If you follow technology circles, you may have seen something about a “right to repair.” Corporations have, as part of their sales contracts, denied end users the legal rights to repair or modify the products sold to them, and in many cases, have inserted a hybrid between copy protection and digital rights management that prevents users from doing so.
This of course penalizes the little guys who do not have the money to do what these corporations want, which is in case of malfunction to purchase another gadget or go to the Official Repair Center for expensive consultations. The businesses justify this by claiming that unlicensed repair “may be” of lesser quality, harming the reputation of the company by having a defective product out there.
As in most interesting cases, both sides have a point. If you make a vehicle, and Josh the drunk mechanic duct-tapes it together so that it makes a horrible grinding noise when used, people may squint at it to see the logo and make a mental note to never buy one of those durn things. On the other hand, Josh might offer basic repairs at a far lower cost, or the end user could do them himself.
The quandary becomes obvious when we consider the position of the end user:
â€œI canâ€™t turn the alarm off. If I had the literature and capability to diagnose and fix it, it would already be done. I changed the mechanical switch and wire, but now Iâ€™m down to the programming,â€ he said Wednesday.
Kyle is one of many farmers in the US fighting for the right to repair their equipment. He and others are getting behind Nebraskaâ€™s â€œFair Repairâ€ bill, which would require companies to provide consumers and independent repair shops access to service manuals, diagnostic tools and parts so they arenâ€™t limited to a single supplier. They have an unlikely ally: repair shops for electronic items like iPhones, tablets and laptops who struggle to find official components and information to fix broken devices. This means the bill could benefit not just farmers but anyone who owns electronic goods. Thereâ€™s also a benefit to the environment, as it would allow for more refurbishment and recycling instead of sending equipment to the landfill.
While a law is the wrong way to go about this, and requiring manufacturers to publish information and tools places a burden on them, let us consider instead the philosophy behind the right to repair: nothing should be so centralized that its use is entirely regulated through a single source. That source then effectively controls those who use the product.
Control is a slippery thing to define. One basic idea is that it is a hierarchy limited to two layers: a centralized controller, and many equal controlled people. You can only have a two-level hierarchy with equality, because one layer will be everyone but the control layer. Control requires an equal mass to do identical tasks and thus become agents of the controller, which uses them as a means-to-an-end of its own intent.
With more natural systems, such as monarchy, instead you have a cascade of power. A king commands his lords, who come in a half-dozen varieties that correspond to steps in the hierarchy. At the bottom are local lords, who while they do not have the power of a king, have a microcosm of it in that their word is law in their local domain, provided it does not conflict with decisions made above them.
You may recognize this structure in our current court system and the interaction between federal, state and local law. However, leaders are more flexible than laws, and tend to look at situations on a case-by-case basis, giving the most precise solutions possible. We have lost this with the transition from leaders to laws.
With our democratic system, in an ironic inversion of democracy, we have lost the right to repair our local communities because the cascade of laws above us do not consider a case-by-case basis. Instead, they see our local communities as a means-to-an-end, namely that of advancing policy at the centralized federal level.
Whether or not the lack of right to repair is legal, it retards the ability of individuals to do good and productive things. This is also true at the government level. We cannot eject problematic people because of a myriad of laws and rights created by bureaucrats. We cannot act independently of federal policy, a rule we might refer to as “we all go down together.”
These limits like centralization itself seem intelligent. Laws and rules are rigid and make us feel comfortable because they purport to be guarantees. However, with each one comes more of a commitment to the narrow path of the intent of our controllers, and there is no off switch, even if they regulate the communities which we feel are ours by right of blood, sweat and tears.