The proposed EU regulation of blogs and other forms of Internet speech being suggested by the Council of Europe (a quasi-governmental think-tank whose views have inordinate sway with the EU’s policy making elite) is very revealing about what lies at the heart of The Great European Project.
Steven Den Beste has written a rather good article on why the press is treated differently than broadcast media which use the finite resource of the electromagnetic spectrum. One can argue that as the EM spectrum is finite, it is reasonable to share out its use and as clearly not everyone can set up a radio or TV station, some rules to prevent the use of the media from becoming over mighty are justified. This is not quite how I see that issue myself but the contention is far from absurd.
One can even make the far less supportable assertion that because in reality setting up a newspaper is far beyond the means of most people simply because it is so expensive, the state should regulate the press, at least to some extent. Not surprisingly I flatly reject this notion and think the only defence individuals need against the established press are laws against libel. However the thinking behind this sort of regulation is at least easy to understand and can, if you accept the state as an essentially benevolent neutral institution (which I certainly do not), be seen as a way to prevent abuses of power by an over-mighty media corporation given the vast asymmetry of access to public opinion between a newspaper and an individual.
But when the Council of Europe start urging the EU to regulate blogs like this one, it should be clear that none of the arguments which can be applied to broadcast media and or the press apply here. As I mentioned in my previous article on this issue, if you have a cheap computer and a crummy modem, it still only takes about five minutes and no money whatsoever beyond your dial-up or broadband connection charges to set up a blog. There is no asymmetry of access to the public involved here. Granted, setting up an effective blog is another issue entirely, but simply getting viewable grievances in front of blogosphere eyeballs is simplicity itself.
So if anyone can set up a blog, and there is no finite resource in need of being allocated ‘fairly’ and there are no de facto capital related barriers to ‘market’ entry, what are we to make of this Council of Europe proposal to regulate us? If I had to pick a single word to describe the root of this move to intermediate the state between on-line free speech and on-line readers, it would be Communitarianism. The notion at work here is much the same as that which I discussed when I rebutted Peter Hain’s ideas for a totally political ‘society’. If I write something and plonk it on the Internet, I cannot compel someone else to read it just as they could not have compelled me to write it in the first place. Yet the notion of a freely offered opinion via an almost universally available medium and a freely choosing reader assumes that individual choice (mine as writer and yours as reader), rather than some collective political will, is an acceptable basis for social interaction.
What the people at The Council of Europe find so offensive is that this simple process (I decide to write, you decide to read (or not)) is totally non-political. If you read my article and decide to leave a comment, and I decide to delete that comment, and you then decide to start your own blog to decry the things I write, where is the ‘political community’ in all this? Nowhere of course, because the actions described are purely social. There is no use of the collective means of coercion by either me nor the disgruntled reader. You do not get a vote on what I write and I do not get a vote on what you read… and if you start up a blog of your own to criticise me, I do not get a vote on what you write either and if I leave comments on your blog pointing out the errors of you ways, you can delete them if you choose to.
The understanding that civil society (the several actions of affinity and dis-affinity) and the political sphere (the control the collective means of coercion) are materially different is hardly a new observation. Yet it is the refusal to accept this by people who see force (politics) as the only legitimate means of interaction which lies at the heart of attempts to legally impose certain forms on how people express views on the Internet. It is not about enabling wrongs to be righted, or giving voice to the voiceless, or sharing the means of expression. As blogs are more or less free to set up and the Internet has essentially infinite in capacity to support them, that argument is simply a bare faced lie. This proposed regulation is just a particularly overt example of how the power elite in Europe will not tolerate anything which disintermediates the state because to deny any role for politics in something is to deny them any role. After all, they are not threatening to ban us (provided we comply with their directives), they are just demending we stop acting as social entities, following the customs and manners of the Internet, and start acting as political entities, comporting ourselves according to the politically formats laid out by the superstate’s expresion of what they see as the collective will.
This is because if there is one thing communitarians hates above all, it is being ignored and excluded. A communitarian thinks not only is my business everyone’s business, but the plurality has the right to use political interaction (which means force backed law) to vote on my every action… there is no real ‘private life’ to a communitarian, just a political one. In a quite literal sense, popularity is mandatory: you may only do what a plurality allows you to do.
In a perverse way, this policy proposal by the Council of Europe is almost good news: if they want to go to the effort to regulate us, that means they think we humble bloggers actually matter in the overall scheme of things. Our voices are being heard and the powers-that-be do not much care for the discordant non-state approved tune we are singing. Splendid.
Resistance is not futile. We will not be harmonised.