Pirate Bay points the way to a new political reform movement

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)

Pirate Bay

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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.

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U-torrent

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.

Update

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.

Bit Torrent

For More Information

(a)  For information about the torrent movement:

the TorrentFreak website

(b)  For posts about ways to reform America

(c)  Posts about the Tea Party Movement

(d)  Posts about the Occupy Wall Street Movement

(e)  Posts about civil disobedience:

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15 thoughts on “Pirate Bay points the way to a new political reform movement

  1. So we’re going to form a political party based on the desire of people to gain copyrighted software for free. That’s the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard. People downloading music and movies off the internet isn’t communism; it’s just people wanting to get stuff for free. There is no larger political or ideological movement at work.

    1. “So we’re going to form a political party based on the desire of people to gain protection from the French for free. That’s the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard. People smuggling tea and not paying taxes on it isn’t patriotism; it’s just people wanting to get stuff for free. There is no larger political or ideological movement at work.”

      Anyway I think you’re missing the point. Bittorrent proves that the **infrastructure** for reform is creatable and viable in the face of massive corporate and government opposition.

    2. João,

      “Bittorrent proves that the **infrastructure** for reform is creatable and viable in the face of massive corporate and government opposition.”

      That’s a powerful, and cheerful, point! I’ve added it (with due credit) to the post.

    3. Mongo,

      “So we’re going to form a political party based on the desire of people to gain copyrighted software for free.”

      As João said, you’ve missed the point. The post does not even remotely say such a thing. I suggest you re-read it, a bit more carefully.

  2. Thanks for the mention!

    Going to expand a bit on what I said earlier. This type of infrastructure will make movements that use it impossible to kill. There is no single point of failure, other than the power grid I suppose.

    One of the biggest problems with modern reform movements is the lack of effective leadership. Everyone has their own script they like to follow because my opinion is just as valid as yours, maaaan! Certainly the distributed mindset is synergized with the anarcho-liberatarian strain in the tech industry.

    What we can take from this is that Bittorrent would not work if every peer ‘put their own spin’ on the torrent. Bittorrent works because everyone gets the same copy of the file. Even even one file descriptor inside is changed it becomes impossible to share with the original.

    1. One important thing to understand about BitTorrent is that it requires participation. You cannot just download a file from BitTorrent; as soon as you get one piece of the file, and at least until you have gotten the entire file, you are sharing the pieces you have with others.

      See Wikipedia) for a short description of how this works, and how BitTorrent clients enforce it.

  3. “So we’re going to form a political party”

    That would be “have formed” (and won seats, though none in the US yet): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Pirate_Parties

    “based on the desire of people to gain copyrighted software for free.”

    That is partly an oversimplification, and partly flat-out wrong.What is true is that the disconnect between:

    1. the ideals of free speech and communication, the possibilities offered by modern digital technology, and personal experience
    2. and the market-focused logic of “intellectual property”

    has driven many people to think that something is deeply wrong with copyright, patent and the laws surrounding them:

    1. that they now serve to protect the power and profits of incumbents, but no longer advance the arts, the sciences, or the public good;
    2. that their cost in freedom, knowledge and culture cannot be justified by whatever (dubious) economic value they might have.

    I suspect that the cognitive dissonance between being told repeatedly as a child that sharing is a good thing—and then being told that sharing (if it’s a song or a movie or piece of software) is, after all, a terrible thing—is probably how many people get started thinking about the absurdity of a regime that creates artificial scarcity just because our economic system doesn’t know what to do with easy abundance.

    There is a physical reason everyone who wants a bottle of Dom Pérignon cannot have one: there aren’t that many bottles! Even if it were possible to make that many bottles, it would require a huge reallocation of resources, which would reduce our ability to produce other scarce goods.

    There is no physical reason everyone who wants a copy of any song, book, movie or software application ever produced cannot have it. The cost of duplication and distribution (the “marginal cost of production”) is nearly zero; in distributed file sharing systems such as BitTorrent, it is borne as a part of each individual’s cost of Internet connectivity. The market serves no consumption-side function here; it’s merely an artificial way to finance the production of the first copy of something, because we haven’t figured out a better way.

    That said, the current system does allocate production resources for each “first copy,” and those have real limits. It is, to say the least, not obvious what could replace the market for that purpose, or how we could have the production side of a market without the consumption side.

    1. Coises,

      You raise something I’ve wanted to write about: the role of our intellectual property laws in building our class system. As we move to a knowledge-based economy, IP laws become the equivalent of land use laws in traditional western societies (where agriculture and mining were the dominant sources of wealth) — a tool for the 1% to accumulate and maintain their wealth.

  4. Is there another de Tocqueville (who would have published something in 1935) we should be reading? The only one with whom I’m familiar published his first volume on America in 1835…

  5. Bittorrent and the pirated software scene (which has been going on since computers have been able to communicate over telephone/modem) are an inspiration. If we follow that analogy, look at the history of peer-to-peer networks. Since Napster, the crucial features that allowed copyright infringement to thrive in the face of enforcement has been (1) anonymity, (2) massive dilution / mixing of responsibility, (3) a base of operations outside of the US and international support (4) ridiculous pricing and oppressive laws for the legal product, and (5) teenagers left alone with computers — not a joke. What is shutting it down somewhat is the relaxed pricing and instant availibility of the “real thing” from netflix.

    Bitcoin, ebay, paypal, kickstarter bring some similar possibilities — breaking the realm of commerce and transaction systems out of the traditional and into the more international and democratic.

    Similarly for education / dissemination of information: Youtube, wordpress and the many other blogging sites, khan academy?

    Perhaps something in politics will follow.

    Most of the above were directly enabled by the open source / Free (with-a-capital-f) software movement, which I think is the most inspiring though, considering it’s huge success, and the crazy hack of the idea of copyright which enables it came from a single crazy visionary who started as one person ~20 years ago.
    some links for Free Software history and details
    http://www.gnu.org/gnu/thegnuproject.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNU_General_Public_License
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Stallman

    1. Please be careful not to sow confusion between the pirate scene and the Free Culture and Free and Open Source Software movements. While there is some limited similarity in their goals, their approaches are entirely different.

      The pirate scene is associated with civil disobedience. Its ethic is that when laws are not made for the common good, there is no obligation to obey them; in fact, by respecting such laws, one legitimizes the abuse of the many at the hands of the few. (Many people would call that an absurdly charitable characterization.)

      The Free Culture and Free and Open Source Software movements do not generally advocate breaking any laws. They are focused on encouraging creators to opt out of the copyright and patent regime, understanding that all creators benefit one another through openness.

      Also, not all Free and Open Source Software licenses are copyleft (which I presume is what you mean by “the crazy hack of the idea of copyright”). Permissive free software licenses such as the BSD and MIT licenses, and equivalent non-software licenses such as the Creative Commons Attribution license, are also in common use. (Dedicating one’s work to the public domain would seem to be a simpler option, but many people familiar with copyright and patent law suggest that doing so can have unexpected consequences.)

      The Pirate Parties lie somewhere in between, advocating substantial changes in the law so that most of what is now called “piracy” (terrible choice of word, but that’s the one we have), if not done in pursuit of commercial gain, would not be illegal. The weakening of copyright advocated by the pirate parties is not always welcomed by proponents of copyleft.

    2. Coises,

      “Please be careful not to sow confusion between the pirate scene and the Free Culture and Free and Open Source Software movements. While there is some limited similarity in their goals, their approaches are entirely different.”

      I am more interested in their common elements, and what those show about Western society. We cannot see the nature of our society, except when expressed in action.

    3. Coises, I agree, the two are very distinct, and I recognize the difference.

      For what its worth though, the people most active in the two groups do overlap quite a bit, maybe at different stages of life/growing up. You learn to break things and/or take them apart before you get to put them together.

      Copyright and patent infringement is a rather mischievous form of civil disobedience. The FSF on the other hand is all about high ideals. You could call them communist I suppose, but if so, then it’s an anarchist rather than statist form of communism. I find it very appealing.

      And amazingy, it has worked out great, to the benefit of literally the whole world. Both Google and Apple build heavily on free software roots (both GPL and BSD, thanks for pointing that out- the difference is one requires you to forbid non-freedom, the other allows it). Although Apple is notorious for being control-freaks about other parties interoperating with their systems. I do some work on a hybrid of Microsoft and GNU’s flagship products — I always get a kick out of that.

      Anyhow, as a result of both of these “movements”, most computer users out there have now experienced the economics of non-scarcity, co-operation rather than competition, and network effect, which all might become a very valuable common background experience for something yet to come.

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