The Interrelated Failings of the Free Market and Free Speech

purelyspeculation‘Freedom’.

It has been the go-to battle-cry for every side in most any debate. It’s a trump card to call upon when logic fails—a tacit threat laid down gauntlet-like in order to challenge the values of an opponent when one cannot intelligently defend their own.

Right-wingers, left-wingers, libertarians, economists, racists and fanatics—all will appeal to the defense of their freedom when all else fails.

Fools, one and all.

We explored the topic of freedom recently in our article ‘Libertarians are Starry-Eyed Idealists’ (Link). At that time, we talked about the definition of freedom, and the counter-productive and false narrative of ‘unlimited freedom’. Today, we will explore our assumptions about the realities of freedom in two of the places it is most ubiquitously championed: the market, and the media.

‘The Free Market’. You can just feel your heart swell at the very mention of it. It’s like a unicorn in that way. That way—and that it’s entirely imaginary. The model of a free market describes a situation in which all can compete to buy and sell goods at the best possible prices. Products compete against each other as well—with the greatest value winning out in the hearts of consumers. It allows for flourishing competition, and inspires the best from all who participate.

It’s a wonderful dream, but little more at this point. The markets we have now are not free in any defensible sense—they are controlled by enormous corporations who funnel money upwards to their owners at the expense of affordability, quality, and consumer safety.

They are far too big to ‘compete’ against any tiny upstart with a head full of decency and common sense. They buy and sell market rights, strangle out competition, and throw down patents as defensive bolsters against growth and ease of access. There is no freedom or competition—only the surreptitious motives of greed and dominance. Prices for medications are needlessly inflated, housing markets are intentionally crashed, banks prey on the ill-informed, and corporations use their power to change laws in their favour and dodge enough taxes to wildly improve the state of the nation for all. The rich get richer, the poor stay in servitude.

So much for a free market then.

So how about the media? Surely this bastion of free knowledge, this fountain of informed citizenry has some tangible claim to freedom?

Sadly, not so.

As discussed in Sheldon Wolin’s (Link) impeccable book ‘Democracy Incorporated’, the media has followed a similar trend to the market.

In the past, ideas functioned much as they did in a truly ‘free’ marketplace. Many ideas were circulated, and the ‘best’ (as defined by open and informed discussion) became the most ubiquitous and popular. But in a world where media messages are controlled by the same mega-corporations which control our markets, the corporations are the ‘sellers’ of ideas, and we the consumers can only choose from the prescribed ideas they are willing to sell us—just like the current marketplace.

We see it everywhere—from the crooked nature of the 2 party political system, to the subversion of dissent via thousands of media companies being owned by only 6 corporations (Source). It is the death knell of free-thought. Ideas and options—from what laundry soap to buy to who to vote for in a general election—all fall within the pre-defined scope chosen by the corporations which have seized control of our marketplaces, our media, and our political system.

These multi-national corporations are the sole, uniquely ‘free’ participants in our society, and use this to put constraints on every system they see fit. Each of these effects the other—we are less informed (thus less able to vote), and more desperate (thus more eager to spend).

It all falls together quite nicely—it’s an effective market, even if it’s a far cry from free.

In book two of ‘The Analects’ (Link), Confucius speaks about rightful duty in governing people—stating that only a government which promotes and models good conduct and duty can ever expect to have loyal citizens. Surely, our current government can boast of having none of these.

We are left to fend for ourselves against powerful parties that would see us starve if it served to increase their bankrolls. Governments and corporations have merged—and the leadership of the people is no longer administered by informed citizens with nobles intentions, but rather by the whim of the rich and powerful—motivated only to increase those traits at all costs.

This must be remedied.

Freedom can only come when the people of the world take back the power which has been denied to them. To put in place good and honest leaders who seek the betterment of society as a whole is the only means of fighting back. We need not greed, but charity. Not a hunger for power, but a love of peace. Not clever deals, but honest intentions.

Then, and only then, can we hope to call ourselves free.

-Brad OH Inc.

A Fool Not Just in April

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green Desklamp

There’s a funny thing that happens right around this time of year. On the first of April each year, we observe a weird little day called ‘April Fools’’. This glorious day is a long-time favourite for pranksters and mischief-makers the world over—as jokes are played, tricks enacted, and terrible deceptions perpetrated by one friend upon another all in the righteous pursuit of naming another as a fool.

The possibilities are endless! Saran-wrap over the toilet seat? Check! Sardine Paste in the toothpaste tube? Check! Brutal lies about the health or general well-being of distant loved-ones? Yeah, even that might pass. But recently, one phenomenon has illustrated an especially troublesome habit of humanity—and shown us perhaps that the day of fools is a boon for the few wise people among us.

See, one irresistible opportunity for news pundits and bloggers alike is to post semi-believable yet entirely unreal stories for public consumption on April Fools’ Day. The writer will let the speculation and doubts run roughshod until noon, then coolly—and doubtless with an air of overplayed coyness—reveal the truth: namely, that it was all a ruse.

This all seems harmless enough. The thing is, it’s been going on for a significant enough stretch of time that anyone with half a clue and access to the internet for more than a year knows just what to expect, and rises each April 1st donning the armour of suspicion, and brandishing their sword of rational-inquiry. Each article they see is taken in with a discerning eye. Facts are weighed against probabilities, and anything doubtful is cross-referenced against other articles.

Dates are checked, names researched, local obituaries are pored over for accuracy, and for one day, all sources of information are taken in with a critical eye, hell-bent on sussing out the truth from the trash.

All things considered, it’s a pretty wonderful day!

But then something unfortunate happens. The sun rises on the second of April, the bathroom floors are disinfected, toothpaste tubes replaced, and loved ones are given a brief check-in call with a pre-arranged excuse to hang up after a few minutes small-talk. Then, everything returns to normal. People eat their breakfast, kiss their spouses and children, go to their jobs, and then sit slack-jawed and dumb-founded at the torrents of bullshit flashing across their screens in the name of ‘news’.

‘You won’t believe what…’

‘What happened next will leave you speechless…’

‘Local mom makes $900,000,000 in one hour, when you learn how you’ll…’

‘THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!!!’

They sit with eyes glazed over as they work their fingers along their mouse, taking it all in, following the currents of their newsfeed like Job waiting on fairer winds. It’s all accepted, all welcome, and none of it is ever second-guessed.

It’s a sorry fact that when not actively warned by our calendars that the news just might not be as accurate as it’s purported to be, people forget the concept entirely. But rational thought is not a novelty to be toyed with once a year, only to be dusted off and returned in mint-condition to its little glass case marked ‘Open April 1st’. Rather, it is a tool to utilize daily, to ward off the perils of misinformation—deliberate or not—and exercise the full potential of our humanity. As rational creatures living in an often irrational world, the onus of critical consideration of news media is on us as consumers. It is a matter of education, of self-protection, and more importantly, of intellectual integrity.

So let us not forget, good people, that there may be but one day a year where we are free to name each other as fools, but that leaves 364 days each year where the names do not fly so readily, and we are left simply with an opportunity to prove the fact for ourselves.

-Brad OH Inc.

The Disgraceful Suicide ‘Old’ Media

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green DesklampI still buy CD’s sometimes. I know, I know, it’s something of a strange quirk—an antiquated habit I’m not yet fully ready to see pass into memory. Like treasured photos of sun-stained childhood days outside, or discoloured and wrinkled love-letters at the bottom of a shoebox somewhere, I continue to tread this old ground hoping some new joy may be gleaned from it. Alas, as is to be expected of such concessions, my efforts are met primarily with pain and rejection.

DVD’s are a less common indulgence (or is that affliction?), but I won’t deny that I occasionally buy them as well. However, such purchases have become an increasingly embarrassing habit over the years, as the friends who will judge and ridicule me for my naivety grow ever in number.

No bother, I never did mind things like that. It is, however, the hammer of logic that really concerns me, and as it crashes down again and again on my old ways, I’ve found myself asking with increasingly routine—‘just what are you doing anyway?’

In the past, answers to that question have come readily. ‘I’m supporting my favourite band’, ‘I’m trying to be honest by paying for what I use’…you know, the sort of mealy-mouthed, moralistic arguments taken by people doing something for the right reasons, and not the smart ones. The truth is, it’s been a long while since buying physical media made any sense, and with each passing day it only gets worse.

CD’s, DVD’s, ‘Old Media’ in general have been in the process of committing a sorrowful—but very intentional—suicide, and perhaps it’s time that I remove the tourniquets of my empathy and finally let them bleed out as they so desire.

It’s a morbid analogy to be sure, but it has in turn been a vile and loathsome decent for this once proud industry. So how did it get to this point? Perhaps the better question is how did I get to this point? I used to love CD’s (and other forms of physical media) with a fiery passion. Now, they are like the old elementary school friend who you can’t yet fully ignore in passing, but loathe every second wasted in their cloying presence. Ultimately, it comes down to one simple fact, and once I came to realize this, I knew I was finally ready to cut the cord. That fact is, simply, that when you buy physical media, you are willingly choosing to pay for a product which can be obtained—and, it is crucial to point out, in a superior version—entirely for free.

It was only a few weeks ago I made this familiar mistake. Coming home with a new DVD, I prepared a meal to eat as I watched it, and happily removed the plastic wrap. Then I peeled away the little sticker which prevents the (wrapped) case from opening (I guess?). The sticker left a residue of glue on my case, which wryly threatened to contaminate the rest of my collection if left unaddressed.

So, after washing the gluey mess away, I popped the DVD into my player, and sat down with my now cooling meal to enjoy my chosen movie.

The meal was finished before the anti-piracy ads built into the disc—unskippable, immutable, and omnipresent with every repeated watch. What sick depravity is that? A warning not to steal the product you just bought? It’s been a while since I was at a car-dealership, but I certainly don’t remember being investigated for grand theft auto after signing on the dotted line!

I placed my dishes in the sink, and sat back down for another 10 minutes of unskippable trailers, ads, and other promotional rubbish. That’s about when the revelation hit me, and I finally saw the light. Promptly ejecting the DVD and hurling it from my window, I strolled over to my computer, found a torrent of the movie, and started downloading. The rest of the night went on without any significant incident.

But I was left with a rueful distaste in my mouth. I could have downloaded the movie from the start—or better yet, simply streamed it. It would have taken up zero space in my small apartment, and it would have had no built in advertisements or tacit threats. It would have been, in every conceivable way, a better product—for none of the cost.

Unless of course, we are still inclined to take the moral objection. And those few who know me will also know that such is my wont. So let’s do that, shall we?

I do object to stealing. I do object to dishonesty. Further, I am strongly opposed to the rule of idiocy by virtue of greed. When the product you can readily get for free is better and more versatile than the one you’re being asked to pay for, something very suspicious is going on. Yet this is exactly what such studios are asking of us. Like a mosquito with its proboscis stuck, drinking up all the foul blood it can get before it finally explodes and fades from memory—a disgusting mess in the footnotes of irrelevant history. Such are these discs of plastic and spite which are forced on us at any moment we let down our shields of consumer logic and moral apathy.

Now, it may be said this argument is about a decade too late, but it must be noted that this trend, while nothing new, is not old either. It continues daily in fact, malignant to its core. Everywhere you look, we see industries trying to give their customers less and less in order to ensure their profits remain steady. The serpent has gotten hold of its tail, and is not like to let go until its eaten its fill and dies bloated yet ill-content.

You can see the approach everywhere—from ‘Always Online’ DRM protocols in video games, to player restrictions on purchases from I-Tunes—companies continue to slaughter their sheep to ward off the wolves.

And so the moral issue resonates somewhat less with me these days. If the crimes of the thief are to be paid for by the honest man, there is little reason not to hoist the black flag, grab your flagon of rum, and join the party. Steal! Pirate! Avast…all that. Do what you will to these gutless cowards of companies…for they will do it to you all the quicker.

Just don’t steal books…you’ll actually go to hell for that.

-Brad OH Inc.

The Golden Goddess

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green Desklamp

They’re still out there. Oh, make no mistake about it; we still have our Gods and Goddesses.

It’s not religion I’m talking about. Not per se.

This is about the real Gods. The ones which move behind the scenes, the ones we actually look up to.

Gods and Goddesses abound in a place like this.

Made in his image—and all that.

I saw her with my own eyes: the Golden Goddess.

Until then, I didn’t even know I was looking for her. But passing through the supermarket, spending money to fill the void, she appeared before me at the magazine rack.

Hair flowing like spun gold, tussling over bronzed shoulders and cascading down a back arched with the pernicious poise of a predatory cat.

Her eyes shone like emeralds, gleaming with wanton hunger, and the eyebrows above were perfectly symmetrical, curved and inviting.

Her suggestive look left no room for misinterpretation.

It was only a passing glance. Then she was everywhere.

Every passing girl had touches of her within them.

All painted up in their revelations.

All decorated in their sacred garbs.

All repeating their hallowed sacraments.

All falling short.

Every man seeks her, and every woman strives to be her.

There are Gods as well.

Bound with muscles and tall as pillars, they call with different voices but similar promises. They tell you about things you’ll never achieve.

Paradise withheld—but almost attainable to the most prudent and savvy.

It’s something to strive for. At least in lieu of anything real.

They have bodies like humans, but more so. Digitally retouched beyond earthly proportions; sexual beyond human expectation.

Sex sells. It’s the most paid and prayed for thing there is.

And once you’ve known a Goddess, no earthly being comes close.

It’s happened to us all.

We chase our Goddesses, hoping to become a God.

We spend our money in pursuit of the holy ideal.

We withhold our affections for hope that our own Goddess is just around the corner—hold out, have faith.

You’ll never have one. You’ll never become one. They aren’t of this world. But for each deficit you find, you know there’s a solution down the next aisle.

Then another deficit, another product.

Flex your muscles alone in your room, hold them up to his.

Dye your hair.

Skip your meal—avoid temptation.

Push your breasts up in the mirror and let your proud shoulders fall along with them.

It can drive you mad.

But you’d have to be mad…to believe these things are real.

Yet you can’t risk giving up the chase. The rest are all so active, so close.

You can’t fall behind.

The next choice you make could get you to the Promised Land.

Who knows?

Why not?

What else is there to do?

Just keep your faith.

Just keep chasing the dream.

Just keep spending.

Maybe you’ll find her.

Maybe you’ll be him.

Maybe if you keep focussing on them, you’ll never have to see yourself.

-Brad OH Inc.