Sunday, November 05, 2006

Knowledge management: connect the dots, vet the speaker

I know visitors will wonder why it isn’t gratuitous of me to cover so many topics on these blogs and personal websites.

As an exercise, consider this list of issues:
. the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for gays in the military
. gay marriage and civil unions
. gay adoption and child custody
. conscription and the draft
. national service and “mandatory community service” in schools
. the right to privacy and to private choices
. the right to be left alone
. freedom of religion
. freedom of the press
. freedom of expressive association
. freedom of individual speech
. freedom to publish in a public space with “free entry”
. right to life, “right” to die
. lower birthrate and longer life spans
. social security
. pension stability
. health insurance and Medicare
. unions
. immigration
. filial responsibility

You can decompose these into more, but a good exercise in a social studies class is to draw a diagram showing how all of these problems are connected, “Babel-style.”

People typically express themselves politically by supporting candidates and organizations who cover their problems with specific issues. It is true that many people are treated unfairly or unjustly with respect to the specifics of some issues (such as with the marriage issue). But the deeper problems usually have to do with several issues working together.

If one is going to contribute a value body of writing about issues, then, one needs to be able to take up any issue. Anything can be fair game. Issues cannot be avoided just because they make people squeamish or because an “interest” in one of them is viewed as reflecting unfavorably upon the speaker or upon others connected to the speaker. Intellectual integrity is an absolute.

There are a couple of levels on which to discuss these issues. Law professor Elizabeth Price Foley, in her new book Liberty For All, argues that American law has always been based on respect for individual sovereignty and on the Harm Principle. Moral expectations must go deeper than the reading of statutory or even the usual application of common law. The general notion is called “public morality.” Most people perceive this in terms of religion or family loyalty. All of this has to do with one’s moral or social debt to others, to the sharing of burdens or sacrifice, to preparations for possible exogenous hardships, and intergenerational responsibility—the ability to return something back to others merely for having been raised. These ideas must balance the need to get society’s work done and for one to take turns being one’s “brother’s keeper” with the legitimate respect to merit and accomplishment as commensurate with freedom and property. The detailed “moral standards” can evolve toward more personal freedom from one generation to the next was technology enables self-definition and simplifies meeting the needs of others – but the idea that they exist can still remain, but with the rules refined.

Of particular interest in the past dozen or so years has been self-promotion in public spaces on the Internet, with the likelihood of being found by search engines or through social networking sites. This opportunity raises issues that had not been seen before, as others associated with a person (in the workplace, such as customers, or family) can be disturbed by what one says but that can be partly because of public prejudices. Speaking first may appeal to those who do not like to interact with others in a personal way on terms not of their choosing, or who do not like the forced “solidarity” required to have their rights protected by more conventional political activism through groups and organizations. Individual speech undergirds the COPA trial discussed elsewhere in these blogs, and so does then the objectivity and integrity with which social and political ideas are aired publicly.

If we were to have a public forum on the future of our individual freedoms in a changing and challenged world, we would have to account for all of the issues and the chemistry of their interactions, then at the layers with which we apply the laws, and then at who we vet our own speakers.

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