Re: POL: Reaction to Microsoft Ruling

From: Matt Gingell (
Date: Mon Apr 10 2000 - 22:16:31 MDT

> People who live in liberal democracies tend to forget about the violent
> basis of government power, because it is usually hidden beneath a veil of
> civility and bland legalisms. But that doesn't mean it isn't there.
> Democratic governments kill their citizens all the time (just ask a drug
> dealer). Usually they direct their violence against 'criminals', which is
> what makes them better than police states - but you have to remember that
> the government gets to define who is and is not a 'criminal', and the only
> real limit to what it can do is the willingness of the general public to
> acquiesce.

All real power is based in force or the threat of force, and all I
think you're pointing out here is that we've granted a monopoly on
physical coercion to our elected government. That's treacherous, of
course, like any concentration of power, but in the end I don't see
what the other options would be. I like the idea of collaborative
anarchy - it would be great if we were all equals and we could mediate
all our differences from bargaining positions of equal strength, but I
don't believe it works. No one stays equal - you get kings,
syndicates, warring city states - you get power which is unaccountable
to the people living under it. And that power preserves and
strengthens itself and wipes out threats to it's survival. While we
differ over whether it's been excessive, I'm sure you'd agree
Microsoft has been a vicious competitor. I shudder to think what the
world would be like if they and institutions like them could raise
private armies to wage wars against competitors, strike contracts
with private police agencies to search your home for pirated software,
conduct tariff negotiations via cruise missile, etc. This is obviously
a bit hyperbolic, but it at least evokes my vision of the nation without
some ultimate, constitutionally restrained, publicly elected and
publicly accountable authority. But maybe I'm cynical or got beat up
one to many times in high-school.

I certainly don't think our government is perfect - drug laws, as you
mentioned, are a great example. I'm writing from New York State where
we live under the Rockerfeller Laws - extraordinarily harsh, mandatory
sentences for trivial drug offenses, deliberately designed to get
guilty pleas and bypass the pesky impediments to justice posed by the
right to trial and the presumption of innocence. And I'm fairly irked
by paying $5 for a $1 pack of cigarettes because our leaders, in their
great and abiding wisdom, have decided smoking is bad for me and I
ought to be dissuaded or punished for a character flaw. In the end
though - our government is, at least in principle, bound by the
constitution and accountability to the electorate. Business has no
such restrictions - it's only charter is to maximize it's stock
holders value and the only constraints on how it does that are those
imposed by power from above. Without federal power to protect them,
the principles of our democracy are bullshit. Private interests have
no obligation to observe them. Of course I have reservations, but
we've had 200 hundred years of smooth transition of power, relative
freedom and reasonable domestic tranquility.

I object to the us-versus-them character that discussion of government
has in so many of these debates. Government is us - it's elected by us
and made up of us - it's not some alien force, some evil monster out
to crush all that's good and free in the world. I have faith that most
people in government are just like you and me, and most of them
believe in what they're doing and honesty feel they're doing what's
right - even when I disagree with them.


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