Monday, October 6, 2008

A peculiar system of morality, veiled...

I was logged in to the Masonic Central broadcast last night, and as usual it was a good and lively discussion. I would encourage all Masons, or anyone interested in learning more about the Fraternity, to listen in on Sunday nights at 9 pm Eastern.

Often, the discussions you can't hear during the broadcast are just as interesting as the ones you can. There are usually two or three of us carrying on a conversation in the IM-like interface that pops up when you log in to Talk Shoe to listen to the broadcast. Last night, the text "chat" strayed a little off topic when the main audio conversation was dealing with showing movies (projected DVDs) in the lodge (a "movie and popcorn night," if you will). I made the point that the license a person is granted when they purchase a DVD does not cover any sort of public showing. When you buy a DVD, you are licensed to watch it in your home. That's it under US copyright law and international intellectual property laws. One Brother responded that he didn't pay any attention to stuff like that. Is that an appropriate way for a Mason to respond?

I believe as Masons we should strive to follow the law insofar as we know what the law is. The posted speed limit is 65 mph? Then don't drive 70. It's that simple. Want to show movies in your lodge? Then take the necessary steps to secure the proper license for showings by a non-profit organization.

No man is perfect, which means no Mason is perfect. But if I truly want to "improve myself, in Masonry," am I just going through the motions, or am I really trying to make a difference in the way I conduct myself? When I'm late for that meeting and I fly past motorists who are driving the speed limit, and I've got my Masonic license plate and/or Masonic emblems showing proudly on the back of my car, who am I kidding? And what sort of message am I sending out about Freemasonry? That it's a "peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory?" Or veiled in hypocrisy?

18 comments:

L Tzu said...

"peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory?"

Maybe this is out of context, but doesn't peculiar mean uncommon? So wouldn't following the law mean following the common morality? Even though it's not the status quo, it is common morality.

Seems to me this would imply that morality in Masonry is outside of the established social norm.

Vitruvius said...

A most disappointing post to read, on so many levels :-( I offer the following advice with the utmost sincerity.

Before your upcoming ceremony, you may want to consider contemplating further some of the obligations you have taken, especially with respect to relationships with fellow Brothers. You may also wish to contemplate what the ceremonies say with respect to the importance of fostering 'harmony' amongst fellow Brothers.

As far as the law is concerned, yes Masons are encouraged to obey the law of their country. But perhaps it is not so simple. Consider for example the documented participation of Masons in the famous Boston Tea Party...

Let me close by saying that frankly I was so appalled at the judgemental tone expressed in your post, that I immediately found myself googling for a quotation that sprang immediately to mind. Since you say you are a Christian, you will likely be familiar with these scriptures I copied and pasted below. Perhaps as Morpheus says to Neo in the movie 'The Matrix', "There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path."

Judging Others
Lk. 6.3738, 4142
1. Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. Mk. 4.24
3. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4. Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5. Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.
6. Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

~ Vitruvius ~

Esquire said...

This post was a general observation. No Brothers were named, so there is no need for disharmony. I was not judging anyone in particular. I was calling into question the propriety of ANY Mason willfully disregarding the law.

And honestly, do you really want to compare the Boston Tea Party with violating current US copyright law? That is so wrong on so many levels it's not even funny.

I am far from a perfect Christian (or Mason). But that doesn't mean I can't or shouldn't raise a discussion touching on morality simply because I too fail at times to live up to the standards imposed on me by my faith (or the Craft). Would you tell your minister he can't preach against sin because he himself is a sinner, too?

Esquire said...

In this context, "peculiar" carries the more antiquated meaning of "unique."

Masonic Traveler said...

In all fairness, Brother Esquire is absolutely correct in his post.

By virtue, we are charged with obeying the laws of the land in which we reside, and Revolutionaries aside, there are rules in this litigious society by which we have agreed to live by.

As a voting citizen, if you don’t like it, write your congress man and change the law.

Or, do what’s right and license your establishment. The risk, though very very low, still remains so long as your lodge or club is showing content produced and copy written.

Something that Br. Esquire did not mention is how to license your establishment to show DVD’s and and this site may be a start to the process.

http://www.mplc.org
which is the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation.

Esquire said...

Masonic Traveler, thanks for your perspective. I would submit, however, that the "risk" of getting fined for copyright violation should not be the motivating factor. Just as we should not drive the speed limit only because we fear getting a ticket, we should get the appropriate license to show the DVDs and drive the speed limit, because it's simply the right thing to do.

Vitruvius said...

> This post was a general observation. No Brothers were named, so there is no need for disharmony. I was not judging anyone in particular. I was calling into question the propriety of ANY Mason willfully disregarding the law.

I begin to doubt your sincerity, and I disagree with your statements above. Clearly it was not necessary for you to name anyone, since everyone who was present knew exactly who you were referring to. I would *never* ever do something like that to another Brother. Ed King does the same thing on his blog (telling stories about people without naming names) - I frankly consider it disgusting. As far as I'm concerned you owe an apology.

> And honestly, do you really want to compare the Boston Tea Party with violating current US copyright law? That is so wrong on so many levels it's not even funny.

First of all, I am not in the U.S., and I thank god for that. Here in Canada we do not yet have the draconian DMCA legislation (although it is being considered unfortunately). I am not a lawyer (I note you are), and I would obviously need to research the actual pertinent legislation up here, since I just don't know the details. I do know that Canadian copyright law differs from U.S. legislation.

Freemasonry charges us to obey the law, but it also says very clearly that nothing in the obligation should take priority over each Freemason's personal conscience (I'm paraphrasing of course). I believe very strongly in the notion that ethics and morality are a personal decision, and I do reserve the right to think for myself and decide on a course of behaviour, even if that could involve breaking a law, if my conscience dictates that to be the morally correct path. Yes, for me (I don't foist my morality on others) sometimes personal conscience can trump legislation.

The main point I was attempting to make is that *not all laws are good laws*, and that Masons have been known to question authority, think for themselves, and *gasp* break laws -- in my opinion this is as it should be. We are not required to be sheep for heavens sake. Another example: I know a fellow who smokes marijuana. He is a loving husband and father, and quite decent a decent person all around. Should he be denied the opportunity to experience the benefits of Freemasonry (I doubt very much he would interested anyway) just because he engages in breaking the pertinent laws?

> I am far from a perfect Christian (or Mason). But that doesn't mean I can't or shouldn't raise a discussion touching on morality simply because I too fail at times to live up to the standards imposed on me by my faith (or the Craft).

I think it is the way you have gone about it to which I'm taking offence. I'm all for discussion, philosophizing, and general merriment. I just don't like being the whipping boy for the discussion you've raised. I think it is rude and inconsiderate, and further, if you don't think you are promoting disharmony with such an act, then maybe you need to think about it a little closer. I would have thought it obvious that publicly discussing someone, even without using exact names, in the context of an example of unmasonic behaviour, would be interpreted as unfriendly and boorish behaviour.

> Would you tell your minister he can't preach against sin because he himself is a sinner, too?

A skilful preacher will use *himself* as an example with which to instruct, not point fingers at another, insulting them in a public space. If you cannot see that's what you've done here, then I'm not sure what else I can say. Am I taking this personally? You bet! I hope you are learning some lessons here; I know that I have from this experience already.

~ Vitruvius ~

Esquire said...

Vitruvius,

The handful of people who were logged in already knew how you responded about the DVD licensing. The only reason anyone reading this blog (now) knows is because of you, not me. It would have been much better if you had just read my post and not responded.

As far as using oneself as an example in a morality play, I suggest you go back and read the last paragraph of my post and take note of all those first person pronouns I used.

People don't like being called out over moral or ethical decisions they make. I understand. But the bottom line on this particular issue is I'm right, and you're wrong. Period.

I would strongly encourage you to take a break from this topic, cool off, and re-think your position before posting anything else.

Vitruvius said...

> In all fairness, Brother Esquire is absolutely correct in his post.

Frankly I'm surprised. You talk about the issue as if it were a math problem, where there is only one correct answer. Issues such as this are rarely that black and white.

> By virtue, we are charged with obeying the laws of the land in which we reside, and Revolutionaries aside, there are rules in this litigious society by which we have agreed to live by.

You and the blog owner both seem to believe that all laws are good laws, and that we should obey them without question or exception. I disagree strongly with this absolutist position; there are exceptions to every rule, and life is more complicated than that.

> As a voting citizen, if you don’t like it, write your congress man and change the law.

In my case that would be my Member of Parliament. That's fine advice, but there are limits to how effective that can be. It also assumes that everyone is operating on the same level playing field, which is clearly not the case. The various (corporate) lobby organizations have the kind of money it takes to directly influence the creation of legislation that serves their interests (like your MPAA and RIAA for example :-). The average citizen certainly does not have those kind of resources.

My focus is on individual freedom, gentlemen, and the more laws that get passed in this increasingly litigious society of ours, the more probability there is that stupid and unnecessary laws will get passed. I'll wager there are even a few already on the books ;-)

> Or, do what’s right and license your establishment. The risk, though very very low, still remains so long as your lodge or club is showing content produced and copy written.

This is fair enough, and I grant the point to you and Esquire. It would never be my intention to be irresponsible and put others, especially my lodge brothers, in a position of risk.

> Something that Br. Esquire did not mention is how to license your establishment to show DVD’s and and this site may be a start to the process.

> http://www.mplc.org
> which is the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation.

Thank you for that, that is helpful behaviour. Again though, I'm not sure whether the policies of the MPLC apply in countries outside the U.S. or not. Further research required.

~ Vitruvius ~

Esquire said...

Vitruvius,

No one, in a society governed by the rule of law, should think they have the right to choose which laws he or she will obey. That is the road to anarchy.

Are there bad laws on the books? Of course. But the answer is to work to get the laws changed, not disobey the ones you think are bad.

But let's not lose focus on the particular law that precipitated this discussion. The issue was copyright law. That was the specific law you said you don't pay much attention to. Now, if you have a good argument as to why that's a bad or unjust law worthy of being disobeyed, I'd love to hear it--but it would a topic for another discussion, not this one.

Vitruvius said...

> People don't like being called out over moral or ethical decisions they make. I understand. But the bottom line on this particular issue is I'm right, and you're wrong. Period.

I think this statement speaks volumes. You haven't really *listened* to anything I've written in this thread, and you are so sure of your own infallibility, that any real dialogue is rendered impossible. I could just as well be talking to a brick wall.

In my personal experience, I found that it was only when I started to become aware of how much I *didn't know*, that I could begin to look at things with a more open and questioning mind. I realy think you, or anyone, will get more from Masonry if approached with a little less 'certainty'.

I'm outta here...
~ Vitruvius ~

Esquire said...

I'm certainly not infallible. But on this one point, I'm right. Your position, no matter how much you want to color it with notions of just and unjust laws, is indefensible.

Is there potentially ever a situation where a law could be so egregious, so contrary to the basic rights of man, that the willful disobedience of it would be in order? Without doubt. The US was founded upon just such a premise. But we are not talking about such laws. We're talking about laws like copyright and speed limits. And the only reasons I can't see why anyone would seriously argue that laws like those should be willfully disobeyed.

The Palmetto Bug said...

Wow. An old phrase that mentions a molehill and a mountain comes to mind.

It is getting to the point that, even when names are not used, having an opinion that differs from that of another is called unmasonic behavior by some.

Esquire's original post was thought provoking. His position may be a subject that can be debated - but it certainly wasn't "disgusting."

Vitruvius said...

> No one, in a society governed by the rule of law, should think they have the right to choose which laws he or she will obey.

Again, there are exceptions to every rule in my opinion. There is a great quote that I vaguely remember but cannot do justice to. It basically states that when unjust laws become law, citizens should begin to disobey them. I'll see if I can track that one down.

> That is the road to anarchy.

Or the road to freedom, or revolution :-) But these are overly dramatic words. We're not talking about murder here for heavens sake. We're talking about showing a movie or documentary, at no cost, that I paid for, to a group of Brothers in a Lodge setting. I just cannot get my knickers in a knot over such a scenario. This does not mean 'I am right and you are wrong, period', which is the position you want to take -- it just means I am making a different choice, and *if* there is some kind of infraction taking place (this still needs to be verified for Canadian law), then it is surely a pretty minor one in the grand scheme of things from where I stand.

> Are there bad laws on the books? Of course. But the answer is to work to get the laws changed, not disobey the ones you think are bad.

I believe there is no "the answer"; there are only different people and the different choices that they make in any given situation or circumstance. If the above is your choice, and that of Br. Stewart, then fine, I can respect that choice. But please don't assume that you should be in any position to prescribe my behaviour to me. This is my life and these are my choices, and I would hope that others would respect that if I am making my decisions with a clear conscience.

> But let's not lose focus on the particular law that precipitated this discussion. The issue was copyright law. That was the specific law you said you don't pay much attention to.

A point of clarification: let's be clear about this for the record -- my statement was made in a context of spontaneous fun chat amongst Brothers who were specifically questioning whether there were legal issues/risks with projecting a video for Brothers to watch in a Lodge setting, and thereby engage in knowledge-sharing. My comment was meant to convey that I really didn't think it was a big deal, or a bad thing, to do this, and that I wouldn't worry too much about it. I don't wish my statement to be misconstrued as something that it was not intended to be.

> Now, if you have a good argument as to why that's a bad or unjust law worthy of being disobeyed, I'd love to hear it--but it would a topic for another discussion, not this one.

Agreed, that is for another discussion.

Sheesh, that felt a little more like actual *dialogue*...

~ Vitruvius ~

Vitruvius said...

> It is getting to the point that, even when names are not used, having an opinion that differs from that of another is called unmasonic behavior by some.

It is easy to state an opinion without pointing fingers at another Brother.

Functionally, if someone points at another Brother and "calls them out" in public (or semi-public in this case) for their moral choices -- even when names are not explicitly used, it amounts to the same thing as being named or fingered. I have an ego too you know and right now it feels bruised. I also have my own notions about honourable behaviour, and that's why I spoke up to defend myself. If I feel I've been wronged or treated with disrespect, than I'm not going to remain silent, as Esquire has suggested it would have been better for me to do.

> Esquire's original post was thought provoking. His position may be a subject that can be debated - but it certainly wasn't "disgusting."

Nor did I suggest it was; I said that telling stories about someone without naming them (and yet those in the know understand which person is being referred to), as has happened on other squirrelish blogs, is "disgusting" to me. It is certainly unmasonic behaviour in my humble opinion.

In the case of Esquire, intention is an important factor. I don't know for sure what Esquire's motive was in writing this blog post the way he chose to, or how conscious he was of what he was saying, and how he was saying it. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps I should modify the adjective in that case to "objectionably disrespectful". Again, in my opinion.

~ Vitruvius ~

The Millennial Freemason said...

Here is Nick's response to all this:

I believe that you may be correct about performance rights, however, there is in fact a section for fraternal organizations in the section on public performance exceptions, "[a] performance of a nondramatic literary or musical work in the course of a social function which is organized and promoted by ... a nonprofit fraternal organization to which the general public is not invited... if the proceeds from the performance, after deducting the reasonable costs of producing the performance, are used exclusively for charitable purposes and not for financial gain." 17 USC 110 (10)

Just an interesting aside.

Nick

Esquire said...

I would have to research that section of the US Code, but on its face I would say it applies to the actual performance of plays or musicals, not the showing of a previously recorded motion picture.

Masonic Traveler said...

Br. Nick,

I believe the portion of the code to which you allude is for the performance of such works.

The aspect of copyright violation comes up in the public display.

But, there may be a loop hole given everyone watching are "brothers" (tongue firmly in cheek).

By the book is by the book. its not interpretive. But working in a licensing industry, the question of policing it comes to mind. A moral law should guide us, but as men, we are surly fallible.

The code says:
# The rental or purchase of a Video does not bear the right to perform the copyrighted work publicly.(Section 202)

# Videos may be shown without a separate license in the home to “a normal circle of family and its social acquaintances” (Section 101) because such showings are not considered “public.”

# Videos may be shown without a license for non-profit educational purposes and in certain narrowly defined “face-to-face teaching activities” because the law provides limited exceptions for such showings. (Section 110(1).

# All other public performances of Videos are illegal unless they have been authorized by license. Even “performances in ‘semipublic’ places such as clubs, lodges, factories, summer camps and schools are ‘public performances’ subject to copyright control.” (Senate Reprt No. 94-473, page 60; House Report No. 94-1476, page 64).

# Both for-profit organizations and non-profit institutions must secure a license to show Videos, regardless of whether an admission fee is charged. (Senate Report No. 94-473, page 59; House Report No. 94-1476, page 62)

# A party is liable for contributory infringement when it, with knowledge of the infringing activity, contributes to the infringing conduct of another or provides the means to infringe. Vicarious liability arises where a party has “the right and ability to supervise the infringing activity and also has a direct financial interest in such activities.” Gershwin Publishing Corp. Vs. Columbia Artists Management, Inc., 443 F.2d1159, 1161 (2d Cir. 1971). Both the property owner and exhibitor must make sure a license is in place before a Video is shown by either party.

For the full letter of the law:
http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#106a

I do think discussion goes beyond the scope of the original post, and I want to agree with PB on the mole hills.

I do want to say that it is between brothers, so there should be no ill will.