Why should not everyone be able to use all the available knowledge that humans have created?
|January 31, 2013|
Since the sad death of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, there has been a lot of discussion of the extent to which the criminal prosecution hanging over him contributed to his suicide. Some have pointed their fingers at MIT, suggesting that, by failing to waive its complaint against him for using its network to download files, the university bears some responsibility for his suicide. MIT has now set up an internal investigation. The prospect of a felony conviction and a prison sentence would be enough to make anyone think that his or her life is effectively over. For a young and exceptionally talented person who acted from noble motives, the idea of going to prison must have been even more shattering, and the depression from which he suffered would have magnified its impact in ways that those of us fortunate enough not to have experienced that condition cannot fully imagine.
The fact that JSTOR has made millions of documents freely available, after Swartz had downloaded them, shows that his actions have had what many people—perhaps to some extent even JSTOR, which after all is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to scholarly publications—believe to be a public benefit. Thousands of researchers are currently putting all of their downloaded PDF files online, often in breach of copyright, as a tribute to Swartz.
There is no doubt that we should improve access to scientific resources, and the Internet makes it almost inevitable that this will happen. The only question is when. As Lawrence Lessig argues, this is knowledge paid for in large part by our taxes. More important still, in the long run, will be raising the level of general access to information throughout the world. The price now asked for a single journal article is equivalent to a month’s earnings in many countries. The Internet makes the ancient dream of a universal library possible. Why should not everyone, anywhere in the world, be able to use, without charge, all the available knowledge that humans have created?
Inherent Vice’s Two Directions
The jokes certainly strike one as sophomoric and the latter one as clichéd, further below Pynchon’s intelligence than one would like to think he would stoop, at least in print. Discounting them and moving on, or throwing the book across the room as Parker half implies we should do, however, would be to lose sight of “that high magic to low puns”.
Auden, Larkin and Love
I was prompted to revisit these ancient questions anew by a long footnote about a single line in the new Complete Poems edition of Philip Larkin’s poetry. The footnote refers to “An Arundel Tomb” contains a provocative remark about that the poem’s celebrated, controversial, closing line, the one about the true nature of immortality: “What will survive of us is love.”
Plato, Our Comrade?
Not surprisingly, there have already been critics of Badiou’s translation. The first is that his translation breaks the formal rules of translation to such a degree that the original meaning of the text has lost its significance. But this critique is inadequate at face value because Badiou’s hyper-translation is forthright in its intention of taking Plato’s concepts and modifying them into his own lexicon.