Damn. This Is What It Looks Like, Isn't It?

One of the key insights of the Pirate community is that power is expected to corrupt people. It is not just that it is possible, rather, it is near inevitable. Therefore, you can’t trust people to not be people; instead, you must design the system to survive human nature.

I had one such epiphany last week as I got a routine mail from one of many seeking contact with me. Since stepping down from party leadership, my role has primarily been to connect people, observe and give feedback, and think aloud — acting as a classic senior Greycloak without any formal decision power.

Now, our movement is clearly in an underdog position against an establishment who are defending its positions of entitlement. We do not want to fix their structures; to them, we are the problem, not the fix. Therefore, being regarded as a disease in the system, you come to expect that your rights are ignored and the privileges of the nobility upheld; a two-tier justice system is enforced with violence. You cannot meet this on the playfield of enforcement violence where you are outnumbered and outgunned; whether we like it or not, we are rightsless. Court proceedings are rigged in every way imaginable; legislative processes scheduled to make it impossible for citizens to be heard. Instead, you must meet this with sunlight and public opinion, which is our home arena where we are unbeatable. Corruption thrives in the dark.

In this, we share a lot with the contemporary Occupy movement.

So I was not surprised when I got yet another mail last week that called my attention to this two-tier justice system. It was from a large bitcoin player in Asia who asked me to put sunlight on the fact that German police are harassing bitcoin enthusiasts, seizing their money and putting them through no ends of trouble just for using a disruptive technology that could upend the privileges of the ancien regime.

Well, this is the kind of things I do. And in this case, it makes sense for everybody. I connect these people with the German Pirate Party, who can call public opinion to this fact and strengthen their role as progressive against entitlements of the old nobility. The bitcoin player gets to strengthen the bitcoin community, the enthusiasts in Germany get to pursue their hobby without clueless police beating them for the fun of it, and the German Piratenpartei gets another feather in the hat with the German public ahead of the next elections.

Then it hits me. It hits me like a truckload of bricks being dumped on top of me without warning; I just stare dumbfounded for several minutes as I try to wrap my head around the concepts.

Damn, I hear myself say. This is what it looks like, isn’t it?

Let me rewrite what happened. A bank of our generation, a net-gen bank in a large economy in Asia, had trouble with law enforcement harassing their customers. “The law enforcement agents are misguided and misinformed in their efforts”, they might have written, “and we would like to help them understand the issues”. Rather than connecting with German law enforcement, where I have no connections, I see an opportunity for personal friends of mine who run a major political party in one of Europe’s key economies to gain from this, embarrassing law enforcement through a public media campaign to stop harassing the bank’s customers, all while gaining votes for the next election. All of my friends win and the Police look stupid.

This is indeed what it looks like, isn’t it? The very behavior we are trying to fight?

Now, I’m not utilitarian to the fingertips. The behavior we are fighting is unjust because it combines the power of lawmaking and law enforcement with that of personal and business interests; we don’t do that and can’t do that. But just because we are underdogs now — everybody in this story from the bank to the bitcoin enthusiasts to the German Piratenpartei — and trying to upend the privileges of the old, that doesn’t give us the right to take their place to defend a contemporary we live in against the next generation after us if we could. We, too, will grow old. Right now, we are saying that sunlight and transparency will prevail. At the same time, those of us who founded and started these movements are getting hyperconnected among ourselves and with all the major players building the structures of the next generation.

(As a measure of the ridiculous extent of connectedness, I’m not only connected to that bank in Asia — I am also a good customer there, and I personally know the people who designed that bank’s security systems. I used to work for them and we have even received the same awards. I don’t think the bank is aware of that fact, though.)

What is to say that we won’t just become the old, behave like the old, in 30-40 years when we have grown into much more senior positions in society where our movements have grown into power, and we all know one another and help one another stand above the law when, like above, there is a “misunderstanding with law enforcement”?

Events like the one last week are tests. Tests of whether we stand true to our ideals. Being aware of our human nature is a first step of standing true to them in the long run.

Most importantly, I am aware that our movements will start to flood with career-hungry people once there are good careers to be made in organizations like the Pirate Parties, and us idealists will gradually grow marginalized. That’s just the way things work. This is why, in my closing keynote to the Pirate Parties International earlier this year, I chose to focus on this fact. “Every 40 years”, I said, “democracy is reconquered by new idealists. Their movements are eventually taken over by career politicians. So will ours.”

Therefore, I ended by asking for a favor. “Forty years from now, those of us who are still around, I’d like to ask you for a favor“, I said. “Odds are that when our parties are flooded with career politicians forty years from now, and we are living comfortably in our retirements, a bunch of spoiled young brats will organize out of nowhere and appear to demand everything for free in ways that are both reprehensible and incomprehensible.”

“Help them.”

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. Rickard Olsson

    Come now, this can not have come as a sudden surprise now. We have talked about this very process, I believe the first time was several years ago. I grant you that the issue at hand then was much more of an internal nature, however, the mechanisms are the same. I think the key is being able to step out of your own shoes and into someone elses once in a while.

    If for no other reason, understanding your foes may be helpful in defeating them. 😉

  2. X

    I may have recommended it before, but I’ll do it again: Václav Havel’s “Power unto Death” speech about suddenly being turned into a politician, and how political power changed his existence:


  3. AeliusBlythe

    But you are _aware_ of the danger of falling into the same thinking, the same traps as those you fight. That has to be good. You cannot even delude yourself into believing that what you do for yourself you do for anyone else, (“this is the right thing to do!”) which puts you ahead of many.

    I have to admit, it’s frightening, though, this post. That an idealist can see the potential to falter in their ideals . . . Hope that your awareness can be an armor against that.

    I saw that keynote and it was pretty damn inspiring. It is nice to hear someone think beyond their own generation of ideals to the future idealists that may be, as you say, “reprehensible and incomprehensible.”

    1. Rickard Olsson

      The problem is that the idealists do NOT falter in their ideals — they just become more and more pragmatic in how they choose to further those ideals. The human mind excels in fooling itself into thinking that it’s right, and so by necessity, righteous. Power corrupts, but the corrupted are powerless to see it.

  4. Scary Devil Monastery

    Far-sighted visions such as these and the ability to second-guess oneself…and come out with it in public…is what drew me to PP in the first place.

    No, we do not have a solution to everything, but when I go to the urns I can at the very least vote with a clean conscience.

    Whereas in the long-established parties it’s becoming all too clear that the game of politics has taken over to the point where the senior members are now in dire need of assistance in order just to tie their own shoelaces. It’s gone that far and the divorce from reality in favor of ideology and mutual backscratching is complete.

    It’s bizarre. politicians who’ve groomed themselves in order to control a country now spend some 90% of their careers playing a real-life version of WoW while camping the opposition. No thought at all to the consequences of their actions or on what is actually happening in the world around them. All that matters is the exchange of favors and political infighting.

    I’ve thought the same. “In thirty years, that’ll be us“. At which time I just hope I have more guts than most of the current generation of seniors and am still able to turn my allegiances and my vote in the deserving direction.

  5. DavidXanatos

    Could you please elaborate on how the German police is moving against bitcoin?

    David X.

  6. slob100

    Hmmm. From one point of view you’re right. But from the other… not sure. Since you are:
    “aware that our movements will start to flood with career-hungry people once there are good careers to be made in organizations like the Pirate Parties, and us idealists will gradually grow marginalized” –

    Why you didn’t do whatever you can to help those needed help? Since you are AWARE, wouldn’t you show responsibility and step on the hot spot of a rightful leader?
    What did you do? You didn’t provide help and you call for some potential “career-hungry” person to makes the moves? You believe in swarms? But you don’t say so in this post, or I missed the point?
    And I am also interested in question above by DavidXanatos.

  7. Ninja (@icanhazsake)

    Holy smokes Rick. This article is both prophetic and historic. Prophetic because what is said here will indeed come to happen and historic because it happened. Several times. Can we change the inevitable clashes that come from the once idealistic and fighting youth being stubborn and ignoring the new youth?

    I’m at a loss of words on how to describe what this article made me feel. I do hope that I can actually help the youngsters when I’m old. I hope I, we, don’t forget the hardships we are going through on our young days but also I hope I don’t use these same hardships to tell these youngsters “bah, you are complaining for nothing, in my time it was worst”. My time is one time. The future is another thing and the fact it’s different doesn’t mean it’s easier.

    Great, great article Rick.

  8. Colin

    You make some interesting comments here Rick and I understand where you are coming from. However, I think you are wrong on the issue of whether or not to alert your friends in Germany’s Piratenpartei. The question is not whether you network with friends, colleagues, contacts etc, but rather your MOTIVE for doing so.
    If your motive is to stop or highlight an injustice while exposing the wrongdoers, there is nothing wrong, immoral or otherwise ‘bad’ about alerting people. I would even say that you have a duty to pass on this information.
    If your motive were to put your German friends in your debt and owing you favours that you would later reclaim, THAT would be wrong, but the solution would be to banish any thoughts of personal gain – not to withhold the information.
    I think your admirable concern not to do dirty deals behind closed doors is actually leading you to protect the German police – whose actions here should be exposed to the German people they are supposed to serve and protect.

  9. Anonymous

    It was Mt. Gox, wasn’t it? That’s hardly a bank 🙂

    It’s fine to see personal benefits in actions that you do. Escaping that would be negating the world in which we live in (capitalism…).

    It doesn’t matter how much good one can get from his actions when doing the right thing. It’s about the right thing… If you start thinking that you just might benefit with a nickle from that, hence you fail to do it, you are probably doing the *wrong* thing…

    I would not care if a politician got 50% of the votes because he legalized file sharing… the point is in the right thing, what he got for his trouble is not my concern, what he does with what he gets is another thing though…

    You can’t escape such thoughts… it’s normal… being guided by interest rather then morals is another thing… guided by interest *and* moral is fine…

    “I do not decide whether I go into battle, by the strength of the force that follows me – but by the sanctity of what I defend.”

  10. Dennis Nilsson

    The power and glory always get’s our judgement drunked and corrupt, even if you think you are the most honest guy on Earth.

    Therefore we always need brave individuals like Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, to tell us the truth. The Truth is only uncomfortable to those that have not been telling the Truth.

    At the local level, you could call your local politicians, an tell him/her that now his/her judgement is drunked and corrupt. In this manner you do help an individual and our society.

Comments are closed.