YDATL Blog NOTE: The opinions expressed by our individual bloggers are their own, and not necessarily those of Young Democrats of Atlanta.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
At a friend's suggestion, I watched Larry Lessig's speech to the March TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference yesterday (see it here). While it is about Lessig's views on copyright, toward the end he raises a point that really struck me, especially after watching Bill Clinton's speech at the same conference (see it here). Lessig discussed how digital technologies have become entirely integrated into our culture, to the extent that the types of creativity they allow have become the younger generations' core understanding and means of expression. As he points out, young people today learn and think and express largely in terms of mashups. Easy, inexpensive tools for digital duplication and manipulation have become widespread, and they have fostered a creative boom, filling YouTube to the brim with cobbled-together music videos and mashup sensations like Danger Mouse's "Gray Album." In fact, you need look no further than our own Shelby Highsmith's Canvassing with YDAtl video to see this idea at work. While much of the discussion of copyright law centers on simple 1-to-1 copies of music and movies, which Lessig acknowledges as piracy, these mashups and the culture of sampling are often given the same label, and thereby declared illegal.
That's a significant point (and the point of this post) - the way young people think and express themselves is being regularly labeled illegal. I'm not going to get into the discussion of right or wrong in this instance - right or wrong, this is the reality. It's similar to the discussion of legalization of marijuana. Whether you feel that smoking dope is good or bad, there are a great many people out there who feel that it is very much right, and they opt to smoke up, despite knowing that it's illegal. This shapes their attitudes toward the police, laws, and government in many ways, some overt and some subconscious.
One of the subjects of much YouTube creativity has been Ron Paul. I've been kind of vexed by the popularity of Dr. Paul, as he's by far the most mainstream Libertarian in recent memory. The popularity of Libertarianism has bugged me for a while. Most of the Libertarians I've met have essentially defined their political views as "stay out of my business, let me do what I want." I'm not going to win any friends by saying so, but that worldview always struck me as, well, lazy. There's something to the idea that, left to their own devices, people will be inherently decent and kind - I like the idea of trusting humanity that much. Thing is, a small group of people who fall short of such decency can easily make life difficult and unpleasant for the majority, and history has shown us that such groups are essentially inevitable. Pure Libertarianism fails in precisely the same way pure Socialism does - imperfect humans have to live up to those lofty ideals, and a few bad apples and all of that... As Lessig points out, we're defining youthful expression as illegal. As more and more people come to see the government as against the way they live their lives and see it as unable to help them in any way (thanks, Bush administration FEMA), it doesn't take much of a leap to believe that government is at best useless and at worst predatory and dangerous.
I don't mean to make this sound conspiratorial - I don't believe that there is a plot afoot to drive young people to the right by telling them they can't pirate music. I do, however, know that disillusionment is widespread, and if we as Democrats are going to succeed, we'll have to overcome a pervasive belief that the government simply cannot be a force for good. And you should really check out both TED speeches.