SOPA and The Difference Between Boycotting and Stealing

Readers of this blog know that I don’t write a lot about politics. I think my politics category has less than five posts. Friends of mine will know that I’m bit of an enthusiast, though. I’m not a straight up fanatic, but I love talking politics with more politically-minded friends.

Yesterday, I was talking with some friends about SOPA because of the whole Wikipedia blackout thing. SOPA is an interesting bill. It was introduced in order to crack down on piracy – the illegal downloading of copyrighted material online. That’s a problem. But SOPA gives a lot of power to the government to censor sites, and that strikes a chord with some people. And not a minor one, a major chord.

I don’t know enough about SOPA to have an intelligent opinion on it. But I do know enough about piracy to have an intelligent opinion on it. I’m going to be honest. Not everything I do on the internet is entirely legal, but I try to pay for my music and my streaming when I can. But in the end, I think piracy is wrong. At least legally. Piracy is no different from copying an entire book for yourself. What is important about the book is not the physical shell it’s in; it’s the intellectual property.

People who pirate have a couple of arguments.  First, they argue that the people they pirate from are much wealthier than pirates are. True. But so are the people who own IKEA, and it would be stealing to take a chair from there. I don’t know if this is much of an argument.

Second, they argue that pirating is a way of pressuring record companies and big corporations to be fairer to the artists. I was walking listening to an album that someone had let me copy (ironic, right?) when it hit me. This argument sounds legitimate, but it’s not. In no other realm do we allow this kind of behavior. If we dislike something a corporation is doing, we have a right to disagree and there are actions we can take to pressure them. Boycotting is one of those actions. Stealing is not. If we are so fed up with the music/television/movie industry, why don’t we boycott them, listening to only independently produced artists instead or only watching independently made films? It’s because our moral reasoning is really just justification for our actions. We want to be able to watch movies or listen to music for free. So we say we are doing it in reaction to the big bad corporations. Boycotting would do the same thing. And it wouldn’t be stealing.

Dating Charity

One day this summer, I had the desire to go on a date. Since I wasn’t dating anyone and since I didn’t really want to invite any of the girls I knew to a date-type activity for fear of starting something I didn’t want, I decided to take myself on a date.

Taking yourself on a date isn’t nearly as sad as it sounds. It’s actually quite fun. There are a lot of benefits. First, everything is a lot cheaper. Second, you don’t have to give yourself as much time to get places. You never have to wait on a late date. Third, you don’t have to compromise: you get to go to the restaurant you want to go to, and you get to see the movie you want to see. Fourth, there is absolutely no stress involved.

On this specific date, I decided, though, that I wanted to do something kind of special. Buying a ticket for one person to a movie is most definitely the lamest part about taking yourself on a date. And so I came up with this brilliant idea where I would buy a second ticket, leave it at the front desk, and then if someone else came alone, they could have it. I thought it was a really cute thing.

I was wrong.

When I explained to the cashier what I wanted to do, she was not amused. She didn’t even crack a smile, which is fine. She didn’t have to be amused by it. But then she was unsure whether or not she was allowed to do something like that. She had to call a manager, and it turned into this big hullabaloo. So I told her to forget it and bought my ticket and enjoyed the movie by myself.

Everything seemed really wrong about this experience. I was buying an extra ticket! Why wouldn’t I be allowed to do something like that?

I was listening to a podcast from Rob Bell the other day. He was talking about this book called The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. The book studies the relationship between the wealth of a region and its health. They found some interesting things. The first thing they did was divided a lot of regions up by income into fifths. And then they compared the top twenty percent to the lowest twenty percent. In America, the top twenty percent makes more than nine times the lowest twenty percent. That’s almost the highest disparity in the world – second only to Singapore.

Anyway, Wilkinson and Pickett found that the greater the income gap, the less healthy (both in disease and in crime) that group of people were. So America is one of the least healthy countries in the world. And it’s not just the poor who are unhealthy. It’s everyone. The rich of America are much more unhealthy than the rich of Japan – a much more equal country.

I started thinking about this in light of all of the Occupy demonstrations. It’s hard to fathom that 1% of Americans own almost a majority of the wealth. That still leaves 99% that aren’t getting that wealth. It’s hard to conceptualize 1% helping 99%. But then I realized. The story from The Spirit Level says that things would get better if the top 20% helped the bottom 20%. And that’s really easy. And then I had an idea.

What if each person from the top 20% matched up with just one person from the bottom 20% and provided for that person as well? Instead of celebrities doing all of this charity work, all they would have to do is take care of one other person. And big things would happen. Crime would go down. Health would go up. Life expectancy would go up. Education would increase. Divorce and unplanned pregnancy would decrease. The economy would improve. It would be unreal.

I don’t know how to pressure the top 20% to do something like this or how to get the bottom 20% to agree to it and so I realize it’s probably just a fantasy.

But it seems kind of silly that it’s easier to donate five dollars to some random charity group than it is to pay for a stranger’s movie ticket.

Narrative Politics

I have a friend named Tyler Borchers. The kid is a freakin’ encyclopedia about politics. I say this only because I’m about to talk politics for a brief post (in my Spencer sort of way) and if you get frustrated at any point with my lack of knowledge, you should go to Tyler’s blog.

Anyway, I’ve been really intrigued by this whole Occupy Wall Street campaign, mostly because of its dependence on narrative. Lacking unified demands or opinions, the Occupy Wall Street-ers do have stories. Lots and lots of stories. So many stories, in fact, that there is a pretty successful Tumblr out there to document them. The people against Occupy Wall Street, though, have retaliated, telling their own stories and starting their own Tumblr.

I don’t think we fully appreciate how much of political debate is narrative. We think that our political party has it all figure out, but we think that because our political party frames the narrative in such a way as to make themselves the winner. When you are in a group, you are always considered “in-group” even though your group is the “out-group” to someone else.

I am in a pretty interesting political situation. At school, my peer group and mentor group are almost exclusively liberal, while at home, my peer group and mentor group are almost exclusively conservative. And I find that my views sort of stretch in either direction depending on where I am physically located and with whom I am talking.

I used to think that this was because I didn’t have a back bone. That I was some kind of jelly-fish citizen with no real opinions of my own, but then I realized it had everything to do with narrative. Conservatives never (or very rarely) frame their story in terms of keeping a group down or keeping the impoverished impoverished.

The above video is admittedly one of the notable exceptions to this rule. Conservatives frame their story in hard work and old-fashioned elbow grease. And who doesn’t like hard work and old-fashioned elbow grease?

And liberals very rarely frame their stories about welfare by saying that “All lazy people should have government benefits.” No. Liberals frame their story by assuming that people aren’t lazy. And who doesn’t want to believe that all people are hard-working?

And this is why politics is so difficult. Politicians have to do much more than solve problems; they also have to paint a whole new vision of the world in which their party is eternally indispensable.

But we can’t blame the politicians too much. We do this day-to-day all the time. Have you ever heard the other side of your friend’s break-up story and realized it wasn’t as bad as he said it was? Certainly, you have. Everyone has.

What story are you selling?