“You could have made a billion dollars, why didn’t you?”
This question was put to Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, in Radio 3’s ‘Free Thinking Festival of Ideas’. This was his reply:
“It reminds me very much of the fabulous scene in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead when someone offers to make Howard Roark’s career if he will deviate in some way from something which he believes is the right thing to do and he grips the desk and closes his eyes and he says “NO”. And he chooses to go, to leave his profession of architecture and work in a quarry as a worker because he can’t do it the way he wants to do it. That’s very inspiring to me and this is why things like “What if the Chinese government offered x, y and z if only you would censor Wikipedia?” and I would say, its not even a question – I’m a nut about that kind of thing”.
Last week Wikipedia made their point in Italy, where they removed the site for two days in protest at a proposal before the Italian parliament which would have compromised their impartiality. The Italian parliament backed down and the proposed change to the law was scrapped.
The principle on which Wikipedia was founded is “free access to the sum of all human knowledge”. They have seen off the Italian threat to that principle but just round the corner is a threat in the States from an online privacy bill. It might be a good idea for the promotors of that bill to read The Fountainhead, at the conclusion of which Howard Roark destroys everything he has created rather than let his principles be compromised.
Jimmy Wales was also questioned about the apparent contradiction between the principle of individuality, as espoused by Ayn Rand, and the community spirit which is at the heart of Wikipedia. He said: “The idea that a passionate commitment to reason, purpose, self esteem and creativity is somehow at odds with community life is one of the great problems that we have…. There is no contradiction. I believe that to achieve the things I want to achieve I need the support of a local community which means a lot of principles about being nice to people, assuming good faith, a mutual point of view – all of the things which I think are necessary to make the project work. The idea that if you are going to be successful you have to be in conflict with others is mistaken.”
Before founding Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales ran an internet discussion group which was devoted to promoting the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand. He’s her best advocate – here’s the link to his Radio 3 lecture – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b016kgfd.