Local freedom
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 January 2013, 10:43 am
I was reading about the death of Aaron Swartz, and started thinking about the philosophical concept of the internet as a place of unlimited freedom. I do appreciate the role that the internet can play in some cases to increase the freedom of people living under repressive or authoritarian regimes. But I don't think that unlimited freedom, on the internet or elsewhere, is actually such a good thing. Basically my freedom to swing my fists ends where your nose begins. Unlimited freedom results in anarchy, civilization stems from a social contract which limits everybody's freedom to account for the freedom of the next guy.

Apart from that there is a problem with freedom being "local", as in having more freedom on the internet than in real life. Because at the end of the day the internet is *part* of real life, and can't be completely separated from it. I would consider that many western societies have found a reasonable (albeit not perfect) compromise regarding what the freedom of everybody in real life is. If you are not free to do something, there is usually a good reason for it stemming from the harm your additional freedom could cause to others.

Thus if we create a local spot of more freedom somewhere on the internet, the people most attracted by that additional freedom will be those who had their freedom restricted somewhere. And if that restriction was one that a liberal western society considered to be reasonable, overcoming that restriction can have harmful results. You start out with an idealist concept of unlimited freedom in some spot of the internet, and you end up seeing that freedom used for child porn or hate speech.

I do hope that societies discussion of what freedom everybody can have without harming anybody else continues. I just don't think that local unlimited freedom on the internet is a good idea, because in practice it has too many downsides. If you believe your freedom to be unnecessarily restricted, the right way is political activism to change the laws that restrict you. Just breaking the laws on the internet and hoping that anonymity will protect you is not the way to go, and is likely to backfire at some point.
Tobold's Blog

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