Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Aha. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) -- the panic button du jour of the web-savvy. For the last month or so it's been all over the papers, blogs, and status updates. Google came out against it. Boing Boing, Reddit, and Wikipedia blacked themselves out in protest; various bloggers and webcomic artists took down their pages on the same day in solidarity. Facebook and Twitter users adopted STOP SOPA avatars. David Reese (of Get Your War On fame) came out swinging against it. Thousands of concerned netizens copied emails to their senators, signed petitions, and hashtagged #SOPA.

Their protests did not fall on deaf ears. On January 14, the White House voiced its opposition to the bill in its current form. Six days later, the Senate tossed the bill into procedural purgatory. We're sure to encounter it (or something similar) again in the future -- but for the time being, the Internet remains safe for AMVs, sprite comics, lipdubs, Let's Plays, and all the rest of the time-wasting nonsense that brings a glimmer of joy to our gray little lives.

I do not wish to suggest that the staving off of SOPA is an insignificant or negative development. Its passage would have been a disaster. However, the ferocity and extent of the public outcry that led to its mothballing is curious -- especially when we consider that #occupy, a movement aiming to correct the disparity of wealth that still stands as a long-term threat to our national stability, has all but disappeared from the public dialogue.

What can we learn from this?

When it comes down to it, we're actually pretty okay with the fact that our economic system benefits a tiny, established elite at the expense of everyone else. For that matter, we're not really so concerned about our crumbling infrastructure, our unsustainable energy policies, our foreign wars and exorbitant defense spending, the rising oceans, our borked education system, the federal budget deficit, or the fact that we're still leaving people to rot in GITMO without trials or terms of release.

But if the The Man thinks he can take YouTube away from us, he's got another thing coming.

I guess it's comforting to know where the American public is willing to draw the line.

Recently, I finally got around to reading George Orwell's 1984. I'll say nothing about that now -- except that I recall reading an essay somewhere about the contrary visions of the future as laid out by 1984 on one hand and Huxley's Brave New World on the other. In Orwell's Oceania, the ruling class uses terror and brutality to remain in power; in Huxley's 632 A.F., order is maintained by keeping the populace perpetually occupied with toys, games, sex, and consumerism. The author's conclusion was that our present is more in line with Huxley's vision than Orwell's.

Pop quiz: Should we interpret the tremendous outcry over SOPA as another point for Huxley? (Include the soma riot in chapter 15 of Brave New World in your answer for a gold star.)


  1. I think it's more likely that the larger problems you mentioned have built up slowly over time, having us feel they might be intractable, and also don't have such a drastic, immediate impact on our daily lives as the sudden denial of many of our favorite websites. For some reason, I prefer this hypothesis.

  2. It may also be that most of these larger issues don't directly affect the majority of us, whereas the SOPA hits most of us much more right in the face. Within time, everyone's going to wake up and say 'fuck it,' reforms will be made, and a period of prosperity will begin, until those problems come back, and the cycle repeats itself again. It's gone on like this forever.

  3. Thank you so much -- there are so many crazy problems in the U.S, and nobody around me really seems to care. But when their tumblrs and their youtubes were threatened, suddenly everybody became an e-protestor and wouldn't rest until this dangerous piece of legislation was stopped. The soma riot is certainly a well-chosen analogue, but Battle Royale's system of "Successful Fascism", where the big injustices are masked from the people by giving them little freedoms and pleasures. I guess that SOPA threatened to take away one of those freedoms.

  4. Tigt/John: These are both accurate assessments! So -- the evolution of the human brain is to blame! However many thousands of years of sabretooth tiger attacks made our species really good at reacting to immediate threats, but dealing with small, abstract, incremental dangers is still something we'll need a few hundred thousand years of selective evolutions before we're up to speed.

    Hm. The rest of this thought is too much of a downer, so I'm just gonna leave off with an ellipsis...

    psystar: If our evil overlords really have their minds set on seizing control of the Internet, their best bet is to do it little by little over the next fifty years. That's how the Great Divergence came about. Little by little.

    I should probably read/see Battle Royale at some point, huh?