Summary: Today’s inspirational message comes to you courtesy of Pirate Bay, the many other similar websites, and the open-source software movement. They point the way to new political reform movements that might revitalize the Second Republic (built on the Constitution), or pave the way to a Third.
Through associating, the coming together of people for mutual purpose, both in public and private, Americans are able to overcome selfish desires, thus making both a self-conscious and active political society and a vibrant civil society functioning independently from the state.
— “Political Theory: The Classic Texts and their Continuing Relevance”, lectures by Joshua Kaplan (2005)
Americans as a people are strong only to the extent that we stand together to make our political and social machinery work. This is the true sense in which America is extraordinary, as de Tocquiville saw in 1835.
Collective action won our freedom from Great Britain, and a century later built our vibrant voluntary associations (e.g., Boy and Girl Scouts), unions, and broad-based political parties — all of which coalesced after WW2 to build a society with a large middle class and high social mobility.
Some of that lies in ruins today. Much of the rest decays, steadily, year by year. This rising individualism, better described as atomization and alienation, is the 1%’s most powerful ally. Political reform efforts during the past 30 years have foundered on several rocks, but their inability to assemble a broad coalition has been their largest obstacle. The Tea Party and Occupy movements tapped the extremes, but left the large middle untouched.
Movements built on narrow self-interest thrive (often doing valuable work), such as the fantastic (but still incomplete) successes of the gay rights organizations. But deep political reforms require working for the whole, not just self-interest. Are we capable of that today? Some despair. Unjustly. There are examples showing that we’re capable of more. That the people of the free world have grown, and have become capable of more.
For example see Pirate Bay. It provides magnet links for peer-to-peer file sharing using the BitTorrent protocol. It was founded in Sweden in 2003.
Pirate Bay (and the many other similar ones) comprise a massive demonstration of civil disobedience, on a scale not seen in America for generations. After a new record or e-book hits the stores — or a new episode of “Castle” or “Game of Thrones” hits the air — within hours there are hundreds or thousands of people posting it for others to use. Their computers and modems become tangible parts of massive networks of free exchange.
It’s communism. One of the largest successful such programs, with over 3 million content links used by (at a snapshot in December 2013) 30 million people at any one time (source).
From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
— Louis Blanc, “Organization of work”, La Revue du progrès, 1839
The open-source software movement is another example of modern communism at work.
The success of these groups shows that the right appeal can bring people together in pursuit of larger goals. Even visionary goals. These should inspire us, and point the way to greater projects. We need to learn from them. New political methods for a new millennium.
In the comments João says that these services provide a second reason for optimism: “BitTorrent proves that the infrastructure for reform is creatable and viable in the face of massive corporate and government opposition.” That’s an important point. The US government has a long history, going back to the early 1800s, of fighting reform groups — often violently. The social and infrastructure networks of a reform movement must be resilient, and BitTorrent suggests this can be done.
For More Information
(a) For information about the torrent movement:
(e) Posts about civil disobedience:
- How to stage effective protests in the 21st century, April 2009
- Occupy Wall Street, another futile peasants’ protest, Oct 2011
- Thoreau reminds us about one of the few tools we have to control the government, 24 June 2013
- Look at the protests in Wisconsin to see how America has changed, 31 August 2013
- Why don’t political protests work? What are the larger lessons from our repeated failures?, 10 April 2014