The other day I got into a debate on twitter about the morality of sharing ebooks. Someone was posting free copies of Roger Zelazny’s books on kindle, and I replied that I was entitled to ebooks of the printed books I own. This writer challenged that assertion and asked for an argument. I refused to engage in his Empire-inflected moralizing, that the writer owned the medium his story is printed on, and used the Ship of Theseus example to deconstruct the notion of ownership.
This sent me back to the halcyon days of piracy, when I first came across a pirated copy of Ichi the Killer 10 years ago. It was limited to two DVD copies, interestingly enough. This blog is pretty much about the distorting influence of a new technology in the old field of ethics – whether it was morally right to acquire a copy of a product for little to no cost, and whether it was right to freely share it with others.
I’d like to get into a concept rarely used in discussions about piracy: authenticity. I see it as an ethical gyroscope that orients me, despite being in a moral free fall in the Nietzschean abyss, as I troll around for free copies of movies, television series or PDF copies of books. If I’m an authentic user, ethically creative, much like the Nietzschean free spirit, then I’ve suspended the universal based on the Kantian maxim “suppose everyone torrented that file?” for the sake of the unique and unprecedented and situational– then to what criteria can I appeal to warrant the claim to be even in the conversation of ethics?
Is moral creativity just a cover for nihilism, or at least the polite mask for sheer opportunism?
What I’m more concerned with is ethical style, rather than moral content. It’s about how to live, not which moral recipe of society to follow. Nietzsche did emphasize the importance of style over substance – which is little more than clichéd metaphysics.
Whoever is capable of bearing Nietzsche’s advice should turn their lives into work of art. Moral choice is much like a work of art in the sense that neither art nor moral choice are beholden to strict rules.
Then again, there’s a universal character to moral judgments. De Beauvoir claims that an ethics of ambiguity is one where the refusal to deny a priori that separate existents can at the same time be bound to each other and their individual freedoms forge laws valid for all. The importance of that universal absolute end which freedom is.
If freedom is the ultimate value, just as authenticity is the primary virtue, but this isn’t the empty freedom of indifference where anything goes, nor is it the phony freedom of the rule bound “serious man” who hides his freedom under the dictates of society, that torrenting is “wrong” because the creator is not being paid for his work, that the creator owns his creation in every medium. The roots of nihilism is found within the failure of the spirit of seriousness. When I reflect the strict moral categories of religious or philosophical tradition, I’m on the verge of rejecting all ultimate values — that is nihilism.
On the other hand, if I feel the joy of existence & embrace its contingency, I will weather the storm of nihilism left behind by the Death of God.
The content of my choice is freedom itself made concrete by the embrace of its radical contingency & its lack of self coincidence.
Then again, doesn’t this devolve into a style of life? Does it matter what I embrace freely as long as I’m embracing something? If my joyous embrace of my contingency is what authenticity means, then couldn’t someone be an authentic slave trader or authentic racist? The real requirement of anyone’s freedom is that it pursues an open future by seeking to extend itself by means of the freedom of others. In other words my freedom is intensified, not reduced when I strive to expand the freedom of others. My concrete freedom requires that in my choice, I choose the freedom of others. Freedom in this concrete sense means the pursuit of of the open future of others. Therefore, it would be inauthentic to force others into slavery or oppression; a freedom wills itself authentically only by willing itself as an indefinite movement through the freedom of others. The pirate pursues the open future of others by sharing electronic media, making it available through direct downloads or bit torrents, or shared folders in the cloud. The pirate is an existentialist, because he chooses freedom by sharing e-copies he ripped for everyone to access, and everyone else is free to participate or not.
Although existential authenticity has a content, i.e., the willing of freedom both of oneself and for all others, the meaning of that freedom remains to be analyzed.