Freedom isn’t just about actions, it’ about thoughts

This article was written during 2002, by request, for the Intranet newsletter at Worth School, a private Benedictine school in Sussex.

I’ve recently been doing a lot of research into how Information Revolution technology is going to change our world. There’s lots of disagreement
about how much change there will be and what form this change will take. But there is one powerful concept that keeps resurfacing among the
academics and commentators. As Kevin Kelly (Executive Editor of Wired) writes in Out of Control it is…

‘… the controversial idea that in any society with the proper strength of communication and information connection, democracy becomes inevitable.
Where ideas are free to flow and generate new ideas, the political organisation will eventually head toward democracy as an unavoidable self-
organising strong attractor.’

This is one of my favourite quotes at the moment, it offers a beacon to countries like China who are struggling to emerge from the rubble of their
Communist past. It sounds easy doesn’t it? Just let the ideas flow free and this will create new ideas in a virtuous circle that results in democracy. (Of
course our current systems of representative democracy aren’t perfect, but it’s the best of a bad bunch.)

But in fact it isn’t that easy, we all shoot down ideas, often subconsciously though sometimes consciously. Think about it, you probably do it every
day. Somebody does something different or says something weird in class and they get dissed. But according to this concept, unless people try out
these new things we can never advance. It is interesting to note that one of the key rules for successful brainstorming is to never ever shoot down an
idea, we need to try to apply this throughout our days.

One reason I believe the Internet is a powerful force for change is that anyone can do new and totally different things online. If people don’t like what
you write all they can do is send you a nasty e-mail which is not nearly as intimidating as some snotty idiot breathing down your neck.

A lot of people aren’t used to this kind of diversity as Mike Godwin explains: “One of the difficulties we face now, and the cause of fear of the
[Internet], is the problem of pluralism. Most of us don’t deal with the full range of opinions and ideas – from the inspiring to the obnoxious – ….
because the mainstream mass media filter them out. When you spend time on the Net, you discover that people are hungry to read and talk and that
the political landscape is a lot richer than you ever thought it was. People who are not professional writers are now participating socially in virtual
communities and public debates in which the power of what you say is a function not of who you are or which newspaper you appeared in, but
simply of the quality of your prose and the quality of your ideas. This is incredibly democratic and liberating.”

Try it, it really is an extremely liberating experience to write whatever you want for over 275 million people to read. I know because I’ve tried it by
exploring a variety of experiences and feelings on (shameless plug) thecouch.org. Other people, like Justin Hall at links.net, have put their whole
lives online or some, like Matt Drudge at drudge.com, have worked to become alternative sources of news undermining the stranglehold of a few
major media companies.

One can only hope that as people become more expressive and accepting of diversity online, such attitudes transfer offline. Part of the rule of
St.Benedict refers to hospitality and accepting visitors into the monastery, let’s apply it to ideas. I hope Worth will accept all visiting ideas with open
arms.

But these ideas must become manifest, we need to act on great ideas. We should never be afraid of taking the initiative and making an idea happen
as it’s always worth it – even if it fails people will think more of you for believing in your idea. A growing number US companies even prefer to hire
people who’ve been in several failed startups as they believe we learn much more from our mistakes than our successes. But I believe Johann
Wolfgang von Goethe wrote the final word on why taking a risk and going for it is so worthwhile:

“There is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans; that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the
Providence moves too.

“All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from this decision, raising in one’s
favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no person could have dreamed would come their way.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius power and magic in it. Begin it now.”

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