03 July 2005
A Guide to Freedom - how it might be done and how Wiki can help

Blogs are great.  They allow us to get things off our chests and to be read.  But they lack depth.  As a friend likes to put it: “I have met many people who have changed their minds from reading a book but never from reading a blog.”

What would be good is a guide to libertarianism.  Something that describes what it is and why it would be a good thing.  Something that has all the arguments and all the facts (or, at least, as many as possible).  Something that answers the reader’s questions.

Describing libertarianism is easy but assembling the facts and arguments difficult.  Brian Micklethwait described this in the Tyranny of the Facts.  He argued that it was pointless for libertarians to indulge in fact fights because our opponents were simply too numerous and too well-funded.

That was before the age of the internet which changes everything.  In theory, the internet allows every libertarian in the world to collaborate with every other one to create a guide that is thorough and constantly up-to-date.

But how?  Blogs don’t really cut the mustard.  Although collaboration is possible, editing (pretty much) is not.  Once a post is up that’s it.  Wikipedia, on the other hand, postively welcomes editing.  Watch this online lecture (hat tip Adriana) about the evolution of the Wikipedia page on the heavy metal umlaut.  See how it evolves from one line (a stub as it is known) to a comprehensive page.  See how it resists attempts at vandalism.  See how good it gets and remember that every single word has been written by volunteers.

Wikipedia’s only real problem is when it strays into controversy.  Everyone in the world can edit a page - and they do.  Victory goes to the biggest bully.  This is a problem for libertarians.  Firstly, there aren’t that many of us.  Secondly, we have better things to do than take on those who make up with persistence what they lack in rationality.  Fortunately, there is a solution: membership.  And Wiki software (yes, they have that too) allows you to do this.

Looks like I’ve just given myself a job.

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  1. Your friend should talk to me. It’s because of blogging - Samizdata in particular - that I realised the truth of many matters. Sure, I always had libertarian leanings, but the connection between my core beliefs and their relation to current issues was only made crystal clear once I found blogs.

    Also, I’ve blogged more than once about how Labour MP Tom Watson told me that blogs changed his mind about ID cards. (Hmm, must check and see if he voted in line with his beliefs last week...)

    Blogs do change minds. Blogs do not ‘lack depth’. Many blogs lack depth, but this is not the fault of blogging as a medium; it’s down to how one uses it. I can’t tell you how many blogs’ feeds I subscribe to precisely because of the depth on offer.

    I also wonder at the implicit assumption that libertarians themselves pretty much agree on matters, libertarian and otherwise. Just this morning, Antoine and I were talking about the LA split and various loony aspects of that and some of the characters involved. Indeed, one of the reasons I hate it when people refer to me as a libertarian is because I don’t want views ascribed to me that I don’t have, and find that the variation of opinion of libertarians is such that I am constantly being accused of being an isolationist or something equally abhorrent to me.

    Case in point: Forgiveness of African debt. If there was a wiki page for “What do libertarians think of debt forgiveness for Africa?”, how would that be handled, considering the various ‘libertarian’ positions on it? I’m not saying it can’t be done, but am genuinely curious how one would even begin to define ‘what libertarians believe’.

    Posted by Jackie Danicki on 03 July 2005 at 12:54pm

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