NSL Blog

What sustains an Open Society?

May 8, 2012

Like many others I have been reading and following with great interest the BskyB merger debacle, the News of the World phone hacking scandal, the abuse of power and money for corporate gain the damage it does to not only individual lives but the wider democracy per se – all wrapped up with the  Leveson Inquiry.

In many ways the changing dynamics of media power and its implications was where my journey started some 12 years ago. Its why in Chapter 1 of No Straight Lines I show why its such an important issue, and why it cannot be ignored. Lives casually ruined, was a headline I have kept which related to the phone hacking investigation and which reminds me of Nick Davis in Flat Earth News who wrote, these we corporations that thought seriously about commerce and casually about journalism.

Cameron et al may feel hard done by that the fall out happened on his watch, as they were all at it. Though I have no shred of sympathy for the Chipping Norton Set.

But here is my small addition to this conversation. Tony Judt in his last book with Timothy Snyder, Thinking the Twentieth Century mentions a term popularly used today, the Open Society, that term is the name for Chapter 7 of No Straight Lines. Judt writes,

The necessary conditions of a truly democratic or civil society – what Popper (Karl) dubbed the “Open Society” – is a sustained and collective awareness of the ways that things are ever changing.

My question is, have we had such a sustained and collective awareness? Or the ability to truly engage if we are aware? However, John Keane in his work The Life and Death of Democracy wonders if we are witnessing a Gestalt switch’ which makes us think differently about how we perceive power and who wields it’. Is this something that is now moving into the public realm as a truly viable debate?

And of course there are many aspects of the Open Society, all built on trust and transparency, shared awareness and a collective will. We talk about Open API’s and Open Data, even Open Commons Regions, Open Innovation, and even Open Business models. The Open Society’s DNA is geared towards the collective good. In short a better world is created by what we share.

And there is I believe great tension between those that want a more open society, and those that would wish to exert greater control over our lives often for commercial gain. Or in fact for the simple reason that overwhelmed by complexity, and the challenge it presents, its far easier to farm that problem off to private firms. When I read that Hallibuton as a company was a possible candidate for tendering for running parts of our Police Force I was truly aghast.

And I am not sure we are agreeing to HOW and or WHY this is being done.

We need to quest for that Open Society. Openness allows for diversity, it shuns monocultures. Openness is resilience; [1] as a philosophy, [2] as a language, [3] as behaviour, [4] as a navigational tool.



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