Individual Sovereignty, not Self Ownership

As detailed in my previous post “We are information”, I said:

We are increasingly and will eventually entirely *be* information. If we allow ownership of information, we eventually lose ownership of ourselves.

In response, Rafal Smigrodzki objected with the following:

I don’t understand. Shouldn’t it be “If we forbid the ownership of information, and if we are information, then we forbid the ownership of ourselves.”? Without IP we will have, among others, no defense against unauthorized copying of us (i.e. making of slave copies).

This post was my response. (Again, this is all from the exi-chat mailing list):

This is a good, and difficult point that Rafal raises.

Rafal’s position assumes that our human rights derive from property rights (h/t Jeffery Davis). Is that even supportable from a libertarian perspective?

Having a read of this article on self-ownership,, I don’t find myself terribly enlightened. There seems to be a conflation of the idea of self-ownership, and of the sovereign individual, which to me appear to be very different things.

I agree that personal sovereignty is desirable. We should have power over ourselves comparable to a sovereign state over its territory (putting aside our feelings about sovereign states for the minute). But, self ownership implies the ability to sell oneself. Does sovereignty require that? Does the rights-based-in-property-rights position require the ability to sell oneself into slavery?

I don’t want people to have to deconstruct my position here, so I need to state a fundamental principle which I hold, that I don’t think libertarians hold, and it is that of asymmetric power relations. Simply, i think we are always in a situation where power is distributed unevenly (in many more or less intertwined pareto distributions, no?) and that, unfettered, those with more power will impose their will on those with less. Our social world is an uneven playing field par excellence. To not take this into account is to build a theory naive to the real world.

I think the libertarian idea that we can begin with property rights and derive everything else from them is elegant, but doesn’t work (from a utilitarian point of view), largely because of its parsimony. It is too simple, and ignores power.

I tend much more toward rule utilitarianism. I think we need to enforce a set of more or less inviolable rules that safeguard some basic rights of individuals, directly; these are human rights which together comprise basic individual sovereignty, and whose purpose is to protect the individual from others with more power who would otherwise oppress that individual (violate their sovereignty). Part of that protection is actually to deny individuals the ability to sell themselves into slavery! More precisely, I would say that there should be no ability to enforce a contract that includes servitude of one party to another. Probably many human rights can be framed in terms of classes of unenforceable contracts.

I flat out deny that in a landscape of strongly asymmetrical power relations, we can simply assume that all contracts are entered into freely. Those with more power will coerce those with less power, in myriad ways, into contracts which run counter to the interests of the less powerful party. This is the very nature of power, it is what it means to have power. Even when more powerful parties don’t exercise their power, it still warps the landscape, it is still apparent to the less powerful party and constrains their actions. For example, anyone in a management position should go ask an underling if they think the manager is doing a good job; do you get an honest answer, or a political answer?

So back to the matter at hand, I hold sovereignty over the self as basic, not derived from property rights. I don’t have to “own” myself to not be enslaveable; rather, it should be impossible for me to enter into a binding contract which causes me to be enslaved, and the state or other equivalent holder of a monopoly on force should intervene on my behalf should I find myself enslaved. Similarly with other breaches of individual sovereignty.

So then what of digital copies of uploads? This will depend very strongly on the legal status of a copy. Is it someone else, or is it me? If it is me, then copies made by another party of me, without all of my preexisting copies’ consent and that new copy’s consent, is a breach of my individual sovereignty and action must be taken if I will it, and there is no prior agreement into which I (or my copies) can enter which will change that fact. On the other hand, if the copy is a new person, then the same considerations apply, but only regarding the sovereignty of the copy; I (the original) have no say in the matter (although sovereignty over reproduction might be covered by basic human rights).

Copyright should not apply to copies of oneself, it makes no sense. Even though you are your pattern, are you the creator of your pattern? Not really. It is created by, what, evolution + the transformations imposed by the technical process of uploading + the cultural environment in which you exist + some input by you, but only in a very indirect way. We are not The Lord who mysteriously created Himself ūüôā . We are not our own creative work in the sense copyright would require.

But we do have an expectation of individual sovereignty. This should obtain for any sentient (feeling) creature, be it animal or machine, created or evolved. Individual sovereignty is sufficient to guard our freedom in a world where we are information, I believe.

We are increasingly and will eventually entirely *be*
>>> information. If
>>> we allow ownership of information, we eventually lose
>>> ownership of
>>> ourselves.
Individual Sovereignty, not Self Ownership

We are information

This is a post from the exi-chat email list. Spike wanted to get a discussion going on IP. I didn’t want to go over old ground, and others seemed happy to, so I came up with this argument instead which should particularly resonate with the transhumanist perspective, and which I’ve not read explicitly laid out anywhere before.

On 4 March 2010 03:37, spike <> wrote:
> I will start it: I now think that society is justified in
> providing a legal means of protecting information as
> property; in most cases current intellectual property
> law is adequate and not overly restrictive.  I recognize
> there are absurdities with protocol patenting, but I
> don’t see a¬†better way.
> Your turn.
> spike

I’m firmly on the free side. I see that people have already made a lot of the standard arguments against intellectual property, good work.

I want to offer a longer perspective, a perspective of the playing out of the 21st century.

The short version:
We are increasingly and will eventually entirely *be* information. If we allow ownership of information, we eventually lose sovereignty over ourselves.

The long version:
I think we can probably more or less agree that information and information systems aren’t going to become any less important as the century wears on. Particularly, more and more of the infrastructure of our lives is going to be made out of information. We’re not going to become less dependent on the global network(s) (in fact clearly we will become very much more dependent, very quickly). For individuals, increasingly all our communications, our purchases, our entertainments, are reliant on the extended internet, and will share the fundamental properties of information; particularly, endless reproduction in full fidelity for a price approaching zero. As time
wears on, the bricks & mortar world is going to be increasingly drawn into this, as we gain the ability to “print out” physical objects (and food? clothing? etc etc). And, we will become increasingly dependent on technologies based in massive, ongoing data collection and interpretation (eg: healthcare must go this way). Will we eventually teleport via copying ourselves across the internet? Will we eventually upload ourselves? Before that, our entire social identity will be embedded firmly in the infosphere and at its mercy.

In that context, a regime of intellectual property ownership and restriction is intensely political. What is at stake is our ability as individuals to live freely in the world, nothing less than that.

Right now, we are seeing books begin their inexorable move into virtual space, and what we see is massive restriction. If you’re using a Kindle, you can no longer resell your books, lend them to others, or anything else that relies on the principle of first sale. Furthermore, you cannot do the simple and clearly valuable things that should just be a feature of the environment; transfer them to any other computing device as determined by you, process and transform them as you like (as you could a text file). Now this sucks, and drives a lot of people crazy, but hey, we’re not really losing anything that we could do before.

However, as we become more dependent on technologies that render everything into information, the ramifications of this kind of closed, locked up approach to information (information as carefully managed real-world object analogues) will begin to really cause serious issues to individuals. What happens when your social network is based in a closed, owned environment, and those with power decide to change things to your detriment (eg: lock you out)? This already happens in
the social networking sphere, and for some people real damage (to relationships) occurs. What happens when your health care is based in massive (lifelong) ongoing data collection & mining, but the formats and software used to store and work with that data (or even the data itself) can be owned, and the people that own it decide to act against your interests (eg: legally restricting you from taking that data elsewhere, legally restricting you from using that data in a way that they don’t approve of)? What about if our material needs (food, clothing, etc) become dependent on the information infrastructure, closed and restricted, and people who own it decide to act against your interests, so you find you can’t eat?

What if you are physically and/or mentally augmented, but all your augmentations are based in closed owned information controlled by people who decide to act against your interests (do you want to have to jail-break your metacortex)? What if your lifespan is now augmented beyond what should have “naturally” occurred, but relies on ongoing intervention (implants? monitoring? etc) which is entirely proprietary, such that you cannot change provider? What if you are an upload, and find that not only is the environment you live in privately owned and controlled, not only is your personal data format proprietary, but the data, the pattern which comprises you, is entirely owned by someone else? What if stepping through that teleporter renders you, as a side effect, property of a corporation? This sounds far fetched, but you just have to look at the battle over the ownership of genomic information to see that we are on that trajectory.

Transhumanism, from a social individual point of view, to me, is about morphological freedom. It is about establishing the freedom of all individuals to proceed into the future under their own determination, and the laws of the natural world be damned; we will be what we can imagine and will to become. But, that project is clearly tied inexorably and completely into a world where everything important is essentially information. If that world of platonic information is owned and fenced by powers who don’t have to respect individual freedoms, then we are moving ourselves into a future of inescapable slavery of the many to the few, a catastrophe.

I¬† don’t see how any extropian or transhumanist who is looking at the future with an honest eye can countenance this. The copyfight happening now is not a mundane economic squabble, it is a political fight for our futures, and one whose importance I think is very difficult to overstate. Don’t accept it!

We are information

Sorrow, Stay

Our show in the Adelaide Fringe, Songs of Misery and Despair, is over. The second and last show was on Saturday (three days ago), and the first show on the saturday before that. I find I’m experiencing mixed emotions about it being over; it was a spectacular experience, and we made amazing music with people frankly far more skilled than I am. But, it was also intense and wearing, and it’s good to have things calm down!

I’ve got recordings of both shows, which need about a million hours of mastering and such before they are ready, so probably I’ll have them done by the weekend. Meanwhile, here’s one song from the show, “Sorrow, Stay”, an early music piece by John Downland.

Originally for tenor and lute, this is a two voice a capella arrangement (I don’t know who by, I’ll find out and update this post). Singing this are myself and tenor Chris Bradley, who flew down from Queensland for the performance.

And I need to say publicly, Chris’s talent and skill just blew me away. I learned so much from him in a short time, and my voice has changed in reponse to singing with him, very much for the better. Thanks Chris!

Sorrow, Stay