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I am happy we can isolate a point of upstream difference here, as many times people argue about downstream things unproductively.

Regarding "cowboy engineering", granted. I would argue that respect for engineering practices/stability comes after that blistering innovation that builds the system in the first place. And in some cases at least, many lawyers seem to endorse anti-democratic measures (e.g. having federal prosecutors immune from election, or having the federal government enforce civil rights measures that were vastly unpopular in the states of enforcement). So it is more complex than pro/anti-democratic on the lawyer side too.

But ultimately even more than "democracy", it may just be whether you explicitly believe the ends justify the means. If your bold stratagem ends in failure, then even more scrutiny is placed on your extralegal or envelope-pushing means (see Napster). If it ends in success, you often have much more popularity/influence than you did before and the envelope-pushing is forgotten or romanticized (see Jobs' early phone-phreaking, or Youtube). So whether or not people verbally agree that the ends justify the means, they usually practically agree, in that one or more of their heros was a nonconformist who did change the system.

Indeed, often the kind of hero responsible for creating the legal system that they're implementing. The guys on the dollar bills, like Washington and Lincoln, led a revolution and suspended habeas corpus respectively; they did what it took to win, and let history be the judge of whether it was right. So from this vantage point, those who simply execute the law without concern for higher morality are respecting the hackers/revolutionaries of times gone by (because they won) while blocking those of the present day (because they haven't won...yet).

> I would argue that respect for engineering practices/stability comes after that blistering innovation that builds the system in the first place.

I quite disagree. The Internet, for example, wasn't the brainchild of rule breakers. It was a defense project, built by people quite thoroughly entrenched in the establishment. The telephone network, that made the whole country smaller, was built by the AT&T monopoly in a very civilized, orderly manner. A thoroughly beauracratic, top down, government agency working with huge, stodgy defense contractors put a man on the moon. For all it's daring, Space X started with a rocket design that was nearly half a century old. Most of the technology of the 20th century is the product of armies of engineers working orderly in top-down organizations. Pyramids.


I emphatically disagree.

If you look within those pyramids you'll find that most of the time the innovations that made the larger pyramid succeed were the result of small, focused teams. For instance consider the famous aircrafts designs for the U-2, the SR-71 Blackbird, the F-117 Nighthawk, and the F-22 Raptor. Large pyramids, right? Wrong. All were the result of small teams at Lockheed under Kelly Johnson. (Who had a famous list of rules for successful projects, the third of which was, The number of people having any connection with the project must be restricted in an almost vicious manner.)

Was this unusual? No! You brought up putting men on the moon and Space X. Both were utterly dependent upon the efforts of a small community of people studying liquid rocket fuels in the 40s-60s. What kind of people were those? According to http://library.sciencemadness.org/library/books/ignition.pdf (that copy didn't load for me right now, but http://web.archive.org/web/20121013085952/http://library.sci... did) there were at most 50 men scattered across multiple companies who understood the field, all of whom were "howling individualists".

The same is true in computer science. Major projects with huge impact created by a handful of people. Examples include Lisp, Smalltalk, C, Unix, patch, emacs... Companies which, when you tear back the curtain, truly were dependent upon very small numbers of people. Ask anyone who follows tech if Apple would have been Apple without Steve Jobs. Ask anyone who has worked at Google whether Google could have become Google without Jeff Dean.

Large groups working together on a known goal are essential to our society. We could not have the world we have today without them. But find me an example of great engineering that requires those pyramids, and when you tear back the curtain you'll find in technology after technology, in component after component, that critical pieces were absolutely dependent upon small groups of people. And those people, far more often than anyone in charge would like to admit, were rule breakers.

Those rule breakers who were the ones who got things done are, for technologists both then and now, heros. You may wish that the world of technology was better behaved. But you cannot understand or appreciate it without accepting the fact that it really is that messy.


I think the political points were stronger: the revolutionary war was clearly unlawful. The constitutional convention was, well, perhaps not quite unlawful, but a sort of de facto coup-de-etat that a lot of powerful people thought was necessary. Civil rights demonstrations? Unlawful. Pretty much every political innovation, by definition, is unlawful at the time of conception. It's hard to see how it could be otherwise.

That's why democracies, if they are true to their ideological roots, need to be very cautious and tolerant of peaceful forms of civil disobedience. That's why it's absolutely justifiable to object to prosecutorial overreach in such cases. Status quo pressures, if deployed with the full might of the law, are the ones that are anti-democratic, and that's what seems to have happened here, for political (or, worse, narcissistic) reasons.


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