This is a slightly modified version of a speech I gave in a debate on Net Neutrality that I did with my partner, Louis Saintvil on January 18, 2018. The event was sponsored by MicGoat and was an Oxford-style debate. My partner and I won by swaying more of the undecided vote: our side began with four votes and ended with nine, while the opposition started with nine votes and finished with eleven.
You can see the debate on Youtube here.
I want to begin with an ethical explanation for why Net Neutrality is not valid legislation. As with any ethical discussion, a proper context is required. To that end, we need to define and understand three fundamental concepts: the nature of man, the nature of government, and the nature of individual rights.
Let’s look at the first of these: the nature of man. In the words of Aristotle, man is the rational animal. He survives by the free exercise of his reasoning mind. A man may feel hunger on instinct, but only his reason will tell him how to distinguish food from poison. A man’s body may suffer from infection without his thinking about it, but only his thinking about it can produce medicines to counteract the disease.
What is it that prevents a man from exercising his reason? Physical force. Coercion. You can’t think if someone else brandishes a gun your way or threatens to break your legs should you come to the wrong conclusion. Force is anti-mind and anti-reason.
To summarize this point: man uses reason to survive, and force is opposed to reason.
The next concept to examine is the nature of government. What is government? Government is an organization with a monopoly on physical force in a given geographic area; coercion is the essence of government. If you think otherwise, try ignoring a call from the IRS or disobeying a traffic cop sometime to see just how voluntary government mandates are.
To summarize this point: the essence of government is force, and a moral government seeks to prohibit the exercise of force in civilian life.
What is the government’s proper relationship with man? To answer this, we must discuss our third key concept: individual rights.
Rights are principles that define an individual’s freedom to act in a given social context; they are a bridge between ethics and politics. The theory of individual rights recognizes that an individual’s life is his own and that the individual is not to be expropriated by those who would sacrifice him to the ends of the group, the tribe, the race, the class, “God” or “society.”
Legitimate rights are concerned with freedom of action and are not guarantees for free goodies. This is worth repeating: rights do not entitle a person access to the products or services created by others on the grounds of need or whim. Rather, rights secure what a person creates by his own effort and allows him the freedom to trade with others.
There is no right to a “fair” wage, only a right to hire someone by agreed employment terms.
There is no right to a “competitive” price, only a right to produce and negotiate the terms of sale.
There is no right to happiness, only a right to the pursuit of your own happiness by your own effort.
Rights provide us with an objective means of rating a government. If the government protects citizens from those that initiate force, it secures their rights and is a critical ally of man. If government initiates force against man so to exploit what he creates, it becomes even worse than the two-bit thugs that hold him at gunpoint.
History is littered with governments that used force to oppress the people in its borders. Examples include the absolutist monarchies in Europe, the current theocratic states in the Middle East, and the totalitarian states of the 20th century. It wasn’t until the late 18th century when the American founding fathers discovered the proper role of government and gave birth to the United States, the first government that was limited by design.
To summarize this point: rights are principles that delineate individual action in a social context, and the government is at its best when it protects man’s rights.
So how does this viewpoint apply to the issue of Net Neutrality? Whenever we examine a government policy, what we need to ask is: is this a proper place to use a gun instead of a comment card, a boycott, or a rational argument?
In the case of Net Neutrality, the answers to these questions is a resounding “no!”
Net Neutrality legislation is based on the idea that cheap internet access is a right. In the words of the Orwellian “media watchdog” Free Press:
“What we want to have in the US and in every society, is an Internet that is not private property, but a public utility. We want an Internet where you don’t have to have a password and that you don’t pay a penny for. It is your right to use the Internet.”
Like all phony rights, Net Neutrality is an attempt to guarantee people access to something that they didn’t produce without first asking: at whose expense?
Internet service is not something that simply exists in nature, ripe for redistribution and smarmy government guarantees. Net Neutrality legislation treats this expensive infrastructure as a given. It evades and invalidates the rights of the internet service providers (ISPs) who make the internet possible.
Advocates for Net Neutrality will counter that Net Neutrality protects free speech. If you want to post controversial blog posts or Facebook comments, proponents of the law argue, then what stops Verizon or Comcast from preventing that from occurring on their networks? Or even worse, what if your ISP decides to block access to certain websites on the grounds that it objects to the content there? As stated by the ACLU, ” freedom of expression isn’t worth much if the forums where people actually make use of it are not themselves free.”
This argument is based on a flawed conception of free speech. All rights are contextual; that is, there is a context in which one’s freedom to act can be limited by the rights of others involved, and this includes property rights. One person’s right to free speech does not mean that others must provide them with the means to express their ideas. Rather, free speech ensures that you are free to spread your views by whatever means you have earned in trade with others.
Free speech allows you to publish content in your own newspaper; it does not entitle you to publish content in someone else’s newspaper. Free speech holds that you can freely rent a lecture hall to speak, not that you are entitled to the microphone at an event that someone else has paid for. Content providers today such as Google or Facebook reserve the right to remove posts from their media at their discretion, and that is their right. By the same token, your right to free speech does not impose any obligations on those that deliver such content to you in the first place.
Even so, say Net Neutrality spokespeople, what about corporate influence in America? It is a long-accepted bromide among the political left (and some on the political “right”) that corporations collectively benefit from screwing over their customers and monopolizing whole industries for the sake of “greed.”
This attitude is generally misguided, but in the case of the internet it is totally out of touch with reality. To bring the internet to your home requires myriad cables, satellites, wireless transmitters, servers and other expensive, electronic equipment. ISPs have labored for decades to innovate and produce quality service to their customers, moving us from dial-up to DSL to fiber optics and beyond. From 2011 to 2013, the top 3 providers alone spent over $100 billion on improving their service. From 2005 to 2015, average broadband increased by a whopping 1150%. All this, without government mandates to enforce Net Neutrality. So much for the mustache-twirling businessman.
The fact is that Net Neutrality is not only unnecessary, but it is unjust and immoral. The internet is an important part of life in today’s world; I do not deny this. Precisely because it is so vital, however, the least we can do for those who make it possible, rather than try to regulate them out of existence, is to say if only once and as a whisper: thank you.