Saturday, August 01, 2009

When was the last time you changed your mind?

I have been thinking about this since university when we would have discussions in class. And it is true most people find it hard to change their minds on their beliefs, despite having evidence to the contrary. Recently I read Why we listen to what we want to hear". It's worth quoting:
"Some people, particularly those with more close-minded personalities, were even more reluctant to expose themselves to differing perspectives.

They tended to opt for information that corresponded to their views nearly three quarters of the time, argued [University of Illinois psychology professor Dolores AlbarracĂ­n, who led the study, published in July's Psychological Bulletin, the journal of the American Psychological Association, which analysed data from 91 studies involving nearly 8,000 participants].

Perhaps unsurprisingly, people were more resistant to new points of view when their own ideas were associated with political, religious or ethical values. "If the issues concern moral values or politics, about 70 per cent of the time you will choose congenial information, versus about 60 per cent of the time if the issues are not related to values," she added.

Perhaps more surprisingly was the finding that people who have little confidence in their own beliefs were less likely to expose themselves to contrary views than people who were very confident in their own ideas. Certain factors could also induce people to seek out opposing points of view. Those who had publicly defend their ideas publicly, such as politicians, for example, tended to be more motivated to learn about the views of those who opposed them. In the process they sometimes found their own ideas evolving.
The reason why people tended to stay with their own beliefs and attitudes is because for the most part, changing them might prevent them from living the lives they were living, the authors of the study concluded. And that is a big change.

I was thinking about this because of a current exchange with an anonymous poster. I find it especially hard to argue with people who are not trained in clear thinking, people who rely on fallacies to win arguments .

Here is one fallacy at play, which you can read from my previous post Go, Pirates!. The anonymous poster's original argument (if it's even an argument, since the word hypocrisy is misused in this case ) was this: "first of all, it's a little hypocritical to stand up for torrent and free downloads when you've never even used torrent isn't it? (kind of like having a strong opinion on something you don't really have a meaningful relationship with yes?)."

To which I answered, it is hypocritical or strange to have a strong opinion on something you have not personally experienced. You can have an opinion as a matter of principle. So for instance, I am pro-choice on the matter of abortion, despite never having had an abortion. Another way we can arrive at true conclusions is through abstraction, based on first principles. In addition, personal experience may not be the best judge of truth or knowledge, as visual distortion, such as refraction, proves.

This was his response: "missing my point. everybody is entitled to an opinion but they're not necessarily entitled to the facts ;-). in terms of abortion, i happen to think that a man can have an opinion on it, but i'm not sure he's the *best qualified* to make a final judgement about it. i guess from where i stand, i *do* think a woman has more insight to this issue than a man (and i'm a man) and is better *qualified* to actually make the decision."

Here the writer accuses me of missing his point when he has changed the terms of the original argument and his point. The fallacy is known as the Red Herring, which has this form: Topic A is under discussion. Topic B is introduced under the guise of being relevant to topic A (when topic B is actually not relevant to topic A). Topic A is abandoned.

Specifically, his original point was about how it is hypocritical to have a strong opinion about something despite never having first hand experience of the subject matter. Now he introduces a new topic, Topic B, which is about being qualified to comment, which is an entirely different point. As a note to readers, another relevant fallacy here is the Argument from Authority: "Arguments from authority are an important part of informal logic. Since we cannot have expert knowledge of many subjects, we often rely on the judgments of those who do. There is no fallacy involved in simply arguing that the assertion made by an authority is true, the fallacy only arises when it is claimed or implied that the authority is infallible in principle and can hence be exempted from criticism."

Anyway, let's humour the writer. So now my response has to be on my qualifications. So here it is. The writer thinks a bag is a bag is a bag, so a plastic bag serves the same function as a backpack: "most bags are basically bags as are most clothes clothes. i imagine you see most people in cambodia using plastic bags or paper bags not bloom bags. Why? b/c it serves the same exact purpose your bag does at the right price. Basically, a bag is a bag."

Well, as a maker of bags I can say bag is not a bag is not a bag. A backpack, a shoulder bag, a tote bag makes your hands free, which adds a different function to a plastic bag, which is why people choose these other bags over a plastic bag.

So what makes me qualified to talk about piracy and copyright? Well, the writer may think bag design is of an inferior work to that of "real artists", whatever that means, but there is a lot of thought and work that goes into designing a bag. Bloom products, too, get copied, which is to say I have first hand experience in the matter of copyright.

Which brings me to another point: that a bag is different from content, or concept. I admit yesterday I did not explain clearly what I meant. This was what I wrote yesterday: "A bag is a discrete object. Once someone takes it away, it is gone. Contrast this with a song, a photograph or a movie. You're not going to lose your original song, movie or image when someone downloads it. Multiple entities originate from that one song, movie, image. A bag, on the other hand, can't reproduce itself."

What I was trying to say is that a song, movie etc can be copied with much greater ease and speed compared with a bag or article of clothing. You may even say it spreads virally, which a bag or item of clothing cannot do. One obvious reason is because it costs much more to replicate a bag than a song. This is why the writer's analogy of someone downloading a song and someone stealing a Bloom bag is not a good one.

A better analogy would be: someone buys a Bloom Bag (someone buys the original version of a song) then make copies of the bag (enables downloads, i.e, copies of the song), then never pays me for copies of the original design (never pays the original producer of the song). But then this is exactly what I experience with Bloom; I don't have to imagine it happening, thank you very much. And this is the reason Louis Vuitton and Prada and what have you go after pirates. Copyright issues do impact product design as well as concepts and content, but they do so in different degrees and ways. This is why it is much harder to go after cyber pirates than a bag pirate.

We can be charitable and say the writer is not very good with analogies or we can say he has employed yet another fallacy - The Strawman. Here is a perfect example from the writer: "answer me one simple question: would it be ok for you if 9 out of every 10 bags that left your premises (whether they were ordered online or someone walked into your store is irrelevant) weren't paid for while the price remained the same? think about that for awhile and report back"

The Strawman works by misrepresenting an opponent's position. To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

So in this example, the writer imagines he has destroyed my position with his simple (simpleton is the better word I think!) question about people walking in the shop and stealing our bags. The reality is with the poor analogy, he has set up a man of straw (easy to attack) that does not reflect the genuine situation facing Bloom in the matter of copyright. Simply put, the strawman works by oversimplifying an opponent's argument, then attacking this oversimplified version.

Enough of his fallacies. Let's get to the issue of copyright, innovation, the welfare of the creator and societal benefits which is what policies governing copyright should focus on.

As I have said before, the copying of Bloom bags does not doesn't bother me much. Here I think it's insightful what another poster, someone who did identify himself (thanks, feddabonn) wrote: "i believe we may have gone too far on the 'individual as the final measure' and 'financial profit as the standard' ways of thinking. (do i have an immediately viable alternative? no.)"

I think if we are honest, as feddabonn, himself an artist, is, we can ask why we are so aggressive about protecting copyright. It's because we want as much money as possible for our ideas, our designs. The anonymous writer argues he wants to be compensated for his time and effort. He says "my main focus of this whole discussion is really about *just* compensation. a fair wage for a fair days work. that's all."

Fair enough, but what is fair compensation? How would you determine this? How much is enough compensation? How far into the future should one be compensated for copyright? Obviously, fair compensation differ for different products.

What I can talk about is Bloom. In the case of our bags, I think we are fairly compensated when customers purchase even just one of our bag, because there is a profit margin, a mark-up, which takes into account the time and effort to make the bag. You can be greedy and say, wait a minute, I should be compensated much, much more. Not just for that one Bloom bag, but for as many of it as possible, including the copies that are floating about in the market. But what would benefit society more? Going after these pirates in an effort to line Bloom's pockets, or concentrating on new product development and educating consumers on the merits of owning a fair-trade Bloom bag versus a copy bag? For me the answer is obvious.

To what extent should current and future revenue from a product or idea determine policies governing copyright? At all costs? Surely that does not bode well for society or for the advancement of technology and other products and ideas.

In the Businessweek article I mentioned in the previous post, a computer scientist at Princeton University took part in a contest sponsored by the Recording Industry Association of America to test technology for guarding music against piracy.
"He and his students quickly found flaws in the new antipiracy software and prepared to publish their results. But when the RIAA learned of the plan, it threatened to sue under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Congress passed it back in 1998 to block hackers from breaking copy protection. And they wisely included a provision designed to let researchers such as Felten carry out their important work...Ultimately, faced with the professor's countersuit, the RIAA backed off. "The legal tools that are being used to rein in bad behavior are so blunt that they block a lot of perfectly benign behavior," Felten says. "That worries me."
Finally, what the anonymous writer thinks is the thrust of his argument: "but here's the kicker (again no malice.. are you with me?). cite me *one* example that you know of where a downloaded song, image or movie was morphed into another *meaningful* entity that is somehow making the world better for it? you made a pretty blanket statement there about the benefits of downloading stuff so i think you should back it up with some proof."

It is meaningless to talk about a "better" song, movie or image that was made better with filesharing, since we can hardly agree on what is "better" in matters of taste. A better example to use is technology, since most people can agree on what is "better" technology. And here there are obvious examples: Linux, the free operating system, and Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, are examples of what has been achieved through collaboration on the Internet (filesharing included), even though the trend is still in its infancy.

One has to remember the issue with copyright protection in the music and movie industry is not new, as is noted in the Harvard study I pointed readers to:
"Music companies fought the introduction of radio in the 1920s, fearing the new medium would provide close substitutes to buying records. Since that time, the numerous attempts to bribe radio stations in the hopes of influencing playlists suggest the industry has come to see radio as an important complement to recordings (Coase, 1979). Similarly, the entertainment industry battled home taping and the introduction of the VCR, arguing the new technology “is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone” (Valenti, 1982). Once the Supreme Court decided to protect technologies like the VCR, it did not take the industry long to discover that selling videotapes (and now DVDs) presents a major business opportunity."
Most people are resistant to change. Not only to changing their beliefs, as noted in the opening paragraphs of this post, but also to changing technology and their environment (especially when there is money at stake). But history has shown that people can and do adapt to change. Often when this happens, especially with technology, there is progress and the betterment of society.

On a final note, this is the last of me entertaining this anonymous writer. Some people may wonder why I bother to reply to someone who hides behind anonymity ( I do know he is from Massachusetts in the US and I have a pretty good idea who he is). Singapore newspapers stopped publishing anonymous letters to the editors decades ago because it was decided anonymous writers firstly, show a lack of conviction and secondly, writers have to take responsibility for their claims. This is the policy of all major newspapers and magazines.

I bother to respond because I am interested in ideas and not in the person. However, my courtesy is not reciprocated by this particular writer. He writes about feddabonn, the other commentator: "when you as a lover or words have loved those words so much that you've *personally* invested your soul and time to write a 500 page novel that knocks my socks off with vivid, interesting characters, rich dialogue and description that can transport me to another world, report back to me. only then will i consider you to have some idea about what an artist is. heck, if you have enough commitment to knock out a short story, that would make me happy.

until then, posting a comment on a blog doesn't make you an artist (not in my eyes and hopefully after reading what i've posted not in your own either)"

Shameful. And revealing in how the writer again relies on another fallacy, the ad hominem which is Latin for "argument to the man", "argument against the man". It is a common tactic poor thinkers resort to when they are unable to attack the substance of the argument, and so attack the person making the argument.

In a way I am glad for this writer- he has demonstrated so many uses of fallacies that he has provided us with a case study of how not to argue.

For other readers who are serious on the search for knowledge and truth on the issue of copyright and innovation, again I encourage you to read the Businessweek and Harvard studies linked above. And do let me know when was the last time you changed one or more of your beliefs.


feddabonn said...

ah thanks, diana! thanks also for clarifying that bit about the bag-product stuff.

i am debating in my own mind whether

1) downloading is stealing
2) stealing is always 'wrong'

i really am not sure what i think yet, i'm afraid. one of the reasons i think it is a good thing that the pirate party are in the parliament is that these questions will now be discussed at least. you have a good point that the opposition to 'piracy' may be part of an industry's reluctance to change how they do business. thanks for the links!

Diana Saw said...

Hey feddabonn, that's ok, me too. I don't have all the answers which is why I am seeking. One thing I have not figure out is what is enough compensation. And for how many years. In 1998, the U.S. Congress extended copyright protection by twenty years to new and existing copyrighted works. Works created after January 1, 1978, will endure for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years.

I wonder why it was extended and why extended for 20 years? I am struggling to think of other reason apart from the fact that the family/trust of the author wants to benefit.

In any case, like you, I am glad these issues will be discussed in the European parliament.


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