“That’s funny, because I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here…” Benjamin Franklin edition

I’m working on another volume in my Pequod-like pursuit of Megan McArdle* (see, after what went on here earlier today, I’ve got a Melville mindworm going), but just to show that I’m not dead yet, I thought I’d toss in a little lagniappe to a discussion begun here in John’s post of a day or so ago.

There, I learned that some idiot I’ve never before had the dystopic experience of encountering had this to say about the notion of an intellectual commons:

But Barton says that the Bible, Ben Franklin and the Pilgrims all opposed Net Neutrality because it violates the rights of huge corporations to charge higher rates and discriminate on content, calling it a “wicked” policyand “socialism on the Internet.”

Here’s David Barton’s own words on the subject, just to show that the snark version is, in fact, deadly accurate:

But we talk about it today because it is a principle of free market. That’s a Biblical principle, that’s a historical principle, we have all these quotes from Ben Franklin, and Jefferson and Washington and others on free market and how important that is to maintain.

Well, as it happens, I’m reading a really excellent book:  Common as Air by Lewis Hyde, which is, among much else, a detailed and beautifully written archaeology of what the founders — and Franklin primus inter pares — thought about ideas, ownership, and the commons.

__

One thing Hyde reminds us of is that Franklin himself did not claim ownership of ideas that he himself saw as the product of many, the inheritance of all, and the property of none.  He did not patent the lightening rod — instead communicating with David Hume, among others, to make sure that the world — at least those with access to learned journals — could make free use of both the research implications and the practical value of his investigations into the behavior of electricity. He didn’t try to hang on to the rights to the Franklin stove.

__

If he did choose to keep some trade secrets that advantaged the work that made him prosperous — the techniques he used to render early American paper money more secure against counterfeits — that was one exception against a life time of free public dissemination of discoveries and inventions that he understood to have been built on the work of predecessor and collaborators, to be improved upon still further by the efforts of strangers to come.  [FWIW — I wrote about Franklin’s role as a currency innovator in last October’s American History. Sadly, the piece itself is not online, though I think a draft may show up in MIT’s DSpace archive eventually.

__

You should all go get Hyde’s book for yourselves, but just to shove Barton’s ignorant lies back down his slimy, authoritarian-slime-filled cake-hole, consider this quote from the chapter Hyde titled “Benjamin Franklin, Founding Pirate”:

Franklin believed that property should not command society, society should command property:  “Private Property..is a Creature of Society and is subject to the Cals of that Society whenever its Necessities shall require it, even to its last Farthing.”  The contributions that private property makes to public needs are not, therefore, “to be considered as conferring a Benefit to the Public…but as the Return of an Obligation previously received or the Payment of a Just Debt.”   (Common as Air, pp. 132-133.  The Franklin quote is from “Queries and Remarks on a Paper entitled ‘Hints for the Members of [the Constitutional] Convention No II in the Federal Gazette of Tuesday Nov 3d 1789.]

The shorter:  Franklin was down for net neutrality.

__

You can disagree with his argument, of course.  It’s a wingnut folly to accord the status of revelation to texts that they rarely, if ever read.  Mine are different pathologies, no doubt.

__

But while the fact that Ben Franklin said something does not make it inerrant truth, still, if I may, can I suggest to the Mr. Barton that before he yaps about what the founders thought about something, it might be a good idea to, you know, actually read what they had to say on the subject?

Just sayin….

*Absolutely no good can come of this metaphor.

Image:  David Martin, Portrait of Benjamin Franklin, 1767.  I’ve always loved this portrait for the fact that Franklin commissioned it while directing that he be painted with the bust of Newton watching over him.






57 replies
  1. 1
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:

    Wingnut Mantra:

    You may end up with a different history, but you’re entitled to your history and I’m entitled to ‘The History’.

  2. 2

    Tom, thanks for this. I was sharing this with The Somebody earlier tonight, and we both agreed that Mr. Franklin would probably do more than a spittake over this:

    But we talk about it today because it is a principle of free market. That’s a Biblical principle, that’s a historical principle, we have all these quotes from Ben Franklin, and Jefferson and Washington and others on free market and how important that is to maintain.

    As a one-time biblical scholar, I suggest this dumbass muthafucka should google jubilee and acts.

  3. 3
    kdaug says:

    Benjamin Franklin, original open-source advocate, spiritual founder of the Khronos Group, Mozilla, and dozens of others – for those of us viewing this on Firefox, or working in OpenGL, WebGL, or Collada, or doing dev work on Android but not IPhone – we salute you.

    With rare exception, Knowledge belongs in the Commons, not the pocket.

  4. 4
    Mark S. says:

    Are you sure this guy’s an idiot?

    This is the Fairness Doctrine applied to the Internet, and I’ll go back to what I believed for a long time is: fair is a word no Christian should ever use in their vocabulary. Fair has nothing to do with anything. What you want is justice, you don’t want fairness. Fairness is subjective, what I think is fair, what you think, what happened to Jesus wasn’t fair. That’s right, but we needed justice so God did that for us.

    I thought fairness was subjective, so who’s to say Christ’s execution wasn’t fair? Aren’t fairness and justice practically synonyms? And if you mean that the only just things are what God says they are, you’d best disregard a fair (oops, that word again) amount of things Jesus said, since he sure as hell wasn’t a free market capitalist.

  5. 5
    Steeplejack says:

    I would say it’s more of an Ahab-like pursuit. I think the Pequod was whale-neutral. But I’m not up on the latest po-mo crit.

  6. 6
    Arundel says:

    It’s so treacherous and perverse that opponents of Net Neutrality present it in this way- the opposite of reality of course. Choking off the pipeline, tampering and deliberately slowing down sites that don’t pay a mobsterish protection fee is hardly something Franklin, or any author of the First Amendment would endorse. These people are shameless.

  7. 7
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Steeplejack: I know. But I’ve always rooted for M. Dick over Ahab, so I opted for the neutral party.

  8. 8

    What don’t these idiots get about the fact that, Hamilton aside, the Founding Fathers had the experiences with the British East India Company that drove them to absolute mistrust and/or hatred of corporations?

  9. 9
    jl says:

    Some other counter evidence off the top of my head:

    The Jefferson/Hamilton debate on patents. Jefferson favoring very limited patent protection since he felt that the principle that the price of something should equal the marginal cost of production, and disseminating knowledge of an existing product or process was very cheap. Hamilton weighed incentive to invent more heavily, though I do not remember him writing anything about the sacredness of ‘property’ having anything to do with it, rather his utilitarian calculation of what would be good balance for society.

    Madison on conflict between right to vote of citizens versus property rights:

    “Under every view of the subject, it seems indispensable that the Mass of Citizens should not be without a voice, in making the laws which they are to obey, & in chusing the Magistrates, who are to administer them, and if the only alternative be between an equal & universal right of suffrage for each branch of the Govt. and a confinement of the entire right to a part of the Citizens, it is better that those having the greater interest at stake namely that of property & persons both, should be deprived of half their share in the Govt.; than, that those having the lesser interest, that of personal rights only, should be deprived of the whole.”

    http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu.....16s26.html

    And Adams and Jefferson agreeing that banks and insurance companies probably should be nationalized. Jefferson arguing that cash money a corporation had borrowed or exchanged for equity, was not on same footing as other property, and in his opinion was not really the corporation’s property at all, to with whatever it wanted.

    no link for that. Go read Adams Jefferson correspondence, in a paper book, which is not online, as far as I know.

    And then I almost forgot about Madison’s proposal to discriminate in assuming Revolutionary War debt by whether purchased by speculators, or not. Madison felt that Hamilton’s plan was unfair to holders, many of them veterans, who sold out to speculators at a discount.

    Fair? Fair? Madison worried about ‘fairness’?

  10. 10

    @Mark S.:

    I thought fairness was subjective, so who’s to say Christ’s execution wasn’t fair?

    Damned straight, brother: J.C. had the most golden parachute of all times.

  11. 11
    Steeplejack says:

    @Tom Levenson:

    P.S. Got my mini-mogul doctor brother to read your Isaac Newton book, and he liked it a lot, partly because he is a serious numismatist. (Loves tangential stories about currency and currency fiddling.) Go figure. Hope you get a good royalty on Kindle sales.

  12. 12

    It really chaps my hide that the wingnuttia are not restricting their lies to the living–no, now they have to put words and thoughts in the mouths and brains of the dead.

    The REALLY infuriating thing is that they don’t get called on it. Ever. They are a bunch of shiitakecakes on a Damascus figs platter. Fig fu, David Barton!

  13. 13
    AAA Bonds says:

    I usually hate this sort of time travelling argument but you are almost certainly correct this time.

  14. 14
    AAA Bonds says:

    I would go so far as to say that all of the Founding Fathers would have found private “slowing” of a communications technology to be a vile idea, alien to civilized men

  15. 15
    handy says:

    Jesus was against Net Neutrality? Did he also trademark “Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani” while he was stuck up on that cross? I guess when he breathed his last, proclaiming “It is finished” he must have been referring to internet providers unencumbered and free to force all subscribers into multi-tier data-capped plans with an option for per kb usage after that.

    Happy Easter everyone.

  16. 16
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again):

    What don’t these idiots get about the fact that, Hamilton aside, the Founding Fathers had the experiences with the British East India Company that drove them to absolute mistrust and/or hatred of corporations?

    /snark mode on

    I’m sure that in light of the good public works of British Petroleum, the Founders would rethink their distrust of corporations.

    /snark mode off

  17. 17
    Yutsano says:

    @asiangrrlMN: Making your own reality by definition means making your own history as well. I’m just dying for the first wingnut outside the South to start labeling the Civil War the War of Northern Aggression.

  18. 18
    Chris says:

    Well, as long as it’s a Pequod-like pursuit of McMegan, and less like the Pequot pursuit of Gary Aguirre…

    (an inside joke, or SEC-sy trivia?)

    /admits it’s too late for puns like that

  19. 19
    KG says:

    @jl: the Founders were complex men who were generally confident enough to occasionally change their minds. As for fun quotes from them, I like this one from Hamilton:

    Men often oppose a thing merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike.

    And this one:

    Constitutions should consist only of general provisions; the reason is that they must necessarily be permanent, and that they cannot calculate for the possible change of things.

  20. 20
    KG says:

    @Yutsano: remember, when they start talking about the War of Northern Aggression, you ask, “oh, you mean the War of Southern Treason?”

  21. 21
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Oh, btw, nice Woody Allen reference.

  22. 22
    Uriel says:

    shorter @arguingwithsignposts:

    Christians should acutually read the stuff that’s in the bible, instead of inserting imaginary stuff that makes them happy into it

    Now you’re just being silly

  23. 23

    @Yutsano: I know. It just still pisses me off. How you be?

    @KG: Me like very much.

  24. 24
    Steeplejack says:

    RIP Nina Simone, died this day (April 21) in 2003.

    “My Baby Just Cares for Me.”

  25. 25
    Yutsano says:

    @KG: I really do think such lines, but truth be told I also would like to see Savannah once in my lifetime.

    @asiangrrlMN: Hit you and FH #1 back. And I r aghast.

    Have to get a needle in my back to hopefully get things fixed, will know more on Friday. And we might have to up the drugs. Woot.

  26. 26
    Steeplejack says:

    @Steeplejack:

    And I gots to throw in Al Wilson (died this date in 2008), “Show and Tell.”

    If there’s one thing I like almost as much as go-go dancers, it’s sexy soul backup singers.

  27. 27

    @Steeplejack: Hi, Steepman. Did you see my note to you yesterday at the end of the open thread? I love Nina. Whadda voice.

    ETA: I wrote it this morning.

    @Yutsano: Ouch on the needle in your back, but I hope it helps. I see you wrote back. I kinda figured you would. I’m about to send back a response before forcing myself to go to bed.

  28. 28
    Steeplejack says:

    @Steeplejack:

    And I can’t forget Sandy Denny (died this date in 1978), “the preëminent British folk-rock singer”: “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?”

  29. 29

    @Steeplejack: Did someone say go-go dancers?

    And, I thought you wrote Sandy Duncan in your other post, which gave me a start, it did.

  30. 30
    Steeplejack says:

    @asiangrrlMN:

    Ah, that video never gets old.

    Yeah, Sandy Duncan would be unsettling.

    Back in a few. Got to go fantasize about being hair-whipped by the brunette.

  31. 31
    Yutsano says:

    @asiangrrlMN: Purring mass of kitteh fur laying next to me. And two more days till my brothers come to visit. Life occasionally doth not suck

  32. 32

    @Steeplejack: Have at it. I’m heading to bed, so night to you, Steepman.

    @Yutsano: Suuuuuuh-weeeeeet! Kisses to you. Hope you won’t be too lonely until Steepman returns. Night.

  33. 33
    Steeplejack says:

    @asiangrrlMN:

    Yeah, I saw your note. I know your circadian rhythms have been as messed up as mine lately.

    I usually leave a thread open and check it until it’s well and truly dead. Comes with the night-owl territory.

  34. 34
    Steeplejack says:

    ZOMG! Mark Twain died on this date in 1910. That sure overshadows the pop music trivia.

  35. 35
    Yutsano says:

    @Steeplejack: I prefer zombie threads. Like the employer who called me today to tell me her employee died. In 2009. I was about ready to kick the person who advanced that forward.

  36. 36
    Steeplejack says:

    @Yutsano:

    Yeah, I think in Franklin’s phrase that there are only two certain things in life, death and taxes, death takes precedence over taxes.

    You guys should have a plaque about that somewhere in your office.

  37. 37
    Yutsano says:

    @Steeplejack:

    death takes precedence over taxes.

    I’ll choose to let you think that. :)

    Side note re: dates – I had a good friend in college whose birthday was yesterday, 4/20. You know who ELSE was born yesterday??

    /Godwin

  38. 38
    MonkeyBoy says:

    David Barton’s whole MO is distortion of historical facts.

    His WallBuilders organization is still promoting George Washington as a devout Christian to people who don’t seem to be able to understand what they read. He quotes Washington’s step daughter Nelly writing:

    On communion Sundays, he left the church with me, after the blessing, and returned home, and we sent the carriage back for my grandmother.

    which corroborates the general impression that Washington never took communion (which Barton doesn’t comment on).Barton goes on to write:

    Certainly, no one questions his patriotism; so is it not rather ridiculous to question his Christianity?

    Barton documents his claims by giving references to books, but they are all from like 1836 and 1917 with no hint of modern scholarship.

  39. 39
    anthony says:

    I like to imagine Newton asking if he can “have the sports section.”

  40. 40
    Steeplejack says:

    @Yutsano:

    Yeah. It’s too easy.

  41. 41
    Yutsano says:

    @Steeplejack: I just get amused by that. And I didn’t call her, which was my bad. I might do that tomorrow so she can rhetorically lash me.

    Since I’m in a random mood, do all libertarians throw poo without sourcing anything or just throw up meaningless platitudes? No wonder they can’t win an election honestly.

  42. 42
    Steeplejack says:

    @Yutsano:

    Too deep for me, my friend. I am out. Had a world-class bad shift tonight. Now going to crash and do it again tomorrow.

  43. 43
    R-Jud says:

    @anthony: More likely the personals. “WILD GRAVITY (M4M): Scholar w/ gov’t desk job WLTM heavenly body to illustrate laws of motion. Must love: alchemy, Latin, cats.”

  44. 44
    Hewer of Wood, Drawer of Water says:

    But we talk about it today because it is a principle of free market. That’s a Biblical principle, that’s a historical principle, we have all these quotes from Ben Franklin, and Jefferson and Washington and others on free market and how important that is to maintain.

    Wha? The free market is a biblical principle? Is that in the Milton Friedman Version of The Bible?

  45. 45
    Svensker says:

    @arguingwithsignposts:

    As a one-time biblical scholar, I suggest this dumbass muthafucka should google jubilee and acts.

    That brought me to a page of the Christian Reformed Church. We lived in NJ in a Dutch CRC neighborhood, very conservative, the CRC doesn’t allow women in the ministry, gays must correct their behavior, etc., they’re not quite biblical fundamentalists but close. But their page on the Jubilee Act of Christian charity they are sponsoring was on their Office of Social Justice page. They say:

    Furthermore, according to our Reformed world and life view, jubilee as a symbol of reconciliation in Christ includes the notion of economic reconciliation. God’s people are therefore called to speak and act in behalf of the poor and advocate for an economic structure which prevents such lasting poverty

    Heh indeedy.

  46. 46
    catclub says:

    @Mark S.: I am very sure the guy is an idiot.

    Your quote of him: “What you want is justice, you don’t want fairness.”

    Um, maybe if he were Jewish this would be almost accurate. But Christians believe in mercy as being above justice. See Paul and comments about justification and the law.

    He is clearly an idiot if he thinks he is a Christian.

  47. 47

    @Steeplejack: Sorry life at the Big Box Store is not so hot. Hope it’s better today!

  48. 48
    Brachiator says:

    He did not patent the lightening rod—instead communicating with David Hume, among others, to make sure that the world—at least those with access to learned journals—could make free use of both the research implications and the practical value of his investigations into the behavior of electricity. He didn’t try to hang on to the rights to the Franklin stove.

    Wonderful stuff. Thanks so much.

    The exhibition, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: IN SEARCH OF A BETTER WORLD is still making the rounds in a few American cities. It’s amazing how people forget that Franklin thought that civic duty was important:

    Civic Visions tells the story of Franklin’s involvement with the founding of several key philanthropic, educational and civic institutions. From self-improvement, Franklin turned his attention to improving the community around him, asking himself, “What good shall I do this day.”
    __
    Franklin and a group of eleven working-class friends, known as the Junto were at the core of several Philadelphia institutions that were founded in the mid-18th century on behalf of the citizens of that city. Many of these institutions, such as Pennsylvania Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania continue today, and the account of their founding is told in this section, focusing on the universality of this group of institutions— basic to any new, rapidly growing community.

    Ben Franklin, founding father and community organizer. Who knew?

  49. 49
    lacp says:

    … That’s a Biblical principle, that’s a historical principle, we have all these quotes from Ben Franklin, and Jefferson and Washington and others on free market and how important that is to maintain.

    Only problem is,all those quotes were made up by David Barton.

  50. 50
    mattski says:

    I love early woody allen. thanks for the headline!

  51. 51
    ET says:

    You use lagniappe one of my favorite words along with picayune, milquetoast, and drek.

  52. 52
    AAA Bonds says:

    @Svensker:

    Wow, that’s practically Roman Catholic.

  53. 53
    liberal says:

    @jl:

    Jefferson favoring very limited patent protection since he felt that the principle that the price of something should equal the marginal cost of production…

    I’m curious: where did Jefferson say that?

  54. 54
    Tom Levenson says:

    @mattski: Annie Hall is mid-Allen to me. (I’m old) What’s Up Tiger Lily — now that’s early.

  55. 55
    IrishGirl says:

    I was first assailed with the name “Pequod”, then battered with a Monty Python reference quickly followed by a quick “mindworm” jab, and was finished off with the knock-out punch of “lagniappe”.

    How on earth shall the wingnuts of the world be able to understand you? My God, are you speaking Amurrikan? ;)

  56. 56
    Xenocrates says:

    @Tom Levenson: “Give me that egg salad recipe, ass!” Weird, funny stuff…

  57. 57
    jl says:

    @liberal:

    The classic citation where Jefferson states his conclusion is his letter to McPherson in 1813:

    http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu....._8s12.html

    That letter does not lay out Jefferson’s reasoning in explicitly economic terms.

    The book below has quotes that show how different Founders used their understanding of science in their political thought. Jefferson was a ‘unity of science’ kind of guy, so for him, his physics metaphors had direct implications for the best way to interpret the newfangled Adam Smith approach to economics. So, the tie in to economics can be found in the book.

    Science and the Founding Fathers: Science in the Political Thought of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and James Madison [Paperback]
    I. Bernard Cohen


    http://www.amazon.com/Science-.....-1-fkmr0#_

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