Doc helpfully nudged me to take a gander at his comments on morality in the Web 2.0 business environment, and I had a great time observing his thoughtful, critical readers work with his account of the various sorts of morality, and of their implications for business in the be-webbed ecology. I’m in an odd position with relation to Doc’s essay, since I have plenty to say — as usual, more than enough — but from a variety of positions and with different degrees of weightiness.
So, most important to me, I believe in the kind of interactions that Doc describes as a “morality of generosity,” to the extent that I’d want to call into question the propriety of calling the other approaches “morality” in the truest sense. As a theologian, I affirm the priority of grace (generosity, gratuity, giving) over other modes of interaction. “Balancing books,” an economy of interaction grounded in equal action (Doc’s “morality of accounting”) has going for it an intuitive sense of the fairness that matters deeply to U. S. ideological history — but it enmeshes us in an endless series of struggles over the nature of fairness, who gets to decide, and so on (struggles that constitute an economic drag as well as a practical impediment). “Self-interest” doesn’t even approximate a morality, as far as I’m concerned; even when “enlightened,” self-interest rarely approaches the degree of ethical grandeur of animal life. More often, it devolves into an appallingly degraded struggle of the rich and powerful to protect and extend their sphere of power at the cost of others’ livelihoods and lives.
So when Tim O’Reilly chides Doc for suggesting that Web 2.0 makes altruism central to business success (misreading Doc, as Doc points out), I have little worth saying. Sure, I root for companies to demonstrate the generosity that Doc commends, but I know less than zero about the balance sheets behind the people I know in The Industry. Maybe Tim’s right, such that altruism (which is not just the same as “grace”) bears no reliable connection to success in the Web 2.0 market. That’s not the point. Doc invokes the theology of grace to encourage business operators to show the same generosity that Flickr (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Yahoo) does — but I invoke the theology of grace because it’s the right thing. Do it, eh?
After all, what does it profit someone to rake up a windfall on Web 2.0 and lose their soul?