cogito ergo sum, represents only half of what it is to be human. It is the rational side of the equation and doesn’t address this idea that within human culture it is not simply enough ‘to be’, one must have prove of one’s existence. That is, we define ourselves not just in terms of how we perceive the world rationally (a priori) but we need to have verifiable proof through external means that we exist (a posteriori).

Up until now, copyright has provided some measure of proof of our existence through the assignment of ownership to physical objects and the definition of legacy that it provides. But what happens in a virtual world where the right to create derivative works is superseded by mega-corporations whose only interest is the next fiscal quarterly report to their shareholders? When you no longer have the right to create works that provide proof of your existence? Or when you as an individually can be wiped out simply for not paying your ISP?

These may seem like extreme examples until you consider that most of what we say and do in the developed world now revolves around some type of electronic exchange of knowledge. The ability to express oneself to society is predicated not just simply on the physical expression of thoughts and ideas but also on their persistence. The creation of physical forms of self-expression be it a book, a record, a painting, a house, a chair, were easy to assign copyright to. The uniqueness of such self-expression was contained within definable geographic constraints. And even with mass production, copyright infringement through the development of substantially similar or derivative works was constrained.

There are only so many different ways you can mill a table leg. After awhile with 7 Billion people on the planet, people in various parts of the world are going to come up with similar solutions to similar problems irrespective of blatant intellectual property theft. So what do you think is going to happen once we add another 2.5 billion people to the planet between now and 2050?

In the last 20 years we have gone from a society in which the persistence of knowledge was predicated on activities that were understood to be one of two types, physical or vapor-ware, to a society which now has a reasonable right and expectation to every word they say lasting generations. Our root belief system has been fundamentally altered such that legacy is no longer about what you physically leave behind but what you virtually leave behind as well.

That is no small paradigm shift. And it’s not localized. It’s global.

Consider by 2050 9.5 billion people all wanting to establish a legacy of their own and wanting to have proof of their existence.

SOPA doesn’t account for this. The players behind SOPA don’t want to account for this. They don’t see it as their responsibility to speak to the future. They only seek to protect an economic system which is no longer viable in an information age.

So here is the fundamental problem: what happens in a society when its sense of self is under attack by those seeking, albeit maybe unintentionally, to eradicate proof of their existence?

Usually its revolution.

Unfortunately we are like the frog in the frying pan where the heat is being turned up slowly. Our hierarchy of needs is being eroded piece by piece under the guise of improved quality of life. The powers behind SOPA likely feel that so long as there are no signs of imminent collapse that all will be right with the world. But as any good doctor can tell you, to look after the care of a patient you need to also pay attention to the symptoms even if there are no outward signs of disease.

We could very easily take a page out of the medical handbook of practicing physicians as to the how to evaluate and assess a law’s ability to influence and improve the social condition. Unfortunately that hasn’t been done here. Which is a shame because an OPRQST assessment against the human hierarchy of needs is exactly what is called for here.

If SOPA passes, and mega-corporations start to use this to assault an individual’s innate ability of self-expression, regardless of what form that self-expression may take, then it will simply be a matter of time before the revolution starts. Similar to DRM, SOPA won’t be the shot heard around the world, but it’s definitely a sign that the musket is being loaded. SOPA is a very badly structured piece of legislation that should never become law.

That’s not to say that there aren’t legitimate issues at stake here. However, we need to start by realizing that our economic system needs a major overhaul. Any legislation needs to accommodate the way society functions today – not the way the nuclear-aged society functioned 60 years ago. That is going to require a heck of a lot more work than a quick fix solution created by the group of people that are at the root cause of many of these issues in the first place.

Revolutions don’t need to take place at the point of a gun. The transformation in society between 1979 and 1999 is ample proof that revolutions can be both transformative and peaceful. I just hope the transformation that needs to happen between 2019 and 2039 will be one of cooperation and not confrontation.

— Kevin Feenan

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