Why Do We Pay for Netflix?

One of the most common arguments one hears from proponents of Intellectual Property laws, besides the claim that creators have a “right” to a legal monopoly over the fruits of their labor, is that IP laws are a necessary evil without which creators would have little incentive to create.  A professor of mine once told me that IP is necessary because we no longer have an aristocracy to patronize the arts (Catholic university professors are always primitivists of some kind).  What are we to make of this argument, that IP is the only way to incentivize creativity?

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Of course, it is always helpful to point out that IP did not exist until very recently in human history, and creators (including artists, inventors, programmers, designers, pharmaceutical companies, cooks, etc.) have always done reasonably well.  Certainly IP does not guarantee success, as the sad histories of impoverished artists of the 19th and 20th centuries should indicate.  But, that was then, and this is now.  Things may have changed.

You should see the looks on the faces of my fellow filmmakers when I tell them that since a film is an abstract idea in the mind assembled from a specific arrangement of light and sound waves and therefore infinitely reproducible and therefore non-scarce and therefore not legitimate property, and that this means one has no right to a legal monopoly over a film’s copying, reproduction, dissemination, or revenue.  They are baffled that I, a starving artist like themselves, should sell myself out in such a manner.  “How will you make money, then?”  I respond with another, somewhat cheeky question.  “Why do people pay for Netflix?”

This is a common issue one faces when discussing the ideas of liberty with people.  They are so used to the way things are and always have been that they cannot imagine it being any different.  Probably the most oft-parodied and widely mocked iteration of this impulsive fear of the unknown is that time-honored question, “But without government, who would build the roads?”  (On the internet we call this the “Muh Roads” argument)

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Libertarians love to mock this question, but it is a legitimate fear that many people have.  Despite all the evidence to the contrary, many people still cannot just trust that the market will allocate resources efficiently to as many people as possible.  Of course, the market is always surprising us.  When Napster threatened the music industry’s monopoly on the dissemination of music, the IP evangelists asked the State to intervene because, of course, without control of the distribution of their product how could they possibly make money?  Napster was shut down, but Pandora’s box was opened.  Positively NOBODY pays for music anymore.  Services like Spotify and Pandora distribute free music to everyone, every song is uploaded to YouTube.  Who even bothers with iTunes anymore?  $1.99 for a song?  Preposterous!

And yet amazingly, the music industry did not collapse.  They simply had to adapt to innovation just like every industry does.  Now artists make most of their money from live shows.  This is competition.  This is the free market at work.  Have you noticed how much better and more artistic popular music has gotten in the last ten years?  That’s because in order to make money off of concerts, you have to be really really good.  The rising importance of live music also grants more autonomy to the musicians, rather than control to the studios and marketers, and the artists can therefore be more true to their artistic vision.

Which brings us back to: WHY DO WE PAY FOR NETFLIX?

To be honest, I don’t really have an answer, but follow me here.  Unless one actually works in the entertainment industry (i.e., must be sensitive about “stealing” people’s ideas), IP is dead.  Despite the studios’ efforts to destroy unauthorized copies of their products, for the average person, there is no especially logical reason to ever pay to watch a movie or TV show again.  Case in point: a great software called PopcornTime.  PopcornTime is a vaguely illegal torrenting service which offers copies of films and TV shows for absolutely free.  All one need to do is download the file.  Because PopcornTime is peer-to-peer and (obviously) doesn’t have contracts with studios and filmmakers the way Netflix does, virtually every movie or TV show you could possibly want has been uploaded.  And if PopcornTime doesn’t have what you’re looking for, some other equivalent service will.  If you know what you’re doing you can hunt down the individual torrents yourself.  So the question remains, why on earth do people still pay for Netflix?

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Almost everyone I know who uses PopcornTime also uses Netflix (myself among them).  I know for me personally, I prefer to watch movies and TV shows on a large screen and not on my laptop or desktop computer.  However, all I would need to make PopcornTime play on my television is an HDMI cord.  Maybe it’s because the internet seems to work faster on Netflix than on PopcornTime, though certainly this is a problem time and innovation will erase.  This issue raises the question, why does anybody pay to go to the movies still?  Why do I still find myself buying DVDs and Blu-rays?  What exactly are they selling me that torrents aren’t?

You see, there is much more to a product than the product itself (in the case of movies, an arrangement of light and sound).  There is the experience of the product on the part of the consumer, brand recognition, etc.  The destruction of IP affects none of these auxiliary properties of any creative product (and, according to my recent examination of conscience, I am inclined to believe that these things may be more important than the product itself as far as the price system is concerned).  When I go to the drug store, I am always more inclined to buy the name brand drug instead of the generic, even though the generic is the exact same concoction at a lower price.  When I’m driving through the boonies, I’m more inclined to go to Shell or Chevron than Smokey Joe’s Gas Barn.  I will always drink bottled water instead of filtered tap.  Why?  I haven’t the foggiest.  It’s probably irrational, but profits care not for my lack of self-awareness.

My point in all of this is: to all proponents of IP and all fearful artists – stop worrying.  You will not be penniless.  If you are creating something good, someone will value it and pay you for it.  The market will not leave you destitute.  It is up to you, not the consumer, either to make your product scarce or to offer some premium experience that the knock-offs and the remixes cannot.  Stop expecting the State to come along and do your job for you.  Not to fear.  The world will be freer, and you will be a better artist for it.

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Black Friday is for the Poor

I went to a Daily Mass on Black Friday this year.  The priest didn’t waste too much time with the homily, but he made a few comments about Thanksgiving and a statement about Black Friday which I found hopefully refreshing.  He said, “This is a day for the poor.”  Of course he’s right, but how often do we think of Black Friday in those terms?

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Black Friday is truly one of the most beautiful examples of capitalism we have around these days.  It’s a day when everyone gets richer.  The producers get richer because more people are buying their wonderful products, and the consumers get richer because they both come into possession of something they greatly value and because they save a little of their hard earned money in the process.  This is what capitalism is all about: mutual enrichment through mutual gift-giving.

Judging by his accent and the color of his skin, this priest is almost certainly an immigrant from a very poor country.  He definitely understands poverty, and the fact that he sees something charitable and Christian in a day so often sneered at by Catholics for its apparent celebration of consumerism and materialism is extremely refreshing.  The truth is Black Friday benefits the poor and the working class most of all.  The rich don’t need a discount.  They buy what they want regardless of the price.  But Black Friday is a day when the fruits of our labor are more abundant and more available for more people.  Think about this next time you mock some single mother of food stamps for getting her ass beaten in a stampede while trying to get a discount Christmas present for her children.  It’s brutal, but it’s also a glorious celebration of the humanitarian implications of the free market.

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It’s very easy for people to sit back on Black Friday and exempt themselves from the rat race, to hold themselves above all those plebs scrambling for a television at half-price.  The miserable Marxist lefties, and regrettably some of my more primitivist an-cap and agorist brethren, like to tsk tsk at these people for being so foolish as to think “useless junk” like TVs and children’s toys and gaming consoles are worth such revelries.  This is the great tragedy of the political philosopher, who thinks he knows what’s best for everyone.  “You don’t really need that TV, you don’t really need that new pair of shoes.”  To these people I say, get off your morally superior high horse.  Who are you to say what people need and don’t need?  That is the beauty of voluntaryism and capitalism: nobody has to know or judge what’s best for everyone else.  In a truly free market, free from government coercion and cronyism, everyone is able to allocate for themselves what resources, goods, and services they deem most valuable and essential.

Mostly we think of Black Friday as a day of crass consumerism, of greed, and irrational attachment to material goods.  But just look how good life is.  The free market has yielded a surplus unthinkable to even the richest members of society as recent as two hundred years ago.  So stop judging and start consuming, you commie bastards!

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“OKAY.” (Short Film) 2016

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DIE STILLE (Short Film) 2016

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Removing the Scales: My Journey to Anarchism

While all my friends and acquaintances are lighting themselves on fire and bewailing the current political climate of our nation, I remain peaceful and serene in the knowledge that I am a free human person, created in the image and likeness of God.  It’s amazing how eager we are to forget this.  No matter how much others try to dehumanize you, you remain human.  No matter how much the government, the nation-state, your parents, your teachers, yes even your priests, try to enslave you mentally, financially, and physically, you remain objectively a free individual.  It’s so sad how many of us forget this, or seem never to have learned it in the first place.  That is the essence of anarchy – the knowledge and ownership (and exercise) of your own freedom, not political action and revolution.  However helpful and valuable those maybe, they are fleeting and of this world.  The elect will be free forever.  The damned are slaves to themselves.  Don’t enslave yourself.

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Funny how the people who claim to hate politics and politicians are always the first in line to vote.

It’s not always easy to look back and see the clear evolution of your thoughts.  I know I got here somehow, but the way back is not always clear.  When did I become an anarchist?  Depends on how you define that term.  I suspect it all began during my process of conversion to Catholicism.  Catholicism is to the human person what sunlight is to earth.  There is very little not affected by it.  The process of becoming Catholic is not just a little change in worldview, or a shift merely in theology and the spiritual life.  Like the name implies, it is a radical overhaul of the whole person.  It affects not just your religious life, but also what books you read, what movies you watch, what you say and do, even how you wake up in the morning.  Certainly politics is not safe from the Catholic onslaught of change.

I guess I was raised a Neo-Con.  I was born in 1996, but I have an unusually long and vivid memory.  I actually do remember the 2000 presidential campaign.  I remember how much of a faggot Al Gore was.  I remember his rather inglorious loss.  I remember how great everyone thought that Good Ol’ Texas Boy G Dubya was.  I remember 9/11, and the invasion of Iraq (though strangely not the invasion of Afghanistan).  Like most late millennials, my entire life has been overshadowed by the threat of terror and the solutions of the Zionist Neo-Cons.  For as liberal as President Obama pretends to be most of the time, he has largely continued the Bush administration’s devotion to foreign invasions, preemptive wars, and mass surveillance.

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Neo-Conservatism has been one of the most destructive ideologies of modern times.  And I think my conversion to Catholicism forced me to acknowledge this and look for alternatives.  Catholicism’s nearly dogmatic love of and concern for the poor, and championing of the dignity of labor, initially pushed me toward center-left Big Gubmintism.  Note to all libertarians, especially the Catholics among us, most people really mean well.  They don’t want to be apologists for theft and murder.  Especially those who drift left are motivated by compassion and concern for their fellow men.  The change finally began in me when I realized that government doesn’t do any of the great things we’re told it will.  It doesn’t help the poor.  It doesn’t bust up monopolies.  It doesn’t keep us safe.  It doesn’t make healthcare universal.  It’s all a sham.  All a lie.

So I began looking into Catholic Social Teaching.  There is much in our rich tradition that is worthy of reverence in this regard.  I, like many, went through my Rerum Novarum phase.  My love for Tolkien and My Little Pony led me to flirt with Distributism, an ideology I still have quite a bit of fondness for.  Honestly, I think my move to straight up anarchism, anarcho-capitalism, was instigated by Mr. Jeffrey Tucker.  I knew of Tucker from an episode of Catholic Answers Live on Liturgical music.  I had no idea at the time that he was a radical free market libertarian.  When I discovered his wonderfully optimistic and idealistic outlook on life, his love of the market and pop culture, I was sold.

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Everyone thinks libertarians are just these sad, miserly, prophets of doom.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Anarchy is about freeing your mind.  About opting out as much as possible of the things that enslave us.  It’s seeing the beauty in non-coercive human relationships and interactions.  Today I discovered two fantastic apps.  For all these nay-sayers who don’t believe freedom actually works, here is your real, practical answer.  There is Gyft, a service which allows you to electronically buy, store, and use gift cards for hundreds of American retailers using Bitcoin technology.  And then there is Purse.io, specifically designed for Bitcoin users making purchases on Amazon.  This last app is so beautiful and simple.  Individuals buy products on Amazon for other people in exchange for Bitcoin.  It is collaborative, it is peaceful, it is mutually enriching.  It is an agorist’s dream that shows the beauty of human cooperation and allows folks to opt out of the State and its currency.

I visited a Farmers Market, too, another example of the same.  Anarchy and capitalism are all about love.  About making all of our lives better.  About seizing the freedom that is already ours.  Forget the theories and complex sociology and BS politics that our rulers are constantly trying to involve us in.  Forget this stupid presidential race and BE FREE!

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