We "can't eliminate them"?
Posted Nov 6, 2012 22:39 UTC (Tue) by pboddie
In reply to: We "can't eliminate them"?
Parent article: Let’s Limit the Effect of Software Patents, Since We Can’t Eliminate Them (Wired)
Politicians cannot effectively counter a moral argument by simply pointing at a utilitarian argument.
But they do this all the time, and it's very easy for them to do. Take the following strong argument that I, in fact, totally agree with:
It is simply wrong to make a person legally liable for using their own property in a manner that they would have no reasonable way of knowing infringes on the so-called "rights" of others.
The way a politician refutes this moral argument is to disbelieve that anyone could have independently discovered some wizardry that some company has claimed as their "invention", because the company or lobbyist representing that company tells them that they spend lots of money doing really hard stuff and that if they couldn't "recoup their investment" then it would "hurt profitable business". Besides, people working for companies need paying or they don't have jobs, right?
That scares the politician. Just look how elections frequently revolve around the economy, even though there are plenty of other pressing issues and it's not as if any government is deliberately going to sabotage the economy or neglect it. So, the politician transforms the moral argument into something that must be hypothetical and not a real concern; they then sleep better believing that a moral crisis has been averted because it simply "doesn't happen in practice".
Contrary to the "governments must be evil" ranting that appears to have dominated the comments on this article (and is largely unwelcome and for the most part uninformative), the way to deal with this is to educate your representatives by giving them material that questions the assertions fed to them by those voicing the opposing point of view. Although some politicians are corrupt, I suspect that most of them don't really have strong opinions on many issues. Playing it safe by subscribing to "broad brush" economic perspectives is the easiest way for them to keep their job, and they will probably buy into the argument that something is needed - patents in this case - to "keep jobs in this country".
I actually agree with you really: a moral argument should override any utilitarian argument. But we have to remove the excuses frequently made to not believe in the moral argument along with the willingness to take the easy option and to believe in the usual scaremongering of businesses looking only after themselves. That means engaging with and educating our representatives.
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