Napster, Titleists, and Faith

Let me ramble for a bit.

This past Tuesday night I started teaching a new class for the alma mater. This time, however, I'm up at their extension campus on the southside of Indianapolis. It's an additional three hours in the car for the next four weeks [and I've signed on to do this again up there in the Spring] but it seems to be a really great group of students and well worth my while.

I'm teaching Ethics— I know, I know: how do you teach if you don't have any, eh? As a discussion starter for the first session, we discussed illegally downloading music. I'll admit that in those early days of Napster, I downloaded songs on my work computer until I began to realize that it was essentially song theft.* Later, as I confronted others about their music piracy, I would hear the most creative attempts of justification; chief among is that was that file sharing was a victimless crime, harming no one except for the billion dollar recording industry that could well afford the loss. I expected to hear a few more excuses during the class discussion. But there were none: all my students held that stealing music over the internet was wrong.

Still I wonder if their not necessarily a reflection of their pre-established ideals or instead a visceral reaction to the way I presented it. I inadvertently used terms such as "theft," "stealing," "illegal," and "piracy"— all words that they already perceive negatively. As I discussed with them later, whomever is able to frame their argument in terms of their own choosing usually ends up being the victor. When I teach this course again, I think I'm going to have the same discussion while deliberately avoiding those terms to see if it affects their viewpoints. It's much easier to take a moral stand when you already have a clear delineation of right and wrong in front of you.

Anyway, I was still chewing on all of this the next day when I read the story of J.P. Hayes. His story is fascinating as Hayes is a pro-golfer who lost his PGA tour card and was forced to re-qualify via tournament. On one hole, he inadvertently played a prototype Titleist ball that was accidentally left in his bag and played it for two shots. When he realized this, he told an official that he played a wrong ball which automatically cost him two stokes. But the next night, realizing that the prototype might have been illegal, he again reported himself. It, indeed, was not an approved ball and Hayes was thus disqualified from the tournament and losing his place on the tour.

Golf is interesting like that. Whereas every other sport has officials that police the rules, golf insists that the player police himself. So when you attempt to violate the rules, you do so at the risk of your own integrity as judge. And if you try to justify your misdeeds through well crafted arguments, you are already well aware that you are, in essence, cheating.

I love that Hayes matter-of-factly responded that any other golfer would've done the same thing. After being lauded for reporting himself after a similar rule break, the legendary Bobby Jones remarked, "You may as well praise a man for not robbing a bank." Basically, the ethics of golf are unshakable because a judge is always watching. 

I believe that this technological era allows more opportunities than ever to commit unseen transgressions. As a result, our personal ethics will become more and more crucial in the year to come. But if we really hold to the concept of an omniscient God, then absolutely nothing is different, except our own delusions about personal integrity. We'll need to take on the attitude of people like J.P. Hayes, staking a claim on integrity, even if it's to our detriment, until it becomes commonplace.

In summation: someone is always watching, so don't do it.


*Three additional thoughts about this that didn't fit the above thought flow:

1) I am gambling that the RIAA doesn't have enough information to nail down my indiscretions during my Napster days, but with the constant ineptness of my employer's IT system, I think I'm safe.

2) My ignorance surrounding the legality of file sharing in those early days can be attributed to the fact that I seriously assumed record artists wouldn't care if I downloaded their tunes. I never burned CDs of any of those songs I downloaded. If I really liked those songs, I went ahead and bought their album.

3) When I was younger, we would "file share" with each others' cassettes. In fact, I believe this practice is the reason why they began selling stereos with dual cassette racks [what other purpose could dual cassettes serve?]. Where was the RIAA 1980's big hair bands were losing cash?