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Lawrence Lessig's Rudiger Appel's Kandinsky Figurine
Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: March 18, 2000
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Code: The Use of Disciplinary Power

Essay by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
Copyright: Curran and Takata, March 2000. "Fair Use" encouraged.

In the beginning the Internet was the Wild West, space for freedom in the second millennium. But Lessig brings us to the understanding that the freedom was illusory. Total freedom would mean that one could do as one pleases with no regard for those harmed by that use of freedom. Such is the tension that Habermas and every other great thinker must contemplate as we seek a way to reconcile the individual need to explore essence freely with the social need to refrain from harming others by the structuring of the reality in which we exist.

Lessig compares this (Code, pp. 4 ff.) to the collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe. He suggests that, as in the days of the American Wild West, the people wanted mostly for government to just go away and leave them alone. The structural violence which had become identified with the clumsy bureaucracies of govenment was suffocating, and the people wanted to be free of such regulation. That led us to an understanding that we did not know what was essential to a constitutional governement. Lessig, quite honestly, admits that we who have long had constitutional government, haven't a clue as to why it works. (ibid. p. 4)

What we have learned is that things don't just take care of themselves. (ibid. p. 5) Neither did they in the days of the Wild West. It helped a lot to have John Wayne on your side. The cowboys and the sheep herders fought. They all fought with the Native Americans. And justice was not always served in these fights. Paulina Borsook's Wired Article on How Anarchy Works. Scroll a little more than halfway down the first page, and you'll find the reference to Dave Clark's statement on "running code." (Lessig, ibid. p.4: "We reject: kings, presidents, and voting. We believe in: rough consensus and running code.") If it works, they adapt it. If it doesn't, they move on with what does. That manifesto is much like what we heard from the Central and Eastern Europeans at the collapse of communism, and what we hear from libertarians who want government to just go away and leave them alone.

Lessig makes very clear that he