Economist debate on sharing: closing

You are free to live in a cave of your making, Andrew, and you can be assured that I shall neither drag nor entice you out of it. But it is difficult to believe that you would be content in that dark, quiet, and lonely space, considering how you do seem to adore the spotlight of publicity and crave open argument as a route to recognition (and book sales). Is this debate not evidence of that?

Here you pull me under your klieg light, calling my openness a “fetish,” granting me power I do not claim as “an engineer of the human soul” because I celebrate others’ freedom, and going so far as to lump me with Marx for harboring hope in technology’s power to advance the public’s potential.

But you see, Andrew, it’s not technology in which I have faith. It’s humanity. Technology merely enables us. It gives us the opportunity to connect and create the publics you appear to fear. If you do not trust the public, then I wonder how you can support democracy (why let us govern ourselves?), free markets (why allow us choice?), reform religion (how can you permit us to talk with God?), or for that matter, education, journalism, and the arts (why inform or attempt to enlighten the public if we are by nature doltish?).

I do not share your cynicism about us and our fate with your notion that stigmas are essential to the human condition — any more than I believe that bigotry, hate, fear, ignorance, stupidity, intolerance, or isolation are necessary products of society without the possibility that together, we can diminish them. I hope for progress.

Where we surely disagree is over your unwavering affection for legacy institutions left unchallenged — though you do pick and choose your loyalty, confessing that you share my “enthusiasm for the revolutionary impact of social media in authoritarian societies in the Middle East.” Yet you consistently defend the institutions of the West: the Establishment. Are you so sure you want to stand by them all? Do you believe the banks have served us as trustworthy guardians of our worth? Are you ready to defend governments that have hidden too much of the people’s business from the people? Do you think that Washington works? Do you truly believe that media — the industry you so doggedly defended in your last book — have used their monopoly over the tools of publicness well and generously?

I assume, since you mock Marx, that you celebrate capitalism and the competition on which it thrives. I do. So then I would think you would welcome the meritocratic contest we see developing to demand better of those institutions — or, yes, in some cases, to replace them. I celebrate the new governments we see rising in Tunisia, Egypt, and even Iceland, even as I worry about the hard work and uncertain future ahead of them. I welcome YouTube giving networks and studios a run for our attention. I am glad that Wikileaks exposed, above all, the banality of government’s secrets. I wonder at the humble hashtag that enabled a diverse lot of people to gather around an empty vessel of frustration — #occupywallstreet — not only to express their disappointment but also to voice their hope and expectations.

On a personal level, Andrew, you are free to share or not. If you choose not to, you can be confident, as I’m sure you know, that I would not seek to know that which you do not wish to say. I respect your privacy as I respect our friendship. Then I ask you to respect my publicness and the opportunity it brings us all to leave the cave and to join with others in an ever-more-connected, ever-more-social world. I ask you, Andrew — and all of you reading this — to respect and protect that choice and the tools that now make it possible.