Terror Comes In Many Forms. Including MP3 and Blu-Ray.

We're simple people, really, all of us. We don't like ambiguity or nuance, and we don't particularly like new things. We like to put things in tried and true box-like categories. When we argue about how society, or the government, should address a particular issue, we tend to argue Darmok-like, by analogy and allusion to those familiar box-like categories. Hence when our government develops an appetite to ban, say, videos depicting animal cruelty, it tends to do so by analogy, by saying that videos depicting animal cruelty belong in the child pornography box and can be banned on that basis.

Under this approach, a government hungry for unfettered power can achieve it by (a) making us irrationally terrified of the contents one particular box, and (b) selling us on the concept that a wide range of unrelated things belongs in that box.

The box we're most terrified of right now is the one marked "terrorism." The government has very successfully sold most of us on the concept that we're in mortal danger of terrorists killing us right here in America, correctly calculating that our collective innumeracy will prevent us from accurately assessing the actual danger and comparing it to the danger of being run over by an SUV or developing lung cancer from our cigarettes or a heart attack from our Big Macs. With few exceptions, we've bought into the concept that the OMG TERROR!! box is indeed terrifying, and that the government is justified in exercising broad and mostly unfettered power to do what it thinks is necessary to stop the awful things in that box from jumping out and EATING OUR CHILDREN. The Bush Administration got away with quite a bit, and the Obama Administration, despite unkept promises to reign in such exercises of power, has eagerly continued them.

Naturally the government is trying to drop more things in the terror box. Naturally the government wants to use its broad and largely anti-terror power against things other than just Middle Eastern terrorists. It craves the largely uncritical support we give to the War on Terror. It thinks it would be nice if we would support other government functions uncritically. Maybe we will, if the government can convince us that those other functions belong in the terror box.

So the government, having achieved nothing resembling success in its long and costly War on Drugs, tries to drop drugs into the terror box, and see if that will lead us to view its prohibition efforts with the same lack of critical thinking that we view the War on Terror.

But that isn't far enough. There's other problems out there. Like . . . piracy. Like people downloading Lady Gaga or Iron Man for free.

Wouldn't the world be a swell place if people would accept the government's anti-piracy efforts with the same uncritical support that they give to the War on Terror? You can be sure the RIAA thinks so. The RIAA thinks that the War on Piracy is more important than the War on Terror, because the War on Terror is (thanks to 24) mostly profitable to the RIAA, whereas the War on Piracy has cost it money.

Fortunately for the RIAA, the government is obliging; it's perfectly willing to try to wedge the War on Piracy into the terror box. It's win-win. The government gets broader power; the RIAA gets broader support for its propaganda.

That's how you get The Department of Homeland Security involved in pursuing people who download Shrek illegally.

Still, you may wonder … Why is the department of homeland security using federal muscle to protect Shrek?

“The reason the Department of Homeland Security is protecting Shrek is because we are all about protecting the homeland. We’re all about protecting American interests,” says John Morton, assistant secretary of DHS.

And what's good for the green ogre is good for America?

“If you don’t think undermining Hollywood’s ability to produce a "Shrek," undermining the creativity that goes into creating a "Shrek," undermines the United States," Morton says, "you are sadly mistaken.”

We were sufficiently terrified of the contents of the terror box not to flinch when they created something called a Department of Homeland Security. Why would we worry about giving it the job of pursuing illegal movie and music downloaders? Piracy threatens America. Just like terrorists.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Piper says

    What a tool. The only way this makes sense is if there's malware being used to attack the US Gov't hidden in the files, and it's pretty clear from the article that's not the case.

  2. Scott Jacobs says

    I hope Mr Morton doesn't have any facial hair…

    I mean, I can only imagine how much it would tickle, seeing as how he's got his head so far up the collective ass of the RIAA…

  3. Mike says

    Nice work on the Darmok reference.

    Osama and Saddam at The Pirate Bay. OSAMA AND SADDAM AT THE PIRATE BAY.

  4. Linus says

    I love this post, and your explanation of our love of boxes. Next time I talk with someone who pooh-poohs "the slippery slope", I will shriek "it's boxes, you fool! BOXES!" and then I will send him here.

  5. SG says

    That remids me of a satirical piece a French author penned in the 19th century, which was a petition from lamp-makers and charcoal merchants for the government to outlaw the Sun. As a free source of heat and light, the Sun is clearly disloyal competition for purveyors of heat and light.

    And… isn't the Sun particularily intense in Arab countries ?
    Some of these countries being those that profit from the oil trade ?
    Off the back of hard-working, Michigan-dwelling Americans that need additional heat and light in the winter, while the Sun is shining confortably on Afghan talebans ?

    Nuke the f*cker !

  6. John David Galt says

    No matter what judgment you make about the morality of downloading, the word for it is infringement, not "piracy". Downloading Shrek may or may not amount to "stealing" from the studio that made it*, but it's not comparable to the crime of hijacking a plane or ship.

    * This question depends on other moral questions. Is the term of copyright reasonable or excessive? Does the studio use DRM technology to impose restrictions beyond those they're entitled to (such as not skipping ads)? Are they giving their writers and performers their fair shares? There have been plenty of cases in the past 20 years that cast doubt on all of these topics, and if the studio is wrong on any of them it would taint their moral claim to royalties, wouldn't it?

  7. SG says

    Well, in fact the logic seems to be that illegal downloaders undermine (consciously ?) this pillar of America that is Hollywood.

    But by the same standard, the DHS should have stepped in to resolve the auto industry crisis with surgical strikes on plants in other countries where cars are produced cheaply. And especially, waterboarding for anyone who buys a non-American car.


  1. […] Terror Comes In Many Forms. Including MP3 and Blu-Ray. We get to go to the polls every couple of years and choose between two flavors of the same gruel. The inmates get to elect the guards. Then, having exercised our rights as free citizens of a great social democracy, we go back to obeying orders. — Hal O'Boyle […]