Today we're all having one of those days : the four of us woke up somewhat askew. Whether it is allergies or a cold, we're not feeling well. So I decided to not take the kids to their usual martial arts class. But to minimize the askweness of the day, we followed part of our Monday "script" and procured the "start of the week" stash of candy.
And then, to make things more "different" I bought New York Magazine because this week's cover story caught my eye. Simply titled, The Choirboy, the hook goes : "The American Boychoir School in Princeton was a twisted sanctuary for the sexual abuse of children. Why is one of America's most famous lawyers taking it on? He was one of the victims; needsless to say, I had to get this magazine. With all the child abuse scandals paguing the Catholic Church, I was intrigued. So I immediately went on to page 28 while my two little boys were enjoying their Monday afternoon treat and I immediately broke down.
The lawyer and former abused choirboy is none other than Lawrence Lessig; a man who could only be described as force of nature on the internet.
It's because of this that nowadays, when working on a project, we always ask WWLLD? or "What would Lawrence Lessig do?" : We're not religious people but we do believe in the legal judgement of Lessig.
What is weird to me more than anything else is my own reaction. I felt sucker punched in my stomach. I felt like a someone dear to me had been hurt and I had not been able to do anything about it. It's not like we are friends of Lessig or that he'd recognize me if I met him tomorrow at a conference. But much like most human connections, even over the internet, I do care. There's people like Wendy Seltzer, who went on to create Chilling Effects Clearinghouse and Christian Crumlish, the author of Power of Many and many other people I have met online first and then offline. I keep up with them through listserves and blogs because these "tools" are an extension of who they are; every email and every blog post is an augmented electronic little pieces of their being.
But Lessig, being the champion and crusader for intellectual property online and off, has always had a special place in my heart. So when I started to read about his ordeal, I just couldn't help but cry.
Since its founding in 1937, the nonsectarian Boychoir School has gained worldwide renown for producing a choir rivaled only by the more famous one in Vienna; its kids have sung for presidents, popes, and behind Beyonc� at this year's Academy Awards. But now Lessig's client, John Hardwicke, is claiming that in the seventies, the school was a ghoulish sanctuary for the sexual abuse of children. In his two years there, Hardwicke says he was repeatedly molested and raped --induced, as the brief on his behalf to the state supreme court puts it, to "perform virtually every sexual act that could conceivably have been accomplished between two males"-- by the music director, the headmaster, the proctor, and the cook.
This is not the sort of case for which Larry Lessig is famous. At 43, Lessig has built a reputation as the king of Internet law and as the most important next-wave thinker on intellectual property. The author of three influential books on the intersection of law, politics, and digital technology, he's the founder of Creative Commons, an ambitious attempt to forge an alternative to the current copyright regime. According to his mentor, the federal appellate judge Richard Posner, Lessig is "the most distinguished law professor of his generation." He's also a celebrity. On a West Wing episode this winter, he was featured as a character. "The Elvis of cyberlaw" is how Wired has described him.
[ ... ]
During his work on the case, Lessig has been asked more than once by the press if he had experiences at the school similar to Hardwicke's. And Lessig has replied, "My experiences aren't what's at issue here. What's at issue is what happened to John Hardwicke."
The answer is appropriate, politic--but it's not entirely true. For Lessig has told me that he too was abused at the Boychoir School, and by the same music director that Hardwicke claims was one of his abusers. Lessig is by nature a shy, intensely private person. The fact of his abuse is known to almost no one: not the reporters covering the case, not the supreme-court justices. The fact of his abuse isn't even known to Larry Lessig's parents.
In taking this case, however, Lessig has cast aside his caution about a secret that haunts him still. And while his passion about his client's cause is real and visceral, Hardwicke isn't the only plaintiff here. Lessig is also litigating on behalf of the child he once was.
The article goes on to describe in detail the extent of the rapings and molestation at the hands of several of the school staff. I couldn't put down the article until the end and every single paragraph has great wisdom but the most disturbing quote from the whole piece is the music director's justification for his pedophilia :
"You have to understand," Hanson replied, "this is essential to producing a great boychoir." By sexualizing the students, he explained, he was transforming them from innocents into more complicated creatures, enabling them to render choral music in all its sublime passion. "It's what all great boychoirs do," Hanson said.
What is astonishing to me is that, if you take away the sexual abuse language of this paragraph and substitute it with "high education standards", or "stricter academic work ethic", or "pushing harder to succeed", it reads almost exactly the same --but far more acceptable.
We live in a culture that does really infatilize children --it bashes will and creativity out of them to create eunuchs. Parents become accomplises in a system that is meant to stamp out their being and creativity to produce an effective yet emotionally crippled battalion of "mini-mes"; dependent on our approval and not product of their own agency.
Kind of, in a way, like what the record industry does with most record deals. Or kind of what happens with every software patent. Or what happens with every work of art taken out of the public domain. Without the copyright or trademark owners' approval all we can live with is the approved reproductions they allow to circulate. No remixes, no derivative flights of fancy, even if they enhance and raise the profile of the original.
Authorship, Power is everything. Control over creation, control over creativity is what Man seeks. Man believes he can harness Power, control Creativity, bring order to its Chaos and render it meaningful, efficient, beautiful --a work of Art.
What Lessig is doing with this case is more than letting loose his demons. He is getting at the core what we do on a daily basis that allows a culture of domination of control to thrive and go unchecked. "You underestimate the power of the human mind to ignore things that aren't placed right in front of you."
There are many things we do, as a country, as parents and as individuals, on a daily basis that allow for unspeakable things like child abuse to happen. But it's in the less violent and more mundane things like, "digital rights management" and "educational accountability incentives" that we seldom see what Adam Greenfield likes to call the "micro-fascism of every day life" and what David Newirt so brilliantly describe in his series on pseudo-fascism. They're there and you can read in the New York Magazine article how to Lawrence Lessig, they are indeed entangled.
Lawrance Lessig has become a true American hero today. I am proud to know the man, to know that this household is a little grain in the sands of time that have made him the man he is today. I cried for his pain but I write for his greatness.
Lawrence Lessig is a true American Hero.
Stand up and salute him.