Pissing on Their Graves

by on August 24, 2007 · 8 comments

One of the things I love about the geek community is that they’re absolutely fanatical about civil liberties. Take my new story at Ars about Mike McConnell’s ham-fisted demagoguery:

McConnell charged that as a result of press reports and Congressional debates regarding surveillance activities, “some Americans are going to die.” That’s because disclosures about surveillance activities will tip off terrorists to the existence of American surveillance programs and prompt them to use alternate communication methods, making it more difficult for the authorities to stop terrorist attacks before they occur.

This annoyed me enough that I took the liberty of editorializing in the very next paragraph:

McConnell didn’t elaborate on which specific revelations undermined anti-terrorism efforts. It can hardly have been a surprise to Al Qaeda that the U.S. government was spying on them or that they were using American voice and data networks to do it. Still, fear of terrorism is a potent force in American politics, and so McConnell’s charges, however dubious, may persuade some members of Congress to support the administration’s position.

But Ars readers, who were almost unanimous in their reactions, had a had some much better retorts. This one is my favorite:

Thousands of Americans already did die to secure us in our persons, houses, papers and effects. McConnell is pissing on their graves.

If only the general public had that kind of moral clarity! I think I’ve linked to this before, but Paul Graham’s essay on hackers offers a theory about why geeks get so excited about civil liberties issues.

  • http://www.dazethesea.net Joel Bernstein

    Geeks are heavily distrustful of *all* power, not just governmental power.

    Note the widespread support for net neutrality regulations, or the general sentiment towards Microsoft, or any number of other issues where they prefer government intervention to corporate freedom.

  • http://www.dazethesea.net Joel Bernstein

    Geeks are heavily distrustful of *all* power, not just governmental power.

    Note the widespread support for net neutrality regulations, or the general sentiment towards Microsoft, or any number of other issues where they prefer government intervention to corporate freedom.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    That’s a good point Joel. However, it’s not clear to me how shifting power from AT&T and Verizon to the FCC, or from Microsoft to the Justice Department, is a way of limiting centralized power. However big or evil you think those companies are, the federal government’s a lot bigger and has done a lot more evil. I think this is why those issues tend to be fairly controversial among geeks. On issues like censorship or the DMCA where the “limiting centralized power” arguments all cut in the same direction, geeks tend to be close to unanimous. On the other hand, when you’re talking about choosing the lesser of two evils, as between corporate power and government power, geeks tend to be divided, as we have varying opinions about whether governments are a bigger threat to our freedoms than corporations.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    That’s a good point Joel. However, it’s not clear to me how shifting power from AT&T; and Verizon to the FCC, or from Microsoft to the Justice Department, is a way of limiting centralized power. However big or evil you think those companies are, the federal government’s a lot bigger and has done a lot more evil. I think this is why those issues tend to be fairly controversial among geeks. On issues like censorship or the DMCA where the “limiting centralized power” arguments all cut in the same direction, geeks tend to be close to unanimous. On the other hand, when you’re talking about choosing the lesser of two evils, as between corporate power and government power, geeks tend to be divided, as we have varying opinions about whether governments are a bigger threat to our freedoms than corporations.

  • http://zgp.org/~dmarti/ Don Marti

    Rent-seeking rule number one is to redefine the subsidy you want as your property. Hackers tend to be better at seeing through this than most people.

    Often where a hacker seems to be endorsing some wealth transfer or confiscation, you can trace it back to a subsidy that the “victim” wants people to think of as its property by right.

  • dmarti

    Rent-seeking rule number one is to redefine the subsidy you want as your property. Hackers tend to be better at seeing through this than most people.

    Often where a hacker seems to be endorsing some wealth transfer or confiscation, you can trace it back to a subsidy that the “victim” wants people to think of as its property by right.

  • NZN

    America it would seem is not going to be able to make a very important transition. Our citizen populace do not have the time or inclination in sufficient numbers to effect change that matters on our socio-economic system. Today, the only sound advice is to “get yours”, for the sake of your children. For instance, user-created content and the web 2.0 phenomenon that is all the rage these days… is it empowering to the people? A business person can secure free content resources that are a great score for that purpose. But what about the value of intellectual capital to Joe-shmoe. If you cant organize it, it has no value, right? So leaders do the organizing for the Shmoes, always have. But this is not advancing our society. In fact, it is depleting it of all uniqueness, and centralizing commodities even further in an even more pervasive manner.

    The revolutionary act would be to consider the structure of the ownership opportunity in a “free” socio-economic system based on capitalism.

    When my kid was born, what did he own? Did he own his ideas yet to be born? Did he own his connection to the as of yet undefinable ether of free thought that we all seem to connect to? Did he own his genetic code? Did he own his life force? OR… was my kid owned? Is citizenship really supposed to be a ownership Agreement where our country of origin gets to claim us as its property? What is the effect of this act today, and how will we relate as individual human beings to our governing system 500 years from now?

    You think we have lost control of our system today… just wait till the relationship between the individual and the masses grows by 500 years.

    The internet and all of its offspring are put together with such great intentions. But our philosophy and our practicality for our society’s development is so inadequate. We are all contributing to our own disempowerment as individuals while we make the whole of us richer.

    Is that the goal? Should it be?

    Distribution of wealth. We all know its a big deal. Wars tell us so. Enslavement is a no-no and employment is a yes-yes. But what about the value of your life and all things that eminate from it. The group mind does not create our society, it fullfills it. It is the individual mind that is the maker of all great things.

    Its just unfortunate that in this world, and especially in this “free” country… none of us even own our own identities. We are slaves all.

    But who wants to read that pessimism?

    Lets go get rich!!!!!

  • NZN

    America it would seem is not going to be able to make a very important transition. Our citizen populace do not have the time or inclination in sufficient numbers to effect change that matters on our socio-economic system. Today, the only sound advice is to “get yours”, for the sake of your children. For instance, user-created content and the web 2.0 phenomenon that is all the rage these days… is it empowering to the people? A business person can secure free content resources that are a great score for that purpose. But what about the value of intellectual capital to Joe-shmoe. If you cant organize it, it has no value, right? So leaders do the organizing for the Shmoes, always have. But this is not advancing our society. In fact, it is depleting it of all uniqueness, and centralizing commodities even further in an even more pervasive manner.

    The revolutionary act would be to consider the structure of the ownership opportunity in a “free” socio-economic system based on capitalism.

    When my kid was born, what did he own? Did he own his ideas yet to be born? Did he own his connection to the as of yet undefinable ether of free thought that we all seem to connect to? Did he own his genetic code? Did he own his life force? OR… was my kid owned? Is citizenship really supposed to be a ownership Agreement where our country of origin gets to claim us as its property? What is the effect of this act today, and how will we relate as individual human beings to our governing system 500 years from now?

    You think we have lost control of our system today… just wait till the relationship between the individual and the masses grows by 500 years.

    The internet and all of its offspring are put together with such great intentions. But our philosophy and our practicality for our society’s development is so inadequate. We are all contributing to our own disempowerment as individuals while we make the whole of us richer.

    Is that the goal? Should it be?

    Distribution of wealth. We all know its a big deal. Wars tell us so. Enslavement is a no-no and employment is a yes-yes. But what about the value of your life and all things that eminate from it. The group mind does not create our society, it fullfills it. It is the individual mind that is the maker of all great things.

    Its just unfortunate that in this world, and especially in this “free” country… none of us even own our own identities. We are slaves all.

    But who wants to read that pessimism?

    Lets go get rich!!!!!

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