Be Clear. Be Crisp. Be Concise.

Jaron,

I cheerfully affirm that the ideas expressed in your essay are your own. With one or two important exceptions that I think I’ve already specified, I wouldn’t want any part of them. Nor did I suspect you for a moment of “ripping off my rants.” You are perfectly entitled to use the concepts of “gift culture” and “agora” in your intellectual toolkit without bowing in my direction; I, after all, shamelessly appropriated the former from cultural anthropology and the latter from agorist libertarianism. I’ve never claimed a patent on either, and I’m not going to start now.

Nor am I going to defend myself against your wild and (at least to me) amusing flings about “Panglossian free-market fanaticism” etcetera, because, as I understand it, this conversation is supposed to be about your ideas rather than mine. My role, as I understand it, is to call you on factual errors, to prod you into thinking more sharply and expressing yourself more clearly.

Therefore, I charge you with writing in a sufficiently confusing and vague way that I had to guess at what you meant by an “antigora.” If you don’t want myself and others to use the term in ways other than you intend, you’d best be a lot clearer about what you actually do intend.

So tell us what “antigoras” and “semigoras” are, please. Try to do it without divagating all over the lot into biology and economics—your grasp on these fields seems to me sufficiently weak that the analogies you attempt don’t help you at all. Try to stick to the observable behaviors and communications patterns of “antigoras” and “semigoras.” What are people in these forms of social arganization actually doing? How does it differ from what people in agoras are doing?

I meant it quite seriously when I opined that the concepts may have considerable value. I’m challenging you to discard the muddle that surrounded them in your original essay. Be clear. Be crisp. Be concise.

Also from This Issue

Lead Essay

  • The Gory Antigora: Illusions of Capitalism and Computers by Jaron Lanier

    In our techno-Utopian dreams, the advance of the internet is “a little like a cross between Adam Smith and Albert Einstein; the Invisible Hand accelerating toward the speed of light,” says tech visionary Jaron Lanier in this month’s big-thinking lead essay. Yet, according to Lanier, we chug along saddled by the illusion that the Internet is mainly a technological rather than a cultural phenomenon. Software, Lanier argues, is “brittle” and can continue to function only when backed by what he calls “Antigoras”— “privately owned digital meeting arenas made rich by unpaid or marginally paid labor … tweaking the global system of digital devices so that the bits in the various pieces of software remain functional and meaningful.” Antigoras are indispensable, but “if software stays brittle,” Lanier says, “there will be a huge dampening effect on any hyper-speed takeoff plans of the digital elite.” Takeoff velocity requires a reorientation that acknowledges that the “the Net is precisely the generosity and warmth of humanity connecting with itself.”

Response Essays

  • Reply to Lanier by Eric S. Raymond

    Open source software guru Eric S. Raymond takes issue with Lanier’s characterization of “lock-in,” his antipathy to the command line, and his discussion of ambiguity. Raymond claims that if Lanier’s point was just that the Internet is “a conduit of expression between people,” then he would stop in agreement. But, he writes, “the actual point seems to be to maintain an opposition between capitalism and (gift) culture that I think is … mistaken.”

  • Reply to Lanier by Glenn Reynolds

    Glenn Reynolds – taking pieces from both Lanier and Raymond – argues that small proprietary zones within the big open Internet – “semigoras” in Lanier’s terms – might prove “very fertile places for innovation and growth on the Internet” with the potential to empower individuals and small groups to “achieve the worker’s paradise” through technology and markets.

  • Reply to Lanier by John Perry Barlow

    Ten years after his “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” John Perry Barlow insists that “the Internet continues to be an anti-sovereign social space, endowing billions with capacities for free expression that would have been unthinkable a generation ago.” A liberating future is still ahead, Barlow argues, but we must be on guard against a deep fact of both biology and markets: “New success inspires creativity. Old success tries to kill it.”

The Conversation