Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.
There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost.
That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.
“I agree,” many say, “but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it’s perfectly legal — there’s nothing we can do to stop them.” But there is something we can, something that’s already being done: we can fight back.
Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.
Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends.
But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.
Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it — their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies. There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.
We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.
With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?
Aaron Swartz (July 2008) Eremo, Italy (source)
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.
Henry David Thoreau (1854) Walden; or, Life in the Woods
Stranger A: Are you watching My Kitchen Rules?
Stranger B: I am, but it’s not as good as last season.
Stranger A: I know, but there isn’t anything else to watch at 7:30pm; it’s either The Block, My Kitchen Rules or American Idol. [turns to me] What do you watch?
Craig: I don’t own a TV.
*expressions of alarm on both Stranger A and B’s faces*
Craig: You know you could just pick up a book or go outside?
… the subsequent look I received was as if I had just asked someone to remove a limb with a blunt instrument.
Unfortunately, this was the second at-length conversation on the topic of My Kitchen Rules that my ears had been subjected to on this particular afternoon. I dare ask … is this what we, as a intellectual society and as a species full of adventure, have slumped to? Consider this, you work all day, you get home and decide to make a really quick, cheap dinner consisting of processed foods; you curl up on the couch as part of a rigorous evening routine and watch a group of random strangers compete over cooking skills. At what stage is this beneficial? Furthermore, how does anyone justify choosing ‘the best of limited options’ when it comes to reality television at 730 in the evening; the night is young, the day is late, why would anyone want to waste the limited time we have in this existence? Sooner or later, this growing trend of being participatory in the media mechanism of reality television is going to become so obscene that The Truman Show will start airing at eight; with everyone watching.
Late last year I was asked how I found the time to complete all of my ‘hobbies’: University while working full-time, learning Spanish, improving my fitness, devouring literature amongst a plethora of other useful skills. The response is beyond simple: I don’t watch television or play video games. The stunned look and ensuing reply of ‘I guess that would free up a lot of time’, really proves that it doesn’t take a genius to figure it out. Most just don’t even think about it, nor question it.
How much of your life are you going to whittle away in front of the television?
Get off the couch, sell your TV and start living your life.
The reflected sunlight before me refracts to form a perfect rainbow, strips of dark red fading into orange fading into yellow then light blue then blue. And for one beautiful moment, before the whole thing fades away into an inky blackness, the colors are laid out perfectly, just the way I’ve seen them in prisms and diagrams so many times before, a beautiful sympathy of color. And then my head really does explode, the beauty sending shockwaves through my body.Aaron Swartz (December 6, 2005) The City With No Heart
TED – Larry Smith: Why We Fail to Have a Great Career
If you are not doing what you love. Quit. Now.
To quote a scene from Up in the Air with George Clooney:
Ryan Bingham [Clooney]: Your resume says you minored in French Culinary Arts. Most students work the frier at KFC. You busted tables at Il Picatorre to support yourself. Then you got out of college and started working here. How much did they pay you to give up on your dreams?
Bob [J.K. Simmons]: Twenty seven thousand a year.
Ryan Bingham [Clooney]: At what point were you going to stop and go back to what made you happy?
The phrase ‘settle down’ immediately makes me convulse; as if someone has just nailed my voodoo doll to a wall. To some this is a seemingly innocent phrase with intentions of ‘maturity’ and ‘adulthood’, while the true meaning of this phrase is deeply ingrained in the idea of giving up; with intentions of lying down and simply waiting for death. To settle down is to simply accept what is.
When someone refers to settling down, they are usually talking about any of the following: buying a house, getting married, having kids, and ensuring job security in a stable 9-5 job; becoming another gear in the machine, another success in the American dream. Though, the underlying tone is delivered as a message about ceasing adventure and accepting societal and conventional norms.
I will never understand those that settle down at young ages of 19, wanting multiple children and then giving up on their own life; this isn’t a post-war society, we aren’t trying to repopulate. In fact, as a species we are facing a seriously large problem of over-population; we do not have the land or the resources to sustain our own populations let alone the current population growth rates. However I digress.
Realistically, at 19, no one has life experience. You are not old enough to have defined yourself, nor have you experienced enough of the world. I say this with the experience of being engaged at 19. At the time I was following the conventional script of life: get a degree, get a job, find partner, and settle down. In hindsight, I had no idea what I was doing; let alone a grasp on any of the emotions that I was feeling. I am glad that it fell apart, because I fear what would have become of me.
I’m not sure when, but some time ago, our ingrained sense of adventure died. There was a time when most people looked to the stars and dreamed of exploring them or simply set sail in search of untamed lands. These days some people don’t even leave the state that they grew up in. They live forever within their comfort zone. Never seeking more and never demanding more from life. Some even become extreme xenophobes; fearing anything perceived as different.
What doesn’t help is the dominant narrative present within todays society. Where buying a house becomes the aim of life. Where you should just settle down and become part of the daily grind. At what stage in the development of our species, of our cerebral cortex, did waiting for death become acceptable?
Let us look at what the stereotypical day consists of: getting up, commuting to work, eight hours of sedentary desk work, commuting home, cooking highly processed pre-packaged foods, and siting down in front of a giant screen to watch reality TV for hours before going to bed. Rinse and repeat with the accumulation of material possessions. Is this really life? This is what people mean when they say ‘settle down’.
I never want to settle down, and neither should you. We should seek adventures, we should continually seek to expand our knowledge, our experiences and become greater than our present self.
Never settle. Always demand more from life.
It is essential to define violence in such a way that it cannot be qualified as ‘good’. The moment we claim to be able to distinguish ‘good’ violence from ‘bad’, we lose the proper use of the word, and get into a muddle. Above all, as soon as we claim to be developing criteria by which to define a supposedly ‘good’ violence, each of us will find it easy to make use of these in order to justify our own acts of violence.
Jean-Marrie Muller (2002) Non-Violence in Education (UNESCO Portal)
We may say broadly that free thought is the best of all safeguards against freedom. Managed in a modern style the emancipation of the slave’s mind is the best way of preventing the emancipation of the slave. Teach him to worry about whether he wants to be free, and he will not free himself.
G.K. Chesterton (1908) Orthodoxy
There is only one correct answer to those Leftist intellectuals who desperately await the arrival of a new revolutionary agent capable of instigating the long-expected radical social transformation. It takes the form of the old Hopi saying, with a wonderful Hegelian twist from substance to subject: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” (This is a version of Gandhi’s motto: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”) Waiting for someone else to do the job for us is a way of rationalizing our inactivity. But the trap to be avoided here is that of perverse self-instrumentalization: “we are the ones we have been waiting for” does not mean we have to discover how it is we are the agent predestined by fate to perform the task – it means quite the opposite, namely that there is no big Other to rely on. In contrast to the classical Marxism where “history is on our side”, in the contemporary constellation, the big Other is against us: left to itself, the inner thrust of our historical development leads to catastrophe, to apocalypse; what alone can prevent such calamity is, then, pure voluntarism, in other worse, our free decision to act against historical necessity.
Slavoj Zizek (2009) First as Tragedy, Then as Farce