Lessig on Equality: Political Corruption, Net Neutrality, and Open Access

By Ojala, Marydee | Information Today, May 2015 | Go to article overview

Lessig on Equality: Political Corruption, Net Neutrality, and Open Access


Ojala, Marydee, Information Today


Lawrence Lessig delivered a moving and thought-provoking closing keynote speech to the academic librarians attending the ACRL 2015 biennial conference in Portland, Ore. He established rapport with his audience when he stated in the opening moments of his talk, "We share a common value--equality--but we don't have to choose between equality and freedom."

Lessig is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, the director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, and the founder of Rootstrikers (rootstrikers.org). The latter is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that considers money in politics to be the root of America's problems. At ACRL, Lessig focused on three areas: corruption in America, Net Neutrality, and open access (OA). But all three of those are really about only one theme: equality.

Corruption, in Lessig's mind, is best described by his coined term "Tweedism." In the mid-19th century, William Magear "Boss" Tweed ran New York's Tammany Hall political organization, which in turn ran the city's government--at great profit to Tammany's members. Tammany is still today the benchmark for government corruption. What stands out for Lessig is Tweed's oft-quoted statement, "I don't care who does the electing as long as I get to do the nominating." In the U.S. today, Lessig sees a democracy run by funders, largely because they choose the candidates. "We have a government of the rich," he said, and it's clear he doesn't think this is good for libraries, librarians, or anyone else.

Net Neutrality occurs naturally due to the architecture of the web. "The network is stupid; it can't discriminate among appliances," said Lessig. Without Net Neutrality, innovations created by kids, college dropouts, and those from around the world would never have happened. The web we know today thrives on Net Neutrality. It's the architecture of freedom. Lessig fears that legislating against Net Neutrality will replace that architecture with one of control, in which innovation cannot happen. …

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