story


How Dare I?

Editor’s Note: This is just a piece of non-narrative fiction I felt like writing. I’m not angry or yelling or anything. If that’s what you’re looking for… um… here: “We live in a society where exclusivity, that is, the quality of being likely to deny free and equal access, is considered a positive and a sign of cache. It’s sick.”

Ok, now the story.

There is only one song in Heaven, and we listen to it all the time. It’s either very long, or else it plays over and over again. Everyone loves the song the same amount, which is completely. When the song has words, everyone knows the words, and we never mess up the lyrics or sing out of key.

Some people, people who aren’t in Heaven, might think that only hearing one song, even if it is the best song, hearing only one song might get kind of old. What they don’t understand is that no matter how many times you hear the song, it always feels new and familiar, old and groundbreaking.

The mood of the song is always right for the mood in Heaven, because the only way we ever feel is fantastic. If we still cried, we would cry every time we heard the song, because it’s just so beautiful.

Everyone can play the song, and everyone does. Everyone plays it differently, and it’s always perfect.

We want to tell you what the song sounds like, but it’s very hard to do. Part of it is how you feel when you are six, and you are opening a Christmas present that you are almost sure is just what you want, but you can’t see past the paper yet. It feels like that.

Or lying in bed, being held, and it’s cold outside, and warm under the covers, and just as you fall asleep your whole body tingles and you have never been more calm. It also feels like that too.

Sometimes it feels like falling.

Some of it reminds you of some of your favorite songs, but most of the notes are notes we didn’t know about before we were in Heaven. We didn’t know things could sound like this.

Well, if you do, I wrote another story in the same character’s voice. It’s about how much the narrator likes swimming. He likes swimming about as much as he dislikes the Talking Dog.

INT. EBX IN THE BASEMENT OF THE PACIFIC PLACE MALL IN JANUARY 2001 – DAY

YUPPIE GUY enters the store

YUPPIE GUY:
Hey, do you know where I can
get a leather jacket around here?
 
ME:
Honestly, I’ve only worked here
for about a month, I think-

 
FIVE YUPPIES IN LEATHER JACKETS walk up behind YUPPIE GUY. The tallest of them speaks.

TALLEST YUPPIE:
Come on, there’s a Brookstone
on the second floor!

 
FIVE YUPPIES IN LEATHER JACKETS leave.

YUPPIE GUY:
Oh, nevermind.

YUPPIE GUY leaves.

There’s a feeling, and to my knowledge it doesn’t have a name, that people seem to share. Sometimes, you’re told something, and you can just tell, without being able to fully explain why, that what’s being said is bullshit. I call this feeling cole*.

An example of something that gave me, and gives most people a sense of cole are those ads, usually at the beginning of a DVD you’ve already bought, telling you not to download movies. The argument (set to obnoxious jump cuts and pounding music) is that since you wouldn’t steal a purse, a TV or a DVD, you shouldn’t download movies because it is a form of theft, and therefore exactly the same thing. Except, as that feeling of cole in your gut tells you, no, it’s not.

But why isn’t it? What makes it different, and why does that influence so many people who would not steal a purse to feel that the theft of a film via downloading is not wrong? Here we get to our subject, the ethics of theft. Fortunately, the words we need to describe this already exist. First up is dispossession.

Dispossession is the denial of a person or persons’ access to or use of a thing, service or location. When you steal a purse, you have dispossessed the owner of that purse. They are no longer able to use that purse, or any of the objects inside of it. Stealing a DVD from a store dispossesses the owner or owners of the store of the DVD and the subsequent income from retail. They have now lost money since they purchased the DVD originally with the understanding that it would be sold.

For most of history nearly all theft has been dispossession in one way or another. It is only with the introduction of photographic, photostatic and digital copies that theft without dispossession has become common. In these cases the essential nature of theft is changed, and with it, our ethical understanding of the seriousness of the offense has been massively altered. Essentially, the primary reason theft offended people was that it deprived the rightful owner. In cases where that is no longer true, people now tend to see this dispossessionless theft as a victimless or nearly victimless crime. A lack of victim means the degree of offense is dramatically lessened.

It doesn’t vanish though, and that brings us to the other axis upon which ethical judgments of theft are considered: valuation. Where dispossession is an essentially binary consideration (either someone has been dispossessed or they have not), valuation introduces a great deal more granularity, and also serves to explain why the downloading of a film is, while certainly not on par with stealing a TV, still essentially unethical.

Valuation is a complex term, but for our purposes it means the assessing of value or worth, and the method of the assessment we are concerned with is implicative, meaning not a formal assessment, but an attempt to determine one’s assessment of value based on their actions.

Going back to our purse example, assuming a thief has snatched a purse, stolen the money or other valuable goods and then thrown the purse away, their valuation of the purse itself is roughly $0. It was worth taking for its contents, but beyond that is essentially trash, and since it might eventually serve as evidence of their crime, could even be said to take on a negative value.

Now we apply this to theft via download. Essentially, the person who downloads a movie without purchasing is saying “I value this at about a gig of hard drive space, and a little time tracking it down.” Unfortunately for the people planning to make money from sales, it’s very difficult to buy groceries with a gig or so of some other guy’s hard drive space.

Alternately, it is possible for a theft to increase the value of that which has been stolen. There is the classic example of stealing a loaf of bread to feed your starving family. Now we’ve taken a loaf of bread, value: $2, and turned it into food to keep your family alive, value: multiple human lives. In this case the ethics of theft, which we compute almost instantly and automatically, tell us that this has become an ethically sound act. We have increased the valuation of the stolen item so much that it is agreed to have been worthwhile. See also: E.T. Stealing a bunch of stuff to call for a ride home.

With that established, copy theft enters a grey area very quickly. What about a TV show that is off the air and not available by legitimate means? The value of the product, per the copyright holders is almost impossible to determine, which means the theft of the object can almost be construed as an increase in perceived value. Then there’s broadcast television, where if a viewer is not a Nielsen Family, the value of their viewership, whether watching the original broadcast or a downloaded copy is essentially 0, so is there actually a devaluation taking place during the latter?

Largely, this grey area exists because our ethical systems have not had time to catch up with the new scenarios of action offered to us by advancements in technology. Additionally, the questions of value (how much a thing is worth to each person, and who exactly is receiving what) continue to evolve in complexity**. It will be interesting to watch our culture adapt to answer these questions in the coming years.

*Named for James Cole, my sixth grade teacher and the person responsible for giving me this feeling more often than anyone I’ve ever met. Honestly, I’d like to thank him for instilling such a complete distrust of authority at such a young age.
**A popular bit of rationalization, one which I myself am not above using, is that while my actual valuation of a product is quite high, my willingness to support the structures that have been built to profit from that product is rather low. Do I want to support a musical artist whose work I enjoy? Absolutely. Do I want to do so when more than 97% of that support is siphoned off before reaching the artist? Not always. Should distribution channels receive recompense for the work and cost required for disseminating art? Yes. Should they be allowed to bloat up like the record and film industries have? Of course not. The line is then, wavering, and often poorly marked.

Chapter 22:

Metaphor, despite the spurious claims of Freshman English, is not comparing two things. It is explicating the behavior of one thing in order to explicate the behavior of another. It is an attempt to summon forth the light of recognition by describing the familiar, and then to shift that glow to illuminate that which needs accounting. It is with that in mind that I move to Chapter 23.

Chapter 23:

Creating art is honking a car horn. It is used to communicate many things, based on the context, and the person performing the act. It is an attempt to draw attention to a wrong. To express disgust. To cry out in anguish. Sometimes it is a celebration, or an attempt to call forth recognition in the familiar. It’s primary function though, the one thing it always does, is to say “Here I am. I am here.”

Please read the following aloud. If at all possible, have each portion read by a different person. If not, please use different voices.

A: It tortures me to know that the entire time I am away I will be aware that that dog will be suffering so.
B: That “that” was superfluous.
A: Which “that?”
B: That “that” that was superfluous.
A: Is it that I should say “It tortures me to know the entire time I am away I will aware that that dog will be suffering?”
B: It was not that that that “that” referred to. It was that “that” in “that that” that that “that” was in reference to. It is that that that “That ‘that'” was meant to address.
A: My apologies.

I’ve got a new story sketch, once again based on an idea from Sam. This time Sam said:

How about this magnifico: a man writes the PERFECT love song, unsurpassedly sublime, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, etc.; but not a soul is interested.

This is what I came up with.

When someone likes to draw, it is not uncommon that they will post an incomplete, unrefined drawing on their website. We call it a sketch. In this spirit, I have decided to post an unfinished, inelegant bit of writing. I asked my homeboy Sam de Groot for a topic on which to write (specifying that I’d prefer something outlandish). He gave me this

A little boy devises a new, daft, highly improbable theory about the universe, that nevertheless turns out to be true, completely flipping everyone’s worldview.
Or a little girl, if you wish.

And as a result, I produced the following “sketch“.

NOTE: There is already a word for a short, incomplete piece of writing. That word is, handily enough, “sketch”. I was aware of this before I began this post, and have in fact referred to my short writing with this term before. Are you wondering why I started this post with a weird, rambling attempt to legitimize doing so by referencing artists’ websites? It is because I am retarded.

SECOND NOTE: Did you like this? Would you like more? If so, feel free to post requests in the comments. Be aware that I am both lazy and easily distracted, so it is entirely probable that you’ll be forgotten.

IAN returns to his chair, placing his almost finished copy of Lolita near the edge of his desk. CO-WORKER looks over and.

CO-WORKER:
(laughing at his own joke before he makes it)
You sure did spend a lot of time in the bathroom with that porno!
 
IAN:
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA-FUCK YOU!

fin

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