I read Lawrence Lessig ‘s REMIX: MAKING ART AND COMMERCE THRIVE IN THE HYBRID ECONOMY to learn something about copyright law and what constitutes “fair use” of material. I am specifically interested in what this means for blogging, though probably the issue of biggest concern in our society is the file sharing of movies and music done by so many today because the Internet has made it so easy to do. Not being much of a consumer of contemporary media, my interest in Lessig is certainly not mainstream.
I really did enjoy his book and learned a great deal about the issues and problems which the electronic age has caused regarding copyright and fair use. Lessig’s thoughts on how to reform law and culture in the electronic age made sense to me. His use of the metaphor comparing a RO culture (read only) to a RW culture (read write – taking cues from modern electronic equipment) shed a lot of light on the topic.
I intend in this blog and the next to do a bit of amateur creative remixing – taking from his book an idea that was not his main purpose but which intrigued me to ask a rhetorical question about America’s war in Iraq. Lessig is writing about the limits of government regulation in dealing with many issues and specifically as it might apply to government efforts to regulate the copying and creative use of copyrighted material (Lessig favors regulation on the use of copy but not so much on the copying itself). He draws an example from America’s war in Iraq, which is what got me thinking about how Bush led us to war. What follows is related to what became a mantra for conservatives in advocating smaller government and the deregulation of so many aspects of the economy. On 20 January 1981, Ronald Reagan said:
“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem.”
The anti-government attitude was in some ways a mix of 1960’s anti-establisment thinking with laissez-faire capitalism and conservative small government thinking. It gets embraced in varying ways by Americans of all political stripes (from government should stay out of our bedrooms and leave sexual and reproductive decisions to individuals to government should not run the health care industry thereby socializing 17% of the economy (GDP); and on the other hand from both sides wanting government – legislative and judicial – to support and champion their causes and issues).
Lessig’s rhetorical question, which is not the main subject of his book (“This is not a book about Iraq.” p 282), made me wonder about what was the supposedly conservative Bush administration thinking when it invaded Iraq? Lessig asks:
What reason was there to think that government power could succeed in occupying and remaking Iraqi society?
… I’m talking about everything that would obviously have to be done after the invasion – from security, to electric power, to food supplies, to education. It was as if those at the very top simply assumed that the government could do all those things, without ever asking whether that assumption made any sense. (p 281)
The very philosophy supposedly influencing the conservatives was a distrust of the government to do anything right. So why did they believe they could remake and run a whole society? If government was not the solution to America’s problems why did they believe that the U.S. government could readily make right Iraqi society?
Of course the question might be faulty. It is possible that they actually never thought much at all about rebuilding the country they were about to destroy because they saw themselves as only destroying “the government” and didn’t take into consideration that the whole Iraqi society would be the “collateral damage” in such a war. Or perhaps they assumed in their Reaganesque thinking that since only the government is the problem, eliminate the government and the society will do just fine on its own – vastly underestimating that the total removal of government would push the people toward nihilistic chaos. (One need only think about the scenes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina once it was apparent that the government had vacated the city leaving only flood waters to check people’s activities).
“A parent, an army, a government: they all must be certain that their devotion to truth does not blind them to the consequences of their actions. There’s only so much a government can do. Where we find that limit, we must then find other means to the legitimate end.” (p 287)