By Robert Folsom
January 10, 2012
Acrimony and distrust have been the rule in America’s two-party political system for more than a decade. People frequently bemoan this discord and resulting legislative gridlock, but we see it for what it is: A neon-colored expression of negative social mood.
Yet an apparent exception to the gridlock rule has been much in the news lately. It features a long and bipartisan list of sponsors in Congress, was cultivated by top lobbyists, and has near-unanimous support from America’s entertainment/industrial complex.
That said, we can’t help but observe a certain irony about this “exception”: the legislation known as SOPA (Stop Online Piracy) is itself an expression of negative social mood, specifically a move toward censorship and authoritarian government control.
The 78-page text (H.R. 3261) amounts to a case study in forbidding legalese, so it will do little good to quote the bill here. Even so, digital rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation strongly object to SOPA, saying it will give the Federal government the power to (among other things) shut down Internet businesses with no grant of due process, cripple whistleblower websites, and close U.S.-based online networks that ensure anonymity to political protesters in countries like Syria.
As is often true with the spread of (and resistance to) authoritarianism, the question is not so much why as it is why now? After all, digital piracy has been around since the advent of the World Wide Web. These days a modestly competent computer user can easily find and use the free software that will copy, upload and download music, movies, etc. But this was equally true five or more years ago.
The answer to why now is, “A change in social mood” — specifically, an increasingly negative mood that is leading governments to expand their authority. Bob Prechter described the kind of attitudes and actions to expect:
Polarization on major issues will be dramatic…. The majority tolerates property seizures without trial, currency detection [and] censorship…as necessary to fight the War on Drugs and the War on Crime. —February 1995 Elliott Wave Theorist
The forecast in the May 2010 Socionomist put it bluntly: “Governments will shut down sections of the Internet.”
Congress is still deliberating a final draft of the bill; the House and Senate have different versions, with legislators adding and subtracting language along the way. An anti-SOPA movement has recently emerged and includes digital pioneers like Vint Cerf, but it’s not as politically connected or well financed as the entertainment/industrial complex. The bill’s supporters still appear to have the stronger hand.
Watch this space in coming weeks for more about SOPA. For now read Alan Hall’s two-part study of authoritarianism, or our Sept. 2011 update, “Governments Increase their Monitoring and Control of Citizens.”
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