October 27, 2011  ·  Lessig  · Reblogged from  Huffington Post

[Dave Zirin has replied to my response. This issue about strategy is critical and important. Let me try one more time.]

Still missing the point. Let me try, Mr. @EdgeofSports, one last time. This time with a sports metaphor:

Imagine you’re a player with the Chicago Bears. You’re on the field, about to begin a game with the Green Bay Packers. Just before kick-off, someone races onto the field screaming: “Guys, please, can’t we all just get along? Enough of this fighting. Let’s just shake hands and go get a beer.”

I am not that guy, Dave. That’s not my argument (now stated again and again and again). Instead, I’m the guy saying something like: “Hey, Bears and Packers: Can we have a conversation about whether a tackler should be allowed to use his helmet when making a tackle?” Or translated for the non-sports-readers (which, before my friend Mark Snyderman gave me these examples, I, too, would have been), I’m the guy saying: we need to have a conversation about the rules of the game, because they are not working for any of us.

Or once again: Imagine you’re the pitcher for the Boston Red Sox (as most of the kids (boys and girls) where I come from do, at least once a day). You’re on the pitching mound, about to throw against the Yankees’ star batter. You look up, and some guy is flying a plane pulling a banner that says: “Look, I know some of us are Sox fans, and others of us are Yankees fans, but we’re all baseball fans. Let’s just stop all this fighting, link arms, and learn to work together.”

I am not that idiot either, Dave. Instead, and again, I am your teammate (no doubt, I’d be in the dugout and you’d be pitching, but still), asking whether it might make sense to sit down with the Yankees (and others in our league) and rethink the instant replay rule. Baseball, I believe, should be governed by honest umpires, not HD cameras.

In both cases, I’m the guy saying we should think about the rules. I’m not trying to say we should dampen the competitive passion of our own team. Or deny the justice in our own cause. Or to betray our own objectives. But competition happens on a field; that field is governed by rules; those rules only get changed if everyone (or at least the 99%) on the field agrees. So I think we need to find a way to talk to the 99% — Liberals, Conservatives, Moderates, Libertarians — about whether and how those rules should be changed.

Now as crazy as it is to race onto a football field and urge a kumbayah moment, or to buzz Fenway Park to urge inter-team love, it is just as crazy to label as disloyal a team member who is arguing that we need to sit down to talk about the rules of the game. It may be disloyal to argue that you shouldn’t fight hard against the other team. It is likely stupid, as a coach, to start a game with a lecture about how decent and hard working the other side is. But it is neither stupid nor disloyal to push for a respectful conversation with the other side when you believe the rules of the game are not working — for you and for the other side.

And that is my belief. I believe this system is corrupt. I believe that corruption hurts both the (populist) Left and the (populist) Right. And because I believe it hurts both of us populists, I believe there is a reason to try to engage with people I otherwise disagree with to see whether we can, first, agree about this corruption, and second, take steps to reform it. I believe that 99% of us — Liberal and Conservative, Leftist and Libertarians, Moderates, Tea Party supporters, Coffee Party Activists, much of the ACLU — could actually agree about the corruption that is this system, and agree to work together to change it.

It won’t be easy to get that agreement. It isn’t obvious how to even facilitate the conversation. But a good first step in that project would be to resolve not to call (again, baselessly, but put that aside) the other side “racists.” Instead, that conversation begins by acknowledging our differences, and accepting our different loyalties, yet working with respect to engage people we disagree with about the possibility that there might be something more fundamental — like changing the rules of the game — that differences notwithstanding, we might agree upon.

I get that respect is not your style. I doubt our politics are much different, but I do lean more to Gandhi (“What makes you think I hate the British?“) than to Malcolm X. But you rally hate not only of your opponents, but also of your allies, with prose that reek of condescension (“put down the high school citizenship textbook”), attack with falseness (“Please don’t tell me to love the Tea Party” — where have I ever told anyone to support, let alone, love the Tea Party?) and repeatedly demand that I just go home (“please get out of the way”; “don’t be surprised if theres no US. Just ‘you.’”). I get that makes things simpler — the Tea Party is racist, and I’m ignorant — but in my experience, I’ve not actually seen that style do much to convince anyone of anything.

At the very least, you’ve not shown me how hate gets you to 67 Senators, or 75% of the States. Dr. King didn’t need to change the Constitution. We do. And nothing in what I’ve said suggests anyone should “wait” to fight for anything of substance: please, coach, rally the team to fight for all the things you and I believe in. What I’ve said, again and again and again, is that as well as fighting for what we believe, we need to identify what we all believe, and use that common belief to end the corruption that blocks us, and them, from getting what we, all of us, want.

  • http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/outsideStarbucks Dave Winer

    Larry, this is very confusing. Who said the bit that you’re quoting?” Surely you’re not saying that I said that?? Confused.

  • http://radio.weblogs.com/0124274/ Al Essa

    Larry, Who is the quote from? The entry makes it appear that it’s Dave Winer. Thanks.

  • http://home.telepath.com/~hrothgar Timothy R. Phillips

    I think the quote is from a troll who posted to the comment board under an earlier entry ?

    The call seems to be for the open development of a new weblog protocol, starting from the presupposition that “weblog protocols are stuck in a rut.”

    If I rightly understand the quote, the troll thinks that people who believe in limited copyright can never agree enough effectively to accomplish any goal; the troll’s theory seems to be that any good ideas spawned by believers in limited copyright will be devloped into workable solutions by the large, disciplined business corporations.

    But is this open-weblog-protocol project necessary ? Are weblog protocols truly “stuck in a rut ?” I have yet to be convinced of this.

  • Lessig

    Sorry: Dave absolutely DID NOT say the quote I quoted. The quote I quoted is a paraphase from an insider at one of the proprietary firms.

  • http://home.telepath.com/~hrothgar Timothy R. Phillips

    So it wasn’t the troll from before but a “cynical proprietary software insider” (CyI) or some such.

    The “‘open’ or ‘free’ types” would then not be those who believe in limited copyright, but those who believe in open source and/or free software development. Though there is overlap between the two groups (the set of copyright reform advocates on the one hand and the union of the sets of open source and free source advocates on the other) , they aren’t necessarily identical.

    My earlier post should be read with these substitutions.

    But are weblog protocols indeed “stuck in a rut ?”

  • http://www.kaax.org Kaa

    The Open/Free Software people — from Richard Stallman to Eric Raymond — had to deal with similar statements for ages and by now are quite good at exposing their silliness. In any case claiming that only corporations can produce good software is ridiculous on the face of it. Don’t feed the trolls.

    As to weblog protocols, well, what is the problem to be solved? One of the quotes on the (mostly empty) wiki says “The best outcome … would deliver the holy grail of weblog interoperability: seamless migration from one vendor’s tool to another”. What, that’s it? This is what we are supposed to get excited about?

  • kien

    “What you don�t understand, Lessig, is that your bullshit �open� or �free� types will never � NEVER � be able to compete with corporate organization.”

    – “Let them eat cake.”

    “Squabbles-about-egos-pretending-to-be-about-the-merits can never be quashed. There is no one to say �enough, let�s move on.� “

    – FUD. We rarely hear about squabbles among the various internal organizations within a closed-source proprietary vendor. At least we don’t keep our skeletons in a closet.

    “So every great idea that your type creates, we�ll just wait, watch, and then take. Always.”

    – That’s what’s so fundamentally flawed with this person’s argument; I don’t care. Take it, use it, hack it…but don’t even think about corrupting it because I’ve met Eben Moglen and he’s Einstein^10. How interesting is it that this industry hack makes this statement without acknowledging the reverse-bias involved? They can co-opt our code because we offer it freely…yet if we reverse-engineer their code and (God forbid) improve it, we get persecuted under the auspices of the DMCA.

    Sorry for feeding the troll on your bandwidth, Larry. I just have a hard time accepting arrogant arguments when ignorance, stupidity, and greed are the foundations of those arguments.


  • Nick

    “What you don�t understand, Lessig, is that your bullshit �open� or �free� types will never � NEVER � be able to compete with corporate organization.”

    Whistling past the graveyard? Seems to me that the open types have already surpassed the corporate types in certain key ways in common use on the Net. I can think of one proprietary code company that is loudly complaining about their losses to some open code. I agree with the above: Don’t feed the trolls.

  • http://www.epistemopolitan.com/ Walter

    Whoa, that’s weird, because it TOTALLY makes it seem like Dave Winer is saying that. ;)

  • Matt

    So every great idea that your type creates, we�ll just wait, watch, and then take. Always.

    Open source lacks a certain amount of refinement and polish, which would make me think that the big closed companies would be jumping all over their ideas. What amazes me is that despite the attitude expressed above (which is fairly prevalent, in my experience), noone ever follows through on it.

    Let me lay it out on the line – GNU software, in particular GCC, has been the single largest contributor to people’s lives in the entire software industry. It’s been used to make your telephone switches, your traffic lights, fuel injectors, and tons of others. I don’t care if Windows rules the desktop, because (for most people) the OS on their personal computer is simply a matter of (in)convenience. Until closed systems can manage that level of actual, personal relevance they can say whatever they like.

  • http://dannyayers.com Danny

    Great to see you’ve signed up. If there was an ego-powered spoiler at this stage then I reckon it will be so obvious to all concerned where the problem lies that it would be a non-starter. Fingers crossed anyway.

  • Anonymous

    As someone else within just such a large proprietary code company, “squabbles-about-egos-pretending-to-be-about-the-merits” is *precisely* how I would describe normal corporate function. The real difference here is that you have a 20:1 ratio in favor of people who do not have the technical skills to actually discuss the merits on their own, so it often can’t be about anything but egos anyway.

  • http://www.1014.org Justin Frankel

    Heh well if you give people the benefit of the doubt and think they are good people, then he’s wrong. It is only if you assume people are cocky and greedy (and everything else that big corporations are today) that his point is valid.

    Or maybe it really depends on why people are working on open source projects — If they are working on them because they are passionate about coding, they probably will work well with other people. On the other hand, if there is some alternate motive, they may be doomed.

    Just my 2c. :)


  • anonymous

    Right and what billg^h^h^h^h^h your corporate f(r?)iend doesn’t realize is that it works both ways. The open source movement will do the same with their products.

    Outlook? We’ve got Ximian Evolution. Office? We’ve got OpenOffice. Windblows? We’ve got GNOME/KDE on top of Linux, *BSD. Photoshop? We’ve got GIMP. Cisco routers? Commercial firewalls? We’ve got Zebra, iptables, ipf, pf, etc.
    Proprietary Windows network sharing? We’ve got Samba. Oracle, Sybase, and SQL Server? We’ve got Postgress and MySQL. Visual Studio? We’ve got Eclipse, Emacs, gcc, perl, ruby, php, squeak, and so on…

    Can they compete with both free beer and free beer recipes? On all fronts? I doubt it.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/~autopr0n W. Smith

    Well, obviously there are a lot of people who dissagree with that. And you can add me to the list.

    For one thing, one major thing is that there are for-profit companies who have decided that a good way to make money is to cash in on the whole thing. The people working on Open Source software at IBM and Redhat and taking home a paycheck. People at these places are going to work out their diffrences as well as they would at a closed source place.

    The second thing is. I think some OSS projects are blessed with a good leader. Linus would be the best example. The BSD system has broken into 3 main branches do to ego conflicts, But Linux has stayed single. Due to the fact that A) Linus is the unquestioned leader, and B) Linus is a pretty cool guy as far as not being an egotistical prick.

    If you look at something like the GNU core (gcc, the tools), you wonder how it managed to survive with Richard Stallman running things, but it has. But people do defer to Stallman and it works.

    The most important thing in the Open Source world is how much work you do. If you deserve your ego, people will follow you and you can kind of do your own thing, if you don’t deserve your ego, you’ll get marginalized. (Like Eric Raymond :)

    Oh, and as far as the ‘blog protocol’ um, what? Why do we need new ‘blog protocol’s? HTTP seems to work fine. The market is definetly large enough to support multiple tools. There are plenty of file server protocols (SMB, NFS), lots of IM protocols (AIM, MSN, Yahoo, and on and on). Lots of compression systems, ZIP, RAR, ACE, etc. If the protocols are open, toolmakers can support all of them. The task should be easy using open source libraries.

    There’s no reason to be top-down draconian here.

  • dubStylee

    Here are some ideas I posted on slashdot (see the interesting thread at
    Replacement term for Intellectual Property
    ). Sorry for mis-posting them in this thread., but I thought they might be of interest.

    How do other cultures define IP?

    American Indian tribes have many many different approaches to intellectual property. Along much of the Northwest Coast stories and artistic images are considered to be associated with specific clans and there are sanctions for use without permission. A family has rights to the myths and images that define them as a family. These are the same tribes that had the potlatch – an institutional way of ensuring that property was not hoarded.

    Another approach was that of Chief Joseph, who although he fought to protect the land of his tribe still denied that his tribe “owned” that land or that anyone could “own” land. He prefered to say that he and his tribe had *guardianship* of the land.

    So perhpas we could think about IG instead of IP, talk about the guardianship of ideas that *belong to everyone*. This allows for protection of author’s rights — they are guarding the ideas that they put forth and no one should be able to deny that the author is the guardian of their own work or be able to say that someone else should be able to mangle the work and distribute it as though from the original author. But it also allows for treating human progress as the property of all and provides a basis for insisting that laws protecting guardianship do not become a form of intellectual hoarding.