Frederick Douglass is always relevant

“Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” — Frederick Douglass, August 4, 1857 (via Terry Hancock)


Author: Nina Paley

Animator. Director. Artist. Scapegoat.

9 thoughts on “Frederick Douglass is always relevant”

  1. You did not just invoke Frederick Douglass in a discussion about Netflix not allowing users to keep free copies of their streaming movies. Please tell me you didn’t.

    Next I suppose we’ll hear about Apple “digitally lynching” creators, or maybe Amazon’s belief that you’re only “three-fifths of a creator.” Ugh, this is just stomach-turning.

  2. Douglass was discussing a principle. That principle is relevant to American slavery, and he knew it covered a lot more. He knew history, and he connected American slavery to other things. He refers to “tyrants,” who historically have many ways to oppress other than slavery. It’s evident in the quote.

    But to answer your question, no. You’ll notice this is its own post, not an addendum to earlier posts. I am a big Frederick Douglass fan, for many reasons.

    Sorry about your stomach; maybe you shouldn’t read my blog, for your health.

  3. I do invoke Douglass in the context of DRM and software freedom precisely for the reasons Nina Paley gives. As computers play a larger role in all of our lives its increasingly important to understand “just what people will submit to”.

    Every proprietor knows this to be true which is why they turn up the control over the user a little at a time. Proprietors know that if they go too far too fast (say, Amazon taking away a purchased eBook, or Major League Baseball turning off the watch-on-demand baseball games for prepaid customers) they’ll push their audience to think about software freedom and question why someone who owns a computer shouldn’t control what runs through it–the exact ideas proprietors don’t want you thinking about. These questions come up in the instant their oppressive control is exercised, even if the proprietor later restores what was lost and promises not to leverage such control again.

    jeffk’s discomfort is meant to motivate those who champion digital civil liberties to self-censor and make it socially unacceptable to apply principles of freedom beyond the time and specific circumstances in which Douglass wrote.

  4. Just so I have this straight: You quoted Douglass, tagged it with a “via” link to Free Software Magazine, and you’re denying that it said quote is related to the recent and ongoing discussion here about digital rights. Okay! I guess it must just be one of those inspirational quotes you frequently post. Which you don’t.

    If you’re going to start comparing yourself to Abolitionists and former slaves, yes, I think I’ll be moving along. All the best to you, and good luck with your struggles.

  5. For the record, the “via” means Nina got it from my collection of relevant quotes on the subject of “freedom”.

    What I find _most_ disturbing, is your implicit assumption that, for a Black man in America, “freedom” can mean no more than “not being a slave.” That is to say, that you cannot even imagine him making a statement about a fundamental ethical principle that applies to all Mankind.

    In this passage, Douglass is talking about the need to resist tyranny of all kinds. This is clearly not about slavery per se, but about all forms of oppression, on all peoples, in all times. Brave words and a bold statement of principle.

    I fail to see how this is any less relevant than quoting Thomas Jefferson who also spoke extensively on the subject (but who was somewhat less rigorous in the application of his principles!).

  6. While I do not find the DRM issue to be as critical to me as it is to folks who create & distribute content, that is because I’m willing to go to any lengths to get at the content I want. I’m an opportunistic consumer, but knowing where the goodies come from, I support the creator & despise the parasitical organizations who usurp our common freedom in pursuit of profit & control over distribution of content they do little or nothing to create. Why? because I like quality.

    — an’ that’s all

  7. I left a much more positive reply to Nina’s original post regarding Netflix streaming a few minutes ago. I don’t mean to come off as negative with the following question, but feel compelled to ask it, nonetheless. Isn’t there some irony in a site talking about freedoms being hampered or unnecessary limitations being placed requiring an email address to make a post and further requiring a moderator to read said post prior to it being published?

  8. Alex: no, I don’t think there is any irony. This is not our space; it is Nina’s space.

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