I find myself delighted, but also mildly disappointed, by a short speech making the rounds on the Internets, given by Amelia Anderstotter, Swedish Member of the European Parliament representing the Pirate Party. For its forcefulness, the speech misses a key distinction about which advocates of freedom, which I think members of the Pirate Party mean to be, should be very clear.
It’s a delightful speech because it’s a crisp rejection of the authoritarian forces that seek to control communications. In doing so, they hinder the development of culture. The woman delivering the speech is equal parts young, serious, and articulate. I reject authoritarianism, too, and I work to eliminate or hold at bay many of the same forces as Anderstotter, so that civil society can organize itself as it will.
I’m nonplussed, though, by the line that has gotten the speech so much attention.
“I would like to paraphrase George Michael from I think 1992,” she says. “‘Fuck you, this is my culture.’ And if copyright or telecommunications operators are standing in the way, I think they should go.’”
In one sense, the bracing language works. It is what generated a lot of interest in her words. But the context of the quote does not work as well. You see, when confronted with paparazzi photos showing him engaged in late-night cruising at a London park, Michael said, “Are you gay? No? Well then Fuck Off! Because this is my culture and you don’t understand it.” That is vituperation when confronted about arguably unhealthy behavior. It is not the conformity-rejecting line you might have expected in “Freedom! ’90,” presaging Michaels’ dispute with Sony over the release of Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 2.
One should certainly be free to act as Michael did among a community of consenting adults, and to reject criticism as he did. But when a speaker’s job is to persuade skeptics, one might choose an example of contempt for authority that the audience can easily embrace. With this quote, Anderstotter didn’t seat her rejection of authority firmly in logic and justice.
That’s a narrow point about influence, but the real weakness of the speech is in its internal logic. In the name of freedom, she calls for authoritarian regulatory interventions on private-sector network operators.
“[V]ery few top political figures in the world have acknowledged,” she says, that free speech and human rights protection “will require regulatory intervention on some private sectors.”
And later: “The control over communities and the ability to shape them must be with the communities themselves. Infrastructure must be regulated to enable that ability and such autonomy.”
Note how her use of passive voice hides the actor. Infrastructure “must be regulated” to achieve her agreeable goals. By whom? Perhaps one imagines beneficent gods fixing things up, but the regulations she seeks will almost certainly come from “the Governments and … public officials and lobbyists” that she says she wishes would fuck off.
A coherent system of rights does not have internal conflicts. If your freedoms come at the expense of someone else’s, you haven’t sorted out yet what “freedom” is.
Anderstotter is on the right track in many respects. Timid though the debate may be from her perspective, the scope and duration of copyright protection is again controversial among U.S. libertarians and conservatives. But her rejection of authoritarianism is an implicit embrace of authoritarianism at the same time.
With a little sorting out, she and the Pirate Party could get it right. Until then, the cultural reference she brings to mind for me is “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”