Monday, September 6, 1999

Week of 09/06/1999

Wild Wild Web?
We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!

- by David Matthews 2

You know one of the things about the Internet that is both fascinating and scary for the public is this image of it being like the old West was when it was first being settled.

Oh yes, wide open spaces. Virgin territory not yet exploited. Places where people can parcel a piece of land all their own. Communities that were small and usually friendly. Places where hard work was often rewarded, and people lived good lives.

Then again, people also look at the Internet as the new "Wild Wild West," a place where crooks, criminals, prostitutes, and violence erupts at any time. A place unregulated by government, and some would even so go far as to say a place of anarchy.

And once again we are hearing the cries for curbing the more chaotic aspects of the Internet. They don’t just want "the law".. they want "THEIR LAW." More than just a sheriff, they want a whole posse of sheriffs coming in to cyberspace to patrol the servers and make the world "safe" for their egos.

And in doing so, they’ll destroy the real magic of the Internet.

Now let’s get brutally honest here.. the real magic of the Internet is NOT just because it is a new medium of communication and expression, but rather because the Internet has had relatively little regulation from government.

The same could not be said about other forms of communication. Television and radio were regulated almost from day one by the government, which claimed the airwaves were theirs to control. The Federal Communications Commission still maintains a tight leash over who can broadcast over those mediums and what could be said on them. If you don’t believe me, try doing your own little radio station without the blessings of the FCC.

Not so with the Internet. As a matter of fact, you can do your own broadcast over the Internet, and say what you want to say without fear of the FCC. Listeners of the Talk Liberty Network know that all too well.

And because of relatively few regulations, a lot of businesses have been able to thrive online., eBay, Real Networks, and Yahoo have all been successful because legislators and government regulators did not come in like stormtroopers demanding control of cyberspace like they took control of the airwaves.

The magic of the Internet has been because it has been allowed to grow and expand, much like the Old West.

Think about it for a second. The real Old West was not filled with robbers, gunfighters, and prostitutes. The Old West was not the real-live version of movies like "The Quick and the Dead" - where criminals ran rampant through the streets, gunfights took place on schedule, and people were reduced to parasites being financially bled to death by some sadistic tycoon who looked a lot like Gene Hackman.

The Old West was filled with plenty of people who were looking for a new life because the "older" East was pretty much stale. Repressed by government laws, limited in both space and opportunity, people saw the Old West as their means to build their lives anew. They certainly did not want that repressive government to follow them about, even though it eventually did. So people took it upon themselves to defend themselves. Nobody waited for the US Calvary to come riding in, trumpets blaring "CHARGE!"

Of course, that wasn’t to say that there was complete lawlessness. There were sheriffs and US marshals, as well as local judges to dispense justice. But they didn’t arrest people because they forgot to paint their houses, or because something was said that some hypersensitive loser took offense to. Most of the time if you didn’t like what was in that town, you were on your own. If you didn’t like the saloon, you didn’t go to the saloon. If you didn’t like the brothel, you didn’t go to the brothel.

Come to think of it.. the Old West seemed like a pretty libertarian place when you look at it.

What changed all that? You guessed it.. moralists! Unhappy with the fact that not everyone subscribed to their sense of morality, moralists demanded that government get more involved in that which offended them. They essentially brought with them the same statist attitudes from the East.. the very things that people went west to get away from.

And now the new frontier.. the Internet.. is being burdened by those same spoilsports. The very people who took the magic out of the Old West want to do the same thing to the Internet.

Look, folks, we got along pretty well online with very little government intervention. Yes, in some cases some intervention is needed, but not the level which moralists would want. And we clearly don’t need new laws to address these problems. The existing laws have been more than adequate for law enforcement. Let’s not destroy the magic of the Internet simply to appease the ranting of the paranoid and dysfunctional.

Or as one memorable western line goes.. we don’t need no stinkin’ badges!

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