Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Liberalism and cultural agoraphobia 

Does the concept of Cultural Agoraphobia give insights into the perennial itch-question 'what is a Liberal'? Liberals being not agoraphobic... Have a look at this posting by John Naughton in the Observer where he muses on the legacy of C.P. Snow's 'Two Cultures' meme...

A key quote:

Snow's meme has been subjected to criticism and abuse, but the idea of mutually uncomprehending cultures still seems relevant to understanding why important segments of our society are struggling to come to terms with a networked world. In our case, the gap is not between the humanities and the sciences but those who are obsessed with lock-down and control, on the one hand, and those who celebrate openness and unfettered creativity on the other. The odd thing is that one finds arts and scientific types on both sides of this divide. The legal scholar James Boyle describes this as the division between those who are culturally agoraphobic and those who are not. In a couple of recent lectures (available online at http://bit.ly/tYEFj and http://bit.ly/1KVUr4) he has suggested two intriguing thought experiments to illustrate the gap.

The examples are the French MINITEL system (agoraphobic) versus the WWW; and the Editorial Board model for a global encyclopedia (agoraphobic) versus WiKi.

The cultural agoraphobia from which most of us suffer leads us always to overemphasise the downsides of openness and lack of central control, and to overvalue the virtues of order and authority. And that is what is rendering us incapable of harnessing the potential benefits of networked technology. Industries and governments are wasting incalculable amounts of money and energy in Canute-like resistance to the oncoming wave when what they should be doing is figuring out ways to ride it.

Some would cvall this a rather technologically-deterministic view however. What do you think, friends?

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I'd go along with that.
The two examples happen to be technological, but that's because of the innovation existing there.

Another example might be between the economic planner (wants to think everything can be controlled) to the free marketeer (celebrates openness and spontaneous order).

Or anti-immigration vs open borders.

A lot of the time, it seems that people cannot comprehend how something can exist without a central authority.

The view is complicated by the fact that some people are agoraphobic only in certain instances.
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