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Life

Politically Incorrect, Morally Questionable, or Technically Illegal

As I delved into this novel about a grandmother who stumbles upon something morally reprehensible while doing something illegal, it occurred to me that there are a range of topics that I’ve not allowed myself to discuss on this website. These are things that poor people do just to survive. They aren’t in it for profit; in fact, when their finances are steady they abandon the procedures. But when the chips are down and they need to put food on the table, these are the routines that they fall back on.

I’ve never thought about the self-censorship I’ve employed. As friends and family have suggested that I write about certain things, I simply didn’t write about them or I changed them in ways to make them unrecognizeable.

For instance, it’s illegal to remove the tags from pillows and mattresses. There are people who find those tags unappealing for a variety of reasons, yet I cannot tell you whether I am among that number for fear that my post will lead the Mattress Gestapo to my door.

Another example that used to be common a decade or so back involved software, movies and music discs. Parents would burn copies of their expensive originals for their kids. Rather than allow their children to scratch up a disk that cost them $20, $30, and sometimes more, they would let the children use the copies while the originals were stored away. They didn’t do this for profit; they did this to protect their originals from damage. But this procedure was considered evil enough that operating system manufacturers began to limit and remove the ability from modern operating systems because these parents were “stealing” — costing millions of dollars of injury to the original producers of the item. That’s actually one of the reasons that software manufacturers started listing their products in online marketplaces. While they stated that it was for “convenience,” it was actually to prevent parents from practicing these preservation procedures.

I’ve read tales in years gone by of minimalists who, determined to remove physical clutter from their lives to be a bigger dog in the primordial pissing contest who would rip the contents of their music and movie discs to their computer and sell the originals.

That’s highly illegal since the money received from the physical copies is considered pirating so you don’t hear that discussed now.

I’ve got an entire case of music CDs in my home right now due to the illegality of the practice. Rather than sell the ancient music CDs I’ve acquired over the years once I rip them, I eliminate the cases and stash the originals in a binder. You see, it’s not technically illegal to rip your music to a computer so that you can listen to it on a broad range of devices, it’s just illegal to sell or dispose of the originals.

The originals are proof that you legally obtained your digital music, you see.

If you want to thin down your physical book collection by scanning the pages to create a digital copy, guess what? You’re breaking the law as well. While it’s acceptable if you have proof that you actually owned the physical copy at some point in the past (so that you can argue that you were the one who scanned it), it’s part of a legal gray area that’s best left untouched.

And don’t you ever dare to think about sharing a digital copy of a book with a friend. That’s considered pirating, my friends.

Yet there are people all around who practice these little things. They don’t do it for profit, they do it because they feel that if they bought the original item that they should have the right to change the format, back up their originals, or share them with a friend for free.

Some companies are even now fighting to make it illegal for you to fix your stuff. I stumbled upon an article about this the other day. They are involved in a court case stating that it isn’t “safe” for the average person (or even a shade-tree tech) to maintain, upgrade, or repair the devices. John Deere is currently turning farmers into pirates due to this. They are purchasing illegal software produced in foreign nations to hack the software in their tractors just so they can fix the things without facing an outrageous bill from the John Deere corporation.

None of these farmers can write about the practice on the Internet. If they did, they would be providing evidence that could be used against themselves in a court of law.

And finally, there is the court of Political Correctness that seems to be running rampant in our society. Back when I worked a public job a police officer came into the store searching for a suspect. He didn’t say who or why; he just provided me a description of the person. He visited all of the stores in our little area, so us managers were all gossiping. The poor officer must have felt the fear that his description would be considered politically incorrect and therefore punishable because, depending upon the race of the person he asked about the suspect, he would either include or leave out the color of the suspect’s skin.

Those of us who shared the suspect’s skin color were rather shocked at that discrepancy. That single piece of information may have helped us identify the person better yet this officer was so worried about his job that he felt the need to leave it out when asking those of us who shared the suspect’s skin color.

Yet to me, skin color is not a discriminatory issue. It’s a color, for goodness’ sake! Seriously, I know for a fact that I’m a poor white Cracker every single time I look in the mirror. It’s not going to offend me if somebody uses my color when they describe me. The tragic part of that is the fact that I have friends in a rainbow of colors who feel the exact same way. As long as the terms are used as a description and not an insult, as a whole we see no harm in the practice.

Yet people can lose their careers over that.

I’ve heard of folks who used what they consider to be their right to free speech in our nation that have lost their jobs because they stated beliefs that were considered “hostile.” While some of those people may have gone overboard (it’s not for me to judge), shouldn’t they have the right to express their views without being persecuted for their beliefs? After all, there is a line between words and actions. It’s one thing to say that you believe all … oh, let’s use a term most everyone can agree to hate … infant sexual abusers should be … treated, or perhaps punished in a certain way. As long as they don’t go out, track down one of these infant sexual abusers and do that to the person, shouldn’t they have a right to express their opinion of what should be done if said person molested their toddler?

And if you look at the paragraph above, you will notice that I censored myself yet again. I didn’t want to censor myself, I just did. I may still receive hate mail because of that, because even the topic is considered a hate topic in certain circles.

The very stories I grew up with in my childhood, stories whose names I don’t dare to repeat here are being rewritten by the Moral Majority or outright banned. I grew up with those stories, yet I cannot locate a physical copy of the stories in question because they are considered wrong now. Fortunately, some of these stories are out of copyright so it is actually legal to download a digital copy of the original texts. Yet I don’t dare confirm or deny that I’ve saved copies of the original stories from my childhood because I know that it would label me some sort of racist monster.

It’s getting to the point where I wish that I would have never allowed those in my physical circles to know that I actually have this website because it drastically limits what I can safely discuss in this realm. As it is, I’ve taken to publishing my fiction under a variety of pen names that I don’t tell anyone about for safety.

Some of the nonfiction books I have published have resulted in grief from my physical circles as it is. My view on things is a bit different from several around me so I burned some friendships when they stumbled across the titles online.

The sad part about the entire situation is that those who know me well understand that I don’t hate anyone. I may disagree on certain subjects, but I am open enough to consider other views and alter my personal opinions when the case warrants it. I avoid confrontation like the plague. I grew up in a home filled with violence and I want no part of that, yet now I have to censor my words and alter my “personal beliefs” depending upon the person I happen to be talking to.

I don’t even dare to share my innermost personal beliefs with you because someone from my physical world may stumble across them and use them against me in some manner.

That is the world we live in now, a world where we censor ourselves automatically for personal safety. A world where we cannot discuss the things we actually do just to survive, not to profit, but because the things we are forced to do are illegal, morally questionable, or politically incorrect.

Hell, just my stated opinion that in order to change things within our government that we should do what we can to stop giving the major corporations our money labels me an extremist. My personal use of the Linux operating system had me on a watchlist years back. A coffee shop I used to frequent received a notice that they should report the names and info of their customers who used it because we were all potential cyber-terrorists. We weren’t cyber-terrorists; my friends and I were tired of Windows crashing all of the time so we started encouraging our less technically inclined friends to try Linux instead. We would sit in that coffee shop, installing Linux or helping newbies install it because that’s what Linux was about yet our own government considered us the bad guys.

I was so spooked that I eventually bought a Mac, though I didn’t dare state that reason here. I just stopped writing about it and went underground. I have had that hanging over my head for years now, wondering how to handle it. Now that my kids are grown I no longer care. I used Linux to bring an almost seven-year old laptop out of mothballs so I could sit at my kitchen table and sit in the sunlight to write while having the ability to work on my stuff at the library or a coffee shop, and I’m tired of concealing that fact. The laptop in question was manufactured by a company that offers these exact same laptops with the option of Linux or Windows, so I doubt that they would legally persecute me for the switch. Microsoft might disagree, however. By switching to Linux I avoided paying the “Microsoft Tax” for an upgrade that would have rendered this old system unuseable.

I’ve got friends who stock up on groceries that have shared this with me in secret. It’s on a watchlist somewhere that people who stock up are considered “preppers.” Collect weapons and you’re another sort of extremist even if all you do is dust them.

And I don’t dare write about these things. Poor, honest people who stock up during tax time because they know that they won’t be able to afford a lot of food until next tax season are doing it in secret. I know of people who are actually concealing their stockpiles within their furniture or otherwise disguising it out of fear. The sad part is that when I had kids I did the exact same thing. I would spend hundreds of dollars buying stuff in bulk because I never knew if I could afford to feed my kids if I didn’t. I wasn’t preparing for the end of the world or whatever it is some think I was doing. I was making sure I had food on the table because I didn’t want myself or my kids going hungry. And just like my friends are doing now, I hid it from general knowledge. I concealed it in totes and called it clutter.

I have books in my possession that I don’t dare reveal to the public. I collected them for ideas and to expand my knowledge because I was curious yet those very same books could label me in negative ways so I hide them. As I stated earlier, some of those books are from my childhood yet I don’t dare mention them here.

Last night one of my daughters messaged me with a brilliant post idea about one of the ways that people in a financial bind stretch their money. I wrote the idea down with the intention of writing about it this morning yet with the cold light of day I realized that I couldn’t. Due to the current nature of our society, my discussion of this practice might get people in trouble. It is real, it is happening all around me, yet I don’t dare mention it even in passing.

I intend to save the idea and write about it in fiction. It seems that fiction is the only safe place to discuss certain practices anymore. It allows the author to disclaim the procedure by calling it a lie.

It saddens me to think that the only safe way to discuss certain things is in whispers or encrypted chats. It saddens me to realize that I have been editing my words and discarding potential blog posts for fear of repercussions. It saddens me to no end to realize that there are people just like me who are hiding the stories from their childhood and concealing books they read out of curiosity, who even conceal the fact that they stock up on food when they have the money out of fear of our current social climate.

I don’t even know how to handle that. I’m not even certain if it is considered politically correct to mention the dilemma here. In this case, I have resolved to take my chances with this post. Unlike so many others, I have very little to lose.

Have you ever found yourself editing your words or concealing things that you do on a daily basis out of fear for the current social and political climate? If so, how does that make you feel? Please phrase your reponses in generic terms should you share your thoughts in the comments, especially if you think someone you know in the physical world may stumble upon them. Thank you.

8 Comments

  • Linda Sand

    When we lived in a conversion van we bought freeze-dried food because it didn’t weigh much. Later I continued to buy that food because it was easy for me to prepare. I bought some of it from a preparedness site. I still buy my favorite now and then just because I like it. I wonder now what list I might be on. And what sense they make of me having it shipped to such an upscale apartment that I get mail indicating people assume I must be a republican.

    • Annie

      Bwahahaha! I tried to locate the original list I spotted but I was unable to at this time. I know at some point in the past that there was a list circulating that urged store owners to report those who were stocking up on food and other supplies because they were potential domestic terrorists. When I spotted it, the news about David Koresh(?) was running rampant but the vagueness of recent watchlists makes be believe that they are still watching.

      And as much as I liked the taste of certain MREs from when I was in the military, I avoid purchasing them. I don’t even think about it, I just see them listed and scroll past. I suspect I internalized a fear of them.

  • John Grebe

    I do not think everything you mentioned on the list is actually illegal but maybe I am out of date and the big companies have since bribed the government into changing the law to what they want it to say. My understanding of copyright law, or at least how it has been intended and upheld by courts in the past is that it is considered fair use for the customer to make a single backup copy provided that it is neither sold nor rented. Thus parents making copies of store bought VHS tapes and early computer games on floppy disks and later DVDs and CDs to protect the originals from their children was completely legal as the law was written at the time. In fact I remember some old software manuals pretty much telling you to first thing make copies of your software disks and store the originals in a safe place to be able to make new copies should something happen to your copies. But of course that was back when computer disks were a lot more delicate and wore out with more heavy use, so it made sense for the software companies to tell people to make backup copies so they would not need to be bothered with send out out replacement copies even if it was for a small fee. As for the CDs it is one thing to not openly sell your music CDs after you rip them but (or at least in the USA) you do not have to keep your physical CDs as proof that you legally bought copies of them. Sure keeping them may make sense as it lets you rerip them should something happen to the drive that you store the music on. Just like you do not need to keep proof of every last digital music order that you placed either to prove that your downloads were legal. That is because under our legal system you are innocent until proven otherwise, thus the burden of proof is not upon you to prove that your music files were legally obtained but upon others to prove that they were illegally obtained. Selective enforcement is also illegal so just because somebody is getting special attention placed upon them aka on a watch list, it is not legal to go after them on something that they do not bother going after people for the vast majority of the time on its own. Also just because somebody is on a watch list does not mean anything, unless they find that you are involved with illegal activity at the level that somebody that works for national security cares about they can’t do anything. It is not a crime to have shady friends and to spend time with shady people as long as you are not directly involved with any illegal activity with them. As for the Linux and government watch lists, many privacy advocates claim that is counter productive from the perspective of national security and the best way to fight against it is deliberate acts of cyber disobedience is for as many people to get themselves on the watch lists to the point that the watch lists become useless noise. The point they made was the best place to hide a needle is not in a hay stack which is easy to find either using a magnet and fire by setting the haystack on fire as hay burns but not the needle which can be easily found in the ashes with the magnet. As compared to a stack of 200,000,000 needles and all but one is harmless, good luck finding the bad one.

    • Annie

      You are correct, John. It is considered fair use to make copies for backup purposes. That said, companies didn’t like the practice. That was why they began adding copyright protections to discs and eventually forced people to use installation key codes and activate them online. Eventually disc copying software was eliminated from the bundles that came pre-installed on new computers. As software became something that people sold for money instead of sharing, I watched these practices change.

      That said, I like your viewpoint about adding more needles to the haystack to protect those who are being watched. I do believe I will begin using Tor more frequently, if only to contribute to that. Thank you!

  • Carolina

    Dear Annie,

    I share your worry. The answer is yes i do and no, I don’t like it. It feels like I am suffocating, because the truth that’s right in front of us can’t be spoken. PC is doing us in for, on this side of the pont as well.
    Hang in there luv, and take care!

    Carolina

    • Annie

      Thank you for your comment, Carolina. I wonder what it says about our society that we are becoming afraid of behaving and speaking the way we would if we felt it was safe?

  • sam

    Rather funny that you wrote about this as I was just thinking in the last few days that I mince my words online where strangers might read it but will say something to your face that might not be p/c even if I know it is against your beliefs. I am very out-spoken and opinionated so why is it I care more what some random stranger might think than someone I know.
    Why should we be judged NOW on things that we did or said in the past that were p/c at the time, just makes no sense to me. Excellent post.

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