Can't We All Get Along: Principles Over Policy; Ideas Over Ideology

from the the-declaration-is-a-process dept

It's been really fantastic to see what's happened in the last week, since the Declaration of Internet Freedom was announced, leading to widespread discussion online (and lots of individuals and organizations signing on to support it). There was a ton of press coverage, and plenty of valuable feedback and thoughts.

I did want to respond to one of the most common criticisms I've been seeing: some are complaining that the principles are "too vague" and an awful lot of people seem upset that their specific policy goal isn't there. For example, the Declaration makes no mention of copyright or patent reform, and this has some people upset. Others are upset in the other direction, claiming that a lack of mention of copyright means that this document is really just a nefarious "specter" seeking to do away with copyright entirely. Meanwhile, others have looked at some of the groups involved, and because those groups have espoused a different political ideology in the past, assumed that this document is really a "secret" plan to put in place a preferred system of government.

So I want to clarify what some of the thinking was here, and why these criticisms are misguided. Those of us who put out the document should certainly take the blame for not necessarily explaining all of this upfront, but there's only so much explaining you can do.

Principles, Not Policy

Pretty early on in the discussion over this document, it was decided that we needed to focus on higher level principles, and not policy. This is the part that I think is confusing people the most. They think that this document is a policy document or that it's supposed to directly lead us to a specific policy. It is not. The document is the starting point in a process that we hope will bring more people together. This is a discussion. And rather than start at the end, we sought to put together some broad principles, and see if we could get most people to agree to them. If we focus on the principles first, and have a common understanding, we can move towards a more practical discussion. Too often, the fights over policy have little to do with principle, but rather are focused on "who benefits the most" or "why is this good for me." Part of the goal of this document was to get people to stop, take a step back and say "let's look at the fundamental principles."

Some have complained that the principles are too broad -- or even that nobody could possibly disagree with them (amusingly, those messages seem to come in at the same time as ones that do vehemently disagree with them). Indeed, the principles are broad, but that's on purpose. Again, the idea was to set forth the basic principles that we can get the majority of the world to agree on, because that opens up the possibility of moving forward based on principle, rather than on pet-project ambition or direct personal gain. So, yes, they're broad, and yes many people will agree with them. That's the point. The goal is to frame the discussion in a useful manner, and you don't do that by demanding something that most people don't agree with.

Ideas, Not Ideology:

The people who put this document together represent a very, very broad coalition, with many different viewpoints, political persuasions, geographic worldviews, etc. This was by design. The idea was to transcend silly and wasteful partisan bickering, and focus on these core principles to which the ideas matter, not the ideology. One of the most disappointing responses to this was that some people (including some who I consider friends) have tried to shift this into an ideological dispute, suggesting incorrectly that these principles were really all about one political ideology dominating, just because a small fraction of the coalition has, in the past, been associated with that ideology.

Unfortunately, all this is doing is taking a non-ideological, non-partisan (or even post-partisan) effort to get beyond silly partisan bickering... and trying to drag it back down into such a useless muck. This is a shame.

We have a chance here to move forward, together, as a wider internet community, and discuss a variety of ideas based on their merits, not based on "your team" winning. This isn't about any particular team, which is why we built such a broad coalition. This was about what is best for this thing that we all rely on: the internet.

Can't We All Get Along?

I know that this won't satisfy everyone. And others will complain that the principles still are too broad and too vague and don't mention their pet policy issue. But this is a process, not an end product. No one involved in the coalition that put this document together thinks that we (individually, or as a group) can speak for the world. What we wanted was a starting point for a wider discussion -- one that wasn't based on ideology or partisan bickering. We wanted something that started a discussion about actual ideas and principles and the question of what is really best for the internet and all its citizens.

And, from there, a discussion should ensue, with more milestones down the road. Many of us are already talking about the next steps in this process -- and, no, it's not about policy recommendations or specific political parties or ideology. It's about getting more people thinking and engaging and discussing.

To me, personally, that seems like a laudable goal. And I hope others think so too.

Filed Under: declaration of internet freedom, internet policy, transparency

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jul 2012 @ 12:20pm

    Re: Re: Head Scratching

    "A small group of copyright maximalists have been going around claiming that supporting the "don't censor the internet" principle, means that you support child porn."

    Oh tee-hee snicker. You think that's all there is?

    Man, are you out of touch.

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