Friday, June 13, 2003

Why are libertarians so damn doctrinal?

That’s the impression I get as a reader/bystander, perusing this comments thread in John Quiggin’s blog.

Statements, repeated ad nauseum, such as “the only way to stop influence is to use force” are plain silly; or if not, certainly capable of being dissembled by a moderately-intelligent grade sixer. The fact that they are not, by itself suggests a strong “emperor’s new clothes” quality to libertarianism; in other words, a cult of fellow-believers. For the record, I fancy myself as a libertarian’s libertarian – I don’t actually care about their little cult, but remember that that works both ways. In other words, libertarianism = yawn.

Philosophically, I prefer the bowerbird – if not the downright seagull* – approach. In many other things I’m a purist, but when it comes to philosophy, I reckon it’s all in the application – you know, DIY, hammer’n’nails, etc . Particularly as I’m not a property owner, or – thanks to my uni education during a period of massive house-price-increase-led wealth transfer – ever likely to be, I’m a keen renovator of . . . the mind (and, as always, on a tight budget).

So here’s a good, DIY philosophy project: spam. From a quick poke around the net, BTW, it seems that libertarianism either doesn’t, or can’t, get its doctrinal head around the spam issue. A gung-ho few purport to defend it to the point of drowning in their own inboxes, but for the most part, there is just silence.

Which is a shame, because spam is easily reducible to the sort of primary school playground hypothetical that libertarians seem to love. Spam, being incapable of being declined, is the equivalent of a zealous leafleter who ignores your fob-off and inserts his/her piece of paper in your pocket. At which you – or, at least I – promptly punch the leafleter in the head (which act would seem to be a legally indemnified matter of self-defence).

Of course, this scenario can’t have an analogously happy ending in the real world of emailed spam – the online equivalent of a retaliatory punch in the head is yet to be invented. Ironically then, libertarianism’s brave words turn into nothing more than . . . luncheon-meat when the challenge is at its greatest – spam simply cannot be stopped or moderated by force (and still less, by influence).

Hence the invention of email filters, washers and wringers – admirable DIY ingenuity perhaps, but also technological atavism (I told you that I’m a purist in most respects). Is it just me, or is everything – well, garments and email, anyway – becoming “handwash only” in this age of near-zero marginal cost production?

Short of someone inventing a retaliatory boxing glove that can forcefully and suddenly emerge from inside a spammer’s computer CRT, the clearest line of attack so far is catching and then prosecution of the spammers for ordinary consumer fraud. Which is okay – but leaves me with a niggling worry, about how many trillions of emails a spam-gang needs to send, so as to make $US74 million in profit (surely the “penis enlargement” response rates are one in ten thousand, if that?).

Somehow, this excess alone needs to be capable of prosecution and/or retaliation. When the tables are turned, in a many-to-one email attack, this is (rightly) considered a form of cyber stalking or harassment. Why one-to-many email attacks are not similarly proscribed per se is, to end on a “bang”-ing generalisation, the achilles heel of capitalism.

See also:

* That is, as in seagulls squabbling over hot chips, NOT as in the baby boomer’s 1972 aspira-pomorphic panegyric, Jonathan Livingstone Protoype-4WD-ad.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?