Kampen om wikileaks och krigsmetaforer

december 14, 2010

I nyheter och media har händelseutvecklingen kring Wikileaks alltmer omtalats i termer av krig. Jag ställer mig mycket tveksam till denna krigsanalogi och undrar om det inte är något som vi svenskar litet väl aningslöst lånat in från USA. Det är inte ett harmlöst sätt att beskriva händelser på ett mer dramatiskt sätt utan kan i förlängningen orsaka att vi missar att uppfatta sakers rätta proportioner och att vissa aspekter glöms bort. I syfte att belysa detta skulle jag vilja citera juridikprofessor Lawrence Lessigs förord till boken Remix (texten är publicerad under licensen Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial). Lessig skriver om upphovsrätt men säger samtidigt mycket som är allmängiltigt om krigsmetaforen.

Se även TordJ som är inne litet på samma linje, även om jag inte riktigt delar hans syn att överbelastningsattacker som motmedel skulle kunna vara acceptabelt. Titeln på den australiensiska humorserien The Chaser’s War On Everything sätter förresten fingret på det som jag vill lyfta fram.


In early 2007, I was at dinner with some friends in Berlin. We were talking about global warming. After an increasingly intense exchange about the threats from climate change, one overeager American at the table blurted, “We need to wage a war on carbon. Governments need to mobilize. Get our troops on the march!” Then he fell back into his chair, proud of his bold resolve, sipping a bit too much of the wildly too-expensive red wine.

It was obvious that my friend was speaking metaphorically. Carbon is not an “enemy.” Not even an American marine could fight it. Yet, as I looked around the table, a kind of reticence seemed to float above our German companions. “What does that look mean?” I asked one of my friends. After a short pause, he almost whispered, “Germans don’t like war.”

The response sparked a rare moment of recognition (in me). Of course, no one was talking about using guns to fight carbon. Or even carbon polluters. Yet, for obvious reasons, the associations with war in Germany are strongly negative. The whole country, but especially Berlin, is draped in constant reminders of the costs of that country’s twentieth-century double blunder.

But in America, associations with war are not necessarily negative. I don’t mean that we are a war-loving people; I mean that our history has allowed us to like the idea of waging war. Not out of choice, but as a remedy to a great wrong. War is a sacrifice that we have made, and in one recent case at least, a sacrifice to a very good end. We thus romanticize that sacrifice.

That romance in turn allows the metaphor to spread into other social or political conflicts. We wage war on drugs, on poverty, on terrorism, on racism. There is a war on government waste, a war on crime, a war on spam, a war on guns, and a war on cancer. As Professors George Lakoff and Mark Johnson describe, each of these “wars” produces a “network of entailments.” Those entailments then frame and drive social policy. As they put it, in discussing President Carter’s “moral equivalent of war” speech:

There was an “enemy,” a “threat to national security,” which required “setting targets,” “reorganizing priorities,” “establishing a new chain of command,” “plotting new strategy,” “gathering intelligence,” “marshaling forces,” “imposing sanctions,” “calling for sacrifices,” and on and on. The WAR metaphor highlighted certain realities and hid others. The metaphor was not merely a way of viewing reality; it constituted a license for policy change and political and economic action. The very acceptance of the metaphor provided grounds for certain interferences: there was an external, foreign, hostile enemy (pictured by cartoonist in Arab headdress); energy needed to be given top priorities; the populace would have to make sacrifices; if we didn’t meet the threat we would not survive.

A fight for survival has obvious implications. Such fights get waged without limit. It is cowardly to question the cause. Dissent is an aid to the enemy—treason, or close enough. Victory is the only result one may contemplate, at least out loud. Compromise is always defeat.

These entailments make obvious sense during conflicts such as World War II, when there really was a fight for survival; my spark of Lakoffian recognition, however, was to see just how dangerous these entailments are when the war metaphor gets applied in contexts in which, in fact, survival is not at stake.

Think, for example, about the “war on drugs.” Fighting debilitating chemical addiction is no doubt an important social objective. I have seen firsthand the absolute destruction it causes. But the “war on drugs” metaphor prevents us from recognizing that there may be other, more important objectives that the war is threatening. Think about the astonishingly long prison terms facing even small-time dealers—the Supreme Court, for example, has upheld a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the possession of 672 grams of cocaine. Think about ghettos burdened by the drug trade. Think about governments in Latin America that have no effectively independent judiciary or even army because the wealth produced by prohibition enables the drug lords to capture their control. And then think about the fact that this war has had essentially no effect on terminating the supply of drugs. One doesn’t notice these inconvenient truths in the middle of a war. To see them, you need a truce. You need to step back from the war to ask, How much is it really costing? Is the results really worth the price?

The inspiration for this book is the copyright wars, by which right thinking sorts mean not the “war” on copyright “waged” by “pirates” but the “war” on “piracy,” which “threatens” the “survival” of certain important American industries.

This war too has an important objective. Copyright is, in my view at least, critically important to a healthy culture. Properly balanced, it is essential to inspiring certain forms of creativity. Without it, we would have a much poorer culture. With it, at least properly balanced, we create the incentives to produce great new works that otherwise would not be produced.

But, like all metaphoric wars, the copyright wars are not actual conflicts of survival. Or at least, they are not conflicts for survival of a people or a society, even if they are wars of survival for certain businesses or, more accurately, business models. Thus we must keep in mind the other values or objectives that might also be affected by this war. We must make sure this war doesn’t cost more than it is worth. We must be sure it is winnable, or winnable at a price we’re willing to pay.

I believe we should not be waging this war. I believe so not because I think copyright is unimportant. Instead, I believe in peace because the costs of this war wildly exceed any benefit, at least when you consider changes to the current regime of copyright that could end this war while promising artists and authors the protection that any copyright system is intended to provide.

In the past, I’ve tried to advance this view for peace by focusing on the costs of this war to innovation, to creativity, and, ultimately, to freedom. My aim in The Future of Ideas was to defend industries that never get born for fear of the insane liability that the current regime of copyright imposes. My subject in Free Culture was the forms of creative expression and freedom that get trampled by the extremism of defending a regime of copyright built for a radically different technological age.

But I finished Free Culture just as my first child was born. And in the four years since, my focus, or fears, about this war have changed. I don’t doubt the concerns I had about innovation, creativity, and freedom. But they don’t keep me awake anymore. Now I worry about the effect this war is having upon our kids. What is this war doing to them? Whom is it making them? How is it changing how they think about normal, right-thinking behavior? What does it mean to a society when a whole generation is raised as criminals?

This is not a new question. Indeed, it was the question that the former, now late, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, Jack Valenti, asked again and again as he fought what he called a “terrorist war” against “piracy.”3 It was the question he asked a Harvard audience the first time he and I debated the issue. In his brilliant and engaging opening, Valenti described another talk he had just given at Stanford, at which 90 percent of the students confessed to illegally downloading music from Napster. He asked a student to defend this “stealing.” The student’s response was simple: Yes, this might be stealing, but everyone does it. How could it be wrong? Valenti then asked his Stanford hosts: What are you teaching these kids? “What kind of moral platform will sustain this young man in his later life?”

This wasn’t the question that interested me in that debate. I blathered on about the framers of our Constitution, about incentives, and about limiting monopolies. But Valenti’s question is precisely the question that interests me now: “What kind of moral platform will sustain this young man in his later life?” For me, “this young man” represents my two young sons. For you, it may be your daughter, or your nephew. But for all of us, whether we have kids or not, Valenti’s question is exactly the question that should concern us most. In a world in which technology begs all of us to create and spread creative work differently from how it was created and spread before, what kind of moral platform will sustain our kids, when their ordinary behavior is deemed criminal? Who will they become? What other crimes will to them seem natural?

Valenti asked this question to motivate Congress—and anyone else who would listen—to wage an ever more effective war against “piracy.” I ask this question to motivate anyone who will listen (and Congress is certainly not in that category) to think about a different question: What should we do if this war against “piracy” as we currently conceive of it cannot be won? What should we do if we know that the future will be one where our kids, and their kids, will use a digital network to access whatever content they want whenever they want it? What should we do if we know that the future is one where perfect control over the distribution of “copies” simply will not exist?

In that world, should we continue our ritual sacrifice of some kid caught downloading content? Should we continue the expulsions from universities? The threat of multimillion-dollar civil judgments? Should we increase the vigor with which we wage war against these “terrorists”? Should we sacrifice ten or a hundred to a federal prison (for their actions under current law are felonies), so that others learn to stop what today they do with ever-increasing frequency?

In my view, the solution to an unwinnable war is not to wage war more vigorously. At least when the war is not about survival, the solution to an unwinnable war is to sue for peace, and then to find ways to achieve without war the ends that the war sought. Criminalizing an entire generation is too high a price to pay for almost any end. It is certainly too high a price to pay for a copyright system crafted more than a generation ago.

This war is especially pointless because there are peaceful means to attain all of its objectives—or at least, all of the legitimate objectives. Artists and authors need incentives to create. We can craft a system that does exactly that without criminalizing our kids. The last decade is filled with extraordinarily good work by some of the very best scholars in America, mapping and sketching alternatives to the existing system. These alternatives would achieve the same ends that copyright seeks, without making felons of those who naturally do what new technologies encourage them to do.

It is time we take seriously these alternatives. It is time we stop wasting the resources of our federal courts, our police, and our universities to punish behavior that we need not punish. It is time we stop developing tools that do nothing more than break the extraordinary connectivity and efficiency of this network. It is time we call a truce, and figure a better way. And a better way means redefining the system of law we call copyright so that ordinary, normal behavior is not called criminal.