Because I want it

14 August 2004 | 1 Comment

I’ve read your post and your @U2 “don’t download” article. I think you’re selling yourself a bit short. Yes, the essay was passionate, but it also made good sense. As you say, anyone who’s been stolen from knows that it hurts. The core of any counter to your argument is that it’s OK to steal from someone you admire (the folks doing the stealing must admire U2, because the music is what U2 is). That’s the claim that‘s truly illogical, no matter what smokescreen it hides behind.

As for a side-stepping argument that downloading the music isn’t really stealing, that’s difficult to refute in the same way that, if confronted with someone who was adamantly claiming that two plus two was five, I would be struck dumb for awhile, wondering what I could say that would make any impression, that would bridge the gap between us. Your approach was, I think, the best one — not getting into an elaborate argument about what constitutes stealing, but rather pointing out the result: that U2’s members were hurt and upset. No matter how someone defines the action of removing the band’s music from their possession, anyone who downloads it is participating in hurting people they claim to admire and empathize with. So again, don’t apologize (maybe you weren’t exactly apologizing, but your post is a little bit defensive) for being too passionate. Your article is emotional, and that’s great. It gets people to pay attention. But if you read it again, in a cooler mood, I think you’ll see that it makes good sense too.


Well, thank you, you’re very kind, and in fact I do think the article makes sense. I didn’t feel defensive when writing my post, or the article itself; I felt vulnerable. Perhaps my post miscommunicated in some way, but it doesn’t matter: I’d hate to end up crawling down my own navel trying not be defensive about not being defensive (big smile).

The argument about why stealing is fine that most gives me pause goes something like this: I really like their stuff and they should be thankful for such big fans like me because we keep them going, and besides they have enough money already. I find this particular sideways entitlement creepy on multiple levels. There’s the unspoken attitude of They have more than I do, so fuck them, who cares how they feel? The less obvious counterpart is, They have more than I do, but as long as they don’t act like they’re better than me then it’s okay — which is peachy until you start defining “acting better than me” as someone saying “Excuse me, but you’re interrupting my private conversation and I don’t want to sign something for you right now.”

I know I’m wandering, but this is a question I sometimes ask people: what do you or should you do when you spot a favorite celebrity in public? Is it okay to approach someone at dinner to ask for an autograph or express appreciation of their work? Is it okay if they aren’t eating yet? (Seriously, I’ve heard this argument). Is it okay if they’re standing at the urinal? (I’ve always understood that guys aren’t supposed to watch each other pee, but is it okay if one of them is famous? It’s a particular aspect of celebrity that seems a little harder on men…) I’ve had people tell me it’s their absolute right to demand a celebrity’s attention at any point because “they knew what they were getting into when they became famous, and it’s part of their job to respond to people like me.” And when people aren’t invariably gracious about being approached, they get labeled as stuck up, arrogant, forgot how they got there, think they’re too good for their fans, etc. Which is one of the responses that U2 has received as a result of this CD incident. The circularity of this reasoning befuddles me (I can’t help but perceive it as Tthey think they’re better than me because I’m rude, to which my response is, Well, yeah…).

I suppose it boils down to the truth that there’s no rational argument to be made with someone who is essentially saying, I want it because I want it, and I’ll take it because I can. That’s why it scares the bejesus out of me, whether it comes from a kid who steals someone else’s lunch money, or from the President of the United States (and I wasn’t thinking of Clinton).

And I do stand by my belief that emotional arguments, however true, are suspect in this culture. I think this is partly because this culture uses unsound emotional arguments all the time (ad hominem attacks, or stating personal values as if they were world truths, etc.), and this makes us suspicious that emotion can ever be properly allied to logic. After all, it’s almost always used as a weapon against logic. I think that’s really what I meant by my post. As you’ve said, it’s hard to know how to respond to that sort of thing.

When did we start thinking that feelings didn’t matter? And, conversely, when did we start thinking that they were an adequate basis for law or justice?