But unlike Code, the argument here is not much about the Internet itself. It is instead about the consequence of the Internet to a part of our tradition that is much more fundamental, and, as hard as this is for a geek-wanna-be to admit, much more important.
That tradition is the way our culture gets made. As I explain in the pages that follow, we come from a tradition of “free culture”—not “free” as in “free beer” (to borrow a phrase from the founder of the free software movement), but “free” as in “free speech,” “free markets,” “free trade,” “free enterprise,” “free will,” and “free elections.” A free culture supports and protects creators and innovators. It does this directly by granting intellectual property rights. But it does so indirectly by limiting the reach of those rights, to guarantee that follow-on creators and innovators remain as free as possible from the control of the past. A free culture is not a culture without property, just as a free market is not a market in which everything is free. The opposite of a free culture is a “permission culture”—a culture in which creators get to create only with the permission of the powerful, or of creators from the past.
“Permission culture”. I believe that may be easier to use to explain “free culture” than comparing it to other uses of “free”. I mean “free culture” as opposed to “permission culture”. Nice!
If we understood this change, I believe we would resist it. Not “we” on the Left or “you” on the Right, but we who have no stake in the particular industries of culture that defined the twentieth century. Whether you are on the Left or the Right, if you are in this sense disinterested, then the story I tell here will trouble you. For the changes I describe affect values that both sides of our political culture deem fundamental.
Okay, do we even have a Left and Right today, end of Oct, 2020? I am so comforted by the simplification of a Left vs. a Right. Today it feels like the Bathos Party and a motley crew of everyone else. But it wasn’t great, then. And it wasn’t about Left and Right: it is always about power.
Sorry not really directed at Lessig, just more of an observation (or theory) in hindsight.