Talking TED – Ideas for Scaring

Consider this:  instead of an entrenched government fabricating an Orwellian state of fear in order to limit civil liberties, that it is in fact self-proclaimed rebels crying “freedom” who are using this very tactic to foster an agenda that is more destructive than the world they claim to oppose.

It’s true that this website launched with an article praising a TEDx video and the spirit it evokes, but it must be said that not everyone who preaches before the altar of those iconic letters is necessarily promoting an idea worth sharing.  In particular, this video starring Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Swedish Pirate Party proves my favorite of Twain’s observations — that all one needs in life for success is confidence and ignorance. Falkvinge’s pride in his party’s acquisition of seats in the European Parliament shows us just how far one can passionately evangelize a truly bad idea.

We see a lot of this in U.S., of course.  Todd Akin’s now infamous statement about “legitimate rape” not causing pregnancy was not merely the raving of one man, but an extension of language that’s been part of GOP talking points for years, attempting to stratify degrees of sexual assault vis a vis the question of abortion.  In other words, I’m not impressed with dumb ideas just because they achieve a measure of popularity somewhere; the number of seats the Pirate Party has in the European Parliament is not by itself proof of anything.

In fact, as the title and content of this particular talk make clear, it is meant more as a primer on how to turn protest into policy than as a stump for the Pirate Party platform; but Falkvinge as mentor does leave out the fact that he possesses that secret, Twainian ingredient — an ego blind to the fallacy of his reasoning. I challenge anyone to watch the first eight minutes of this video and tell us how Falkvinge’s overview of his mission has any more syllogistic integrity than one of Glenn Beck’s blackboard extravaganzas. Take for example his abrupt reference to Mubarak shutting down the Internet during the uprising in Egypt, which he then follows with a ham-handed segue to democratic nations where he claims, “the crackdown is the same but the excuse is different. In the West it’s terrorism, organized crime, and pornography in various forms.”  In other words, if the FBI investigates a terror cell or a drug or child pornography ring  (which really do exist), it’s the same thing as Mubarak turning off the Internet to squelch political dissent.

Even stranger is Falkvinge’s references to privacy. He cites the sanctity of traditional mail (which he doesn’t mention is protected by law as exclusive property) followed by vague allusions to government “wiretapping” of our digital communications. At best, this is laughable in the age of social media when the majority of our communications are not only public, but are of less than no interest to the likes of Interpol and the NSA.  In truth, if privacy is your concern, you’d be wiser to ask what Google and Facebook are doing with the information you give them voluntarily, but Falkvinge isn’t interested in pesky realities; he’s more interested in painting a picture of a generation gap through scare tactics.

In fact, given the thesis of his presentation, it’s telling that in eight minutes worth of preamble, Falkvinge doesn’t openly state the biggest plank in the platform of a party that would call itself “Pirate,” namely the belief that mass copyright infringement is a form of free speech. But then, that would be making an argument, which is open to counter-argument.  It’s so much more effective to draw fuzzy lines between dictators and democratic leaders and to make vague references to governments spying on private citizens.

Above all, what I find most offensive and dysfunctional about this video in particular and pirate parties in general is the implication that the youth of democratic societies ought to be more concerned with perceived threats to the liberties they already enjoy than with wielding those liberties to greater purpose. Specifically, at about the 4:30 mark, Falkvinge cites an unspecified “survey” that 17 year-olds no longer place the environment and sustainability at the top of their concerns, but instead are more focused on issues of free speech and openness.

Assuming this unnamed study is accurate, I propose that unless those kids are in Russia or Iran, they’re due for a reality check.  Proclaiming free speech advocacy in a democratic society is roughly as bold as saying one is pro air; and oddly enough, there are more enemies of air than there are of speech.  So, perhaps the environment and sustainability ought to resume their place at the top of the next generation’s agenda.

If we are to take Falkvinge’s hyperbole seriously, then we must conclude that he and his party affiliates, were they to speak more plainly, would have us believe that stopping some American college kid from torrent-streaming Hangover II  would make him a victim of a human rights violation.  This is more than an insult to real victims of human rights violations, it is an abdication of our responsibility as the fortunate citizens of free societies.  Rather than use our voices to speak on behalf of those who suffer real abuses, the Pirate Party would have us whinging over the prospect of paying for entertainment.  Falkvinge mentions that his political movement was born in a bar, and it seems to me that it ought to have died in the sober light of day like so many notions that look good under the influence.

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)