The pendulum (or why you shouldn't be despairing over SOPA)

It seems that, at least in the geek community, pessimism is the norm. Perhaps this is rooted in a certain difficulty understanding others outside the community. Perhaps it is simply arrogance. Regardless, it's there. And it is, particularly when it comes to politics, likely unfounded.

My intent isn't really to exhort all political pessimists to stop. Rather, I ask that perhaps you consider your fatalistic interpretations in a greater context: that of a swinging pendulum. One fixed to a string, the string slung across an infinite bar. The pendulum swings back, then forward, carrying just enough momentum to drag the string forward an inch. Then back again, and forward, the string pulled another inch. This is progress. 

Progress is not this image we frequently conjure up of step after bold step, strong, steady inexorably moving forward without a pause or waver of uncertainty. The past, in its simplest form, often looks this way. We lived in caves, now we live in cities. We cringed from lions, now we show them off in zoos, captivity our ultimate victory. But in the middle are the merciless swings of the pendulum. Forward—the Reformation. Backwards—the rigid religiosity of all Christian denominations that result, a defensive reflex. Forward—the New World. Backwards—brutalizing the natives, wars over every inch of this world. Forward—mastering the machine, industrialization. Backwards—two massive World Wars.

Not everything moves forward at once, and backwards movement is likewise not synchronized. Some swings take decades, some centuries. But the swing is ever there. The push back against progress is almost as strong as the progress itself—almost. And those pushing for change are always those who feel it. The ones who see and feel the setbacks. But they are also the ones who cannot give up. The ones who must not. Progress is only the stronger force because they make it so.

At times, by its very nature, progress is foisted upon the masses by the few. Then, it is foisted upon the remaining few by the masses. Computing had a bit of a battle to get integrated, considering the jobs it eliminated and the learning curve it entailed. Now it's here, foisted upon the masses by the few engineers and marketers who showed up first. But, the law has to catch up. SOPA, PIPA, all of these laws, are the flip side: the masses have to foist this progress on the few who are still resisting it. And foist we shall.

To those who fight these fights: do not despair that you must fight them. This is the way of things. We take a leap, then everyone has to be dragged to catch up. Then we take another leap. And more importantly: do not stop fighting. The fight is why progress wins, every time.

In the 1960s and '70s, South America was embroiled in a series of democratic pitches to the left, countered by a series of military coups that lurched them back to the right. The pendulum was swinging at its very wildest. The advocates of progress, those who fought for the rights of the disenfranchised and injusticed, were, as is often the case, the artists and the singers. One song that emerged from those tumultuous years continues to be a mantra to movements both in the region and around the world, and to this day remains ingrained in the memories of my parents and, through them, my own: “El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido”: the People, united, shall never be defeated.

SOPA and PIPA are fighting against us all. We may win next year, five years from now, or two decades hence. But the People, united, shall never be defeated.