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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Freedom of Information Part Two


Theoretical Basis for Freedom of Information (FOI)

Many people subscribe to the Hobbesian view of a social contract that exists only because Man has created it; the rights to life and liberty are not absolute moral standards, but pragmatic agreements made by man for his continued peaceful existence. Perhaps I give Hobbes too little credit. At any rate, if you deny the existence of absolute moral standards, Part Three will cover the practical benefits of FOI. I suppose at some point the FOI will require a constitutional amendment or the overthrow of the current world order or somesuch. This section covers the reasoning behind FOI from a more Lockean social contract, as well as from a solipsist standpoint.

Solipsist Model

I think therefore I am. Not much more than this can be known with certainty, but in practice we must assume that the evidence of our senses is mostly true. Perhaps the whole world is an elaborate illusion, but then what is reality? Is reality perception? Does it matter? Even if it is not and it does, there's not really anything to be done about it.

So we assume the world is real. I assume that you exist, and I assume you do me the same courtesy. I know that I prefer not to be killed or tortured. I know that whatever action I take, I take of my own volition. Of course I may get a job at Burger King out of necessity, but that is still my choice. Most people want to live, and they all want to do what they want to do. These things are obvious. Really, "living" can be rolled into the category of "desired actions." It is merely the prerequisite for the rest of them. Conversely, death is irreversible and ends all other liberties.

Life and liberty are therefore desireable, and can even be considered one and the same thing, for without life there is no desire, and no entity to feel desire. Desire doesn't necessarily make these things "rights." I may desire to live in a bubble on the moon, or to kill my neighbor for his cattle, but these things are not rights. Why?

Life and liberty are "negative." If I existed in a vacuum, alone, I would have them by default. No one else would exist to take them away. However, if I live alone in a vacuum, or even if I am contained within a walnut shell and mistakenly count myself king of infinite space, I will still not possess my neighbor's cattle, or live upon the moon, or drink sparkling wine all I want. These are "positive" things that I may or may not gain.

We are all kings of infinite space, wherein we possess life and liberty aplenty, until our walnut shells bump against each others'. It seems reasonable therefore that we have the right to continue to enjoy life and liberty as much as we please, so long as we don't bother anyone else in doing so. This is the well known doctrine that underlies Western Civilisation, although not oll westerners embrace the solipsist perspective. Pity for them.

FOI states that the individual has the right to know whatever he wants as long as he doesn't violate any of the other rights in the process of obtaining the information.

That's a standard disclaimer. If I picture myself again, floating in a dark space by myself, with no body or senses, what do I have? I have my life (I think therefore I am). I have the ability to do whatever I can do, as obvious and self-proving as that is. I also have this train of thought, which I remember. Further, I have the perception that I am sitting in front of a computer, that I am warm, that I have read about natural rights in the past. I have my memory of these things, although I cannot be sure of whether I really experienced them or whether the experiences were "real" at the time.

Therefore, I have information. I have a steadily increasing pile of memories of perceptions and memories of my thoughts. Even if I exist only for one brief instant, and all my memories are contrived and fed to me to deceive me, I still have the perception of those memories.

I belabor this point because I know that 2 + 2 = 4, and someone would say it was 5 if it suited their beliefs. People reject knowledge that runs counter to what they already believe. And yet, the more I write, the more handles there are for someone to seize on and attempt to muddle the issue. Of course, they won't do so until Part Three, when the logical conclusion comes. I am only so redundant to make it shamefully obvious to Heaven and Earth when the partisans eventually attack me.

So, in a vacuum, I have existence, freedom, and perception. Unlike liberty, perception cannot be easily taken away. It is closer to a law of nature than a law of man. Even a photon can be disturbed and forever imprinted with information by its interaction with the universe.

I have perception, and it cannot be taken away; my knowledge harms no one, and is not even noticeable to anyone else unless I divulge it; I can think about it, and no one can stop me without death or its equivalent, or know that I am thinking or what I am thinking; I have liberty, the right to do as I please as long as it infringes no one else, and I please to think; thought is the one activity that cannot directly hurt anyone.

Therefore, as certainly as or moreso than any other right, I have the right to know what I want to know.

Social Contract Model

Thought doesn't hurt anyone, and indeed the social contract is itself knowledge. Intelligence raised men from the beasts and created the social contract; knowledge of its ramifications is needed to follow the social contract.

It isn't yet known whether an individual can know every aspect of the social contract; until all the depths of knowledge are fully plumbed, philosophy must continue in the effort to make sure that one is not inadvertently breaking the contract or hindering it. It is impossible to know where a line of reasoning will lead until it is ended, and so any reasoning may be pertinent; for that reason, there can be no restriction on thought, because such a restriction might cause the contract to be broken.

Knowledge is not a scarce commodity; taking some does not reduce the supply and therefore hinders no one. Knowledge cannot hurt anyone unless some other violation of the contract has occurred; then knowledge could aid in the commission, detection, blackmail, or punishment of a crime. In itself it is nothing.

The social contract is not that airtight, in my opinion, but I think I've proven my modest point well enough for a blog post. Part Three is forthcoming, and it is the interesting one.


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