The ethical stance and in-principle commitment it embodies has long attracted me.
It’s why I love this piece (warning: it’s long, but oh so worth it!) by Katharine Viner the Editor In Chief of the Guardian Australia. (Together with The Newsroom, she has me absolutely convinced I want to become a journalist when I grow up!)
Although, even more attractive is the way open access seems to be an ethical position begging for a theological treatment.
Not because it can’t exist without a theological treatment. And not because it’s somehow incoherent or logically inadequate without one.
But because I feel that a theological treatment of the cluster of issues around open access (and intellectual property) could unlock its sense and significance even more powerfully.
Without trying to do too much with thoughts that are still undercooked, let me gesture in the direction I want to move in.
To begin with, you could argue that IP has an antitheological origin. Carla Hesse begins her history of IP, ’The rise of intellectual property: 700 B.C. – A.D. 2000: an idea in the balance’ by noting this:
The concept of intellectual property — the idea that an idea can be owned — is a child of the European Enlightenment. It was only when people began to believe that knowledge came from the human mind working upon the senses — rather than through divine revelation, assisted by the study of ancient texts — that it became possible to imagine humans as creators, and hence owners, of new ideas rather than as mere transmitters of eternal verities.
While I’d want to do more with the very brief caricature of pre-Enlightenment thinking about knowledge and ownership (was there no understanding of authorship in the premodern world?), Hesse’s portrait does remind me of Tolkien’s notion of humans as ‘subcreators’.
According to Tolkien, as creatures, the strongest thing we can say about our human ‘world-making’ potential is that we are subcreators rather than full-blown creators (for only God is the Creator).
As a result, it would certainly be fascinating — not to mention possibly explosive — to follow through the implications of embracing some kind of principled theological refusal to identify human beings as creators in a strong sense.
What would this mean for our sense of authorship?
What about for ownership of ideas (or anything we might fashion)?
And how would this impact the people trying to make a living out of what they fashion — intellectually or physically?
Of course, this would need to be worked out within the bounds of a robust theological account of our creaturely agency — alongside and undergirded by God’s sovereign agency…
I sense a major — and no doubt collaborative — undertaking coming on!
(Or someone could pay me to write a PhD on it.)