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Politicians Who Don’t Understand The Internet Just Aren’t Funny Anymore

By 12.19.11

I’ve ranted quite a bit here and in other places about the absurdity of having people who know absolutely nothing about the internet — and who also don’t exhibit the slightest desire to do anything to remedy their ignorance — being the ones who make laws regulating it. Now there’s an open letter published by Vice floating around that speaks to this point quite well, much more intelligently than I could have put it, to be honest.

The gist of the piece, which was written by Joshua Kopstein, is that it used to be cute when old pricks like Ted Stevens babbled on hilariously about the internet being a “series of tubes,” but it’s just not funny anymore when their ignorance threatens to harm us all in the form of legislation like SOPA. Further, it’s high time we stop putting up with it. It’s just f*cking unacceptable.

I remember fondly the days when we were all tickled pink by our elected officials’ struggle to understand how the internet works. Whether it was George W. Bush referring to “the internets” or Senator Ted Stevens describing said internets as “a series of tubes,” we would sit back and chortle at our well-meaning but horribly uninformed representatives, confident that the right people would eventually steer them back on course. Well I have news for members of Congress: Those days are over.

We get it. You think you can be cute and old-fashioned by openly admitting that you don’t know what a DNS server is. You relish the opportunity to put on a half-cocked smile and ask to skip over the techno-jargon, conveniently masking your ignorance by making yourselves seem better aligned with the average American joe or jane — the “non-nerds” among us. But to anyone of moderate intelligence that tuned in to yesterday’s Congressional mark-up of SOPA, the legislation that seeks to fundamentally change how the internet works, you kind of just looked like a bunch of jack-asses.

Key members of the House Judiciary Committee still don’t understand how the internet works, and worse yet, it’s not clear whether they even want to.

It’s of course perfectly standard for members of Congress to not be exceptionally proficient in technological matters. But for some committee members, the issue did not stop at mere ignorance. Rather, it seemed there was in many cases an outright refusal to understand what is undoubtedly a complex issue dealing with highly-sensitive technologies.

When the security issue was brought up, Rep. Mel Watt of North Carolina seemed particularly comfortable about his own lack of understanding. Grinningly admitting “I’m not a nerd” before the committee, he nevertheless went on to dismiss without facts or justification the very evidence he didn’t understand and then downplay the need for a panel of experts. Rep. Maxine Waters of California followed up by saying that any discussion of security concerns is “wasting time” and that the bill should move forward without question, busted internets be damned.

So it was as proponents of the Hollywood-funded bill curmudgeonly shot down all but two amendments proposed by its opponents, who fought to dramatically alter the document to preserve security and free speech on the net. But the chilling takeaway of this whole debacle was the irrefutable air of anti-intellectualism; that inescapable absurdity that we have members of Congress voting on a technical bill who do not posses any technical knowledge on the subject and do not find it imperative to recognize those who do.

This used to be funny, but now it’s really just terrifying. We’re dealing with legislation that will completely change the face of the internet and free speech for years to come. Yet here we are, still at the mercy of underachieving Congressional know-nothings that have more in common with the slacker students sitting in the back of math class than elected representatives. The fact that some of the people charged with representing us must be dragged kicking and screaming out of their complacency on such matters is no longer endearing — it’s just pathetic and sad.

It will be a great day when a fundamental understanding of the internet is considered a must-have quality in any elected official. Otherwise we’re basically electing people to write laws who don’t possess the ability to read or write.


TAGSCONGRESSignorancePoliticsSOPAted stevens

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