E Pluribus Unum
Friday, June 27, 1997 by Dave Winer.
It's a song from childhood!
It's a world of laughter, a world of tears, a world of hopes and a world of fears. There's just one moon, and just one sun, a smile means friendship to everyone. The oceans are wide and the mountains divide, but it's still a small world.
The laws of one country are just the laws of one country. In the U.S. we often think the world revolves around us, but actually a very small percentage of the Earth's people live within our borders.
Human rights, including free speech, belong to all of Earth's people, not to the governments. We are shocked when the Chinese government attacks their own people in Tiannamen Square, but we do it to ourselves.
In the United States we have three branches of government. They must obey a set of rules called The Constitution, which is interpreted by the only non-elected branch of government, the Supreme Court. They are appointed by the President and ratified by Congress, but after that they answer to no one, they can't be voted out of office, they don't stand for re-election.
The court's job is to stop the legislative and executive branches of government from violating the Constitution. Theoretically the court shouldn't be necessary because all government officials swear an oath to uphold the Constitution, but sometimes it doesn't work that way.
The court is a good thing, as we found out this week. It protects us from our elected officials, and in doing so protects us from ourselves.
I'd like to thank the U.S. Supreme Court for reaffirming our right to free speech no matter what medium we choose to communicate in.
It was kind of a no-brainer, after all the first Amendment to the Constitution clearly prohibits Congress from establishing laws that abridge free speech. The CDA clearly did abridge free speech. There are so many lawyers in Washington -- they must have seen the problem. What was going on there? And what can we learn from this experience?
I see one important lesson. Congress passed the CDA and Clinton signed it because we wanted them to. If we didn't want censorship, it wouldn't have happened. E pluribus unum.
We have representative government, we elect the president and the Congress. They belong to us, they reflect us. If we vote for someone else, in next election we become something else. They want to get re-elected, and we fear change, so they're constantly refining their positions to echo our complaints, thinking in four year intervals, saying and doing things that will get them re-elected.
Change happens anyway. But along the way, if our politicians echo our fears, we're satisfied. That's where we stop. We sign up for four more years. That's where we're weak.
You can't trust the politicians. A common belief. But what if we made trustworthiness an issue? Not just at a superficial level, but at a real level. If I had my way, human rights would be a top trust-me issue in every election. How did you vote on the CDA? I'd like my politicians to have substantial fear next time they're asked to vote to abridge free speech.
The web is a free medium. Could we use the web to revolutionize the political system in the United States? Technologically it's totally within our grasp. Could we somehow get our fellow citizens to care about freedom? That's the real challenge.
No doubt there will be other media in the future, just as fear-evoking as the web was in 1995 when the CDA was conceived. So what can we do to avoid CDA-like legislation when that happens?
I think it's simple. Let's take advantage of our new freedom by producing some really great websites! Let's learn from the experience. Let's work together, solve problems together, link our voices, share the flow, be powerful.
Zooooming back to the high tech media business, a place where I live, I listen as U.S. Vice-President Al Gore shows up in more and more conversations.
He's cultivating a relationship with our industry. After the Prop 211 threat in the last election, California financiers made it a high priority to cultivate relationships with U.S. political leaders. It's a two-way thing. This is not the last time political realities will be applied to electronic media.
A few DaveNet readers meet regularly with Gore. If you want to help, tell him that you've heard that free speech is very important to people who use the Internet.
PS: E pluribus unum is the motto of the U.S. Translated from Latin it means Out of many, one.