Niall Ferguson's Six "Killer Apps" and the "Free Speech App"?
I noted in yesterday's blog entry that the Spectator's political editor James Forsyth helpfully summarizes an essay by Niall Ferguson that appeared in the inaccessible Sunday Times. I then quoted Forsyth on Ferguson's six "killer apps" of Western Civilization:
1. Competition: a decentralisation of political and economic life, which created the launch pad for both nation states and capitalism.I also linked to "Niall Ferguson on the six 'killer apps' of Western civilisation," a lecture by Ferguson hosted at Intelligence Squared. I noted that one could sign up to join and watch Ferguson give a lecture on these six apps, or not sign up but listen to an audio of the same. I listened to the audio because I didn't want to sign up for the video, so I didn't see the various charts and images that Ferguson used to illustrate his lecture. But the audio was clear enough.
2. Science: a way of understanding and ultimately changing the natural world, which gave the West (among other things) a major military advantage over the Rest.
3. Property rights: the rule of law as a means of protecting private owners and peacefully resolving disputes between them, which formed the basis for the most stable form of representative government.
4. Medicine: a branch of science that allowed a major improvement in health and life expectancy, beginning in Western societies, but also in their colonies.
5. The consumer society: a mode of material living in which the production and purchase of clothing and other consumer goods play a central economic role, and without which the Industrial Revolution would have been unsustainable.
6. The work ethic: a moral framework and mode of activity derivable from (among other sources) Protestant Christianity, which provides the glue for the dynamic and potentially unstable society created by apps 1 to 5. (Forsyth, "How the West became so dominant," Coffee House: The Spectator Blog, 19th February 2011)
In that lecture, Ferguson began by challenging his audience to listen carefully and judge whether or not he might have missed any "app."
I have now risen to the challenge, having listened carefully to the audio and reflected at leisure. I think that Ferguson missed the free speech "app," which I propose as "killer app # 7."
Actually, I mean something a bit broader than simply free speech. I'm thinking of what I have called a "culture of discussion," concerning which I've written an article, "Toward a Culture of Discussion" ("토론 문화를 위해서"), for The Philosophy & Poetry Journal (애지), which appeared last summer (Volume 42, Summer 2010, 25-38). That article was in Korean, but if you click on the English title of the article, you can read the English version on my blog.
Freedom of speech means the right to express oneself freely without censorship, but for the "app" to become a "killer," it needs to be embedded in a culture of discussion where reason and evidence, rather than positional status, guide listeners in their evaluation of what the speaker says.
Ferguson might argue that "killer app # 2," i.e., "science," entails my suggested "free speech app," but I think that free speech has to be more pervasive in a culture to work effectively and provide that culture with an advantage over other cultures.
What do readers think?