By Christopher McCollum
Culture of Spirits is not a political blog, but we do occasionally cover aspects of the political spectrum that spill over into our main focus, especially when it comes to things such as prohibition. A very hot topic over the past few years has been Net Neutrality, which depending on the way you look at it, is either a very good thing, or a very bad thing. I will try to not get overtly political in this article, and stay on subject, which is the direct or indirect way that our spirited sub-culture may be affected by this topic.
We will look at the two varying points of view on Net Neutrality in sequence, and then discuss.
First off, let’s start with “The System” and keeping it as it is.
The internet is a dynamic, exponentially growing and evolving creation that according to many people, has already taken on a life of its own. If we were to discuss that, then we would have to get deep into philosophy and theology and technobiology (is that a word? Spell check doesn’t think so, but it sounds like a promising future buzzword) and so on, so forth. Fortunately for this article, we’re not going to be debating the new technology inspired question of “what constitutes life?” As such, let’s stick with the first sentence of the paragraph. This creation has been instrumental to almost every major development in the Western World over the past 10-20 years, from allowing people around the world to connect with one another during the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks on 9/11. It was also used as an outreach tool after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, as well as the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004, that devastated Indonesia and Thailand. The cohesive spreading of news around the world from individual to individual brought communities together like never before, and the internet was vital in the effort that raised $600m from private contributions in England alone. The money given to the various Tsunami relief funds by private British citizens surpassed the amount that the actual government donated, as well as the combined efforts of the World Bank, Norway, and the Netherlands.
Earlier this year, during the tumultuous and controversial presidential election in Iran, dissenters were able to gather together to protest the results, using the internet as their medium of organization. Later, they would use the same medium to alert the rest of the world to atrocities being committed against them by government security forces and soldiers. The Iranian government did their best to stifle the internet in their country, to prevent this word from getting out. However, internet service providers in neighboring nations were able to stretch their infrastructure enough to continue allowing Iranian citizens the use of the internet, despite their government’s best efforts at censoring them. Likewise, there have been several minute reports of civil unrest in China, where supposedly there has been hundreds of thousands of protesters demonstrating against the government. However, with China’s strict media and internet control, it’s almost impossible to get word out of the remote regions where this is said to be taking place.
The use of the internet has allowed teams of scientists around the globe to connect together to innovate technology and medicine in a streamlined fashion that was never before thought to be possible. The internet has saved lives, as patients are more easily connected to their doctors, and troubled individuals have a multitude of helping websites to visit that assure them that they are not alone, and to provide emotional assistance.
I have made some of the best friends I have ever had through use of the internet, and this includes Micah Hanks, my fellow writer here at Culture of Spirits. If not for the infamous MySpace bulletins, I may have never have applied for a job working for and now with my current business partner, who happens to be Micah’s cousin. Through the internet, we are able to update Culture of Spirits, and keep spreading the word and influence of the Culturally Sophisticated. We share alcohol news, recipes, and discuss culture and ideas, on what is mankind’s greatest achievement, the platform upon which everybody has a voice (for better or worse), where everybody can speak freely, and where hundreds of millions of people from every nation, every culture, and every religion (obviously, most Amish and Mennonites usually don’t, but they still CAN if they wanted to) can come together and exchange ideas at a speed that was unthinkable just a decade ago.
The obvious potential (however unlikely it may or may not be) affect that is being brought on the internet by Net Neutrality is censorship. The rather… partisan radio host Glenn Beck has been screaming at the top of his lungs that Net-N is a Marxist plot to censor the American people, while Senator John McCain(R-Arizona) has introduced a piece of legislation called the “Internet Freedom Act” which is intended to block the FCC from enacting Net-N. The critics of Net-Neutrality declare vociferously that if the FCC puts this into play, then we can kiss our internet freedom goodbye, as the government then begins dictating what websites and programs can and cannot be used by the client. Now, the stated goal and opinions of the FCC and other proponents of Net-Neutrality, is to remove the power of the ISP’s to regulate bandwidth to their users in what is called “discriminatory action,” in which people will no longer have to fear their bandwidth being throttled as they visit competitors’ websites or use programs and applications that the ISP’s deem to be unfavorable.
Andrew Schwartzman, CEO of the Media Access Program, which is a digital information and rights reform group, had this to say about Net-Neutrality: ”This is a down payment on creating a digital democracy. Today’s vote to begin the process of requiring nondiscrimination insures, among other things, that large internet providers will be unable to block or throttle speech from competitors or those who disagree with them. The nondiscriminatory environment in which the Internet was developed fostered unprecedented opportunities for political and artistic expression.”
It is difficult to contend that, as is often the case with arguments that are theoretically based on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. However, as has shown to be the case so many times over every generation, everything may not be as it seems and is presented by politicians and lobbyists. It is hard to say exactly what motives may be, but this bill being leveraged in opposition to Net-Neutrality is, again, the creation of John McCain, who once famously said he would rather have a clean government than freedom of speech.
A staunch opponent of Net-Neutrality is Barbara Esbin, a senior fellow with the free-market think tank, Progress and Freedom Foundation. She had this to say: ”I remain concerned … that the FCC is poised to take intrusive action into a well-functioning Internet ecosystem without either the demonstrated need or clear legal authority to do so. I know of no empirical evidence suggesting that the openness of the Internet that we all value is under threat today, or is likely to be under threat tomorrow. In the absence of evidence of market failure or demonstrable consumer harms, the costs of government intervention are more likely to outweigh the benefits.”
Both sides of the coin say their desire is freedom of speech, and to prevent censorship. How this goes about is anyone’s guess, but the obvious Culture of Spirits interest comes from Prohibition. While alcohol remains lovingly legal today, and is enjoying a pleasant social standing, there is always the possibility that another term of Congress will be influenced by Teetotalers, the Temperance Movement, or even Prohibitionists. These people still exist today, and as long as we live in a free society, they have the ability to become politicians or to lobby politicians, and create another, evolved version of the Volstead Act, which for 14 years, prohibited the sale and production of alcoholic beverages in this country.
If the government took control of the internet, would it be possible to control what websites are available to the general public? That’s one of the main ideas behind Net-Neutrality. How long would it take for a prohibitionist zealot to garner enough influence to shut down alcohol-related websites, for the safety of the children? After all, audiences of all ages can view these websites. There are no restrictions except the hardly-secure entry form or disclaimer that states the website is intended for adults aged 21 and up in the United States.
The government of Iran showed they have the ability to shut down certain websites, as they blocked access to Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter during the near civil war that almost broke out there earlier this year, which we’ve already talked about. Is ours capable of doing the same thing? Yes, as Senator Jay Rockefeller(D-W. Virginia) went on record to say that the internet should never have been invented, and is the number one security risk to this nation. Rockefeller went on with Senator Olympia Snowe(R-Maine) to introduce a bill to the Senate, that would give the President power to disconnect private computers from the internet, in the event of an undefined “cybersecurity emergency.”
S.773 was introduced in April, and is currently sitting in the Senate as an August revision (which has less blunt, more ambiguous wording, but still enables the president to shut down the internet to private citizens) has delayed the legal review of it.
So, obviously, there are forces in play that want to censor the internet for one reason or another, but to think that this idea lies only within the government is definitely false; One only needs to look at Yahoo and Google and how they assist the Chinese government in censoring the internet to their citizens. What exactly is to stop them from doing this to American citizens? Not much, as AT&T has already demonstrated by blocking all of their users from accessing the 4chan forum server, on July 26th of this year. Comcast followed suit the same day, but the block was brought down just two days later as the internet outrage was so pronounced, the offending companies had to simply avoid a PR disaster.
The capability is there for both the private sector and the government to censor us, and decide for themselves what we as private, free citizens, can and cannot do on the internet. There are plenty of aforementioned examples of both sectors having already done this, so now the question is simply this: If it’s happened to one website, or one nation, what is to stop it from happening to every website, or every nation? And if it does, who watches the watchers?
I am of the opinion that the internet should be an all-encompassing bastion of freedom of thought and speech, and while it has its unsavory elements, just as all aspects of society does, we as Free People have the ability to ignore those elements. Neither the government nor the private sector should have the authority to try and silence one person’s voice, let alone a collective of 1.6 billion, according to the latest statistics from World Internet Stats.
Martin Niemoller was a German pastor during World War II, who (allegedly) authored a famous poem in the 1950′s, regarding the atrocities committed by the Nazi party. It goes like this:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.
A very wise message to remember, when facing the restriction or prohibition of any one single thing or group of people.
Take care, my friends.