The Subjectivity of Neutrality

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

― Desmond Tutu

I suppose one should first define a couple of words before going further: The dictionary defines neutrality as the state of being neutral, a “policy or status…that does not participate in a war…” , and war as “active hostility or contention; conflict”, e.g., “aggressive business conflict” (as in airline “fare wars”). Now, words mean what they mean, but the context they are in can change our inference to their meaning, where one arrives at a conclusion that is not logically derivable. 

Which leads to “Net Neutrality” and just what that means to different people.

Excuse the obvious oversimplification here, and I don’t mean to insult anyone’s intelligence or imply they lack a thorough knowledge of how Internet search engines operate, but just to be sure… as the Internet has grown in the number of sites on any given topic searched for, the various search engines (Google, etal) have developed algorithms (computerized sets of rules) to solve the question of where (how high or low) in their listing a site should occupy. Basically, other considerations aside, how high a site ranks is based on popularity, how many times a particular site is viewed or linked to by other sites and, obviously, the ranking becomes self-enhancing – the more a site is viewed or linked to the higher it gets in the list, and the higher it is in the list the more likely it will be viewed, moving it higher… and you get the idea. This, naturally, means that sites that are less popular, no matter how pertinent or good they are, are ranked down, even several page scrolls, and are therefore rarely looked at. Which means that they fall ever lower in ranking… and you get the idea.

So, a couple of years ago some of these lesser ranked sites decided this system of ranking according to popularity was hurting them – no one was looking at theirs – and the more influential (monied or otherwise powerful) ones complained to the big providers of search engines (AT&T, Comcast, Charter, etc.) and worked out a deal (one has to wonder just what those providers were to get from those site owners in return) where the providers could block sites from other providers in order to favor their own, or slow the connection rate to them and charge sites a “fast lane” service fee, or charge them a fee to maintain their high ranking.

Liberals saw this as starting a war on the free flow of information and public access. Some called it censorship and  extortion.

In effect, this would make the Internet just like the cable or satellite TV services – they (the Internet providers) would decide what you get to see, or you can pay extra for more – and this so incised the general public and those who believe in the freedom and right to information, that in 2015 the Democratic majority on the Federal Communications Commission established a policy that basically said, “No way, there needs to be an unfettered flow of online content.”

It was called the Open Internet, or Net Neutrality.

Conservatives see this new policy and reglations as a declaration of war on business and profits. Some call the regulations as governmental over-reach (even though a federal appeals court ruled the FCC has a Constitutional authority to regulate the Internet). They see the FCC’s action as the exact opposite of neutrality, they see it as meddling by the government in private business’.  Now that the Republicans have a majority in the FCC, they have started procedures to undo the Net Neutrality policy and regulations to allow Internet providers to do whatever they like concerning availability or cost of Internet content.

So, you see, neutrality means different things to different people. To some, as in this case, Liberals believe business’ (Internet providers) must be neutral and not limit – by any means – the right to information, whereas, to Conservatives, it means the government must be neutral and can not tell business’ what they can or cannot do.

I dare say, while every word has an objective meaning, there can be a subjective application. In this case, neutrality, within the context that it is presented and one’s political bent, can have divergent applications. But I think we all can agree that it means war.

And, to borrow from the above quote, if the elephant (as the symbol of the Republican party) is stepping on the tail of the mouse (the public, which includes you and me), I do not appreciate their application of neutrality. They are the oppressor at war with me and everyone else’s access to what should be unrestricted and free information.

And that is an injustice.

– Bill


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