October 12, 2011  ·  Lessig

Like a fever, revolutions come in waves. And if this is a revolution, then it broke first on November 4, 2008, with the election of Barack Obama, second, on February 19, 2009, with the explosion of anger by Rick Santelli, giving birth to the Tea Party, and third, on September 10, 2011 with the #Occupy movements that are now spreading across the United States.

The souls in these movements must now decide whether this third peak will have any meaningful effect — whether it will unite a radically divided America, and bring about real change, or whether it will be boxed up by a polarized media, labeled in predictable ways, and sent off to the dust bins of cultural history.

In the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., championed a strategy of non-violence: that in the face of state sponsored and tolerated aggression, the strongest response was a promise not to respond in kind.

In this movement, we need a similar strategy. Of course a commitment to non-violence. But also a commitment to non-contradiction: We need to build and define this movement not by contradicting the loudest and clearest anger on the Right, but instead, by finding the common ground in our demands for reform.

So when Ron Paul criticizes the “Wall Street bailouts,” and attacks government support for “special businesses” with special access, we should say, “that’s right, Congressman Paul.” Bailouts for the rich is not the American way.

And when Rick Santelli launches a Tea Party movement, by attacking the government’s subsidies “to the losers,” we should ask in reply, what about the subsidies “to the winners” — to the banks who engineered the dumbest form of socialism ever invented by man: socialized risk with privatized benefits. What, we should ask Mr. Santelli, about that subsidy?

Or when Republican Senator Richard Shelby tells NBC’s Meet the Press that the message in bank reform “should be, unambiguously, that nothing’s too big to fail,” we should say that’s right, Senator, and it’s about time our Congress recognized it.

Or when Sarah Palin calls GE the “poster child of crony capitalism,” we should say “Amen, Mamma Grisly”: For whether or not we are all believers in “capitalism,” we should all be opponents of “crony capitalism,” the form of capitalism that is increasingly dominating Washington, and that was partly responsible for the catastrophe on Wall Street in 2008, and hence the catastrophes throughout America since.

We should practice “non-contradiction,” not because we have no differences with the Right. We do. We on the Left, we Liberals, or as some prefer, we Progressives, have fundamental differences with people on the Right. Our vision of that “shining city on the hill” is different from theirs. Our hopes for “We, the People,” are more aspirational. More egalitarian. More ideal.

But even though our substantive views are different, we should recognize that we have not yet convinced a majority of America of at least some of our fundamental views. And that in a democracy, no faction has the right to hold a nation hostage to its extreme views, whether right or not. We should fight in the political system to win support for our Liberal views. But we should reject the idea that protest, or violence, or blackmail are legitimate political techniques for advancing views that have not yet prevailed in a democratic system.

Instead, we should use the energy and anger of this extraordinary movement to find the common ground that would justify this revolution for all Americans, and not just us. And when we find that common ground, we should scream it, and yell it, and chant it, again, and again, and again.

For there is a common ground between the anger of the Left and the anger of the Right: That common ground is a political system that does not work. A government that is not responsive, or — in the words of the Framers, the favorite source of insight for our brothers on the Right — a government that is not, as Federalist 52 puts it, “dependent upon the People alone.”

Because this government is not dependent upon “the People alone.” This government is dependent upon the Funders of campaigns. 1% of America funds almost 99% of the cost of political campaigns in America. Is it therefore any surprise that the government is responsive first to the needs of that 1%, and not to the 99%?

This government, we must chant, is corrupt. We can say that clearly and loudly from the Left. They can say that clearly and loudly from the Right. And we then must teach America that this corruption is the core problem — it is the root problem — that we as Americans must be fighting.

There could be no better place to name that root than on Wall Street, New York. For no place in America better symbolizes the sickness that is our government than Wall Street, New York. For it is there that the largest amount of campaign cash of any industry in America was collected; and it was there that that campaign cash was used to buy the policies that created “too big to fail”; and it was there that that campaign cash was used to buy the get-out-of-jail free card, which Obama and the Congress have now given to Wall Street in the form of a promise of no real regulatory change, and an assurance of “forgiveness.”

“Forgiveness” — not of the mortgages that are now underwater. The foreclosures against them continue. “Forgiveness” — not even of the sins now confessed by Wall Street bankers, for our President has instructed us, no crimes were committed. “Forgiveness” — just enough to allow candidates once again to race to Wall Street to beg for the funds they need to finance their campaigns. The dinner parties continue. The afternoons at the golf course are the same. It’s not personal. It’s just business. It is the business of government corrupted.

There is no liberal, or libertarian, or conservative who should defend these policies. There is no liberal, or libertarian, or conservative who should defend this corruption. The single problem we all should be able to agree about is a political system that has lost is moral foundation: For no American went to war to defend a democracy “dependent upon the Funders alone.” No mother sacrificed her son or daughter to the cause of a system that effectively allows the law to be sold to the highest bidder.

We are Americans, all of us, whether citizens or not. We are Americans, all of us, because we all believe in the ideal of a government responsive to “the People alone.” And we all, as Americans, regardless of the diversity of our views, need to stand on this common ground and shout as loudly as we can: End this corruption now. Get the money out of government. Or at least get the special interest money out of government. And put back in its place a government dependent upon, and responsive too, the people. Alone.

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil” — Thoreau, 1846, On Walden — “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one striking at the root.”

If this fever is to have its effect, if this revolution is to have any meaning, if this struggle — and the carnival notwithstanding, it is an obvious struggle to sleep on the streets — is to have real consequence, then we all, Left and Right, must strike first at that root.

“It is the duty of youth,” they say Kurt Cobain said, “to challenge corruption.” He may have meant a different corruption, if indeed he uttered this poetry too. But whatever he meant, embrace his words. It is your duty to challenge this corruption. And once you have ended it — once we have restored a government that cares about what its people care about first, and not just its funders — then let us get back to the hard and important work of convincing our fellow citizens of the right in everything that is left.

  • Paul Coelho

    As a physician interested in public health I would be curious to hear your thoughts on how intellectual property rights could impact the healthcare industry. Recently, the SF Chronicle had a small article on Clayton Christensen. He was paraphrased as saying that health care is an industry in dire need of a disruptive technology. I think many people would agree with his observation.

    Do you have thoughts on how the creative commons license could be used to further the goals of public health initiatives.

    Thank you.

  • phr

    The Blackmask html conversion (in the .zip file) seems nicer than Josh’s, though both of them are fairly direct conversions from the pdf file. Doing a really nice version is going to take some manual cleanup, for example, fixing words that are broken by hyphenation in the pdf. Easiest would be if Larry could make his original word processing file available. Any chance?

  • Stephen Gilbert

    There is also a version in Plucker format, my favourite reader for PalmOS:.

  • http://www.firasd.org/ Firas

    The plain text file on my site (and many of the other direct conversions of the pdf) are quite unfit for consumption. I’m fixing it manually right now; will probably be done within the weekend. After that making a semantically yummy HTML document will be trivial.

  • http://www.isaacmao.com Isaac

    Thus, Larry, any tranlsation to this work is allowed?

  • phr

    The claim in chapter 4 that recording artists don’t get any royalties from radio broadcasts surprises me. Does that mean my local classical radio station can broadcast Yo-Yo Ma’s CBS Masterworks CD of the Bach cello suites without having to pay anything to CBS? I’m astounded if the record labels permit anything like that to happen.

  • lessig

    (1) A noncommercial translation is as permitted as an audio version.
    (2) I don’t have a source file. The original that I sent got edited.
    (3) Record labels want to sell records. Free radio does that.

  • http://www.teledyn.com/mt/ mrG

    I don’t know about Yoyo Ma, but I have heard directly from many cover artists (ie swing-era jazz, early jugband/blues) who tell of zero royalties from airplay; airplay is covetted only to sell tickets or CDs.

    And it gets worse: The law only considers “composition” in the white-European church-music tradition — Jerome Kern’s estate received the full royalties for John Coltrane’s “My Favourite Things” because free-jazz improvisation (the larger share of the recording timewise) is not recognized as “composition”.

    This is also why new pop-artists are cajoled into flooding the market with “original” songs instead of the rich tradition of “versions” we see in every other genre on the planet: If you write your own songs, however badly, you get airplay money, if you don’t you don’t, and thus the kids are left to continually re-invent musical culture in a clean-room environment.

    But to get back on topic, add my vote to the request to release your original word-processor files, or perhaps a text dump done from the original source; we can do best justice to your work when the signal:noise is highest :)

  • http://anthonybailey.livejournal.com/ Anthony Bailey

    A format I’d love to see (not got the resources myself, hence this LazyWebbish post) would be one with publically editable margin notes / hooks in the text that could spawn discussion threads.

    Clearly it would end up having a very different flavor to the current work, where a single author presents his carefully prepared argument, but that’s what transformative/derivative works are all about, right?

    It seems an obvious extension of the kind of blog-enabled communal thinking people around these parts like to celebrate. Also I think it would be very cute to have a relative unique creation enabled by free culture actually be derived from Free Culture.

    A simple but possibly sufficient implementation would be to use a Wiki together with a convention that one doesn’t edit Lessig’s original words directly.

  • bowerbird

    > (2) I don�t have a source file. The original that I sent got edited.

    um, _somebody_ has “the source file”. they made the .pdf with it.

    i would very much like to make this an example-book for
    a new e-book format/viewer combination i have developed.
    (alongside the example i’m making of cory doctorow’s stuff.)

    an .rtf version would facilitate this derivative use _greatly_…


  • http://www.firasd.org Firas


    I’m almost done with a proper plaintext version (with markup delimited with special characters–the only real thing is italicizing and dashes–so formatting can be introduced in any conversion), if that would help. Only have the Notes, Acknowledgements and–here’s the tough one–Index left to go.

    Anthony: I was wondering if that would be useful. Can do. Eventually (in a week or so). After the HTML version.

    (You can tell I’m having fun with this.)

  • bowerbird

    firas said:
    > I�m almost done with a proper plaintext version

    great! i would be very happy to see it!

    another option i should have mentioned is to o.c.r. the .pdf.

    (i know, it’s just _absolutely_stupid_ to have to o.c.r. a .pdf
    of a text that somebody obviously has in its original format.
    but whacha gonna do?)

    if the o.c.r. options are set wisely, i have a program that can
    analyze the output to format an e-book rather automatically.
    it’s not ready for public release yet, but i’d love to have some
    good content like this on which to run it through some testing.
    so if anyone would want to do this scanning, let me know and
    i’ll tell you how to set the options correctly. (cross-checking it
    against the one done “by hand” by firas is a good confirmation.
    i’ll also back-convert some of the .html for the same purpose.)

    > with markup delimited with special characters–
    > the only real thing is italicizing and dashes

    ok, but what about the block-quotes?, how ya doing those?


  • http://www.firasd.org Firas

    bowerbird: To be clear, all I did by hand was to paste blackmask’s version into a text editor and run through the whole thing fixing the sometimes erroneous paragraph breaks. The marking of italics and superscripts, extra-space-fixing etc. could have been done via a search+replace anyway. (What I’m saying is that I probably didn’t catch every inconsistency.)

    A blockqoute would be [carriage return][carriage return][open quotes]. Come to think of it, it would take visual confirmation to see that it isn’t in fact an inline quote starting a block of lessig’s writing.

    I’ll be making the HTML version pretty carefully. If you need the semantics, formatting, etc., they’ll come with it (blockquotes will be in blockquote tags, etc.)

    Anthony: how does a metafilter clone (say running metaphilter) with each paragraph as a post sound? I don’t see why a wiki (collaborative authoring system) would make more sense than a comments-type thing (discussion system). You get Dave Winer’s paragraph-level permalinks, you get comments, trackback… only thing missing is per-paragraph threaded discussion, but that’s kinda overkill–unless you were hinting at that?

  • http://anthonybailey.livejournal.com/ Anthony Bailey

    I don�t see why a wiki (collaborative authoring system) would make more sense than a comments-type thing (discussion system).

    I agree. I only suggested Wiki because I didn’t know the specifics of other solutions/technologies. People do run threads within Wikis, but the format is not ideal for them. A quick look suggests a MeFi could indeed be better for discussions.

    Although, I do think both approaches have something different to offer. To get the full benefit of deletion/editing in a Wiki I guess one could be less precious about the original text, and encourage that to be evolved along with everything else. (An ability to reference an unaltered original as well would be useful.) Editability would also mean one could be more flexible in the mapping between the per-paragraph structure of the original text and the issues both evident in the book and arising from discussions it engenders. With respect to which…

    per-paragraph threaded discussion [is] kinda overkill

    Could be. I do think that there might be a desire to start multiple threads re the issues raised across e.g. a whole chapter. But the best way to find out is to start the experiment. I’ll be interested in what you come up with!

  • http://www.firasd.org Firas
  • http://www.isaacmao.com/meta isaac

    A Chinese edition of “Free Culture” is half done with Wiki collaboration. http://www.socialbrain.org/freeculture

  • http://www.goldquest.com Dr.John

    Email me if you have further clarification. It’s set me free to become Dr. eventh uhg i’m used to study long , IT” s Freedom . RYHTM.

  • mahdi shadalooee

    the government of Iran has filtered all the internet sites related to he GQI company
    what should we do now?

  • http://www.flykoo.com flykoo

    Nothing is filtered. Write in Google “Iran GQI company” and you’ll see.

  • http://userware.wordpress.com/ DeepFraught

    LL’s final Free Culture presentation presented a set of life changing ideas parallel to my unarticulated concerns. It has introduced me to Creative Commons and have now listened to the audio-book derivative version.

    It is a inspiring, thankyou to Professor Lessig and everyone else involved.

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