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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/19/09

Internet Censorship and the Third Inalienable Right

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As a radical futurist, I look upon internet censorship as a violation of that "third inalienable right" that was struck out of the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence and replaced with "the pursuit of happiness". The original wording was, "life, liberty, and property", and I've always felt that this compromise-third created a basic flaw in our whole Constitutional system that has caused major problems throughout U.S. history.  In a nut-shell, it has made it difficult to put checks and balances on one of the most basic sources of power in any human society: control over the ownership and use of both tangible and intangible property. However, since the scientific study of economics was in its infancy at that time, I assume the Founding Fathers decided not to even try and deal directly with this matter.  They had access to a lot of historical and philosophical knowledge about how to run a government to provide the governed with the "right to life", meaning personal security, and the "right to liberty", meaning control over over one's own personal desiny, but not much about economics as we understand the term today.  So they removed "property" from the list and substituted "the pursuit of happiness", which it's very hard to define in ways that separate it from "liberty."

As I interpret the writings of the "Age of Reason" philosophers, their operational definition of "inalienable rights" could be stated in present-day English as "those entitlements that all citizens must be guaranteed by law in order to maintain law and order with justice within society as a whole." This is a strictly practical definition based on a broad consensus among "the people" as to what "rights" they are "naturally" entitled to and will resist pressure from law and custom to secure for themselves. This consensus varies from sub-culture to sub-culture with any nation or other political entity, and it also changes over the course of time, so the framers of the U.S. Constitution didn't deal directly with the question of "inalienable rights" at all, but only with trying to grant all citizens specific entitlements that fit the consensus they perceived at the time.

The idea was to set up a system of checks and balances on political, social, and economic power that would allow the legal system to evolve in ways that would guarantee these undescribed "inalienable rights" in a constantly changing society as long as possible. Most of them also believed that another revolution would occur every century or so (as had happened in England throughout the Christian era) and a different Constitution would be adopted.  However, by neglecting the inalienable right to property, they wrote a Constitution that survived the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution without either being amended drastically enough to adequately cope with them or being replaced with an entirely new Constitution. So our flawed Constitution was interpreted in ways that allowed the evolution of a legally sanctioned authoritarian plutocracy that now has more influence over the daily life of the average American than our liberal republican government has. And even worse, the ever-increasing empowerment of "big business" has generated a "big government" that can only keep American society under control by resorting to authoritarian practices that the Founding Fathers specifically wrote the Constitution to suppress.  A few of the most glaring examples are our present large military, police, and penal establishments and our provision of "government services" on a scale that tends to make individual citizens dependent on a massive bureaucracy.

Fortunately, it looks like the Information Revolution of the 21st century is going to accomplish what the Industrial Revolution of the 19th failed to do: to put the US Government in a position where it has to either deal with the "right to property" by amending the present Constitution to include an "economic bill of rights" or to adopt a new Constitution with these provisions written into it. The heart of such a code would be the concept that it's a fundamental part of human nature to want to own property of all kinds, and that people will fight against all laws and customs that keep them from getting what they consider a "fair share." The definition of what is "fair" is just as hard to define for property as it is for life or liberty, but history has proven that checks and balances on power work equally well in all three cases.  And my opinion is that we now possess sufficient scientific knowledge about economics to extend our national Bill of Rights to include "property" as well as "life" and "liberty".

Where does Internet censorship enter into this picture?  As computer and telecommunications technology continues to advance, it seems to empower individual users more than it empowers institutional users. It's becoming harder every year to enforce intangible property rights over either the storage or the exchange of information.  Since knowledge is the steering mechanism which controls the use of all other forms of power, and individual access to knowledge is constantly increasing for every Internet user, it's reasonable to assume that the world is already in the throes of an Information Revolution that's going to have the same impact on the long-term evolution of human society as the Industrial Revolution had. So, attempts by power elites of all kinds to censor Internet activities are simply an effort to hamper this natural evolutionary process by force--and individual resistence to this is equally natural. Mounting political opposition to specific laws intended to impose censorship on the Net is an obvious first step, and this should be obvious to all progressive-minded people who learn about such efforts, but I feel that it's actually more important for all of us to advance the Information Revolution on the practical level. In other words, to use the Net for learning, teaching, trade, and negotiation as much as possible, and to resist efforts to stop us from doing these things any way we can....

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Let's take the turtle off the fence post. The turtle is the 99% and the fence post is artificial scarcity and a climate of fear. My main activity on the Internet right now is running the "Comparing Beliefs" Forum on the "Innersence" Yuku (more...)
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