I'm a big fan of the Bible. It is fascinating history, brilliant literature, and it encapsulates a vast amount of the human experience.
"So Moses went back to the LORD and said, "Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold." - Exodus 32:31
We are creative and imaginative beings. So we can create the most marvelous things; and then we can imagine that they exist externally to us, and perhaps even that they are worthy of worship. We are an idol-making people. And at the very core of the Judeo-Christian ethos is the recognition that this is bad.
As a society we are largely past worshipping statues. Two thousand years of Christianity and two hundred years of Enlightenment thought have put a lid rather firmly on building concrete objects and then sacrificing things to them.
However, we are not past the worship of intangible idols; things equally man-made, equally of no inherent moral worth, and yet somehow not to be questioned, but to be fawned over, sacrificed to. And, as with the golden idols in the deserts of the past, there is a class of people whose cupidity leads them to abet this worship, to brainwash into us the idea that our subservience to these man-made things is holy and natural. The greedy priests of the modern eidolons.
I am referring, of course, to patents and copyrights.
There is nothing natural about a patent. The natural order of things is that good things get copied. That's it. You come up with a good idea, everyone else copies it. And, frankly, that's the way it should be. That's the way that makes everyone better off.
However, this leads quite naturally to people keeping secrets. They hide their clever ideas because then they retain their advantage. And this is not to the benefit of society. So we created the utterly unnatural idea of a "patent". That the government would step in to prevent copying. And we made the tradeoff that an inventor gets a "patent" for a short period of time so that society gets to copy and use the invention thereafter.
That's the point of patents. Not to prevent copying. To abet it.
Jefferson said it best: "Considering the exclusive right to invention as given not of natural right, but for the benefit of society, I know well the difficulty of drawing a line between the things which are worth to the public the embarrassment of an exclusive patent, and those which are not."
So it really steams me when I see people talking about intellectual property rights as if there is in fact some right there, some natural law stating that the act of inventing something bestows upon the inventor exclusive use - or more frequently, exclusive profit. That something is owed to the first inventor. No. Wrong. There is nothing owed to them. We created that idea, and gave it life as a patent. And patents are supposed to exist so that the public can benefit from the invention, not so that the inventor can benefit from it.
There are other things that we have decided are "rights", where nature makes no such promise but we among us have decided to uphold them anyway. Chief among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Nature promises none of them; death, slavery, and suffering are rather more natural. You only have a "right" to them because we have all decided that you do. And I daresay we all agree that these are good intangibles to sacrifice to.
But Monopoly is not on that list. We grant each other our imaginary rights because we all benefit thereby. That is and must be the only touchstone for idols; we should never bow down elsewise.
Copyright is much the same as patent; we grant a limited monopoly to entice the creator to share his work. There is no natural right there, nor should there be any artificial one, save one which best serves the public.
Yet somehow the belief exists that because someone imagines something, it should be theirs alone.
Of course, these intangible idols only become truly egregious because of the other fetish in the room; the five-hundred pound golden gorilla of modern society.
But I'll rant about that some other time.
- Sun Ra
Columns by Sun Ra