An Argument Against Free Information

Having finally broken down and read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins after more than a year of fighting against it, many sub-plotlines got me thinking. In The Hunger Games, Katniss mentions the concept of beauty and popular culture and the differences between what is considered beautiful and sought after in the Capital and what’s considered beautiful in each of the Districts.

The trend Collins shows has been recurrent throughout history. What is popular or beautiful is determined by scarcity and ideals of the rich and powerful.

The same could be said about Information in today’s culture. Today, information is free and easily accessible. Lack of scarcity and cheap cost is causing information to become a commodity no one wants or strives for.


Historical Background

Looking at trends over the centuries, my mind hooks to two clear trends that have changed quite recently: fat vs skinny/muscular and pale/tan skin. We all know what is considered beautiful by today’s standards: Skinny and tanned (unless you’re of a subculture like goth, emo, or whatever Twilight vampires are).

In early Western culture, skinny was considered gross and unattractive. It was a sign of poverty. Bulging muscles on men was a similar sign of poverty. It meant you worked most of your day. The wealthy kings, queens, and aristocrats could, and did, gorge themselves. Heavier stature with less muscle tone was a sought after sign of beauty and riches (beauty and riches tending to exist in tandem). Just look at Aphrodite or any number of “beautiful” naked women in paintings from early Western culture. Women are full figured and shapely. Men in paintings are dainty and feminine. Ancient Greeks and Romans sought muscular men but for different reasons, but their ideas of beautiful women remained shapely.

Today, obviously, this trend has reversed. It’s the reason that may be less clear at first mention. Skinny is the new beautiful because of cost and scarcity.

The working man/woman today live out their lives (primarily) inside. The cubicle or fast food grill are the new fig fields in the U.S. and other post-industrial systems. The working poor do manual labor, but the labor is not what it once was. It now wears on the joints more than the muscles themselves (in many cases). The middle class find themselves in cubicles, not heavy lifting. In today’s culture, crappy food is cheaper than most healthy foods. Though raw foods are still cheap, they require time, something the poor do not have. This results in fat poor people.

Skinny and muscular has become the current scarce attribute making it the sought after beauty. The wealthy, with extra time and money, show off their extras by purchasing healthy, low fat, low sodium, soy, organic, lean cuts of meat. They also purchase gym memberships and equipment. Where kings once flaunted what they could afford by extravagant dinners, most of which ended up in a landfill. Today, kings flaunt that same time and money by buying “only the best” food and workout options available.

Another similar trend is with skin tone. In the West, it was once difficult to attain fair or white skin. Why? Most had to work out in the fields or mines or forests or on ships. Being outside, a caucasian person’s skin cooked and became golden brown. The rich, with their time and money, were capable of remaining inside and maintaining their fair complexion. Therefore, pale skin was the sought after standard of beauty, just as fat and dandy was sought after in an earlier period.

Information Popularity

The same can be said of information. Before Martin Luther in the West and the printing press and the Internet, poor relied on the wealthy and powerful for their information. Of course, poor had information in terms of best ways to seed fields and other things like this. But that’s the modern equivalent to saying a poor person has a fast typing speed. Yes, it’s information or a skill, but it only takes you so far.

Before Luther, the printing press, and the Internet, information was highly sought out. The rich and powerful prided themselves on their wealth of information (pun intended). Today, information is free and so easy to access, that it is not a scarce resource or a sought out commodity. In a word, the free market has caused people to WANT to be dumb.

At least one of you might try to suggest that more U.S. citizens are going to college than ever before. Which might be true. But having experienced undergraduate degree training relatively recently, and seeing the product of most college/university educations, I can safely say that most colleges/universities and most degrees (if not all) produce relatively mediocre information-stuffed people. The EXPENSIVE degree is the sought after commodity (along with the university name attached to it), not the information that you think it suggests.

There is also the obvious difference between information and knowledge. To which I say that colleges and universities are not interested in knowledge. Of course, the same outliers can be found. I had two professors in my four different colleges and three and a half degrees attained that truly cared about knowledge rather than simply information or worse, knowledge that fit their sense of what the information meant.

Solution: 


Perhaps we need something like what Jefferson proposed with democracy. A cyclical system. Every once and awhile, we need to close the floodgate and stop the free transfer of information. It will become a scarce and sought after resource, become free again eventually, and so on.

I can’t believe I’m arguing for this double-edged sword, but I think I am. Information needs to be a scarce resource again in order to be a sought after commodity. Without which, Huxley’s Brave New World is likely to result. However, I recognize that by forcing information to be an expensive and scarce resource, I’m shutting the door on the poor. But this, unfortunately, might be the only way to reinvigorate the interest in information, and hopefully, knowledge in the long run.


PS: The irony that I fell to the same popular culture trends by reading The Hunger Games and, in turn, posited this theory has not been lost on me. ^_^

9 thoughts on “An Argument Against Free Information

  1. Rene, you said, "Another similar trend is with skin tone. In the West it was once difficult to attain fair or white skin. Why? Most had to work out in the fields or mines or forests or on ships. Being outside your skin cooked and became golden brown. The rich, with their time and money, were capable of remaining inside and maintaining their fair complexion. Therefore, pale skin was the

  2. (apparently my comment was too long, here's the second bit of it.)

    You also said, "At least one of you might try to suggest that more U.S. citizens are going to college than ever before. Which might be true. But having experienced undergraduate degree training relatively recently, and seeing the product of most college educations, I can safely say that most colleges and most

  3. I'm really bummed that my post disappeared when I tried to update the title.

    That said: I see people trying to be tanned. The wealthy tan, those who have money tan. Scarcity has made tanned skin a beautiful thing. By tanned skin, I'm only speaking tanned skin, not tan skin. Therefore, the tanning must be manufactured, not birth skin tone. Even most commercials come with

  4. Well, I'm glad I saved at least a few snippets of your original post for you by quoting it; maybe you can recreate it from those?

    It depresses me that the world only seems to care about paper, whether it's credentials or money. As a sort of amusing and disheartening aside (which I guess does relate to the topic at hand), when I began college, one of my first classes was intro

  5. Oh, is there anyway to roll back your journal to a previous time to try to get back the post, or is it quoted to you in a notification of comments? I think if you have the setting on to get email notifications about comments, it will quote you the original text, that might be handy for future reference.

    Also, I would recommend keeping your posts as a file on your computer or a cloud

  6. I almost always type my posts in Docs before I post…this happens to be the one outlier that made it through the human firewall.

    I tried the roll back. I only got as far as the switch of the title…the rest of the post remained gone. Sad

  7. It may be fortuitous that you lost the original post, I think this is even better.

    I still don't have any bright ideas on how to fix the problem but as one of the more-or-less poor, I don't want to see the flow of information stopped. It is sustenance for some of us. It's a rare person that can climb out of the cave to find the sun, and I know I won't make it if I don&#

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