middle brow | citizen how \ 16 dec 17 /

the trouble with freedom.

this dispatch seems rudderless. should critics have the freedom to advance institutional racism? should newspapers have the freedom to fire such critics? should corporations have the freedom to charge people whatever prices they want? should consumers have the freedom to access whatever content they want at the same price? 

should you have the freedom to drink two of our ten per cent beers in one half-hour? should the bar have the freedom to kick you out afterwards?

yes. but...

the freedom to forget history.

hot damn! there's so much to write about today. about the high end's new marketingcampaign. (because that's all it is.) about obamacare and the absurdity of signing up for a healthcare plan and committing to pay thousands of dollars to an insurance company for what you know will be pennies in value-return. about the very constant sense that republicans are living in a completely different era. and i'm not talking about roy moore and his medieval sexual tendencies. i'm talking about congressional republicans as a whole. being stuck in the late 80s. obsessed with taxes. obsessed with free market solutions. dogmatic about them. as if the last 20 years never happened. as if, and this is especially odd, the last election never happened.

and surely i have future rant space for those topics. but i think the thing that's been most on my mind as part of this retro republican thinking is net neutrality. net neutrality... ? WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? net neutrality. first, it's an attempt by dems to frame something in their favor. which framing you can't possibly be surprised about. since it's completely impenetrable. republicans would have called it "fair internet" or "free internet" or "keep your internet" or "pro internet". see, e.g., "pro-life".

but i think we can get at the meaning with a reference to the subject's history and an analogy (inspired by my lawyer friend, and proud alabamian, zac). last decade, an internetprovider in some middle western state, let's say iowa, decided to buy a phone company. so, they offered the internet and landlines to their customers! both things! but this is odd, since the internet offers ways to call friends without using a phone. remember vonage, for example? and the era of VoIP, i.e. voice-over ip. so this iowan internet provider, since they wanted to increase their landline business (ha!) made it impossible for anyone using its service to log into their vonage account. from the customers' perspectives, their vonage accounts mysteriously stopped working. and they were forced to use landlines to call their friends and favorite pizza delivery girls. this is plainly anticompetitive and bad for consumers, right? right. so these vonage customers sued. and won. and the net neutrality movement was born.

so net neutrality proponents argue, in effect, that internet providers shouldn't be able to do what that sleepy iowan internet company did. they shouldn't be able to slow down certain services and speed up others. like, imagine at&t starts its own streaming service. they'll be highly incentivized to speed up their streaming service while making netflix virtually impossible to load. and anyone who's ever met any corporation. or any child under the age of 5. knows that people and corporations (who are people) always do what they're incentivized to do. as long as they're free to do it.

and so... if you're wondering which side to take in the big, boring net neutrality fight, think about this analogy: a shopping mall. let's take two scenarios. first, the scenario where a landowner and builder team up in private, with zero help from any government anywhere. and they build a big, beautiful, shining shopping mall. like something you'd see in dubai. and it stretches on and on and on and on. it has 500% more storefronts than there are companies in the world. and it's lush! and green! and fountain-y as f! and every high school boy who asks any high school girl or boy for their phone number gets it! and every slice of pizza has soft crust! and every cinnabon store is shuttered because cinnabon went out of business! it's paradise.

now imagine a new business concept comes along. let's say the business makes male shirt collars that wick away neck dirt. and the collar creator approaches the mall owner and demands a store front. for free. the mall owner would, and should, laugh the collar man out of her office. after all, she built the beautiful mall with her own sweat and blood and money. and she should be able to decide which stores to offer to her customers, and the conditions under which to offer them. if she wants to charge stores rent to help pay for the building, she should be allowed to. if she wants to charge some stores more rent than she charges other stores, she should be free to do that. if she wants to place some stores near the entrance doors, and hide others in the dark near spencer's gifts, it's perfectly within her right to do that.

but now imagine that instead of building that shopping mall with her own sweat at tears, she asked the government for help. and received such help. she got millions and millions of dollars in tax breaks for building the mall. and then she got millions and millions more in tax breaks for upgrading it and maintaining it. and those tax breaks, in effect, came out of the pockets of the citizens surrounding the mall. because the government had to raise taxes on its people to pay for the budget shortfall created by the tax break they gave to the mall owner. and so, practically speaking, the surrounding neighbors paid for the mall. but still, to help allay some of the other costs associated with building and running a mall, people were charged an entry fee. do you believe that?!?! $50 per entry?!?! but customers begrudgingly paid the $50 because the mall was so charming and beautiful and expansive that it put all other malls and mom-and-mom shops out of business.

and now imagine the mall owner started weaving clothes in her spare time. and her clothing company grew faster than american apparel. and everyone in town knew about it, but sorta hated it because she was a sexual deviant and assaulted her employees and also her t-shirts were way overpriced and shrunk after only a couple wash cycles. and so naturally she put her clothing store right near the front entrance to the mall. and then, to snuff out competition, she charged customers an *extra* $5 simply to enter any other clothing store that sold plain t-shirts.

should she be free to do that?

if you think so, you should support trump and oppose net neutrality. if you think that's unfair, you should support the massive pile of pro-internet republicans and democrats and support net neutrality. and this is just about fairness. i didn't even touch on how net neutrality made the internet, as we know it, possible. 

freedom is complex. and pushes and pulls us in all sorts of directions. but all freedom ain't fair.