Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

01 Feb 2015, 17:28 p.m.

Obedience, Akrasia, Hypocrisy, Resistance

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2015 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

So, let's say you have some dominant ethical norm, or law. For instance: copyright law, as it currently exists in the US and Europe.

Some people demonstrate obedience. They mean to follow this rule, and they do. This takes some diligence. Sometimes they find loopholes or hacks (such as the GNU Public License), but they obey.

Some people demonstrate akrasia. They mean to follow the rule, as they understand it, but they don't exercise enough diligence to obey well. I think a lot of folk copyright practice has an element of akrasia to it (people think it would be good to go through The Proper Channels but that feels too hard).

Some people demonstrate hypocrisy. They still think that, in general, people ought to follow that rule, but they've decided that they won't. Sony, a vocal anti-piracy company, allegedly infringed on copyright in software they shipped; this would be hypocrisy.

Some people demonstrate resistance. They articulate and obey an alternative ethical system, contradicting the dominant community norm. The Pirate Party and copyright abolitionists come to mind. Sometimes resisters don't find it safe to challenge these norms publicly or under their own names; perhaps you privately think copyright is bullshit and we should abolish the current system, and you refuse to feel guilty about infringing, but you don't dare say so publicly, and you hope you'll never be put into a situation where you're asked to participate in punishing someone else for infringing.

I know I haven't covered everything; as the saying goes, all models are wrong and some are useful. But if I notice someone breaking a rule, it's sometimes useful to me to understand whether they are experiencing akrasia, hypocrisy, or resistance. And I ought to remember that, from the outside, obedience and hypocrisy look the same.