In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand portrayed a society where the best and the brightest people essentially picked up their proverbial basketball and went home, leaving the rest of us struggling, mediocre morons to fend for ourselves as said society broke down (she also seemed to favor situations where women got raped, possibly a window into her extremism). It was an exceptionally popular book when it was written and to this day holds a certain appeal among young adolescent males (I know, I thought for sure I was an Objectivist for most of my 20s). It details an appealing view, a utopia where only the best and the brightest can live and survive, always making rational decisions that further the utopia in its quest for rational perfection. It’s attractive because who amongst us haven’t looked at some situation, whether it’s the political process, the financial industry or the screaming three year old who refuses to take a poop anywhere but in his pants and thought “Screw it, I’m throwing in the towel, consequences be damned, and starting over. It’s just not worth it to fix it.”
The desire to start over is strong. It’s the appeal of the blank slate, the chance to make all the right decisions this time, to explore new boundaries without the constraints of previous mistakes and silly ideas like the law. It’s the dirty little hope we have when we wish for people to get what they deserve because doing what’s required to fix the system is harder work than we’d like to bother with. It’s the preparation of the survivalists who assuming the shit ever hits the fan hard enough all think they are going to blend off into the woods, leaving the rest of us to suffer as civilization breaks down.
It’s nice to fantasize about people getting what they deserve for being bumbling, ill-advised inactive blobs of protoplasm and uselessness. However, here in the real world, not only is that not feasible, it is typically counter productive, more likely to lead to chaos than it is to improvement. When you hope SOPA passes “because that’s exactly what we need to wake up from this slumbering, do-nothing, “occupy everything,” stagnant, non-action slump we Americans are in”, you’re essentially saying “you people deserve to be punished because you can’t find the time to stand up and fix things, I hope you rot in hell” (you’re also saying you fundamentally misunderstand the Occupy movements but maybe we’ll discuss that at a later point).
Does the author really think SOPA passing is going to be the eye opener when the financial crisis of 2008 wasn’t? Does he think internet censorship will make things completely different when the President assassinating US citizens didn’t? Does he think utopia will be established after SOPA passes and we see the light when Fed expanding its balance sheet by trillions of dollars enabling banking executives to continue to reap lavish bonuses while the rest of us slogged along in 1% interest land didn’t?
It’s fun to get your panties in a wad about SOPA (if you don’t know what SOPA is, it’s Congress’ latest heavy handed tactic to fellate the movie and recording industry by trying to shut down piracy. Read more about it here) and go off on a tangent about the lazy, complacent Americans who can’t bother to stand up and change things. But the reality of the situation is that lots and lots of Americans have been standing up over the past several years and actually implementing change. And that change is happening, albeit at likely too slow a pace to please the folks like the author linked above who would prefer some sort of punctuated equilibrium to occur in the political process. The Tea Party rose out of the financial crisis and lots of those folks are working hard behind the scenes to get people elected in an attempt to change the politics of the nation. Occupy Wall Street rose out a desire in a large group of people to protest what they saw as an unfair playing field, one that enabled the cheaters and manipulators to succeed while normal people continued to suffer. The protests of SOPA actually convinced several Congresscritters to remove their support for the bill including one who actually co-sponsored it.
The complaint comes up that these things will happen again, that Congress will try to shill for the recording lobby again and that defeating SOPA is just treating the symptom instead of the cause of the disease.
My problem with this huge online protest against SOPA, and the reason I rarely take part in such protests, is because it doesn’t address any problems, only the symptom. The problem isn’t this shitty bill, it’s the people who sponsored it. So we protest this bill today, bang enough pots and pans to shame a few backers into not letting this bill pass, then what? Those same dipshits who wrote this legislation still have jobs. They’re going to try again, and again, and again until some mutation of this legislation passes. They’ll sneak it into an appropriation bill while nobody’s looking during recess, because there’s too much lobbyist money at stake for them not to. We defeat SOPA today, only to face it again tomorrow. It’s like trying to stop a cold by blowing your nose. It’s time we go after the virus.
The problem with that analogy is that once you have a virus, you’ve just got the virus. There’s no going after it, not in the sense he means. You can only do things to mitigate the effects of the virus. Of course, you can develop a vaccine for a virus that prevents people from getting it but let’s face it, the virus of politics probably doesn’t lend itself to vaccination. People don’t go into politics to fix the world, they go into politics because they are power hungry individuals who love to listen to themselves talk (except Ron Paul. Well, maybe even Ron Paul but the jury is still out). Instead, you treat a virus by always being vigilant and aware, watching for outbreaks and squashing them at the fastest rate you can.
That’s the better analogy for what’s going on in American politics today. We have become infected by a political virus that thrived for decades on ignorance, continued prosperity of the middle class and the growing complexity in regulation of the US Government. But over the past few years, the people of America (in admittedly slow and sometimes odd ways) have decided that enough is enough. We aren’t to a boiling point yet, where we have millions of people marching on Washington or civil unrest (none of which is out of the question or even that unlikely I’m afraid) but things ARE changing. The blowback on SOPA shows that.
Life will never be rational and clean like so many of the “blow it all up and start over” folks want it to be. Fixing the system from within is hard, long, tedious work, work that may not ever be finished. But throwing up our hands and saying “I hope SOPA passes because that’s what we deserve” is like saying telling a lung cancer patient “I hope the radiation and chemo fail because that’s what you deserve”. Regardless of how we got here, regardless of what ignorance we accepted and encouraged, regardless of the criticality of the disease (and trust me, I think this patient is insanely sick, possibly terminally), we have to treat the patient in the best way we know how until he’s better or dies. Throwing up our hands and declaring premature defeat is a sure way to a disastrous end that serves no one but the parasites best interests. The very fact that practically the entire internet rose up Wednesday and said “enough is enough” in response to SOPA should be not a cause for despair, but a slight ray of hope in a long, arduous treatment of chemotherapy that our political process must go through to make the patient whole again.