Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Archive for July, 2011

Why People Argue About Things That Don’t Matter

Posted by Michael Dickens on July 16, 2011

People spend a seemingly absurd amount of time arguing about things that don’t matter: PC vs Mac, Edward vs Jacob, Coke vs Pepsi, the list goes on. These subjects are all either pointless or very close to it, and yet people spend inordinate amounts of time on them. Why?

The first reason is that, for many people, arguing is fun. Not everyone likes to argue, and those who do don’t always want to, but there are many occasions in which a good strong debate is a deeply satisfying experience. A lot of the time, the debate topic doesn’t matter so much as the debate itself. Still, it seems that it would be more fulfilling to debate a topic more consequential than which fictional character is cooler or which soft drink is better. However, there is a strong barrier surrounding most really good debate topics that render them off-limits: they are part of people’s identity.

There are many social situations in which it is acceptable to loudly disagree over which operating system is better, but taboo to discuss political issues. The reason for this is that many people have strong opinions about operating systems, but few consider those opinions to be important pieces of their identity. Say that gay marriage is wrong or that marijuana should be legalized, and some people will get offended. Say that a person is wrong for having a certain opinion on gay marriage or drug legalization, and that person will very likely feel personally threatened. But say that someone likes the wrong operating system and few people will mind.

Arguing about pointless topics is pointless, but it still can be fun. Many people enjoy a good debate but don’t want to risk provoking offense; the solution is to avoid serious topics and instead argue about things that don’t matter.

Posted in Society | 6 Comments »

Murray Rothbard’s Critique of Utilitarianism

Posted by Michael Dickens on July 10, 2011

Murray Rothbard, a 20th-century economist and prominent Libertarian, offered the following critique of Utilitarianism:

The first, and most important [change], occurring in the early to mid-nineteenth century, was the abandonment of the philosophy of natural rights, and its replacement by technocratic utilitarianism. Instead of liberty grounded on the imperative morality of each individual’s right to person and property, that is, instead of liberty being sought primarily on the basis of right and justice, utilitarianism preferred liberty as generally the best way to achieve a vaguely defined general welfare or common good. There were two grave consequences of this shift from natural rights to utilitarianism. First, the purity of the goal, the consistency of the principle, was inevitably shattered. For whereas the natural-rights libertarian seeking morality and justice cleaves militantly to pure principle, the utilitarian only values liberty as an ad hoc expedient. And since expediency can and does shift with the wind, it will become easy for the utilitarian in his cool calculus of cost and benefit to plump for statism in ad hoc case after case, and thus to give principle away. Indeed, this is precisely what happened to the Benthamite utilitarians in England: beginning with ad hoc libertarianism and laissez-faire, they found it ever easier to slide further and further into statism. An example was the drive for an “efficient” and therefore strong civil service and executive power, an efficiency that took precedence, indeed replaced, any concept of justice or right.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Ethics, Libertarianism, Utilitarianism | Leave a Comment »

Bill S.978: “Ten Strikes Bill”

Posted by Michael Dickens on July 4, 2011

There has been some commotion about Bill S.978:

Makes unauthorized web streaming of copyrighted content a felony with a possible penalty of up to 5 years in prison. Illegal streaming of copyrighted content is defined in the bill as an offense that “consists of 10 or more public performances by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copyrighted works” and has a total economic value, either to the copyright holder or the infringer, of at least $2,500.

You can read the bill itself here; it aims to amend Title 18, Section 2319.

Many people are upset about this bill because it would make it a felony to upload a video of someone singing karaoke, or to show footage of a video game (e.g. for a video game review or walkthrough). This raises some questions about principles and application.

From what I understand about current copyright law, the government does not actively remove copyrighted content on the internet. Rather, the holder of the copyright files a DMCA takedown notice with the site that is streaming the content. I do not believe Bill S.978 changes this fact. There is little danger of a record company filing a DMCA claim against a video of a karaoke party. On the other hand, streaming websites like YouTube may be more prone to preemptively remove videos with copyrighted content in order to avoid lawsuits.

I think it is unlikely that YouTube will remove all of their copyrighted content. There are literally millions of videos containing such content, and YouTube simply does not have a large enough staff to sift through the ever-growing pile of copyright-violating videos.

What, exactly, is the difference between the old law and the new bill? It looks like the only difference is that the new bill makes references to “public performance.” The current law defines copyright infringement as “reproduction or distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180–day period, of 1 or more copies or phonorecords of 1 or more copyrighted works, which have a total retail value of more than $1,000,” while Bill S.978 would ban the reproduction or distribution of “public performances by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of 1 or more copyrighted works.” Current law makes it illegal to upload copyrighted content and this bill would make it illegal to upload a performance of copyrighted content.

I don’t know much about law so I may be wrong, but it appears to me that this does not threaten gamers who want to upload gameplay videos. In fact, uploading videos from copyrighted games is already illegal, but no one seems to be doing anything to prevent it. The only change, then, is that it would become illegal to stream a public performance of copyrighted material.

In principle, Bill S.978 makes sense given current copyright law. However, I think that public performances should qualify as fair use, as they do not harm the copyright holders. Perhaps record companies and copyright holders have a compelling reason why electronically distributing public performances should be prevented, but I certainly don’t know what it is.

Posted in Politics | Leave a Comment »

%d bloggers like this: