Sep 102008

The Ford Hall Forum is a longstanding and prestigious platform for speakers with interesting things to say (like Objectivists Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, and Yaron Brook). The Forum sent out an announcement that Jimmy (Jimbo) Wales of Wikipedia fame will be speaking on September 11 in Boston. This caught my eye, not only because I fondly remember Jimbo from Objectivisty circles many years back, but also because it advertises that he is going to talk about how “Objectivist philosophy guides his vision”:

Free Speech, Free Minds, Free Markets: Competition and Collaboration

Across the globe we are building, editing, and contributing to a growing body of knowledge and tools at everyone’s fingertips. Volunteers in leaderless organizations contribute to online initiatives and articles. Software developers spend their free time collaborating with complete strangers. Amazingly, these efforts are creating products of extraordinary quality, sometimes better than that of large for-profit organizations. Why do we do it? Why does it work? Join us tonight as Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales joins journalist Christopher Lydon to address these questions, where “web 2.0″ will take us next, and how Objectivist philosophy guides his vision.

I would love to ask some questions about how Objectivism guides his vision, but I can’t be there. Maybe some NoodleFoodler could go and ask questions for us and report back! Here are the ones I am curious to hear addressed:

  1. You refer to Wikipedia as a way to give people free access to the sum of all human knowledge. Yet Wikipedia doesn’t even aim to express what is true—it is focused on documenting what people believe, carefully including all the patently silly and downright vicious things people think. That is, Wikipedia strives for neutrality rather than objectivity with regard to the truth of what is claimed. Wouldn’t Objectivism inspire you to characterize Wikipedia more accurately as a vast snapshot of what people currently think, good and bad?
  • When you ask for contributions to Wikipedia, you seem to frame or at least decorate the appeal in altruistic terms. How does that square with the ethical egoism of Objectivism, which flatly rejects altruism as immoral?
  • In your appeal for contributions, you wrote that “This is a radical strike at the heart of an increasingly shallow, proprietary and anti-intellectual culture. … I hope [my daughter] will grow up in a world where culture is free, not proprietary… We’re already taking back the Internet. With your help, we can take back the world.” (Emphasis added.) Just what is bad about being proprietary? Wouldn’t an Objectivist be supportive of the creator who chooses to profit from the sale of his work, rather than fight against him? And “taking back” seems to imply that something was unjustly taken. The Internet is physically composed of private property (computers, connections) and wasn’t taken from you; the information communicated using it wasn’t taken from you, either. Wouldn’t Objectivism inspire clarifying and reinforcing the intellectual and physical property rights involved—including how they recognize and foster a deep harmony of interests—rather than this talk of “taking back” something that wasn’t taken in the first place?
  • You recently announced your launch of a Green Wiki. That site explains, “In light of the climate crisis and other ecological challenges increasingly facing us,” that it hopes to serve the “people who want to inform themselves and live in a more sustainable way,” because “the threats to our environment are real and that they require action.” It will be “written from a green point of view,” and will focus on detailing such helpful actions as “How to reduce your carbon footprint.” How can this initiative of yours be informed by Objectivism, which repudiates the Environmentalist movement as epistemologically, morally, and politically corrupt?

Obviously, I don’t understand how Jimbo’s actions can be reconciled with Objectivist principles, so I’m surprised to hear that he thinks the philosophy guides his vision. It would be great to see how he addresses this.

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