Missing the point: The Megaupload takedown is about scaring the competition.

Megaupload was taken down, but there’s no point in discussing how justified this was. That wasn’t the goal of the act.

Logo shown on The Pirate Bay homepage after th...

I just saw this article on Torrentfreak where it reports on a recent Kim Dotcom interview, where he is dismayed that the law went against Megaupload so aggressively, even though they were co-operating so much with content owners and paid a lot of lawyers to confirm that they were within the letter of the law.

Towards achieving this protection, Dotcom told us that the company had developed relationships with 180 takedown partners – companies authorized to directly remove infringing links from Megaupload’s systems – and between them they had taken down in excess of 15 million links. Those companies included the major studios of the MPAA who, incidentally, in 7 years of the company’s existence had never tried to sue Megaupload for copyright infringement.

On the advice of Megaupload’s legal team, the company believed it had the same rights as YouTube in its case against entertainment giant Viacom. In that 2010 case U.S. District Judge Louis L. Stanton said service providers can not be held liable for infringement as long as they remove links upon copyright holder request – even if the provider knows that parts of their service are being used to host illicit content.

“[YouTube] won their lawsuit and I’m sitting in jail, my house is being raided, all my assets are frozen without a trial, without a hearing. This is completely insane, is what it is,” said Dotcom of his predicament.

This shows how naïve Kim Dotcom is about the causes of the aggressive raid on Megaupload. It wasn’t really that Megaupload was hosting infringing content. It wasn’t that Kim Dotcom is extravagant and an easy target. It wasn’t that the judges were misled by the content industry.

Is is because of this

Megaupload did something that scared the bejeesus out of the dinosauric content industries. It developed a new business model and got it endorsed by popular names of contemporary content culture. It was about to show the world that ad-supported content creation is viable and in the process steal some of their best-known names.

If it succeeded (and it would have if left unattended) it would have served as the first domino to fall, urging other companies to follow suit and more artist to bail the sinking ship that is the RIAA. This clearly had to be nipped in the bud.

It is no surprise that the content industry went from calling Megaupload a “rogue site” (even though it co-operated fully with them), to strongarming the New Zealand state to take action with such ferocity that they called anti-terrorist groups to raid the house of a non-violent citizen. The immediate action and the excessive response is not random. It is in fact perfectly planned.

The point is to make an example out of Megaupload, not as a detriment to pirates, but as a warning to anyone seriously thinking of challenging the obsolete business model of the RIAA without playing by their rules. The response was there to remind everyone that the law jumps at the behest of the plutocracy and publicly snubbing your noses at them is a recipe for pain.

In fact, the similarities with The Pirate Bay takedown of 2006 are not few. Both sites were considered legal in their respective countries until the moment that they were raided without warning. Both times the response was unheard of compared to the nature of the crime. Both sites mocked the old content industries and openly agitated people to embrace the future of content creation and sharing. Both sites were not the largest available. The takedown of both sites was hailed and promoted by the content industries as a bloody warning to others.

In the case of the Pirate Bay, it quickly surfaced that state officials had been strongarmed by US diplomats to “Take immediate and definite action or else…” and they followed suit. It will not surprise me in the least to hear that New Zealand state officials had been pressured off the record by the US via economic sanctions if they did not immediately take action against Megaupload, legal precedent be damned.

The point is not really to defeat Megaupload in court – even though given the farce that was the Pirate Bay kangaroo court, it’s not unlikely – the point is first to scare all sites like Megaupload into shutting down or toning down their business, regardless of how legal it seemingly is. This is why such excessive force was used by the police, to give nightmares to site admins. Secondly and most importantly, it was to disrupt Megaupload enough so that they won’t be able to proceed with their plans to try out a new business model.

Both seem to have been successful. Already many other large uploading sites have taken measures to prevent their users from effectively sharing files or closed down altogether. Furthermore even if Megaupload wins the trial, the time it will take and the disruption it will do to them due to their frozen funds and burnt clients (those who lost their subscription money) will most likely ensure that Megaupload won’t be able to recover its former glory ((Naturally, I hope I’m wrong on this.)).

The distributed and free nature of the The Pirate Bay network/community helped them to quickly come back up and quickly resume services. As such, their takedown served actually as huge advertisement for them, and their popularity skyrocketed since then, making them one of the largest, if not the largest and most influential torrent site available, and a continuous trolling thorn in the content industry’s side.

Unlike them, Megaupload is centralized and concentrated in the hands of one leader figure, Kim Dotcom. As such, it is far easier to kill the beast by cutting off its head, which is exactly what happened in this instance. Megaupload cannot as easily be moved and brough up by allies, it cannot go rogue, and without the running accounts, it cannot function. It doesn’t matter if they are absolved in 5 years. By then it will be too late.

This is the weakness of centralized disruptive models I’m afraid and I doubt that Megaupload will recover from this, even though I’ll be pleasantly surprised if they somehow manage it. But until then, lets not delude ourselves that the takedown has anything to do with legality or proper procedure. We know it isn’t and so do they, but they do not care.

All they need to achieve is to convince everyone watching that when you go against them, the law will not protect you and even success in court will only be a phyrric victory.


How Kickstarter allows companies to "double-dip" their fans.

The Double Fine logo, consisting of a two-head...

The recent monumental successes of both the Double Fine and the Order of the Stick crowdfunding has also kickstarted (Beware the puns!) some heated discussions between my group of friends and myself on what the ethical thing to do is, once the project exceeded the requested amount by that much.

Regular readers (with amazing memories) might remember me writing on this issue a while ago, but the recent heated discussions prompted me to explore this issue once more and perhaps go into more depth into how this applies to non-software projects such as the Order of the Stick comic.

First of all, I should explain what my criticism is:

I believe that the only ethical thing to do, once you decide that you want your project to be funded by the public, is to make the end result public as well. The reason I find this the fair thing to do, is because by crowdfunding your project you take away the actual risk of developing a new product, and thus it makes no sense to take advantage of a system which rewards you based on the expectation that you took such a risk.

In this case, that system is copyrights and the capitalist markets. The expectation in the current world is that a creative project was started by a person or a group of people, who took a risk in creating something and then trying to make a living out of selling copies of it (I’m not going to criticise the expectations themselves ((I will only say that they are very wrong. Perhaps I will explore this in another post.)) but rather take them at face value for now.) This is where copyrights come in at their theoretical level. Copyright’s purpose is to incentivize new creative works, by giving a state-provided way for their creators to monetize them once they’ve been created.  Thus someone who took a successful risk in judging what popular demand is can get fabulously compensated for it ((while those who didn’t get to starve, but that’s another issue now isn’t it?)).

But if copyrights are supposed to be the incentive for creating new works of art, then it makes no sense to provide them for crowdfunded projects, since there that incentive has already been provided by the crowd “patrons” of the project. People have already provided a monetary incentive for the creator which has also taken away all the risk.

For the creator to now take the finish project and monetize it as if they took all the risk and required the incentive of copyrights to do so, is unethical.

What would be the ethical thing to do? Try to circumvent copyrights you did not have to rely upon and release the work into the commons, once all your costs have been repaid. Release it as free software if it’s software, or release it in the creative commons with the most permissive license if it’s anything else.

But what is happening here, is that the creators have to work with such lowered expectations from their audience, that they can easily get away with what see as straightforward double dipping. The creators not only get a significant part (if not all) of their costs covered, and once the project is finished, the get to keep any and all profits from the sales of copies the product as well. They get to have their cake and eat it too.

People criticise me at this point by reminding me that the fans knew what they were getting into when they agreed to fund these projects, and that makes everything OK. I do not think that’s a good excuse. First of all, people voluntarily give their money to many causes and projects, but that does not mean that every such cause is ethical. Not only do people act irrationally in most economic decisions, but I find that the moral imperatives also change when we’re talking about these amounts.

It is one thing not to expect a project to be released for free when you’re only funding just 5% of its total cost, but here we’re talking about projects who’ve been funded 100% and possibly more. When the crowdfunding success is that big, when the mutual aid sentiments are that great from your fans, the creators have a duty to modify what they give back to the community just as much. But instead what I continuously see happening is that the extra rewards are something that will make the creators even more money!

For example, the Order of the Stick (OotS) kickstart required something like 60.000$ to work. They got 20 times this amount last time I checked. The original result of the crowdfunding would have been one book being able to be reprinted. With 20 times the amount, it’s going to be 5 books and a board game. I.e. the cost and risk of these reprints is being taken over by the community, while the author gets to keep the profits. And everyone is too far caught up in the euphoria of the project’s success to notice that they just made the author practically a millionaire overnight and in return got the opportunity to buy some new books in the future.

I’m told this is a fair deal because they agreed to the original plan.

Now I have to clarify that I have nothing against rewarding the creators of such works, especially when people like Burlew have been releasing their comic for free online for a long while (which they monetized in other ways already, but that’s beside the point). I’m very happy for the success of these projects, but I can’t avoid seeing the reality of the situation just as well.

When there is such overwhelming support for the creators to create new works, to take advantage of an artificial monopoly granted by the state via threats of violence (copyrights) as if it was a required incentive as well is an abuse of the goodwill of your fans, even if those fans are too starstruck or privileged to realise it.  And I just can’t ignore this “double-dipping”.

I am cynical enough to fully expect that now that new roads have been paved by the pioneers and the indies of the creative world, the big companies will also start dipping their toes into the crowdsourcing pot. We’ll see giants like Activision offering carrots of classic and loved IPs such as Dungeon Keeper or Descent to crowdfunding, so that they can get some money upfront and only then start working on these titles, with either reduced risk, or completely risk-free. And why shouldn’t they? They will develop an IP with some money upfront and then sell it back to the people who already funded it.

And because the expectations of everyone for the rewards crowdsourcing will be for the public are so low, these companies may cynically abuse this concept, until the burn out the crowdfunding goodwill.

Alternatively, I hope that now that crowd funding is gaining momentum, we’ll see perhaps a sort of competition between projects for these funds, and eventually those projects which promise full ownership to the crowd that funds them will be seen as the better offer, while the others are ignored. This is my optimistic scenario.

Creeping Authoritarianism

When anarchists refer to their comrades as weak-willed sheep to be led around, then you know the rots has already gone deep.

The crew "Stench" from the 7th Sea CCG. An undead human crawling towards the camera. It is green and rotting.

It’s generally sad when I get disappointed by fellow anarchists online, but I don’t make a big deal out of it always However, sometimes, I feel a need to point out where I see a failing –  when there is a salient point to be made on an issue. Such is the case with the recent interaction I had in /r/anarchism.

The story so far

/r/anarchism has until now been fairly laissez-faire in moderation, something which changed somewhat after the The Great /r/anarchism Shitstorm of 2010 when it was accepted that oppressive speech and people would be removed from the premises. However, it was commonly accepted that all other aspects of moderation, save combating outright spam, would be left to the organic moderation of the community.

One month ago, one of the newer mods in the team, wanted to start manually removing so-called reposts, by which they meant the same story published on different webpages and posted to /r/anarchism within a short amount of time from other versions of it. They asked the community for comments and the general sentiments was that they should remains hands-off about it and that was that.

Yesterday, as I was reading a post about some anarchistic rants from Eric Raymond, I noticed this mod had left a single comment saying “No platform”. I decided to check if that meant what I thought it did, and sure enough, that post had been moved by said mod to the spam filter. Alarmed, I checked the recent additions to the spam filter and found it half-full with reposts (as well as similar “No platform” removals ((The same moderator has also expressed explicit desires to remove “anarcho”-capitalists from the discussion, something which was historically tolerated in /r/anarchism for the purposes of open discussion.)) ) that this mod had started doing, pretty much since the community asked them to remain hands-off.

I kinda exploded about it on /r/metanarchism, not so much about reposts being removed, but about the mod acting unilaterally and despite the decision reached in the past. My tone led this mod to try and troll me, and in the process revealed just what an authoritarian sentiment they hold, and how little they regard the people in the community they moderate.

More specifically, when challenged on the fact that they are not only removing the agency of the community and disregarding democratic decision-making, they replied with two very telling phrases.

Sit down and shut up.

This is significant because it sets the tone of the discussion. The mod is taking the clear role of the authority figure which reinforces the fact that lately, whatever this mod has wanted has been done despite all opposition. ((For example, someone requested that I be added as a mod again, this had significant support, but this particular mod blocked it on the ground that I would prevent mods from acting too much. Obviously they meant that I would stop them from doing what they just did, which I would. The request then moved to modified consensus, which was supported by 10 people and blocked by this one mod. The last request to make the mods follow the rules of their own community, also fell flat)) So I needed to be told my place obviously, a trend which continued throughout the thread by the mod in question continuously mocking my concerns.

What an opinion to have for one's comrades...

Then they followed with this very telling comment:

It became apparent to me after having to beg to edit the sidebar that people around here tend to oppose things or sit on their ass if you ask, but go along with them if you just do them.

This must be the most cynical justification of authoritarianism I’ve seen. And from a self-professed anarchist no less! This is practically saying that the mod consider their comrades weak-willed and apathetic, so they’ll give lip service to democratic processes but will go through with their plan anyway since nobody is going to stop them anyway. I noted the quote in the thread, which only elicited more mockery from the mod in question, while everyone else just twiddled their thumbs.

It is no wonder that this mod has started acting as if /r/anarchism is their personal fief.

So since then, I’ve been trying to explain to people, that it doesn’t matter how small or trivial the act of authoritarianism was. The problem is that it was a unilateral act that went against what people expressed they wanted. People kept trying to argue with me that “deleting reposts is no big deal, and why should we not do it anyway?” which is frustratingly beside the point.

It doesn’t matter if removing reposts is not a significant act. It matters that this mod cynically rams through their own preferences and anarchists just let him do it. Of course the same people then argued that since people don’t bother to show up and argue the point, then obviously removing reposts is “not a big deal” and round and round we go.

To perhaps make it more understandable why allowing some people to act this way is problematic, I wanted to tell a little story which might make an apt analogy and the point I’m making more obvious:

A story of leftovers

Imagine if you will, a large community with communal kitchens and dining areas. After each meal, the leftovers are left in a pile in the kitchen and there are also a few people in the community who use them for various purposes. Some make compost out of vegetable leftovers, while others make soups out of meat leftovers such as bones.

Now imagine also that there are a few others who really dislike seeing those leftovers hanging there for hours until the ones who wish to use them come around to collect them. After a while, they make a meeting to discuss the situation. They would like to throw them away immediately with the normal garbage. The meeting is not very large because most people don’t care about leftovers, but some who collect them and some who want to throw them away show up, as well as some who don’t feel strongly about it either way.  Various arguments are made for and against, with the ones who want to throw them away mentioning that  they are unseemly, smelly or unhygienic while the ones who collect them make the case that those effect are very minor and easily avoidable while there are others benefits. After some back and forth on this issue, within this small meeting, the general sentiment is that most people don’t mind the leftovers staying around until they are collected and everyone leaves it at that.

People in the community go on with their lives and nobody really thinks about the issue anymore. However one of people who was the most vocal about getting rid of the leftovers, starts going around throwing away the leftovers when they notice them anyway. They don’t throw all of them away, and they always leave a small cryptic post-it note somewhere in the kitchen area that is fairly easy to miss. The people who gather them don’t really notice it other than simply finding less leftovers around.

Eventually one finds the post-it note and starts to investigate. They go through the normal garbage and notice a large quantity of leftovers in them. Enraged, they call another meeting about it and call-out the one throwing the leftovers away: “Why did you start doing this, when we agreed to let us handle it?”. Various people from the old and new meeting arrived to see what all the fuss was about.

The answer comes back: “But leftovers are unseemly and smelly.” Some people in attendance murmur in agreement, some of the ones collecting the leftovers start explaining again why they want them, and the discussion on if the leftovers should be stored or thrown away starts again. Only this time, the framing is different. This time the ones collecting them need to provide a reason to convince people to let them do it, and they need to find enough support to peer-pressure the one doing it unilaterally to stop. They will also need to get into confrontation about it which is not worth it for something so minor. “Why are you making a big deal out of this? They’re only leftovers!” Those who didn’t want leftovers lying around don’t speak up because they got what they preferred now. And unfortunately, not many care about leftovers anyway, so most remain on the fence or don’t provide any input at all.

The real problem was ignored.

The issue here was not on whether leftovers should be collected. The issue was about one person who put their personal preferences above everyone else. The fact that most were apathetic enough about it to let them is part of the problem, not the justification! At the end of this hypothetical story, the people who were doing something harmless were alienated from their own community. Their wishes, their decision-making, their agency were diminished. In the future they will not even go to such meetings. “Why bother”?

The one who disregarded them and did their own thing anyway? Now they think their comrades are weak-willed and pushovers. And next time they try to ram their preferences though, they’ll find even less opposition as more and more people are alienated. If anyone raises concerns about previous such incidents, they’ll silence them through mockery. “Yeah, fear my hygienic authority. Imma coming for your garbage!”. Those who get their way while in the minority will go with it, because, “why not?”, while those who are against it, even when they know there’s more of them, will be the silent (perr-pressured if necessary) majority, going through with it just to avoid confrontation and belittlement.

Authoritarianism starts to creep in. Some people learn that they can manipulate their more confrontation-averse, apathetic, or facilitating comrades to their own ends and realize that disregarding the wishes of others works better. The ones whose wishes are disregarded will defer more and more from decision-making and may even internalize this behaviour. Soon enough you have an authority-leader figure and followers. And unless the authority figure does something egregious, they will only increase their unofficial influence.


I fully expect to be further mocked for this piece. “All this though about doing something as beneficial as removing spam?”, some will disingenuously asset, once again missing the point I’m making:

Authoritarianism and hierarchy does not always assert itself in one fell-violent-swoop. These sentiments creep into even the best-intentioned communities and rot them from within. Until a point comes where people either finally wake up and a splinter occurs, with the previous authority figures retaining control of the space along with those who’ve internalized the unsaid hierarchy most, while the rest go and found a new community and vow never to succumb to the same traps…until new people join and everyone grows lax once more.

It’s easy to declare vigilance against the obvious authoritarians and entryists who are painfully obvious to everyone. It’s much more difficult to be vigilant to all the small erosions coming from trusted friends, who are getting just a bit too comfortable in being seen at the leader. The stories of anarchist communities being subverted this way and eventually imploding or dissolving are numerous. Some times there’s a happy end with the petulant authority figure being expelled (and sometimes even being found out to have been an agent provocateur), but even then, the wounds done to the community are deep. Sometimes fatal.

The reason I’m starting to call out people on these apparent trivial things is not because I’m a slave to process or “stickler to procedure” as the mod in question described me. The reason I’m doing this is because I am concerned of authoritarian tendencies. No matter how small and no matter if I personally agree with the end result. The price, the rot within, is never worth it.

Authoritarians don’t like being called on their shit, and self-professed anarchist authoritarians even less and will always attempt to divert the discussion to discussing the merits of their perspective, rather than the problems of their tactics. People avert to conflict, or convenienced by the apparent end result, or just looking for lulz will indulge them and join on the assault, ridicule and marginalization of those of us raising attention to the small violations of anarchistic principles. I’ve seen it time and again, coming from all people in positions of authority. Ridicule comes first. If this doesn’t work, then they fight you, clean or dirty. Already some people in /r/anarchism are trying to paint me as a concern troll for raising issues like this, regardless of the fact that I’ve been here active in this community longer than they have. Read the thread above to see just how absurd the accusation basis becomes later on.

But putting the idea out there that I’m concern trolling and repeating it is a rather ingenious tactic. Repeat the lie often enough and then the idea will stick…somewhere. Soon enough, calling me a concern troll will not immediately sound so absurd. “Haven’t they been called a concern troll multiple times in the last few months?” the subconscious will remark.

Oh, and did I mention that it just so happens that lately they’ve started banning concern trolls in /r/anarchism?

And to pre-empt some people, no, I am not a martyr, nor I consider myself one. I am not looking to get myself banned to make a point, nor am I trying to bring down /r/anarchism. What I am is disappointed that a community that is theoretically made of a larger concentration of anarchists than most, not only lets the small violations pass, but they mostly don’t care for a democratic decision-making process. I am dismayed that when a mod cynically refers to their comrades as weak-willed sheep to be led around and shamelessly admit that they do so, nobody bats an eyelid. I am alarmed that there is so little vigilance…

Am I giving too much thought to the going-ons of a small online community on the net, compared to the grand scheme of things? Perhaps. But I find that the “grand things” tend to mask the small ones until it’s too late.

To put it another way: When you’re battling pigs on the street daily, it’s difficult when you come home to notice or be upset about some guys throwing away your leftovers…

The "Anarchism Can't Work lolol" Bingo

Ever get frustrated at the inane arguments against anarchism? Then this BINGO chart should come in handy.

There’s a few humorous BINGO sheets available on the internet, from the hilarious Libertarian Troll Bingo, to the sarcastic Sexism in Games BINGO. The latter one, I recently modified slightly and then run through the comments of reddit, which were discussing sexism in games, with great success. I had quite a lot of fun doing it and it also occurred to me that there is another topic where there are so many cliché criticisms that might benefit from a similar treatment.

To this end, I’ve created the “Anarchism Can’t Work lolol” Bingo, which is a humorous view into some of the most common, and usually outright absurd criticisms of anarchism that are frequently trotted out when such discussions occur. You can find it below in a simple html form, or on the side, in an image format (click on the thumbnail for larger version).

So without further ado:

The “Anarchism Can’t Work lolol” BINGO

Whitest kids you know / Something Positive / etc Go live in Somalia if you like Anarchy so much. Anarchist Catalonia and Ukraine were defeated in war, so this proves Anarchism can’t work. Democratic France being defeated in WW2 doesn’t count. Grow up and get a job! What have the Anarchists ever achieved? The “Haymarket affair”? Never heard of it.
Who would maintain the roads and gather the garbage? Why don’t you create your own political party and run for office? People are too stupid and evil to voluntary work together. They need benevolent leaders to do it for them. What do you mean “who would choose the leaders”? Who would control the huge corporations if the state didn’t exist? Today they’re perfectly regulated and kept in check by our incorruptible leaders. You’re a Utopian. Anarchy will never work the way you idealize, unlike Capitalism and the State which work perfectly now.
The corrupt politicians in power will never allow any movement that starts to challenge the state. Ron Paul 2012! You’re not a true anarchist unless you support the rights to private property, capitalism and wage slavery. Human Nature (FREE SPACE) Your ethical arguments on how humans should act in an anarchist society makes you as bad as Stalin and Pol Pot. If you oppose Capitalism so much, then why are you still using a computer and the internet, huh? And why do you buy groceries?
Let’s say tomorrow we magically had an Anarchist society… An anarchist society doesn’t exist right now, therefore it could never work. Why no, I do not know how old Capitalism is. The state is required because humans don’t exercise voluntary organization. Much like shoes are required because our feet lack the callouses one would develop by not wearing shoes. Whenever your revolutions were attempted, they ended up in brutal dictatorships after a bloody civil war. Unlike all democratic revolutions which were peaceful and never failed. I demand to know the exact details of an anarchist society of the future. People could easily predict 20th century Capitalism during the 19th.
Humans need hierarchy. All human societies throughout history were hierarchical. Why don’t anarchist start their own communes right now? Just buy the land from the state or capitalists and prove it works. Of course nobody will try to mess with it. Without a state and laws to tell me how to behave, I’d go on a killing spree immediately. Libertarian Socialism is an oxymoron. I agree with you, but nothing can ever change, so why bother…

I don’t believe I need to point out that this Bingo chart is dripping with sarcasm 🙂

One thing you might like to note is that I’ve tried to align the chart in such a way so that the middle horizontal axis contains common arguments coming from right-libertarians and “Anarcho”-Capitalists, while the middle vertical axis contains arguments that approach a Marxist-Leninist/State Socialist criticism. This should allow an easy Bingo in case you’re arguing wish such ideologues. 🙂

Finally, in case you want to spread it around, or rework it, below I’m including two text files, one containing the bingo options in simple text format, while the other one containing the bingo chart in a way that you can paste into reddit comments.

Let me know if there is a more fitting answer that I’ve missed. A few of them are possibly not that common or absurd, so if you can think of a better replacement, let me know and I’ll update it.

Have fun!

This Wikipedia section annoys me

Wikipedia can easily fall prety to bias when its supported by flimsy sources.

"North Hampton is a Domestic violence fre...

The section about teh mens on the epidemiology of domestic violence looks very much like an MRA talking point rather than a neutral POV. This is the second time I review the section and find that it is full of questionable sources and blatant editorializing. The first time I removed citations which were not only minimal (i.e. “Straus, 2005”, that was all) but sometimes just wrong. I replaced those with a [citation needed] mark, to force those adding those to backup their statements.

Today I visited again and notice that many citations have been fixed, only this time bad citations have been replaced with seemingly working ones, which at the same time are ones that are frequently brought up by MRAs as a silencing tactic. For example, the very first sentence is this:

Women’s violence towards men is a serious social problem. While much attention has been focused on domestic violence against women, researchers argue that domestic violence against men is a substantial social problem worthy of attention.

This is an editorialized title, backed up by two citations. First this, which cites Gelles and does not provide a version on can check online. However I have read that Gelles has explicitly rejected interpretations that put violence against women on the same scale as violence against men. ((Unfortunately this Feminism 101 article suffers of of severe link rot, so I couldn’t link to the original source)).

The second part of the sentence links to this page of citations, which is very much like the annoying Wall of Text tactic, which primarily used to cower and silence opponents, especially those who are not privileged enough to waste even more time refuting it. This particular “Wall of Sources” is frequently linked and cited by MRAs because it is just so damn effective in cowering their opponents. Who can deny science? However, it’s not the science that we need to deny, but the flawed framing and outright dishonest interpretations of the facts and fortunately David Futrelle of Manboobz has done exactly that.

The problem with citing a Wall of Sources, is that it can be practically used to support anything, even a rhetorical point such as “researchers argue that domestic violence against men is a substantial social problem worthy of attention.” The problem with this strategy is that it is trivial for people on the other side of the argument to respond with an even larger Wall of Sources, many thousands long, that can support the exact opposite ideological point. It then becomes simply a race of who can gather and choice-interpret or outright spin scientific studies, so that they fit their biases. And this is not how the truth is found, and especially not how Wikipedia is supposed to work.

And then there are the editorialized sources in the above Wikipedia article. If you look at the sources cited at references 33 to 37, you’ll note that they all have a short paragraph interpreting them to the audience, rather than let them stand on their own. This is not done commonly in Wikipedia (as far as I know) as it’s the paragraph being cited that is supposed to give this context. And yet, it seems here that those citations cannot stand on their own, or maybe – and this is what I really suspect – that this is yet another attempt to cower anyone challenging these assumptions, as all of those references are simply used to support the following sentence:

Other studies—typically family and domestic violence studies—show that men are more likely to inflict injuries, but also that when all acts of physical aggression or violence are considered in aggregate, women are equally violent as men,or more violent than men.

Again, another MRA talking point which goes counter to the section above it, and thus multiple (editorialized) sources are pre-emptively used to prevent it being challenged.

The whole situation, imho, stinks. And though I’ve tried to shape up the article somewhat by removing the most obvious citation bias, I am loath to really start editing it and likely end up in a citation war with the MRA watchers it’s sure to have.

Anyone more familiar with the Wikipedia bureaucracy have any idea if using such a “Wall of Sources” to support an editorialized introduction is acceptable? I get the feeling it’s not but I’m don’t really care to waste the time required to find out.

Finding an apt analogy for piracy

I quote an analogy which exemplifies just why piracy is disruptive to obsolete business models, but not harmful.


So my article on the ethics of piracy was posted in the /r/games subreddit and the thread pretty much exploded in arguments. I only saw it half an hour before I had to go to a Faun concert (and then straight to bed because I was working early next day), so I could only properly respond 16 hours after the fact, at which point everyone had already moved on. Still I did leave some answers in that first half-hour but I quickly found out I could barely get a word in sidewise, before being downvoted below the viewing threshold. Oh well, not unexpected I guess (albeit mildly ironic, given how anti-pirates are under the delusion that their opinions are unpopular). And it wasn’t just me, anyone who wasn’t explicitly negative toward piracy, was downvoted, even for simply stating facts.

Anyway, one of the classic problems when discussing piracy is finding an analogy that approximates the same dynamics. Anti-pirates will insist on using analogies relating to physical theft, such as shoplifting, car theft and so on, while pro-piracy people try to use analogies that simulate the zero harm caused to the current owner. It almost impossible to see eye to  eye on this between these two camps, but on the aforementioned thread, someone did make an analogy that I think is compelling in pointing out how piracy disrupts business models.

Quoth mrbobgray

Essentially, the current business model of video games is like this:

I paint a picture. It is a wonderful picture, and everyone loves it. I realize that people will pay me to see it, so I put it in a closed off room and charge people to come in and see it. This works fine for awhile, and I make a lot of money; then one day, everyone on earth develops x-ray vision. This sucks for me, because suddenly I realize that people no longer need to pay me to see my painting; they can stop by any time they like and see it.

What’s an artist to do? How can I possibly make money from my work?

What the video game industry currently does is simple; they ask the government to make it illegal to use x-ray vision on the walls to my house. Ta-da! Everyone has to pay me to see my painting again.

There is a problem though; it is essentially impossible for the government to tell who is using x-ray vision to look through my walls, and who is merely looking at my house. Thus, some people choose to simply ignore the government, and view my painting using their x-ray vision. There is nothing to physically stop them, and it doesn’t prevent others from listening to the government and paying to see it. I can say that I have lost money from those illegal peeping toms, but have I? How much? Neither I or the government know, because we have no way to tell who of the people using x-ray vision would be willing to pay to see my painting.

The problem with this system is obvious: it is reliant on an old, out-dated set of assumptions; namely, that people don’t have x-ray vision. Instead of adapting to new developments, a law was passed to simply pretend those developments don’t exist. This is where we are with digital goods and copyright laws.

Computers and the internet are truly incredible, amazing things. The ability to store and transfer incredible amounts of data near instantaneously has changed humanity as we know it. So why are we fighting it? Why do we pretend that it doesn’t exist?

The idea is not to prevent people from using the new, amazing developments we have as a society; the old model is fundamentally broken. What has to happen now is finding ways of utilizing these new developments to create even more value. Don’t ask me what that is, because if I knew, I’d be busy counting my millions.


What are the ethics of Piracy?

Is it ethically wrong to pirate games? I refute 4 common arguments for this.

The Jolly Roger of Barbossa's Crew, which was ...

So, the moderators of /r/gaming in reddit have decided to make a grandstand against Piracy and as these things go, a big discussion spawned up around this announcement. I jumped in as well, and that turned out into a long thread about the ethics of pirating games. So I decided to expand and clarify my opinion on that point.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’re most likely already familiar with my general opinion on piracy (Long story short: I’m strongly supportive of it.). It is for this reason that I cannot stand silent when the usual moralizing against pirates crops up (with alarming frequency) on reddit.

There are a few common arguments for the moral condemnation of digital piracy which I’ll attempt to refute in this post.

Nobody deserves to experience a game or other intellectual property against its creator’s wishes.

The argument here relies on the concept that whoever creates a game gets to choose who is allowed to experience it arbitrarily. At the most basic level, it tries to shoehorn an intangible or infinite good, such as an idea or a specific expression of an idea, into the natural limitations of a tangible or finite good, such as, say, furniture.

This principle – that the creator decides who gets to use it – comes as almost a law of nature for tangible goods because it is built-in the concept of trade required before any use by another person can happen. In other words, before I can experience sitting in a chair, I have to acquire it from the chair’s creator which implies an agreement. The same is true for services rendered, which might be intangible as well, but are still tied to a finite good which is time spent by the one performing the service. So if I want to experience someone playing music to me, I need to have an agreement from them doing so.

The only reason why an exchange is happening in most of these situations, is because this is the norm for distribution we use in our current economic system and because the experiencing of these goods or services is a zero-sum. This means that if two people want to use the same goods or services, an exchange needs to happen to keep things fair and civil, or another socioeconomic system needs to be in effect, where sharing and communal ownership is an accepted scenario. For bad or for worse, the latter option is dismissed and outright, and thus by necessity market exchange become the only good scenario. To put it simply: If you want to acquire a good or service, the only moral option is to compensate its current owner (usually the creator) for it.

Given that for most people, this is the only moral way to acquire goods, it is not difficult to see why it’s immediately juxtaposed on something which does not need it: intangible and infinite goods.

In other words, the above moral condemnation relies in internalized moral values coming from an upbringing within a market system such as Capitalism where all other options for distribution are marginalized, dismissed and demonized. When market agreement for the acquisition of goods and services is all you know as morally acceptable, it is not hard to see why the acquisition of “digital goods” will be considered as immoral is such a market agreement did not occur beforehand.

It is because of this that for many people, even those who pirate themselves, it feels wrong to see people acquiring games without paying for them in some way. It is this feeling of moral condemnation, from which I believe most people start  and proceed to claim that it’s wrong for someone to experience (“acquire” ) digital goods without the agreement of its owner. But this moral sentiment has no basis because the same laws of distribution do no apply. There is no zero-sum game between current owner and anyone else. If anything, the concept of ownership itself loses its meaning when talking about intangible goods and we start talking about replication of goods, rather than exchange.

It is for these reasons that I cannot simply accept the above ethical proposition, which relies on nothing else than societal conditioning. However, most of the time, if you ask the person proposing the above “why”,  then a different justification may be presented.

Game developers expend tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars to create games. They deserve to be rewarded for their efforts and costs.

While I agree that someone who creates something very popular should be rewarded accordingly by society, the argument that someone doing something costly (in time or money) deserves to be compensated does not convince. I could bake very expensive mud pies but it would still not entitle me to money for them. If you’re going to support a market system, the whole point is to give people a reason to buy your product or hire your services. One cannot support a market system in one hand, and on the other claim that someone is entitled to reward for effort and cost extended

The main problem here is not that people are pirating games, but rather that the companies making them are still confused about what they are really selling. Copyright law allows someone to pretend that an infinite good is finite, by artificially limiting its supply. It is for this reason that game companies still create games with the misguided assumption that they are creating commodities, rather than services. This is a flawed business model which is built on top of a very flawed institution: Copyrights.

But copyright is realistically ((Theoretically it’s a law created to promote progress and the arts, but multiple studies and the actual number of modern creative works prove that it is not only unnecessary for this purpose, but actively harmful)) a law created and enforced specifically to support a specific business model: That of selling books in a technological level where printing books is not affordable for the everyday consumer.

So now we have multibillion dollar industries, built around a business model, relying on a law for a different technological era, applied on things it’s not meant to apply to (digital goods). There is no valid reason why any informed consumer should respect such a business model – and this is why the latest generations simply don’t.

A developer of an expensive game, absolutely deserves to be rewarded if their game is popular, but they do not deserve to rely on an obsolete business model, just so that they can achieve hyper-profits; because that’s what it boils down to. Business models relying on artificial state-granted monopolies such as copyrights are by design far more profitable than business models made with the digital age in mind. And there’s no doubt about it that the latter can be profitable as well. Any look at the MMORPG industry as well as the indie game industry will show that the latest trends are for free-to-play games which monetize their audience through other methods.

These may still be relying on copyrights to a larger or smaller extent, but those proto-business models are still evolving and it’s very likely that forms will be found through which one will be able to monetize even free software games.

If a developer wants to give their game away for free, more power to them, but if they want to sell it at 59.99$ a pop, we have to respect that.

This is a variation of the very first argument and relies on the same assumption: That the owner (usually the creator) gets to decide arbitrarily if and how we are to experience their product. I’ve already explained why this is an emotional argument and why it does not apply to infinite and intangible goods so I will not repeat myself.

I will however point the borderline schizophrenic way that this is applied to games (and attempted to be applied to other digital goods as well) where they want games to both be considered individual products, for the purpose of selling them to you as a package and at the same time want them to be considered services as well, for which you need to acquire a revocable license which you are not allowed to transfer to others.

In other words, the developers want to have their cake and eat it too. They pretend that the best part of tangible and finite goods (for their bottom line) apply, while requesting laws and moralizing against that the best parts of the same types of goods, so that the consumer cannot use them.

It is disappointing that opponents of piracy will gladly grant the creators of content the freedom to pretend whatever they wish, simply because they accept the above maxim. That the creator/owner gets to decide how you experience their goods.

But I see no reason why the creator/owner gets to decide which laws of nature apply.

If everyone got those games that costed millions to create for free, then the companies making them would stop.

I’ve dealt with this argument extensively in my analysis of the Economics of Piracy so I won’t go into detail. Suffice to say that this is a very flawed understanding of how content creation works within a supply & demand market economy. In short: if there is a demand, someone will find a way to make money fulfilling it.  If the previous business models fail to achieve this, then new business models will evolve to perform this task.

Consider this: 8 years ago, it was unthinkable that an MMO could function without monthly subscriptions. And yet, slowly and as the audience increased, MMOs have discovered that monthly subscriptions are less important than a large user base, and have slowly progressed towards a free-2-play model in order to attract more initial customers. The business plan has changed and now the demand is satisfied for high quality MMOs, while still allowing the companies behind them to make money.

Or take Team Fortress 2: In a day where most AAA games come out at full price with frequent and expensive DLC; TF2 has increased its profits tenfold by going completely free and providing all its (frequent) updates for free as well.

And these are only the beginning. It is completely false to say that if people could get the games for free, such games would not be made. What is true to say, is that the companies which refuse to change their business model to fit with the times and the advances in technology, will go down with them.

But it is not moral to respect the wishes of a company who wants to sustain itself on obsolete plans.

Quote of the Day: Immortality

The internet makes our thoughts live forever.

Quoth happybadger

The time is 16:33 on 18 October, 2011 AD. In a fraction of a second after I click “save”, this comment will be readable by you- someone whom I have never met and who may be on the other side of a planet living in a country which I’ve only heard of from a Wikipedia article or brief mention on the BBC.

This comment will have travelled thousands of kilometres within a second of clicking save. Within minutes, it will be picked up by electronic spiders which comb the internet for new content and index it. Within an hour you should be able to google the first sentence of this paragraph and see my comment, within a day it should be on every search engine online.

If this comment goes viral, millions of people will be viewing it simultaneously and it will be rehosted many hundreds or thousands of times. You don’t know my name or anything about me, but you’ll have countless platforms to read the words I’ve written.

In a year, those same websites will still exist. The indexed passage will still exist. You can google the first sentence of this paragraph and find my comment. Within a decade every cell in my body will have recycled itself and I will effectively cease to exist as the same creature I am now, but these words will stay exactly as I wrote them. In under a century my cells will stop recycling and I’ll stop existing altogether, but these words will stay exactly as I wrote them.

As long as the data exists on some server in some data centre within some country on whatever planet we have colonised, my great-great-great grandchildren will read this comment as I wrote it more than a century before. Their great-great-great grandchildren, though they will have no idea who I was, will be able to read this comment as I wrote it in an age so barbaric that they can’t fathom living in it.

This comment will last as long as computers last, whether it gets one upvote or a thousand upvotes. If we don’t blow ourselves up before we leave Earth, we can assume that it will exist for thousands, if not millions, of years. Beings which are augmented through technology and natural evolution, so advanced that they’re an entirely different species than me, will either translate older languages or learn to speak my monkeytongue and read this comment in an environment I cannot possibly imagine.

It’s now 16:53, 18 October, 2011 AD, in Chicago, Illinois. I stopped halfway though this to get a drink. Water is still relatively clean and plentiful, and looking up the sky was a pale blue and free of smog. I’ll probably never leave this planet, let alone the solar system in which I’m writing this comment, and whoever and wherever and whatever and whenever you are you will have seen a perfect snapshot of this moment in time, one that was heard around the globe within a second and preserved for all eternity within a day. If the rest of this thread survives as well, you’ll have 477 other snapshots to read through as well- each of them perfectly preserved for as long as we remain civilised.

But seriously, true immortality is your own wikipedia page 😉

I seem to have caught a bad case of the MRM.

In which I’m being invaded by MRAs

MRM ofA sketch of a male face, sporting a neckbeard course stands for “Men’s Rights Movement”, something composed entirely of self-titled MRAs, who don’t actually do any activism, except troll and harass feminists online. Case in point, this article of mine, which unfortunately caught the attention of an MRAs who promptly called forth a troll brigade. And for the last few days, I’ve been receiving increasingly inane comments, such as:

I never cease bemusement at the fact that you paranoids keep lying about your fantasy world of so-called rape culture, replete with the overwhelming abundance of so-called rape jokes (none of which I’ve ever heard). You’re always gonna protect women from being raped, despite the fact that no man in his right mind would ever have sex with you, especially forcible sex. Get the help you so sorely need, will ya?

The immediate assumption that I’m female nonwithstanding, it is completely nonsensical in every way. Even if I was a female, what does not having sex have to do with protecting women from being raped? Only an MRA knows.

No one has said that rape is not serious, but I’ll go ahead and do that. A famous feminist once said that men can learn from being falsely accused of rape. Well, I throw that right back, that women can learn from being raped

This comment just takes the cake. That person then continued posting shit, but presumed to also start posting links to various MRA crap, which I promptly deleted.

The way you write tells us you’re a woman, clamato, and a bad liar to boot!. It’s especially evident the way you imply you’re not a woman … without specifically denying it in print.

There was a weird certainty from the invading MRAs that I’m female. Which is perplexing since I have a gallery full of my ugly bearded face.

one thing you apologists for false rape accusers are forgetting………….is that when the law becomes unwilling to protect men from false rape allegations, there WILL become a time when the law is going to be unable to protect false accusers from their victims

Ah yes, no MRA trollvasion would be complete without this classic canard. “Just you wait” whispers the sexually frustrated neckbeard between clenched teeth “Soon there will come a reckoning when us nice guys refuse to stay virgin and take matters into our own hands.” Or something like it, I’m sure.

And lets not forget the actual forum post. I tried to parse what the original poster was saying, but the replies were in some kind of MRA code language and I couldn’t understand what the hell “ES&D you lameass!!” and “LSOS! Go to hell!” are supposed to convey. I guess “Eat Shit & Die” is the first, but I have no idea how that is a valid argument.

Anyway, the trollvasion is currently going strong, as every reply in the forum pushes the topic up, allowing new MRAs to see the link and come here to vomit their opinion all over the place. I’m not worried though, these things tend not to linger. Kinda like an early cold.

EDIT: Egads, here come more of them

Incidentally, with a name like Divide By Zer0 this guy is probably a socially awkward programmer or computer science student who thinks he will help his chances with women by betraying his own gender. I’ve met a few dipshits just like him in real life, one of whom is pushing 40 and still hasn’t learned anything.

Oh the gnashing of teeth.

The end of a chapter.

I’ve stepped down as a moderator of /r/anarchism.

Ever since 2010 I’ve been one of the moderators in reddit’s /r/anarchism. Due to the nature of reddit, I was also one of the most “untouchable” ones, meaning that I couldn’t be demodded by almost nobody else, except one other person above me. I got so high up this technological hierarchy of sorts, because I was one of the most known and suggested people around  the Great Shitstorm of 2010 and was simply the second one who was added.

I’ve been planning to demod myself since the start of 2011, both for my own emotional calm (since we seem to be having persistent drama around /r/@) and to allow others to step up without me being seen as a “leader”. Unfortunately I felt compelled to stay for various reasons, primarily the common unilateral actions from other mods and the heavy-handed and ban-happy rhetoric that I saw many people asking for.

Today however it was suggested to me by another mod that we both stand down and I guess it just clicked. It’s been long enough, I have implemented two succesful initiatives in /r/anarchism: the tendency icons and the Confederation of Anarchist Reddits so I think my tenure has been succesful. There’s also no drama or shitstorm currently unfolding, so my stepping down won’t be spinned into something it’s not.

I won’t be leaving the decision-making process or the community of course, but I’ll be doing it on the same equal footing as the rest of the “plebs”. And we’ll see how it goes.

One part of my mind is very wary that the banhappy crowd will take over and democratic decision making will go the way of the Dodo, as already a lot of decisions are being taken in a knee-jerk reaction rather than through consensus or democratic agreement. Another part, fully expects that I will be banned on some flimsy excuse by the few mods that openly hate me (because I reverse unilateral actions too much and thus I am a “reactionary liberal”).

It was good while it lasted folks. 🙂