Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Why of File Sharing

Many of my friends and relatives have asked me this question: Why do these hackers go to such lengths to share copyrighted stuff on the internet?  It puts them at risk of prosecution and nobody from those they benefit ever gets to know of them as individuals.  So why?

One can understand the existence of BitTorrent tracker sites, subtitles search engines, torrent search engines and aggregators.  These sites are all quite commercial, and indulge in all sorts of sorry tactics to make money: redirecting you to other sites, displaying popup ads, stealthily trying to get you to download some software or toolbar, and so on.

One can also understand the motivations of software cracking groups, as many of them include malware and rootkits in the cracked version, and thereby infect computers of unwitting freeloaders.

But why do hackers and hacker groups go to such lengths to secure an early copy of a film and release it free of charge on the world wide web?  Ripping an audio CD is not too much work, but creating a tight, 700MB rip from a BluRay disc or including telesync audio streams takes a lot of patience, skill and effort.  Also, OCR subtitles!

My explanation for the hackers' motivation is this:

They want to feel the joy of doing an altruistic deed. 

Industrialized society offers very limited avenues to indulge one's altruistic tendencies.  Especially for introverts, who don't like to go out of their homes; to do something altruistic from their computer is a real pleasure for their spirits.  Even if they don't get recognized, just for them to secretly know that they have done something which has brought millions of people all over the world a measure of joy or satisfaction is reward enough.

The more the recording industry and law tries to stop them, the more heroic they feel in doing their altruistic deeds.  Overcoming obstacles to help others, and defeating "big evil corporations" and "devious" DRM technology towards a "noble" end must provide them a deep satisfaction.

I call this the Digital Robinhood principle.

Some of their work might benefit roadside stalls in South Asia and elsewhere selling bootleg DVDs or rips, but I'm guessing that the vast majority of their consumers are individuals who download their stuff on their personal computers.

To stop this "piracy" (as the recording industry, rightly or wrongly, likes to call this phenomenon), one has to provide a remedy for the emotional and social disconnect of a great number of skilled, brainy, computer-savvy individuals.  This disconnect makes them want to do something meaningful: something which can help others.

I believe such a remedy is impossible, and therefore online file-sharing will only grow in extent.

Not finding a channel for their altruism which would use their excellent brains, the hackers turn to spending their days and nights ripping and sharing media and software with anonymous gratefuls around the world.

Atheism, Love and Acceptance

The love and acceptance coming from a (imagined) God is unconditional.  In the absence of this acceptance, there is no choice but to accept humanity as the "animal kingdom" of one-up-man-ship.  A close simile is the love from one's parents when one is an infant.

The conception of God, as a priori infallible, is a means of inspiring us to be more than animals.  It is an ideal to whose qualities we can aspire to.

God offers both an idealized sense of virtue, and an acceptance of one's fallibility.

In the absence of an infallible ideal and in the absence of an unconditional self-acceptance, a neurosis of alienation, nihilism, self-mortifying reflection becomes second nature.

The grace that comes from feeling loved makes one lovable.  A hated or self-hating person becomes hateful.

The need for love is the need for acceptance, as well as a need for one to have a reason to keep on living.  Why live when one's living or dying does not make a difference to someone?

In the absence of an irrational anchor, the neo-cortex, the rational brain, the social identity, is called upon to invent or find a rational anchor.

Unconditional real-world love and acceptance is a very tall order.  It is made almost impossible by the fact that commitment, to survive, requires a perceived narrowing of choices.  If the choices are kept open: at-will employment, at-will divorce, at-will engagement with the wider society, at-will cultural identity, then commitment absolutely requires superhuman will.

Without that commitment from you, and to you, how can there be that emotional security that traditionally was provided by God?

Martin Buber titled his landmark work I and Thou.  In the modern times, one has to struggle to move from regarding others as strangers, to finally recognize someone as "you".  But more significantly, in the absence of a secure ego, one has to first come to terms with "I".

One who is already loved, even by an imagined lover, has a healthier, less desperate "I" than one who is seeking love and acceptance with hungry eyes.

People are all hungry for receiving love, but increasingly unable to recognize the other's need of it.  The crushing aloneness in an increasingly competitive world makes one pine for union and rest.  So in need is one of nourishment in oneself that a relationship demanding anything at all feels a burden.  All seeking love, none to provide.

And any conditional love starts with marketing and manipulation.  The manipulation is unconscious in the better cases.  In either case, the realization of the conditional and stressful nature of love dawns sooner or later.  And again therefore, the blues.

The turn to spirituality, or a Guru, in the modern times of Godlessness, can be understood as a thirst for acceptance and love, for that release from the stress of constant competition and marketing of oneself.

The "spirit" is a thirsty being, an un-loved ego.  The harder it aches and pines for its beloved, the harder will be the path it will be willing to walk to seek that mythic union, an experience of oneness, in this world or beyond.

In this desert of parched souls, give the elixir of your love, kindness and compassion, as a balm on the wounds of orphaned infants.


I remember, from Tennyson's In Memoriam, a verse that I have partly quoted before:

Oh yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;

That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroy'd,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;

That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivell'd in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another's gain.

Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last—far off—at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.

So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Debunking the Spiritual

Thanks to "Rajiv", who commented on one of my blog articles about Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, I found this utterly fascinating YouTube video featuring Javed Akhtar saying some hard-hitting words in the very (ahem) divine presence of our very own Sadhguru.

Javed Akhtar's segment is only a few minutes long, and I urge you to listen to him (his segment starts at 6:20).  What a voice of reason!  Unfortunately, the top comments on this YouTube video page are quite vile and uncivil.  If anyone had a doubt about Mr Jaggi Vasudev being a godman, his squirming and impatience (when Mr Akhtar is speaking) betrays the godman's ... human-ness.

Javed Akhtar's remarks about human conceit reminded me of this famous George Carlin performance:

I also could not help but notice the neurotic aggression and arrogance in the body language and intonation of the female anchor, which is, by the way, also supremely present in Deepak Chopra when he debates Sam Harris (among others) in the following video:

Spiritual people are some of the most arrogant when it comes to their beliefs.  They think that anyone critical of them is the devil's messenger, an emissary of mayhem and Maya, and is against love and world peace.  Therefore they feel like they are doing God's work in directing their anger and arrogance at him.

All said, these videos make one ruefully nod at these words by Bertrand Russell:
The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt. Even those of the intelligent who believe that they have a nostrum are too individualistic to combine with other intelligent men from whom they differ on minor points...