Monday, April 2, 2001

Week of 04/02/2001

Five Years And Counting...
- by David Matthews 2

"The most gifted members of the human species are at their creative best when they cannot have their way, and must compensate for what they miss by realizing and cultivating their capacities and talents." - Eric Hoffer

April Fool’s Day was always known for practical jokes and buffoonery.. but there was very little joking about on April 1st, 1996 when a certain website made its debut.

Back then, the weekly column was known as "From the Cage of the Beast", and rather than shake up the world, it was simply a refuge for articles that couldn’t make it to newspapers. Just about everything that made up that site was recycled. Even the title and banner were refugees from a proposed newsletter that never got off the ground.

Five years later, that obscure writer’s online collection of rejected articles has transformed into a weekly commentary site, and instead of targeting the newspapers, the writer has set his sights on the world around him.

Five years seems like a short period of time for some folks, but for the Internet, five years is a lifetime of activity. Websites come and go in the span of just one year, and to have one that is still up and running for five years straight is a celebration in and of itself. Think of all of the dot-com businesses that have come and gone in that period of time. You know, all of those "new millionaires" whose creations went belly-up faster than the Chattahoochee fish just south of Atlanta.

And what an incredible five years it has been for the Internet world! The Internet went from being simply a "geek" resource to an intricate part in the lives of many people in America, and indeed around the world.

Those five years weren’t easy, though. Like any new frontier, there have been numerous attacks by hackers, corporate lawyers, viruses, and identity thieves. Whole domain names have been taken by cyber-squatters looking to cash in on a quick buck or simply to deprive others of the legitimate use of that online name.

In 1996, when the very first article was posted, the main issue of the online world was all about Internet censorship. The government of the United States of America, under the intense lobbying of anti-American groups, and with complete and utter reckless disregard to their oath to protect and preserve the Constitution, passed a law that made so-called "indecent" speech illegal online.

But as vile and downright anti-American as that law was, it served as the single unifying force for a huge segment of the American populace to stand up against the government and oppose the law in the courts. Liberals, conservatives, libertarians, software developers, service providers, computer makers, telephone companies, social groups… the list of plaintiffs who signed on against this law read like a telephone directory. Over seventy-five thousand individuals were listed when the case was brought forth. It was the first time that Apple Computers, America Online, and Netscape worked hand-in-hand with their rival Microsoft. It was quite literally the entire online world against the piousness of the government of the United States Government and President Bill Clinton.. and fortunately for America, the good guys prevailed.

But even after the courts sided with the online world, the struggle against the anti-American moralists and the pious US government was far from over, and those first few years of this writer’s website were dedicated towards pointing that fact out. Every issue from online spam to the con games to Internet filtering systems were examined. It seemed like every inconvenience presented by the members of the media had a proposed government solution. When people couldn’t log in at America Online, for instance, rather than switch services, some people tried to sue AOL. When moralists couldn’t try to get the libraries to censor their connections to the Internet, they tried to sue the libraries. It wasn’t long before the tax man started wanting a piece of the new e-commerce pie, and they whined like spoiled children when they were told they couldn’t get any.

But the Internet wasn’t the only issue that was being discussed on this site. There were two special reports that also appeared that got a lot of comments on, both good and bad.

The first was called "The New Society" and it was considered a "work-in-progress", which meant it was far from being a finished work. "The New Society" took a look at social progress throughout history, and divided it into certain eras based on technological progress and prevailing philosophies. It was then pointed out that we as a society have been progressing towards a new era, thanks mostly to the expansion of the Internet, but also because of the breakdowns in traditional standards.

That first special sought to provide answers to some of the recent chaos, but it wasn’t accepted by all the readers. Some couldn’t see the prevailing social philosophies as they changed over the period of time. To them, there was only one accepted social philosophy, and that was permanent. Others could not accept the outgoing philosophy of individuals being nothing more than cogs in various societal machines such as the family, or the workplace. Either way, the demise of that "work-in-progress" from the online scene was not from people agreeing or disagreeing with the premise, but rather to conserve space on the server for the next project.

The second special report, still available online today, was a personal look at libertarianism and explaining the reasons why this writer is a libertarian. That report was unique in that first it explained libertarianism from a personal perspective, and second because writing down those perspectives helped strengthen my own libertarian philosophy and put things more in sync.

"Let’s get brutally honest here…"

Ah, the catchphrase that has become a staple in everything Brutally Honest has become. Paul Harvey has "The Rest of the Story." Dennis Miller has "Now I don’t want to get off on a rant here." These people have catchphrases, so why not this online commentator?

Now in all honesty, I was using that catchphrase long before I decided to turn the column from "The Cage" to "Brutally Honest". But once I started using it on a regular basis, it only seemed natural to make that transformation.

And in the years that followed, what has become "Brutally Honest" has certainly become just that. It has gotten more brutally honest in the issues and in the arguments. Some have even noticed that the articles have gotten more abrasive and confrontational than before.

That’s true, but then again, so has the world.

As "The Cage" became "Brutally Honest", the political world had become submerged in unchecked hypocrisy, arrogance, and militant blue-nosed and blue-balled attitudes. We watched as a two-term president became a two-timing liar. We watched as politicians who were quick to judge others ask for understanding as their skeletons were revealed. The media became more and more brutal and more politicized in its coverage of the events as they unfolded. We saw trial lawyers get more and more ambitious in their lawsuits, helping the government sue tobacco companies, Microsoft, the gun manufacturers, credit card companies, airlines… all culminating with their subtle participation in the morass we call the 2000 presidential election. (Or do you actually believe that Al Gore and George W. Bush have enough brainpower to come up with the Florida Fiasco?)

The world has become more brutal, but certainly not more honest.

Over the past five years, we watched as kids followed their adult counterparts as they turned to guns to solve their problems. But instead of looking for solutions, we engaged in a mad quest for scapegoats, blaming anything and everything under the sun.

When signs of the economy pointed towards a slowdown, did we prepare for it? No. We believed the lies of President Clinton and the media and told ourselves that the economy was still progressing full steam ahead. Companies laying people off? Hey no problem! People will still somehow buy houses and cars and spend money like there was no tomorrow! George W. Bush comes in, and suddenly the media started using the dreaded "R" word (recession).

All too often, Brutally Honest served as the voice that not only said "be prepared", but also the voice that said "I told you so" after it happened. Perhaps in the next five years, we can get more people to listen to the "be prepared" part, so they wouldn’t have to hear "I told you so."

Brutally Honest also changed in one other way… it went from simply a text medium to an audio one. This commentator joined forces with Webmaster Randy Hall to help form, a liberty-oriented forum for news and commentary. Brutally Honest, the website, became Brutally Honest - LIVE, a weekly one hour commentary program. And if you think the articles have been abrasive, you haven’t heard the audio version!

So what’s in store as we kick off year six? Well, certainly Brutally Honest has got no place to go but up. More readers, more listeners, more visitors. I certainly would love to be considered one day as the Libertarian version of Rush Limbaugh… outspoken, but not as bombastic. I would love to be able to shake up the world, because certainly it needs it. But I would also like to be appreciated as the voice of reason, using my brutally honest arguments to cut through the political spin and offer real solutions to our problems.

It’s not going to be an easy goal to achieve, but certainly I can’t do that without the help of the people who have been with me throughout those first five years.. the ones that I cannot, and hopefully have not, taken for granted.

And so, it is to you, the Brutally Honest fans, that I say thanks for the past five years.. and here’s hoping we’ll both be around for another five years and more.

No comments: