Friday, May 16, 2008

Ethics, Intellectual Property, and Social Pressure

Much like there is a divide between objectivity and subjectivity, there is a divide between physical property rights and intellectual property rights. Specifically, the rules governing conservation of energy play out differently for the mind.

For example, you can copy ideas for negligible cost, while producing a new object always takes some finite energy.

Conversely, if you destroy or vandalize an idea, it's gone forever, while if an object is destroyed or vandalized, it can be replaced indefinitely, at some finite cost. The method of destroying an idea is to prove it wrong. Once done, it cannot be undone except in the special case of a flawed proof, and even then the effort involved is much higher than the initial acquisition.

For example, once someone is disabused of the notion that taxation is just, they can never regain that notion. The problem is that they may have liked that notion. It may have brought sense and peace to their lives. (Not likely, but there are many other examples.)

Because of these differences and others like them, IP requires entirely new definitions for theft and vandalism, and indeed for all forms of damages for which one might sue.

Theft of intellectual property basically does not make sense. If you steal my TV I have to buy another. If I've written a song, it makes no sense to say that if you didn't pay for it you 'stole' it. You have taken nothing from me. I may actually be unaware that you have done so.

But, you may ask, how do we incentivize artists to make art, in this case? I have two rebuttals. First, the point of my argument is not actually social engineering. It's just to be consistent. Second, artists don't appear to need incentives. There are thousands more desiring to be famous songwriters or movie directors than there are dollars to pay for them. Most of these financially unsuccessful artists release their work for free. If this were the only way to release, then the current lucrative artists would almost certainly still create and release their works.

Vandalism is different. What I discovered is; attempting to change someone's mind without their permission, through any kind of pressure, is intellectual vandalism. If you own things, you own your thoughts, and most people do not want their property randomly attacked. If you attack their thoughts without their permission you are in violation of Basic Ethics.

Presumably there are several other issues of property rights that have to be completely rejiggered to apply consistently to IP. Using the basic definitions of property rights and Basic Ethics, it should be straightforward to convert them on the spot.

Nevetheless, in life in generally but especially on a philosophy blog, it's very important to know that attacking someone's beliefs without their consent is absolutely, uncompromisingly, ethically wrong.

For instance, the Creation vs. Evolution debate? Vandalism, on both sides. Certainly, if you're an evolutionist and you meet a creationist, you should let them know you disagree, and if they initiate a debate, then you're good to go. However, the whole point of the televised Creation vs. Evolution debates is to force people to believe one over the other. A calm debate between logical actors is so far off the agenda it seems like it can't exist, when I'm watching one of those. Being actually curious about other people's beliefs? Completely inconceivable to those people.

Also, this completely applies to any kind of peer pressure. If someone has made their decision, unless they ask for your advice, it is a violation of Basic Ethics and thus logic itself, to contest that decision.

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