October 13th, 2004



Went to a talk at the University by Cory Doctorow last night entitled "Web 2.0 == AOL 1.0? How the Sinister Forces of Darkness are Conspiring in Smoke Filled Rooms to Make the Web Illegal, and You're Not Invited."

It had the usual scary stuff in it (broadcast flags, copyright gone mad, the madness of DRM, etc) and while there wasn't really anything new to me (except for Software Defined Radios, which I must do some reading about) it was great hearing the nervous giggles and sharp intakes of breath as Cory went over the details of current law and how its being put into use.

Because Lilian was organising it all in the first place, she was also tasked with taking Cory out for dinner, so I was along for that too. Charles Stross was also supposed to be there, but he got sidetracked into going to an Ian Banks signing and then off drinking with him and Ken Macleod. I was torn with indecision for about 0.3 seconds, but had a really good time kibbitzing over dinner (which was very nice - the new place beneath the National Gallery of Scotland).

And now to quickly shower and head workwards...


You cannot simply train cats with punishment. No matter what you do, they never learn not to climb on the kitchen counter. You can squirt them with water, knock them on the floor, administer light spankings and you will still not instill a belief that being on counters is a universal bad.

What you _will_ instill is the urge to avoid being caught on the kitchen counter. Congratulations, you have trained your cat to fear you.


You cannot simply train people with punishment. No matter what you do, they never learn not to copy files. You can put up notices everywhere and sue 0.01% of them, but you will still not instill a belief that copying music is a universal bad.

What you _will_ instill is the urge to avoid being caught copying music. Congratulations - you have trained your customers to fear you.


This is not to say that there aren't certain things you can't train a cat not to do - they are (usually) easily trainable to use a litter tray/outdoors, for instance. But this seems largely to be because cats naturally use an area for a toilet and the location of that area is fairly plastic. Training them not to do things that are natural for them to engage in doesn't work.

And the same goes for almost any trait in people - if someone is doing something, they're doing it because it's what they want to do. Punishing them for doing it won't lead to them not doing it - it'll just lead to them doing it when you aren't about, or doing it when they don't think they'll get caught.

Which isn't to say that people can't or don't change. But they have to want to change themselves, and they need positive reasons to do so - not just fear. Almost every study of the justice system has shown that punishment has almost no effect on re-offence rates, but education and job-skills have huge effects. Similarly, listen to rhetoric on both sides of any war - "We will keep killing them until they surrender." versus "Their attacks just make us mad - we will never surrender!".

Think about that next time you want to alter someone's behaviour - what actual effect will your behaviour have on them, and how woud you react in a similar situation. Punishment makes you feel good, but it doesn't actually do any good.


Cheers to cangetmad for pointing me in the direction of this piece, where various people were asked to explain Jacques Derrida.

Some of the people are very dismissive, but thankfully there are also a few who actually seem to understand what he was saying.

It does annoy me terribly, however, when people revel in ignorance.

I didn't know much about him. He was French, which to me says it all. Leave well alone!

I find it fairly loathsome when people are proud of being ignorant of computers, but this is just ridiculous.